Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Rape and unreason

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  • Lilith __, in reply to Morgan Nichol,

    It’s always bittersweet because when I see a woman walking in front of me through a park or down a dark street who is obviously disturbed by my presence (and it is obvious), she thinks I’m a threat, but I know that as long as I’m there literally nothing bad can possibly happen, no matter what kind of scumbag is around.

    But there’s no way for them to know that.

    Some men cross the street so it's clear they're not "following". That can help.

    And you guys? If you ever see a woman looking like she's in a tight spot, hang around, loiter nearby, stare.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lilith __,

    Some men cross the street so it’s clear they’re not “following”. That can help.

    I think I’ve shared the story before of walking home late at night on Ponsonby Road and deliberately putting some distance between me and her so she wouldn’t have to worry that I might be a threat.

    But no matter how briskly I walked, I didn’t seem to be able to stretch the gap. Eventually she called out and asked me to slow down, because even though I was a stranger, she felt more comfortable walking with someone who seemed okay. We laughed, once we’d recovered from this unexpected bout of suburban speedwalking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Heather Gaye, in reply to Dylan Reeve,

    Righto, I feel like everyone’s putting forward identical opinions – telling women not to go out at night feeds into *exactly* the idea that all men are rapists – but that you’re complaining about a particular message you’re hearing that noone here is actually putting forward (or agrees with). But also maybe there’s been no acknowledgement that there might be more severe messages you’ve been subject to that are actually quite offensive…?

    But I think a message that equates to “men, don’t rape” is somehow implicitly endorsing the idea that not raping is not the normal condition, that it requires some level of conditioning or restraint. It doesn’t.

    That said, I think what everyone’s trying to say isn’t that rape is “normal” (common, yes, but not “normal”), but that enthusiastic consent isn’t. We’re living in a society where the convention has for a long time been that men are expected to pursue sex and women are expected to be the protectors of their chastity. So much stuff, from restrictive abortion rights, to the opprobrium heaped on single mothers, can be traced back to this idea that a woman that has sex outside the most stern of social prescriptions has failed in her one significant obligation.

    In the other corner, it sets up the expectation in a *lot* of men (and perhaps you don’t know any of them) that when they first want to have sex with a woman they’re going to have to “compete” against her “natural” defense of her chastity, in order to get what they want – basically that it’s normal to have to convince a woman to sleep with them. This is where the line between sex and rape gets blurred, since the guy already has expectations of some resistance. For what it’s worth, the obligation of women to be “hard-to-get” – (not appear too eager at risk of being known as a slut and thus being told (eventually) that she probably wanted anything any guy ever did to her) messes things up even further, declining sex when they do actually want it, with the presumption that the guy will persevere, so they can wait for a suitable amount of effort before they defer.

    This is changing, and it’s not entirely universal, and that’s great, but I think this is the issue that the women here are challenging – that every guy needs to be aware of the social conditions that have caused that line to blur. If you’re nowhere near the line, then gold star for you.

    The one thing I took issue to is your comments about sometimes explicit consent isn't feasible: well, that’s a cultural thing and I’d actually like to see that change. I recently read an article (probably linked from someone here, actually) about how women don’t get the chance to say “yes” enough. Standard picture for sex is that people just start smooching on the couch, no talking, he starts trying his luck. Default is they have sex in the perfect non-talky sexy way we see in the media, but if not, onus is on the woman to tell the man to slow down. Article basically suggested that hey, wouldn’t it be awesome – for both people – if there was more of “hey, do you like that? do you want me to..? how bad do you want it?” and have your partner tell you how much they’re really into it?

    I think when people start complaining about “consent”, the naysayers have a picture in their head of a guy on bended knee saying “May I have your permission to touch your boob” or some nonsense like that. There was an amazing pilot scheme in NZ a few years back for upper high school / university students (I think it eventually lost funding), pushing the concept of ethical relationships and enthusiastic consent. The idea was to counter this notion of men as pursuers and women as defenders in favour of the model where sex is something that two people actively pursue together (or three people, or eight-and-a-gimp, whatever suits, although I doubt the permutations were part of the programme). Utopia!

    Morningside • Since Nov 2006 • 533 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    I think when people start complaining about “consent”, the naysayers have a picture in their head of a guy on bended knee saying “May I have your permission to touch your boob” or some nonsense like that.

    The idea that ensuring explicit consent is dull is just… you get it’s ‘talking about sex’, right? Now, I understand that finding ‘explicitly drawing up a contract and signing it’ incredibly hot isn’t really ‘normal’, but it’s not, like Heather says, stopping and sitting on your hands and running down a check-list. Sometimes, it’s like this. [Explicit content, won’t look rude if someone glances over your shoulder, but Goodness Me.]

    Just that explicit enthusiastic consent is a really good thing to be sure about if you wish to be a better lover than "not a rapist."

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I don't count myself as having been sexually assaulted but I can think of several times where it was a pretty close thing.. There has been more than one occasion where a (perfectly nice and normal) guy has assumed consent and I've had to decide, in the moment, whether I'm ok with what is happening. I have to trust that a 'no' would have been heard but I don't know for sure.

    These guys were not bad people, they probably didn't see themselves as potential rapists. They were doing sex according to the dominant memes of the time where spontaneity is sexy and women like men who are masterful. They were young men who were embarrassed to talk about sex so leapt straight to action.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    women don’t get the chance to say “yes” enough. Standard picture for sex is that people just start smooching on the couch, no talking, he starts trying his luck, and at a certain point the woman tells the man to slow down. Article basically suggested that hey, wouldn’t it be awesome – for both people – if there was more of “hey, do you like that? do you want me to..? how bad do you want it?” and have your partner tell you how much they’re really into it?

    So much this. And it doesn’t just apply to basic consent for sexual activity, good communication is also about discussing with your partner about what stuff you do and don’t like, what they like and don’t like, and also what you both feel like doing on a particular occasion.

    Doesn’t matter how well you think you know your partner, either. I lived with a guy for several years before he mentioned that a thing I sometimes did, he didn’t like. Boy, was I surprised. And embarrassed. Then a while later down the track he decided he did want me to do that thing. I know that because he told me so. :-)

    There’s really no substitute for talking.

    ETA: oh snap, Emma.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • kmont, in reply to Isabel Hitchings,

    Totally this! I have consented to things but been pretty concerned about the approach from guys that have been socialised to aggressively give it a go when they think you are a wee bit vulnerable. Enthusiastic sexy consent for the win. Lets teach our kids this.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Danielle,

    We totally are soaking in it, and it does get in.

    I've never felt as utterly powerful as the days I spent in my early 20s walking around Tokyo at midnight, by myself, in a blissful bubble of ignorance, having been told (I forget by whom) that it was perfectly safe to do so. It was mad, and it was wonderful, and it was the exact opposite of everything I'd been taught, explicitly and subliminally, about how to behave in the world. For those brief shining moments, I felt like a free person. On those nights, nothing "happened" to me -- except the overwhelming feeling of gaining a whole extra dimension of humanity.

    But the old messages die hard and old habits (and the evidence of my own experience and friends, even though so much of the evidence was domestic in its location, familiar in its perpetration) soon kicked back in. Safety first; trim your wings; curb your enthusiasm; abandon the streets, hide from the dark.

    Recently, via a combination of bloodymindedness and encouraging visualisations, I'd almost talked myself into being brave enough to go out for a run, alone or with a friend, in my familiar streets in the (not-yet-dark-but-nearly) evenings, which is the most convenient time to get some exercise. And then fucking Bob fucker Jones figuratively came to my house wrapped in newspaper and metaphorically punched me. It fucking hurts.

    Per Dylan's concerns, I was reminded of some research from ages ago, by Canterbury academics, about discovering that -- counterintuitively and rather upsettingly -- anti-racism/anti-sexism classroom curricula produced a brief increase in kids saying racist/sexist things (NB carefully out of earshot of the teacher). It was as if the very act of raising the topic somehow gave the kids license to experiment with/briefly occupy the mindset under discussion. The paper is mentioned here, sorry couldn't find a digested version of it. The good news is that once the teachers in that experiment became aware of the hidden curriculum that was playing out under their noses, they were able to tweak the message and the presentation to make space for that reaction, and address it, and get through it. So any transient empowerment effect, if that's what it was, was temporary, and discoverable, and fixable.

    So maybe it's actually good to lance the boil in that way, y'know?

    Also, if a campaign that appears to say "Dudes, y'all might be rapists" is upsetting to blokes, then it's probably working as a useful empathy check, by offering a tiny, tiny glimpse into the way women feel about dealing with the 24/7 message "Ladies, y'all might be raped."

    I mean, I do get what Dylan's saying, technically, linguistically, logically, in that I can see in principle how (for example) "Yo, don't drive drunk, people" does seem to imply "Yo, people, you're driving drunk". But that doesn't really actually give people license to do it, does it? And it hasn't stopped us running those campaigns, has it? And rewording and rethinking them as necessary? And seeing positive change from each iteration?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    The "raping people is not okay" conversation is transparently one that needs to be happening, and the linguistic finessing of how we have that conversation is no small matter. It IS pretty much the whole matter. I'm glad we're talking about it here with passion and holding each other to account with generosity. Yeah, it's a hard conversation to have, but personally, I think living with the results of not having that conversation are much much harder.

    As a mother of sons, I found this example particularly compassionate and practical and encouraging, a way to have exactly the kind of conversation we're talking about, but without raising the (straw man?) spectre Dylan is worried about.

    Also, I find it heartening that the discussion is being publicly advanced in many, many creative ways - mostly, as far as I'm aware, fronted by women, viz this week's chillingly satirical "It's Your Fault" video (NB content will disturb). It'd be bloody excellent to see more examples in which men speak directly to men on this subject. I live in hope.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Morgan Nichol,

    I’ve known Dylan for nearly 20 years. I think I know his character, and in my experience he (unlike me) doesn't show any disposition towards any kind of aggressive or dominant behavior. He is gentle.

    Yes, perceptions can be misleading. There is no outward physical sign of being a rapist. I’m sure all those teachers and priests seemed to be gentle people to the parents who trusted their children to their care, too.

    I don’t think any of my friends are rapists but it’s statistically unlikely that none of them have ever done anything rapey.

    In fact, opinions expressed in this thread would see some of my past behaviour labeled as rapey. I’ve had sex with drunk women (for some degree of “drunk” anyway) a bunch of times. Usually I was also some degree of drunk. Who did the rape in those cases? Bloody no one did. Because situations and contexts are different. You can’t actually say that because a woman has had a drink she’s no longer capable of consenting to sexual contact. It’s a cliche, even. Meet a girl in a bar, hook up. Or go out with your partner of many years, have a few drinks, get home, do dirty things the second you get inside the door. This seems like normal behaviour to me. But sometimes men rape drunk women. And sometimes women are so drunk they’re no longer in control of their faculties. But you know.

    When you’ve been with someone for long enough, you don’t always need to have a discussion. A touch can be enough to say yes. Or a look can be enough to say no. Or just knowing that everything you spoke about over dinner was about how fucking tired she is after a full on day at work. Is it unreasonable to check in with your partner? No of course not. Is it kind of weird to expect every single sex act to be preceded by some universal form of explicit check in? You will be disappointed if that’s what you expect all couples to do. In my experience first times are always preceded by words. But words aren't the only way we communicate with each other, given enough time together you don’t need many words to say a lot - there are many ways to say no and many ways to say yes.

    But still, some men rape their wives. Some men rape their girlfriends. So how can you take my word for it that my drunken encounters weren’t rapey? Or that non explicitly said out loud consent was real consent? (I don’t know how you can, but I know, so that’s a bit of an impasse if we don’t agree.)

    Dylan has three sons. He doesn’t want them to be lumped into the rapists group. He thinks he can raise them to respect other people like he respects other people. Even his toddler has the potential, one day, to hurt someone. Can you blame him for not wanting them labeled that way?

    He thinks he knows a way to reduce some of the pain and damage that men do to women. Other people in the thread think he’s wrong.

    I don’t know who’s right about that. But I see his point about not liking being labeled. Maybe if there were more words we could use. Finer granularity. Some way of expressing the nuance. But nuance doesn’t stop men from raping women.

    Dylan lives in his own head, just like all the rest of us. We all have our prejudices. Our eyes don’t see. Our brains do. So everything is coloured by what we think we are. Dylan can’t see past his complete lack of the emotional elements he perceives as required to be "a rapist" because he sees, at least partly, with those very emotions. So naturally he doesn't want to be lumped in with the men who do more obviously have them.

    But caring about mens feelings doesn’t feel like an important factor right now. Apparently it’s a thing for some men. Those “men’s rights” fuckbags for instance. Dylan isn’t one of those guys. He’s sincere.

    (Christ, it’s all such small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.)

    Women in short dresses (or whatever) are perceived as sluts* or asking for it, or some other bullshit that’s clearly not true. And they do not like it.

    Dylan is perceived as being a potential rapist because of how he looks. He doesn't like it.

    We’re all hurt, to greater or lesser extents, by all sorts of different things. One of these things is a serious problem that causes heart break and real pain the other barely rates an aside. But they’re still both true.

    Let me tell you one disposition he does have: to argue the subtleties of some tangential point past the time anyone else is still interested. I can tell you that for damn sure, and I think you’ll probably believe me about that even if you don’t believe anything else I said.

    * Since when has it ever been open season on “sluts” anyway?

    Auckland CBD • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jolisa,

    I mean, I do get what Dylan’s saying

    So do I. And I very much get what everyone else is saying. If we keep on assuming each other's good faith, I think we'll survive.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Morgan Nichol,

    This might be misinterpreted as inconsistent with some of the things I just wrote (and if you think that you're making wrong assumptions), but I've always thought the "no means no" thing was backwards and that it should have been "only yes is yes".

    Auckland CBD • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie, in reply to Morgan Nichol,

    Thanks for this Morgan.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Morgan Nichol, in reply to Jolisa,

    Also, if a campaign that appears to say “Dudes, y’all might be rapists” is upsetting to blokes, then it’s probably working as a useful empathy check, by offering a tiny, tiny glimpse into the way women feel about dealing with the 24/7 message “Ladies, y’all might be raped.”

    I couldn't agree more. Rape is a men's problem. Men are doing the rapes not women. The solution is to get men to change their behaviour, not women.

    (I'm ignoring the statistically insignificant counter examples.)

    Auckland CBD • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Jolisa,

    Recently, via a combination of bloodymindedness and encouraging visualisations, I’d almost talked myself into being brave enough to go out for a run, alone or with a friend, in my familiar streets in the (not-yet-dark-but-nearly) evenings, which is the most convenient time to get some exercise.

    I am surrounded by good friends. They check in with me when I am leaving to ask how I am getting home. They know my escape routes. They don't touch me on the neck, and they don't come to my house unannounced. They rescue me from overly handsy people when I am starting to panic and can't think clearly enough to know what to do. They check to make sure that I get home OK.

    What hurts is that I like walking home alone. I like walking in the quiet and the murky black. I like time to myself outside, on the watefront, with shadows and cool breezes and stars.

    And I never get to do that, because there are invariably footsteps behind me, and a dark, solid shape, and I have to wonder "if I get attacked here, how far do I have to run to safety, and what will some idiot say about how I shouldn't have been there in the first place?"

    I don't believe, for a second, that all men are potential attackers. I don't want to believe that. I don't want men to believe that, and I certainly don't want the people who do commit violence to think that.

    But we all have these stories. We all have the fear and the experiences and the People Who Just Don't Listen. And, as in most things, I think we'd all be better having this conversation if we tried for some empathy.

    So. Dylan: I'm sorry if you've been made to feel that women view you as a danger. That must be a horrible feeling. I understand that you think that a message that men are violent makes the situation worse. I'd ask you to try to understand that from our perspective, the situation already is all the things you're trying to avoid.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Morgan Nichol,

    A touch can be enough to say yes. Or a look can be enough to say no. Or just knowing that everything you spoke about over dinner was about how fucking tired she is after a full on day at work. Is it unreasonable to check in with your partner? No of course not.

    But that's what we're asking for. No one is suggesting people have to negotiate a 20-page contract. (Although Emma? Yeah.) But it's arming people with the tools to understand when a look being a yes is enough, and when an actual conversation is needed. And sometimes, yes, that needs to be an explicit conversation.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    I understand that you think that a message that men are violent makes the situation worse. I’d ask you to try to understand that from our perspective, the situation already is all the things you’re trying to avoid.

    Nicely put. Hard to think how it could be worse. Ergo, the only way is up, which is at least vaguely encouraging. </pollyanna>

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Morgan Nichol,

    one disposition he does have: to argue the subtleties of some tangential point past the time anyone else is still interested.

    Ah then, put an "almost" in front of the "anyone", and he's come to the right place :-) Long past the point other discussion joints would have gone completely nuclear, Public Address continues its patient Talmudic mission to fix the world, one long-fought debate at a time.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jolisa,

    report-on-giving-receiving-and-seeking-help.doc

    The “raping people is not okay” conversation is transparently one that needs to be happening, and the linguistic finessing of how we have that conversation is no small matter. It IS pretty much the whole matter.

    Which might be a useful point to talk about the very successful It’s Not OK campaign. There’s still a team on that campaign at MSD (they’re reading this thread!) and it was suggested that the attached report (Word doc, see above) might be useful. The parts about the perpetrators of family violence particularly so.

    There are a number of elements to the success of the campaign, but two key ones, I think are:

    – It spoke to everyone, including those committing violence.

    – Men (including me) spoke to men about it.

    And maybe that’s another way of looking at the present argument. It’s not just “what about teh menz?” to raise this, it’s also “what’s the most effective thing to say, and way to say it, to men?”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    But we all have these stories.

    Word. I wanted to add that I have so much aroha for everyone who has told their stories in this thread and elsewhere, and that the whole of your comment was powerfully put, not just the bit I pulled out for reply.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Jolisa,

    *tears*

    but the good kind, not the kind that I normally have in conversations like these.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Dylan has three sons. He doesn’t want them to be lumped into the rapists group.

    I have two sons. Isabel has two sons. Jolisa has two sons. Russell has two sons. It's not like we're all angling for them to have "I have rape potential" tattooed on their foreheads.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    From the attached document above, quotes from perpetrators of family violence:

    nobody was willing to come out and help us or ask our parents what’s going on … we thought it was normal… We just looked at it that this wasn’t a problem, [because] no one was here telling us otherwise.

    And …

    you begin to develop this whole psyche that this must be normal, everyone else is doing it. Everyone else gets the same result and it wasn’t until I was exposed to a different way of seeing life that I recognised that there was something going on here.

    It does seem that de-normalising violence, and making it clear that not everyone does it, was very important.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It does seem that de-normalising violence, and making it clear that not everyone does it, was very important.

    Couldn't agree more - and a non-trivial part of the It's Not OK campaign was "de-normalizing" the idea that violence is the preserve of (let's be blunt) poor/working class and/or brown people. I'm not kissing your arse, Russell, but it really did matter that you were speaking up not just as a man, but one who didn't look or sound like you'd wandered in from Outrageous Fortune or One Were Warriors.

    To paraphrase another public heath campaign, it's not just that we "normalize" violence and abuse, but how we do it.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    One last thing, and then I am going away for a long weekend.

    I don't want to read back through, to check, what I've said but i try really hard not to say we need to say these things *to men*. If I did, I apologise. Because we need to day them full stop.

    The message that sexual assault isn't ok needs to be sent to women too. Because while men are overwhelmingly committing these crimes, some women do too. Probably more than we realise.

    And women need to understand that they can say no. Safety permitting, they can say "I don't want to have sex." We don't teach young women that, and then we wonder why Blurred fucking Lines is a thing.

    Also, for victims, it'd be really nice if the message was always, "it's really shit that this happened to you. Nothing you did was wrong. Feel no shame."

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

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