Facebook debates. We’ve all had them, we’ve all seen them. They often provide a nice little cross-section of everything that’s wrong with how people communicate about delicate and/or serious issues.
Today was no different for me. Yesterday I’d shared an article discussing sexism with high school boys, originally shared by a wonderful page called Creating Consent Culture by Providing Youth the Tools. The page is run by a Canadian teacher whose goal is to give teachers and students the curriculum tools they need to talk about sexual consent and non-sexual consent with kids as young as five, in order to create a culture of consent rather than one of rape. It’s really awesome, and you should all go like it.
Anyway. The article was re-shared by another friend of mine, who tagged me in it–and I ended up getting into a spirited debate with another woman. Here’s what I learned:
1. People don’t think that holding girls responsible for their own safety is sexist.
This argument is everywhere. Girls shouldn’t wear certain clothes, go to certain places, consume certain things, or fraternize with certain people if they want to stay safe. We teach them to be afraid, essentially. We teach them that it’s their fault if something happens to them. Instead of teach the “strong” not to take advantage of the “weak”, we teach the weak that they are wholly responsible for someone else’s actions.
This mindset is damaging to men too! If you’re a young man who gets jumped, harassed, or taunted with accusations of effeminacy, the responsibility is on you for not being “strong” or “manly” enough to fight off your harassers or deter the harassment in the first place.
This mindset can lead to all kinds of psychological and physical problems for all genders. Think about it. Imagine living with the constant undercurrent of fear, telling you every time you leave your house that not only are you considered ripe for raping, but that everyone will think the most traumatic experience of your life is your fault. Imagine being assaulted and being told that you should have fought harder, been stronger, been better, and that it must have happened to you because you’re weak–the absolute worst thing a man can be.
My favorite quote from the original article is, “The goal should not be to get people to stop walking down alleys, it should be to make every alleyway safe.” The goal should be to shift responsibility from the person being attacked to the person doing the attacking. None of us should be held accountable for what another independent person chooses to do to us.
2. People don’t see the ways they contribute to rape culture.
A culture is not a thing that comes about out of nowhere. It’s the result of millions upon millions of people interacting with each other, and it’s important that we own when things have gone wrong. Rape culture is one way in which society has gone very, very wrong.
First we teach boys that sexual prowess is the greatest thing a boy can have, and we teach girls that they don’t matter if boys don’t like them. We teach boys that girls exist for their sexual consumption. We teach girls that boys won’t like them unless they’re sexually available or at least hinting at being sexually available. Then, when girls do things like wear mini skirts and go out to bars, and flirt, and smile, and get raped or harassed, we blame them for making themselves sexually available. We don’t blame the boys for treating girls like a commodity instead of like people–and we don’t blame ourselves for teaching them to do these terrible things to each other.
When you makes a comment like “Mini skirts provoke guys to rape”, you’re contributing to rape culture. You’re perpetuating the idea that girls should be judged for doing what we’ve taught them to do, and that boys should not be held responsible for taking actions we haven’t taught them are wrong.
Whenever anyone talks about how girls should use more “common sense,” whenever they say “boys will be boys” or “boys have needs,” they are continuing rape culture. Both of these things take away a person’s right to not have sex if they don’t want to. It implies that unless girls/female-presenting have taken arbitrary precautions, they automatically consent, and it implies that boys/male-presenting always, always, always consent–which they don’t.
3. People don’t think it’s possible to end rape culture, or don’t know how.
This Facebook debate started because I pointed out that it is absolutely not anyone’s responsibility to police their own LEGAL behavior (drinking, going out in public) when ILLEGAL behavior (rape, sexual harassment) is NOT being effectively policed. The other person and I agreed that a huge part of ending rape culture is teaching our children not to rape, rather than teaching them how to avoid rape.
Things got testy when I persisted in saying that teaching children not to rape is only half the battle. Other adults and role models exist as the world as examples, and sometimes they say discriminatory things. We must confront sexism, against both men and women, when we see it (this also applies to racism, trans- and homophobia, and many others). We have to call it out and talk about it. It doesn’t always have to be angry. I certainly didn’t start this particular debate angry, and though the other person eventually called me rude and offensive despite the fact that I was agreeing with them and merely building on another idea, I remained calm.
Because it’s a discussion, people. Changing these things is really for everyone’s benefit. For everyone who wanted to go out and have fun, but was too afraid. For everyone who walks to their car with their keys through their fingers. For everyone who never reported an assault because they didn’t want to be blamed, or teased, or belittled, or told that their assault wasn’t “real” or significant. For every person who has ever swallowed their panic and tried to laugh at a joke that objectified them.
I can’t think of a single person who benefits from rape culture, except, you know–rapists. And who wants to be on their side?
Oh yeah. Other rapists.