Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rape, Power, Fear, and What To Do About It

My other rape post seemed to miss the mark with some of the early readers who seemed very attached to the idea that when women do certain things, or dress/act in certain ways (aka being stupid), they should expect certain consequences (among those, I'm assuming, is rape). What I was trying to get across in that post was the fact that just because women make certain choices, some of which might be considered "stupid," doesn't mean that they should have to be faced with a consequence/punishment like rape.

No comments from non-feminists on any of the rape-related posts on Female Impersonator have addressed the problems that a) rape is about power, and b) women shouldn't have to live in a society that faces them with "consequences" such as rape when they decide to dress/act in certain ways. I would like to briefly address those two issues.

Rape is about power, power in the sense that the rapist gets what they want at the expense of another person's body. It does not have to be physically threatening. A weapon needn't be involved. It does not have to happen in a dark alley. It does not even have to be perpetrated by a stranger. Even rape that happens between two people who have sex on a regular basis is about power: the power of the rapist to have their desires met and put above those of the person being raped.

On that second point, the problem with American society is that women are afraid. We are not stupid. It is not that we don't realize that doing certain things or acting/dressing in certain ways will increase our chance of drawing attention from the wrong kinds of guys, the problem is that it shouldn't be that way. Why must women be the ones taking the precautions against rape? Those sorts of attitudes seem to be backwards. Since a large number of reported rapes (I hesitate to say "the majority" because I have no statistics to back this up at the moment) are perpetrated by men against women, it seems bizarre to me to tell women to take all the responsibility for preventing this crime that so many men are committing.

The problem with rape is that it is a topic that is not discussed enough in our society, and silence will only allow rape to continue. I believe that education on the topic would be a great way to start toward solving this problem. Rape was never discussed in my high school sex education class, except for in a movie maybe, but it was not very clear. Why is that? Sex ed is something that nearly everyone has to take, why not introduce discussions about rape? Defining rape, talking about social circumstances that have proved to be fruitful for rape, discussing where to get extra information about rape and where to get help, and ways to prevent rape. It seems to me like a productive idea that is sorely missing from this sort of public discourse, even though many people would likely benefit from this sort of exposure.

When it comes to preventing rape, I would like to put one idea out there: affirmative consent. Because rape can, and often does happen between friends and even spouses, this is a great place to start when it comes to rape prevention, and it is something that every sexually active reader of this blog can practice and talk about with their friends.

Affirmative consent means that without a "yes," consent has not been granted for sexual intercourse (or otherwise). Sexual intercourse without consent is rape. There are, to be sure, many ideas when it comes to consent, and some would argue that as long as a woman doesn't try to physically stop a man from initiating intercourse, consent has been granted. Or that unless the woman screams, "No!" consent has been granted. These arguments overlook the possibility that women who are being raped are often in situations in which they lose their voice. They may feel threatened, either physically, or by fear of social repercussion, to keep their mouth shut, but that does not necessarily mean that they want sex.

The only way to be 100% sure that your sexual experience is consensual is to ask your partner if they want to have sex and have them answer "yes." And if at any point in time during intercourse, you get the feeling that your partner is not enjoying it, ask. Watching NO! The Rape Documentary helped put into words some of my own feelings about consent: "Yes means yes. Everything else means no." That means that if you are not sure if your partner wants to have sex, ask them. Clarify. Clarify. Clarify.

The real reasoning behind this post was an extremely aggravating instant messenger conversation I had with one of the blog's readers. I explained to them my ideas about affirmative consent, in a few less words than is stated above, and I got this response: in your opinion. that is your problem, you just think that everbody else is going to accept your world veiw, but you are to idealistic.

I have no idea where they got the impression that I thought anyone would necessarily accept my "world view" (which was actually only about rape and consent), and I don't know why thinking that people should be made aware of and try practicing affirmative consent as a means of being sure that their sex is consensual is idealistic. But whatever. That did provoke this post.

For more on affirmative consent, check out Girly Thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. And the earlier post. I have no idea why rape is the one crime where people love to assign blame automatically to the victim. It sickens me.

Holly Grande said...

Thank you.

Lindsay said...

I'm all about affirmative consent. Personally, you can't go wrong with hearing your partner say "yes yes yes" in bed.

all american girl said...

People don't automatically blame the victim. Some responsibility does lie, however, in the victim placing themselves in a situation in which rape is likely to happen and there is no way out.

Anonymous said...

In which all american girl proves she hasn't read the post. It's not like having your car stolen because you didn't lock it - you can't lock your vagina.