(Trigger warning: discussion of victim blaming, rape culture)
I link back to Schrödinger’s Rapist what feels like once a week. I absolutely love this piece. It is incredibly useful in illustrating a uniquely female experience.
The idea of the piece is to explain why women can be so defensive when approached in public. A lot of people surely need the explanation: I’ve had my share of arguments with grouchy dudes who complain that some woman is trying to put a feminist slant on being approached when really, it’s a purely human problem, because everyone gets approached when they don’t want to be! Well, of course they do. Women harass, assault, and rape men, women oppress, women hate, women do horrible things. Hell yes, they do! However, to say that a woman badgering a man in public is the same as a woman being badgered by a man? That, I can’t get on board with.
This brings me to what I would add to Starling’s piece: patriarchy hurts you, too, gentlemen, most certainly– just not in the same way it hurts women, and it’s the “how” it hurts you that matters so much when we talk about approaching people in public.
Here’s how it hurts you (in this particular case): it tells you that a woman can’t be a threat to your safety, that you don’t need to give consent because you always want sex, that you don’t have the mental capacity to judge when it is and is not appropriate to approach a potential partner, that you can’t control what your sexual urges cause you to do, that you think with your genitals, not your brain. Our culture teaches that men may be strong and smart and capable of cultural dominance and fantastic achievement, but when they haven’t gotten laid recently? They’re just erections with people attached to them so they can seek out a vagina. If they see a pretty lady or a pair of perky boobs? He isn’t accountable for what happens next. Sex is never tied up in a man’s emotions– just his junk. We all absorb these messages, regardless of sex or gender, but it means different things for different groups. For men, it means getting a pass on a lot of unacceptable behavior. Most men (based on Starling’s one in sixty statistic) probably can’t think of a time that they completely lost control and were simply dragged along their penis’s path of destruction– at worst, they hear that men who lose control have sex with ugly/fat chicks and get crabs. TEE HEE.
(I’ll take a moment here for a disclaimer: of course these expectations are harmful to men, and absolutely barbaric. I could go on and on about the marginalization of men who are abused, raped, and hurt by women, and on some more about how a male survivor is likely to feel victimized again and again for a different set of reasons than a female survivor…but that is for a different post.)
And here is how that same idea about men hurts women: it means that men are all very dangerous, and women need to protect themselves. Social cues teach women that there are a million and one ways to avoid inciting men’s boner-blackouts, and that we must be diligent to all of these things: don’t walk alone, don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t wear tight clothing, don’t wear too much makeup, don’t drink, don’t go back to a male friend’s dwelling, don’t invite him to yours, don’t have sex with anyone ever under any circumstances if you don’t plan to always have sex under all circumstances, and on and on the list goes. Should we fail to perform these tasks at all times, we are putting ourselves at risk; we are taught that we must be on guard all the time in order to minimize our chances of getting assaulted and maximize our chances of garnering sympathy should we get assaulted anyway. Almost no survivor is sacred, because there are so many inconsequential things she should have known not to do. She shouldn’t have been so pretty! She shouldn’t have been a chambermaid! She shouldn’t have been Latina or black! She shouldn’t have kissed the man she just went on a date with and wanted to see again! Did you see the way she smiled at him? If she didn’t want to have sex, she shouldn’t have been teasing that poor man. She wouldn’t have done all that if she weren’t careless or worse, LOOKING for drama and sex and money. This message is constantly driven home not just by the intangible, but by actual news reports that focus on a victim’s appearance, profession, personality, clothing, and sexual history, rather than the fact that she was violently assaulted.
Boys get their cultural lessons with a laugh. “Boys, your penises take over sometimes! BE CAREFUL, YOU MIGHT WAKE UP NEXT TO COW.” Girls get their cultural lessons in a hushed voice full of fear. “Do not wake the beast, lest you be violently assaulted and blamed for it!”
So, gentlemen, think about it: did you ever have any doubts as to your ability to not go on a sex rampage?
Similarly, we know that all our rules will get us nowhere, so we do go out and drink wearing sexy clothing, and we dance and flirt and have a great time, and we forget all about them. But fear is a powerful teacher. It could be almost anything- it might be seeing a visibly intoxicated woman alone, it might be the way a man looks at us from across the bar, it might be a news story, or it might be a guy getting too forward with us- and suddenly we remember, and the fear surges back into our hearts, and we cover up and sober up and think of all the things we are doing “wrong,” knowing that if something does happen, if this nice man does turn out to be that one in sixty, there are so many things that we’ll be told we should have done.