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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.



( 267 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 21st, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
You get it.

And THIS POST is what should be handed out in schools to educate teenagers.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:16 am (UTC)
If it were up to me, we'd be talking to boys even younger. By the time I was thirteen, I know I had some pretty messed-up ideas about girls and sex. It took a long time to start to straighten that out...
(no subject) - talithakalago - Apr. 23rd, 2008 12:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 23rd, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
Thank You
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.

That is absolutely right, and yet, that isn't how it feels. It took years to get to that point -- to say he did that to me. I believe that it was because I didn't and couldn't fight back, which was against my nature. Fighting meant dying, and survival is instinct. The following was written five years after:

Shame cannot be washed
Not by a thousand tears
Or entire bar of soap
Scrubbing until the flesh is raw

Nothing cleans the stains of innocence’s loss,
Removes the stench left behind
Or the shattered hope,
The grief, the horror, the shock

Some say they understand, but cannot
Human nature fights to survive
Between the fists, the knife and the rope
Appalled the fight was already lost

Trust shattered, faith gone
Self-recrimination leaves no place to hide
Pain is not limited to flesh and bone
No forgiveness for what my failure cost

Healing takes so long
Memories haunt, fear keeps them alive
Not all scars were drawn by that blade
I cannot have what I most want
To go back, and choose a different way home
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Re: Thank You
"That is absolutely right, and yet, that isn't how it feels."

There's a HUGE difference between knowing something intellectually and believing it. Some of the rape counselors I worked with, people who taught this stuff every day, still struggled to believe it when it came to their own rapes.

As for whether or not to fight back ... you do what you have to do in order to survive. And you did. Nobody has the right to judge or second-guess that, or tell you that you chose wrong.

None of which makes the feelings go away. But you didn't fail.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - veracity - Apr. 26th, 2008 03:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I'm linking your post... and maybe making a little post of my own, though I'm not sure I could write one nearly as good as yours.

There's also this book I really like, have you read it? "Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape", by Susan Brownmiller? It was written in 1972, but I wonder how much cultural perception of rape has really changed since then...?
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:51 am (UTC)
Hi Jim,

Such a fantastic, thoughtful post. I'm not one who believes that men (or any member of a group with privilege) deserves cookies for Getting It, but I must say I am always glad and thankful when they do as keenly as you do. :)

I'm a survivor of sexual assault that didn't end in rape, but was nonetheless systematic and repeated and gave me post-traumatic stress disorder. And I was ashamed to talk about it and really deal with it for several years - mainly because of the social attitudes you describe (including thinking I'd done something to provoke it).

Thank you for working hard to educate men about rape. The world needs more men with your understanding!
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
Yes. Thank you, especially for those last two points. They're so important.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
I was thinking of this post after leaving my last comment and remembered another book I read recently (yes, I read a lot) called "The Broken American Male" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. In one chapter he distinguishes between a sex addict (someone who enjoys the process of sex and mutual pleasure) and an orgasm addict (someone who's only interested in his/her own pleasure). Given the statistics on pornography viewing (not to mention strip clubs, prostitution, etc), it's not hard to see which our society is more inclined towards. And if all you're concerned with is your own pleasure, what does it matter if your partner is unconscious, unknowing or unwilling? (Not to say that we're all addicts, of course - just mentioning the point.)

- Jessica Strider
Apr. 26th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
I doubt you'll see this, but I would decline to take any advice on a feminist issue from a religious wingnut masquerading as a feminist. People who wring their hands about the open expression of sexuality in modern culture and then declare that it's to blame for rape and harassment are prudes who completely miss the point that rape is about power, not sex.

Jim: Great post.
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 26th, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
I recently went to a performance of the Vagina Monologues in New Orleans with my sister. The show is incredible and amazing and uplifting, and its main focus is ending violence against women.

Near the end of the show, Eve Ensler asked everyone who had ever been a victim of rape or sexual violence to stand up. At least a quarter of the audience stood up. Then Eve asked everyone who knew a victim of rape or sexual violence to stand up. As we both stood up, my sister turned to me and said, "Well, heck, that's everyone."

Her comment still haunts me. It's chilling to think that yes, everyone probably does know a woman who's been a victim.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
I suspect most of us know a lot more than one.

I've never been to the show, but everyone I've talked to says it's incredibly powerful.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
Your point that it is basically the difference between viewing the rape victim as an object and viewing them as a person really resonates.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)
That's one which has really stuck with me over the years too...
Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Sometimes heroism comes from a small act. Keep repeating this message and maybe someone will get it.

"Someone raped her" should be the way we say it.

Thank you. Jay Lake linked to this and I found you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
It's too bad there are so many worthy causes to go around. Good for you, Jim, doing something about one of them.

You think it's bad here, it could be a lot worse. I've been learning a lot about Brazil in preparation for a sabbatical and for a potential novel. It seems to be a very common expectation for both men and women, and in at least in the poorer quarters of society that are very large there, that girls caught alone with a non-relative male will get raped. And they all live with it as if it were an unchangeable fact. I know of several instances where daughters moved out rather than the stepdad, and that was the acceptable solution all around. This suggests it's a very strong cultural problem that only varies in degree here.

It's really hard to see how to overturn such widespread culture. Education, discussion, facts...these seem like the best tools. Rape is already illegal. Culture keeps it under reported and under prosecuted.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
You made me cry.

Thank you for posting this, for being a voice of reason and responsibility and *compassion* in a world that has forgotten.

You are a true Gentleman, in the finest sense of the word.

Thank you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
The only thing I have to add is a thank you for the "mostly men" comment.

I have a friend who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by another woman, she's had a lot of trouble dealing with it over the years, and encountered a lot of hostility about it from other women.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that.

I do try to be careful about the phrasing. I know that it's *mostly* men doing this, which means (to me) that men need to be much more involved in stopping it. But like you say, it's important to balance that emphasis with the recognition that men can be raped, and women can be rapists, and that these instances also deserve validation.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)

Once again, you write your way into both my intellect and my heart. Well done.

In 2004, a couple of people I know came clean about having been sexually abused in their lives, and I wrote the following piece in response. Here's a link to it. Until recently, it was friends locked, but you should be able to see it now.


You are right. We are survivors. To stay victims means we do not overcome. I can only continue to live in the moments of now, and do what I can with the destiny after, the destiny I control. We troubleshoot the tough moments. It helps to know there are people out there who think like you do. All the resounding support in the friends' list is proof.

Keep up the advocacy and the good work.

My dream is a society where such things do not happen.

Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
I forgot to mention this in my comment:


I'm pleased that they exist.
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Jim C. Hines


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