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Thoughts on Men and Rape

A week or two back, I mentioned wanting to write about sexual assault awareness month. Something strange happened with that post. Almost immediately, a handful of comments trickled in saying, in essence, "You're a good man for doing this, Jim."

My ego enjoys a compliment as much as anyone else's, and I'm not trying to critize the people who offered them. But ... I didn't actually do anything. I posted a phone number and mentioned I'd be writing something. Eventually.

The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. How pathetic is it that, in our culture, the only thing you have to do to be a good guy is say, "Hey, one of these days I'll write something about rape." Even that sort of vague, empty comment about rape is enough to make you stand out. Because that's already more than most guys seem willing to say or do.

I noticed the same thing when I worked with Take Back the Night years ago. Practically all I had to do was show up, and I was some sort of freaking hero.

Because rape is a women's issue. A woman's odds of being raped are around 1 in 3 or 1 in 4, if you compile the various studies and statistics. A man's odds are significantly less. Maybe 1 in 7? 1 in 10? Even so, we don't talk about that (except to joke about dropping the soap in prison). So let the women worry about it. Not our problem.

No, wait. That's not entirely accurate. Now that I think about it, nearly every time I went to talk to a group of men about rape issues, whether it was a fraternity or a dormatory gathering, the men were worried about rape. Not about their girlfriends or sisters or mothers or friends being raped, of course. No, they wanted to know what they should do if a girl lied about a rape in order to punish them. Because every one of them knew a friend of a friend whose cousin's buddy had been falsely accused of rape, so that's what we really needed to worry about.

In my role as an advocate and educator, I had to behave professionally and deal with those questions. Here on my blog? I'm just going to come out and offer those folks a big ol' cup of STFU.

Don't misunderstand me. False accusations of rape do happen. I watched one play out in the local paper here years ago. And believe me, the justice system went after that accuser for daring to commit such a heinous crime against a man.

I don't personally know anyone who's been falsely accused of rape. The people I know personally who've been raped? I've lost count. Mostly women, but I'm friends with some male survivors as well. People I care about. People I love.

And you know what the funny thing is? In almost every single case, the one who raped them was a guy. Not 100%, but up there in the ninety-plus percent.

But of course, that's not our problem. So long as none of those girls try to punish us by playing the rape card, we've got nothing to worry about. Besides, I'm no rapist, so what more do you want? Teach the girls not to get drunk or walk alone or lead guys on, and they'll be fine.

I love that logic. I never raped anyone, so it's not my problem, and I don't have to worry about it. But have you ever wondered why such an overwhelming majority of rapists are men? Ever wonder where guys get the idea they're allowed to do that to another human being? I'll give you a hint. Step one in learning to rape? Learn to see your victim as a thing, rather than a person.

But like I said, none of this is our problem as guys. None of us have ever contributed to the idea that women are objects, things to be ogled and grabbed and used. None of us have ever laughed along with the demeaning jokes, or watched one of our buddies work to get a girl drunk in order to get her into bed. None of us have made excuses for a man who grabs a woman's breast without permission. Oh, no. None of us have done a damn thing.

Forgive me if I sound a little bitter. Let's just say that after you sit there in a closed room with one of your best friends who's screaming because she just bumped into her rapist a few minutes ago, it becomes harder to worry about the guys feeling picked on because I was so rude as to suggest maybe this is our problem too.

---

Two closing thoughts that didn't really fit into my post, but are important to mention anyway.

1. Ever notice how often we talk about how someone was raped? When was the last time you heard it phrased, "Someone raped her." Because of course, the latter construction puts the responsibility on the rapist. It isn't something that just happens. It's something a person chose to do.

2. Rapists choose to rape. Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault. End of story.

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Comments

cluegirl
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
I followed a link from wishwords to get here, and like many others, I want to thank you for this post. Specifically because this is the first time I've seen anyone tackle the male bystander side of the issue.

I'd like to share a story from my own life which dovetails with your experience -- that is to say, the college kids unconcerned at the idea of someone they know and love being raped.

The third time I was raped, I was thirteen years old. I had a boyfriend at the time, who was no more sexually or intellectually savvy than any high school sophomore should be, but who had just as many hormones in play as any of his peers. With him, there had been a bit of making out, a bit of cuddling, and a lot of neurosis on my part, in response to my earlier (and very secret) abuses.

When the attack happened, a stranger broke into my house, and finding me alone, beat me until I stopped trying to fight him off, then he took what he wanted.

When I told my boyfriend about it, it was the end. He didn't know how to handle it. Didn't know what to say, what to think, how to look at my bruised and blackened face without wanting to punch something himself. We met once more, the summer it happened, and then he stopped calling me, stopped returning my calls, and began treating me like a stranger.

I'm old enough now, to understand that he was afraid and confused, but at the time, that abandonment completely underscored my feeling of having somehow been to blame for what had been done to me. That somehow I had been ruined by that man who broke into my house.

The facts are plainly put for those blissfully ignorant men; at least one out of every four women they personally know, has probably been assaulted sexually. If they knew the right way to ask, they would be appalled at how many survivors they know. You know this already, of course, being experienced with counseling, but I hope you'll indulge me a moment of preachy shouting "WORD!" from atop my distant soapbox.

I hope, as we humans continue to evolve, that fewer women have to learn to live their lives guarded against those who would turn them into objects of gratification. And yes, the first step is for everyone, male, female, survivor, and unknown, to become aware that rape is not just something that happens to other people they don't know.
jimhines
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Preach away...

I saw a lot of relationships fall apart after a rape. It's exactly as you say: when a guy's girlfriend is raped, they don't know how to handle it. We're taught to be protective and to fix things, and now we've failed to protect someone we love and we're faced with something we can't fix. None of which excuses turning his back on you, or justifies walking away.

It really sucks how often the rapist walks away, while the victim/survivor continues to be punished.

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Jim C. Hines
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