Monday, 4 November 2013

What can men do to combat rape culture?

TRIGGER WARNING: This article talks about issues which may be triggering to those who have been affected by rape.

Some disclaimers before we begin:
  • I use the term "man" as perpetrator and "woman" for convenience as these are the most common forms of rape. I certainly do not mean to say the gender roles cannot be reversed, nor do I wish to exclude trans, gender queer or queer people from the topic as either perpetrators or survivors.
  • I write from the perspective as a straight, cis-gendered man as this is the only perspective I can give clarity to. I do not wish to attempt to account for other perspectives This article is mainly aimed at other cis-gendered men as we are the the most likely to rape. But if the advice is considered useful, I fully encourage those who are not cis-gendered men to take the advice.
  • I'm not claiming to be an authority on rape or rape culture. These are just thoughts I've had over the past few months whilst considering the topic. I hope in some way they will inspire thought, debate and action, and contribute to the struggle against power structures exist everywhere. Corrections, thoughts and comments are welcomed!

Rape culture is a perspective I've only recently been exposed to. Previously, I was aware that rape is treated insincerely by police and courts. I was aware that it was treated unrealistically by mainstream media. And I was aware that it was more frighteningly domestic and normalised than most people would believe. Considering rape culture, though? I didn't fully understand. What does it mean to have a culture centred on rape? Further reading and discussion has shed some light, but I'm still far from having a full grasp.1

Rape culture is the term used to define a society which not only misunderstands and misrepresents rape, but also encourages it and excuses it. Rape culture is the product of a society that harbours an irrational hatred of women, a hatred which has threaded itself throughout history in infinite forms. A binary is established and exploited: if women are perceived as lesser than men, then society must assure that lesser place for them. If this is achieved by the twisting and denigration of female sexuality, then they will become sex objects. To concrete this oppression, men are required to become active participants in this process. Women become viewed as something men are sexually entitled to. They become rape objects. And this, by my understanding, is rape culture: the disempowerment, oppression and silencing of women through sexual coercive and violence.

When we use the word "rape", there's a ready-made image that prickles our consciousness: the stranger in the shadows of the grimy nightclub with his bottle of Rohypnol, the knife-wielding creep waiting for his prey in the alleyway. Doubtless, these people exist in some form or other. But an awareness of rape culture obliterates these images. Rape is more than random sexual attacks, and rapists are more than strangers. Rape can, and does, occur in any situation it can, slithering its ugly way into the very fabric of our every day relations. It is in the long-term partner assuming silence is consent. It is in the seemingly gentle luring of a drunk friend into bed. Submission has many faces.

This makes all men potential rapists. If you are a man and have a sexual history, the chances are high you have raped. I do not exclude myself from this. Every time coercion is used, every time refusal is ignored or manipulated, rape has occurred. Whether through purposefully intoxicating someone, whether through verbal persuasion or physical dominance, or the millions of other forms we manifest rape as, it is something men are conditioned to do. Our natural sexual urges have been fucked with. They have been warped by a societal structure that defines itself by competition for power and dominance. In this combative landscape, rape becomes a weapon.2

Distressingly, it is so embedded in our minds, so normalised, that tackling it becomes a huge problem. But tackle it we must. But how do we do this? 

The first thing to do would be to increase our awareness. Whilst I personally loathe "raising awareness" as an end result, it is a necessary first step to tackling a problem. Read up on rape culture, its manifestations, its power and its workings. Talk to female friends, colleagues, relations about how are they are treated by a male-dominated society. A comment by a friend years ago first got me thinking of the topic. She was describing her constant harassment by men. This occurred whenever she went anywhere. In exasperation, she said: “It's all the time”. This is a key point: women are in the constant shadow of sexual objectification and rape, and, because of this, will have the most insightful comments and observations. Take their comments and recommendations about male behaviour very seriously, even if you do not immediately agree with them.

To struggle against rape (and any) conditioning requires intensive self-reflection. We must critically examine our sexual histories, whether in a relationship or not. We must reflect on our sexual behaviour, in and out of relationships. We must reflect on our thought processes, words and actions. How much do we take comfort from the image of the monster rapist, whilst secretly knowing that "monster" is inside all of us?

I must emphasise that this is not a lone struggle. We all suffer from rape culture conditioning. Organise group discussions regarding rape culture. Have cis-gendered male-only discussions as well.3 Help create independent systems where rape survivors and perpetrators can seek support, help and healing. Systems of oppression rely on us being fragmented and atomised. To combat this, it is essential to communicate with each other, to discuss, to analyse, to share. To know - not to feel, to know - you're not alone in your isolation is a truly liberating experience.

I've used the word struggle throughout for good reason, because it is exactly that. No meaningful change will occur without a struggle, and while there is plenty to struggle against in the outside world, we often neglect our internal conflicts. We must struggle against rape culture at the risk of discomfort and upset, and at the risk of admitting that we may be guilty of atrocious, grotesque behaviour.

To combat rape culture effectively, we need to be emotionally strong and brutally honest with ourselves. And we can only achieve that if we work together.

1. maybe, as a straight, white cis-gendered male, I will never be able to have a full grasp, as my life will never be lived with the constant threat of rape in the background.

2. A weapon against women and men. Whilst rape of men is in the minority, it is, like rape against women, underreported.  In both cases, while a rape is committed by a male against another, it is still the product of misogyny - the aim is to denigrate the survivor through feminising them. There are also reports of women taking advantage of men, which I would still consider it a reproduction of behaviour patterns created by patriarchy.

3. I feel this is necessary. Given the binaries we have been born and forced into, I personally would not feel comfortable discussing many aspects of how rape culture affects me in front of women. Male-only groups are necessary for the same reason female-only groups are: so there can be an open and frank discussion about one's experience within that enforced gender.

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