Rape……”is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”
Susan Brownmiller; Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape 1975
I don’t like rape; I don’t like to think about it, I hate reading depictions of it and I cannot watch any enactments of it. Yet there is no denying that rape has shaped my life.
And I don’t like absolutes, but I’ll venture one here: every single woman on this planet, from a very early age on (8? 10?) thinks about and worries about being raped.
Some of us are already being raped.
Some of us will be raped in the future.
I’ve been both lucky and obedient. I pushed the boundaries of “asking for it” with clothing back in my experimental college days, wearing halters and cutoffs, in an attempt, I think, to “reclaim my sexuality” or something along those lines. Fear eventually had its way.
I was born and raised in a suburb. I had seen fear role modeled for me whenever we went into any city. Car doors got locked. At 19 or 20, I decided to move into the city to live with my boyfriend.
I never felt safe. Certainly never free in any sense of the word. The city is noisy. Men feel free to make comments about your body, your looks, whatever, as you pass on the street. Groping in crowds is not unheard of; it’s a level of harassment that doesn’t happen in the suburbs.
(Suburbs are politically incorrect. They are unsustainable. They must be destroyed. But let me move to somewhere safer before they come down.)
I’ve been living in the suburbs ever since.
At the core of this is fear. I have never been raped. I have never been beaten. I have been, on many occasions, verbally assaulted and harassed. I’ve been groped. I’ve been lucky. And obedient.
So when I look again at Brownmiller’s assertion: All women are kept in a state of fear, that part is true. I don’t know if there has been any study of this, but I know it’s true because it is the story, or at least a story, of my life and every woman I know. My mother was raped. My sister was fondled by a neighbor. It happens all the time.
It happens all the time. We’ve all been touched by the fear or the reality…..it is ubiquitous.
How can this be so? If rape and all of its myriad uses are really anathema to all cultures, why does it persist so rampantly?
It has to serve some purpose; there must be some benefit for rape not only to persist, but to flourish.
Case in point: The Catholic Church. If ever an organization personified a rape culture, it has to be the Catholic Church. For decades, parish priests were allowed and enabled to rape children – children – by both the organization and its victims.
I find that amazing. Yet, even now that we know of massive abuse, systematic cover ups and really pitiful payouts, people still belong to the Church, still give money to the Church. The priests themselves, and those who have been revealed as their enablers, are still walking around alive, healthy and free. They’ve still got their tax free ride; no governments have shunned them as the sexual criminals they are. There have been virtually no consequences.
Is this not the story of rape? Rape is a property crime in the Old Testament, if the woman is a virgin. If she’s married, stone the whore! That Prince of Peace, Jesus of Nazareth, had nothing to say about rape.
So it is clear that men do benefit from rape directly. It was not even seen as a crime until relatively recently. It has been even more recent, and due to books like Brownmiller’s, that rapes like the one in Steubenville, Ohio, could even be seen as rape. The idea of consent has evolved extremely slowly in our “justice” system, because the culture itself has evolved so fucking slowly.
So, all women fear rape and whole institutions can rape with impunity. The United States military serves here as another example.
That would be a benefit, right?
All men aren’t in the Vatican or in the US military. But here’s where honesty might play a role. Just as I’m certain that every woman has thought about or feared rape, I’m equally certain that, at one time or another in their lives, men have consciously used their power, strength, or size to intimidate another.
“They don’t hate women. They hate the feminine, the weak.” I read that quote somewhere. A woman was testifying about rape in the military. The more I think about that quote (and I can’t stop thinking about it) the more it makes sense.
I don’t think all men consciously think about intimidating the weak (think women and children here) all of the time. There is simply no need. The culture does it for them.
Men are coached by other men; rape is often used as male bonding. Happens all the time in war. That would be one end of the extreme, but there are variations and gradations along the continuum. Pornography certainly plays a role in cultural conditioning. So does advertising. The messages this culture sends about masculinity, gender roles and so on are clear. This would be the process of intimidation. It’s so embedded in our culture as to be practically invisible. Is it conscious? I don’t know that it needs to be; it is habit, reflexive.
That feels worse, to me.