Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Male Feminism and Rape (trigger warnings)

TRIGGER WARNING - This piece discusses rape in non-graphic ways.

In my piece for The Shriver Report - How To Talk Like a Feminist (If You're a Guy) - I wrote the following:
2. Sometimes it is about you.There may be many feminist topics on which men in fact have a lot to say, but let’s focus on the big one: rape. Men have to talk to men about rape: fathers to sons, bros to bros, teachers to students. Too much of the focus on rape focuses on teaching women not to get raped, and that’s sadly necessary. But here is one place where men have to act, to teach our male communities to intervene, to call the police, and most of all, not to rape.
 In Slate, today, Emily Yoffe wrote a piece about sexual assault and alcohol, focused on teaching women not to get drunk. Yoffe writes the "Dear Prudence" advice column for Slate, so I put her in a moderately influential position in terms of opinion-mongers on the web. There's nothing terrible about her piece. She means well. But it exemplifies the pattern I am referencing - the focus on teaching women not to be raped, rather than focusing on the rapists.

She begins by talking about the absolutely clear link between drinking and rape. It's true. Women need to be very careful about where and when they drink. But then she moves to feminism:
Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.
Yoffe is aware that her column could be accused of victim-blaming, so she brackets the paragraph with exculpatory lines. Perpetrators are responsible ... trying to prevent more victims. But look at the middle sentences.

"Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue." - Where are they getting this message? Where are they being told that this is feminism?

"The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart." - And Yoffe thinks that this is a feminist message?

I think the feminist message is this: Our society is infected by rape culture and feminists should work very hard to change that in every way possible. In the meantime, be careful.
Experts I spoke to who wanted young women to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has become to give warnings to women about their behavior. “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Protect yourself. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,’ ” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are “infantalizing women.”
Speaking of infantilizing women,  are there women out there who do not know that getting drunk is risky? If so, why? Is it not something that is taught in schools? Is this something linked to our patriarchal system that embraces purity culture, pretending that women are not sexual beings, do not have desires, and never ever speaking about them? It's not feminism that is derelict for telling women to get drunk, it's patriarchy.

And here, I think, is the worst thing about this entire piece. It ends with the following:
If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate. Surely this University of Richmond student, acquitted in one of the extremely rare cases in which a campus rape accusation led to a criminal trial, would confirm that.
Thus, Yoffe concludes a piece saying that we should focus on women keeping themselves from being raped, by not drinking, by emphasizing the myth of the false rape claim. False rape claims, in which a woman subsequently changes her mind and accuses a man of rape, do happen, but they are a TINY PERCENTAGE compared to the vast number of unreported and not prosecuted rape cases. False rape claims are the least of our concern compared to unreported rape, and yet they receive lots of media coverage and perpetuate the myth that we cannot trust women who claim they were raped.

Thus, women don't go to the authorities, because they know they will be blamed, shamed, and denied justice.

Take this Richmond case. The facts seem to be that a man had sex with an intoxicated woman, thus, he did not receive consent. That may have legally excused him, thanks to a jury also infected by rape culture, but we know that there was no sober consent here.
Fauchet's accuser, who is taking this semester off from the university, testified Thursday that she was in a drunken haze when she was assaulted on a couch behind a curtain during a pirate-themed party.
But defense attorney William J. Dinkin argued that the sex was consensual and called several witnesses from the party, all of whom said they neither saw nor heard anything to suggest that a violent assault was unfolding.
And yet, Yoffe is worried about her (non-existent) son being "accused of raping a drunk classmate." I would be worried about her non-existent son actually having sex with someone who is intoxicated and therefore incapable of giving consent.

So yes, we need male feminism. We need feminism. We need feminists who say: Issue #1 - teach men not to rape. And then, yes, #2 probably means that women should be careful about their drinking, but only because we haven't done enough work with issue #1 yet.

2 comments:

Mikkel Petersen said...

"Our society is infected by rape culture and feminists should work very hard to change that in every way possible. I"
I'm tired of this sentence. Rape culture would mean that rape is somehow accepted. And it is not.

David Perry said...

I respectfully disagree with you in mny ways, though I am sorry that you are tired of it. I'm tired of it too, and yet, those who deny it make it necessary to state and re-state it again and again.

I'm glad you live in a context in which rape is never accepted. I would recommend not assuming that's true for the rest of America, in which rape is ignored, victims are blamed, sexual aggression is celebrated, and most rapes go unreported or unprosecuted.