KJ (owlmoose) wrote,
KJ
owlmoose

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Deep thoughts on a Saturday night

One of the side effects of getting poison oak all over my hands is that it's been hard to write much. (Fortunately, the worst of it is now past, although I still get struck by itchy fits from time to time. But they're more "let me slough off this dead skin" and less "oh my god I don't remember what it feels like not to be one giant itchy spot", so it's a lot easier to deal with now. Anyway.) So I've been spending more time reading, and contemplating, and following conversations all over the Internet (and playing Bubble Spinner, but we won't talk about that part), and for various reasons the topics that've been consuming most of my reading and thinking time lately are related to feminist issues.

Partly that's because I've just finished reading Yes Means Yes (I have a full review on Goodreads, here), which is a collection of essays about rape, women's sexuality, and different models of consent. And it was in the context of having these ideas rattling around in my brain that I read this call to arms by cereta, in which she exhorts men to stand up and do their part to help end rape culture. I'm slowly working my way through the comment threads, although last I checked it was up to 16 pages, so there's no way I'll be able to read them all. But I definitely recommend going as far as you can; people are sharing some incredible stories, good and awful alike, and there are some fantastic (and sometimes frustrating) discussions about being an ally, and consent, and victim blaming.

It's that last one that really gets me thinking. Just how steeped our culture is in blaming the victim for cases of rape and sexual assault is something that I've only really understood within the last couple of years. I knew, of course, that our society will automatically try to get any woman who is sexually assaulted to take the blame upon herself -- what was she wearing, did she flirt with him, did she say yes and then change her mind, etc. etc. etc. It's a story we've all heard a thousand times. But it happens on the other side of the equation, too, because whenever we talk about rape prevention, our entire focus is on how women should protect themselves. Don't go out alone, don't drink too much, don't be alone with a strange man (never mind that most women are assaulted by someone they know), don't be "too wild", carry mace/a whistle/keys, learn self-defense. Every one of these suggestions places the burden of not "getting raped" on women, and many of them force women into tiny boxes of "appropriate" sexual expression. Want to wear that skimpy outfit, or go out drinking with your friends, or hook up with a guy you barely know? Well, go ahead, but don't say we didn't warn you.

(Not that I'm trying to claim that these are necessarily smart things to do. But does our society tell a man not to go out drinking because he might be an easier target for a mugger? Does society warn him against one-night-stands because he might get assaulted? And do we then turn around and blame him if anything happens to him? There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule I would say no. We don't. This is part of what equality means: women should have the same opportunity as men to do crazy things, stupid things. Fun things -- one of the essays in Yes Means Yes, by Jaclyn Friedman, is a manifesto on the joys of cutting loose and being wild, and on our right to experience them, and I found it one of the most compelling in the book.)

But this method of rape prevention leaves out one factor completely: the rapist. Oh yeah, that guy. (And yes, I do know that not all rapists are male and not all rape victims are female. But looking at the odds, those are good ones to play. Also, my point is really more about rape culture than about individual victims and perpetrators, and in our society, rapists are gendered male/aggressive and victims are gendered female/passive, regardless of the details of any particular case.) What does he have to do with anything?

Plenty, I'd say. Because if there were no rapists, no one would ever be raped. And it wouldn't matter what they were wearing, where they went, what they drank, what they said. Complete prevention, full stop. Put it that way, and it sounds almost ridiculously simple. So why don't we have books and courses and all of that to teach men how not to be rapists, how not to commit sexual assault, how to recognize consent and take "no" for an answer, how to stand up to other men who are about to cross the line?

I could come up with all sorts of reasons why we as a society haven't gone this route, mostly relating to male privilege. But right now, I'd rather just leave the question open and out there, in all its simplicity. Seriously. Why not?
Tags: feminism
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