Does Anyone Know What Rape Is?

(TRIGGER warning: discussion of sex and rape).

When I was about 13 years old I read a story in a newspaper about a trial. A woman claimed she had been raped by her husband, and I – appallingly – furrowed my brow. How, I thought to myself, can a woman be raped by her husband?

It amazes me now that I thought that way. I don’t believe I hated women and I didn’t fully understand sex, but on some level I had developed an idea of women as secondary to men.

And I don’t think I got this from my parents. I picked it up from everywhere.

At 13 I didn’t know what rape was. And no-one ever told me, I had to work it out for myself. At the end of my teens I was still under the impression that rape was something done by monsters hiding in bushes. I probably thought it was something women didn’t need to worry about, as long as they took precautions. Their problem, not mine.

No-one ever taught me about sex either. I went to a Catholic school. Sex education took up one term of one year, a period of 3 months when I was 14. The syllabus included the dangers of drugs, alcohol, smoking and – bizarrely – road safety. The only thing I recall was watching a video of some naked babies running around. Some of them had penis’es and some of them had vaginas. The difference in sexual organs was based entirely on their gender.

Sex education came from my classmates, fervent, breathless chats with other boys about what they’d like to do to such-and-such girl.

Do to, not with.

I remember crowding around a porn magazine that someone had brought to the playground, aged perhaps 13. A woman, in ridiculously uncomfortable pose, peeling open her vagina. I remember feeling queasy, repulsed.

And young boys today have all of the internet, full of characterless women, playing the part of objects, existing solely for the pleasure of men. Ready to be used and degraded. Women, of course, are always degraded by sex.

I read a blog about the novel “Crimson Petal and the White”. A brilliant novel, whose central character is a Victorian era prostitute. A man left a comment, “I wonder if it would be so interesting from a male perspective”.

Because reading about a female lead character, understanding a woman’s motivations, feelings, thoughts, could that possibly be of interest to a man?

Women are inferior. Sex is something you do to them. Whatever they think doesn’t matter.

These are not ideas I’ve actively sought, but ideas I have actively had to reject. The world around me has done it’s absolute best to try to make me a misogynist.

And I don’t intend this as any sort of defense, but how is a boy meant to learn what a woman is or what it’s like to be a woman, or that it is even worth trying to find out?

Everyday Sexism is an important website. Every post should be put into a hat, and shaken, and 500 should be pulled out at random. Next, the 500 would all be put together at a big publishing house and made into a big book with a shiny cover. The book would be sent out to every school in the Country, to be read by every girl and boy.

If it happened, they would read things like this:

“I know an awful lot of my female friends have been raped, or nearly raped, and I know that an awful lot of my male friends find that terribly hard to believe.”

“I’m 16 and have been receiving sexist comments …since I was 13. Boys (in school) shout “rape!” if they see a girl in the corridor, loudly rate girls out of 10 while we walk past, look at Page 3 and compare girls to it…happens literally every day…”

“My little sister (15) asserted that if somebody claimed they had been raped they were “probably doing it for attention”, that if a girl wants to avoid being raped she shouldn’t go out in ‘slaggy’ clothes. I don’t know where she got this mentality from but that a 15-year-old girl is so ill-informed of the facts is a massive failure of our society.”

And some people would say: This is unsuitable for children. And I would say: Yes! Yes, it is. So lets make this the last generation that has to experience it.

I’ve read heartbreaking posts about women’s experience of rape and sexual assault. No-one ever talks about these things, except to warn women to moderate their behaviour to avoid it because it’s your problem, not ours.

I read these words from a woman who had been raped:

“During the ensuing 15 years, I sometimes referred to the event in my head as “semi-consensual sex.” It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t screamed, I believed. It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t told anyone, ever.”

By being so afraid to talk about sex and to talk about rape and to talk about what rape is, we have allowed, as a society, rape to happen. Rape is not a woman’s problem. We have a duty to educate both sexes about what rape is, and a duty – to women, to children, to everyone – to tell boys this:

“This is rape. Do not rape”.

Thank you to the following blogs for educating me:

About rape. 

And rape.

About slut-shaming

How rape culture hurts men too

(Trigger warnings for all).

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“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

~Anais Nin~


Posted on December 18, 2012, in Misogyny, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Excellent post! I’ve been meaning to write about the same thing – that I somehow picked up the idea that women are lesser than men when I was growing up. My parents didn’t feed me that idea, or at least, not on purpose. On the contrary, they kept repeating that girls are just as valuable as boys. I thought so too.

    But even while I thought girls and boys are equal, I had attitudes that held the implicit idea that boys are better after all. Like, for example, I was ashamed of having girly interests (like fashion, make-up and boy bands). When boys talked about their boyish interests (like football, technic lego models or motorbikes) I never thought there was anything embarrassing about those interests. Of course interests are not tied to a particular gender, that’s not even the issue. The issue is that I had somehow come to believe that the stereotypical girls’ interests are inferior to stereotypical boys’ interests.

    As for rape, I had internalised a lot of victim blaming bullshit, especially the idea that women can avoid rape if they don’t dress a certain way, don’t get too drunk and don’t send mixed signals. I was over 25 before I first heard of the idea that rape is always a choice the rapist makes, not the victim, and nothing the victim does justifies rape. I had always considered myself a feminist but blaming the rapists for rape in such a straightforward way hadn’t occurred to me. I needed to hear someone say it, and as soon as I did, it made sense. We don’t blame the victim for other crimes! Why would rape be an exception?

    Understanding victim blaming really opened my eyes to the glaring inequality that still exists between the genders.

  2. Thank you for this. I find that, with issues such as rape, male violence, prostitution or pornography, I rarely hear a genuine male voice, who’s not all about deflecting the matter. Often, men seem to just want to belittle the issue, or emphasise how they have nothing to do with it. They automatically assume that it is my intention as a woman to blame them for everything that’s wrong, when all I really want is an honest account of how they percieve, or used to percieve the women in their lives. So, I’m grateful for your openness and I’m inspired by your change.

  3. @inmyinternest, I completely agree that victim blaming is ludicrous but it’s such an established idea that I think everyone buys into it at first. There’s a really good quote (that I don’t remember) of Paulo Coelho about the difference between madness and sanity being whatever the majority accept. Anyway, thanks for the comment 🙂

  4. @lenatichy Thank you for the comment 🙂 There are, unfortunately, a lot of people who adopt an immediate defensive position when feminism is brought up. It’s fairly rare to read counter-arguments when compared with the number of times you read derailments of the conversation, (You just hate men, men suffer sexism too, etc). But surely, once someone opens up and thinks about these issues, they have to see the simple logic of men and women deserving equal treatment? Here’s hoping 🙂

  5. I didn’t realize how bad victim blaming was until my internship this summer at a courthouse. I sat in on two sexual abuse cases. Both girls were high school aged — one was abused by her teacher and the other was abused by an adult she met online. Both times, it was though the victim herself was on trial rather than the molester. The girl abused by her teacher testified for FIVE HOURS on the first day of the trial. A tactic used by both defense attorneys was to discredit the victim via personality attacks. On high school aged girls (really?!). I “get it” that they think it’s “part of their job” but the fact that it’s a commonly used tactic is reprehensible.

  6. thanks for this article, it’s given me some food for thought, some of your words i totally concur with, but for other parts, well my experiences have been almost the opposite, for instance ‘The world around me has done it’s absolute best to try to make me a misogynist’, this has not been the case for me, certainly not in 2012 anyway
    perhaps i’m not looking in the right places but it’s rare that i spot truly misogynistic messages in the anglicised western media
    yes there are still some patronising depictions of women (in advertising for instance) but the media in my part of the world seem quite balanced in that they’re equally patronising to men and women!

    i concur with your descriptions of sex education (or the lack thereof) and the vacuum created by this is often filled with ‘behind the bike shed’ chatter which can result in a somewhat puerile understanding of, and objectification of women, however this is usually replaced by a much healthier appreciation of the opposite sex, once men reach adulthood, in my (and most of peers) experience anyway

    re misogynistic comments on the internet, i think part of the problem is that the (effectively) no holds barred nature of the internet, tends to result in people (mostly men i think it’s fair to say) posting multiple comments, hurting whosoever they wish, behind a wall of anonymity, take youtube for instance, although it’s policed to some extent, you still see some pretty outrageous stuff in the comments, which gets left there for everyone to read
    i would like to think that this situation will change as the internet ‘matures’, but that may be wishful thinking

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Olivia A. Cole

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