Conversations with men about rape culture

If you happen to live in Canada, and happen to be tuned into media and/or social media, you will certainly see that a whole lot of conversation around rape culture has opened up, in the wake of the numerous allegations around he-who-shall-not-be-named.  I continue to receive a whole bunch of feedback from my previous blog entry about silencing victims, and it's been quite satisfying and encouraging.  CONVERSATION IS AMAZING.

It is heartening that the conversation is finally taking place.

However, in talking with many male friends and colleagues, it seems that, far too often, the message these fellows are getting is that men are inherently evil and naturally predestined to sexually assault women.  Which I do *NOT* believe is what's actually being said,  But some guys certainly feel like that *IS* what's being said.  And because I feel it's so important that men join women in these discussions, I think we need to be very very careful to not make them feel excluded.

Fortunately, despite all my passionate ranting about the subject, it seems I am still a person that (at least some) men feel comfortable talking to, and asking questions of.  It's not always an easy conversation for anyone, but I'm happy the conversations are taking place, and respectfully taking place.  There was a recent FaceBook conversation that some of my friends have asked me to recreate here – and with the permission of the friend who started it all, I'll do my best.  :)
 

A few days ago, I posted a link to this Toronto Star column by Dr. Gabor Maté: JG and the problem of narcissistic male rage (you probably want to read it first, to understand the rest of the conversation).  There were a bunch of (female) folks who chimed in with comments about the article.

And then, a very brave and curious young man I know (I'll call him "A", because that's how original I'm feeling right now...) expressed his dismay over the article, stating (among other things, but he's asked me to not directly quote the whole thing) "I've seen a lot about this lately, especially since the whole [JG] thing.  But I feel that this idea that men are natural rapists, and that if not handled carefully, they will inevitably go on to violate women... that's simply untrue."  Which is a comment I've seen quite a bit recently (although not always so respectfully expressed, oh ye trolls in the comments section...).  It concerns me that sweeping generalizations become "all men".  It's not just the trolls who need to be careful in their expression.  Just because we don't intend to say something doesn't mean that's not what's being received.

When I pointed out that I couldn't find any place in Maté's article (or the conversation it had inspired) that stated such things, "A" apologized, and said he must have been unconsciously responding to another article he had read earlier, by Rose Bianchini for ParentDish: How I'm raising my sons not to assault women (you probably should read that too, for context).  Now, granted, the copy editor chose a *ridiculously* inflammatory title (which makes me once again plead that we find ways to talk about this that do NOT make men feel like they're evil-until-proven-innocent, people!), but the article itself doesn't go there.  Whoever picked that title, however, should really have a stern talking-to, because I'm sure "A" is not the only man turned off enough by the title to not get the message of the article.  DO BETTER, MEDIA!!!

"A" made a number of other points, but I believe the ones most relevant to the the part I've been asked to share in my blog were:  "Personally, I don't feel that our culture is so full of pro-rape sentiment that we have to actively raise boys to not be sexually violent.. The fact remains that the vast majority of men do NOT rape women."  As well as "People still kill and steal too, but I don't hear people talking about "murder culture" or "theft culture"."

Which was followed by me having a couple of days of computer mayhem that didn't allow me to properly reply right away,  (hence the long-winded apology of an intro), but I was finally able to get this response out – which is what I was asked to post here, in the hopes that men (and probably some women) get a better idea of what we mean by the term "rape culture", as described by a women who knows not all men are rapists but has reason to be concerned about those who could be.

But hey, there's nothing like a long-winded intro, right?  ;)
 

Hi ["A"] – so sorry for the delay. I’ve been in COMPUTER HELL for a couple of days, and this wasn’t a response I wanted to type on the phone.

(Grab a coffee, I’m sensing this is probably going to be a longer-than-average FB response…)

Anyhow, I’ve finally had a chance to read that other article you’d posted, and…  I don’t see her saying any of those things you were reacting to, either. So I’m not sure if you’re bracing yourself against what you’re afraid might be said, or if someone else has said such a thing to you, but… you seem to be arguing things that weren't actually in the articles.  So I want to start off by making sure it’s clear that I don’t want you to take anything I’m saying personally, and that I am in no way saying that I think you are a rapist, or a dangerous person, or anything along those lines whatsoever.  I don’t want to upset you any more than you want to upset me.  When in doubt, refer back to this paragraph.  :)

Like you and [another commenter], I was a little concerned about some of the “blame the parents” oversimplification and glossing-over of how girls dealt with parental “abandonment” in Gabor Maté's article.  (Although, knowing how he writes in general, I just chalked it up to having to condense big thoughts into a tiny Star column – benefit of the doubt.)

But here, for what it’s worth, are my thoughts on his article:

I think it’s fairly easy to get triggered by the word “narcissist”.  It conjures up big, nasty, egomaniacal-to-the-point-of-sociopath images for many.  BUT... narcissism, like pretty much any other personal trait, occurs along a spectrum.  We *all* have narcissistic traits within us, and a healthy dose of narcissism is… healthy!  It’s when it’s approaching the more severe end of the spectrum that it causes problems – and there are events early in life that can cause it to swing really far in some people, as is finally being revealed in the case of JG.

Human nature being what it is, it’s also much easier for our fragile psyches to say “hey, what a monster he is!”, than it is to explore the environments that may have helped to create that “monster”, let alone recognize our personal and societal responsibilities for contributing to the “monster”-s environment.  I believe what Maté is trying to do is explore how the environment of current society helped to shape JG, in the hopes of preventing the same situation from happening again.  I think that’s an important thing to do in MANY areas of life these days.

For instance, we aren’t living in Nazi Germany, and not every politician is Hitler, but holy bejeezus, if you take the time to look at some of the things going on in society and politics that helped the Holocaust into existence, there’s some pretty scary shit going on in the world right now.  Similarly, screaming “terrorist!” and “Al Quaeda!” or “ISIL!” (or whatever the monster-du-jour might be) every time a soldier gets targeted does not answer the questions of why that kid – who, as far as has been discovered, was NOT approached by any organization, but was messed up and was searching for his own reasons and “out” – turned into the type of guy who was a danger to society.  But I digress...

Not all people in society turn into crazed gunmen.  Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer.  But it’s important to explore why and how certain people get there, in order to do our best to prevent them from getting there.

(Time for a refill?  How ‘bout a cookie?)

Similarly, I don’t think Bianchini was saying “how do I prevent my boys from becoming the rapists they’re destined to be?”  I sense her as being more along the lines of “how do I raise my boys to be immune from the crappy messages that society is throwing at them?”.  (I note she only has boys, I imagine she’d be saying the same thing for her girls if she had them.)  Because society these days is telling both boys and girls a WHOLE LOT of awful stuff, and it’s all easy to miss until you really step back and view it from the outside.

While women are now able to vote and work and be treated as equals under the law, the societal messages that are screamed out about us have gotten much worse.  The hyper-sexualization and objectification of women and girls is all over the place (advertising, media, politics, audio, video, the workplace, the language, etc.), and has descended to the point where young girls’ Halloween costumes look like hookers’ outfits, and “Toddlers in Tiaras” is somehow considered to be acceptable enough to be on major broadcasters’ feeds, instead of being hidden in a brown wrapper at the back of the kiddie porn section of a really nasty video store.

As I was discussing with a male friend the other day, my first year of university was the year when “No means tie her up” and “No means more beer”, etc., hit the headlines from my school (and don't get me started on what we females had to endure during frosh week...).  Which supposedly shocked everyone and made universities work hard at making campuses safer for women.  And yet, twenty-(cough)-something years later, universities are back in the news with frosh-week stories of songs about raping virgins, etc., being part of the “fun”.  We haven’t “come a long way, baby” -- society’s message is still screaming that it’s somehow OK to treat people this way.

***Even if a person isn’t naturally predestined to believe such a message, if they hear it shouted enough times from enough angles, it starts to seep in and become normalized.***

Which is something that JG knew, and played upon brilliantly in his initial the-best-defence-is-a-good-offence FB post.  The jilted lover, the vindictive girlfriend, the overly-sensitive folks at the office, the fact that he was such a nice guy that anyone who came forward saying otherwise was obviously lying.  It was textbook.  And everyone – other than those who knew the story (or, perhaps some of them too) – EVERYONE jumped on it, hook, line and sinker.  Because these are our society’s archetypes.

With the JG case, with Reteah Parsons, with the missing and murdered aboriginal women, with the students raped by the U.S. football team – ALL of these cases have shown how quickly society (or at least the louder parts of society) is ready to jump on the victims.  Yes, rape and murder and theft have been around forever and we will probably never be able to eliminate any of them entirely, but… rape and sexual assault are the only crimes in our current society where the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the victim and silence his or her story.

I don’t believe, in hindsight, that most of the people who jumped on that bandwagon initially are the types of people who think rape and sexual assault is OK.  But we’ve just seen it demonstrated, pretty brutally, that this is still the first place the collective mind goes to.  It’s very difficult to see these archetypes when you’re immersed in them, but we’ve just seen them in living Technicolor.  And, as I said way, way above (!), it’s both men and women who jump into the myths. Because we’re so immersed in the archetype.

So, I think it’s important for ALL of us to take a look at what allows “monsters” to become “monsters”, and recognize our own roles in the monster-making.  Because the above examples are really just a small sampling of some of the messages people are inundated with on a daily basis.  Yes, it is true that the vast majority of people (male and female) are not rapists.  But we need to take a close look at how we as a society allow those who rape or sexually assault others to perpetuate this behaviour.

Especially in light of the new revelation that JG has been getting away with this since at least 1988 (despite many people being aware of the problem) – society has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!



(Thank you so much to "A" for coming forth with the comments and questions I'm sure many other men were afraid to make.  High fives and happy dances to you, friend!)

So... that's the response I was asked by a few people to post.  Hopefully it will help.  I know that "A" appreciated hearing the answers to some of his questions.  He also came up with a kick-ass observation himself, but I just realized I didn't get his permission to share that part, so... this may be continued!

Actually, the conversation did continue, and I think in an important way as well.  But I need to ask permission from someone else for that part.  So...

Stay tuned, for "Conversations with men about rape culture, Part Deux"!  :)

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