Lipstick Feminists: ANYONE can stop rape.
[trigger warning for discussions of rape? i think]
Submitted by snowstorminjuly:
I have to say something about the “Men Can Stop Rape” ad. That is still catering to cultural assumptions about masculinity. Why can’t it say, “my heart/humanity/intelligence/respect/etc. is not for hurting”? Why must we reinforce this stereotype? I am currently in my critical theory class so I can’t formulate my thoughts fully, but it is something I have debated in my gender studies classes many times. Though I fully agree it’s important to reinforce that no woman is asking for it, etc. etc., I think that this campaign is a kind of anti-feminist way of doing it. What are other thoughts on this?
my thought is that people don’t generally rape other people with their heart/humanity/intelligence/respect.
i think i get where you’re coming from, but i’m not sure there’s a better way to state it than “strength.” the only problem that word has for me is that it seems to imply that there’s always physical struggle, which is not true
I’m inclined to read the slogan not so much as implying that all men are strong / value their strength but more as indicating the particular type of man the ads are targeting, namely young men who do want to think of themselves as strong. Which perhaps answers that question but raises another: what about the Nice Guys and other men who don’t see themselves as fitting the masculine stereotype? (And, indeed, what about the rapists who are not men?)
It feels to me like there isn’t a perfect fit between the slogan and the images and captions used on the ads. The slogan speaks to the man who wants to be a traditional manly man. I can’t say with any confidence that that’s the intention, of course, but I can say that it doesn’t really speak to me. But the images and captions cover a broader sweep of people and scenarios, and the style of the captions is radically simple and plain, in contrast to the rather rhetorical ‘My strength is not for hurting’. I personally find the captions and images more effective than the slogan.
And to add to Satah’s point, the implication that physical force is necessarily involved isn’t only in the word ‘strength’ but also in the word ‘hurting’. Of course ‘hurting’ can mean hurting emotionally, and ‘strength’ can mean strength of character, but hung together like that they do carry a horrid subliminal message that if you aren’t physically dominating the other person and the other person doesn’t seem to be in pain then it isn’t rape. Again, the best I can say is that the individual ads are better and throw their net wider, and I hope they’ll tend to be what has the main impact.
Frankly here it is again: Rape is all about Men. Hogwash, as Virginie Despentes points out we women have to take control of the entire topic. Rape is an assault, that’s all. No sturm und drang.
And women need to become powerful to fight if assaulted. I’m taking a R.A.D class and I think all women should.As for non-sterotypical men, they should take a self-defense course too. It’s all about empowering yourself.
Isn’t that the sort of empowerment that results in everyone carrying automatic weapons? Why is that better than trying to encourage people not to attack each other in the first place?
Some feminist you are. I’m not handing over my power to men, saying: ‘please be nice & don’t get drunk and rape me..’ and if I need to carry a gun or knife or I can kick some rapist in the testicles, I’ll do it. I’m not going back into the cage of ‘femininity’.
Amíca, I’m sorry if I’ve expressed myself poorly. I whole-heartedly support your rapist-kicking activities. I didn’t say, and I didn’t intend to imply, that people shouldn’t defend themselves, or that they shouldn’t learn to defend themselves more effectively. That’s grand.
What I take issue with is that you seem to be saying, ‘We shouldn’t waste time trying to encourage men to stop raping; in stead, we should encourage women to learn to defend themselves.’ If that isn’t what you were saying, forgive me for misinterpreting you. I think you’ll perhaps agree that your prose style is often quite telegraphic and takes some work to decipher, and I may have got it wrong.
If I haven’t got it wrong, let me explain why I object to your position.
First, this is a false dichotomy. Telling men not to rape does not stop women training to defend themselves. It’s entirely possible to do both.
Secondly, and more importantly, although I have no objection at all to women learning to defend themselves, I do quite strongly object to people saying ‘women need to become powerful to fight if assaulted… all women should [take ‘rape aggression defence’ classes]’. What you’re doing here is putting the burden of preventing rape on women, which is very close to victim-blaming. It’s a small step from ‘women should make sure they can defend themselves’ to ‘women who don’t make sure they can defend themselves have only themselves to blame if they get raped’. It’s a way of thinking that invites people to ask, ‘Why didn’t she fight back?’ rather than ‘Why did he rape her?’ It means that not only must women disproportionately carry the risk of rape but they must also disproportionately carry the responsibility of preventing rape. We don’t say that the way to stop theft is for people to hold onto their bags tighter. We don’t say that the way to stop murder by shooting is for people to wear bullet-proof vests. We don’t say that the way to stop arson is for people to cover their houses in asbestos. Why should we say that the way to stop rape is for people to defend themselves? Why not say that the way to stop rape is for people to not commit rape? By all means let people learn to defend themselves, but if we say that this is the solution to rape we’re absolving rapists of responsibility. The responsibility for crime belongs to the criminal.
And what effect do you think it has on hetero men if the constantly repeated message is that it’s a woman’s responsibility to avoid getting raped? It says to them, ‘Rape is a women’s problem. It isn’t something you have to worry about. You have no responsibility here.’ It gives them permission to ignore the issue. It encourages them to think that there’s nothing they can do about it.
To put the responsibility on women implies that rape is just one of those things that happens, like hurricanes. You can’t stop it, all you can do is reduce your personal risk factors and prepare yourself to resist it if necessary. Which, for one thing, is not going to do much to change our culture into one in which rape happens less, and, for another thing, is pretty flaming insulting to men.
On the former point, treating rape like an impersonal and inevitable natural phenomenon surely tends to destroy any impetus to look at ways to make sexual assault less prevalent. The best that strategy can hope to achieve is to decrease the number of rapes committed by increasing the number of attempted rapes. It is not going to stop people wanting to, and trying to, rape. It’s just going to mean that more of them come out of the experience injured and unsuccessful. Of course that’s better than nothing, but it’s a bit like going into battle with a suit of armour and no weapons.
On the latter point, treating rape as an inevitable fact of life and saying that there’s no point trying to send anti-rape messages to men colludes in the already worryingly prevalent narrative of men as semi-sentient impulse-driven child-creatures with no self-control. How many films are coming out these days that show men as incapable of taking care of themselves or anyone else and needing women to take care of them? Does that help women, or does it in fact oppress them by encouraging men to say, ‘No, I can’t possibly cook and clean for myself, I’m too incompetent and child-like. You have to do it for me’? How many times do we hear the cliché that men’s behaviour is dictated by their hormones or their genitals or their stomachs? Does that help women, or does it in fact oppress them by giving men implicit permission to follow their urges without even trying to control them, because society tells them they can’t and they aren’t expected to be able to? And what if we also adopt a conscious strategy of telling women that it’s up them to defend themselves against men because men can’t be relied on to restrain themselves? Will that help women, or will it in fact oppress and endanger them by absolving men of any responsibility to hold themselves back and encouraging them to think that if a woman doesn’t resist his advances with physical force then it’s okay to try to screw her?
And finally can we address that point? Proposing self-defence as the solution to rape frames the issue of rape as a narrow issue of physical struggle, which is what Satah rightly objected to above. Many rapes occur when the victim is too intoxicated or otherwise semi-conscious to either consent or resist. No amount of self-defence training is going to help a woman who is nearly comatose. What’s the solution to that sort of rape? Tell women they shouldn’t get drunk? Tell women they should watch their drinks at all times in case someone spikes them? Perhaps to be safe we should tell women to stay at home at all times. Except that that probably wouldn’t help much, because a large proportion of rapes consists of date-rapes and other rapes that arise from situations of initally consensual intimacy with acquaintances, friends, or lovers; and here again the self-defence solution plays into an unhelpful narrative. Of course physical force can help a person fend off a rapist even in their own bedroom when the rapist is someone they know. But the self-defence model tends to make people think of the lone woman in the dark alley and the stranger coming up behind her in the shadows. That isn’t what most rapes are like, and that collective mental image marginalizes the experiences of a lot of victims and makes many of them even doubt whether what happened to them was rape at all. And how far does self-defence actually get you in situations like this? I don’t know what the RAD programme involves. I see from the website that it does include some elements aimed at dealing with date-rape, but I can’t discover exactly what they are. One article on the site describes a three-day programme that seems to be entirely focussed on dealing with confrontations with groups of taunting aggressors in the street. The three videos all show students on their feet fighting their way out through gangs of attackers. Would any of that help someone who’s drunk or drugged, or who’s already in bed with a lover and suddenly finds him trying to do something she doesn’t want and ignoring her protests, or who’s in an emotionally manipulative relationship that makes her feel like her consent isn’t important?
Of course, of course there’s a place for self-defence training, and nobody could disagree with RAD’s assertion that everybody has the right to learn to defend themselves. But saying that women should all learn self-defence is putting an extra burden on them, encouraging people to blame the victims of rape for failing to avoid being raped rather than blaming the rapists, and conniving in a culture that makes men believe they neither can nor should do anything to stop themselves or their friends raping; and saying that the solution to rape is for potential victims to learn to defend themselves ignores a large number of situations in which that’s going to be impossible or difficult, and also reinforces the pernicious and widespread belief that violent rape by strangers is the only real kind of rape.
I’m not saying that you’re actually putting forward all the views that I’ve criticized here, but I’m suggesting that what you’ve said fits in too easily with these views, and in particular I’m disagreeing with your suggestion that we shouldn’t target anti-rape messages on men. Men do most of the raping in the world. Society’s failure to hold them responsible for it is a problem. I don’t see that there can possibly be anything to lose from telling them not to do it.
[By the way, are you pseudonymous on Tumblr or are you happy to be referred to by the name I know you by?]