May 22, 2008
On binaries and rape apologists
In my recent reading I came across a discussion of binaries. We humans often think in terms of binaries: black and white, good and evil, wrong and right, male and female, us and them, familiar and Other. When I took just a moment to consider those and other dualities, I thought of a post on rape I came across recently, via Cara. In it the author states that “Sociopaths do not rape women, men rape women.” It’s a simplification, to be sure (men also rape men, and women rape women, and women rape men), but the post itself is rebutting the idea that your average man doesn’t rape; only sociopaths do so — the idea that it’s insulting to the average man to put up posters encouraging men to “Man up, get consent” because rape isn’t simply a matter of sex without consent.
And so we’re back to the idea that the only true rape is a sociopath physically overcoming a woman in a dark alley, threatening her with a weapon, etc.
A couple of problems with that, though: first of all, rape is simply a matter of sex without consent. Is that necessarily the legal definition? No, not necessarily. Is that, at the very least, how feminists define it? Yes (obviously). Here’s Cara:
* Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.
So, folks. I don’t care what the law is. I never said that penetrating a woman against her will with a finger fits the legal definition of rape. In some sane places, it does. In many others, it does not. I don’t give a shit. In many places, a man who has nonconsensual sex with his wife has not legally raped her. But he still raped her. In many places, a man who has sex with a woman who is unconscious has not legally raped her. But he still raped her. In most places, a woman does not have to say “yes” to give consent, but simply fail to say “no.” A situation where she did not say “no” but does not want sex and did not agree to it is still rape. No matter what the law says. Rape is the nonconsensual sexual penetration of another person. It’s not that fucking difficult to grasp.
Second, why do people go to so much trouble to defend men who have sex with unwilling women? In the comments of the aforementioned post, an anonymous commenter took exception to the idea that men (as opposed to sociopaths alone) rape.* Many of the standard arguments came out: women who call unwanted sexual activity like that described in the post “rape” are misandrists/man-haters who believe all male-on-female sex is rape, etc. Again, I found myself wondering why someone would put so much time and effort into trying to put down someone who’d been sexually assaulted, thus defending the man who assaulted her.
After thinking about binaries some, I think I might have an idea of what’s behind it. Feminism has had some effect on the rape culture, so that in the abstract, the average person considers rape to be evil. So I suspect there are men out there who think: “Rape is evil. I am not evil. Therefore I could never rape someone. Similarly, the average man is not evil, therefore the average man couldn’t commit rape. It must be something only truly evil people — sociopaths — do.”
Here’s the thing, though: my belief is that each of us has the potential to do harm to someone else. Sure, the average person is most likely not going to grab a knife and accost someone in a dark alley, but there are times when someone who falls well within the realm of “average,” “normal,” might put their needs above their partner’s, or feel like they need to show their partner, or that woman they just spent $289 on for a swanky dinner and the theater and she flirted the whole time and how dare she say she has a “headache” now, who’s in control (given that the general idea is that “Rape is not about sex to the rapist; it has to do with control and power”).
So with that in mind, why spend so much time and energy trying to decide just how far a man can go with an unwilling woman without calling it rape, and instead work toward making sure sex is engaged in with enthusiastic consent from both/all parties, and is safe and enjoyable for everyone involved?
*Please note that this is distinct from the statement that all men are rapists.