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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.



Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
I haven't been raped, but I've been attacked, and I've been in situations where I started to check exits very carefully. I know what it feels like when someone who is much stronger than you starts to objectify you, what it feels like when a man threatens you with his sheer size and physical strength, even when he doesn't _do_ anything or _say_ anything, just stands there excuding 'if I wanted to, I could take you'. And I don't think that's an uncommon experience among women. (Does it make a difference to your reading that I'm female?;It shouldn't.)

I am not trying to attack anyone, or blame anyone, or judge anyone, but I think there's a distinction between 'there is nothing I could do' and 'what I could do is/was/might not be enough'.

Because one of the things that most women have drilled into them is 'you are helpless'. I *know* that more women than men get raped, and that it's a very real danger, but the overall message by society is 'there are lots of things that are not safe to do for a woman' and 'there are places where a woman can not go' and 'if you are male or in company of a man, you'll be ok'. Sometimes it feels almost as if, as a society, we _expect_ women to get raped.

For me, it was, I am sorry to say, a revelation to learn that men could be raped, too. Empowering. It moved the problem out of 'this is something that concerns women' into 'this is a human problem, and it's about power, not sex'. I'm probably saying this badly, but that's how I felt.

And yes, I probably was a little controversial with my comment: how come that one person has, just by virtue of standing in a doorway, the power to intimidate four people who, in a straight fight would, with a little preparation, have the advantage of him? And what can we do to change that?
Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for responding.

A lot of my touchiness comes from seeing so many people survive being raped, only to turn around and be lectured on what they should have done to prevent it. I don't think that's what you were trying to do, but....

I don't know. One of the characters I'm writing about is the sort that turns anything into a weapon, and I love that. She takes out a huge guy with nothing more than a spoon at one point. And I've studied enough self-defense to know that there are always ways to attack or protect yourself. But when it crosses over into, "You were wrong to feel this way, and here's what you should have done," then to me it becomes obnoxious.

I may be projecting onto your comments. I'm not sure. But that's where I'm coming from.

Your comment here about society almost expecting women to get raped is mind-blowing to me. I don't disagree, but I've never actually thought of it in that way. I'm going to be mulling that one over for a while.
Apr. 23rd, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
You're right. Blaming the victim is adding insult to injury, and nobody needs that, ever. But talking about potential dangers and acts that might make you a victim of crime? Is necessary. Nobody deserves to get raped, just as nobody deserves to get hurt in a car crash - but if you're drunk, you're more likely to be involed in an accident. So discussing what an individual might do that would help them not to get into a dangerous situation, or to get out of it, is not 'blaming the victim' IMHO - it's a necessary part of the discussion. And I think it's very valuable that it's picked up from a male perspective as well.

One thing men can do is the next time one of their friends says something like 'ah, she's only pretending, she really wants to have sex with someone' or 'well, in those clothes, that's asking for it' is call them upon it. The next time they objectify and degrade a woman, they can tell them that this is not acceptable behaviour. Every little helps.

Your comment here about society almost expecting women to get raped is mind-blowing to me. I don't disagree, but I've never actually thought of it in that way. I'm going to be mulling that one over for a while.

I look forward to reading them. I was a bit shocked when I read what I'd written, but the more I think about it, the more I feel there's truth in it. Rape is part not only of the warning narratives delivered to girls (don't go out on your own, don't hitchhike, don't wear short skirts, don't go out in the dark) but it also has a firm place in the entertainment industry. We are almost used to seeing rape playing out on screen, and a lot of books have rape as a threat to the heroine, or something the hero saves her from, or something she's recovering from. It almost seems to be a shorthand for 'the worst thing that can happen which she can overcome without future consequences (as if!), while the loss of a limb would be much more complicated to write. (Both male and female authors are guilty of this one).

But what also concerns me is that every day in my inbox I get spam that uses the language of violence to advertise sex. 'Make her scream louder' wasn't even the most offensive. And there *still* is a lot of 'alpha-male' language about, particularly in Urban Fantasy, which is meant to show a character strong and in control, but which to me reads creepy and dangerous.

If a stranger turned up on my porch after dark and repeatedly laughed at me when I told me to go, I'd call the police and consider myself in danger, I would not fall in love with him. Yet that is what common narratives suggest that women _should_ do. Creeps me out every time.
Apr. 26th, 2008 02:18 am (UTC)
I was just linked here and had to comment on this:

And there *still* is a lot of 'alpha-male' language about, particularly in Urban Fantasy, which is meant to show a character strong and in control, but which to me reads creepy and dangerous.

I love Urban Fantasy, but I only read the ones where women seem to have an inner strength and listens to instincts. Why? Because, sadly, it's a rarity in the mainstream media. Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld books, the female werewolf was turned into one without her consent and it took her ten years to start accept the fact. For me, those incidents are substitutes for things like rape. And I like that the character didn't just accept it. It wasn't a Luke/Laura thing. And the man shows remorse, too. Sincere, can't believe he did that remorse where he doesn't forgive himself, never forgets. Which I think is missing in a lot of the genre. And the women gain a stronger spine for it. Refuses to be a victim again.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 29th, 2008 09:30 am (UTC)
Oh, oh, had to comment to you, I believe this is partly why so many men derive sexual pleasure from being subservient, and the same for women being dominant, because they're not 'supposed to' be that way, etc and so forth. Anyways, sorry to swerve off topic.
Apr. 28th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, the post "Can I walk you home?" was to a blog that has now been deleted, but On turning into a pumpkin at dusk is still there, being a post about how society trains women to fear for their own safety out in the world without the "protection" of a male escort and indulges in a great deal of victim-blaming and fearmongering when women choose to control their own movements after dark.
Mar. 6th, 2009 06:36 am (UTC)
This is the point of Take Back The Night, actually, or was, before men were allowed to join the march (unfortunately in my view because while it enabled the significant advantages of allowing male allies to participate and male victims to speak out, it lost us this other very powerful aspect of the march). When I first marched, the power of the thing was that we were WOMEN ALONE, without the protection of men, in "sketchy" places -- dark corners, alleyways -- where women "weren't supposed to be," after dark, when it was "dangerous for us to be out" -- and NO ONE COULD FUCK WITH US because there were like 800 of us. The sense of reclaiming those spaces "where a woman can not go" and not having to shelter behind men to do so was incredibly empowering. I miss it.

Oh, and jimhines -- thank you for this post!! I realise that I am coming to it very belatedly (via links from links...) and as a stranger to you. But it is, as others have said, a wonderful, forthright, heartening, and moving post, one which articulates issues that are rarely articulated so clearly and utterly without bullshit. I won't call you a hero for it ;) , but I must say that it thoroughly rocks.
Chenk Johnson
Sep. 15th, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
The creeps come out at night
I think they did think you were a male, I did.
Actually, I was initially heartened by reading a post that brought attention to the fact that men can be physically intimidated (only to be disappointed in that regard).
Yes, other commenter, as a man you can be in that situation. You can understand that reality. Women are not unique in their ability to feel endangered.
That said, reading posts like those in the vicinity makes it abundantly clear; women do get raped more often, they are in more danger. These fears are totally justified. Why shouldn't it be expected in our society? It's the truth.

Let me tell you guys a story:
I have to walk a ways at night to accompany my gf home, because I fear for her safety. But that doesn't mean I don't feel a pang when that dude in the shadows has been following me for a little too long, when he crosses the street when I do.
I still feel on-edge when some dirty, whacked-out dude tries to strike-up a conversation, leans a little too close, or moves too suddenly.
And you know what? I feel more at ease on the way back, with my gf. Having someone else in your party is a good feeling.


Jim C. Hines


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