Rape keeps coming up, it’s not over.
I believe that the vast majority of people understand consent and understand it plenty. I believe that the people who sexually assault are clear on what they are doing and, for the most part, why they are doing it. And that while talking about the “why” of rape is very important, it’s how we talk about it, and how we talk about the culture undergirding violence is also vital.
I like many of the people at Good Men Project. I wrote there for about 9 months, moderated for about 6 months. I feel close to a number of the editors, have learned a huge amount from Lisa Hickey, admired many of the writers, and even some of the commenters who I disagreed with (and stridently, more often than not) on the boards.
It’s been a damn hard thing for me to watch all of the past posts and flames and arguments rise up, to see attacks on both sides, defensiveness in many places, and misunderstandings even based on simple words, core view points and understandings perhaps that are fundamentally different leading to animosity even when the topic is something both want to help change the culture around.
I’m also a feminist, academically oriented, and an advocate for consent, healthy happy sex, equal and mutual pleasure and health in relationships, non violent communication, and a believer that words like privilege, oppression, rape culture come from real places.
The combination of feminist Julie and curious seeker at GMP Julie has placed me at odds with both GMP and many feminists in the ‘sphere, but so be it. I’ve joked that there probably aren’t any sites that would want me to write for them at this point, because I don’t pick one side. I can’t. I seek a place outside those poles, which is tricky because I worry it just looks like equivocating, but I cannot give up on the gut instinct in my core that we are missing something outside of all of it, these poles, that the poles themselves are part of the problem.
Today, I read these pieces by Jill Filopovic from Feministe, one is about why the situation at GMP matters. One is at the Guardian UK and brings up a horrific rape and assault incident in Steubenville, Ohio which I hadn’t heard about.
Steubenville, with it’s group of boys sexually assaulting, urinating on, and photographing an intoxicated to the point of passing out girl, is the quintessential example of the culture of violence and dominance that makes the victim into the problem, and the perpetrators apparently innocent because “boys will be boys” or “she shouldn’t have acted that way” or “she was lying to cover up being drunk.” All while worrying about how it will affect the football team, neighbors threatening neighbors, people suing journalists and bloggers for daring to post the evidence that the perps were trying to destroy.
Jill’s piece on all of this is important. I’m glad she’s stuck with it because I think she’s right. I think the things Jill says about rape tropes and myths and shattering them are important and right and that several of the pieces at GMP missed that mark, but not because they wanted to be apologists, because they don’t see what Jill sees.
The GMP also has a piece just up on Rape Culture 101, and it does an excellent job of outlining what rape culture is and why we need to talk about it. I’m glad to see it up, and I’m glad they are going to be posting more pieces on consent and what it actually is. I’m glad they are asking for support and are willing to expand their knowledge base.
None of us know all, that’s for sure.
But this I do know, at least about rape and consent, and that’s all I have at the moment.
We spend years working with our kids from babyhood onward teaching them things like, “Use your words” and “gentle touch” and “keep your hands to yourself” and “ask if your friend wants to share.” We emphasize (at least in all the daycares my kids were at, and all the grades from K-5th) those things, these ideas of CONSENT! Don’t touch without permission, don’t take without asking, don’t hit, don’t steal, don’t bother your neighbor!
Why bother teaching them to be nice at all, if this is what comes? Why not teach them from the get go to be mean and cruel and attack first and take and might makes right?
Because we know that’s wrong.
And those boys did too.
Beyond that, I say again we need to look at the bigger overarching culture of violence we live in here in America, in our increasingly disconnected, increasingly corporate and greedy and consumptive, increasingly war-like, Don’t Tread On Me focused culture, where we are finally finally starting to really talk about guns, control, safety, and oppression. How we are all part of it. How there is a crisis around masculinity (and this is an excellent article on just that, and how it has played out in Newtown and other shootings), but I don’t think it’s just gendered one way. I don’t. I think it’s deeper then that and that women play a role in violence as well, because how could we not?
If this is the water we are swimming in, one where we are affected by racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and more, how can we divide the problem up into poles where men are bad and women are good? Gays are great and straights are jerks? People of color are perfect and whites are evil? This is just back to the poles of dominance and emotional (and physical violence) which keeps trapping us all in some sick sick cycle.
If I learned anything at SJTI, it was that whites are as deeply affected by racism as people of color only in kind of a mirrored way. And until whites truly integrate that understanding and call it out, and be willing to live in a way that is risky and dangerous (because to stand up against oppression means people will hate you for pushing), we don’t make movement towards real change, real peace.
We all have to take our place in figuring out the pain of masculinity, the pressures of heterosexuality, the privilege of whiteness, and as I said to Hugo Schwyzer on a post of his, it’s not about deferring to men to help them be better, coddling them in their pain but nor is it pushing them to be better human beings.
We ALL have to be better human beings first, and we have to hold out our hands to each other as we do try to heal, as we can, having faith that others will help us too, even if it’s hard.
This isn’t about just men or race or age or orientation, this is about all of us trying to find a way to peace in a culture that seems hell-bent on keeping us from that heavenly place all while crying out to the winds it’s pain at feeling lost and afraid.
I do not have answers. I’m as stumped and afraid as everyone else. I have children, male white children, who have been born into this place, this culture and it scares the hell out of me.
What do you do? What do I do?
I’m trying to keep teaching them what’s right and kind. And pointing out where we all intersect in it and how to step out of it whenever possible even if it means losing friends, or not being popular or getting kicked off the team. And I’m trying to protect them in the most non violent ways I know how.
And I’ll keep telling them to be gentle, use their words, and ask if their friends want to share.
Right now that seems like the best start.