The Latest Outrage...
While you await the next outrage, please enjoy this recent essay written by one angry girl
I have a well-meaning friend who sends me cautionary emails. She is a fellow mom of a preschooler, and her emails warn of new and unpredictable dangers, such as expired pancake mix, which nearly killed a local high school student. This week, her message warned of a "new rapist trick" that I am supposed to forward to all the women I know.
Apparently some woman outwitted a potential rapist who told her to open her car door so he could return a five-dollar bill she'd allegedly dropped at the mini-mart. She saved herself from this imminent attack by knowing for sure that she hadn't been carrying any fives that evening. Takeaway message: memorize the denominations of cash in your wallet, and you will be a bit safer.
I've seen this kind of "outwit a rapist" email circulated a few times before. Don’t wear headphones because they’ll make you less alert. Carry your keys in your hand. Check the back seat of your car, or look under your car before you get in. Don't leave your drink unattended at a bar. Always have a trusted friend to watch out for you when you are at a party. The litany goes on. Follow all these helpful hints, all the time, and you just might be safe.
Or you might not. Rapists are always refining their craft, so new and improved tips are sure to follow.
To me, these warnings closely resemble advice given to hikers and campers venturing into bear country. Make a lot of noise so the bear knows of your presence. Hold a coat above your head to make yourself appear larger. Do not climb a tree, because bears are really good at that.
Note that the park rangers don’t suggest that we try to understand why the bear wants to hurt us, or that we should collectively work to eliminate a bear's natural instinct to attack humans in its territory. Bears are just bears, and sometimes they will try to kill us, or sometimes they won't, so it is best to simply stay out of their way.
If this is true, then the women of this country seem to be on an extended camping trip, deep in bear country, and the bears are called men. The men are everywhere. They will probably rape us, but they might not, and anyway there is nothing we can do to change their behavior. All we can do is change our behavior in frantic attempts to outwit them.
Is it working? Hardly. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, incidents of sexual violence in America increased by 25% from 2005 to 2007. Have women gotten lazy or complacent in their efforts to thwart the bears, or have the bears gotten more prevalent and more violent? Who is addressing this question?
I haven't noticed any major research organization undertaking the problem of why so many men have become rapists, and why they enjoy hurting women. People either avoid the issue entirely, or mistakenly focus on women’s role in preventing violence.
For example: How many times have you heard or read an account of a sexual assault and immediately, almost reflexively, ticked off the 2 or 3 things the victim did “wrong”? Well, I would never have drunk that much/gone to that part of town/been alone with that man. This made you feel a bit safer, and you were able to push the horrible story out of your head.
Did you also pause to identify 2 or 3 things that the rapist could have done to prevent himself from raping the poor woman in the first place?
Why not? Because some guys are just like that...they won’t change.
It’s not just some guys, my friends. Apparently it’s a lot of guys. And they’re getting more brazen each year. They’re uploading videos of their crimes to the Internet. They’re inviting their buddies to join in the fun. They’re masturbating on subway cars in the heart of Manhattan. They’re confident of their impunity.
I received another email from a man who suggested that I put more energy into promoting women's self-defense classes. The rape and murder rates of women could be greatly reduced, he declared, if all women would learn effective ways of defending themselves.
I countered that rape and murder rates of women could be greatly reduced if men would simply stop raping and murdering us. He conceded that I had a good point, but that this was not a realistic solution. Men have these violent tendencies, and you can't change that, blah blah blah.
If men are just like bears and therefore intractably, unpredictably violent creatures, then why do they get to live among us? Why are they permitted to roam free? Shouldn't they be contained in zoo-like compounds to minimize harm to women?
If men are unreachable by human reason and ruled only by the most primitive parts of their brains, then why the hell do they get to run almost every government and corporation on earth? Why are they permitted to interact with their prey, start families or have contact with vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly? Why aren’t they being treated en masse for Testosterone Imbalance Disorder?
People accuse feminists of hating men. But Andrea Dworkin, the most vilified of feminists, said the following in 1983: “I don't believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here...Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It's not because there's a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence."
Not much has changed since then. Men still don’t consider themselves a population capable of, or in need of, rehabilitation. But nobody accuses them of hating themselves.
But it's not all the men, you protest. Just some of them are dangerous, and the rest are safe, and if you’re vigilant, you can steer clear of the dangerous ones.
If that’s true, then why aren’t we pouring all our available resources into increasing the numbers of “safe men”, and reducing the numbers of “dangerous men”? And if we can’t rehabilitate our current crop of rapists, why don’t we concentrate our efforts on raising the next generation of boys to be 100% safe? I don’t see this happening - we seem to be doing the exact opposite. We’re feeding our young boys a steady diet of women-hating media in every format available. The Parents Television Council reported in November 2009 that violence against female television characters increased 120% between 2004 and 2009.
We're so inured to male violence against women that it's become like the weather: god-given, often severe, occasionally fatal, but certainly not controllable. Is that what we truly believe about half our population? But if men are not merely walking tornadoes, and in fact capable of renouncing their sexual violence, then why isn't everybody working on that problem instead? Because time after time, the experts (and the general public) put the burden on women to take responsibility for not being raped, as if we alone could eliminate violence against ourselves.
We do not expect this of any other group. I don’t think anyone told Holocaust survivors that it was their own bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody is telling the people of Darfur or the Congo now that genocide is somehow their fault because they were born in a conflict-prone region. We do not tell families mourning dead soldiers that it was a dumb idea to let their kid join the armed forces in the first place. Yet women are judged for failing to prevent violence against themselves.
Granted, this is a problem that women have a greater incentive to solve. Why should men cut back on their sexual violence? They are rarely held accountable for it. The status quo has actually been working out quite well for them. How many women do you know who have been the victim of a sexual assault? Probably a half dozen, or more. And how many men do you know who have done prison time for sexual assault? Probably zero.
I realize that these are uncomfortable things to think about, which is why only feminists are willing to think about them. It’s much more pleasant to discuss the Jen/Angelina rivalry or a baseball game than to sit with the knowledge that you have a one-in-three chance of being raped in your lifetime, and the rapist will likely be someone you already know.
If America really cared about the well-being of its female population, it would pour money and resources into solving the origins of sexual violence against women. Surely if we put our heads together, we can begin to unravel the mystery of why rapists want to rape women. It shouldn't be that hard to puzzle out. Start by flipping on the nearest TV.
So I won’t be forwarding my friend’s warning email. I won’t perpetuate the illusion that women can keep themselves safe from men - men will have to do that by themselves. But since I’m helpful, I’ll give them a little tip to get started: circulate this email instead.