Tag Archives: rape culture

Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa

28 Feb

On February 10th, Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, was sent screenshots of a chat that had taken place earlier in the month between two student federation board members and several other students who are either elected to or participate in various faculty associations. The chat had taken place during the student federation elections, and all five men involved were members of a campaign opposing Roy’s (Roy has been president of the student federation since May 2013, and was re-elected this month). The conversation was about Roy, and the portion she was given contained graphic sexual descriptions about what the men wanted to do to her, including a rape joke that could, potentially, be taken as a rape threat.

Below are the screenshots. The participants are as follows:

Bart Tremblay: a non-elected student involved with the association for the Arts faculty

Alexandre Giroux: On the board of directors of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, and VP Social for the Science Student Association

Alex Larochelle: VP Social for the Criminology Student Association

Pat Marquis: VP Social of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa

Michel Fournier-Simard: VP Social for the Political Science and International developement Association

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.56.05 PM

Bart Tremblay: Let me tell you something right now: the “tri-fluvienne” [nickname for someone from Trois-Rivières, Québec] president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat [Marquis]’s desk

Alexandre Giroux: Tri-fluvienne? Who’s that?

Alex Larochelle: PJ I believe?

Bart Tremblay: Anne-Marie Roy, you dipshits, she comes from Trois-Rivières

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.56.45 PM

Alexandre Giroux: What? No. What a shit-eater. She says that she comes from somewhere in Ontario.

Alex Larochelle: Fuck yeah Anne Marie Roy

Bart Tremblay: She told me Trois-Rivières

Alexandre Giroux: Haha shiiit

Alex Larochelle: Someone punish her with their shaft

Alexandre Giroux: Well Christ, if you fuck Anne Marie I will definitely buy you a beer

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.57.07 PM

Alex Larochelle: Hahah, I’d buy you a beer too

Bart Tremblay: Lol

Alexandre Giroux: BAHAHA

Pat Marquis: I’ll get a 24 for Bart if he does it

Bart Tremblay: [Thumbs up symbol]

Bart Tremblay: Yeeee

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.57.41 PM

Michel Fournier-Simard: Dude she has chlamydia. And she told francophone students that she was from Trois-Rivières but she moved to Southern Ontario when she was five years old. It’s a super political strategy.

Alex Larochelle: Hahaha I heard she has syphilis

Alexandre Giroux: Well look hahhahahah

Alex Larochelle: But those get treated bro lol. Someone told Pat and I when we were in Boston. It’s such bull shit hahaha.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.

Can you imagine anything like this ever being said about a male leader? Try to picture, for a moment, a female candidate saying that her opponent is going to eat her out, or that she’s going to “punish” him with her vagina. Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? And yet, this is the kind of thing that women are subjected to all the time; the truth is that no matter how far we might think we’ve come, no matter how many female CEOs there might be, the belief that women are little more than a collection of fuck-holes persists. Oh sure, people might pay lip-service to the fact that women are equal to men in intelligence, talent, and capability, but at the end of the day we can’t escape the fact that a woman is still viewed as being less than a person. Because that conversation right there? That is not how you talk about a person.

What’s even worse is that events like these are nearly always downplayed. It’s just a joke, people say. They would never have said that if they’d thought you would hear it. In fact, three of the five men involved in the conversation are considering legal action against Roy on the grounds that it was a private conversation that should not have been made public. That’s right. They want to pursue legal action against her because she publicly called them out for making rape jokes about her. This is the fucked up culture we live in.

To make things even worse, these men are all in a position of leadership at the University of Ottawa. These are the people that the students look up to, that they use as a sort of moral compass to navigate university life. If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?

Since this incident was first brought to light, Pat Marquis, the VP Social for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, has been in discussions with Roy about the accountability measures he can take for his role in this conversation. It is their hope that these measures can be a public conversation between Roy and Marquis, and could serve as a learning opportunity for the student body. Alex Larochelle has also contacted Roy and tentatively mentioned participating in this conversation as well. As for Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux and Michel Fournier-Simard, they are continuing to attempt to pursue legal action against Roy.

I reached Roy this afternoon for a statement, and she had this to say:

“It’s definitely concerning because these are individuals who are responsible for putting on social events, many of which involve alcohol, and they are also responsible for the safety of membership at these events. On a personal level I feel that this is very misogynistic, I feel that this is a reaction that these men are having because I’m a woman in a position of leadership. My concerns on this are twofold: first, the issue of student safety in general, and second, that women are not going to feel safe running for positions of leadership on campus.”

I think she pretty much hits the nail on the head with that assessment.

ETA: comments are now closed on this post

High Tech Panties Won’t Stop Rape

28 Oct

There is currently an Indiegogo campaign created by AR Wear for a line that they call Anti-Rape Clothing. These garments, which include a pair of boy-cut brief-style panties, running shorts, leggings and “travelling shorts,” are allegedly designed and built to be unremovable except by the owner, who has some sort of key to release the locking mechanism on the waistband. Basically they act as a chastity belt, although of course we are not supposed to think of them as chastity belts. AR Wear wants us to believe that this is some sort of modern innovation, and not just a contemporary twist on an outdated garment meant to oppress and subjugate women. In fact, AR Wear wants us to believe that the opposite is true – that their anti-rape wear will actually empower women and offer them some sort of freedom that they might have been lacking.

Let’s get a few things straight:

Perpetuating the myth that rape is preventable or avoidable by anyone other than the rapist is not empowering.

Giving society one more reason to blame rape victims for their rape is not empowering.

Continuing to embrace the idea that rape has something to do with what kind of clothing you are wearing (or not wearing) is not empowering.

Nothing about this product is empowering, except maybe for rapists.

There is already a long list of things that women shouldn’t do if they don’t want to be raped – they shouldn’t wear revealing clothing, shouldn’t go out at night alone, shouldn’t drink, shouldn’t talk to strangers, shouldn’t trust men, any men, not even men they know. Really, the end game of all rape prevention advice is that women should stay at home, alone, in a locked house, but even that scheme isn’t 100% foolproof. There is no actual way for a woman to prevent being raped.

And yes, I’ve heard all the rhetoric about mitigating risks and being more careful, most of which boils down to telling women not to do one or all of the things listed above. One analogy that people often use is the seatbelt metaphor – that you wouldn’t drive without wearing a seatbelt, even if you are a good driver. The idea is that we all make choices every day to make our lives safer, and telling women not to indulge in risky behaviour like wearing a cute dress or going for a run alone is no different than telling someone to put on their seatbelt when they get in their car.

Except that car accidents are accidents. People don’t rear-end you on purpose. You don’t drive into a fence on purpose. You don’t skid off the road on purpose. These are things that happen by accident. Rape is not in any way comparable to a car crash. Rape is a violent crime committed by a rapist. Rape is done with the intention to rape.

I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this, but I’ll say it anyway:

Rape is not an accident that happens to you because you didn’t take enough precautions or because you weren’t paying close enough attention. Rape is a deliberate choice for violence and harm made by another person.

AR Wear’s Anti-Rape clothing does little more than offer society one more reason to blame rape victims for their rape. It gives people the chance to say, “Well, if only she’d been wearing those special panties, this wouldn’t have happened.” This falls in line with the same old victim-blaming mentality of, “If only she’d been dressed differently, if only she hadn’t been drinking, if only she’d screamed or kicked or fought harder.” It’s all part of the same culture that still puts the responsibility on women not to be raped. It’s the same culture that says, “Of course rape is wrong, and of course what he did was terrible, but.”

There should never, ever be a but.

It also bears mentioning that idea behind this clothing operates off the assumption that most rapists are strangers, who attack women in dark alleys late at night, when actually the opposite is true – most rapists are acquaintances with, or even romantic partners of, the victim. So what would happen if a woman did have AR Wear’s Anti-Rape clothing on, removed said clothing of her own volition, and then was raped? It would be so unbelievably easy for a judge to rule that it couldn’t possibly have been rape, because the victim chose to take off her own protective clothing.

And what happens if a would-be rapist becomes frustrated trying to remove the Anti-Rape panties? Doesn’t it seem likely that rather than stopping a rapist cold, it might incite them to other forms of violence?

This clothing does not make women less vulnerable to the threat of rape. Not really. It just seeks to make a profit off of a deep and very legitimate fear that almost every woman has. And the reality of the situation is that this product does not, as the Indiegogo campaign claims, give women “more power to control the outcome of a sexual assault.” It is unbelievably damaging and ignorant to say that victims of sexual assault could have had more power to control the outcome of what happened to them. This is victim-blaming, pure and simple.

The only person who has the power to control the outcome of rape is the rapist.

The only person who can prevent rape is the rapist.

The only person responsible for rape is the rapist.

I don’t know how many more times this has to be said until it is properly understood.

AR Wear's Anti-Rape Clothing

AR Wear’s Anti-Rape Clothing

Slut-shaming, Suicide, and Mrs. Hall

6 Sep

Most of you have probably already seen Kim Hall’s post FYI (if you’re a teenage girl). Both the original and the many, many brilliant take-downs written in response have been circulating social media this week, so it’s been pretty hard to avoid. If by some chance you’ve managed to miss out on all the fun, I highly encourage you to take a moment to go read Mrs. Hall’s open letter to all girls everywhere. It sure is something.

A lot of really smart folks have written some incredible posts touching on Mrs. Hall’s contribution to societal problems like slut-shaming, rape culture and body image issues. I don’t have anything new or brilliant to say on those topics, but I do want to talk about an aspect of Mrs. Hall’s message that hasn’t really been touched on yet: the very real link between the ideas that she’s putting forward and the recent rise in cyber-bullying, online slut-shaming and teenage suicide.

When I read Mrs. Hall’s letter, the first people that I thought of were Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, Cherice Morales. In each of these cases, photographs of the girls that showed them either in various states of undress, or else showed them being sexually assaulted, or in some instances both at the same time, were circulated on social media. In each of these cases, the girls became social pariahs. In each of these cases, the girls committed suicide after enduring bullying and slut-shaming both online and offline.

I am not saying that Mrs. Hall is consciously suggesting that her children should shame or bully their classmates, especially those who have been sexually assaulted. If you asked her, I’m sure that she would tell you that those ideas are so far from what she intended to communicate as to be almost laughable. But still. Slut-shaming, ostracizing and bullying are the end-game of everything she is teaching her children.

When she writes:

And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons, just as we know your parents care about you.”

And:

And so, in our house, there are no second chances with pics like that, ladies. We have a zero tolerance policy.  I know, so lame. But, if you want to stay friendly with our sons online, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent.  If you post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind), or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – it’s curtains.

What she is really telling her children is that girls who do not conform to her particular ideas of “modesty” are bad. She is telling them that the girls who post sexy selfies are worth less than the girls who cover up. She is telling them that the girls who pose with an “extra-arched back” and a “sultry pout” are not good enough to associate with her children. Worst of all, Mrs. Hall is telling her sons and daughter that it is fine – in fact, actively encouraged  in their household – to shun and ostracize these girls.

By saying that these teenage girls do not respect themselves, Mrs. Hall is teaching her kids that they are undeserving of anyone’s love or respect.

And that’s a pretty fucking toxic message.

If you think that this is too much of a reach, think about it this way: when Mrs. Hall and her family sit around their dining room table and critique the selfies posted online by her sons’ female friends and Mrs. Hall announces that yet another girl needs to be blocked because she’s showing too much skin, what her children learn is that the way that those girls are behaving is shameful and they deserve to be shamed in a way that makes them face real-life consequences. And when a Hall boy goes to school and tells his friend that he’s not allowed to hang out with so-and-so because her pictures are too slutty, and that friend tells a friend, and that friend tells a friend – well, it’s not hard to imagine what those real-life consequences will be.

And, of course, in high school, as in the Hall household, there are very rarely second chances.

When Mrs. Hall advises her son’s female friends to, “take down the closed-door bedroom selfies that makes it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension,” I can’t help but wonder how many dimensions her sons and her sons’ friends saw those girls in before they heard those comments. Probably they saw them in the same way that they saw all their other female friends: as girls who were funny, girls who were smart, girls who were good at sports or art or music. Probably the Hall boys saw them as brilliant, well-rounded individuals, each contributing in their own interesting way to their lives. Probably they saw them as people.

But now?

Well, now they likely only see them in, as Mrs. Hall says, one dimension. That dimension being, of course, their physical bodies. Mrs. Hall has successfully reduced these girls to little more than pretty, shiny, skin-baring objects. And it’s pretty fucking easy to treat an object badly. It’s pretty easy to treat it cruelly, sub-humanly, even, because objects don’t have feelings. Objects don’t have thoughts. Objects exist only for the pleasure of others.

Objects are not people.

And so I worry about those girls, the girls that have already been branded as impure and immodest. I worry about the other girls that her sons will meet and, armed with their mother’s opinion, brand on their own. I worry for them because of the teasing and humiliation that they might have to endure; I worry about them because of the ways that the Hall boys and their friends might other, might even dehumanize these girls. I worry that when these girls tell adults about how they are being treated, they will be made to feel as if it is entirely their own fault, as if they were asking for it. I worry that they will start to think that, as Mrs. Hall said, there are no second chances. I worry that these girls will feel like their worlds are closing in on them, that one stray picture has ruined everything forever, that there is no way out of the mess that they believe they’ve created.

I worry for these girls’ lives.

slut

Not That Girl

30 Jul

No, no, please don’t apologize. It was a good joke. Really funny.

Liquid panty remover. Hah. That’s great. I’ve never heard that one before! Oh man, that’s hilarious.

Don’t worry about telling jokes like that to me – I love those kinds of jokes. I’m not really the type to get offended, you know?

I mean, I’m not that kind of girl.

Like, I think that some people are just looking for things to get worked up over. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that, like, rape jokes are funny or anything. Not that I think your joke was a rape joke, because your joke was definitely funny, but, you know, rape-rape jokes for sure aren’t cool. On the other hand, people need to chill out. Like, there are so many things that are so much more degrading to women – I mean, look at the way that women are treated in the Middle East! If you’re gonna be outraged about something, you should be outraged about that, not a stupid joke.

I mean, do you really think that anyone hears a Daniel Tosh joke and goes out and rapes someone? No. That’s just not how it works.

I just don’t get why some people have to suck the joy out of everything. Like, I’m sorry if you don’t like that Robin Thicke song, but that’s you. I’m not going to apologize for listening to a fun pop song just because someone else doesn’t like the lyrics. I don’t see what’s wrong with the lyrics, anyway – people read way too much into everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that feminism is great and everything. I took women’s studies in college and I’m thankful for, like, Gloria Steinem or whatever, but isn’t it time we got past all that? I mean, all that negativity and bitterness and victimology – how are those things doing women any good? They’re not. Like, we have to live in the world with men, and that’s something you just can’t get away from. I think it’s better if we all just learn to get along, you know? That’s why I don’t call myself a feminist; that word is just so divisive. I don’t really like labels, but if I had to pick something I would say that I’m really more of a humanist. Because we’re all part of the human race, and we need to start acting like it.

I guess I just don’t feel like feminism does anything for me. Like, I feel way more empowered as a woman without it. I would rather think about how strong I am and all the things I can accomplish instead of blaming men or whatever for holding me back. Women are never going to get ahead if they’re stuck hating half their own species, you know?

And, I mean, I have friends that are feminist. I get where they’re coming from. I just think that some of these radical feminists go too far.

Like, I have friends who were raped. I used to volunteer in a rape crisis centre. I really do believe that rape culture is a thing. But I don’t think you can just wear whatever you want and drink a lot and flirt with guys and not see that as taking a risk. Of course no one deserves to be raped, but, well, rapists are out there and you have to protect yourself. Like even if you’re a good driver, you still wear a seatbelt, right? That’s just common sense. Because even if you drive safely, you can’t guarantee that everyone else will. You have to take precautions – we live in a dangerous world.

Oh.

I mean, I guess.

Yeah, that makes sense. Maybe rape culture is the wrong way to put it.

You’re right, I can see how that was a logical fallacy. Thanks for pointing that out.

No, seriously, thanks. I mean it. I’m not touchy like some girls – I don’t mind if anyone, guy or girl, lets me know when I’m wrong. How else am I going to learn, right?

Yeah, I totally get why you might have thought that I was being sarcastic. Lots of girls would probably get pretty worked up over being called out like that. I mean, Jesus, girls are crazy. I’m not embarrassed to say that, because it’s true. Especially during that time of the month. God, if you think it’s bad being a guy and having to deal with us, try being a girl surrounded by other girls. I mean, I love my girlfriends, but sometimes I just can’t deal with the crazy anymore.

Like, girls are so fucking catty. We’re just really fucking mean to each other. We tear each other down way more often than men do. Maybe feminists should start fixing how women treat each other before they worry about how men see us. I mean, charity begins at home, right?

No, yeah, you’re right. Charity was the wrong word. God I’m so stupid tonight.

Thanks for being so patient with me.

I guess I just meant that we need to fix our own problems first. I really think that that’s what feminists or whoever should be devoting their energy to. But they won’t, because they don’t want to admit that maybe not all of our problems are because of men.

I mean, I love men. Like, this, right now? Sitting with you? This is really great. We should get another drink, I’m really having a lot of fun just sitting here talking with you. Just one of the guys, right?

Yeah, sure, you can order for me. Go ahead and pick whatever, I can handle it.

No, whiskey is great! I love whiskey. On the rocks. Isn’t that what they say? On the rocks?

Aren’t they always drinking whiskey on Mad Men? God, I love that show. I wish I could live back then, you know? I mean, other than the racism or whatever, it looks like it was pretty great.

I just – I don’t get girls who think that things are so much better these days. Like, I guess it’s good to have options, but sometimes I think we have too many options now. I think it would be so much easier just to have to look good and marry someone nice. Imagine how great it would be to be a housewife! And always have men opening doors for you and being polite to you. And oh god the clothes – I could wear the shit out of those clothes.

I mean, I get that it was bad back in the early 1900s when women couldn’t vote or own property, but, like, after that things were pretty good for women. Sometimes I think that women in the 1960s or whatever didn’t know how good they had it.

I don’t think women will ever know how good they have it. Like, I think we’re just hardwired to be dissatisfied. We all just want to have our cake and eat it too. It’s crazy. I mean, you never hear men talking about how they want to “have it all”, you know?

Sorry, you’re right, air quotes are really corny. I have to remember to stop doing that.

No, yeah, you’ve got a good point. This is a pretty heavy topic for a Friday night. We should talk about something else. Tell me another joke!

That first joke was really funny, tell me another one like that.

Make it as offensive as you want, it won’t bother me.

Because I’m not like that. I’m not that kind of girl.

Don’t you think I’m a different kind of girl?

1930sdallasymcagirlsbasketball

Is This Rape Culture?

24 Jun

rape_culture_shirt

I’d seen this image pop up a few times on my Facebook feed, but it wasn’t until the super-popular website PostSecret shared it on their page that I really sat up and took notice. Or rather, it wasn’t until someone commented saying that this shirt promoted rape culture, and a friend asked me if I agreed with that statement, that I really gave it much thought beyond the usual oh great, more “hilarious” misogyny.

But you know what? After taking some time to think about it, I realized that I agreed with the PostSecret commenter. This shirt is really pretty gross. This shirt promotes some very problematic ideas about women and how they relate to men. This shirt implies that male violence, both sexual and physical, is the societal norm.

This shirt is rape culture.

Now, I’m not saying that this shirt promotes rape, or is encouraging anyone to go out and commit sexual assault. In fact, at first glance, the shirt’s message is pretty benign, right? I mean, it’s all about a dad protecting his daughter, and even if that idea is badly executed, well, the sentiment behind it is still admirable, isn’t it?

Except that it’s not.

The problem is that the real, underlying sentiment here is that the daughter is a man’s possession, not a person. She’s either her father’s “princess” or her boyfriend’s “conquest.” It’s clear that the daughter’s wants and desires mean nothing to her father – he says that he will dislike anyone that she dates simply because they are dating his daughter. It doesn’t matter whether this boyfriend (since the shirt is operating off the assumption that the daughter is cisgender and heterosexual) is a nice guy, whether he treats the daughter well, or even whether the daughter loves him – the father will still dislike him, based on the simple fact that this teenage boy wants to be physically close to his daughter.

I know what you’re going to say – But he’s not being possessive, he’s just being protective of her! He doesn’t want her to get hurt! That’s a totally natural way to feel!

What do we mean, though, when we talk about the daughter being “hurt” by her boyfriend? Do we mean hurt feelings? That certainly doesn’t seem to be what other people get from this shirt, based on the comments left on PostSecret’s Facebook page:

“He’s just trying to protect his daughter! You must have no idea some of the terrible things that happen to women.”

“It sort of more implies that these people are minors and are under their parent’s care. And being that teenage boys tend to be these creepy-ass horndogs, this is a father’s reaction to that.”

“If you dislike this shirt, you are obviously not a father.”

“I have 2 daughters [and] I agree with Sabria.. as parents we are the first line of defense. Unfortunately we may teach our daughters how to defend themselves, my eldest does, and we may teach them that they are not objects but people, but the problem still exsists where not everyone cares enough about their kids to teach them the right way. So yes jokes like these are stupid but true at the same time. I told my daughter, after finding out a girl in her class was molested, that i would happily kill someone to protect her and her siblings. I am her first line of defense so yes if you hurt my child i will hurt you back with twice as much force. The sentiment in the joke is to protect your child, not to try and objectify them.”

“My dad has never viewed me as his property, but he says stuff like this all the time when my mom prompts him by bringing up the length of my skirt or likewise. I can see how people would take this as implying ownership, but it simply does not. It’s just a dad saying, she’s my baby girl and I will protect her no matter what.”

So it’s pretty obvious that what we’re talking about here isn’t emotional damage, but rather sexual violence. Which brings us to point number ten on the shirt – “Whatever you do to her, I will do to you.” In the light of the comments above and the way that most people seem to interpret this shirt, it’s pretty clear that item ten on this list is a rape joke. The father will rape the boyfriend if he sleeps with the daughter. And that’s where the fact that this shirt is participating in and furthering rape culture becomes especially apparent.

Rape culture is the normalization and trivialization of rape and sexual assault. It’s a culture in which sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable. It’s a culture that teaches us that male sexual violence is both normal and desirable. It also teaches us that men are not able to control their actions when they are aroused.

And that’s what this shirt is really saying, isn’t it? That a teenage boy will, given the chance, commit some kind of sexual violence against his girlfriend, and that the only solution to that violence is more violence, this time on the part of the father. This shirt assumes that the rape (or attempted rape) of the daughter is inevitable, and the only solution is to remove the boyfriend from the scene. This shirt says that the blame (sidebar – why the need for blame?) for any sex had by the teenage couple will be put squarely on the shoulders of the male partner. Why? Because our culture teaches us that men want sex more than women, that they can’t help being physically aggressive when it comes to sex, and finally that all of these toxic messages are just sexual norms and there’s nothing that we can do to combat them beyond matching violence with violence.

Look, I’m sure that the person who created this shirt had some very good, humorous intentions. I’m sure that they didn’t think about the possibility of people interpreting their message as contributing to rape culture. And I’m especially sure that PostSecret shared this on their Facebook page in good faith, figuring that it was something that their readership would enjoy and hopefully get a laugh out of. But the fact that this shirt and its message are so seemingly innocent is really what makes them so dangerous – because that’s how these messages make their way most easily into our cultural consciousness, not through overtly offensive or misogynist material, but through the stuff that seems harmless at face value. If someone shares a terrible rape joke on Facebook, it’s easy to explain why that’s wrong, but something like this requires a somewhat more complex, carefully calibrated approach.

I guess that what I want people to get out of this post is that it’s important to listen when someone says that something is wrong, or offensive, or contributes to rape culture. You don’t ultimately have to agree with them, but it would mean a lot if you could reign in your knee-jerk reaction of it’s just a joke or stop being such a humourless bitch or some people just want to be offended by everything and actually took a moment to try to see what that other person is trying to get at. You might discover that they actually have a point, or you might learn to look at stuff like this from a new angle, but even if you don’t, at least that person will feel as if they’ve been heard. And if they feel that way, then they’re more likely to listen to you, and that’s how dialogue works. And out of dialogue comes change.

And change is good.

Disney’s Rape Problem

19 Jun

Disney.

Now there’s a word that’s bound to conjure up some kind of feeling in pretty much everyone in the western world. And, I mean, love ’em or hate ’em (and there are tons of people in both camps), you can’t ignore the fact that, as a brand, they’ve had an enormous cultural impact.

My own relationship with Disney is pretty ambivalent. I grew up watching the movies, and I would be lying if I said that there aren’t a few of them that I can still quote, verbatim, to this day – especially Disney’s Robin Hood. Man, I watched the shit out of that movie, and I still love it, even now. I like to joke that it was my introduction to the social justice movement; it was the first time that I’d ever realized that just because something was against the law didn’t mean that it couldn’t also be morally right, and it taught me that even just a few people standing up against powerful government forces could affect change. I also think that that movie was the beginning of my love for all things historical, especially the medieval period in Europe. And yeah, for sure, Disney didn’t come up with the story of Robin Hood, but they did present it in a way that was fun and relatable for children, and they added foxes. Man, I love foxes! In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Disney’s Robin Hood is responsible for that, too.

Disney's Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

Disney’s Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

As a teenager and young adult, I became pretty critical of Disney and all that it stood for. I became conscious of the toxicity of “princess culture,” and began to question why basically everyone in their movies was white. I became cynical of how aggressively Disney tried to breed brand loyalty among even the youngest of children, up to and including offering free Disney onesies to new babies in hospitals. On top of that, the more that I learned about Walt Disney and his business practices, especially the special deals that he brokered in Florida while building Disney World, the more weirded out I became.

Still, when my mother announced a family vacation to Disney World a few summers ago, I was game. I’d never been before, but my mother and sisters had done the Disney thing back in 2005, while I was still living in Halifax, and I knew that they’d had a blast. It wasn’t so much about the brand or even all the fun things to do, my family insisted, it was about how well the staff treated you, how special and important you felt. And when my family and I, my five-month-old son in tow, descended on Disney World in July of 2011, I discovered that they were right. And maybe it was because I was still in the middle of that funny culture shock that comes after you have a kid, those few months where you’re slowly and painfully discovering that the world is nowhere near as easy to navigate as you once thought it was, but I remember being so incredibly grateful for the fact that Disney World seemed to have thought of absolutely everything when it came to dealing with families with small children. Disney World was the first place that I’d ever taken Theo where I didn’t feel like my child’s needs were a burden or a hassle to the staff.

And let’s just get one thing straight here: Disney’s staff are excellent. Really, really excellent. They are people that the company should be incredibly thankful for. Instead, as I’ve recently learned, Disney doesn’t have much interest in caring for or protecting their staff. In fact, when it comes to the issue of sexual assault in the workplace, they’re pretty happy to throw their female employees to the wolves and wash their hands of any responsibility.

In fact, Disney is pretty firm on the idea that if you are an employee who was raped while drinking and socializing with employees of the opposite sex, then it’s all your fault.

Many of you have probably already read Dana Wierzbicki’s post on XOJane from Monday called “It Happened To Me: I Was Raped Disney World And Nobody Cared” – for those of you who haven’t, I’ll give you a  brief rundown:

Dana was an employee at Disney World while participating in the Disney College Program, a program that allows post-secondary students from all over the world to come live in Florida, work at Disney World, enjoy unlimited access to the parks all summer, and take a few courses in business management on the side. It should have been the best summer of Dana’s life, and it was, up until she was raped by a co-worker. She says,

He and I went to a party together, we went back to his apartment later, and I said “no,” but he wouldn’t stop.

For two months I kept everything that happened that night to myself. I told my roommates that things went fine and I had a good night.  I didn’t know how to feel about what happened. In the beginning, I told myself it was a misunderstanding; maybe he hadn’t heard me. I blamed myself; I should have yelled louder. I should have pushed harder. I should have punched him and ran out of the room.  I always thought that if I was ever raped I would beat the guy up. Does that mean I wasn’t raped?
After trying to handle the emotional and physical fallout of the rape on her own, Dana eventually decided to seek help from the counselling service that Disney provided. This decision, she writes, was triggered by the fact that she later saw her rapist flirting with other girls at a party, and realized that if she didn’t do something, anything, then he would almost certainly end up raping someone else.
Her experience with the counselling service was, unfortunately, pretty grim. At one point, the counsellor told her, “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”
When Dana told her about seeing her rapist flirting with girls at a party and expressed concern that he was likely to rape again, the counsellor took this to mean that she was jealous of the attention that these other girls were receiving. She advised Dana to show up at the next party looking “hot” and tried to reassure her by saying, “You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you get all the boys.”
Dana then spent several days trying to figure out how she was supposed to properly report her rapist. She was passed from one department to another, and no one seemed to be entirely sure who or what was supposed to handle this type of stuff. Finally, she spoke to someone in Employee Relations who gave her more victim-blaming bullshit and told her that she should have gone to the police back when the rape had happened, but there was nothing that anyone could do now. The woman in Employee Relations told Dana that they would open an investigation, but likely nothing would come of it.
Dana flew home and tried to resume her normal life, but she did follow up with the Employee Relations office several times. She was eventually told that her case had been closed. She called a friend of hers who was still working at Disney World and was told that her rapist was still employed there, and had suffered no repercussions for what he’d done.
After reading Dana’s story, I was admittedly shocked by how terrible Disney’s response was. Surely they couldn’t actually care so little about their employees, could they? Dana’s experience must have been a fluke right? So I spoke to my friend Laura*, who had also participated in the Disney College Program, and asked her if any of Dana’s story meshed with what she’d seen during her own time at Disney World. She said that Dana’s experience unfortunately wasn’t uncommon, and that she’d realized from pretty much day one that Disney was not interested in dealing with sexual assault. She said,
In my first week I was in a room with about 250 Canadian kids learning the rules of the dorms and this big, corporate guy comes in and starts talking to us. He tells us – and I’m paraphrasing a little here – that this is a high crime area and there are sexual assaults regularly around the dorms. That if you are a girl, you should not go out after dark alone, or you might get assaulted. That you should not go to the bars, and definitely not alone, because ‘girls get drugged.’ That you should not make friends with strange men, not go into other people’s dorms alone and not dress provocatively, because girls get assaulted and go home all the time. And if you do get assaulted, don’t go to the housing department, call the police, because there is nothing that housing or Disney can do for you.
And, you know what, without even touching on any of the victim-blaming bullshit that Disney is spewing, can we talk about how fucking ridiculous this is when it comes to anti-rape advice? Like, you are bringing in hundreds of people in their teens and early 20s to work and live together, and you somehow think that it’s sensible to tell people not to associate with the opposite sex? Not to drink? Not to wear “provocative” clothes? Not to go to boys’ dorm rooms? Like, that’s what these kids are there for – I mean, yeah, they are there to work at Disney, but a lot of them are also there to have a good time, and that good time involves drinking and having sex. That is what a lot of people do, and just flat-out advising them not to do it is not going to change anything. But Disney, meanwhile, feels as if they’ve covered all of their bases, and if a girl ends up being the victim of a sexual assault, well, Disney doesn’t want to hear about it because it’s all her fault.
And before you jump in and say that Disney has no control over what their employees do within the comfort of their own apartments, and that the girl should have gone to the police instead of Disney, let’s be clear on something – these dorms and apartments are belong to Disney. Laura says,
[The apartments] are not in “Walt Disney World” itself, they are about 10 minutes away in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Which is fine. They are contracted out from Disney and run by a separate property company for maintenance and stuff, but they are gated residence complexes run exclusively for the Disney college program, the rent money is taken by Disney and Disney Housing arranges everything and has offices on the properties and as a member of the program you are not allowed to live anywhere else but these residences. So, while the rape wouldn’t have happened on “Disney property,” as in not in Walt Disney World proper, it did happen at Disney, in a residence run by Disney, where Disney was forcing it’s program participants to stay and collecting money for it.
With regards to the whole “she should have gone to the police” idea, the fact is that the majority of the people participating in the Disney College Program are not from Florida. In fact, many of them are not from the United States. So it makes sense that they would go to Disney, the employer that brought them there and was housing and educating them, for help after being raped. It’s also not uncommon for people to be intimidated or afraid of the police, and it’s totally logical for someone to feel that going to their traditionally helpful and caring employer when dealing with the fact that their co-worker has raped them.
Look, Disney, you are totally dropping the ball when it comes to handling sexual assault. Not only is your approach gross and victim-blaming, but you’re fucking up from a brand approach as well. So if you can’t bring yourself to change your policies with regards to employee rape and sexual assault out of sheer human decency (which, by the way, you should), then maybe you need to look at it this way: you are losing customers. Big time. The people who go to work at Disney World are some of your most brand-loyal consumers. They want to work at Disney because they love the company and the brand. When you can’t step up and do what’s right for your employees, you are losing their loyalty, and the loyalty of any children that they might have, and their friends’ loyalty, and their family’s loyalty.
You can do this, Disney, you really can. You can make these changes, and I guarantee that they will make Disney World a safer, better place for your employees. You can fix this, I promise. You need to start by providing better training for your counsellors, You need to reach out to organizations that fight against sexual assault, and get some tips on how to deal with rape without blaming the victim, You need to provide better training and education for your employees. This stuff might not be easy, but it’s necessary. Please, please make this effort – if you don’t, stories like Dana’s will continue to happen. And the outcry against you will grow. And you won’t be able to stop it.
I’ve started a petition here to try to convince Disney to put some of these changes in place.
*Not her real name
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Five Year Old Indian Girl Kidnapped, Sexually Assaulted and Left For Dead

26 Apr

Trigger warning for rape, sexual assault, abduction, torture and murder.

A reader from India asked me to blog about this at the end of last week. At the time, I told her that I was feeling burned out, but promised to write about it on Monday or Tuesday. I’ve been procrastinating, though. As much as I know that this is something that’s important to talk about, I’ve had a hard time bringing myself to read about it, let alone write about it.

But I promised that I would. And it’s important. So let’s do this.

In India, a five-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped, tortured and left for dead.

She was held captive for four days.

Her parents say that the police ignored their reports that their daughter was missing.

Her parents say that the police offered them money to keep quiet about their daughter’s rape.

She is now in critical condition in the hospital.

She’s five.

When I was five, my biggest upsets in life were that I couldn’t wear my party dresses to kindergarten and that I wasn’t allowed to have chocolate milk with every meal.

And, you know, here I sit in my privilege saying that I’m too burned out to read her story, that it’s too hard for me to write about.

Of course, for other people, other women, this type of story is the daily reality that they have to live with. They don’t have the ability to tune out and think about other things the way I do.

This girl, this five year old girl, is fighting for her life, in part because the police weren’t terribly interested in finding her. Because she’s just a girl. Because she’s disposable. Because she was born in a country where sex-selective abortion is so common that, in some provinces, 126 males are born for every 100 females.

This, on the heels of the brutal gang rape in India that happened back in December. In that case, the victim wasn’t so lucky – she died of her wounds several days after her attack. The most brutal of her rapists, who was sixteen years old, received a sentence of only three years in a “reform home” because of his status as a minor.

This, in conjunction with another breaking story about a five year old Indian girl who was raped and murdered.

And yet another breaking story about a thirteen year old Indian girl who was gang-raped.

And a story about a six year old Indian girl who was raped.

And a story about eleven and thirteen year old sisters who were raped by their mother’s boyfriend.

All of these rapes happened within a week’s span. All of this is in just one country. And these are just a few select stories I pulled – there are more, so many more. Not just in India, but everywhere.

There are people who want to dismiss this as a problem with the way that Indian culture treats women. There are people who say that, sure, this type of thing happens over there, but it would never happen here. Maybe India has a culture of rape, but here in the West we sure don’t.

But, of course, we do.

Rape culture knows no borders, and while it might be worse or more obvious in certain parts of the world, the truth is that it’s everywhere. We all live in it. We all participate in it.

In fact, just today, a university student in Arizona was photographed holding a sign that said, “You Deserve Rape.” This man, Dean Saxton, is well-known for delivering “inflammatory sermons” on the University of Arizona campus. Today’s sermon was about how women who dress like “whores” are responsible for being raped or assaulted.

It just seems so relentless. Every day there’s a new story of some kind of horrific sexual assault, every day I hear about police and politicians who don’t care, every day there are men and women spreading the message that rape is somehow the victims fault. It just feels like it never ends, and it’s sometimes so hard to keep fighting in the face of something that’s so unbelievably pervasive and overwhelming.

But we need to keep fighting. That much is obvious.

I want to share with you guys the message that my reader sent me, because her words are more powerful than anything that I can come up with right now:

The last time it happened, I signed petitions with friends for severe punishment to those rapists who raped a 23 year old, I wrote articles, protested, debated. But the second case, that happened just yesterday has shattered me so much I seem to have lost my voice In India, we all protest and then our voices just die down. No kind of internal pressure makes the government take strict decisions. Rather, in the December 2012 case, a religious leader came up with the hideous statement that had the girl begged for her life from the rapists and called them her brothers, they would have stopped and she would have survived. One of the leading female politicians said, “Women shouldn’t go out after 9 at night or dress provocatively.” We scream, we shout and the police bashes up innocent protesters and social workers and students. Our voices die down within the country and awareness is blindfolded by our own leaders.

I am writing to you to beg you to talk about these women just like you talk about those who are close to home. Perhaps international pressure and shouts for justice would reach the deaf ears of our religious and political leaders and the pathetic, perverse men who don’t think twice before doing this to us women. Why should we dress modestly? Clothes provoke them, no clothes provoke them, we get raped in a sari, in jeans, in skirts, in salwaar kammeez and even if only our face shows. We get raped in the morning and at nights. If they can’t control their desires after 9, shouldn’t the men be locked up after 9? A lot of people blame the victim back home and not the criminal. How is that fair? 

Indian women today are aware, enlightened and educated but far from safe. We are scared to go out and work and we’re scared to stay inside. Who knows what familiar face would be the Big Bad Wolf? And he strikes us at any age, at 23, at 45, at 5! 

So as a woman to another, this is a plea to support our protest because even though we may speak different tongues and belong to different nations, we suffer the same abuses. 

Please raise your voice. Help spread the word about this. Join us in this fight. Because together, we are much stronger. Together, we can beat this.

We have to.

A few inspiring images from the protests in India:

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Rehtaeh Parsons

9 Apr

The story is disturbingly familiar.

A teenage girl goes to some kind of get-together, maybe a party.

She is raped by multiple assailants.

The rape is photographed and distributed via social media.

The girl is subjected to horrifying acts of bullying and shaming. She is branded a slut. Her life becomes a living hell.

This girl is not Steubenville’s Jane Doe, although their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. This girl is Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who hanged herself on April 4th, a year and a half after being raped. Her family took her off life support this past Sunday.

Reading the account of what happened to Rehtaeh is like watching a deadly accident slowly, methodically unfolding in front of you. And there are bystanders, plenty of bystanders, who had any number of opportunities to step in and do something, but none of them do.

And, in many ways, you are one of these bystanders, too. I am, too. We all are.

Rehtaeh did not have a rape kit done because she was too ashamed to tell anyone about her rape until several days later, at which point it was thought to be too late to retrieve medical evidence.

The boys (there were four of them) accused of raping Retaeh were not interviewed until long after the family tried to press charges.

They were not separated for their interviews; they were interviewed together, meaning that they were easily able to corroborate each others’ stories.

The investigation took over a year. In the end, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence of sexual assault, no charges were laid, and the boys got off scot free.

No legal action was taken with regards to the photographs of the rape that were distributed through social media. Rehtaeh’s mother was told that this was because there was no way of proving who had taken the pictures.

Rehtaeh struggled to survive for seventeen months. She moved to Halifax, unable to cope with the fact that her rapists were also her high school classmates. She checked herself into the hospital when she felt suicidal and stayed there for six weeks. She made new friends. She saw a therapist. She fought to live. She fought hard.

And then one day, she couldn’t fight any longer.

And when I read her story, I can’t help but wonder:

Where the fuck were all the grownups?

Where were the grownups who were supposed to love her and protect her? Where were the grownups who should have kept her safe? Where were the grownups who were supposed to make sure that she received some kind of justice for what she suffered?

And I don’t mean her parents, because it’s clear that they, too, have been struggling for the past seventeen months, doing what they can to try to help and advocate for their daughter. I mean where the fuck were the school officials, the members of the law enforcement, the people who should have made sure that she had adequate follow-up mental health care after her hospitalization? Where were they, and why didn’t they do anything? Or if they did do something, why didn’t they do enough?

Rehtaeh’s rapists are still out there. They are still in high school, they are still going to parties and they are, quite likely, still raping. Why wouldn’t they? They got away with it once, didn’t they? Rehtaeh’s rapists are still living normal, untroubled lives, and she is dead.

She’s dead, but even in the wake of her suicide and the attention her case has gained, government officials are refusing to review why the RCMP declined  to lay charges against Rehtaeh’s rapist.

Instead, Nova Scotia’s justice minister, Ross Landry, released this fucking joke of a statement:

“As a community, we need to have more dialogue with our young people about respect and about support to educate our young boys and our young girls about what’s appropriate behaviour, what’s not appropriate behaviour,” Landry said.

“We have to make sure that we’re cognizant about what gets online and what doesn’t get online and what the impacts are, so it’s having that dialogue.

“That still doesn’t take away the fact that we’ve lost a beautiful young woman … and I’m very upset about the loss.”

Saying that we need to educate boys and girls about appropriate behaviour is victim-blaming. Saying that this wouldn’t have been a problem if the pictures hadn’t ended up online is like saying that rape is fine, but publicly broadcasting it isn’t. Calling Rehtaeh’s death a tragedy because we’ve lost a beautiful young woman is a joke – seriously, what bearing does her appearance have on how sad her death is? And since Landry is refusing to open an official review into how the RCMP handled this, isn’t he basically saying, “I think she was lying about the rape, but gosh, she sure was hot”?

All of this, every single word of this statement, all of the things that Rehtaeh endured, every single detail presented here is rape culture.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

I never thought in a million years that I’d be saying this, but I wish that Rehtaeh’s case had had the same outcome as Jane Doe’s. Because while Jane Doe had to endure some spectacularly vile, awful shit, at least she made it out alive. At least her rapists suffered consequences. At least her case actually made it to trial.

rehtaeh parsons

This is Rehtaeh Parsons. When she was fifteen, she was raped by four boys. When she was seventeen, she committed suicide.

She is dead because we, as a society, failed her.

There is a petition up demanding an inquiry into the police investigation of Rehtaeh’s rape. I’m not sure if it will do anything to help, but signing it sure as hell won’t hurt. Right now, this petition and bringing awareness to what happened to Rehtaeh seem like the only concrete ways of helping her. Right now, I need to do something, anything to stop myself from feeling like a bystander. I’m not going to just shake my head and sigh over this. I’m going to raise my voice until everyone knows what happened to Rehtaeh.

Edited to add:

Ross Landry now says that he will be moving forward with a review of Rehtaeh’s case. Thank God. An excerpt from the article I linked to:

Justice Minister Ross Landry said today, April 9, he has asked senior government officials to present options, as soon as possible, to review the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened – as I think are all Nova Scotians – by the death of this young woman,” said Mr. Landry. “As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain this family is going through at this time. My thoughts are with them.”

Mr. Landry said he hopes to meet with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, to discuss her experience with the justice system.

“I know that law enforcement and the public prosecution service do their best, every day, to administer and enforce the law,” said Mr. Landry. “It’s important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities to ensure the system is always working to the best of its ability, in pursuit of justice.”

Mr. Landry said he has been reviewing details of the case and consulting with officials throughout the day, and expects options within the next few days.

I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter

18 Mar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal people who want to go to bat for the convicted rapists. I’m quite sure that you already know about the victim-blaming that’s been happening since this case first came to light. You know about the fact that people have actually come out and said that the real lesson to be learned here is that we need to be more careful with social media (i.e. go ahead and rape but make sure you don’t get caught). You already know that people seem to think that being a sports star and having a good academic record should somehow make up for the fact that you are a rapist.

I don’t have to tell you any of that because it’s all par for the course.

What I do want to tell you is that you need to stop using the “wives, sisters, daughters” argument when you are talking to people defending the Steubenville rapists. Or any rapists. Or anyone who commits any kind of crime, violent or otherwise, against a woman.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this line of rhetoric, it’s the one that goes like this:

You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.

Framing the issue this way for rape apologists can seem useful. I totally get that. It feels like you’re humanizing the victim and making the event more relatable, more sympathetic to the person you’re arguing with.

You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.

The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.

The “wives, sisters, daughters” line of argument comes up all the fucking time. President Obama even used it in his State of the Union address this year, saying,

“We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This device, which Obama has used on more than one occasion, is reductive as hell. It defines women by their relationships to other people, rather than as people themselves. It says that women are only important when they are married to, have given birth to, or have been fathered by other people. It says that women are only important because of who they belong to.

Women are not possessions.

Women are people.

I seriously cannot believe that I have to say this in 2013.

On top of all of this, I want you to think of a few other implications this rhetorical device has. For one thing, what does it say about the women who aren’t anyone’s wife, mother or daughter? What does it say about the kids who are stuck in the foster system, the kids who are shuffled from one set of foster parents to another or else living in a group home? What does it say about the little girls whose mothers surrender them, willingly or not, to the state? What does it say about the people who turn their back on their biological families for one reason or another?

That they deserve to be raped? That they are not worthy of protection? That they are not deserving of sympathy, empathy or love?

And when we frame all women as being someone’s wife, mother or daughter, what are we teaching young girls?

We are teaching them that in order to have the law on their side, they need to be loved by men. That they need to make themselves attractive and appealing to men in order to be worthy of protection. That their lives and their bodily integrity are valueless except for how they relate to the men they know.

The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime.

I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having.

So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.

Above all, teach them that they are people, too.

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“I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” – Rape Culture and The Good Men Project

11 Dec

I’m tired of blogging about rape culture.

No, honestly, I am. It gets exhausting after a while. It wears you down, you know? There’s just so much awfulness, so many rape apologists, and it takes a lot of energy to wade through it, dissect it, call it out and then deal with the backlash.

I’ve diagnosed myself with what Jezebel calls “rape fatigue“, a pretty accurate term for how I feel.

I wasn’t going to blog about anything serious this week. I was going to blog about cute things, funny things. I had a whole post planned out about how Red Fraggle is a feminist icon. It was going to be great, you guys.

And then The Good Men Project published a piece called “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.”

And, well, here we are.

Let’s deconstruct this article, shall we?

We’ll start with the title:

I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying

Let’s be clear: while the author does, later, admit that he would rather be raped than stop partying, that’s not what the bulk of this article is about. What he’s actually saying here is that he would rather risk raping someone than stop partying.

You might need a moment to digest that sentiment; I know I did.

Next, we have a caveat from the editors:

We at the Good Men Project do not endorse or support the author’s worldview, but it does speak to a very common experience that is often taken for granted and rarely talked about, except in vague and theoretical terms. We thank the author for being willing to speak openly about it, and share his struggle with his own experiences, though we want to make very clear that we do not agree with his conclusions.

You don’t agree with his conclusions, but you still published it, didn’t you? You’re still giving a voice to someone who is an admitted, unapologetic rapist. Whether or not you “agree with his conclusions”, you are still giving him your support by posting this to your site. You are adding another voice to rape culture.  You are normalizing rape. This is not okay.

Now on to the article itself:

When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs.

You accept that you’ll always be the bad guy in after-school specials and sitcoms about teenagers. You’re the bad kid who offers Buffy Summers a beer and gets her almost eaten by a snake demon. You accept that you won’t always be able to piece together everything that happened the next day. You’re forced to enjoy Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” not because you like Katy Perry but because you just plain recognize it.

You accept these tradeoffs because they come with amazing times. They come with glowing memories of an intensity entirely beyond the mundane, they come with crazy sex with amazing people, they come with living a few hours at a time in a world where anything, anything at all, can happen. I’ve moved from one party scene to another my whole adult life, because nobody wants to be that creepy old person or that inappropriately young person, but there are always plenty of people who won’t walk away from that incredible sense of liberation and possibility that you only find at the bottom of the bottle and a hot room full of crazy people.

Anonymous Writer is a hipper than me, has cooler friends, and goes to better parties. He’s a bad-ass who has lots of amazing sex and maintains a love-hate relationship with Katy Perry. He can only find “liberation and possibility” while drunk in a room full of strangers. Got it.

I swear to God, it is only after the fact that you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape. The way crooked businesses accept paying fines for their infractions as the cost of doing business, you gradually, an inch at a time, realize that some of the stories you’ve heard, some of the stories you’ve lived, didn’t involve what they call good consent nowadays.

Yes, because rape is just a consequence of having a good time. Raping someone is just the price you have to pay in order to party hard like Anonymous Writer does.

And you know what? Lack of consent is lack of consent, no matter whether something happened twenty years ago or yesterday. I don’t care whether they didn’t call it “good consent” back in the dark ages; it’s still rape.

With what I’ve learned as an adult, I’m pretty sure I’m technically a rapist. Technically nothing. One woman told me herself.

Anonymous Writer is a rapist. Got it.

Our encounter was years before—I’d been in a drinking contest and she’d been drinking and flirting with me (yes, actually flirting) all evening.

She was actually flirting! You can take this rapist’s word for it!

As blurry and fucked-up as I was, I read her kiss of congratulation to me as a stronger signal than it was, and with friends hooting and cheering us on, I pressed her up against a wall and… well. Call it rape or call it a particularly harsh third base, I walked away with the impression that it had been consensual, if not really sensible. (She had a boyfriend at the time, but their boundaries were fuzzy.)

He was peer-pressured into pushing her up against a wall, either raping her or going to a “particularly harsh third base” (whatever that even means), but it’s fine because he thought it was consensual. Oh, and because her boundaries with her boyfriend were “fuzzy”. Got it.

Years later, she was in a recovery program—not for alcohol, ironically—and she got in touch with me during the part where she made peace with her past. She wanted to clarify that what had happened between us was without her consent, that it hurt her physically and emotionally, that it was, yes, rape.

Here is one story about a time she was drunk, which totally makes it ironic that she’s not in an alcohol recovery program. Also, being raped was probably her fault because she had substance abuse problems.

Oh, and by the way, she was raped. By Anonymous Writer.

We talk about who is and is not a rapist, like it’s an inextricable part of their identity. “I’m a Libra, a diabetic, and a rapist.” That doesn’t work, though. Evidently I walked around for years as a rapist, totally unaware. Nobody stuck that label on me, I certainly never applied it to myself, even now it only feels like it fits when I’m severely depressed. The label, the crime, simply coalesced for me one day, dragging years of backstory behind it.

Anonymous Writer isn’t a rapist, because he doesn’t feel like one.

I literally could not come up with a better way of summing up how rape culture works than that one, single sentence.

That is the damnable thing. We all cluck our tongues at those evil bastards who force themselves on girls—or guys—who are insensibly passed out. At the same time, we all acknowledge that a glass or two of wine helps pave the way for a lot of good times. And in the trackless, unmappable gray swamps in between, we cough and change the subject.

Consent is not trackless or unmappable. Consent is fucking consent. Deal with it.

In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk doesn’t necessarily look like being passed out on the floor, helpless prey for any passing predator. It can look like being drunk, but fully in control. It can look like being passionately excited. It can look like being a great dancer. It can look like being very sexually aggressive.

It’s not just booze, of course. Ecstasy makes everything incredibly tactile and you want to touch everyone. Weed makes some people insatiably horny. I had to fend off a young woman recently who was talking a mile a minute and sliding her hands inside my shirt, I was still together enough to tell she wasn’t all there, on what turned out to be a mixture of acid and cocaine. There is plenty of fun stuff out there, but mostly it’s booze. For the majority of people, it’s going to be drinking they have to watch out for.

If you’re not sure that someone can consent, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk and you’re not sure how drunk, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk, don’t have sex with them. There. I’ve made it easy for you.

A friend of mine once told me about a girl who he knew for a fact had only had two drinks. He didn’t know she was on prescription medication that amplified those two drinks beyond all measure. He thought she was just very horny when she wouldn’t leave him alone or take “Are you okay?” for an answer. It wasn’t until she kept calling him by the wrong name and couldn’t remember the right one that he realized she was not able to consent, and called a halt to things before they went any further. He says he had to dissuade her from pursuing things further, because she was really into it, apart from not knowing who he was or where she was.

“Can you imagine?” he tells me in horrified tones. “I was almost a rapist.”

How do I tell him that I was in a similar position and made a different call? How do I tell him that I am what he’s terrified he almost was?

Well, I guess Anonymous Writer doesn’t have to, because rape culture! He will never be prosecuted. He will never go to jail. He will never even have to admit under his own name that he’s a rapist.

Here’s the plain, awful fact: people can have more and better sex drunk than they can sober. Some of the best, most fulfilling relationships of my life have started out with joyously drunken sex. I’ve had amazing times, orgies sometimes, where it’s simultaneously true that everyone’s consenting and having fun, and that they wouldn’t be consenting and having fun if they were stone sober.

Here’s a plain, awful fact: Anonymous Writer is a rapist.

Here’s another plain, awful fact: you don’t have to have sex when you’re drunk, even if it feels really great. You don’t have to have orgies where you know that the participants would not be consenting if they were sober. You don’t have to rape, but you do. And then you make excuses for it.

Those aren’t the times that bother me. The ones that bother me are the ones where I got loaded, had some fun with a lady, and then she never wanted to contact me again. Messages go unanswered, social contact is dropped.

It doesn’t bother Anonymous Writer when he rapes someone, as long as they remain friends with him.

There are men, rape-apologist pieces of shit, who will tell you that women cry “rape” every time they have sex they later regret. I carry no brief for those assholes. What eats at me is that there’ve been cases, more than one and less than six, in my life where either explanation would seem plausible. If a woman had consensual sex with a guy because they were both drunk, and later she decided he was a loser and she regretted it, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, awkward. But if a woman was raped by a man who thought she was still capable of consent when she was too far gone, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, rapist.

Except, as far as we know, none of these women (other than the one mentioned above) have cried rape. So there was no need for that sentence. They either refused to answer Anonymous Writer’s calls because they regretted having sex with him, or because they felt violated. This has nothing to do with anyone crying rape.

And, by the way, Anonymous Writer, you did rape.

That’s not the worst part either.

Oh good.

It’s been pointed out to me that I’m using a lot of heteronormative language here, men/me as rapist, women as rape victims, and I honest to God don’t mean to do that. It’s just the linguistic habits I grew up with.

But there have been times I’ve cut off all contact with women after drunkenly fooling around with them, the same criterion that, in reverse, makes me suspect myself of rape.

There have been times of “I regret going to bed with her” and times of “I don’t recall going to bed with her.”

There’s been at least one time I was informed, days after the fact, by multiple eyewitnesses, that I’d had sex with a girl. This came as news to me, and explained a couple messages I’d gotten from her, a girl I generally had no interest in getting involved with.

It must be bad manners to admit to being a rapist and to also say one is a rape survivor, all in one article. I don’t know any set of social mores where that’s okay. I certainly don’t feel like a rape survivor, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. I just can’t quite find a workable standard where I’m one but not the other. I don’t say that as any kind of apology or justification for my actions or my mistakes. I’m just trying to state the facts nobody ever quite wants to state.

So the worst part isn’t that Anonymous Writer raped someone, it’s that he’s not sure whether or not he’s been raped, although he doesn’t feel as if he has been.

That’s the worst part here.

Some might think it’s monstrous of me to keep drinking, keep partying. But I have had so many good, positive, happy experiences because I took a chance and altered my state and connected with someone else sexually, it seems crazy to throw all that away. Do people who’ve been in car accidents give up driving?

Translation: I will continue to knowingly rape women, and here is a shitty metaphor about car accidents to explain why I’ve chosen to do this.

Translation: the conditions that lead to me raping women are too much fun to give up.

Translation: I live in a culture that will continue to forgive and excuse me for every rape I’ve committed.

When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know. And that seems like the most sick, fucked-up, broken solution to anything ever. And maybe finding it livable-with condemns us all to hell. I don’t know. I can’t even talk about it under my own name.

Fuck you.

* * *

I want to be thoughtful about this. I know that I should be. I should say that this man clearly has addiction issues and needs help. I should offer him my support, because he is also a rape victim. I should be kind, forgiving, generous. But I can’t. I can’t do any of those things to someone who is an unapologetic rapist, someone who is clear on the fact that he will rape again. Someone who views rape as a “trade-off” for having a good time.

Rape is not something inevitable that happens because you’re partying too hard, because you drink to excess, or because you’re having too much fun. Rape is a choice that this man makes. This man knows that his drinking and partying will lead to having sex with a partner who cannot consent, and yet continues to do so. This man is an unapologetic rapist.

I know that I talk a lot about rape culture, but you guys? This is rape culture right here. It’s articles like these that make men feel better about raping women. It’s articles like these that contribute to victim blaming (if a woman doesn’t want to be raped, she shouldn’t drink so much, right?) It’s articles like these that normalize rape, that make rape seem like a by-product of enjoying oneself, that make rape seem inevitable and uncontrollable.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

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