DEAR BB: DUDES IN RAPE CULTURE
September 30, 2015
I am a hetero white cis man working to take the space I have in the world and make it feminist. I am privileged with the leadership of a few powerful, clever, and generous women in this project. They have shown me the extent to which rape culture pervades our lives, and I am doing my best to see how it operates (and avoid it!) in the context of my own intimate relationships. What I don’t understand, though, is how men could possibly rape women. Why don’t they get it? I am really struggling with the idea that I probably know rapists! I know that it should be rapists’ responsibility to not rape instead of survivors’ responsibility to not get raped, and I know that by virtue of being a dude who doesn’t talk to other dudes about rape I am complicit in rape culture, but I just have no idea where to begin. Can you talk to me about talking to rapists about rape?
– A Man In Rape Culture
O my child, you are so blessed to have those goddesses in your life. I hope that before you approach them with questions you check in with them about whether they have the energy for it or not. Modelling consent before beginning potentially difficult conversations is a great feminist life skill!
Let me begin by asking you a question. You say you are doing your best to avoid rape culture in your own intimate relationships. This is a great goal, and what I am wondering is this: When did you start doing this work? Before you started doing this work, what were you doing? Were you a magnificent and unmarred canvas waiting earnestly to be coloured with the glory of feminism? Or were you somebody steeped, but not necessarily violently invested, in the perpetuation of, rape culture? Somebody who had (and probably still has, as we all do) a lot of shit to unlearn? My suspicion is that you are closer to the latter. Thinking about who you were prior to the onset of your feminist co-conspirator work—and indeed, who you continue to be—is going to help you a lot.
Until dudes have the opportunity and reason to think through how their socialization has groomed them to be rapists, we’ll always believe that rape is inconceivable—too big, too irreproachably evil to even consider, let alone deconstruct or eradicate. You know how an ancient Roman dude once wrote, “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me”? I encourage you to apply that notion to rape. You are a human, and rape is a human thing. Do not let rape remain alien to you, because it does nothing to stop anyone from raping.
Ya girl bb has had to try to teach every dude she’s fucked more than once how not to rape her. You are right that you have to learn how to confront rapists, because I promise that you talk to them all the time and just don’t know it. The division of labour in rape culture is such that we place the onus of educating rapists on survivors. Only the people who we conceive of as at risk of being raped are attuned to others’ capacity to rape. Teaching people not to rape (and indeed, trying to not get raped) is work that is disproportionately performed by the people who are raped most often: women, even more so if they are of colour, Indigenous, trans, sex workers, disabled, fat, or poor. Rape is quotidian to us.
I dream of a world where the experts on avoiding rape are the experts on rape: cis dudes. I am not a cis dude, and I was not socialized to be one. That being said, I have listened to many cis men in my life (shout out to all my femmes who perform emotional labour for their dudes on the reg), and it strikes me that you have been socialized at every turn to believe that sexual prowess is the ultimate way for you to assert your value and place in the world. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to watch Boyhood and pay close attention to the scene where Mason and his boy friends are squatting in a nearly-complete and vacant house. Pay attention to how the boy who refuses a beer is robbed of social capital by being feminized, called a pussy. Pay attention to how his decision to not have a drink is immediately hypothesized as predicated on the fact that he hasn’t engaged in vaginally penetrative sex. Pay attention to how this conversation spirals into a competition amongst the boys about who has engaged in vaginally penetrative sex and who has not. Pay attention to how girls are referred to once (if ever) by their name, and then after that not even by their pronouns, but by slurs and orifices: “whore,” “piece of ass,” “vag card.” Pay attention to how ferociously the boys have to defend their sexual experiences, lest they be further robbed of social capital, ostracized and mocked by other boys, cast as queer, as worse, as unworthy. Pay attention to how, when Mason says that he would like to have sex but can’t because the girls in his peer group don’t want to, a senior boy literally says to him, “Dude, it’s not what they want, man. It’s what you want,” and another senior boy agrees. In this scene, what choice do boys have other than to participate in the dehumanization and the devaluing of the feminine, of femme bodies? What choice do they have other than to insist on their preference for voracious heterosexual contact devoid of women’s agency?
If you identified with this scene—if you said to yourself, yes, this is how it is—then you identify with the notion that boys are socialized to be rapists and constantly participate in socializing one another to be rapists. The sooner you acknowledge the tangible and ubiquitous learning experiences that inform your blindness to the cultural scaffolding of rape, the sooner you’ll begin to unlearn with ease.
The only redeeming quality of this film is that it illustrates the very tangible ways in which boys are socialized to be rapists. This scene made me vomit.
I understand that perhaps
masculine folks cis dudes have not had reason or opportunity to confront entirely how deep their socialization runs. I understand that the power bestowed upon dudes by their socially sanctioned performances of masculinity might be heady, particularly in the context of having been bullied, having been sexually assaulted, having been the target of racism, of innumerable other oppressive micro and macro aggressions that people in the world endure. I understand that trauma can be a barrier to self awareness. But having endured trauma is no excuse for perpetuating trauma unto others. Adopting socially condoned modes of empowerment without attending to the ethics of how and why one might do so and at whose cost is not acceptable.
Darling Man In Rape Culture, rape is very rarely deranged men leaping out of bushes at women in the middle of the night. Rape is sexual contact with another person without that other person’s consent. The notion that in order for rape to occur, the rapist must have “rapist” intentions is a garbage folly, because rape has absolutely nothing to do with a perpetrator’s intentions and everything to do with a lack of consent. Just because a perpetrator didn’t mean harm, it doesn’t mean they meant well. As the indomitable fangmeli tweeted the other day, “we love ‘good intentions’ and ‘bad intentions’ but ‘no particular intentions for anyone but myself’ is where most shit goes down.” Innumerable social interactions predicated upon unexceptional notions of masculine power and entitlement feed rape’s prevalence, not the abnormal twisted machinations of a few deranged minds.
So how should you undertake the work you want to do? When men ask women to teach them how not to rape, they ask women to absolve men for hurting them. When men hurt women, and women say so, and men get upset and say things like “that’s not what I meant, that wasn’t my intention,” it implicitly asks women to drop their emotions and take care of men. In these situations, men ask women to do the kind of empathy work that falls into a long and storied line of women being rendered responsible for the impossible and dangerous task of loving the misogyny and homophobia out of their dude partners. Don’t rely on femmes to do this: it is high time that men loved the misogyny and homophobia out of one another instead. Furthermore, don’t do this work because women are your mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmas, friends, and aunts. Do it because women—women who are Indigenous, women who are sex workers, women who are trans, women who are disabled, women who are fat, women who are poor, women with addictions, women who are of colour—are people. Burn down the notion that women are deserving of respect only insofar as they have relationships to other people. Burn down the notion that women are deserving of respect only insofar as they’re of value to capitalism’s machinations (“she was a young student, so full of promise, was planning to start a family, had just begun a new job…”) Even childless, parentless, siblingless, jobless, relationless women should not be raped.
Talk to your dudes about listening to women. Talk to your dudes about believing women who say they’ve been hurt. Talk to your dudes about how to apologize and apologize well; apologizing is about saying you’re sorry, demonstrating you understand how you’ve erred, and stating your plan for how you’ll try to ensure you don’t repeat your mistake. Ask your dudes how it is that they can make fun of women for being stupid, crazy, emotional, or annoying, but then as soon as they’re sexually interested in a woman she’s a conniving seductress whose every move is indicative of her clever and manipulative desire to elicit a sexual response from him. Show your dudes that it’s fucking insane for them to believe that every woman they know is the same entity with all the same reasons for abhoring or adoring all the same things, completely indistinguishable sex robots all programmed with the exact same operating system of likes and dislikes. Show your dudes that women are humans and people with feelings about how their bodies are engaged with and that they deserve to have those feelings respected.
Show your dudes what masculinity is doing to them and the people they purport to love, show them that it’s homophobic and misogynistic. Show them that pervasive and naturalized sexual predation of women is a part of their performances of masculinity regardless of their sexuality. Tell your dudes that what they do to ensure no one believes that they’re gay (dress this way, talk this way, walk this way, don’t be in touch with what you’re feeling, make sure to show you’re sexually interested in any woman you meet) isn’t behaviour that’s special or unique; it’s predictable pandering to hegemonic tenets of masculinity. Talk to your dudes about the fact that they learned how to perform rape culture, so they can learn how to perform something different. Teach your dudes that when they fuck up, it’s their responsibility to render their error legible to themselves and the women they hurt, not women’s responsibility. Teach your dudes that if a person is hurting them, they’re allowed to feel hurt and they’re allowed to place healthy boundaries between themselves and that person.
Model to your dudes that once they understand the depth and breadth of how rape culture works, becoming afraid of hurting their partners won’t solve anything. Model to your dudes that it’s possible and healthy and vital to ask their partners about their desire. Don’t let your dudes go from “man that’s afraid to hurt a lady” to “man that just won’t have sex” to “man that’s bitter about not having sex” to “man that hates women for being so fragile.” Don’t let your dudes predicate their whole sense of self on their sexual prowess. Tell your dudes you love them. Talk to your dudes about the fact that rapists are not anomalous evil monsters: they are men who were raised with devastatingly common attitudes about manhood who have not had reason or opportunity to confront entirely how deeply rooted their masculine socialization actually is, perhaps because it so often works to their advantage.
Be generous with your dudes so that women don’t have to so goddamned often. Appreciate every woman willing to teach you something about rape culture, and don’t feel entitled to her knowledge. What you’re enduring to cultivate it is not the same as what she’s endured.
HAVE YOU EVER TAUGHT SOMEONE HOW NOT TO RAPE? HAVE YOU BEEN TAUGHT NOT TO RAPE? TELL DEAR BB ABOUT IT HERE.