Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some Things We Could Actually Do To Prevent Rape

This post discusses rape as well as what we can do about it. Be warned.

There are only two prominent messages we hear about how to prevent rape; don't get raped and don't commit rape. Police campaigns as well as horrendously clumsy statements by police and politions regularly attract controversy for their implicit and occasionally explict victim-blaming; the suggestion that if women took steps to avoid rape, it wouldn't happen. This is a problem. I don't need to explain why.

But telling men "Don't rape!" is also fairly futile, for three very siginificant reasons.
  1. The vast majority of men are neither rapists nor potential rapists. As someone who has never downloaded an illegal film, bought or borrowed a pirate, I feel mildly insulted having to sit through the rowdy anti-piracy warnings at the beginning of rented DVDs. I imagine being told not to rape is a bit like that, only you know, about rape.
  2. Men who commit rape are extremely unlikely to call it rape. If you want to identify rapists among survey respondents, you phrase it differently. Rapists generally regard real rape as something a notch or two worse than the rapes they have committed.
  3. Some men are the victims of rape and not all rapists are men. This isn't merely important in terms of But what about men?! but (a) these victims matter (b) the model of rape as an inevitable consequence of straight men's sexuality and something women have to protect themselves against is at the heart of our problem with rape. 
So, what can we do to actually tackle rape as ordinary folk?  My attempt to answer this question is edging toward epic, but only because I feel very strongly about this.  It would make me very very happy if others came up with better ideas.

1. Look after your friends and don't mind your own business. 

While women are in much more danger of sexual violence, men are more likely to be injured or killed in other forms of street violence. So where late nights and drink is involved, everyone needs taking care of. When out at night, pay attention to where your friends are, who they are with and how they are doing. If any friend is
  • extremely drunk, unwell or otherwise vulnerable 
  • receiving unwelcome sexual attention 
  • receiving sexual attention from someone with an evil moustache or something else that gives you the willies 
  • paying sexual attention to someone who seems uncomfortable, or is themselves very drunk, very young etc. 
then simply stay with them or make sure another trusted and vaguely sober person stays with them. 

There is a limit to that, of course; if your friend actually tells you to go away, then you need to do so, but by that stage you'll have at least dropped the hint that you feel something is not right. There's no need to get all white-knighty and tell your friends how to behave, but exchanging our instincts about new people and situations, “I just don't like what's happening here.” is perfectly reasonable and one of the main advantages of being social animals.

 If you're wrong, the very worst that can happen is someone tells you to bugger off.  If you're right, you could save your friends an awful lot of trouble.

2. Encourage others to trust their instincts when it comes to creepy and inappropriate behaviour.

To the greatest extent, our culture teaches us not to trust ourselves when it comes to unwanted sexual attention. Then, having convinced ourselves we have a legitimate concern, we talk to other people about our feelings and are often told to question them further; Are you sure it was meant that way? Are you sure they weren't just being friendly? Are you quite sure they meant to touch you? You should take it as a compliment. You shouldn't read too much into it. And so on.

This is a disaster.

Nobody is entitled to anybody else's time, energy, attention, company, friendship or anything else. No matter how drunk, lonely or socially inept a person may be - no matter how funny, popular or decent they may be regarded by others - it is perfectly okay to say, "This thing you're doing makes me uncomfortable. Please stop it." and "You're making me uncomfortable. Please leave." and it's okay to respectfully remove yourself from their presence and have nothing more to do with them, with or without explanation.

Encourage your friends. Support their decisions to avoid people who make them feel uncomfortable. When they question themselves (and they often do - my mother thought she was being unkind to change the time she went swimming to avoid a regular at the pool who made sexually explicit remarks about her*), reassure them that it is more important that they feel comfortable than anyone else - even another trusted person - has access to them. Even if they are completely over-reacting to some poor hapless person's clumsy advances, acting on their intuition this time is excellent practice for the time when it's not an over-reaction.

I had written this bit when the wonderful Captain Awkward and the Awkward Community covered this issue better and more thoroughly than I ever could. Part of this obviously has to be

3. Exercise zero tolerance towards sexually aggressive people.  

Sometimes, people make genuine mistakes with flirtation and other times, innocent behaviour happens to press someone's buttons.  But there are limitations to this, which really ought to be obvious to everyone. Obvious examples include unwanted touching, spiking a drink, making sexually explicit remarks out of context, joking about sexual coercion (see below) and anything if it is repeated after someone made it clear they felt uncomfortable.

When a man oversteps this mark with a woman, other women are often nervous of cutting him off because they don't want to seem over-sensitive, uptight or hostile to male attention**.  Other men are nervous of going against the brotherhood, of failing to laugh off or empathise with their comrade's actions. When a woman is creeping out a man, both victim and perpetrator become a joke; my family laughed about the drunk woman who'd repeatedly tried to kiss my reluctant cousin because women aren't supposed to be sexually assertive and men are supposed to be up for whatever comes their way.  In my limited experience, gay and lesbian creeps are treated with less tolerance, except within scenes where - like the kink community - the defensiveness of the community as a safe, tolerant and funky place can silence members who have a problem.

Not only are people who violate other's boundaries in small ways very likely to violate them in much bigger ways, but people who cross these moral lines are unlikely to restrict themselves to this particular kind of bad. Often people tolerate creeps in their social circle because they themselves are immune to their attentions. But someone who doesn't care about not intimidating someone they find sexually attractive is unlikely to care all that much about not being an arsehole, in myriad other ways, to someone who considers them a friend.

4. Give all young people the same information about personal safety.  Don't tell boys or girls that their sexuality makes them dangerous.

As a girl, I learnt that I needed to be afraid of rape. Girls start receiving sexual harassment on the street very early on, and by the time a few of us had been shouted at, groped, followed home etc., we began to exchange ideas about how to defend ourselves if we were actually attacked. This now amuses me really; a can of hairspray and a lighter will make a rudimentary flamethrower but you need both hands and about thirty seconds longer than you probably have to fend off an attack. But we understood that we faced this threat. Anyone who thinks that women don't know the danger they are in is quite wrong.

At the same time, entering into adolescence, we understood that there was a demand on us to be sexy which we had to balance up with this risk of rape – dress too modestly and you're not sexy, dress too sexily and you might be raped. Even in the twenty-first century, a lot of the discussions around the sexualisation of young girls hinges on the idea of children being in danger of giving off sexual messages to men, as opposed to kids adopting a value system which is going to make them unhappy. When I was a teenager, bridging tomboy to hippy, I thought I received a lot of sexual harassment because I was tall and I had big breasts. In fact, I was told that men must think I was older than I really was. So it was all about me, and things I couldn't help about myself.

Nonsense. I was in my primary school uniform when I received my first sexual harassment from adult men. Mature looking or sexily-dressed children don't confuse men. Sexual harassment is an abnormal behaviour, and the people who do it operate abnormally; children are vulnerable and the kind of men who shout lewd remarks or molest women in the street and on public transport look for vulnerable-looking women, including children, whether they are wearing high-heels or trainers.

So girls should not receive dynamically different messages from boys about safety on the streets.
All young people need to be taught basic self-defence and to be given basic advice about travelling in groups, not drinking to a point of incapacity, avoiding certain places late at night, trusting and sharing their instincts about people and situations, only using registered cabs and so on. There is no evidence that anyone's clothing effects their likelihood of being sexually assaulted, so nobody should receive any advice about that.

Girls are much more likely to be subject to sexual harassment, but as it can happen to boys too (as well as other forms of harassment, e.g. racist, homophobic and disablist abuse) and strategies for dealing with this are much the same whoever you are. A culture which endlessly lectures girls on how dangerous there lives and bodies are but implicitly assures boys that no harm can come to them and there's never any need for them to run away, fails everybody.

5. Encourage a culture where everyone gets to say "No" without negative social consequences and respect a "No" whenever you hear one. 

At primary school, a teacher I didn't know accosted me in the corridor and asked me to run an errand. I didn't fully understand what was being asked of me – it was something to do with putting a dinner tray somewhere where it would be washed up, but I didn't know where she meant and I was anxious about getting in trouble with my own teacher for being late. So I said that I didn't want to. I had no idea how rude that was; apparently, it was the most shocking insubordination this teacher had ever encountered and what followed was the single worst telling-off I received in my entire school career.

During an early experience of sexual abuse, I actually said, with a forced laugh, “What about consent?”. This says a lot about my socialisation. I was desperately trying to work out the code that would make it stop. I had tried, “I don't think I want this.” and “I really don't think I want this.” Even when I was in great pain and crying, I still reached for, “Please can we stop this now?”

I don't believe that this happened because I didn't know how to say “No!” in a firm and forceful manner - I've never met anyone who had such problems with nuance that they confuse, “I don't think I want this.” with “Yes!” or even “I'm not bothered either way so do as you feel.”  But “No!” may well have been useful and I simply didn't have it. I don't even have it now. I probably have it for a stranger jumping out of the bushes, but for anyone I know well, like or respect on any level? Probably not.

This is partly about gender, although I know men who don't have “No!” and women who do. Rebelling against authority, to some extent, is part of our cultural narratives about how boys become men. They get to say “No!” to parents, teachers, maybe even the law, at least for a short time, in order to assert their masculine individuality. Culturally, teenager girl's rebellion is almost always framed as defying one's parents by accommodating the needs of one's male peers, putting out, rather than asserting one's own sexuality or non-sexual aspects of identity. The adult version of that telling-off I received as a child is being called a selfish bitch, a cock tease, a frigid dyke and so on.

However, it's worth saying how tricky it can be for boys and men to say “No!” in a sexual context, because of the idea that a real man, whether straight or queer, is preoccupied with and available for sex with any marginally attractive person. This idea feeds into the idea both that all men are potential rapists struggling to control themselves, as well as the idea that, immune from the possibility of unwanted sexual attention, men cannot be raped. One of the disturbing aspects of the otherwise hilarious Cosmo's 44 Most Ridiculous Sex Tips (this remains one of the funniest things I have read this year) and other “sex tips” from women's magazines is the number which don't involve even looking for basic clues as to whether a male partner might, at that moment, enjoy being groped, ravished or even physically assaulted as part of an experiment.

Which brings me onto

6. Practice, Discuss and Teach Your Kids About Enthusiastic Consent

Enthusiastic consent is the principle that great sex means ongoing positive communication between parties; you check with your partner and express your own enthusiasm (with words, noises, touch, gestures, eyebrow code etc.) at every stage. You don't have sex with someone just because they want to, you feel obliged to, because they've nagged you or sulked about it or because it gives you something to do with your hands while you work on that difficult formula. You don't have sex with someone who you suspect doesn't feel like it or seems uncertain about how they feel, or is very tired or drunk or otherwise vulnerable. You don't assume that the other person's willingness to be with you in one context (e.g their presence in your bed, their kissing you, their performing certain sexual acts on you) means that the other party is up for anything else that crosses your mind. You ask. You respect their answer. You expect the same from them.

Practicing enthusiastic consent isn't merely about being a considerate lover or avoiding doing something sexual that wasn't entirely welcome. You're likely to be in a much better position for managing your reproductive choices and, outside a lifelong monogamous relationship, it also helps protect your partners and their future partners by setting a precedent.

This does warrant discussion because (a) this isn't yet a dominant model of how sex should be in our culture – it certainly isn't what we see in the films, in Men's or Women's Magazines, let alone porn - and (b) some of us struggle with how to practice this, because of programming and personal issues around sex. What if talking out loud is a turn-off for a partner? What if you're doing something that renders eye-contact impossible? What about times you do something sexual for someone because you love them even though it's not really your thing? All this stuff is resolvable, but the principle matters and quite obviously, one's chances of having better, more mutually-fulfilling sex rocket compared to the model where one person (usually a man) initiates, everything just happens and both parties hope for the best.

My top tip: Being British means talking out loud about sex is almost impossible without giggling - just now I'm recovering from the effect of having put the words sex and rocket next to each other in the same sentence. Reading and participating in written discussions, both public and private, is much easier than sitting around with friends and saying, “So, you know when you really fancy the thing with the bubble wrap and the hedgehog costume, but your partner's busy reading Ovid...?”

7. Use The Word Rape To Describe Rape

One of the big problems we have even talking about rape is that our culture has an ideal model for the crime which (roughly) features a virtuous young single woman walking along in daylight when an armed stranger leaps out from nowhere and drags her into the bushes. We consider a rape a crime which necessarily
  • results in significant physical injury 
  • results in long-term trauma with immediate effect 
  • results in a very specific mix of rational behaviours (e.g. reporting the incident to the police immediately) and irrational behaviours (e.g. being very upset all the time, refusing to leave the house and taking a vow of chastity). 
There are few other crimes when we question whether wrong-doing has taken place on the grounds of the victim's reaction to events - “All the evidence suggests your husband was brutally murdered, but you're now eating normally and you're able to tuck your children in bed at night without breaking down in tears, so this 'murder' can't have been as bad as you make out.”

Some rapes are much worse than others, involving more violence, greater fear of death, more than one assailant and so forth. This doesn't mean that other rapes are not serious or not actual rapes. Often, victims struggle to use the word rape because they don't feel what happened was quite bad enough and because they are deeply invested in avoiding any drama. Dissociation is a common reaction to the shock of an assault, which can mean that, on auto-pilot, the victim is sociable and friendly with the rapist in the immediate aftermath. Together with domestic violence – of which rape is often a feature – victims often see a choice between carrying on with things as they were and getting back to normal as soon as possible, or else identifying as a victim, condemning their friend/ lover/ spouse/ family or community member as a rapist and disrupting every aspect of both their lives.

So often accounts of rape begin, “I wasn't raped, but this thing happened to me once where I was forced to have sex against my will...”

This isn't victims' fault, and nobody should be pressed into using language about their own experiences which they don't feel comfortable about.  However, the rest of us need to get this right.

We generally struggle to use the word rape or even sexual assault when it is appropriate. The term “had sex” is overused in reporting of sexual crimes, even when discussing the abuse of young children. Julian Assange is currently suspected of rape, but the word is rarely used when discussing his case, regardless of anyone's stance on his as-yet-uncertain guilt.  In the coverage of an upcoming film about Mike Tyson, I've heard reference of “his time in prison” but not the fact that he was put in prison for rape (which in most minds, is towards one end of the huge spectrum of things a person can be imprisoned for). I've even seen film reviews that refer to "rough sex" when the only sexual content is an unambiguous rape.

I don't believe that this is because people don't know what rape is.  I just think we're massively squeamish about the word, like we are about some anatomical words - rape is perhaps a word we wouldn't use in front of our grandmothers. But this is part of the reason why people can commit rape and frame what they do in the language of say, men's magazines. If we consistently used the word rape to describe any time someone has sex forced upon them, it would make it far more difficult for rapists to rationalise their future crimes.

8. Avoid humour around rape and sexual aggression.

Many jokes about rape and sexual aggression muddy the water about the acceptability of these behaviours.  Sure, people laugh because these things are shocking to say and hear, but they are rendered less shocking by the saying, hearing and laughing. Jokes don't make people rape, any more than racist jokes make white people go out and beat up black and Asian people.  However, I guarantee that rapists, like violent racists, are much more comfortable in an environment where the joke is on the victims of their violence.

Meanwhile, I think this saga, which continues into the comments, demonstrates how shocking it can be to people who consider themselves harmless and decent to realise the hurt, distaste and profound mistrust that this kind of humour can elicit from people who have experienced, or are at higher risk of experiencing, sexual violence. You may be free to joke about whatever you like, but you will be judged for your humour and you will help create environments which make some people feel safe and others feel alienated. It's worth considering what kind of people you want to reassure and what kind of people you want to push to the edges.

I'd include in this, don't use the verb rape to mean kick ass, thrash, wipe the floor with etc., in a competitive context, e.g "Chelsea are going to rape Man U this weekend."  Stephen recently reported reading the phrase "raped by the postage" to refer to someone being charged high postage. I mean, just no!

* This really shocked me, because Mum is in her late fifties, is made of very stern stuff and would probably respond to the same story coming from another woman with a cunning plot to bring about the creep's humiliating comeuppance. But when it was her own case, she reverted to a young girl second-guessing herself about leaving a party to avoid a boy who just groped her - except that among her machinations, she argued that because of her age, the man couldn't really mean anything sexual or pose any kind of threat.

** Not all women have any interest in male attention, but many women are socialised not to rock that particular boat, regardless of sexuality.


Matthew Smith said...

I found the feminist reaction to the West Mercia anti-rape posters very problematic - it showed that they did not understand what role the police have in this as well as an aversion to taking personal responsibility as adults for the situations they put themselves in. It's entirely legitimate for the police to warn young people of the dangers of being too drunk, although I thought the posters for women should have highlighted the dangers of getting robbed, getting into fights or whatever besides rape, not "regretful sex or even rape" - regretful sex is not a crime for either party. Drunkenness breeds crime, for both men and women, and the police are there to tackle crime. They are not a feminist campaigning organisation and never claimed to be.

In the case of educating men about rape being wrong because it hurts women (the campaigners said these posters should have given that message), I think that is a worthy and important message but one that should be given out in an educational context and at greater length. An A3 size poster in a nightclub toilet (which it can be safely assumed some intending rapists will see) is not the place to educate someone about that: at that point you need to warn him about the consequences for him. It is entirely consistent with their campaigns against drunken or dangerous driving: you could get a criminal record, lose your job etc.

Similarly with warning women - when people go on holiday to hot countries where there is malaria, the health authorities (and tourist guidebooks to the countries) warn them they have to take their medication and make sure they do not get bitten. Admittedly, the mosquitoes are only doing what comes naturally, unlike the rapists who choose to rape, but the common factor is that someone faces a risk and an opportunity to reduce their vulnerability beforehand. It isn't "blaming the victim" to warn people of how to reduce their risk of becoming a victim. (I suspect some of these feminists aren't even part of the same culture as the women addressed in the posters, and don't go to the same clubs. They see the posters as addressing them when in fact they address a different group of people entirely. Both groups know the risk of being raped when they are sober, but people are often less cautious when they are drunk.)

As for the risk of sexual harassment and other violence for men - the risk varies wildly from area to area and in some places, like where I live, the risk is negligible while in others, the risk might be so dire that a man will not walk into the next neighbourhood (while a man of a different skin colour might walk straight through without noticing any boundary), while the risk of sexual violence for women is probably more even. I believe males are more at risk of sexual abuse in institutional environments such as boarding schools, and most at risk around puberty, not as adults. That said, I had a very frightening near miss in Cairo when I was 22, so the risk may be very much greater in other parts of the world than here, and a few incidents of public propositioning from men as a teenager, but nothing since and I'm 35 now. Also, there are different types of men who sexually harass women and the type who do it in a group with their mates aren't the same as the loners who leer after young girls in school uniform.

I was planning a response to the controversy over the West Mercia posters on my own blog, but have been putting it off largely because I would lose a few friends by saying similar things to what I have said here. I know rape is an emotive issue but I feel that some campaigners are unable or unwilling to discuss it rationally and without knee-jerk offence reactions, so this post came as a breath of fresh air.

The Goldfish said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your comment. :-)

"It isn't "blaming the victim" to warn people of how to reduce their risk of becoming a victim."

I think this is a difficult subject, and it's certainly a controversial one - a feminist blogger at Vagenda felt the campaign was valid.

However, the trouble is that there is no limit - absolutely no limit - to the steps that a woman could, theoretically take, to avoid rape. As you say, staying reasonably sober is a very good idea, but it's a good idea for everyone for all kinds of reasons. Not walking around alone reduces many risks (again, of various different crimes for people of all genders), but we can't go around in groups all day.

But even if women never left the house unchaperoned, that doesn't eliminate the vast majority of rapes that are conducted by friends, partners and family members. There are some crimes you can almost avoid entirely by standing indoors and keeping your possessions under lock and key, but unless a person remains completely alone in a steel fortress miles from civilisation, you can never avoid rape. And yet, if she was raped, the fortress-dwelling hermit would probably be told, "Well, you were out there in that fortress, all by yourself. What did you expect?"

When women are raped, regardless of the circumstances, they are frequently treated as if they should have done more. And even if they keep it to themselves, we all know the cultural scripts about rape, so we are likely to feel we should have done more.

And this is the problem. If we lived in a culture where rape was not treated a lot like a nasty accident that can befall women if they don't take better care of themselves, then the poster would have been equally benign had it been about rape or mugging or pick-pocketing. But we don't live in that culture, so I understand why people were upset - especially people who have had experienced both rape and being blamed for their rape because they'd had a drink.

So whilst it's not victim blaming in the sense of the Canadian chap who said, "If only women wouldn't dress like sluts..." I think it is clumsy and probably completely ineffective.

From a psychological point of view, I also think these posters were misguided. Rape is an extreme scenario and people struggle to absorb risk information that seems extreme, even if it is true (it's the disgust of their peers that has reduced the number of smokers - not threats of lung cancer and stroke).

I'm fairly certain that if you wanted to stop people drinking to excess (which is the whole point and, as you say, would lower crime across the board), you'd be better off emphasising how idiotic and unattractive drunkeness can make a person - a poster of a beautiful woman vomiting on a handsome fellow she might have otherwise seduced - and vice versa for the lads, for example. ;-)

"I believe males are more at risk of sexual abuse in institutional environments such as boarding schools, and most at risk around puberty, not as adults. "

I think you're almost certainly right - and where adult men are abused, it is most often in the same kind of isolating & extremely hierarchical institutions(e.g prisons, military).

So perhaps another thing we can do about rape is to be aware of these institutions, and read up on our Zimbardo.

Tim Reed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel R. said...

TY for this awesome and totally comprehensive post! What a shocking surprise that the VERY FIRST COMMENT is ALL about how its totally not at all sexist to place the onus of preventing rape squarely upon the shoulders of the victims....reminds me of this http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2010/10/people-you-meet-when-you-write-about.html

Anyway, that's why I keep reminding myself not to read the damn comments!!! Talk about derail city! Thanks again, this is a great post and I'm gonna post it widely, my only suggestion, you did a good job pointing out that not all of us are hetero, I'd incorporate the notion that not all of us fall into those two opposite ends of the spectrum categories--ie, men or women. I find that its actually a little easier to avoid some of that polarization that so frequently happens when we discuss rape and sexual assault; where male victims are dissapeared and non-male perpetrators unheard of; to merely state that any gender can rape and any gender can be raped. While I do think its mightily important that we pay close and careful attention to the fact that in the vast majority of cases its a gendered power differential that separates the perpetrator and the target; I'd work to eliminate the intense binarism of 'men or women' and 'boys or girls'... just a thought, and its the only way one could improve this. Its utterly fair to talk about the specific issues that women have with men and vice versa... just being aware that there are other gendered possibilities and using neutral or inclusive language whenever possible would make this even more helpful.

Thanks again!!!

beans said...

Seriously thank you for the amazing post. So well thought out.

I am mainly commenting, though, to say that your handling of the first comment was so spot on. I am so impressed. Your response was totally helpful, hopefully Matthew sees the difference now and I know that I will be using your explanation with people in the future. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I think your post is quite excellent on a number of points, but there was one thing I would raise...

"The vast majority of men are neither rapists nor potential rapists."

All people are potential rapists. It sounds pessimistic, and horrible, but I only highlight because I think, as you say
"Rapists generally regard real rape as something a notch or two worse than the rapes they have committed."

A lot of rapists, or people who engage in (or have engaged in) sexual assault, don't necessarily have a full awareness that their actions could be considered rape or sexual assault, as they do not recognise what they have done as malevolent.
"I imagine being told not to rape is a bit like that, only you know, about rape." No need to imagine what it might be like for these warnings to apply to you. They do. These warnings apply to everyone.
Each of us having an awareness of consent and pressure is valuable for everyone. Some of the most playful, aggressive, jovially-intended sexual assault I have been subject to has been from women, who read my occasional states of undress as consent. One person when called out on their aggression told me I should be "fucking grateful." I think she read me as a heterosexual male. But it shouldn't matter even if I was one or not.
Equally, I have been playful or tactile in ways with people I don't know well enough and had to catch myself, or in one or two occasions, was called out on it.

Having been raped, and being someone who, because I enjoy nudity in environments I deem relatively safe, having been sexually assaulted to varying degrees of severity a fair few times, I do not think I am immune to raping someone, or should be absolved of scrutiny or potential implication in rape culture and recognise that it's my responsibility to maintain an awareness of someone else's consent as best I can.
Zia x

Anonymous said...

Hey there: absolutely solid post and thanks for your well tended thoughts. As a cis hetero white male I would have had not a lot to add except for a phrase that your first commenter used which filled me with concern.

Matthew sought to declare that in the context of 'types' of sexual aggressor we have group harassers and we have solo schoolgirl hasslers and never the twain shall meet, to paraphrase. Not only do I disagree with this idea, but I feel it's observably one of the most damaging myths that people constantly seek to perpetuate about sexual harassers.

There are many logical ways in which I could seek to show how dangerous this idea is: I could talk about how little we actually know about rapists and how many of them operate right under people's noses, from catholic priests to nice guy(tm)s. I could talk about how anti socially aggressive sexual behavior is not some neat compartmentalised set of pay grades but actually the same behavior carried to a greater or lesser extreme - it's all a matter of not taking no for an answer and what people feel they can get away with.

But I feel that the above issues are much smaller than the picture they illustrate: which is the FACT that despite the prevalence of rape and the overwhelming numbers regarding who does it most and why, we know next to nothing about the psychology of rapists because for two thousand years now we've been too busy telling woman to stop wearing short skirts and outright refusing to question our brother men's behavior.

That's "we" as in men, btw.

And whenever anyone tries to change the subject to "but it's you guys doing the assaulting" we start talking about how it's not us personally, and it's no Steve at the bar telling rapey jokes and grabbing ass cos Steve's one of the guys, not like those rapey rapist who are mean to schoolgirls...

So yeah, sorry to post a comment that mainly addresses one of your commenters, but like, as someone who's discovered abominable behavior happening under his own nose a number of times I can tell you with very good authority that NO, the guy hassling women in a group is NOT different from the guy in the bushes, the guy walking you home with ulteriors, the guy who calls over late at night to console you... Don't make me tell specific stories.

Thanks again for the post, sorry to ramble.

The Goldfish said...

Rachel, thank you and I think you're right about the level of gendered language here. I think I started out okay, but then got a little sucked up by the way these discussions are usually framed, which is all about the binary. I think it's fair to talk about the binary in terms of socialisation, and I think lots of power dynamics - including those that affect non-binary people - remain gendered, because others will identify people as men or women even when they're neither.

But yes, I might have done better and it is important.

Beans, Thank you. :-)

Zia, Thanks. I understand your point, but I'm not sure I agree.

I agree that neither you, I or anyone else, "should be absolved of scrutiny or potential implication in rape culture" I also "recognise that it's my responsibility to maintain an awareness of someone else's consent as best I can."

But I'm still sure I wouldn't have sex with someone who I didn't know was into it. I know I wouldn't. It's not that "I'm a decent person, so I can't do this bad thing." and I don't expect anyone to take my word for it.

I think we're all capable of misreading people and making brief mistakes; thinking this is the big romantic moment and leaning in for the kiss, only to find the other person's turned their face away. My fiance and I are very touchy-feely but have fluctuating chronic pain conditions, and however much information we exchange, there are times when one of us will touch the other in such a way which is meant to give pleasure but has the opposite effect. There are certain activities where it can take a few seconds to register.

This stuff happens, and of course, it takes more than mere good intentions - being decent people - to avoid. We all need to work on that, thus discussing enthusiastic consent.

I think the problem we have is the idea that some well-meaning people might not know better. That, for example, the women who have assaulted you really have believed that you would enjoy being touched, simply because you're a man, not wearing much.

But I'm fairly sure that the vast majority of women who might very much wish to touch you would know better, however they read your sexuality. It wouldn't occur to them to touch you without having a fairly massive clue (much more than your gender and state of undress) that you wanted them to. The idea that, as a man, you should be grateful, is just the excuse of an assailant.

If I stroke my chap's thigh and he flinches, or if you've realised you've gone a little too far with someone, we stop (and probably feel quite rotten about it).

We don't get cross and say, "But you gave me every sign that you wanted that!" We certainly don't say "But you've got to want this really!" and carry on regardless.

Some people do and, whether through genuine ignorance or not (I suspect not), I feel that's the difference between us and people who rape.

The Goldfish said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

I agree with you - and actually, it was a group of men who commented on me in my school uniform. There may be a difference in their psychology or not (I'm certain there's a difference in the way they understand themselves) but groups are no less intimidating - in fact, I would much more readily consider turning round and yelling at a lone creep in an attempt to frighten him off than I would take on a group of men.

Groups of men who want to shout lewd remarks prey on the same kinds of people; vulnerable looking women, usually on their own and including children. They would never in a million years identify themselves as paedophiles - they're just having a laugh and a joke about the sexual attributes of a child, they don't mean it. But it's the same kind of experience and I'm not sure it's useful to treat these behaviours differently.

And it's worth saying that this isn't something most people do, it may be common, but it's not normal and most people wouldn't feel the need to behave that way.

Anonymous said...

I love this! This is going in my bookmarks for frequent re-reading and sending to friends.