Thursday, February 18, 2010

Average Joe Fails To See Rape Culture, Doesn't Like "Tone" of Women Who Do

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

Over at her situs in hell, PF posted one of those Rape Prevention lists that "explains" what makes women particularly "easy targets" for sexual assault. Because this list excluded the single most important "tip" that it's the presence of a rapist that makes women "easy targets" for sexual assault, PF rightly took issue with much of the victim-blamey advice.

However, commenter Joe, an 18-year-old self-described "liberal atheist," confidently declared PF's response to the Rape Prevention list "the stupidest post" he'd ever read of hers. Joe, like the fellows at Ed Brayton's blog who mansplained breast ogling to be non-problematic for women, then informed us that much of the the Rape Prevention list was actually "pretty darn reasonable" from his Totally Objective Male Viewpoint. He then took issue with PF's tone, asking aloud "what the hell spawned this sort of angry nonsense?" and said that PF's reaction was "much worse" than the Rape Prevention list itself.

Here, I feel compelled to note that I am completely open to the possibility that Joe has some sort of special insight into the experience of living in the world as a woman that would lend credence to his position as the Decider Of Things That Women Get To Be Angry About. But, I would be interested in knowing what, exactly, his credentials, qualifications, and/or life experiences are that he believes sufficiently outweigh the lived experiences of women who live, read, and/or write about this stuff on a near daily basis.

See, I would guess that it isn't so much that Joe hates women or is pro-rape, at least on any conscious level, but rather like the figurative Average Joe of North American mythology, I would opine that he's ignorant about the concept of Rape Culture, which causes him to deny its existence without him even realizing it.

Continuing on, Joe demonstrates both by what he chooses to write about on his own blog and by his next comment, that he does not have a particularly strong interest in feminism or so-called women's issues, despite his "liberal atheist" cred. In response to a commenter who aptly suggested that Joe should read my post on "mansplaining," Joe informed that he has visited my blog but doesn't have an interest in "following" it. Which is fine, but his reasoning struck me as a bit insincere. This fellow who informed PF that she wrote a particularly "stupid" post comprised of "nonsense" explained that he not only disagrees with "a decent amount" of what I write but also that he finds the "tone" of my blog "rudely condescending and patronizing at times."

Now, I'm also open to the idea that my "tone" is "rudely condescending and patronizing at times." Over the course of my blogging days, I've been known to be Not Perfect. However, without specific example, I will take such an amorphous non-specific criticism about my "tone," an inherently subjective determination anyway, with a grain of salt. Despite my status as Lady Blogger, I do not feel compelled to offer corrective behavior, giggles, and profound apologies in response to such vague critiques.

Furthermore, with all due respect, neither am I of the opinion that ignorance, especially ignorance with respect to Rape Culture, should be coddled as though it's a legitimate point of view. And, unfortunately, men who one might expect to be natural allies to feminist concerns often are not. For, it's an inconvenient truth that liberalism and atheism as political movements have a Woman Problem and that, quite frankly, is one of their very large failings, whether it is deemed important enough to address or not.

So, as a liberal-ish, non-religious-ish feminist blogger who reads a wide variety of liberal and conservative blogs, I have two observations related to Rape Culture, Joe's comment, and Rape Prevention lists. The first is regarding that ever-amorphous concept of a blog's "tone." See, many liberals regularly render extremely hostile verbal and personal attacks against Christians and conservatives (just as many conservatives do the same to liberals). And, not surprisingly, when I visited Joe's blog, I quickly surmised that he is not quite the paragon of civility that one might think he would be, given that he claims not to follow my blog because he is turned off by its "tone."

Of Christians and conservative types, he refers to them as "idiotic," "kooks and cranks," and "inbred bigots." One post of his mocked a couple's looks as "hideous." Thusly does it seem that it is less my "tone" that Joe takes issue with, and more my content, as Joe appears to be quite comfortable with "condescending and patronizing," at least when he's on the dishing-it-out end of things.

Two, I also know that when women merely stand up for themselves and for other women, their behavior is often exaggerated as being hostile and aggressive. When they go on to show actual anger, people deem it to be- as Joe did- "much worse" than whatever it is that the woman is angry about. In fact, whenever women point out sexism and misogyny and are not sufficiently demure about it- which of course, if they are pointing out sexism and misogyny at all, is never- men who have no problems calling conservative Christians asshats, fuckwads, and douchnozzles will nonetheless clutch their pearls and cry that women are being sexist against men, are aggressive, are bitchy, or otherwise need to "check their tone." Meanwhile, their own hostile "tone" goes unchecked.

And these two observations together constitute our first lesson in Rape Culture: Men are entitled to aggression; female boundary-setting is "wrong" because it's "aggressive" and under no circumstances may a woman show anger. In short, men and boys are culturally entitled to force, violence, and anger, while women and girls who display the same traits, even in diluted quantities, are branded pathologically un-feminine.

Lesson number two: Because men are entitled to aggression, Rape Culture places the onus for preventing rape on victims, who must vigilantly limit and monitor their every daily activity, rather than on those in the class of persons who are most often perpetrators- men. If we look at many Rape Prevention lists, they ignore the elephant in the room. Namely, the one common denominator in every rape, despite everything women are and are not doing to "prevent" such an assault, is the presence of the rapist. Just as articles about rapes tend to hide the perpetrator in the passive voice, as though women Get Themselves Raped rather than the fact that it is men, usually, who rape them, these lists focus on what women should be doing in order to Not Get Raped, rather than on what men should be doing to not rape people or on how our culture encourages the violation of women's boundaries.

And yes, the "tips" themselves are often commonsensical. That's not the issue. For instance: Be aware of your surroundings? Duh. Women don't need their intelligence insulted with statements of the obvious, they need a society that collectively teaches men to respect other people's boundaries. And, they need to live in a society where they can set and enforce boundaries without men, or other women, calling them unladylike bitches. One tangible and more meaningful step a college could take than printing a Rape Prevention tipsheet? Requiring all students to attend a sexual violence education program that made it clear that sexual violence is unacceptable, is never justified, and is a Big Deal.

Lesson #3 in Rape Culture: It's okay to expect women to restrict their lives to an absurd degree so as to not get raped (oh, by a man), because men are entitled to move in this world like full human beings and women are not.

For instance, another tip:

"DON'T be walking alone in an alley, or driving in a bad neighborhood at night."

Yes, but what if a woman lives in a "bad neighborhood" and cannot afford to live in a "good neighborhood"? I have a better idea. How about we encourage men not to walk in alleys and "bad neighborhoods at night" since they are more "at risk" of raping somebody. That would certainly make me feel safer. Another tidbit:

"If you are walking alone in the dark (which you shouldn't be) and you find him following/chasing you..."

So, women should never walk alone in the dark? Ever. I walk alone in the dark every single day of the year, as many women do. Since I don't follow this rule, should I get raped a man rape me, I would know that it would not be my fault. But, in how many ways, by how many implications, would others tell me that it was *sort of really* my fault because I knew the risk I was taking by walking alone as a woman at night like how people get to walk alone at night?

And yes, men are also sometimes victims of assault and it's a good idea for everyone be aware of one's surroundings. But that argument ignores the fact that the experiences of men and women are different in Rape Culture. A good flip-flop comparison would be to imagine a world in which women routinely kicked men in the balls really hard for no reason at all, so much so that men wore protective cups on their genitals at all times and, if they didn't, they knew full well what they were asking for. One wonders, how would men react if the ball-kicking led to the formation of Ball-Kicking Prevention Tips that advised men to never walk alone at night, to avoid dangerous neighborhoods (especially where groups of women congregated), and blamed men for Getting Their Balls Kicked if they chose to move in the world like how people got to move?

It's not so much that the tips are not useful. Some of them are. But wouldn't the men rightly be angry about living in a culture that seemed to focus more on all the ways men could limit their lives to avoid getting kicked in the nuts, as opposed to how we could make women feel less entitled to attack men in the first place?

Instead, women live in a culture where: (a) Men receive many messages that to be aggressive is to be a Real Man, (b) Women receive messages that their boundaries don't matter, and (c) Rather than questioning the male entitlement to aggression, women are instructed to remain ever-vigilant and to limit their movement in the world because a rapist is lurking around every dark corner, but that we shouldn't think any given man could be a rapist because that's "anti-male," but also to be careful because "not all rapists look like rapists."

Welcome to Rape Culture, Joe.

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