I’m becoming increasingly sad at the need to keep doing this to save particularly excellent blog posts. This one is very important, especially for guys who don’t understand the dynamics of rape and question survivors on what they did and didn’t do.
(Harriet J, if you’re out there, I’m not trying to claim credit for your work. I think now, more than ever, people need to read the words you wrote.)
By the by, I consistently use that title because I mean for it to operate as a trigger warning. I write a lot about rape, but sometimes I write about other things, and I don’t want anybody taken off-guard transitioning from “help computer” into wtf rape-talk. Case you were wondering.
I was re-reading my five billion goddamn posts about rape and force, and I realized (surprise!) there is a more succinct way for me to express what I was thinking. I tend to go on and on, circling a subject, trying to get out everything in my head that possibly relates to it, and then sometimes find I didn’t really address the subject at all. So, here is what I wanted to say in those five billion posts about rape:
If women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:
- it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
- it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
- it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
- it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
- it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
- it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
- it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
- it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)
If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.
And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.
Women who are taught not to speak up too loudly or too forcefully or too adamantly or too demandingly are not going to shout “NO” at the top of their goddamn lungs just because some guy is getting uncomfortably close.
Women who are taught not to keep arguing are not going to keep saying “NO.”
Women who are taught that their needs and desires are not to be trusted, are fickle and wrong and are not to be interpreted by the woman herself, are not going to know how to argue with “but you liked kissing, I just thought…”
Women who are taught that physical confrontations make them look crazy will not start hitting, kicking, and screaming until it’s too late, if they do at all.
Women who are taught that a display of their emotional state will have them labeled hysterical and crazy (which is how their perception of events will be discounted) will not be willing to run from a room disheveled and screaming and crying.
Women who are taught that certain established boundaries are frowned upon as too rigid and unnecessary are going to find themselves in situations that move further faster before they realize that their first impression was right, and they are in a dangerous room with a dangerous person.
Women who are taught that refusing to flirt back results in an immediately hostile environment will continue to unwillingly and unhappily flirt with somebody who is invading their space and giving them creep alerts.
People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.
And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.
These rules for social interactions that women are taught to obey are more than grease for the patriarchy wheel. Women are taught both that these rules will protect them, and that disobeying these rules results in punishment.
Here’s a situation every woman is familiar with: some guy she knows, perhaps a casual acquaintance, perhaps just some dude at the bus stop, is obviously infatuated with her. He’s making conversation, he’s giving her the eye. She doesn’t like him. She doesn’t want to talk to him. She doesn’t want him near her. He is freaking her out. She could disobey the rules, and tell him to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER, and continue screaming GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME every time he tries to step closer, or speak to her again. And then he will be all, “I was just talking to you! WTF!” and everybody else will be all, “Yeah, seriously, why’d you freak out at a guy just talking to you?” and refuse to offer the support she needs to be safe from dude. Or, the guy might become hostile, violent even. Ladies, you’ve seen that look, the “bitch can’t ignore me” look. It’s a source of constant confusion, as soon as you start budding breasts, that the man who just a moment ago told you how pretty you are is now calling you a stupid ugly whore, all because you didn’t get in his car.
You could follow the rules. You could flirt back a little, look meek, not talk, not move away. You might have to put up with a lot more talking, you might have to put up with him trying to ask you out to lunch every day, you might even have to go out to lunch with him. You might have to deal with him copping a feel. But he won’t turn violent on you, and neither will the spectators who have watched him browbeat you into a frightened and flirtatious corner.
So we learn the rules will protect us. We learn that, when we step out of line, somebody around us might very well turn crazy. Might hurt us. And we won’t be defended by onlookers, who think we’ve provoked the crazy somehow. So, having your ass grabbed at the bus stop, having to go out to dinner with a guy you fucking can’t stand, maybe even having to fuck him once or twice, it’s a small sacrifice to avoid being ostracized, insulted, verbally abused, and possibly physically assaulted.
It’s a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn’t refuse to talk, doesn’t refuse to flirt, doesn’t walk away ignoring him, doesn’t hit, doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn’t move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.
For anybody who has ever watched the gendered social interactions of women — watched a woman get browbeaten into accepting attention she doesn’t want, watched a woman get interrupted while speaking, watched a woman deny she is upset at being insulted in public, watched a woman get grabbed because of what she was wearing, watched a woman stop arguing — and said and done nothing, you never have the right to ever ask, “Why didn’t she fight back?”
She didn’t fight back because you told her not to. Ever. Ever. You told her that was okay, and necessary, and right.
You didn’t give her a caveat. You didn’t say, “Unless…” You said, “Good for you, shutting up and backing down 99% of the time. Too bad that 1% of the time makes you a fucking whore who deserved it.”
Nobody obtains the superpower to behave dramatically differently during a frightening confrontation. Women will behave the same way they have been taught to behave in all social, professional, and sexual interactions. And they will be pretty goddamned surprised to come out the other end and find out that means they can legally be raped at any time, by just about anybody.
I am focusing on women here. I tend to do that, being one and all, but let’s mention something about men. If men have been raised to behave aggressively, to discount what women and weaker men want and feel and say, to obtain power and social standing through force, to deny emotions exist, to feel that women are fundamentally a different species, to set a boundary and keep it NO MATTER WHAT, to make a decision and stick to it NO MATTER WHAT, to feel entitled to sex, to feel they will be ostracized and possibly physically attacked if they don’t acquire sex with women, to feel under threat of harassment and attack if they don’t constantly maintain a hyper-masculine exterior, to prove their manhood through dangerous and degrading physical activities…
if you have seen men behave in this way, and encouraged it, and thought it was normal, so normal you didn’t even see it…
then you never have the right to say “He couldn’t possibly have done that” when you hear that your brother raped somebody.
That wasn’t concise at all. What I mean to say is:
The way men and women interact on a daily basis is the way they interact when rape occurs. The social dynamics we see at play between men and women are the same social dynamics that cause men to feel rape is okay, and women to feel they have no right to object. And if you accept those social interactions as normal and appropriate in your day to day life, there is absolutely no reason you should be shocked that rape occurs without screaming, without fighting, without bruising, without provocation, and without prosecution. Behavior exists on a continuum. Rape doesn’t inhabit its own little corner of the world, where everything is suddenly all different now. The behavior you accept today is the behavior that becomes rape tomorrow. And you very well might accept it then, too.