Lately I've been talking about rape culture and how it feels to live in it as a women, and how most people don't seem to care about it - including many women. Though I think that it's a defense mechanism for many women. They may appear to not care, but they're really avoiding thinking about it, making excuses to believe it's not as prevalent as it seems or will never happen to them, or just shutting themselves down emotionally when faced with the idea because it's too scary and disturbing. I know I do this sometimes. Sometimes it just gets to be too much.
But with men, I really think they don't understand how terrible rape is, at all, even though they can experience it. I've seen men watch scenes in movies or TV shows where a man is clearly making a woman nervous, uncomfortable, or simply terrified in the way he's touching her or talking to her, and they'll laugh about it. Women might laugh along, but at least some of them will be visibly disturbed. And the men don't even seem to pick up on this reaction. They remain oblivious.
It's not just my own observations. The author of the young adult novel Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson, can back me up. Speak is a novel about a 9th grade girl who is raped by a senior, and, as many women and girls do, decides not to tell anyone. She becomes isolated from her friends, her grades decline over the following year, and she deals with a deepening depression as she navigates the symptoms of PTSD and feelings of despair. I read this book when I was in middle school, and the rape scene, though quick and not super explicit, disturbed me horribly.
According to the author, many boys who read it did not have the same reaction.
Well before Steubenville, "I was shocked when I realized how ignorant boys are about this," she told me. "It became clear in 2002, after five years of pretty heavy school visits, and people putting the book into the curriculum. In every single demographic—country, city, suburban, various economic classes, ethnic backgrounds—I'd go into a class and talk about the book. And usually by the end, a junior boy would say, 'I love the book, but I really didn’t get why she was so upset.' I heard that so many times.
Anderson goes on to talk about the myth of violent stranger rape, but it's more than that. The protagonist of Speak was clearly raped, and she actually recognizes it as such, which is actually kind of unusual. She explicitly calls it rape, and even as a young, uneducated teen, I recognized it for what it was immediately. There was no doubt in my mind that she was raped. I'd never been taught about consent or how being drunk isn't consent (and in fact makes consent impossible). I'd never heard of rape culture. But I knew.
I don't believe that the boys who read it thought that it wasn't rape. I think that boys and men in our society don't experience anything close to the same emotional reaction to the idea of rape than women do.
I also don't see anyone explicitly putting forth this idea, that men really, really don't get it. That they don't understand how bad rape it. Probably because they can predict the reaction. But I'm here to be honest, so here it is. I see men react hardly at all to the idea of rape, while most women are repulsed and horrified by it.
One final observation to support this idea comes from discussions or arguments I've had where the comparison between rape and murder arises. I've seen many men talk about rape and murder as though it's the same, such as in arguments that we have tons of killing in video games, so why not rape? This idea was so prevalent that it was addressed in a Jim Sterling video, partially because the argument was made by one of the fucking Penny Arcade assholes. Yeah, some of the most influential figures in gamer culture think that murder and rape are the same.
But even more striking is the fact that I've had multiple arguments where a dude will challenge me by asking whether I'd prefer to be raped or murdered. The answer is that I would prefer to be murdered. I'd rather die than be raped. And I am not the only woman I know who has expressed this same preference. Yet these men are astonished by my answer. So much so that they always refuse to believe me. They think I'm lying, they say that no one could possibly prefer death.
I'm not lying. I wish I didn't prefer death, honestly. Doing what I do isn't easy when rape is so disturbing to me that I'd rather die than experience it. But it's also the reason why I have to fight it. So.
I don't have a large sample size on this, but I'd be curious to see the difference between men and women here. I'd hypothesize that many more women would prefer death than men.
Why the difference? Why can't men seem to grasp how awful rape is? I've never met a guy who expressed the same revulsion to the idea of rape as I feel. Ever. And it kind of haunts me. Does the sickness of our society run so deep? Are the emotions of men, due to how we raise them, so stunted? How did this happen? How can we possibly stop rape culture when men don't even understand how horrible rape is?
I really don't have an answer to this. I guess I thought I'd start by actually addressing it.