“I cannot and will not assume the collective voice of my gender.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase “rape culture,” generally accepted definitions may be found here, here, even here. The theory implies that our society is comfortable with zero accountability in separating sex from violence, violence from sex, and thus indirectly expects, even condones, rape and other forms of sexual violence. I’ve no problem with such a theory as an ideology, a mechanism of socio-philosophical discussion, a basis for work or research in the social sciences that urges our world to change for the better. I’ve no problem with people living their lives in accordance with this kind of ideology. I’ve no problem with people constructing their own sets of beliefs under its influence.
When I do have a problem is when such an ideology implicates others, implicates me, and grossly, presumptuously, and rigidly categorizes victims and perpetrators.
Ms. Brown asks, in her stirringly passionate and stunningly offensive opinion piece, why men are not angry, why men are not upset that American rape culture “[expects] men to be violent, misogynistic, and to not even notice, let alone care, what a woman wants.”
I appreciate the term “rape culture” and what it has come to define as theory. But, personally, I am not really angry because, historically, the term that posits these criteria in the first place comes from an ideology formed by female feminists. Who I amby such association is their opinion. It is an opinion that they are entitled to and one that can often be proved correct.
That women should have to even consider that what they wear and how they act will influence chances of rape is the fundamental dilemma rape culture addresses. That our society even proposes such a dilemma supports the idea of rape culture to begin with. Given this reality, however ugly or imperfect, actively decreasing the factors that do exist and that do lead to an increased chance of rape may be a more productive day-to-day solution than being proudly and dangerously resistant.
“When are [men] going to make clear … that THIS IS NOT HOW MEN BEHAVE,” Brown asks—and I don’t have an answer. Nobody knows why people do the things they do. I do not know how men behave. I only know how I behave. And I don’t behave that way.
I do not rape. I do not keep company with men or women who rape. Even trying to associate my ways with those of men or women or anybody is, at best, an idealistic exercise with little resemblance to fact, reality, or the point. I cannot and will not assume the collective voice of my gender. I am not an ambassador for any other being than myself. I will not insult any grouping of people anywhere with generalization or presumption, and I like to think—hope to think—that any other man or woman would similarly withstand.
The Good Men Project itself is a good example of how to begin to interpret a group of people. This very publication says nothing definitive about men as a whole. It is simply a forum where individuals come together to share their own stories, perspectives, opinions. If such things speak to and help readers, that is wonderful. It’s the site’s purpose to create that kind of discourse. But even with hundreds of voices, this publication says little about men as a monolithic group. It remains a log of personal experiences and feelings, compiled through anecdotes, essays, and stories, which only begin to construct a discussion of men, women, fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, what their lives are like, how they are and are not common. It would be a mistake to identify any claim in such a discussion with any larger group. It is a similar mistake to identify any claim of rape with men as part of any group or representation, let alone gender. Such identification is offensive, unjust, and shortsighted.
I am in full support of men and women alike speaking out against a culture that expects rape and sexual violence. But note: expects, anticipates, prepares for, laments, and rightfully and truthfully assumes rape. Not condones. Not encourages. Ours is a culture that accepts such a horror as a predictable fact of the world. To say instead that ours is a culture that condones, encourages, motivates rape is a cynical and pernicious view of humanity that I can’t not resist.
There is no underlying assumption that men rape. There is especially no underlying acceptance that men rape. The only thing that can be logically assumed and accepted is that rape happens, and that the victims and the perpetrators, though some are more predictable than others, can be anyone.
Perhaps one should feel responsible for one’s entire gender because society has created an unfair situation (rape culture) and that actively fighting against it—however unfair for men—is the only way to change it. But by grouping all men together, Brown is suggesting that all men are the same. It’s a mistake to divide traits, expectations, anything betweenmen and women. That kind of presumptuous stratification between the genders creates, essentially, a societal scenario of men versus women and women versus men, which is problematic and unhealthy on so many levels.
Not to mention, it’s bullshit. There’s little difference between that scenario and gender essentialism, a basic philosophical view that core feminist beliefs fight against. Objectifying all men as rapists through association with the guilt and the despicableness of actual rapists is as heinous as the sexual objectification of women in rape culture. It degrades and concretizes men as predictable beings with predictable motives, and denies the tenacious mentality of social, cultural, political, economic, and gender equality that feminism promotes. Social objectification establishes a cultural mindset of permanence, undercutting the entire concept of social change.
Those advocating a change from rape culture make a simple normative judgment that society should be a certain way. The implicit assumption in such a judgment is that society is not naturally that way. It is truly pitiable that our society has cultivated a certain level of comfort in mixing violence and sex. Such has in turn cultivated a world that must accept rape as a ubiquitous possibility.
I’ve been mugged and assaulted. It left me with an unshakable distrust and suspicion of strangers. That it may happen again always looms as a possibility. But I wouldn’t dare assume that every guy walking the street in a hoodie is or has been a perpetrator.
Ultimately, I’m trying to reject the us-versus-them gender war of rape-culture discussion. I don’t much care what cultural critics say about men as a monolithic group because critics often rely on blanket generalizations. The best way to change people’s expectations of men is to lead by example and take responsibility for yourself without blame, defensiveness, retaliation, and especially apology.
As human beings—not simply men or women—that’s the least we can do. It doesn’t merit reward or praise. It’s just basic human decency.