Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On men and monsters, Part II

Okay, so it's generally accepted that violent rape is bad. Rape apologists notwithstanding (and I still can't entirely understand how "he and three of his friends held me at knifepoint and raped me in the shower" can be excused as "oh, those crazy kids"), the vast majority of men and women recognize that holding a woman down and forcing sex on her is a bad, bad thing. "I'd kill a rapist," some people say. "Rapists are evil."

Would you be shocked to know that I disagree with that last part?

I'm not apologizing for anyone. There are rapists out there who definitely qualify as "evil" in my book. The ones mentioned in the linked post? Evil. The kind you see on TV jumping out of bushes and drugging women at bars? Evil. The Orange County rapists? Like the fruits of the devil.

"Rapists are evil," though, doesn't keep men from raping, and it doesn't keep women safe. Because while the stigma of "evil" might be enough to keep some men from stalking women at night and raping them in alleys (or at least make them more aware of men who do that), it also paints a limited picture that keeps men from recognizing their own actions.

I hate the terms "date rape" and "acquaintance rape," because they make it seem more casual, less damaging than its jump-out-and-grab-you cousin. Acquaintance rape can be just as traumatizing as stranger rape, if not moreso because of the betrayal and violation of trust that are frequently involved. Nonetheless, the distinction between the man in the alley and the one in the dining hall is an important one, because most women know to be wary of the man in the alley. More importantly, most men know that the man in the alley is a bad man who's doing something wrong.

It's easy to characterize the man in the alley as evil. But if you're the man in the dining hall, and you're not entirely certain the sex you had last night was consensual, are you going to recognize that what you did might have been rape? "Rapists are evil. I'm not evil. Therefore, I am not a rapist." Problem solved, right?

More valuable, I think, than turning the rapist into a monster is turning the rapist into a man. Men need to be taught that not-evil guys are fully capable of raping under some circumstances. They need to be able to recognize those situations in which they themselves are in danger of becoming, not an evil person, but a rapist.

Biting Bever has an exhaustive checklist of ways to tell if you're a rapist, whether you think you are or not. A few highlights:
1. You are a rapist if you get a girl drunk and have sex with her.

3. You are a rapist if you get yourself drunk and have sex with her. Your drunkeness is no excuse.

4. If you are BOTH drunk you may still be a rapist.

6. If she's sleeping and you have sex with her you're a rapist.

7. If she's unconscious and you have sex with her then you're a rapist.

9. If she is incapacitated in any way and unable to say 'Yes' then you're a rapist.

10. If you drug her then you're a rapist.

12. If you don't bother to ask her permission and she says neither 'Yes' or 'No' then you could be a rapist.

13. You are a rapist if you 'nag' her for sex. Because you manage to ply an eventual 'yes' from a weary victim doesn't mean it's not rape. You are a rapist.

16. If you threaten her, or act in a way that SHE thinks you're threatening her then you're a rapist. If you puff up and get loud and frustrated while trying to 'talk' her into sex then you're a rapist.

17. You are a rapist if you don't immediately get your hands off of her when she says 'no'. You are a rapist if you take your hands off of her and then put them back ON her after 10 minutes and she eventually 'gives in' to this tactic.

19. If you're necking with her and you're naked and you've already gone down on her and she says 'No' to sex with you and you have sex with her anyway then you're a rapist.

20. If you're engaged in intercourse and she says 'No' at ANY point and you don't immediately stop then you're a rapist.

21. If she said "Yes" to sex with a condom and that condom breaks and you proceed anyway then you're a rapist.

22. If she picked you up at a bar looking for sex and then decides that she doesn't WANT sex and you continue then you're a rapist.

23. If she changes her mind at ANY point for ANY reason and you don't immediately back off or you try to talk her into it and get sex anyway then you're a rapist.

24. If you don't hit her and she says 'No' you're still a rapist.

26. If you're a friend of hers you can still be a rapist.

27. If you had sex with her the night before but she doesn't want morning sex and you pressure her for it anyway then you're a rapist.

28. If you're her husband you can still be a rapist.

30. If she's had sex with you hundreds of times before but doesn't want to on the 101st time then you're a rapist.

40. If she has fucked every man in a 10 square mile radius and she doesn't want to fuck you and you have sex with her anyway, then you're a rapist.

41. Her clothing is not a reason for you to rape her. Her LACK of clothing is no reason to rape her. If she's wearing a thong and pasties you STILL have no right to rape her.

49. If you ‘only’ raped one woman, you’re STILL a rapist.

Read the entire list. I left out plenty just in the interest of space, but the entire list is a good overview of those coercive, passive-aggressive, negligent, and/or violent actions that men frequently don't recognize as rape - because they're not "evil."

One concept that I think has been underemphasized in our pitiful sex-ed system is that of affirmative consent. Affirmative consent is the recognition that consent for sex is more than just she didn't say no; consent for sex involves active and enthusiastic participation. Guys, it's not enough to just not hear "no," you have to wait for "yes." Preferably "yes, yes, oh sweet Jesus, yes." If she's unconscious and can't say no, that's not consent. If she's uncertain and hasn't said no, that's not consent. If she said yes last time but hasn't said it this time, that's still not consent. And having sex with a woman who doesn't consent is rape.

If you're not evil, but you haven't waited for affirmative consent, sorry, you're a rapist.

Commenter Thomas at Feministing had this brilliant take on affirmative consent:
I think the key to changing the rape culture is to change the view of sexuality from a commodity model to a performance model.

What I mean by a commodity model is the view that sex is something women have and men get; what Amanda Marcotte refers to as the "pussy oversoul" that women are guardians of and that men make applications for access to. Sex is like a ticket; women have them and men try to get them. Women may give them away or may trade them for something valuable, but it's a transaction in a good.


That whole model is wrong. Under that model, consent is not an affiramtive partnership. Instead, if someone tries to take a ticket and the owner doesn't object, then the ticket is free for the taking. Under this way of thinking, consent is the absence of "no." It is therefore economically rational to someone with this commodity concept of sex that it can be taken; rape is a property crime in that view. In the past, the crime was against the male owner of women (let's not sugar-coat it; until very recently women were in a legal way very much male property and still are in many places and ways). Even among more enlightened folks, if one takes a commodity view of sex, rape is still basically a property crime against the victim.

The better model is the performance model, where sex is a performance, and partnered sex is a collaboration between the partners; like dance or music.

Under a performance model, consent is not the absence of "no." Consent is affirmative participation. Who picks up a guitar and jams with a bassist who just stands there? Who dances with a partner who is just standing there and staring? In the absence of affirmative participation, there is no collaboration; forcing participation by coersion is not a property crime, but a crime of violence like kidnapping.

Under this model, looking for affirmative participation is built into the conception. If our boys learn this from their pre-adolescence, then the idea that consent is affirmative rather than the absence of objection will be ingrained.

Holy crap. Sex as two things that people do together for the enjoyment of both? What a radical and revolutionary concept!

Preventing violent rape means raising generations of men who aren't evil, who don't feel the need to put women in their place by violating them physically. Preventing acquaintance rape means raising men who respect women and respect themselves enough to only engage in sex as a participatory, mutually enjoyable activity. Because rape is rape is rape is rape is rape, whether you're an evil man in an alley or a nice guy in a dining hall. Rape is traumatic and damaging to a woman, whether she's kicking and screaming in an alley or frozen with shock in her own bedroom. But it's the easiest thing in the world - and pretty fun, too, I'd imagine - not to be a rapist.

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