Monday, July 22, 2013

Some men will never understand why rape is always wrong.

I don't know if I've ever written this before in my blog, but when my wife was pregnant, I was hoping for a girl. I always pictured myself as being a good dad for a girl, as I believe in women's equality, and I wouldn't have any lower standards for what I expected from a daughter than I would for a son. I'd encourage her to be whatever she wanted to be, and I wouldn't expect her to fit any expectation of what a female is supposed to be like.

Well, whattaya know? I wound up with a boy. Hopefully I can be a good dad to a son as well. The funny thing is, I never look at him and think, "Man, I really wish he was a girl." When I look at him, I wish that I had him, and as chance would have it, I do. However, as somebody who fancies himself as being forward-thinking when it comes to gender relations, I think that I can still do my part just as effectively with a boy as I can with a girl. In other words, I can teach him how to treat women right.

I'll be honest. I think that women aren't treated as well as they should be. Sure, there might be a few things here and there where they have some advantages over men, but overall the deck is clearly stacked on the male side of things. I think that there are many levels to the problem, from men who are basic stereotypical chauvinists to men who ought to know better but have a touch of misogyny in them. For instance, a woman's looks - whether good or bad - will come up in conversation no matter what, even when her looks are completely irrelevant (which is nearly every instance except for beauty contests). Also, I hear men, when talking about a woman who's being particularly nutty, referring to her as a "typical" woman. The funny thing is, whenever I hear about these supposed "typical" female traits, the first thing that occurs to me is that my wife certainly doesn't fit them, and there are plenty of other women I know who don't either. I guess it's just the confirmation bias thing at work - if you're convinced that women think and behave a certain way, you'll always take note of it when they meet the expectation but will promptly forget it when they don't.

All this could be fodder for another blog post, but right now I want to address what's probably the most serious problem when it comes to gender issues, and that is the issue of rape. The fact that rape exists is enough to say that we have a problem, but the problem becomes even more insidious when we see how people deal with it. A particularly grievous example of this was CNN's coverage of the Steubenville rape trial, where the network seemed more concerned about the uncertain futures of a couple of rapists than how their victim was doing.

There seems to be some disconnect for too many young men as to what, exactly, rape is. In the case of Steubenville and the rape of Audrie Pott, (who later killed herself after also being the victim of "slut shaming") both of the victims were not resisting and screaming for their attackers to stop. But why was it rape then? Simple - because they were both passed out and, the most important part, they obviously did not give consent.

I remember one time, when discussing the Scottsboro Trials with a group of freshmen, I took a moment to point out that the defense had portrayed one of the supposed rape victims as being a prostitute in order to damage her credibility. I asked the class, "What should that have to do with it? Isn't it possible to rape a prostitute?" Several boys insisted that no, it was not possible. That disgusted me so much that now I don't even ask the question. I just tell them that if they think a prostitute can't be raped, they don't know what rape is. (And yes, I am aware that in the case of Scottsboro, the "rapists" were actually innocent, but that's beside that point.)

Rape is definitely a problem, and as a father to a boy, I can do my part to help stop it. I remember shortly after a horrific rape on a bus in India that there was a protest against India's problems with rape culture. There was a photo of a woman whose sign read something along the lines of: "Instead of telling us what to wear, teach your sons not to rape." And that's pretty much where it is as to what us parents need to do. Obviously, my son's mother will make this clear to him, but I think that in this case, it'll be especially effective to hear it coming from his father as well. I will make sure that my son will understand that rape means that there wasn't consent, no exceptions.

And while I hate to think of the possibility, if he's ever accused of rape, my only question will be "Did you do it or not?" What she was wearing has nothing to do with it. What she was drinking has nothing to do with it. Even if she had sex with every single guy he knew except him, that would have absolutely nothing to do with it.

If you're expecting a "but" here, I don't have one so much as I have more to say - if I had a daughter, the message would be the same - rape means a lack of consent. It doesn't matter what you wore, drank, etc. If you did not make it clear that you wanted it too, then you are a victim of a crime, and that boy should get whatever punishment is coming to him - case closed.

I would have to add something to that though. I would have to explain to her that not every guy out there understands that. There are men who DO think that it's okay to have sex with you when you're unconscious. There are men who think that you're asking for it when you dress a certain way. You can say that's wrong, they should know better, and their parents should have taught them better. You can say all those things, and I agree with ALL of them, but it doesn't change the fact that there are men out there who will not care about any of that.

A friend of mine told me, while talking about the Steubenville rape case that what was scary for her was that she felt like that sort of thing could have happened to her, as there were times when she drank so much when she was young that she passed out. Lucky for her, none of them men in her company took advantage of that situation, and it might even be safe to say that their parents taught them better. Still, she felt lucky that she didn't wind up like those girls.

I never want to blame the victim, and in both of those cases, the only guilty parties are the rapists, and I would have no problem if they spent the rest of their lives in jail. These girls didn't deserve to get raped and you can't even make the case that they "had it coming" either. Those rapists don't get a pass because the girls were behaving irresponsibly, but is it so wrong to address the fact that they were behaving irresponsibly? Does anybody want to make the case that teenage drinking ISN'T irresponsible? They put themselves in a position where it made it easy for those bastards to rape them. It's a situation that shouldn't exist, but unfortunately, it does exist. I wish we lived in a world where every teenage girl could pass out wherever she wanted to and not have to worry about anything, but we don't.

I wish that by me teaching my son properly that the problem would go away. I wish that by my little explanation of rape to my freshmen class could solve it all as well. Unfortunately, it's going to take a major cultural shift for things to significantly improve.

Until then, the only thing I can say is that parents need to tell their sons that there is no excuse for rape, but they also need to tell their daughters that there are assholes out there who haven't gotten the message. Until they all get the message, then we need to be real about the way the world is while still working to make it the way that it should be.

NOTE:  I realize that this is an issue the results in emotional responses. If you want to disagree with me, please do so, but I ask that you PLEASE do not argue with what I'm NOT saying. Again, to be clear: I believe the rapists in those cases are 100% guilty and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The condition that their victims were in has no relevance on how guilty or not guilty those guys are. I'm just saying that we need to warn girls about guys like these.


Andrew Nolan said...

Why defend rape? Seems like a controversial position. Good luck with the blowback. I'll be over there, watching the brushfire. I'm gonna go ahead and distance myself from a guy who says it's ok to rape a girl under certain circumstances. It just doesn't sit right with me, is all.

Tony from Pandora said...

I think the most you can do for you son is to love and respect your wife. Show your son how a woman should be treated. You can talk all you want, but kids understand actions as much, if not more than words... just like that old drug commercial...

Mustached father: "Who taught you how to do this stuff?"
Son: "You, alright! I learned it by watching you!!"

"I wish we lived in a world where every teenage girl could pass out wherever she wanted to and not have to worry about anything..."

I wish we lived in a world where no teenage girl felt that passing out from drinking is the cool thing to do...

" it's going to take a major cultural shift for things to significantly improve."

Any suggestions?

Lance Johnson said...

My only suggestion is for us to do what I said to do and what you said to do. Also, we can encourage our friends and other family members to do the right thing. In other words, we can only play our part.

Changing the hearts and minds of people takes time.

Lance Johnson said...

Oh and...

"I wish we lived in a world where no teenage girl felt that passing out from drinking is the cool thing to do..."

Obviously, I do too. But if I had to choose between them doing that and being safe versus a world where they do that and fear being raped, I'd choose the former.

But yeah, "you might get raped" isn't the only reason why teenagers shouldn't do that.

Matthew Holderfield said...

How does one even begin to construct a counter argument?

Susan Golder said...

great article..

Lance Johnson said...

Thank you!

Tony from Pandora said...

"how does one even construct a counter argument"

I'm guessing those would try aren't frequenting a blog with 'Shakespeare' in the title...

Jessica Thorne said...

Thanks for posting this article, its not something a lot of men are willing to address. I want to add that women are not solely the victims, and part of the problem is letting the men in our lives know that they are not weak for seeking help for rape or domestic violence.

The CDC recently found that 40 percent of all DV victims are men, with female perpetrators, while only 15 percent of all reported cases have male victims. While working at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, I mostly served women and children clients, but my co-workers had horrendous stories of abuse between male victims and female perpetrators. In the case of rape, 1 in 71 men have been raped at some point in their lifetime, and 8% of men have experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner.

Its not just about warning girls to watch out for scary guys and teaching boys to treat women better. Its about teaching people about the cycle of violence, how to identify red flags, and modeling healthy relationships for our children.

Just my two cents!
(Here's the CDC report:

Lance Johnson said...

Thanks for the input, Jessica. You're right - there's an even bigger issue that's going on here than even I hinted at. Even if we prevent women from being raped, so long as anybody is being abused, we haven't really solved the key issue here.

How'd you get to be so smart and thoughtful? I bet your English teacher from senior year must have had something to do with it.

Anonymous said...

The "1 in 71 men have been raped" stat from the CDC survey doesn’t tell the whole story. It defines "rape" as the attacker penetrating the victim, which excludes women who use their vagina to rape a man (rape by envelopment) which is counted as “made to penetrate”. The very same survey says “1 in 21 men (4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else,” which is far more than 1 in 71. Also, the study says that 79.2% of male victims of “made to penetrate” reported only female perpetrators, meaning they were raped by a woman.

The above, lifetime stats do show a lower percentage of male victims (up to 1.4% rape by penetration + 4.8% made to penetrate = 6.2%) than female victims (18.3%) although it is far more than 1 in 71. However, if you look at the report’s stats for the past 12 months, just as many number of men were “forced to penetrate” as women were raped, meaning that if you properly include “made to penetrate” in the definition of rape, men were raped as often as women.