My Dear Men, You are Not Rapists post generated quite a bit of controversy. I don’t know if I can answer every single criticism or argument raised, so I think that I’ll start with the most obvious.
Why I didn’t write this piece about men who are the victims of abuse, or why I’m not writing about what women should do.
- This piece is not about that. This piece is about how not to freak people out in public. Complaining about things I didn’t cover is equivalent to complaining about how an article on coffee brewing doesn’t talk about rooibus tea. (Which is delicious, by the way.) Nobody complains because there’s no Red Pony in Moby Dick. It’s not the topic of the piece at hand. If you would like to read an essay on these topics, I’m always looking for guest postings. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a man, so I can try to write a post on it, but it would be based on my assumptions and conversations with my friends. Email me at email@example.com if you have an article for the website.
- Yes, rape against men is heinous, under-reported, and just as real as men raping women. Yes, women can rape women, men can rape women, men can rape men and women can rape men. Everyone has the potential to rape. Rapists are people who choose to rape, regardless of gender. I never argued that that isn’t the case, that only men rape, but evidently, I needed to clarify that. The reason that it wasn’t in the article is that it wasn’t the focus of this piece. That is a whole part of the rape culture, that assumes men always want sex, and thus diminishes male rape. This is a case in which the existing social structure and societal expectations hurt men, too. I’m trying to dismantle that social structure, so that people take all rape seriously, and male victims are believed, and men don’t feel profiled.
On Profiling Men as Rapists.
First of all, the definition of rape used to be problematic. It was changed, due to feminist pressures in the past year to a more inclusive definition of rape. So now, legally, rape can be between anyone.At least in the US, where I’m from. My apologies to my international readers. I’m not up on the rape laws in other countries. So, the feminist movement is helping you, by opening more options for men. It is the reason you can now legally be raped. It is trying to eliminate the benevolent sexism in divorce settlements, based on antiquated gender roles and stereotypical beliefs about caregivers. But I’m derailing the discussion here.
- Rape is a behavior, not a physical trait. As such, people are not easily sorted into “rapist” or “not a rapist.” People either rape or don’t, but there is no way to tell just by looking at them. We can only judge based on your behavior; it’s the only thing we have to go on. As to the suggestion that non-rapists should just wear bracelets that say “SAFE,” it wouldn’t work. I mean, no one would ever admit to being a rapist, so the bracelets would be useless. We can’t just give bracelets to non-rapists, issue stars to be worn on their clothing’s, or look for specific head shapes. Because we’re looking for an action, a behavior, not a character trait.
- Rape is a behavior, a predatory behavior. Rapists are people who engage in sexually predatory behavior. So in order to recognize a rapist, we look for predatory behaviors with sexual overtones. So when we tell you not to act like a rapist, it means listen for verbal and non-verbal no’s. It means respect people’s personal space, and be polite to them. Don’t stare at their appealing appendages. Don’t try to use force, physical, verbal or emotional. Don’t act like a predator, and you won’t be treated like one.
I received two main criticisms on this piece.
There were questions about the accuracy of the one in four statistic. I was basing the information on the activist groups who use One in Four as a name. I’ll have to go back and look at the studies to see where the number came from. But regardless, the number is still to high, and the fear is too high. So, I’ll work to put out correct statistics on rape and sexual assault. In the meantime, do not say, “but the numbers are wrong,” and move on with your life. Try to be more compassionate of this fact, and recognize that we hate being cautious, we hate worrying about rape, we hate second guessing stares and horn honks. We hate having to lock our doors, and we hate feeling like we’re profiling you as rapists. Because we know that you’re not. We know that you are decent people, who probably just want to get home to your family, dog, or TiVo’d episode of Game of Thrones.
Every time I’m walking home at night, I’m very aware of my surroundings. When I’m aware of another person’s presence, I look at them quickly to evaluate the threat level. Most of the time, they’re tired students, walking in groups, or a few lone wolves, leaving the library. They are no threat to me, and I continue walking in peace. The men who hang around the train station, shouting at women to smile, and harassing passerby’s are much more of a threat. They have noticed me and have shown themselves to be aggressive, without regards for the boundaries of others. They are threatening. When I perceive threatening people like them around, I speed up or look twice at who is following me. When I’m doing this, I feel terribly guilty. I know that you’re probably just as tired as anyone. I know that I’m being irrational, that I’m in more danger with the people that I know than I am with the stranger. But I still feel that twinge of fear and I just try to get home.
- It’s true that a majority of the rapes are not stranger rapes, but media fear mongering, combined with victim blaming, a lifetime of admonitions for going out after dark, and a general uneasiness that night brings, can make walking alone at night scary. Which is a shame because I adore walking at night. It’s the same reason that people fear going on airplanes. A few well-published cases contribute to an overall sense of fear about what is statistically unlikely. That doesn’t invalidate the fears, but it means that we should be considerate and try to help the seat mate who isn’t comfortable with flying. If there are things that women do at night that intimidate men, send me a list and I’ll publish it.
Men are statistically more likely to be hurt in street violence. I’d believe this statistic, and again, I’d like to do a parallel piece on walking home at night as a man.
The same behaviors that label the stranger as a rapist also label family members and friends a threat. However, walking alone at night is a bit intimidating to everyone, and the boogeyman rapist is an easier way to label that fear. It doesn’t mean that it’s fair to the good men to be profiled as rapists.
But it’s also not fair to call women paranoid or crazy, when they are trying to stay safe. Posters have commented that it’s unfair that women “profile all men as rapists” and should defend themselves instead of asking men to change their behavior. These same commentators complain when women nearly mace them at night. You can’t demand that women protect themselves and then chide them for doing so. So we are mocked if we act fearful of you, blamed if we don’t and something happens. Labeled as paranoid if we protect ourselves, labeled as negligent and careless if we don’t. We’re just asking for men to be aware of this.
On the Problematic nature of the Schroedinger’s Rapist piece
I know that people have given Kate Harding a lot of flack for writing something that could be construed as Schroedinger’s mugger. The analogy is problematic, but rapist and mugger is a false equivalency. Generally speaking, anyone can mug anyone, but the person most likely to rape a woman is a man. A mugging victim won’t be shredded in court. A mugging victim won’t be asked if he or she had “post donation regret.” A mugging victim won’t be asked to reconsider filing charges, so as to not ruin the mugger’s life.
The equivalency only holds when we compare a man following us home at night, without a word of explanation, and who is focusing on us to a person who has been staring at our purse, fits the profile of a mugger, and is now making a beeline for our purse. It’s not that you possess a Y chromosome, or the appearance of possessing a Y chromosome. It’s that you are violating our personal space, and acting in a predatory manner, exactly like a rapist would. Add the extreme cost of sexual assault or rape, we do an expected utility calculation, figuring out that for us, we’d rather be safe than sorry. I just wrote that we’re more aware that you could rape us. We can theoretically rape you too, but it’s much harder for us to physically overpower you, random stranger, so it feels less dangerous, at least to us. We know that you’re not rapists; we know that stranger rape is largely a Law and Order SVU-induced myth.
But we’ve been told since we were very young that strangers are dangerous. I remember the first time I was alone with a strange man. I was ten, and he was driving me home in a taxi. I had never ridden in a taxi before, and I was visiting a strange city with my mother and our car had broken down. I clutched the car door for dear life the entire ride, so that if he decided to force himself on me, I could throw myself out of the car. He was the nicest guy. He saw my fear, and drove me home. He never tried to say, “It’s all right, honey, I won’t hurt you.” He never did anything remotely threatening, just drove me home and wished me a pleasant day. He didn’t act mad or offended. He just saw a scared little girl and he did his best to accommodate her fear. Because he was a decent man. I’ve ridden in many taxi’s since then, and I’ve never been afraid of the driver since.
To the nice taxi-driver-I doubt you’re reading this, but I’m sorry that I made you feel like a bad person.
To this day, I’m more afraid of the people that I know than the mythical stranger rapist. But even so, I’m cautious at night, and I do watch the behavior of people around me.
It doesn’t debilitate our entire lives, and we don’t fear every single man that we meet. Even those of us who do fear rape, still go out after dark, go to the movies or the bar. Even those of us who fear rape are not so crippingly agoraphobic that we never leave our houses. Generally speaking, we don’t think that men who are polite and respectful, men who read the social cues, men who are minding their own business, and men who don’t follow us at night, are rapists. We see them as individuals minding their own business, and we go on with our journey.
On to more specific comments:
On the argument that women should take self defense or carry a weapon.
- First of all, in many places, it’s illegal to carry a weapon. Even mace. And second of all, using a weapon makes it more likely that that weapon will be turned on you. You’re escalating the danger of the situation, especially if you aren’t a professional.
- Weapons and self defense classes are not the answer. Besides, as mentioned in the article, linked to in the article, women already do a lot to protect themselves against sexual assault. We are simply asking that people be aware of that and show some courtesy.
- It’s basic manners. If the person next to you has a broken leg, you give them a chair so they can get home sooner. You let the elderly man ahead of you in line at the grocery store out of respect. If the person standing next to you is visibly afraid of you, I don’t care what gender you are, you still should be a decent human being and not make that person any more uncomfortable. For the poster who commented that he has crippling social anxiety, I’d let him go first in the elevator, especially if I can sense that I’m making him uncomfortable.
- No, you don’t HAVE to. But it’s selfish and insensitive to go throughout your life saying, “I’ll do what I like; who cares if I offend people or make them uncomfortable?” I’m not stopping you; just asking to consider that you share the planet with a few billion other people, and you should be nice to them.
To Stuff and Gus, and anyone else who wondered why this piece targeted men:
- I’m a woman, and I haven’t lived as a man. I can guess your responses to my actions, but I would rather hear it from the mouth of the affected. I wrote to tell men that many women have written about these behaviors, and that these behaviors make many women feel a certain way. I’m telling you how many women feel so that you decide what to do with this information.
- You are right; I don’t know what it feels like to be a man. I can’t know. So why don’t you write a piece and I’ll post it? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On my commenting policy:
- Yes, I censored comments for profanity. I try not to use it, and I expect everyone commenting on my blog to do the same. I am not violating your free speech by saying that profane language is not welcome here. I am not the government. I am not taking away any of your rights. I am just trying to moderate a discussion here. And I’d like to keep it safe for work.
- Any comment that has “TL:DR” is going to be deleted. If you didn’t bother to read the piece, or are insinuating that you didn’t read the piece, I will block your comment.
To the commentator who called me “princess:”
- Calling me princess was rude at worst, inaccurate at best. I am the moderator or the author. I have no royal blood and haven’t married into a royal bloodline. Nor am I a Disney character. I am not a princess, and do not appreciate being addressed as such. Let’s stick to arguing the facts, and keep the discourse civil. You can say that the article was terrible, sexist, whatever you want to say. But separate criticisms of the poster from their postings.
To TUA and Emily:
- Expect a full response sometime over the weekend. You gave me a lot of material to work with!
Again, there was a lot of food for thought, and I’m trying to answer most of the critiques. As I’ve said repeatedly, if you want a male perspective, you’ve already said that I can’t do that, so you have to write it. I can’t wait to publish it! Email me at email@example.com.
Thanks for the critiques,