Ending Rape Culture Requires Male Ownership of the Problem
I struggle with the term ‘Rape Culture’. I think of culture as a set of traditions that continue from generation to generation, and a people that are of a similar mind. California has a ‘car culture’ where people spend their time building, restoring, and enjoying their cars. Then again, I guess rape, as well as other acts which subject women to unwanted touching and objectification are a continuation of a way of thinking, of accepting ‘traditional’ behaviors from one generation to another. So maybe the term is not too far off the mark. In any case, my purpose in writing is not to critique the meaning of the term ‘Rape Culture’, it is to propose a solution.
I am a middle aged man. I have two sisters and many of my closest friends growing up were girls/ women. I held jobs during high school and college in which I supervised dozens of girls, some of whom I heard second hand about incidents in which they were contacted inappropriately, or raped. I am married to a woman who was sexually assaulted on more than one occasion while growing up, and I have a teenage daughter who I never want to know the pain of such a violation. I never, ever want a girl or woman to experience being treated or touched in any way that does not respect and honor her as a human being.
Women are not the only victims of these violations. I’m not referring to the fact that men are also sexually assaulted by other men, or by women. I don’t want to diminish the harm caused in those situations, but for now I am focused on the issue of men violating women or girls. The men close to the victimized female are victims too: the current boyfriend or husband, and the father. The future boyfriend or husband are also victims. Being violated causes trauma and scars that can last a lifetime and whether the woman shares what happened to her with her partner or not, her partner is going to be affected by what happened.
In order to solve this problem I believe we need to change the perspective we take when addressing the issue from that of the victim to one of the perpetrator. There are many powerful and enlightening writings from women on the subject, and sincere responses from concerned men, but it’s time for men to lead the conversation instead of observing it.
It’s time for men to get uncomfortably honest with ourselves about what is going on.
#1: This is a male problem, and therefore a problem for men to solve. Just like an alcoholic, or a person with anger issues, or an adulterer . . . until the person behaving badly admits they have a problem, that their behavior is inappropriate, that their life will not be what they want it to be until they address and resolve the problem . . . the problem will not be resolved. Everyone around them can advise, complain, strategize, and recommend corrective actions but until the ‘person’ (the collective male person in this case) with the problem accepts that it is a problem and that they are the one responsible to fix it . . . it will not be resolved.
#2: We are all here, both men and women, because hundreds of generations of our ancestors successfully procreated. From the smallest cellular organism to the most complex mammal, species have continued to exist on this earth because they reproduce, and for humans reproduction means having sex. I imagine thousands of years ago there were men who had little interest in sex, but their gene pool died off long ago for obvious reasons. As a result of evolution (survival of the fittest, and the horniest), men today are instinctually obsessed with sex and the female form. Men are biologically wired to notice and react when they see an attractive female — even an unattractive one if she’s revealing enough skin. It’s just the way evolution works, and there haven’t been enough generations of men over the last several hundred years to change that.
#3: Over the last century, through product marketing and mass media that started with sales catalogs from large retailers over 100 years ago, to pin-up girls in the 40’s, to television and magazine advertising beginning in the 50’s, to website pop-up adds today, our culture has used men’s instinctual obsession with the female form to influence their opinions and purchase decisions — it’s common knowledge that ‘sex sells’. The resulting process of treating women as ‘eye candy’ in all types of advertising and media has led to the objectification of women and the manipulation of men’s behaviors (I still hypothesize that the television series ‘Friends’ had a walk in refrigerator back stage to ensure the actresses had erect nipples in every scene, but wardrobe probably just sewed something into their bras . . . .).
#4: All heterosexual men notice beautiful women. It doesn’t matter if they are ‘good’ men or ‘bad’ men. Men are wired to notice and the world around us is geared to present these images to us at every turn. ‘Good’ men know it is inappropriate to act on these desires unless invited to do so (don’t ask me how to know when you are invited, I never figured out how to read the ‘signs’), and in many ways men are told that it is wrong to even have the feelings to begin with.
‘As a result, ‘good’ men notice attractive women or sexual images . . . and then feel guilty for noticing.
When a man hears that a woman was assaulted or mistreated by another man, he is outraged at the behavior but he is also ashamed for having similar desires and urges. He subconsciously feels guilty because he fears ‘but for the grace of God, there goes I’. As a result, ‘good’ men are less likely to speak out against other men who talk about what they did, or about what they are thinking of doing. While a ‘good’ man does not condone the inappropriate behavior, he is silenced by his understanding of why the other man feels or acted that way and is less likely to speak out when another man is behaving badly.
#5: Instinctual or not, men are responsible to decide how they will act when they get those urges. This is really a simple case of emotional maturity — we all get feelings that we can choose to act on in either a mature or an immature way. We can choose to act out in anger, to blame others, to hold a grudge, to take what we want, or to sit back passively and say nothing. Emotional maturity is about being aware and in control of what we feel inside, and then choosing how we act outwardly toward others as a result.
Men who violate women are not unique because of their desires; they are unique because of how they choose to act on them.
We need to recognize that men respond to visual stimuli for a very logical reason, and this is normal. We need to acknowledge this so that men can accept and forgive themselves for what they feel in order to focus on how they and their peers ACT.
We need to make it clear that all people are responsible for their own actions, and regardless of what their bodies and emotions are urging them to do, men are responsible for choosing to act in a way that respects others and complies with social and legal norms.
Finally, men need to focus on behaviors. Men need to set aside WHY other men do what they do (which gets them caught up in their own guilt, or the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge, can’t say I blame you . . . ‘), and focus on WHETHER other men do what they do. Bad behavior is bad behavior. It doesn’t matter why they do it. It doesn’t matter if you fear you are capable or guilty of the same thing.
Bottom line is men need to be aware of what they are feeling and why, but still speak up and hold themselves and each other accountable for how they and others act. Period.