Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Real Men Don't Rape" Is Stupid

PoliticsUSA has an article up today that attacks Fox News viewers for lobbing racist taunts and rape threats at Zerlina Maxwell for her comments during an appearance on the network. Ms. Maxwell was invited onto Fox News to discuss women arming themselves to prevent rape in light of a column she wrote in Ebony which suggests that more of the onus for reducing rape needs to fall on men.  

In light of that view, Maxwell rejected the idea that women should have to arm themselves or alter their behavior in any way to prevent rape, drawing, unfortunately, the predictable tidal wave of vitriol, hate, and racial epithets from the right.

Those threats and epithets are unacceptable and universally so and while it is tempting to use them to highlight yet again everything that is wrong with the American social conservative movement, that horse has been beaten about to death.  It is, instead, the folks presently bludgeoning the horse that warrant some attention: Maxwell's hangers on, for lack of a better term.

Let us then begin with Maxwell's excellent article.  She writes
"How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so."
The trouble comes when we distill this down to bumper-sticker politics.  The above paragraph is a nuanced and thoughtful critique of male culture, social norms, the legal system, and the comparative devaluation of women in our society.  The short-hand version -- "real men don't rape" -- is just idiotic.

In fact, re-read Maxwell's paragraph and see if you can find the word "rape" in it anywhere.  

When some Madison Avenue type marketing expert distilled Maxwell's third-wave feminist manifesto into a pithy slogan a great deal was lost in translation.  When that slogan found its mark in a much broader and deeper reservoir of political bloggers, tumbler posters, and twitter users the volume and ubiquity of the "real men don't rape" slogan far eclipsed its more thoughtful origins to the extent that even PoliticsUSA has parroted it in its most vapid form.  Here is Adalia Woodbury from the aforementioned PoliticsUSA article:
I love how those freedom fighters on the far right attack free speech when it’s a woman doing the speaking. When a women dares to suggest that maybe instead of telling women what they should do to prevent rape, the time has come to tell men why they shouldn't rape.
This gem is from Tumbler
We should tell men why they shouldn't rape?  Were we not doing that before? Feminism is more than just patting one's self on the back for coming up with the radical notion that if we just tell guys not to rape people it will solve or even reduce the rape problem.

Rape is terrible but it isn't occurring in our society because men don't know that it's wrong or that it's a crime.  Men may not know what constitutes rape (or, conversely, what constitutes consent) and there is no doubt that further education in this area would be tremendously beneficial to both men and women, but to suggest that there is some large population of men stalking the streets at night, knife in hand, thinking to themselves "this is all perfectly well and good; God bless America" is more than a little absurd.

"Real men don't rape" may play well with certain female demographics and it may even communicate a desired sense of emasculation along with a reclamation of sexual power but what it doesn't do is actually change any minds or educate any would-be date-rapists.

Our cultural notions of "hard to get" and the "token resistance" offered by women in 1950s and 1960s movies have served to rob women of their sense of legitimacy in resisting sexual advances. Tearing down those cultural constructions makes sense and can represent real progress both for the perception of women in our society and the security of the same.  Even the most misogynistic films of that bygone era depicted the actions they identified as "rape" to be a crime and even used those actions as a signal of villainy  what they failed to do what not to portray rape as wrong, but to portray coerced sexual encounters as rape.

The problem then, in a sentence, is that Maxwell's uncritical followers fail to understand that while our society knows full well that rape is unacceptable, it is disturbingly ignorant of what rape actually is.

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