Explaining “A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture” to men

How to translate to men who aren’t buying it

Recently, I came across this bold and brave article, titled “A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture” on a friend’s Facebook wall. He said, “It’s here! The dumbest article on the Internet today.”

The article opens:

“If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist, necessarily. But you do perpetuate the attitudes and behaviors commonly referred to as rape culture.”

A bold statement for men who might be outside of the purview of the culture of activism, liberalism, or the “coasts,” so to speak. He goes on to give some great insight about how men can be more aware of behaviors and attitudes they perpetrate without often consciously knowing it.

Look, no one likes being called a rapist or a perpetuator of a culture that doesn’t properly give us the tools or attitudes to prevent rape, but the fact remains — rape is a serious problem in America. I don’t care if the numbers are down or up. It is happening and it shouldn’t. Men might acknowledge this, but usually follow up with an excuse like, “Well, it is hard to prove when only two people are in the room.” Exactly. So if we can’t change the nature of the crime, lets change the culture around it.

A Guide for Translation

I acknowledge that saying “If you are a man, you are part of rape culture” might be tough to buy into for your 58 year old uncles back in Middle America, your frat brother friends, and even other Millennial men who get caught up on the language instead of the issue at hand. I want to give a few humble tips on how to explain this article. I’m obviously open to criticism, additions etc. and this might be written very quickly, but a few thoughts:

  1. Get it straight. “Rape culture” doesn’t mean that all men are rapists. You can try to say that it is a culture that isn’t mindful of how often it makes excuses for men who rape (because it is so “hard to prove”), instead of being sympathetic to the support and protection victims need, along with the retribution perpetrators deserve.
  2. Establish cultural context. Explain to your Uncle Joe that the term “rape culture” is also a tool for galvanizing activism and action after years of inaction, pain, and suffering. Tell them that instead of being defensive, think of the term as a call to action. My dad used to tell me, “If you don’t like something, suggest an alternative.” Maybe use this exercise to get them to do the same.
  3. Don’t push the language issue. You might be beating a dead horse by trying to defend the term “rape culture” to Uncle Joe or Frat Bro Tom. Choose your battles wisely. The goal is to change behavior and build empathy, not win word wars.
  4. Remind them of the real problem: rape. Words hurt way less than that. Get over the initial defensiveness to the term. Don’t feel accused; feel aware and empowered to be more mindful of your own behavior.
  5. Try to put them in a woman’s shoes. Remember how all those men looked at their wife’s/girlfriend’s cleavage and he got angry? Think about how women feel and have to put up with this predatory stuff all the time.
  6. Remind them, it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s scrap this “boys will be boys” or “it has always been that way” or “that is the way things are” language. If we believed that phrase, women would still not vote, maybe we wouldn’t be able to own guns (only the state would), blacks would still be slaves, and we wouldn’t have the freedom to worship as we choose. We wouldn’t have America for God’s sake! We can and should believe in the human potential to change.
  7. Remember that rape should be treated as the unique crime it is; we don’t punish robbery the same way we punish murder the same way we punish rape. Often times you get responses like, “We should just hang the rapist just like a murderer!” Such a response doesn’t necessarily support or provide the justice a victim might need at that moment. Make the argument that, because rape is hard to “prove,” (which many men often point out) we have to be more mindful than ever to change the culture so that we provide adequate support to victims, to women, and to men that doesn’t disincentivize people from coming forward when they are indeed raped. They shouldn’t feel doubted, interrogated or scolded (its hard to get over the bewilderment of the trauma). We can’t ask someone if they were raped in the same way of asking them if they were mugged. We must be sensitive to how rape needs to be investigated and prosecuted instead of writing it off as too hard to prove.
  8. Be sensitive, not defensive. Remember, we should be more mindful and bothered that we hurt people with actions we are not aware of. Try to tell a lighter story about a time when you said something off handed and then later realized you really hurt someone. Now bring it back to “rape culture.” Saying “People on an individual basis need to hold themselves accountable and make sure that they are doing their part to keep themselves from getting raped, or harassed” (indeed one of the responses on that Facebook post) only hurts people more who were raped in situations where they were not necessarily in alleged or stereotypical risk situations (clubs, frats, etc. — no location ever excuses being raped, ever, by the way)
  9. Remind them they aren’t the victim. They actually have power to change the situation and we need their help. Don’t isolate, join!

If I were a guy, I would be more afraid that I am potentially hurting someone and perpetuating a culture that is destructive (even if it has gotten better in the last 100 years), rather than being defensive about terminology or a framework of knowledge I don’t understand yet. Rather than resorting to a knee-jerk reaction of “No way! That’s not me!” defensiveness, consider how you might make the next woman you encounter, or person for that matter, feel safer. You have more power over your own actions than the language of a movement. Look through their eyes. See the Kafka-esque situations that rape victims go through without justice or support. Realize that the absurdity of the situation is grave and real.

Next time you see a dude complain about “rape culture,” don’t dismiss him as a jerk. Explain it to him. Do it for your mother, your sister, your friends, your girlfriend. They may have been raped.