Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Myth of the Boogyman Rapist (Warning: Long, Rambling Post)

I know that I've said similar before (and I'm sure this won't be my last post on the subject) but I'm going to bring it up again because it can't be mentioned often enough. Although this time I'm going to let twf in the comments at Feministe do it for me:

I guess I’m just saying that part of where blame-the-victim comes from is thinking that “rapists” are not real people

Often times, the response to pointing out that one should be asking why rapists rape, rather than why women "get raped", is either that "no one wants to think about that" (which begs several obvious questions) or that such people are just plain sick - which is implied by the first response.

That reminds me of the quote - that I can't quite remember - about how everyone who commits murder is insane at the time. Sane people don't kill. Which has some truth to it - but no one would ever suggest that only obviously bat-shit crazy people could possibly be guilty of murder. And yet many people assume something similar when it comes to rape. Only evil men rape. Which isn't true at all - at least no more so than the idea that every murderer is insane.

This really seems to be where the majority of guys mess up. They just can't imagine that the guy sitting in the cubicle next to them at work - trading sports scores, TV gossip, game strategies or what have you - could be a rapist. Their drinking buddy? No way. The guy they see opening doors for women all the time? Pshaw. The die-hard Buffy fan? Are you kidding?

Which a lot of women I know would find funny in a dark humor, you gotta laugh if you don't want to cry, sorta way. Because we spend so much of our time wondering if the guy sitting in the cubicle next to us could be a rapist. Or the janitor. Or the security guard. Or anyone else who may be in the building with us long after most everyone else - including all our female co-workers who reminded us not to stay too late because "it's not safe." - has gone home.

Granted, a certain amount of this is that we have a hard time believing that the people we interact with on a daily basis could do such a thing. But a part of it is also a willfull blind spot on the part of such men - willfull because it allows them to cede responsibility for their own actions. They aren't required to worry that their friend may be capable of such things. They aren't required to examine their own behavior and change it accordingly.

Most criminals justify their actions in some way - even if it's only along the lines of "they deserved it." Rapists often believe that not only would conviction be unfair (which, I'd imagine, is quite common) but that no one was even inconvenienced, much less hurt. Many men see anything that leaves bruises or causes bleeding to be highly suspect, but dismiss a whole host of other behaviours that hurt women.

It's not a coincidence that many of the jokes about consent revolve around the idea of legal documents. The inescapable implication is that there is some exact - and ridiculous - procedure that feminists are asking for. Which in turn suggests that there's a reason why it's silly to expect clear consent to be easily obtainable. The obvious one being that women don't want sex - at least not as much as men. Which kinda makes the whole idea of enthusiastic participation a farce. Consequently, just about any way of getting a "yes" - or even the silence of previous "no"s - is acceptable as long as it doesn't require physical violence - because how else are you going to get it?

Recently, a commenter at Pandagon dug a hole for himself in arguing that the suggestion of safewords was a reasonable response to a woman whose boyfriend had raped her while she was tied up (she had agree to sex, but had made it clear that she did not want to do the specific act he ended up forcing on her). While there are all kinds of things to pick on in his comments, the part that I found interesting was how much this real life scenario mirrored a hypothetical rape scenario argued over at Alas, A Blog.

Both women were with their boyfriends? Check.

Both women had repeatedly said no? Check.

Both women's choices were restricted in some way by the rapist? Check

Both women made choices that contributed directly to being restrained? Check.

Now, there are some big differences. In the second, the girl never screams out "No!" during sex. (It's unclear if she ever says "yes" and, as just stated, she has said no repeatedly. It's also made clear that she is simply giving in to what he wants - her desires haven't changed.) The second victim is also not brutalized enough to require an overnight stay at the hospital and the restriction was mostly veiled threats and psychological ("Don't you love me?", boyfriend is her ride home, she snuck out of the house) rather than the physical restraint in the first.

It is quite clear when comparing the two, however, that they are simply different degrees of the same thing. In both cases the boyfriends do not respect their girlfriends stated wishes. Both rapists see getting what they want - rather than mutual pleasure - as the main goal. Both are willing to ignore - or get around - the entire concept of consent in order to get what they want.

Many, however, would only see the first as a rapist. Even disregarding legal definitions and (supposedly) looking at both scenarios only through the lens of what consititute's consent in the true meaning of the word - many would claim (and did) that the second guy is merely an asshole.

Considering how many people are willing - on the other hand - to conflate copyright violations with stealing, I find that very telling - and frightening.

Putting aside the logistics of legal definitions and punishment, this hypothetical rape scenario - although less violent than the real one - certainly deserves to be called such. If it doesn't, we're going to have to seriously rethink how we use words like "steal" - even outside of talking about copyright. If one can "steal" a parking spot - this can certainly be called rape.

But men especially get uncomfortable at the suggestion because it's safer for them to think of rape as something strangers do in dark alleys. Or psycho boyfriends that send their victims to the hospital. The very logical assertion that sexual violence is a spectrum and not a clearly defined act tends to put them on the defensive.

From the comments at Alas:

Rape is so horrible to me, and I view it as one of the most violent acts against a woman that a man can commit, either through physically violence, emotional abuse or emotional manipulations, and I have no desire to view a man that has raped as any other than horrible person, I can’t have all these gray areas about what rape is

Which, unfortunately, seems to sum up many people's views on rape. The fact that life is messy and uncertain, and that otherwise good people can do bad things, is too scary to be worth contemplating. Even if people get hurt because of it.

I, however, don't want people simply hurt because we're all too scared to look inside ourselves.

So, listen up, everyone:

1) Women like sex. We don't need to be "tricked" into agreeing to pleasure. We just sometimes need to be convinced that sex with you will be worth it. And sometimes you just aren't going to be able to do that. Because sometimes it just isn't. And the fact that sex with you isn't always (or ever) worth it is not proof that women do not like sex.

2) Rapists are not monsters. Or, at least, they are no more monsters than murderers are. And very few people around saying "I can't have all these gray areas about what [murder] is" Especially the justice system, which recognizes at least a dozen type of murderers if you add possible state and federal charges together. Some of which include the word "involuntary." Meaning - you aren't an evil person who wants to harm anyone, you're just a stupid shit who cares so much more about your own wants than other's needs that you ended up causing someone's death. I'd say that idea, at the very least, can be applied to our hypothetical rapist. Especially when one is talking about morals rather than legal definitions.

3) Safewords - and even notarized consent forms - only prevent rape if both people understand the meaning of "no", "yes" and "willing partner" to begin with. Because rape, like murder and theft, isn't just a legal definition, it's something people do to other people. "Date" rape, marital rape, the rape of prostitutes, and all kinds of other rape existed long before the law recognized such rapists as worthy of punishment. The law is merely a tool for protecting people's rights and the current interpretation of the law is not a trump card to be used to ignore the ways in which people hurt each other. We really don't need to providing would be rapists with more excuses.

4) The only way to prevent rape is to educate people about what causes rape - and it has nothing to do with short skirts or women going out to bars. It's caused by people disbelieving that women like sex, pretending that all rapists are boogeymen, and acting as if rape is something that happens rather than something someone does to someone else. Death is something that happens. Rape and murder require perpetrators who fail to respect the rights and desires of others.


Lab Cat said...

That was a great post.

I particularly liked number 1. Most women are good at knowing when they want sex!

Mickle said...

Yeah, and while the idea that rapists aren't actually people was what inspired this particular rant, they're all related.

#1 is an essential step to getting to the whole "seemingly nice guys can be rapists too" idea, because if men don't believe that women actually want sex, then there isn't really anything to distinguish sex from rape except battery.

(which -ahem- is kinda what the infamous Dworkin quote is all about)

This confusion about where the line is drawn makes men (and women) extremely reluctant to examine their actions and the actions of those around them. People are more than a little bit afraid they'll find.

Mickle said...


and thanks


Ami Angelwings said...

I rly liked that post! And I think you make a lot of great points :O

I'd like to add that I think the myth of "only monsters rape" means also that most men themselves believe they are not capable of it. B/c they can't fathom why, they dun see a problem with forcing htemselves on a girl that "deserved it" or in a situation that is not the "at knifepoint in a dark alley" that they're prolly thinking in their minds. So b/c they're not insane and a monster (at least in their minds), then it'd be okay to them.

A lot of it rly is that guys think only of the evil criminal type who grabs a girl at knifepoint and drags her into a dark alley when nebody mentions rape. :\