Sunday, February 01, 2009

Othering rapists

Wellington City Council are up with the mid 1990s and currently running a campaign called "Safe in The City." Anita wrote about this campaign at Kiwipolitico. I'd seen the comment thread referred to as interesting - although I didn't realise until I went there it was interesting in the sense that you curse someone by wishing them 'interesting times'. If you feel like seeing the depth of denial about rape culture you could check that thread out (there are some really useful comments in there, but they have to fight through people claiming that "women can't rape men" and people denying that they'd ever know a rapist).

The claim that Anita made that so incensed the commenters on that thread as:

The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.
Given the figures I discussed recently about the number of male college students in the US who have admitted to raping someone, and that studies of New Zealand women show a similar rape prevelance to other areas, what Anita said should be uncontroversial.

But rhetorical rapists abound in that thread, and understanding of rape as it's experienced by women is lacking (despite women disclosing their own experiences).

The belief that rapists are different from normal people is linked with the idea that prison can solve rape. This connection was made explicit on the thread by one commenter who says that if he knew anyone he knew was a rapist, that'd be one more rapist behind bars. As I've said before, this line is a basic of upholding the prison system. As long as rapists, along with other 'criminals' are scary others - the reality of the prison system need not concern most people.

This idea is dangerous because when people hear that one of their male friends has been accused of raping one of their female friends, then in order to believe their female friend something has to give. Either people abandon their idea that rapists are all 'bad people' or they abandon the idea that their friend is a good person. But often neither of these things happen, and instead this person (who had been rigorously berating the evils of rape) doesn't believe the woman who was raped.

Rapists don't have horns, sonic signals, or anything else that identifies them. Talking about rape as if they do doesn't help fight rape, and it doesn't help get any form of justice.

* As a side point I've been meaning to write about these ads for a while and could never figure out what to say. While I agree with all the points Anita makes, I think "stick with the girls" is less punitive and more likely to work than the vast majority of anti-rape advice that is given to women. Clearly there is an undertone of "don't have a one night stand you slut." But "marginally less awful policing of women's behaviour" isn't exactly a blog post waiting to happen.


  1. Anonymous9:06 pm

    I was wondering whether you considered your descriptions of rapists as "scum", and your statement that you "hated" them, as othering.

  2. Anonymous1:47 am

    I'd say it was more like understandable rage at the millenia-long war on human women. When followed by comments about how we understand that rapists are everywhere and may even be your nice, charming friends, I tend to let these things go.

    Then again, I'm not quite as nit-picky as some anonymous commenters it would seem.

  3. Anonymous7:17 pm


    Have you talked to your friends about getting them to stop raping other women/men yet?

    Who is the rapist in your group of friends?

  4. Anonymous3:43 pm

    A male friend once told me it hit him hard when he realized, by inference, that an awareness-raising campaign comment "likely a woman close to you has been raped" also probably means "likely a man close to you has raped a woman." This had a profound effect on me too. I started thinking about the incredibly passive language of such stats and campaigns. Women simply can't say such obvious truths, as it's seen as male-bashing. More men need to become socially aware and politically active on these issues. I strongly recommend reading Jackson Katz's "The Macho Paradox."

  5. Anonymous7:12 am

    I am still staggered at the sexism of anyone who believes that women are inherently so nice that they would never, ever fail to get consent.

    Forcing the issue into "men, and only men, rape women, and only women" causes women to see themselves as pure victims and men to see themselves as pure victimisers. I don't think that's helpful (and not just to victims of women's failure to meet the standard above).

    Perhaps campaign for women to stop raping? Even though that also means talking about women as sexual agents, which is another cultural taboo.

  6. *sigh* I struggle w/ this so much. What DO I do as a bystander to such people? Yes, I do know people who have failed to get consent, and they've got varying levels of "fixing" their past behavior. (One can't handle saying she raped someone, but can handle realizing how wrong it was and never, ever doing it again; the other told one of his victims that he didn't want to "hear about it," because he didn't want to "not like himself. The former is my friend; the latter is just an acquaintance I see through a hobby; I only know what he said through an actual friend who was the aforementioned victim.)


    Anyway, found you through the socialist carnival, which I found through Belledame's Fetch me my axe.