Rejecting the concern troll

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If you’ve never heard the term ‘rape culture’ before, you might be forgiven for thinking it alludes to the kind of dystopian future found in a Margaret Atwood tale. Unfortunately, the truth is somewhat more frightening.

To refer to a ‘rape culture’ means to acknowledge a social system that has slowly normalised rape and sexual assault through the bombardment of images, language, laws and social attitudes. At best, it views such violations as an inevitable part of life and therefore considers all efforts to try and stop it futile. At worst, it’s a culture in which victim-blaming is not just present but common, and standard caveats are invoked to excuse perpetrators for being unable to help themselves. It’s one that has media personalities calling women ‘strays’ on national television or saying that you don’t go home with someone at 3am for a cup of milo. It’s a culture that sexualises rape in the movies and it’s also one in which elected representatives can apply qualifying descriptors to describe the kind of rape they feel more comfortable with acknowledging.

Some people (lots, in fact) hold that no such culture exists, preferring instead to clearly distinguish rape as something that only a small handful of ‘evil monsters’ do.

If this sounds like you, I have this to say: you are part of the problem.

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There are literally hundreds of examples I could delve into to illustrate just how deeply ingrained rape culture is and the associated apologism that goes hand in hand. Instead, I want to cover just two: the expectation that women are failing in their responsibility to ‘protect’ themselves; and how combating rape starts with all men, even the ones horrified at the thought of such a crime.

1. Women, protect thyselves!

Meet Well Meaning Advice Person. More than anything, he just wants you to be safe. Because there are some evil monsters out there and they’re unscrupulous. Sure, it would be great if we all lived in an ideal world but alas, we don’t. The responsibility therefore falls to you to take the necessary precautions. If you don’t…well, no one’s saying you deserved it, but you WILL be used as a cautionary tale for other women foolish enough to walk around the streets as if they have a right to be there.

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There are two things manifestly wrong with this. The first is that the majority of sexual violence occurs in the home, perpetrated by people known to the victim. Very few instances of sexual violence follow the Law and Order: SVU model. So short of eschewing the nuclear model entirely, how exactly are women expected to protect themselves from the inevitable statistics of their own lives?

But the thing that really grinds my gears about hand wringing ding-dongs urging women to PLEASE take more care because WHEN WILL YOU LEARN that the world is DANGEROUS and you have to stop being so STUPID is  that, in waffling on about reality versus idealism, it doesn’t even take into account the reality of how life is for women everyday.

Rejecting the concern troll model a few weeks ago, I asked women on Twitter to share with me their ‘precautionary tales’. I wanted to demonstrate that the last thing women need is to be told by sanctimonious men (and some women) that they need to protect themselves because it’s a reality that they live every day.

Women shared stories of using keys as preemptive knuckle dusters (a popular favourite), walking in the middle of the street rather than the pavements, texting Driver IDs from taxis to their friends, hunching over in hoodies to look more like men…the strategies poured in, one after the other. And perhaps not so surprisingly, men following the conversation expressed astonishment at the level of conscientious planning it takes for women just to leave the house.

But this is what the world looks like to women. It looks like a series of potential assaults and split second decisions that could mean the difference between getting home safely and not. Women don’t need to be told these things -  they understand them to be a) the reality of a culture that not only refuses to do anything tangible to combat sexual assault but b) also assumes women are just really, really stupid while c) siphoning all responsibility away from the people actually in a position to make a difference.

Which leads me to:

2. Men, check thyselves!

There seems to be a popular misconception that, due to the aforementioned rape culture, assault is an inevitable if unfortunate part of life. Nothing can really be done to stop it other than creating a super race of human women with Barbie vagines and a debilitating allergy to the night.

Very rarely do anti-rape campaigns focus on teaching people to, you know, not rape. Instead, we hear about these abstract monsters who are somehow not like the rest of us but that are dangerous enough that all women need to be on guard from them at all times, everywhere. All of those men who would never dream of raping women are allowed to carry on as usual, safe in the assumption that because they aren’t part of the problem, they can’t possibly be expected to be part of the solution.

Let me introduce you to Schrodinger’s Rapist. Schrodinger’s Rapist posits that the only option in a culture which tells women they must protect themselves from rape from strangers is for women to treat every stranger as a potential rapist. The onus therefore falls on men - particularly those who insist that they pose no threat to women - to behave in a way that, you know, poses no threat to women. This includes not approaching them at random, feeling entitled to a portion of their time and attention. It means not sitting next to them on public transport and ignoring their discomfort. It means not calling them bitches because they won’t talk to you.

It means not assuming that women have a responsibility to protect themselves from everyone else, except you. Because you’re a Good Guy.

This is one of the key ways men can be part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the idea that it’s everyone else’s (women’s) problem to solve. Because it’s not just assault that we women have to contend with - it’s also the infiltration of our space. It’s being unsurprised when car loads of men drive past to yell sexual insults out the window or call us fat. It’s having men sit down, uninvited, and expect to be indulged or entertained and call us ugly lesbians if we don’t let them. It’s having men grab you in pubs and tell you to lighten up when you get angry with them. It’s the assumption that women’s space is publicly owned, and any attempts to try and assert otherwise is just the actions of ball-breaking bitches who can’t take a compliment or a joke.

Let me be clear about one thing - the most relentless kind of assault and harassment women experience every day is non-criminal. It’s the kind of harassment that police officers will refuse to even record because they consider it a waste of police time. It’s the kind of harassment that chips away at women’s ideas of what’s okay and what’s not, to the point where they leave the house armed to protect themselves while simultaneously questioning whether or not they’re overreacting or being hysterical or being indirectly insulting to a man who’s just trying to be nice.

This is also rape culture: the kind of society that tells women they need to protect themselves from assault, but they have to make sure they don’t hurt men’s precious fee-fees in the process.

If more men would commit to understanding what it’s like to be Walking While Woman, we’d be able to actually clear the debris of harmless noise and make it a lot easier to identify these so-called ‘evil monsters’ that women need to ‘protect’ themselves from. If you’d stop yelling at women from cars, or invading their space, or trying to make them talk to you when they don’t want to - in short, if you’d commit to seeing them as autonomous beings who do not have a responsibility to make you feel good about yourselves - we’d actually be so much closer to creating a society where real danger became a lot easier to spot.

And if it’s easier to spot, it stands to reason that it’s easier to avoid.

 

96 comments

  • A round of applause, please! Beautifully put, Clementine. I hope to be inundated by friends emailing me links to this article.

    Commenter
    Chelle
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 8:38AM
    • It certainly is an incredible piece of writing.

      Commenter
      A Man
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:12AM
    • Yes, have to agree, incredible, inconsistent and unhelpful.

      We definitely need some intensive education of boys though, maybe because I think it is true that they don't always 'get it'. It seems likely that in many homes boys are not being taught to be wholly respectful towards women and that schools may have to take this role on and really drum it in to boys that respect means this and this and this. Overtly bad behaviour may be obvious but there are subtleties that can be lost on boys who are still grappling with what it all means.

      I think that the approach taken here which is to label everyone but Clementine wrong is unhelpful because engagement is what is required if we are to educate people. Almost all men are decent well meaning people, some could learn a thing or two about how some of their behaviour may impact on others which can only really come about through engagement.

      There has to be better discourse than "you are a douchbag".

      Commenter
      Melissa
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 12:50PM
  • I have 3 things to say about this:

    1) It's highly sexist to say that it's only women who do these things. I often keep my phone (to call for help) in one hand and my keys (to use as a weapon) in the other when I'm alone at night. I pay attention to the lighting in the area to keep myself safe. When I leave a place, I tell someone, and then let them know when I arrive safely at the other end. And I'm not a small guy.

    2) It's interesting that in this bid for "equality" (because that's supposedly what feminism is), now not only are men supposed to open doors for women, or give up seats on public transport for them... we can't even sit in their general vicinity if they possibly feel uncomfortable about it! And heaven forbid we actually say hello to them without an engraved invitation.

    3) Women need to stop "playing hard to get" as a mating ritual. It only encourages people to raise their Schrodinger's Rapist threat level. Telling someone you're not interested just to see if they'll try again does not help. It just blurs the lines between showing interest and potential threat.

    Commenter
    Matt
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 8:47AM
    • Matt, you are kidding right? Playing hard to get supposedly "encourages people to raise their Schrodinger's Rapist threat level"?? Please tell me I've misunderstood you and reword that piece of utter utter bullshit. Perhaps try reading the article again. Especially the bits about blaming the victim.

      Commenter
      Liv
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:16AM
    • I applaud the comment moderator for publishing Matt's comment. It must have been a difficult decision to allow so stupid a comment from someone who, if he did read the article, obviously didn't comprehend it at all.

      Commenter
      mk.mac
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:18AM
    • Liv, did you read the linked article? About how women instantly feel threatened by any male, and then if the male approaches them they feel more threatened... and if the male gets rebuffed and tries again, the threat level goes up more.

      I'm not saying that victims would play hard to get. I'm saying that other women play hard to get and this encourages the repeat attempts which make women feel threatened, and makes it harder to tell the difference between someone who's learned to get past that "playing hard to get" mentality and someone who's a genuine threat.

      Commenter
      Matt
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:26AM
    • Matt, you have missed the point. It might be helpful if you got someone familiar with feminist discourse to explain this to you.

      Commenter
      Emma
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:30AM
    • @Matt
      In response to #2: it's not about you sitting down randomly because the only seat in the house is the one next to a woman and she gets uncomfortable. If you're minding your own business and aren't completely invading her personal space, I don't think many women would get uncomfortable, and if they did, it's probably their cross to bear. It's about guys who invade a woman's space and begin to regale her with their drunkenly-constructed witticisms and who don't leave her alone when she clearly indicates she's not interested. By all means, introduce yourself and try to get to know her. But if she's not interested - which may be for any number of reasons - then back off and let her enjoy herself.
      Which brings me to #3: play it this way. If a woman "plays hard to get", then assume she is not playing and actually doesn't want to get "got". Her loss, right? If it's true what you say and women are using this as a mating technique, then they will surely change tacts if it proves to be ineffective. And if she isn't playing, then you've just respected another individuals agency. It's win-win!

      Commenter
      Heisenberg
      Location
      Townsville
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:35AM
    • Matt, your points two and three show just how much you're just. not. getting. it. I've never known any woman (including myself) to play "hard to get" as you call it - has any woman actually told you she has been playing "hard to get" with you? See women don't necessarily see themselves as something "to be got" by men. Except hopefully intellectually and emotionally.

      Your point two - we don't expect men to tip their fedoras and throw down their kerchiefs for us to step over puddles, but we expect common courtesy - as half the human race - from the other half. And i don't think you have to worry about saying hello to complete strangers with a vagina, just don't necessarily a) expect an answer from said complete stranger; and b) think that she's a bitch because she doesn't.

      Most women work under the assumption that if a complete stranger (man) talks to them, they're probably after sex - only because that is often a common experience women have ie: men often only try to talk to women to see if they are sexually available. If I had a dollar for every time I was called "frigid", "lesbian" or "slut" (and on one memorable occasion, all three in the same sentence) just because I chose to ignore some guy wanting my attention, I'd buy a bottle of Dom with it.

      Kudos to you on point 1 for protecting your self - now you know how we feel.

      Commenter
      Ms Patonga
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:41AM

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