Some thoughts on rape and fear

So apparently Jose Canseco is not only an alleged rapist, but also a douchebag. According to the ever reliable source of The Internets he claimed in court that he is innocent of the charge of rape because he “doesn’t need to rape anyone.”

This is not noteworthy.

What was noteworthy to me, and got me thinking was that the left leaning, progressive, feminist, etc. Facebook page on which I learned this news said:

“More peculiar, however, was Canseco’s assertion to reporters that ‘I don’t have to rape a woman. I think it’s ridiculous.’ Here’s the funny part. Guess what? Nobody has to rape a woman. There is literally no person in the world who has to be a rapist. And you know what else? Rape is not committed by lonely guys who clearly have no other sexual options but to go out and rape.”

The above is take from an article in Salon entitled Nobody “needs” to rape. And I fully support that idea. Nobody ever needs to rape anybody. My quibble is tiny. Virtually nitpicking, but I think it is important as it goes to something I have been seeing repeatedly lately. Look at this one sentence:

“Rape is not committed by lonely guys who clearly have no other sexual options but to go out and rape.”

I would argue that sentence needs a qualifier. Rape is not ONLY committed by lonely guys who clearly have no other sexual options but to go out and rape. Why does this matter? Because sometimes it IS committed by those guys. To ignore that is idiotic. But the commonly accepted wisdom regarding rape is just that, and it has hardened into dogma. These are the things that are written in stone about rape. Rape is an act of violence. Rape has nothing to do with sexual desire. Rape is an act of domination. Rape is rape is rape. There are no different kinds of rape. To say anything else is to be a rape apologist, anti-feminist, and ignorant.

I see only one problem with that. It isn’t always quite true.

Don’t get me wrong. It is mostly true. For a long time I believed it was utterly true, but recently I have really got to thinking about it. It ignores nuance. It is simplistic. And rape is horrible, but it is far from simplistic. And I can see how in the bad old days of the feminist revolution that it needed to be drilled in, in a simple way. Because it is far, far more true than the old mantra of “What was she wearing?” But let me try to explain my problem.

If you say rape is rape is rape, and all rape is violent and non-sexual, you are basically taking a whole group of men and giving them an out. If they can honestly say that they thought they WERE motivated by desire, if they can tell themselves that they were not violent, you are basically telling them that they did not commit rape. There are, in the real world, a whole gamut of situations which are legally rape which no not seem to adhere to the rape=violence definition. An interesting case in pint is a current example where most hardcore feminists are vehemently DEFENDING the accused rapist. The situation? A teenaged lesbian, who is being accused by her girlfriend’s parents of statutory rape. Clearly, in the mind of any right thinking person that is a case of homophobia, not rape. And clearly the victim here is the accused. Yet it shows how there actually DOES exist a spectrum, and hardcore feminists aren’t doing themselves, or anyone else, any favors by holding the line without exception or nuance.

Another example is the reaction to a blog article I recently read. In the blog the author compares a pre-school boy who repeatedly destroys her daughter’s block buildings without parental censure as a potential budding rapist. This drew howls of indignation from those who could not see the behavior as at all analogous. This was because in their mind rape is without exception an act of violence, as well as being so far beyond the pale that to compare childish bullying to rape is ridiculous. This despite the fact that the behavior was indeed an example, writ small. of a male being taught that his desires outweighed any possible complaint by his victim. The idea that in some cases, rape might be conducted almost thoughtlessly by a man who feels entitled to it, does not fit the paradigm. And yet, it has been the case throughout history that men will elicit sex from unwilling women if they think it is allowed that they do so. And I am certain that some of them felt no violent urges. And I am equally certain that some of them felt desire. If you insist that rape=violence in all cases, then is it any surprise that some will plead innocence?

And then we come to another problem I have. I call it Rape on a Pedestal. Rape is considered a crime so heinous, nothing but murder is comparable. In some cases, it is asserted that murder is preferable. Really? It is better to die than be raped? And people wonder why rapes are not reported. If society tells a woman that it would have been better that she fight to the death than allow herself to be raped it is just another side of slut shaming. It tells women that their sexuality is so vitally important a part of her being that she will be permanently damaged by its theft. When that is the unspoken attitude, no amount of being told that it isn’t their fault will keep them from feeling that they themselves are now of less worth than before. If one combines that with a situation in which a woman feels somewhat ambiguous… Maybe I wasn’t clear enough about saying no? I did go out with him three times and I kissed him a lot, and I wanted him to kiss me… Maybe I shouldn’t have done that? Then society’s emphasis on rape as the ultimate despoiling means many women will let it go rather than publicly expose herself as what used to be called damaged goods. Ironically by brutally condemning rape, society is in essence telling women that their sexuality is more important than they are themselves. To be physically beaten nearly to death is a lesser crime than a rape in which the body is left mostly unharmed. If a woman is bruised, broken, concussed… we say, “Thank goodness she wasn’t raped.”

Now I have been groped, pawed, and intimidated. I have even, when much younger, agreed to sex under conditions in which I suspected that an answer of “No” would not have been accepted. I have had sex many, many times when I didn’t particularly want to, but it was easier and faster to just do it. Yet, I cannot honestly say I have been raped, and if I had been perhaps I would feel differently. Yet, I think that all else being equal, I’d rather be raped than stabbed. I would like to say that although I would feel disgusted and violated, I would feel no more so than if I was “merely” assaulted. I would like to say that I would not feel that it was a reflection on my own self-worth, and that it would only show what a scumbag the rapist was. I would like to say that, but I am not sure. So often victims feel shame. And then they feel shame for feeling shame. It is a vicious cycle.

When my immediate reaction to my ex-husband’s philandering was to tell other people, he felt that I was the one who had behaved badly. I had ruined his reputation, and put his livelihood (and therefore my own) in jeopardy. Later, when I discovered that not only had he not stopped as promised, but had escalated his behavior I was told that it was my fault. When I had initially told people what he had done he “no longer had anything to lose.” Now I emphatically reject this, however I am sad to say that he was not without supporters in his view. Just as victims of AIDS are still sometimes viewed with suspicion, so are the victims of tawdry affairs, domestic violence, and rape. It is easy to say that it is wrong to blame the victim, but it is far harder to actually do it.

A self proclaimed feminist friend of mine says that he feels that all women live in fear all the time, every day of their lives. And therefore all children are raised by people who are living in fear. He feels that it poisons society fundamentally, and it is hard to disagree. Yet I feel I must at least try to disagree. Or rather to disagree to an extent. Yes, I live in fear. So does everyone, men and women. We will all die someday, and most of us will endure many terrible things in the meantime. Yet I refuse to allow any aspect of that fear rule my life. I am not going to walk naked through the Tenderloin, but neither am I going to allow fear to keep me from ever going there for Pakistani food. Even alone. I accept that some men may wish to hurt me, but I refuse to see that face in every man. In fact, unless given reason to believe otherwise, I CHOOSE to live my life as if most people I meet will not harm me. Anyone who has ever walked city streets with a small child or cute pet knows that most people want to be kind. Some of the most destitute, dissolute and unwashed people I have ever seen have nonetheless tried to give gifts to my children. And I have accepted them in the spirit in which they were given. Perhaps some of them were bad people, but no one ever hurt us, and I believe that most just wanted a moment to interact with beauty. A moment to feel human. If we allow fear to close us off from the world, we deny ourselves the connections that make us human. And we give power to those who would take it from us.

So Jose Canseco is a douchebag and most likely a criminal. He doesn’t deserve another moment of my time.

I refuse to walk the streets in a burka of fear.

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