I am a woman.
This probably won’t shock you. I am a woman, I am a feminist, I am a mother, I am a lover…I am many things. But I want to tell you about something I am not. I am not afraid. Oh sure, I have fear. I worry about my family, about the success of the industry I work in, about climate change and the loss of democracy in our country and the promulgation of hate and intolerance very lightly masked as “security”. I fear lingering illness. I have what I consider to be a healthy fear that the power and gas might go out some day in the depths of winter and without an alternate heat source in our house, we’ll be screwed.
Here’s what I don’t fear: I don’t fear men. I don’t fear women. I don’t fear people, unless they give me pause to do so. I don’t live with the constant fear that someone is going to rape me or abuse me or mistreat me or harass me. I don’t fear for my safety on a constant basis. I am not afraid to walk alone at night or any other time. I’m not reckless and I’m not foolish; I just don’t believe anyone ought to live in fear.
Why am I saying this? Because over the last few months I’ve noticed a recurring theme in some of the blogs and articles I’ve been reading. It’s a disturbing theme. Maybe I don’t understand it. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Here’s my understanding of it: it has to do with rape culture.
Wait. First let me define rape culture in this context. It means a society in which rape is so pervasive, so much a part of the culture of that society, that it’s considered to be pretty much a normal thing. That this crime of power (rape is not about sex) is trivialized, that the victims of rape are dismissed, blamed, or that the seriousness of this assault is otherwise undermined. People claim we (in “western society” – i.e. North American/Western European) live in a rape culture. There are certainly examples that we may: we have to warn our kids to never accept drinks from anyone when they’re out at a party, because that drink could be doped. We warn our kids to never put down their drink and then pick it up again for the same reason. We teach our kids about consent (seriously, we shouldn’t have to teach our kids what “consent” means. Seriously. This is sad.), about what ‘no’ means, about how easy it is to get in to a situation that can quickly get out of control.
When (not if; when) someone is sexually assaulted or raped, the first question most people ask is “what were you wearing” or “what did you do to provoke this?” and that’s bullshite. Victims are shamed and although support is better now than it was 20 years ago, there is still a HUGE divide between the way someone looks at you when you’ve been jumped in the park and mugged and when you’ve been forced to have sex against your will. In the first case, nobody ever asks you what you did to prompt the attack. Nobody calls you a whore or a slut or a stud. Nobody asks you “why didn’t you just scream?”. We should be ashamed that we think it’s okay to live this way. To treat others this way.
But here’s the problem I have: there is an argument that has surfaced a number of times that claims that women live in fear of rape. All the time. That we are all afraid of men, because even though most men will never commit ANY crime, much less rape or sexual assault, we live our lives with varying degrees of fear that sometime, some day, somewhere, a man is going to rape us.
First, men don’t have a monopoly on rape and sexual assault, so let’s just stop being sexist assholes here, okay? If you think there’s stigma associated with being a female rape victim, just think about how it works for males who’ve been sexually assaulted. If nobody believes a woman who says she’s been raped, I can assure you a man who makes the same claim has a far steeper hill to climb. Most rape and sexual assault against males is simply never reported. I’m not saying anything about the numbers or what this means, and I’m not going to get in to the discussion about how males are the privileged gender in 99% of the world. I’m not even going to go there, so please don’t get all hot under the collar about men’s rights movements.
Rape is not about gender. Rape is about control, aggression, and domination. Let’s take the men vs. women argument right out of it. I hate…HATE the claim that women live in fear every day because of the thought they might become victims of sexual assault. It may be true for some women, and I guarantee you it isn’t true for many women. The fact that it may be true for anyone says that we have a very far way to go yet to get people to just stop being douches. As one friend said, “those of us who aren’t afraid can stand up for those of us who are”, and I think that’s beautiful. And right. And, shamefully, necessary. But I cannot support the statement or claim that all women are afraid of men all the time. That, quite frankly, is utter bullshit.
I have been sexually assaulted. I have been raped. I am not afraid of men. I am not afraid of women. I am not afraid.