The Preacher is a man who stands outside of the Willard building and – you guessed it – preaches. His topics are always controversial and he usually stands on the side of a fence I wouldn’t even toss a chicken bone to. This semester he has already discussed “the virgin flock” that we must reinstate, transgender individuals, and pre-marital sex (refer to virgin flock) among others.
Stationed next to the Willard Preacher was a table of feminists from our campus who were handing out free condoms and asking folks to take photos with a sign as to why they need feminism. One of these feminists was wearing a shirt that says “Only Do IT With Consent.” This opened the door for the Willard Preacher to assert, with quite an air of condescension I must add, that feminists believe all men are rapists. The sermon quickly wound itself into various circles – with the Preacher first stating something to the effect that men are visually stimulated and if you’re dressed like a “prostitute” a man will take it because, hey, at least in this case he doesn’t have to pay for it, right? He also said something to the effect of women not being able to tell men not to rape because men won’t listen because, hey, do we expect them [Men] to act like women and just sit there and take it? Among all of this were infuriating contradictions (reference the feminists believing that all men are rapists above).
But, I really don’t want to talk about the Preacher anymore because – really – he did something miraculous here. Before I move away from the topic of him please note that it is highly unlikely I will utilize the Preacher and miraculous in the same sentence again because I consider his words downright blasphemous, but alas – it happened here.
What did he do?
He got an entire population talking about sexual assault. About rape. There were folks defending the Preacher – though what they were defending I will never know because he moved back and forth between arguments so often it was like watching the Matrix on slow-mo. There were folks trying to set the record straight as to what it means when we use phrases like “rape culture.” There were folks explaining the importance of the Consent tshirt.
I wasn’t silent, nor was I given the attention the white man with a suit and tie was given when he spoke. This doesn’t escape my notice, but it isn’t the center of the story.
For those who did hear me (they didn’t fall silent in the way they did for the Man and make no mistake he still has my gratitude for speaking up) – some came to me. Some decided it was time to have a conversation with someone other than the Preacher.
I was abashed and hurt at what I heard. I wasn’t surprised. I am angry that I wasn’t surprised, but there we are. Why wasn’t I surprised? Because I was advocating that it is time we change the conversation. I was advocating that we stop saying women must take precaution and avoid drinks or “trap” frats or provocative clothing. I was advocating that we break this all down to “don’t rape.” A few young men and one young woman came to me. Here is a paraphrase of what they said:
But we live in a society where we are told not to rape every day. It still happens. So we can’t just ask men not to rape because, clearly, they hear it every day. We have to ask women to help out too. (Read: ladies, god forbid you dress your body how you want. Ladies, stop drinking. LADIES! HOW DARE YOU HAVE ENOUGH FAITH IN ANOTHER HUMAN BEING AS TO THINK THAT IF YOU GET DRUNK THEY WON’T JUST FUCK YOU WITHOUT CONSENT ON THE SPOT!?)
But if women were cautious they would stop going to frat parties and rape wouldn’t happen.
But women rape people too. Women touch little babies.
But let’s take a closer look at these sentiments, friends. Because I couldn’t quite get to each when I (literally) had five or six voices coming at me at one time and, quite frankly, I was overwhelmed.
We live in a society where rape is taboo. It is bad. True. No one disputes that it is SAID. But let’s look at what is shown.
Let’s look at the hypersexualization of our mass media where rape happens and it is glamourized or simply undiscussed. Shit, Game of Thrones changed the story for Cersei could be raped for a visual audience. We consume music videos where women are spanked, stripped down, pushed onto counters, and sometimes literally hung. Freshman enter college campuses where frat houses hang banners that “welcome daughters *wink wink*” as a funny joke. We see advertisements that seek to make women smaller or lighter (yes, whiter) – may it be their pose or their size – so they can shrink down in on themselves and suggest compliance. These suggest a brand of femininity that says passion, anger, intelligence is not for women unless they are “those women” (and please understand that there are race and class connotations with that phrase). They [women] should aspire to compliance.
While none of these sources are individually saying that rape is good they are – collectively – creating and reinforcing a picture that positions women as delicious little cookies for consumption. I am not merely talking about objectification here – I am talking about the stripping away of humanity as each body becomes another tool or toy for the pleasure of the audience, fit for domination. Unfit for humanity. The bodies that are outliers, the misfits, are often positioned at the end of a very cruel joke. So if they can’t be sexually consumed they can at least be consumed as a laughing matter. This all points to the consumption of women’s bodies, because we all know that what we see and hear doesn’t indicate most women as having minds (reference the above statement where the crowd fell silent for the man but damn, what does a woman have to say about sexual assault).
So, yeah, we say rape is bad. We show that domination is good. We show a field with two (and only two) sexes at either end of a green that enforces and reinforces what appears to be inherent differences. One of those differences being that men take and women give. Duh. When women don’t give can we place any blame when they will be forcibly taken?
The obvious, politically correct answer is – damn right, we can.
What I heard with the aforementioned serious of buts is – no, we can’t place blame unless we are placing blame on HER. Because if she didn’t wanna give it she shouldn’t show….well, anything or up anywhere.
I should mention here that, when I tried to present this argument, I was told that as a woman I have no idea what a man is shown every day – nor do I have any idea what men go through. Fair enough, but let’s say that you [Man] have no idea what it is like for a woman to stand in the center of five talking mouths – all interrupting – all the while knowing that (because I am woman) THIS HAPPENS EVERY DAMN DAY. And [Man] I’m trying not to blame you. I’m trying to say I expect that men are capable of more than drooling every time they catch a glimpse of a thigh. But please, keep interrupting me. Keep shutting up when the white, older man in a suit and tie has something to say. Keep reinforcing for me (but definitely not for you) that while I can’t say what it is like to be a man I can show you that you’ve interrupted me five different times but fell silent the minute that my Man Savior showed up to tell you that what I have to say is righteous, Man.
Now, this ties to our second point of contention;
You say that women just have to be cautious because it is the world that we live in. First, I believe in a better world. I believe it’s a lot of work and a good deal of discomfort for those who have an automatic defense built up because of various privileges they are afforded. But, because you want to talk caution, let’s get into it.
As you so clearly described, you have no idea what it’s like to be a woman. You don’t know the precautions we DO take because we know that rape culture DOES live here. We, as women, are almost always programmed to fear.
I, personally, carry my keys in a specific way when I walk. I let someone know where I am whenever I am out late. I clutch my cup carefully to my chest and prepare my own drink when in unfamiliar surroundings. And man, I am tired.
I am so damn cautious that if I were any more cautious I would be living in a monastery and wearing not one but two chastity belts. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US?
Do you want us to insert barbed devices into our vaginas? Do you want us to buy special nail polish and walk around dipping our fingers into drinks? Do you want us to roll around in a fucking tin bubble?
Oh, no, no. That’s extreme (damn feminists always getting all riley). You want us to count our drinks.
Ummm, bro, how many have YOU had?
You want us to stay at the side of a friend at all times.
Ummm, bro, we wanna make more friends too without fear of rape when we walk outside of the periphery of vision.
So then you say, but frats are traps. So, ya know, just don’t go to the parties.
Again, please excuse me while I dig a tunnel to the nearest safe house with padded walls and locked doors. But, ok, let’s take this on.
First, while I am not arguing the toxicity of a Greek culture on campus, I am arguing that rape does not only happen at frat parties. Far from it. So – just avoid all parties? Umm, what about partner rape? What about date rape? What about gang rape in trailers outside of town? What about the guy who broke into dorm rooms last academic year and fondled women? Should they have inserted those barbed contraptions into their vagina IN CASE someone came into their room to fondle them? There are too many situations where assault happens for this to be a valid argument, and it completely obscures the fact that you are once again asking that a vulnerable population take EXTRA care to ensure those with power don’t make a boo boo.
Ah, but that’s not what you are saying. You are just asking we ladies exercise a little more caution. You are just asking that, instead of pointing out bad behavior and expecting more of humanity, we take care of those with bad behavior by removing temptation for them. But – man – we aren’t a cookie you just get to bite into and by you asking that we just exercise a little more caution you are, by proxy, stating we are that cookie. We are an object made for consumption, right?
And finally, to the argument of women rapists. Yes, yes there are women who rape. There are far less women than men. I know you gave me a right-wing website to check out, but how about you check out the many that contradict that right-wing site.
Here it is – rape happens to every population. In every culture there are rapists. Rapists exist in every gender group, in every race, in every class. If we continually try to point out what the survivor could have done differently we are going to continually wind circles around us in a never-ending series of “but what about this” or “what if the survivor did this differently” and nothing will change. Nothing will change because this impacts EVERYONE and every reality is different. We would need lifetimes to trace the circles we’ve drawn with our arguments for more caution and the counter-argument of “marital rape” or the like.
Yet, if we expect more of people, if we say DON’T RAPE and reinforce that message with our actions and our consumption and our legislation (a blog for another time) then maybe – just maybe – we can start to see some change. But we have to change the conversation in order to change the culture, and saying that women (or any survivor) should have just known better is tired. You are capable of more. I’m a feminist and I know it to be true.
Change the conversation.