Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Does Rape Culture Teach Us About Men?

I just wrote a whole post full of links on rape culture because fighting with friends over victim-blaming and rape apologia is starting to wear me out. As I was reading through those posts, I couldn't help but think about how often we ignore what rape culture teaches us about men.


Women are told from a very early age that we need to be active in preventing our own assaults. We are taught to avoid going out alone, never leave our drinks unattended, keep our car keys in our hands like claws, not open the door for strangers, check identification of repairmen, look in the back seat of our cars before we get in them, avoid empty parking lots, never go out after dark, not accept a ride from a stranger, not wear our hair in a ponytail, always carry umbrellas, ignore the sounds of crying babies as they may be traps, not wear short shorts, and keep an eye on strange men and note their features in case we have to describe them later. 

Public health campaign
The message is loud and clear to women that we need to be afraid. It's a message reiterated not just in warnings, but also in statistics. One in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. That number is even higher for minority women (1 in 3 Native American women will be sexually assaulted) or on a college campus. Two-thirds of rapists are someone the victim knows, often a friend. 

Here's comedian Ever Mainard using humor to demonstrate the way women are taught to fear the men around them:

Here's Wanda Sykes' take on the pressure of constantly having to protect our valuable vaginas:

Because of rape culture, we continue to place the responsibility on women to not get raped. We tell women that as long as they are aware of their surroundings and take all of the right steps, they'll be safe . . . or at least as safe as they can be in this terrifying world full of scary men. Then, when rape does occur, we talk about the men who were "lured" into the act (even if that's multiple grown men raping an 11-year-old girl). We talk about the "ruined" lives of once "promising" athletes who made a decision to rape an unconscious girl. 

The message is clear: men just can't help themselves. They're all would-be rapists just waiting for the opportune moment. That nice man who helped you carry your bags up the steps? He's probably just scoping your door to see how easily he can break in to assault you later. That man jogging in the park behind you on your early morning run? He's probably waiting until you get to a secluded part of the path to drag you off. The friends you're out drinking with? They can't be trusted, so if your girl friends want to leave before you do, you better call it a night. 

Men should be outraged at the way that rape culture portrays them. Men should be marching in the street right along with Slutwalkers and protesters in much higher numbers than they currently are. 

If you believe that women who don't protect their precious vaginas are all "asking for it," what you're really saying is that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges. You're saying that men are beasts. You're saying that men are vile, filthy criminals just waiting for an opening. 

I know better. 

I know many, many men who are good and kind and respectful. I know many men who would never think that a lack of a "no" means "yes." I bet you know these men, too.

We spend a lot of time focusing on what rape culture does to women because it often leaves us fearful and paranoid. It makes us afraid of strangers and suspicious of friends. It puts us in a constant state of alert that is stressful and terrifying. We should definitely be talking about these things.

But we need to talk about what it does to men, too. It desensitizes them to the responsibility of assault, which is why something as simple as the Don't Be That Guy campaign has been so effective.

Yes, there are people out there who are truly predatory rapists. These people consciously set out to violate others. They are the people we're trained to fear, and they exist.

But they do not exist in every stranger's face, and they do not even exist in every rapist. Many rapists have been so poorly trained in what rape is that they do not know they have committed it. This does not excuse their behavior. The responsibility to be a respectful participant in healthy, consensual sexual activity is on every sexually active individual.

That's a responsibility that virtually all of the men I know can handle, but rape culture is denying them the chance to take it. It's time we give it back.

Related Links:

Essential Concepts: How Patriarchy and Rape Culture Hurt Men

Tony Porter's TED Talk "A Call to Men"

Rape Culture and Its Effect on Men

On Shoveling Snow and How Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

Why Men Need Feminism Too (Really, You Do!)


  1. I liked the post, but I'm really glad to have found your blog! We seem to have quite a lot in common. I'm a doctoral student too, former teacher, and mom to a toddler. (My dissertation is about the experiences of female students of color in elite boarding schools. My defense is on April 4... yikes!) I'm a new blogger as well and have been writing a lot about feminism and gender topics. I'm looking forward to reading more!

  2. Thanks for reading! What's your blog? I'd love to check it out. And good luck on your defense!

  3. My blog is School of Smock ( Thanks for the good luck wishes! At this point, if I'm not ready, luck may not help me :)