By now, you have heard about the Stanford rape case, the shortened sentencing, seen the rapist’s face, seen that men are valued over women in such a disgusting, blatant way.
So I’m not going to talk about Stanford rape case. I’m going to talk about rape as a symptom–not a cause–of oppression against women.
I recently saw a photo with the text, “forget transgender people, this is who you don’t want in your bathroom,” written over the Stanford rapist’s face. However, these problems are deeply interrelated and cannot be teased apart. Violence against women is strewn throughout our society, in a myriad of ways: we have less access to reproductive choices (abortion, birth control), we are paid less, less able to take care of our children, decide how and when we have children, etc etc. The list goes on. Rape, then, is just one way in which women are terrorized, but it is symptomatic of a large scale issue, and we cannot separate it from these problems.
The first person to expose me to this idea was Angela Y. Davis, in her essay “We Do Not Consent: Violence Against Women in a Racist Society.” [I highly recommend reading it; she explains it a lot more fully than I’ll be able to in this blog post]. She discusses multiple, structural causes that interweave race, class, and gender to create these hierarchies that put women at the bottom. I’m going to narrow this down a bit, and discuss the emotional mistreatment of men that leads to the oppression of women (bear with me).
Davis, in her essay, writes “Men’s motives for rape often arise from their socially imposed need to exercise power and control over women through the use of violence. Most rapists are not psychopaths…the overwhelming majority would be considered “normal” according to prevailing social standards of male normality.” Masculinity, then, is a cause of rape. Patriarchy is responsible for the way men think, feel, and interact with each other.
In The Will to Change, bell hooks beautifully describes the myriad of ways men suffer from the patriarchy, from being told to suppress their feelings. Not only that, but boys are socialized all the time to inflict violence on girls without consequences (“boys will be boys” “he’s pulling your hair because he likes you!”). Hooks argues that this ultimately destroys relationships, and leaves men being unable to love. Even beyond loving, they are not taught to ask for consent.
And why do you think men don’t ask? Because they’re scared the girl will say no, they’re scared to be embarrassed or ashamed. And that is a pretty shitty reason to rape someone, but “there is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger.”. Men aren’t allowed to feel embarrassed or ashamed. They don’t know how, and they can’t talk about it.
Now, I’m not saying I have sympathy for rapists, or that most rapists are just confused men. What I’m saying is that as a society, we haven’t taught men to respect women, and we haven’t taught men to be emotionally open, which respect requires.
So I know this will sound crazy and minuscule, but I think one way we can start ending rape and violence against women is by this: sharing our feelings. Especially men. If we talk more openly, if men learn to discuss emotions, to love openly, and to be an emotionally open role model for the young men in their life, there will be less shame, and less need to cover up insecurity with violence, dominance, and rape.
When someone asks you how you’re feeling, be honest. When you cry over an episode of Game of Thrones, tell someone about it. And when they text you back, saying “don’t be a pussy,” ask them to watch that Hodor scene and not get upset. Or, who knows? Maybe they’ll say that they cried too.
We need to start addressing the structural issues that inflict violence against women in all aspects of their lives. We need to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. I know this is only one part of it. But it’s a start.