A Commentary on Schrödinger’s Rapist
Guest post by JD
Shapely Prose published a guest blog on October 8th , by a woman calling herself Starling, under the title “Schrödinger’s Rapist.” The blog itself and the comments which followed it cover a lot of ground, but they make some assumptions that need to be reconsidered.
The comments make the problem clear. If you go through them you will find that the word “privilege” and its variations show up 188 times, while “equal” and similar variations are mentioned only 39 times. The focus on privilege versus equality is summed up neatly in a comment made by one of the owners of Shapely Prose, Sweet Machine. She talks about privilege in the context of race, and follows that up with the statement: “Women do NOT have privilege vis a vis men, and attacks on women by men are NOT prosecuted with the full force of the law.”
So by following her analogy on race, should I assume that attacks on men by women ARE prosecuted with the full force of the law?
I’m not speaking as a man offended by the idea that women may consider him a potential rapist, but as a man who has been raped by members of both genders. So for any women who may be reading this, I’d like to clear up some apparent misconceptions.
Just like you, men would rather not be killed or violently assaulted. And men do think about that sort of thing. We have to. Many women consider themselves the primary targets of violent crime, but the reality is that as a man I am significantly more likely to be a victim than you are. When you focus on attacks by strangers, as the “Schrödinger’s Rapist” post does, the numbers are even more skewed: approximately 50% of attacks on men are committed by strangers, as opposed to 30% of attacks on women. So not only am I more likely to be attacked than you are, I am more likely to be attacked by someone I have never met.
And unlike you, if I report an attack, I am far less likely to be taken seriously. Especially if the attacker was a stranger. Especially if the attacker was a woman. Chances are fairly good that if a woman is abused or assaulted by a man she will at least be taken seriously, even if – as is all too common – her attacker is never prosecuted. Chances are very good that if a man is abused or assaulted by a woman the police will just wink and say, “Of course she did it to you against your will. Of course you tried to fight back. We believe you.”
That is neither privilege nor equality. But it is reality.
The best evidence at this time shows that approximately one in every five rape victims is male. Five years ago the numbers suggested it was one in ten. But even though the percentage has doubled those figures are still clearly subject to underreporting. It’s very likely that some women were lying when they denied having been raped, and there’s no way to know how many. However, it’s an absolute certainty that men were lying when they denied having been raped.
How do I know? Because of the millions of men surveyed, not one man admitted to being raped by a stranger. That’s what’s known as an “outlier,” information so unlikely that it is obviously false. So not only are men underreporting being raped, they are lying about it at a much higher rate than women. We shouldn’t be surprised at this, given our society’s attitude toward male “weakness.” Given the rapid increase in reports of male rape, the continued underreporting, and the growing evidence that serial rapists are more interested in their victims’ vulnerabilities than their genders, we can safely assume that “one in five” just scratches the surface.
You may think you don’t know any rapists, or at least not any female rapists. I used to believe I didn’t. While you may be able to assume that none of the women you know are rapists, my personal experiences don’t allow me that option.
And I don’t believe that what happened to me was an outlier. Less than three weeks ago, while playing a game, I listened as a woman I consider a friend attempted to justify forcing an imaginary character to have sex with her by saying: “You can tell she wants it. Besides, it would be good for her. She’s tense; it would relax her.” These statements came from an intelligent, educated person employed in the legal profession.
I’m not saying my friend would rape a real person. After all, she is my friend; I’d like to think better of her than that. But as this example clearly shows, the ability to casually justify rape is not limited to men.
So the reality is that men are less safe than you are, less likely to report being sexually assaulted, and less likely to have legal recourse if they do.
But speaking as a rape victim, I can tell you that there is one point of equality here. Men and women act on the impulse to rape for the exact same reasons: because they see other human beings as objects, not people.
That’s what worries me the most about the “Schrödinger’s Rapist” post. The title of Starling’s article is meant to highlight the element of uncertainty present when interacting with strangers, but the content of her article objectifies men. The content of her article says very clearly: “I do not see you as a human being. I cannot see you as a human being. I can only see you as a dangerous threat.” And it says just as clearly: “If you truly respect me, you will accept that I cannot see you as a human being and you will accept that it is your responsibility to overcome that.”
I do not deny that we live in a culture that glorifies violence. I do believe that, as a man, I receive much less understanding when I am victimized by it.
I do not deny that we live in a culture that objectifies people. I do believe that, as a man, I am just as subject to objectification as women are.
Women do not, on the whole, respect men any more than men respect women. Women are just as likely to stereotype people as men are. Consider these things the next time you are talking with a man:
- How well do you know this man? I mean really know him. Are you presuming a degree of familiarity based solely on your gender and the social implications it carries?
- Are you assuming that he isn’t afraid just because he doesn’t act fearful?
- Are you more physically intimidating than he is? Not all men are big and strong, and not all women are small and weak. And relative size is no sure indication of strength. A big man who is aware of his inability to fight back is likely to feel threatened no matter what your appearance?
- What are your surroundings? If you were dangerous – and some women are very dangerous – would he be safe with you? Would you feel safe in his position?
- How much personal space are you allowing this man? Are you giving him at least as much personal space as you would give a woman?
- Do you routinely assume that just because you are a woman it is acceptable to hug anyone you meet? When a man holds out his hand to shake yours do you hug him anyway?
- If he “casually” mentions his wife or girlfriend, do you take that as an invitation to try to persuade him you are more desirable? Do you ignore his need for personal space just because he’s involved with someone else?
There’s something implied in all of that, the idea that just because you are a woman and I am a man, I must want you. Or at least that I should. It certainly implies I have no right to feel afraid or to say “no.”
Which sends a message, just like Starling’s post sends a message. When women talk about men like they are dangers to be avoided or prizes to be won, they send the message, “I think of men as objects instead of people.” Objects to be played with when they perform as expected and disparaged when they fail to live up to expectations. The irony is that this message is coming from people who are horribly offended when treated the same way by men.
This is equality only in the sense that it drags us all down to the same, pathetic level. It perpetuates the assumption that people are things, which is truly at the heart of our “rape culture.”
What disturbs me most about the concept of “privilege” is that the people who talk about it don’t seem to recognize that it is never absolute. Yes, rapists are unfairly protected by our social system. This is true of both male and female rapists. Yes, rape victims are further abused by our social system. But male rape victims are more abused by our social system than female victims. They are more abused because they are male. Very few people, male or female, have any sympathy for a man who fails to conform to our society’s expectation of invulnerability.
Starling has every right to be afraid. So do I. But I don’t have to own responsibility for her fears any more than she needs to own mine. There is a basic level of etiquette and respectful behavior that applies to both genders. We all deserve at least that much, but no one has the right to expect more from a stranger. Our fears are our own. We have to deal with them, not by telling others they have to change their behavior to make us comfortable, but by changing our own behavior and hoping in the process to create a healthy environment in which we can live.
I wish Starling and everyone else good luck on their search for companions who will understand them and love them for who they are. But unless we try, not just to be understood, but to understand, we aren’t likely to have much success.
Note: The statistics quoted above are from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey for 2008, authored by Michael R. Rand.