Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Re-Centering Men in Conversations About Gender-Based Violence

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

While male athletes have been playing their Very Important Sport Game that "unites the world," a South African doctor concerned about the increased likelihood of male-on-female sexual assault that this game will bring with it has created an anti-rape condom for women to test during the World Cup:

"The anti-rape condom, called 'Rape-aXe,' features rows of jagged hooks designed to attach to a man's penis during penetration. Once attached, the condom can only be removed by a doctor - hopefully when authorities can arrest him, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers, the condom's designer, told CNN."

I have mixed thoughts about this product. There is something retributionally satisfying about a rapist having his weapon put temporarily out of commission in this way. And yes, this product will make some men think twice about their entitlement to engage in sexual violence. Yet it continues to place the onus of rape prevention primarily on women, rather than men or society. What is being done in any systemic way, for instance, to address male sexual entitlement, especially when large groups of men congregate in areas where women lack power for purposes of engaging in tribalistic behaviors?.

Following the article, of course, it took all of about 3.1 seconds before commenters turned the conversation to men and, specifically, how Scorned and Conniving Women would wear these condoms on innocent unsuspecting men:

"This device could be used on the willing. 40% of all rape reports are false. What's to stopped a woman scorned from inserting this thing, seducing her intended and then having him convicted for rape? If I were a man, I would get a notarized statement prior to ever having sex with anyone. I really do empathize with men who are falsely accused of sex crimes. This could be a vehicle through which that could happen. I think a stun gun would be a better self defense device."

Because a stun gun could never be used on non-rapist man? Here you see the prioritization of harm to to non-penis areas of a man's body. If a man is harmed in his penis, the one defining feature that he thinks distinguishes him from women, it is considered especially egregious, whereas harm to other parts of his body is more manageable.

Of course, this commenter also claimed that South Africa is a matriarchy, which makes men angry, which makes men understandbly rape women, so right off we know that hir grasp on reality is a bit iffy. (For background, male-on-female domestic and sexual violence is widespread in South Africa, with women disproportionately living with HIV/AIDS in part because of rape and inability to negotiate safer sex.)

Nonetheless, comments like these are helpful in illustrating another way Rape Culture works. Commenter after commenter expressed concern and outrage over this new "terrorist weapon" against men and how women were going to start playing "pranks" on men with this device. This concern, which of course re-centers men within a conversation about rape, effectively prioritizes the safety of the class that disproportionately commits gender-based violence over the safety of those who are disproportionately on the receiving end of it. Women, they say, should not be able to take this precautionary measure that might prevent violence to themselves because it might harm innocent men in the process.

This re-centering of the male viewpoint, comes down to entitlement, really. If a measure harms men in any manner whatsoever, or has the potential to be used against men in an "unfair" manner, it should be disallowed. Even if it causes more women to "get raped."

Sadly, these comments demonstrate that this device won't actually "prove" sexual assault. All it will prove is that vaginal penetration occurred; it doesn't prove a woman's consent or lack thereof. Defense attorneys will argue that the woman wore the device to lure in and entrap a poor, unsuspecting man and, sadly, I suspect that defense will often work.

Ending the article, the doctor-inventor addresses some of her critics who accuse the device of being from the Middle Ages:

"Yes, my device may be medieval, but it's for a medieval deed that has been around for decades. I believe something's got to be done ... and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman."

Decades, eh?

Now that's being a bit generous to the rapist class.

No comments: