The Societal Benefits of Rape

My morning commute was recently interrupted by a crowd of people crossing the street, waving signs admonishing rape. Ever since, I’ve been left with the nagging question of what they hoped to achieve by doing this. I wonder how many people saw them and thought, “hmmm, maybe I should stop raping people.”

Rapists are a lot like murderers: they’re too sociopathic to be swayed by popular opinion. When’s the last time you heard somebody argue that rape was actually beneficial to society? With war protests, there is at least a minute possibility that the nutjobs who believe murdering another country’s poor people is an acceptable way to effect social change will notice that their opinion is unpopular, provided the people waving signs aren’t all wearing tie-dyed shirts. But rape? Honestly, they might as well have waved signs saying cats are fuzzy.

Of course, their goal could have been to raise awareness. I’m aware of rape, thank you. What am I supposed to do about it? Not even the activists have better ideas than walking around town with signs, and they certainly spend more time thinking about it than I do.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to belittle rape or any of its victims. Quite the opposite, in fact. My point is that rape is close enough to murder that the thought of protesting it is absurd. Think about it: what would your reaction be if you saw a crowd of people protesting murder? You’d probably think it was about abortion or war — you know, something that people have been known to argue about.

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6 Responses to “The Societal Benefits of Rape”

  1. Janina Says:

    The idea that only a few “sociopathic” individuals are responsible for rape in a common misconception. Rape is tragically common and misunderstood. 1 in 6 American women have experienced an attempted or completed rape, but less than half are reported—largely due to the misconception that rape by a friend or relative or acquaintance “doesn’t count” even though this is more common than rape by a stranger. Also, a shockingly high percentage of male college students will admit to rape or attempted rape if you ask them in a survey that doesn’t use the word “rape” (For example, Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force?). Most of these guys aren’t sociopaths; they have internalized the idea that it is OK and even normal for a man to have sex with a women even if she is not willing to.

    Almost every day I hear people express ideas that implicitly and explicitly defend this worldview—they don’t have to argue that “rape is beneficial to society” to do so. One example of this was at your birthday party/game night when one of our friends made a joke about how it’s a good idea to hit on shy girls because it will be easier to sleep with them. Think about that—he wasn’t arguing that shy women are more likely to want sex, just that it will be more difficult for them to resist sex. In other words, it doesn’t matter if your partner actually wants to have sex with you, as long as you pressure her relentlessly enough so she stops saying no.

    Another example was “the talk” I had with my mother before college. She explained that many men (even my friends and “nice” guys) can’t be trusted to control their sexual urges. It was up to me to avoid rape by avoiding walking outside alone at night, wearing provocative clothing or make-up, or using public transportation in “bad” areas, and being always suspicious of men and their intentions—even seemingly “nice guys.” My mom had good intentions—she loves me and wants me to be safe, but think about the implications of this message: “Since all men are potential rapists, it’s your job to prevent being raped.”

    So in short, preventing rape isn’t about hunting down a few sociopathic rapists. It’s about changing hearts and minds. It’s about stomping down these toxic ideas: “Sex without consent is OK.” “Men can’t be expected to control themselves.” “The absence of No means Yes.” and replacing them with messages of respect and equality.

    So what do I want you to do about it? Educate yourself about rape and sexual assault. Speak out against rape jokes and rape culture and ideas that normalize and condone rape. Remember that because so many people are sexually assaulted or raped and because there is still so much stigma surrounding sexual assault you have almost certainly interacted with survivors without knowing it. Don’t contribute to the shaming and stigma. Make yourself known as an alley. Likewise, you have probably interacted with a rapist without knowing it. Don’t contribute to the idea that having sex without consent is OK—it’s not.

    Also, lay of the anti-rape activists. They are doing their best to confront a really entrenched and important problem.

    Links:
    Stats on rape and sexual assault in the United States: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#United_States

    Survey of college males about rape:
    http://jezebel.com/5404064/rapists-admit-repeated-crimes–as-long-as-you-dont-call-it-rape

    Essay on why standing up to rape jokes is important:
    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/03/feminism-101-helpful-hints-for-dudes.html

    More examples of rape culture (Just in case my two weren’t enough):
    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html

    • tiefer Says:

      Hi Janina!

      I think it’s safe to say I didn’t get that message from the people with the signs. The very point of this post was that I didn’t get any good ideas from the protesters, so I’m glad you’re here to correct that. In fact, I have heard most of these things in the years since, and I can’t claim to have any disagreement with your ideas. However, I have heard arguments that the 1 in 6 statistic is inaccurate and/or misleading. See http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3011 for example, and at least see the argumentation in the retracted portion at http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3011#comment-299385 . Despite that, I do know at least one forcible rape victim, and I have few doubts that I know others. I have no intention of condoning such things.

  2. Janina Says:

    Hello Mark!

    The author of the blog you cite is perpetuating the same misconception that prompted me to start this conversation. All rapes (or the only ones that matter) are “forcible rapes.” All rapists are sociopaths. (”I don’t want women to be raped; that’s why I teach them how to use guns!”) Most victims are raped by someone they already know. They probably aren’t going to feel comfortable shooting their spouses and significant others. And even if they were it’s still not a helpful rape prevention measure. Can you imagine what would happen to a hotel maid if she fired or aimed a gun at Dominique Strauss-Kahn? And anyways this is all besides the point—you shouldn’t have to be armed to prevent sex you don’t want. This post didn’t convince me that women aren’t frequently raped in our country, only that many of the rapes won’t be considered “real” to people like the author of the blog.

    Of course I want to prevent forcible rape, but I also want to stop all the other kinds of rape too. I also want to stop street harassment and victim blaming and sexual assault and domestic violence. I’m a greedy bitch who wants the right to fearlessly walk alone and night and get drunk and wear whatever the hell I want and not worry that it will be held over me later as an excuse for sexual assault. I want to ride public transportation safe in the knowledge that if someone harasses me, every other person on the train will come to my defense.

    I’m concerned that too few of us acknowledge this as one large cultural problem that we are all partly responsible for. We would rather believe that the absolute worst infestation of it (forcible rape) is the only real problem, that it’s rare (It’s not 1 in 6–it’s 1 in 60!), only due to a small number of social deviants (pimps and the like), and only affecting a small subset of people (prostitutes). This is much easier than acknowledging how we contribute the problem and taking responsibility.

    I don’t really want to quibble about the tactics employed by this particular group of protesters, but I would like to defend activism is general. It seems that activists are often given a bad wrap or are subject to harsher criticism than warranted. (Those darn activists waving their signs in the streets. They’re so rude. They’re so biased. They’re so stupid.) An activist is just a person who is challenging the status quo. Supporting or being resigned to the status quo doesn’t make you more moral or objective or righteous. If the status quo is wrong it just makes you an accomplice to something that is wrong. The only thing that should matter is the issue. I think people often respond defensively to activists because they are raising a challenging issue and it is easier to brush off the activist as crazy then it is to reflect on some deeply held sacred cow (I’m not sexist/racist/homophobic/privileged. I’m not contributing to a global catastrophe that’s going to kill millions of people. I’m a good person dammit!)

    Ironically, this whole conversation started with me using this principle (bucking the status quo when it is wrong is difficult but noble) in your defense. Someone was arguing that refusing to drive (and other principled decisions like it) are pretentious and impractical. Driving contributes to climate change, air pollution, gridlock traffic, dependence on foreign oil, war, and oil spills. There are lots of alternative forms of transportation, yet our entire transportation system is centered on driving. Realizing that it is wrong and then trying to do something about it is principled and noble, I argued. After the argument I wanted to read what you actually had to say about it so I started clicking around on your web site and came across your blog before the “why I don’t drive” explanation. I saw the rape post and felt obligated to respond. And here we are.

    I know you don’t intend to condone rape, or sexual assault, or street harassment. I know you are a decent, principled person. This is the problems with entrenched social problems—we are socialized to them and it takes a fair amount of reflection to even realize that hey “I don’t have to drive, I was just socialized to believe that this is the only way.” or “Wow, a lot of what I believed and was taught about sexuality is bullshit.” (You say brain-washed; I say socialized. Po-tay-to. Po-tah-to.) Once we have thought about it rationally and realized that something is wrong we can start to work on the problem, but it’s freakin’ hard. Because we were socialized to think and live a certain way and our parents and friends and family were too and they’re going to get defensive if we challenge them too often and sometimes it’s just so much easier to go with the flow.

    But that doesn’t make it right.

    • HarryS Says:

      “…you shouldn’t have to be armed to prevent sex you don’t want.”
      How do you prevent sex you don’t want if someone bigger and stronger than you wants to copulate with you?
      “Shouldn’t…” Yeah, sure. To whom are you addressing this admonition? Rapists? Guys who just want to use your pussy for fun? Are you incapable of understanding that the only people who are going to follow your advice are ones who aren’t going to and wouldn’t rape you?

  3. FreedMan Says:

    One thing that would help rape victims is not to teach them that their lives are ruined, they’ll never get over it, etc., teachings that exacerbate the effects on the victim.
    Rapes that get in the news are the psychos brutalizing, injuring and on occasion murdering their victims.
    However, most rapes (of females) are committed by close relations: father, brother (6x as many as father-daughter), uncle, etc., and close friends. Stepfathers and mother’s boyfriends are commonly rapers. Often the victim does not want to see her raper go to jail or even be exposed. She may even like having sex with him, just not when she doesn’t want to. These rapes, while usually secret, involve being betrayed by someone she trusted. Or should have been able to trust.
    Girls should be taught that if they are raped that they are just as valuable persons and women (or girls – many rapes are of prepubertal girls and adolescents) as before. Even if she was stupid, foolish, made poor decisions, etc., no one had a right to rape her.
    It is a judgment call as to whether or not to report – to do anything but ask him not to treat her like that. Some may stop and be sorry while others need to be run through the criminal justice system even if they are not convicted. Hopefully they can be frightened enough to refrain from raping again. And others need to be locked up.

  4. FreedMan Says:

    I had hoped for some non-frivolous commentary, +/-, on my Dec. 25, 2011 opinion.

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