In good faith: why your innocent views on rape upset me
Do people ever lose their temper with you when you talk calmly about rape for reasons that completely elude you, because you think you’re being all rational and impartial? This is written in good faith, for your benefit, to help you.
I’m not going to dissect all the nonsense talked this week by the obvious rape apologists; I’m not going to bother spelling out what’s wrong with those two, nor with the idiots explicitly defending them. This blog post is specifically about, and for, the decent, well-meaning, non-rapists, some of whom are feminists and/or allies, who keep saying things about rape that makes my face red in rage, makes me screw my fists up, makes me raise my voice, makes my knees shake, and basically just really upsets me.
This is about the difference between what you think you’re saying, and what I’m actually hearing. I am writing this on the basis that you do actually care that you upset, distress, trigger or hurt me, because you are a Decent Guy and I am a human being.
If you aren’t interested in why you offend me, you must be reading this for some odder motive – like picking a fight. If that’s you, I’m not interested in hearing from you, so save your time, save my time, go for a bike ride or a beer or a meal or something.
PREMPTIVE NOTE FOR ANGRY TROLLS: This blog is not about Julian Assange; it is about the conversations people are having about rape this week (and at other times). That’s it. If you want to talk about him, his innocence or guilt, Wikileaks, American imperialism, or anything else, this blog is the wrong place, so please discuss it elsewhere. There are plenty of places. I have no idea if Assange is guilty of the things he is accused of. It is irrelevant to what I’m talking about here.
SECOND PREMPTIVE NOTE FOR ANGRY TROLLS: This blog is predominantly focusing on male-on-female rape. That’s because the rape apologists this week have been overwhelmingly male, the two idiots in chief have been men, and they have been talking about women being raped. So, sorry, but that’s what I’m addressing today, on this particular occasion, in this particular blog post. That does not mean I don’t care about men being raped. I just do not happen to be writing about it at this particular moment in time.
Okay. Ready? Here are the Calm and Rational comments about rape that make me sometimes a bit angry with you, and why.
Defining rape on rapists’ terms, not survivors
“I know a Decent Guy, who isn’t a rapist, because he’s a Decent Guy and rapists aren’t Decent Guys. And even though he’s a Decent Guy, I can actually conceive of this Decent Non-Rapist doing X. Therefore X shouldn’t really be considered as rape, because Decent Guys who Are Not Rapists do X” is more or less the thought process I’m talking about here. Imagine if we did that with murders. “This guy killed his wife because she slept with his brother, but I can imagine someone I know and admire actually ending up in that situation, so on the basis that this person isn’t a murderer, because murderers aren’t like that, but he might kill his wife if she slept with someone else, killing your wife isn’t actually murder.”
Ridiculous, no? Surely the thought process for other crimes is:“X is murder/rape and therefore people who do X, even if I like them, share packets of peanuts with them, find them funny, admire them, empathise with them, or respect the organisation they founded, or even love them, are, if found guilty of doing X, murderers/rapists.”
Why this makes me so angry
You think this is hard to confront? Rape victims deal with it all the time. Most rapists are someone the survivor knows. If you find it hard to imagine that some legendary figure you’ve never even met could possibly also be a rapist, imagine having to confront the idea that the father of your children is a rapist. Or your husband of ten years. Or a family member. Or your boyfriend. Or a trusted adult, when you’re still a child. Imagine having to confront the fact that the person you love, a person who may, actually, in their own way, love you, too, has still actually chosen to rape you, and is actually a rapist.
If you find it so difficult to imagine that anyone you know or have heard of is a rapist that you start redefining the word to accommodate it, that’s an enormous privilege. It means you have probably never been raped by someone you love, or trust, or admire, feel inferior to, or depend on.
Another reason this really flips me out is that with a few of you, this can feel kind of like you believe rape is some sort of semantic legal distinction, that people call something rape for the sake of it. It’s as if you think, hey, if we call it something else, if we prove that, because of some random technicality, that the term is not applicable, that all is hunky dory. But whatever word you apply to it, being penetrated against your will is traumatic, distressing, painful, and horrific. Whatever you call it, you still should recognise how wrong it is, and recognise that people deserve protection from it. In other words, rape is, rightly, defined in terms of the detrimental impact it has on the victim’s actual life, not the detrimental impact it might have on some hypothetical man’s chances of getting laid.
“Yeah but if it was rape then why would she…”
You’re trying to be totally rational, here; trying to see it from both sides. But, come on, if it was rape, why would she see him again? If it was rape, why did she send him a text message? She says she was raped but then, she does somehow manage to go out partying all the time, doesn’t she? That’s not how rape victims are supposed to behave. You’ve seen films and read stories and even heard from other women who were raped and they all just hide indoors forever. They never have good sex ever again. They certainly never dare to have kinky sex again. This alleged victim, the cheek of it, she seems to be carrying on with her life the same as usual! What a nerve! She even sleeps around sometimes! And she wears slutty dresses!
Oh, and you know what else? She defends him. She says maybe he didn’t mean it, she says he’s probably sorry. She says she loves him. She says maybe it wasn’t rape because maybe he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong when she held her down. She said she didn’t remember it but suddenly she remembers it. She says she’s too traumatised to talk about it but she writes about it all the time! (Yeah, hi.) She didn’t report it for ages. Why would you not want your rapist brought to justice as soon as possible, if it was all so bad?
Or perhaps you’re weighing up what she did leading up to the attack. If she didn’t want to have sex with him, why did she go home with him at all? Why did she drink so much? What did she expect? She was flirting with him, she obviously felt safe, that doesn’t exactly sound like he’s a rapist to me. And why would she sleep with him before if she doesn’t like having sex with him? Why would she sleep with him the night before, then change her mind the next day? No, looking at all these straight-forward, impartial facts – just trying to see it from both sides, and be fair to the guy – to you, it simply doesn’t add up.
Why this makes me so angry
Unless you have been raped then you have no idea what rape victims do and don’t do. Even if you have, people are different, and rape, it won’t surprise you to learn, is an extremely personal thing. People process it in different ways, at different times. There’s no instruction manual for coping with it.
You know what else? There is no obligation on us to modify our behaviour in any way whatsoever. None. There’s almost an implication to some of this thinking that you expect us to have “learned our lesson,” or “be sorry.” Perhaps that’s hardly surprising when everyone is bombarded with messages that say “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape,” but that doesn’t make it less upsetting to be told it.
There are dozens, even hundreds of answers, to all the above questions, by the way. Sometimes you don’t know that this horrific thing that happened to you is actually rape. You know why? Because of the people who keep saying all of this stuff I’m writing about. They tell us the word means something else, and we have no right to be traumatised if we wake up to find a boyfriend in us who says he’s very sorry but he can’t stop now, or if we drunkenly flirt with someone who then won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes we forgive or pity the guy who rapes us – have you never heard of an abusive relationship? Sometimes we don’t report it for a long time, or ever, because we don’t realise the rights we have under the law, or because we don’t trust in them. Sometimes we don’t remember the details because we black them out. Sometimes we go out partying then go home and cry ourselves to sleep. Sometimes we get up and go to work and it’s a nightmare. Sometimes we make it to a comedy night and some graphic rape joke means we run out of the room to have a panic attack. Maybe we don’t actually think our grief or pain is any of your business. It isn’t your business. It’s private.
And hey, you know something else? Sometimes we pick ourselves up and get on with life. Just like we’re told we should. It’s almost as if we’re three dimensional human beings, not caricatures. We’re always being told to stop being so hysterical and sensitive, to just get over things and move on. But if we actually try to do that, you use it against us.
Of course I’m against rape, who isn’t, sigh, this is boring, in fact it’s quite offensive to suggest I wouldn’t be! The term ‘rape culture’? That’s offensive to men! It suggests we’re all rapists!
Oh, really? You’re offended? You are? It offends you that I don’t automatically know you’re not a rapist? Because you’re so nice and Nice Guys, Decent Guys, are never rapists? Is that it?
Guess what. As nice as you may be, I don’t know that you’re not a rapist.
Here’s the irony of this one. I hate rape culture. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. I believe rape is not normal, and rapists choose to rape. I believe it is reasonable to assume someone will not rape you. I believe they are at fault if they do.
But the problem with believing that is, if I, believing you not to be a rapist, which is a fair assumption because you’re probably not, treat you like a Decent Non-Rapist, and get drunk in your presence, dance with you, come back to chill at your house, fall asleep near you, have sex with you consensually then sleep in a bed with you, date you, have a relationship with you, or any number of other things, and then you rape me, it turns out that it is my fault for not assuming you were a rapist, and these things can be used against me.
So if you don’t like it, don’t blame me. I’m on your side. These aren’t my rules. Blame the people who keep telling me that treating you like a Decent Non-Rapist is the same as consenting to sex.
Because ultimately, if you find the assumption that you aren’t automatically against rape offensive, then you should find rape culture (or whatever you want to call it) offensive. So let’s work together. When Decent Non-Rapists all stop demanding that rape be defined in a way that excludes as many traumatic incidents as possible, when men stop covering each other’s tracks, when you stop defending Ken Clarke because you somehow believe raping a woman you’ve dated or married isn’t quite as serious or dangerous as raping a stranger, and his clumsy words give you cover to say so, when you understand that maybe people are not, actually entirely 100% anti-rape if they watch, enjoy, and celebrate porn that depicts rape, when that shit gets sorted, maybe I will be able to stop boring you with my tedious observations about how this all looks from my perspective. And maybe I will even stop getting so upset with you when you tell me your perfectly innocent opinions about rape.