I am not a uterus scientist, my mum is though; so for most of my life my dinner time conversations have been steeped in in-depth discussions about the latest and greatest advances in female health. Hell, all through high school people finding out my mum was in Obstetrics & Gynecology would lead to the killer joke that for the occasional convivial event, I’d grab a great, big jar of thrush and treat myself to the delicacy on toast.
It seems as if that same degree of intellectual acuity has been put to the test over the quite simple concept that people have the right to choose who they do and don’t have sex with. A somewhat nuanced and difficult concept to understand, I know, but it is surely a damning tribute to the unicellular roots of our species that someone choosing to say ‘no’ to sex is a matter for equivocation.
Far better minds than I have effortlessly skewered this proposition that rape is in some need of categorisation. As if the victim of incest is somehow nobler than the victim of date-rape. As if rape by someone known to you is a lesser crime than being raped by a stranger.
Frankly, most men simply don’t understand what it is like to feel threatened walking home alone at night. What it’s like to wonder if the person behind you is on their way home or wants to do something unspeakable to you. Rape culture exists for the most part because a great deal of men simply don’t understand rape. Hell, when we live in a society where a thread on reddit asks rapists to justify why they did what they did, we truly do not understand the massive power imbalance women face every single day. A common and recurring point made by many of the participants in that thread said bald-faced, ‘she didn’t say “no”‘ or “she wasn’t really forceful when she said “no”’ – as if not getting clear consent from a woman is somehow carte blanche for their very own indulgence in the form of droit du seigneur.
The problem is that even as our species matures we still see the propagation of rape culture, not as vestiges of our society but as a full-throated element of how men and women interact.
Whether it is the common clamour over ‘friendzoning’, as if somehow spending time with a woman gives you toll-free access to her vagina without her consent, to much of the infantilism many males approach relationships with the other sex. A woman who refuses your advances is, in some awkward Schroedinger-ian paradox, both frigid and a ‘massive slut’. The woman that chooses to sleep with people that aren’t you is a whore, but has ‘friendzoned’ you to keep some form of power over you. You’re the good guy, the guy who she talks to when her dickhead boyfriend is mean to her. You’re, unfortunately, not a good enough guy to stand up and accept that maybe her consent is a barrier to you having sex but you’ll clear that up in post.
The older generations see sex as a tool of social control and social policing and view rape as something that ‘just happens’, much like a car accident. The great side-effect of cultural stoicism is coldness in the face of real human suffering. There’s a reason we don’t have ‘Keep calm and carry on’ posters in emergency wards.
That we still have this approach to women in my generation, a generation that is meant to be so out-of-touch with their elders, I feel, shows that the baser elements of human kind rear their ugly heads all too frequently when it comes to human relationships. Our lizard brains, to some extent, constrict and debase our hard-won humanity. Is that a justification of the behaviour as some on reddit would have it? Absolutely not. Genetic and evolutionary determinism are as outdated and invalid a concept as dying in your 20’s from a fracture. To indulge in such a justification tars all we have achieved since leaving the oceans.
It may seem odd to draw an equivalence between the pro-life maniacs who wish to control a woman’s reproductive health with their pabulum about knees and aspirin, and the current childish response to women’s sexual liberation, but they share a nexus.
The older approach to women’s health came from an a patriarchal understanding of society, where sexuality was not discussed and open sexuality was not tolerated; the modern approach tolerates sexuality but abhors it happening everywhere but here. Where the older approach crystallised around what society was owed, the newer approach views women by what men are owed. It seems by casting off the institutions of oppression we’ve decentralised the process. The most pernicious element of rape culture has remained across this generational divide, that of making women feel responsible for the evil visited upon them. That is why concepts like ‘legitimate’ rape or ‘rape rape’ are so utterly evil, because they reframe the discussion from that of a violent and disgusting crime to a discussion about promiscuity and sexuality. They re-align the moral calculus not to be about victim and perpetrator, but about transgressor and tempter.
The history of this stretches back as far as humans can document. Original sin seems to be an almost ingrained concept and inherent misogyny and mistrust of women is the drawcard that follows. Just as the vestiges of evolution mean we grow and shed a coat of fur in-utero, so do the vestiges of religion infect and haunt how we understand what we do behind closed doors. The idea that the current world is just a test for something of greatness beyond it is a shield used to cloak many forms of unspeakable evil. Our current methods of dealing with rape and rape culture are simply ineffective. That some men in the 21st century view a woman ‘not protesting enough’ as equivalent to consent is as stark a damnation of our species as you can get.
There are two easy ways we can fight against rape culture and to try to create a society in which we’d be glad to raise children. First, ingraining in children at a young age that they’re not entitled to other people; dealing with young men who are coming to terms with their sexuality in a highly testosterone-charged environment, giving them guidance and barriers will, honestly, help. As the joke poster goes, ‘if you’re not sure you can go out without raping someone, use the buddy system and make sure your friends check to see if your partner consents’. Hell, the Canadians hit it out of the park with the “Don’t be that guy” campaign. Re-frame the crime in terms of the actions of the perpetrator, not the ‘society’ that caused it or the ‘woman of loose morals’ that welcomed it. Rape is a crime, treat it as such. We no longer tolerate people drink driving, we sure as fuck shouldn’t tolerate people taking liberties with the consent of others.
The other element of the equation is making women feel empowered enough to say no. It’s your right what you do with your body and you should never feel as if you somehow owe yourself to someone. Marital rape is, rightly so, a crime. You are the final arbiter of what you do with your own body. We need to educate and help young women feel strong and healthily enough about their relationship with sex that they can say no, regardless of the circumstances. We need to build a society in which they feel that saying no will have some meaning. A society that treats women as nothing other than temporary barriers to coitus, or as incubators, cannot throw off the shackles of rape culture. A society that values, respects and listen to woman can. We owe it to ourselves to build the latter.
Image by xoder via Creative Commons Licence