liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So [ profile] cereta made an impressive and widely linked post about the pervasiveness of rape. The reaction to it has been really bizarre, and I want to talk about that and about a related issue: the one about women taking personal safety precautions.

Firstly, you probably don't want to plough through the comments to [personal profile] cereta's post unless you have a lot of time and a lot of emotional energy. There's some upsetting stuff there and some angering stuff there, along with a lot of positives. If you're really a glutton for punishment, you can take a look at what happens when the meme spreads beyond the tightly controlled conversation among people who mostly get it.

I am really struck by the fact that a post can be explicitly about the fact that not all men are rapists, and still get lots and lots of responses from offended men who feel unjustly accused of a heinous crime just because of their gender, (as well as the usual bunch of responses pointing out that men get raped too and that women can also be sexual abusers). I mean, what?! Cereta is looking for strategies for non-rapist men to use to combat rape, and stories of non-rapist men who went beyond the baseline decency of simply not raping people when they had the opportunity and actually did something active to protect vulnerable women from rapists. And somehow people see the keyword "rape" and feel compelled to jump in and say that it's unfair to describe rape as in any way a gendered problem. I'm starting to be tempted by the ludicrous conspiracy theory view that there's some secret fraternity of misogynists who want to make it absolutely impossible for anyone to make a simple statement like "too many men are raping women and that's bad". Of course I don't actually believe that, I'm not stupid, but it's hard to find a more rational explanation to some of the reaction to Cereta's (in my view very pro-male!) post.

To respond to the post itself, well. I can think of hundreds of occasions where a man had an opportunity to rape me and didn't take it. Let's take the first and most significant: I'm 17 and desperately naive. I'm in Oxford for interviews, and I have no mobile phone (they weren't common back in those dark ages!) and just about nobody knows where I am; my parents expect me home in three days' time, and other than that I'm off the radar. I meet someone and we click instantly, and suddenly it's hours later and we've talked ourselves hoarse and we're being thrown out of the JCR because it's midnight and the volunteer ushers need to go home. He suggests we go back to his room to continue chatting, and I have an instant flash of all the advice I've been fed my whole life about how agreeing to this would be little short of suicidal. But in the next instant, I realize that I am not willing to throw away the miraculous friendship of this stranger I've just met, no matter what the risk is. So I agree to go back to his room, and guess what? Not only does he not rape me, he doesn't even make a pass, because in fact he genuinely wanted to carry on the conversation and nothing beyond that.

I think I may have over-generalized from this positive experience, and concluded that all the safety advice I'd ever received was a load of crock. I want to be able to have male friends, basically, and I don't think that's compatible with going to elaborate lengths to make sure I'm never alone or non-sober (or, you know, asleep) in male company. And it makes me angry that going to those lengths should be considered a "reasonable" safety precaution to "prevent" rape.

Here's another story, which didn't happen to me but to another 17-year-old girl close to me: she was supposed to meet some friends in Paris, travelling there separately. And for various reasons she ended up stranded in Calais with no money and no phone, and decided that the least bad possible option was to try to hitch to Paris. The first guy who picked her up told her that she couldn't possibly stand there by the roadside, it wasn't safe, and suggested she come home with him and he'd give her a bed for the night and money for a train fare to Paris in the morning. The girl made a quick calculation and reckoned her chances were better with this guy than with any random trucker or loony or opportunist who happened to pass the junction, and went home with him. Apparently his wife was a little surprised by his bringing home a bedraggled and scared 17-year-old English girl, but the two of them did in fact make up a bed for her in the guest room and fed her breakfast and sent her on way to Paris safely the next day. Now, that's a man who did something beyond merely not raping her when he could have done; he actually helped her out, and took a not insignificant risk to do so. I'm sure it must have crossed his mind that she could have been a bait for dangerous robbers lying in wait just out of sight, or the kind of unbalanced woman who might accuse him of something nefarious even when he was completely innocent.

So, there are good men out there, and they quite possibly outnumber the evil men. (And yes, there are also some evil women out there, and when they are in the rare situation of having power over men some of them are going to take advantage of that.) But the problem is that you can't tell which are which. The people who responded to Cereta's rant with comments how all the stuff about rape and misogyny is irrelevant to them because they're sensitive and articulate and geeky, and obviously women only have to be afraid of jocks / frat boys / lower class men, make me possibly even more angry than the ones who just reflexively say "you're making sexist generalizations!" You. Can't. Tell. That's why people get raped, not because they are stupid or choose to put themselves in vulnerable situations with "obviously" skeevy people. It's natural to want to assume that most people you meet are decent human beings, and honestly, I should think the kind of evil rapists who make it obvious from the beginning that they're out to rape anything that moves are probably a lot less "successful" than the kind who pose as normal, reasonable people.

So, the other question I want to ask is, how should one respond to not being able to tell? It seems to me that men who have normative masculine gender presentations simply don't worry about it, they assume that if they stay out of prison and really dodgy dives they'll be perfectly fine. That's good because they don't lead restricted or fearful lives, but bad because it may lead to being excessively blasé about situations which are in fact dangerous. Men get beaten up by random strangers far more often than women get raped by random strangers, and while you can argue that getting beaten up is less bad than rape, it's still obviously undesirable. Women, on the other hand, often end up in a constant state of hypervigilance, taking "precautions" which are incredibly restricting, and being unable to relax in a lot of perfectly normal situations. Some genderqueer or just effeminate men are also hypervigilant, and not without reason, because they have the normal male risk of getting beaten up for no reason, and the risk of being beaten up or raped by homophobes. (Note: I am absolutely not saying that less masculine men are actually girls, I'm saying that they face many of the same risks and fears that women do.)

I've ranted before about the saturation of useless, contradictory, unattainable and ineffective rape prevention advice. I don't think that kind of advice prevents rape; sure, people should know about basic safety, but this kind of message goes way beyond "be streetwise and not stupid". What it does is make (some) women more fearful, because any time they wear nice clothes or get drunk or get into an intimate situation with a man or go out after dark or live alone or whatever, they are going to be reminded that they may be taking the chance of getting raped. As a teenager I had "self-defence" classes which taught me very little about self-defence and lots and lots about how much danger I was in in normal, unavoidable situations. Stoking that fear is an incredibly effective way to control women's lives, because although it's impossible to avoid all situations where rape might occur, it's possible to take precautions like, oh, making sure you have a male protector whenever that's possible, or avoiding activities where such protection might not be possible. It's the 21st century; anyone who says that women should be dependent on and subservient to men because of some innate gender determined traits is going to get laughed at. But if someone says that women should behave in a way which is tantamount to that, because unfortunate though it is, we live in an imperfect world and there are some evil men out there who might rape you if you don't follow your properly circumscribed feminine role, that's credible.

When I was composing this post in my head, I happened upon a fantastic essay by [ profile] rm on the topic of being escorted. It's partly about the evil pro-life movement attacking women using reproductive health services. It's partly spelling out why same-sex marriage is an important issue even if you don't "believe in" marriage, because marriage is part of how adulthood is defined in our culture. (I've changed my position on this question thanks to precisely that kind of argument; I used to think that SSM was just semantics and basically a trivial issue, and now I do think it's an important focus for gay rights activism.) But almost tangentially, [ profile] rm brilliantly skewers and dissects the effects of creating a society where women need male protection. Just mind-blowing.

The arguments around how women should "protect themselves" from rape are absolutely no different from the Mediaeval or theocratic means of controlling women's lives. If you behave like a nice girl, and don't step out of place and keep men happy, we'll protect you from those raping beasts out there. If you do anything that shows independence, such as, oh, travelling on your own, or taking a job which means you might have to be out after dark, or expressing your own sexuality rather than being passive and modest, then something nightmarishly bad "might happen" to you. Not that we're threatening you, of course, it's just that we might not be able to protect you any more if you're not feminine enough for our standards. (The threat of rape is also used as a pressure to make men conform to gender norms; if you're not "masculine" enough, you end up in the category of being rapeable, and that's much scarier than having to alter your gender presentation, right?)

A lot of the "safety advice" that is so much of a background assumption in society is not advice about how to keep yourself safe. It's advice about how to be sufficiently dependent and, yes, thank you rm, childlike, to have credibility. To have a chance that if someone does rape you you'll be seen as a victim and not a loose woman who brought it all on yourself.

I say to hell with that. I go where I want to, when I want to (and hello, I live at 60° north, after dark sometimes means 3pm here). I wear what I like, I live alone, I have male friends and sometimes even flirt with or seduce them. I'm not very interested in getting drunk or high myself, but I do believe that adults have the right to enjoy recreational drugs if they want to. I don't avoid parties or stay at parties I'm not enjoying because I can't find someone to "walk me" home. No, I'm not reckless; simply living a normal adult life isn't reckless.

Because some women who've touched on this issue have met negative reactions, I want to say that I don't think my refusal to be afraid makes me cooler or tougher than other women. It's an often-quoted statistic that 1 woman in 4 is raped during her lifetime, and even if that statistic is an order of magnitude too high, that's an awful lot of women dealing with the aftermath of trauma. And I think that the constant messages about how to "keep safe" actually have the opposite effect, they create an atmosphere of a warzone. I think it's a little analogous to what happened after the September 11th bombings; yes, it was a terrible atrocity and rightly shocking and horrifying. But the constant loop from the media repeating the footage over and over and over again and milking the tragedy for every last drop of pathos created an atmosphere where many people were afraid all the time. And that made them easy to manipulate politically and probably led to, for example, the 2004 US election result. The constant atmosphere of telling women they should be afraid, the forcing us to imagine being raped in every situation, and of course the far too prevalent cases where the threat is real, are what causes the fear and hypervigilance, not the fact that women are stupid and gullible and afraid of shadows.

What I'm asking is, if you see a discussion about what to do about rape, don't add to this warzone atmosphere by giving pointless advice about "safety". (Most certainly don't make stupid comments about how it's unfair to presume all men to be rapists, but I'm assuming you wouldn't do that anyway.) Even if you don't feel that you personally can do anything about rape, that it's too hard a problem for ordinary individuals to affect by making minor personal choices, don't make it harder for people who are trying to fight it to have strategy discussions. And yes, if you assume that women are like innocent children who need to be lectured on "say no to strangers", you are making it harder to have those discussions.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 10:26 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I went to a self defence class last year which was much more helpful. The instructor didn't tell us not to go or do anything, instead she taught us some moves which can inflict pain upon or get out of being held by them. (Good advise like "If they're holding you like this it's a good idea to try to punch their kidneys and kick their shins until they release their grip enough for you to escape".) I think the main point was to get us used to the idea of fighting someone enough that we'd be less likely to freeze up and more likely to at least try to fight back.

I think one of the stupid things about most of the 'safety advice' is that it is based upon the false premise that the threat is out there rather than in our homes. Women mostly get raped by men they know quite well. Your chaperone is more likely to rape you than the random men you pass on the street on the way home. The fear of wondering around alone at night makes women less safe because it keeps us from leaving situations which are starting to get dangerous. (I'm thinking about situations like a woman performing sexual acts she doesn't want to because she's scared that if she doesn't the man she went home with will chuck her out and she's scared to be alone in an unfamiliar part of town at 4am on a Friday night.)

I think it's a mistake to make a big distinction between rapists and everyone else. I know people who've committed sexual assault and they're not evil monsters. They're people who've done bad things, just like everyone else. Heck, if I think back to how strongly I came on to some girls when I was at high school I wince. It's part of the same continuum. We live in a rape culture, just think of how many romantic films feature a scene in which one character (usually the man) kisses another character (usually a woman) against her protests and she melts into enjoying it really. That's cultural baggage which can come up and bite in the heat of the moment when you really want to have sex and maybe you're a bit drunk and really want her to want to have sex with you. That doesn't make rape OK but is does point out that even 'nice guys' should actually come to terms with how much of a potential rapist they are. It doesn't mean that they're a horrible evil person; it just means everyone should really think through their role in preventing rape.

As far as what women can do to prevent rape. Believe rape survivors and make it clear that you don't think that rape or sexual assault are OK. I have a friend who was physically abused by her partner and one of the things that prevented her from getting help was the fear that no-one would believe her. She managed to avoid one assault because some friends were in the same building and she told him that if he hit her she'd scream and everyone would know what he'd done. Men should not rape women because it's bad but failing that at least not raping women because you're scared everyone will think that you're an evil douche bag is something.

In terms of preventing one's own rape, it's a controversial suggestion, but I've found in some situations being prepared to use violence helps. It's not going to help if the rapist is willing to use violence, but if he's just a flawed person who's convinced himself that 'no' means 'yes' and punch to the face or a knee to the groin can help to snap him out of that delusion.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 11:01 pm (UTC)
leora: a statue of a golden snake swallowing its own tail. (ouroboros)
From: [personal profile] leora
*nods* I think for many cases why someone doesn't rape is less important than whether or not they do (same for abuse). So, not raping someone or not hitting them because you don't want people to dislike you strikes me as a big improvement over doing so. I'm totally for people using social disapproval as discouragement.

Something else I was taught, and have never had reason to use, was that instead of saying no, try mentioning rape. For many men the word "no" doesn't get through their heads, but "rape" does. Making it clear you view it as rape can be helpful. That seems a potentially useful thing to know and it sounds plausible. But it's a shame that "no" doesn't carry enough weight in our culture.

I do think you're right about people underestimating the threat of people they know. One of the things that annoys me is how much my emotional fears do not line up with my rational risk assessment. I was taught to be afraid of strangers and going out at night and all of that stuff. I have never been the victim of a violent crime by a complete stranger. I've had some things stolen in non-violent ways, but no violent crime. However, I've certainly gotten beaten up many times by people I did know (not any more; I don't let people stay in my life now if they do that sort of thing, but in childhood you don't tend to have good ways to escape). And all of my fears of random violence seem laughable compared to the damage poor health has done to me. But I don't generally get afraid of health problems, not in that really deep emotional way. Whereas I get nervous walking around alone at night in places where i have done so safely countless times.

I know that violent crime does happen, and sure, it might to me. But it's not nearly as high a risk as so many other risks I take. And it's so much less likely to harm me than so many other things I didn't fear have. But boy is it hard to undo that childhood programming at the emotional level.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-09 01:01 am (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
That's cultural baggage which can come up and bite in the heat of the moment when you really want to have sex and maybe you're a bit drunk and really want her to want to have sex with you.

instead of saying no, try mentioning rape. For many men the word "no" doesn't get through their heads, but "rape" does...But it's a shame that "no" doesn't carry enough weight in our culture.

"No" is part of the cultural baggage train. "No" is also misinterpretable - for instance as "no, this is really naughty!" to which "hee hee, no-one will catch us!" can be an appropriate response - or "no" as it is often used, to mean "I want to, but I am Bad and Slutty if I say yes, so you have to persuade me," which is also part of the cultural baggage train - instead of "no, this is rape!" Saying "rape" derails the baggage train in a very effective way.

just to prove I'm not only after help

Date: 2009-06-09 05:32 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
interesting article.

Reading what you wrote reminded me of an excellent article I read my the linguist Deborah Cameron a few years back. Here is the link:

for those of you who can't be bothered to read it she argues that the prevalence of "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" theories oppress women and increase their risk from rape. The thought is that we are all meant to believe that men don't understand indirect communication but unfortunately that is how women communicate. when it comes to saying no one has to be very direct or men don't get the message. but, she points out that that is a load of baloney and more worryingly we rarely refuse anything directly because it is seen as confrontational and we are aware that we are likely to anger somebody. She then draws the obvious moral that if you're already feeling under threat last thing you want to do is anger anybody. Very few people are going to want to increase their chances of suffering both physical and sexual violence.

I am aware that you haven't made any suggestion to the contrary, it just made me think. it also made me think that one does have to be really careful about the possibility that you are deluding yourself. I think I can tell the difference between coyness and a polite refusal. In other words I can tell when "no..." is looking for the reply "no one will catch us", and when not. But do I always want to? The self-delusion is certainly made easier by the idea that I am entitled to misunderstand as someone I'm with was not direct enough.


(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-09 08:30 pm (UTC)
leora: a statue of a golden snake swallowing its own tail. (ouroboros)
From: [personal profile] leora
Yes, I also wonder how actually useful it is. I do think it would be useful in certain situations, but very few of them. It's specifically useful to people like me. I'm perfectly willing to believe that someone is deluding him/her self into thinking I consent when I do not. And I am not above using harsh measures to defend myself. However, I am less likely to be in this situation, because I am more likely to have already disillusioned a potential rapist who is working hard to fool himself into thinking I consent. And with someone who knows they are forcing me but is willing to anyway, well, as you said, it's not likely to work.

Although part of the point is to make it clear that it is rape. Then you have no illusions that this person could be doing anything but raping you. I think the psychological improvement of knowing the person was absolutely and clearly wrong might be useful, even if you still get raped.

But I do think there are men who have managed to convince themselves that rape is obviously wrong, but that pushing a woman into having sex she doesn't want to have is okay. This is some pretty serious denial about themselves, and it's these people on whom the word "rape" might be of use. They're perfectly willing to force someone, but they aren't necessarily willing to think of themselves as a rapist.

I think the reasoning goes something like this: Rapists are bad people. I'm not a bad person. Ergo, I am not a rapist and that wasn't rape.

Not an easy set of beliefs to hold, but if you don't look at yourself too hard, I bet many people can pull it off.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 10:03 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I think the reasoning goes something like this: Rapists are bad people. I'm not a bad person. Ergo, I am not a rapist and that wasn't rape.

I think that's how an awful lot of rapists think about it. That's why I think it's so important to break down the myth that rapists are some alien species because it has the horrible perverse effect of leading to rape survivors not being believed because if Bob is a normal nice guy he couldn't possibly be a rapist and therefore the woman he raped must be lying.

I've never been raped. I've been touched inappropriately on a groping type level a few times. I don't think that any of those men really thought that they were doing anything wrong at the time. That's why the strategy of being very verbally clear, and then slapping or punching them if they don't desist has been quite an appropriate strategy. If I knew the man this was followed up by a very clear explanation of why that behaviour was unacceptable and how I wouldn't be spending time in their company until they got that.

I have seen people really get it after it was explained that way. Women shouldn't have to teach their male friends not to be rapists. Maybe we should send our teenage sons to how not to be a rapist classes (actually, including classes on consent in sex ed would be good but I always worry that since the standard of school sex ed is variable, some teachers might just reinforce rape promoting memes).

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-14 08:47 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I think part of my issue is that I don't think that any crime is best dealt with by declaring the perpetrator inhuman and writing them off for the rest of their life. It's a natural reaction for the victim and the rest of the community but I don't think that it's an effective way of reducing the incidence of crime. It eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation, it leads to the denial of crimes to protect the perpetrators and any dehumanising tendency is usually bad for a society.

The problem I face is that some of my favouritist people have sexually assaulted people or pressured or coerced people into sexual activity and some of these people are dedicating most of their lives to helping other people. They're clearly not evil inhuman monsters and they did what they did, so I can only conclude that sometimes nice people do these things. I've found it very valuable that in this discussion and that on [personal profile] wildeabandon's post is a few people who have confessed that they have raped or sexually assaulted people. It's particularly interesting when people admit to having been in both the victim and the perpetrator positions at different times, outside of the "cycle of abuse" type narrative. I think any discussion of rape and how to reduce it needs the voices of rapists. Not the usual defensiveness and excuses, but honest non-defensive accounts of how someone comes to rape another person.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-14 09:32 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I think I should explain why I respond this way. I don't think I ever told anyone about this before. I think part of my scrappiness comes from the combination of never having been a victim of serious violence and growing up with three older brothers who I used to fight with in a normal sibling scrappiness sort of way.

However, the thing which really drives my reaction to this is something which happened when I was 17. It was the first time I'd been to a gay club and I went with two of my queer female friends. Some young men came up to us and started dancing with us and being chronically naive we danced about with them. We were lesbians in a gay club, two of us were in a relationship with each other. I think it was the first time I'd been in a nightclub and I hadn't learnt the norms and ecology of such places and we often danced about with our female school friends without there being a sexual element to it. Anyway they started dancing closer to us and one of them danced behind me and brought my hand around to feel his erection through his trousers. I didn't do anything, mostly because it took me a while to realise what was going on. I was a 17 year old lesbian; I'd never been near an erection before. Soon after that we decided that we didn't want to be near them any more. They didn't want to leave us alone so one of my friends screamed into the ear of one of them with a loud eye piecing screech and eventually we got the bouncers to throw them out.

At least that's what I think happened. The memory has faded but what has remained has been the anger. As a mulled the incident over over the next few weeks and months I didn't feel guilty or unclean. I felt angry. I felt really fucking angry. I wanted to go back and hurt those men. They would know that they couldn't treat me like this. But I couldn't. I didn't know who they were. I would probably never see them again and even if I did I wouldn't recognise them again. So instead I decided that no-one was ever going to do something like that to me again. They would get one verbal warning and after that I was going to use whatever physical force was required to stop them touching me.

So that's what's going on. When a man touches me inappropriately it doesn't trigger fear or a freeze reaction. It triggers a rage, a vengeful violent anger toward anyone who thinks that they get away with treating me like that.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-14 11:58 am (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
It was a tactic that I used, and it worked.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-30 10:08 am (UTC)
ext_3241: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
mentioning rape thing.

I have done it once, and considered doing it since, in situations where I have been with a boyfriend (or "it's complicated") and they have been pushy over what they want, and ... it's kind of like, they don't quite realise it's Not Okay. The alternative (better alternative?) is to have a nice clear communication session, but "stop pushing it, or that will be rape" is a short and efficient way of derailing the mood at the moment, or emphasising what he or she is trying to do. The reason I've only done it once and not since is that in my situations which a decent guy who's not thinking and been carried away by his own mood, I think it would be upsetting to receive that accusation, and even being annoyed I don't feel that mean...

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 09:20 am (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
I did a self defence course in London which I thought was extremely good because it did cover what you should do in a dating/domestic situation. It got you to practice (yes, I know this sounds silly) setting boundaries and encouraged you to use whatever vocabulary worked best for you.

I really like the idea that self defence is something that covers everything from physical self defence to saying "No, go away, I don't like that." One of the interesting things that one of the instructors said was, "you're a woman, you already have self defence skills, we're here to help you hone them."


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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