Rape culture and the friend zone

I first stumbled on the term “rape culture” a few years back while trawling through various blogs about misogyny and feminism in general. It was at an early stage in my acceptance of feminism and I must admit, it was very eye-opening to me in a way that was quite uncomfortable.

This was because I used to engage in this behaviour quite frequently. When I was younger, I told rape jokes with my friends and thought nothing of it. I am not proud of this, but I feel like it is important for me to point out that it is very possible to be a part of the problem without realising it, and even more important that you can stop yourself from being part of the problem any longer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this post is directed at men. Women know full well about this topic, and there’s not a whole lot I could add to what’s already out there. So this is for the guys who jump in with responses of “Not all men” every time the subject of rape and rape culture is discussed.

Maybe just sit back and consider that you’re doing bad shit without realising it or meaning to.

Rape culture is essentially the naturalisation of sexual violence, be it through the casual portrayal of coercive sexual behaviour on TV to a simple “joke” told between two friends. All of these things, no matter how small or big, combine to perpetuate a culture in which rape is either seen as the norm, or people’s view of what and what doesn’t constitute rape is completely wrong.

One of the main parts of rape culture that is constantly pushed, especially in TV, is the ‘Stranger Rape Myth’ — whereby we are led to believe that rape is only ever committed by strangers who are clearly rapists. It is presented as being a simple case of “strange man attacks a woman under the cover of night, takes her down an alleyway and then rapes her”, but it is rarely that simple.

Statistically speaking, the majority of rape victims know their rapist before the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, 90% of those who sought their help in 2011 knew their attacker in some form before the attack took place.

Let that sink in. Nine out of ten those attacked knew their rapist prior to the incident.

One third of all victims were attacked by a family member, while another third were attacked by people they would classify as “friends, acquaintances or neighbours”.

Most of the statistics available about rape are relating to the US, but their pop culture so strongly influences ours in Ireland and the United Kingdom that I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that their culture permeates into ours.

Over in the US, a woman is twice as likely to be raped as she is to get breast cancer. In fact, that is a conservative estimate. Figures vary from whether one in every three or one in every four women in our society has been sexually assaulted in some way. Even if the number was one in ten, we should find such figures intolerable.

As far as the figures for Ireland go, one out of every five women are believed to have been sexually assaulted in their lives, while the figure is one in ten for men.

Think of your circle of friends. Now think of how many of them you know have been sexually assaulted in some shape or form. If you’re a guy, especially one who is dismissive of conversations of the societal causes of rape, then I’d be willing to guess you have a poor idea of how many of your friends and family have been sexually assaulted.

A common thread among the “not all men” crowd is that oftentimes rape accusations are false and that such instances can ruin a man’s life. By the way it is told, you could be forgiven for thinking that false rape accusations are an epidemic and are outnumbering the real cases.

The highest estimate I have seen for the amount of rape accusations that turn out to be false is 8%. In fact, the actual figure for this is likely to be closer to 2%.

If you think that 2% (or even 8%) of rape accusations being false is an epidemic but ignore the 92–98% that are true, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself.

Pushing the narrative of the girl who cried rape is a classic derailing tactic employed by people who either do not wish to reevaluate what they are doing wrong or, worse, those who have evaluated what they are doing and have no desire to change.

If you’re focussing on false accusations in a world where actual convicted rapists are only being handed six-month prison sentences and then only end up serving half that time, then all you’re doing is signalling to the rape survivors in your life that your feelings are more important than their reality.

Rape is something that we are so afraid to talk about even though it has happened to so many people close to us. I know a number of people close to me who have been sexually assaulted, and yet I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are more who just haven’t told me yet. Based purely on the statistics, it would be foolish of me to think otherwise.

Our culture is one of victim blaming when it comes to rape. Too often you hear people saying things like the victim “dressed older than her age” when talking about an eleven year-old who was raped. Sometimes they go a step further than just implying it, and come out and say that the victim was “asking for it” by wearing “sexually suggestive” clothing.

By doing this, we are putting the blame on the victim instead of the perpetrator. By telling a girl to wear something different to avoid being raped, all we are essentially saying is to make sure that they rape someone else.

This does not get to the root of the problem, which is that men are taught that women’s bodies are possessions or trophies which need to be obtained in order to fulfill a vague sense of manliness.

And this gives birth to one of the most subtle and therefore most insidious aspects of rape culture — the friend zone.

The friend zone is a part of rape culture that had become quite prevalent in pop culture. It is usually put forward by self-proclaimed ‘nice guys’ as an excuse for why a girl could possibly choose someone else over them.

What the Nice Guy™ believes is that if he is nice to a girl and actually treats her with respect, then that girl should want to have sex with him. Actually, the concept goes a step further by allowing the Nice Guy™ to feel entitled to sex with the girl of his choice simply because he has treated her with some sort of basic human decency for an extended period of time.

YouTuber the1janitor has a good breakdown of this, explaining how if you pretend to be someone’s friend with the secret intention of having sex with them, don’t be surprised if they see you as a friend. There’s nothing nice about 1) lying to someone about your intentions from your shared relationship or 2) ignoring someone else’s own desires in favour of your own.

The friend zone myth is dangerous and insulting because it perpetuates the idea of women as a prize or a reward for being ‘nice’ — whatever that really means.

It dehumanises women in a way that is more subtle than cat-calling, and this is why so many people fall for it. I fell for it too, when I was younger.

One of my favourite bloggers (Tumblr’s twentysomethinghussy, who unfortunately has shut down her account) had a great piece titled “Why they weren’t actually all that nice” about her experiences with the ‘nice guy’ phenomenon and why it is highly insulting, creepy and even dangerous to treat someone like this — especially someone you claim to care about deeply. Although you can no longer read it, she summed it up as:

“I did not reject you because you were “too nice”. I rejected you because you would not take no for an answer and didn’t care about what I wanted.”

And that’s the crux of the issue. If a girl “friend zones” you, don’t act like her friendship is an insult. If she was worth pursuing romantically then should should be worth having as a friend anyway.

If you can’t handle that, then you were never really a nice guy in the first place and you don’t deserve her friendship.