January 24, 2013 Leave a comment
To end our trilogy on rape culture – our original op-ed, Shan De Leers’ vivid recollections – we asked a male ally to give his own point of view on rape culture, peer pressure, and patriarchy. We felt our coverage of what has been dubbed a rape pandemic would not be complete unless a man got to speak up. Rare are the men who will stand up against the unspeakable actions of their friends, their schoolmates, their relatives, but Zack Fowler is one of them. At eighteen, this soon-to-be college freshman from Atlanta, GA shares his stance on patriarchy, rape culture, and his innate respect for women.
It is incredibly difficult, as a man, to find something substantial to say about rape culture. This is a problem (indeed, an epidemic) of which I will never be a victim. I’ve been objectified and I’ve been bullied and I’ve gone through hell, but I will never know what it feels like to be inundated with reminders that society feels propriety over my body. Additionally, Sarah Kay and Shan de Leers are both brilliant and accomplished women whose respective pieces on this blog covered a great deal of ideological ground with eloquence and compassion, while I’m a stinky undergrad. With that in mind, I think of this article as less of a follow up to those pieces, and more as an afterword concerning my experience with the issue as a man living in the infamous bible-belt.
“Rape culture is the systematic reinforcement of the sense of propriety that we men are taught to have over women”
I remember when I was fourteen, a women I knew and loved very dearly was severely beaten by her boyfriend. When the police arrived, they said they couldn’t file charges against him because they didn’t actually witness the beating. This woman, this strong, beautiful woman lay crumpled and crying on the floor with bruises developing around her neck, bruises that would be black by the time I saw her, could not file charges. Because of the nature of domestic abuse, she spent over a year with this man before finally having the strength to leave him. Besides abuse counseling, there were no resources available to her.
I understand that rape culture is associated (as it should be) with sexual assault, but this epidemic is beyond sexuality. Rape culture is the systematic reinforcement of the sense of propriety that we men are taught to have over women. Despite laws to the contrary, there is still an element of our upbringing that leads us to believe that we can claim a woman, drag her back to the cave, and have our way with her. It’s our business if we beat her, it’s our business if we rape her; she has only the value we assign to her. She is territory; her voice is superfluous and her desires are unnecessary. She IS defined by her hemline, she WAS asking for it, she is a receptacle for your fluids and she should be grateful.
We have to be better than this.
We HAVE to be better than this. For us to have any value as human beings, as sentient life-forms, we have to be better than this. You, you reading this, YOU have to be better than this, because the end of rape culture lies not only in solidarity amongst victims (like the various Slutwalk organizations), but in sympathy among those unaffected. Only the silent majority can cement any change the oppressed minority proposes. Just as Dr. King addressed the white moderates in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, we have to address the unaffected (and unintentional) enablers of rape culture to see any change. To act against the many behaviors that make up this problem, you have to approach this in three tiers: do no commit these behaviors, do not enable these behaviors, and do all you can to fight back.
Most of the men I’ve seen engaging in this deplorable behavior have done so in ignorance, so let’s get this out of the way: if you commit any act that treats another person as property rather than individual, you are rape culture. If you yell profanity at a girl on the street, even and especially if her clothes are revealing, you are rape culture. If you lie to a girl to make her fuck you, you are rape culture. If you beat your partner for literally any reason besides self-defense, you are rape culture. If you have sex with an unconscious girl, regardless of what chemicals she put in her system, you are rape culture (and, while we’re at it, you are a rapist). The first tier of resistance is to abstain from these and similar acts. Most men are innocent of most of them, but some of the less violent acts are common social behaviors accepted even by women.
“We as men cannot tie our self-worth to the whims of the ethically bankrupt alpha-male”
My experience with rape culture has led me to place most of the blame on enablers, rather than the perpetrators of these acts. So often in a room full of men, one will say that the appropriate way to go about something is by devaluing the woman involved, and the others are too afraid to speak up. This is where the perpetual motion machine that is rape culture is most pitiful, I think, because easing the pain of a single victim is worth every homophobic slur ever conceived. If I could take away the pain of a single rape victim, I would plaster FAGGOT across my chest for the world to see. This has to be the behavioral paradigm before there can be progress. We as men cannot tie our self-worth to the whims of the ethically bankrupt alpha-male, because if we do, we enable that person to augment the pain and terror of innocents, and we help put every woman at risk. To me, this is undoubtedly the most important step in eliminating the status quo, and there is absolutely no reason that every respectable man should not take this to heart.
My view on charity and activism is that with all the myriad and complex hurts that corrupt the world, it’s better to have a few issues that serve as an area of focus so that contribution becomes a feasible goal of the common person; this is why I prioritize the first two tiers above the third. Nevertheless, fighting back to greater or lesser extent should be a realistic goal for everyone. If you have the time and resources, attend or donate to the nearest Slutwalk (*) or similar demonstration. Write your Senator of Congressperson (or other legislator for readers outside the US) in regard to upcoming legislation. However, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to empower victims of assault and harassment. Statistically speaking, you probably know one. Let them know that they should always feel safe around you, let them know that what happened to them is not their fault, let them know that they are not alone.
“I also understand that the cornerstone of sentience is the capacity to resist nature in favor of civilization”
I understand lust. I understand that gnawing, overwhelming urge that tells you that the body you see should be yours. I also understand that the cornerstone of sentience is the capacity to resist nature in favor of civilization. I understand that compassion trumps desire every time, and that’s all you need. If you’re a victim reading this, I want you to know that you are still beautiful, that you CAN go on and you CAN overcome. If you’re in any way a perpetrator or enabler of rape culture reading this, I want you to know that it is your personal responsibility to be better. There is no excuse. Most importantly, though, if you are reading this from the sidelines, I really and truly need you to know that you are the ultimate deciding force in this cultural war. Get up and find something you can do to ensure that when it’s all said and done, rape culture is a thing of the past.
(*) we linked to the Toronto SlutWalk, home of the initial demonstration; most SlutWalks are now taking places in major capital cities around the world. London, Paris, New York, Chicago all have SlutWalks held every year.