Friday, October 16, 2009

Guest Post: A Response to Schrödinger’s Rapist

(Blog Owner Note: This is not satire. It is a very personal and serious perspective often left out of the discussion of rape culture. The writer is a staunch and empathic feminist. We both understand that the concepts presented here are challenging to some. That is why comments on this thread will be automatically and strictly moderated. Don't be surprised if your's doesn't show up right away. That doesn't mean it's not going to; only that I'm not currently at my computer to approve it. Comments that automatically dismiss or mock JD's experience will never see the light of day. Comments that offer nothing but gender bashing regardless of the genders of the basher and bashee will find their way to the oubliette. Comments that attempt to derail the conversation will not be approved. Comments that offer rational discussion of the core concepts, questions attempting to clarify the writer's meaning, non-satirical personal experiences that support or contradict, etc. are welcome and will be posted whenever I have the chance.)



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.

--JD

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.

21 comments:

HEALTHY AMELIA said...

Thank you so much for sharing this often overlooked perspective. At the root of it, we all are human beings and should treat one another with respect. Treating each other as anything less (as objects, like you described) opens the door to violence since that lack of empathy allows us to see the victim as something other than a person. The more we talk about this, the better. It helps build that all important empathy that connects us. Thank you again.

Ashley said...

While everything said here is factually true, you leave out two very important factors that play into the Schroedinger's Rapist paradigm:

1) Women are told over and over again throughout their lives that we have to fear men, that they WILL attack us if we step out of line, and that if they do it's our fault.

The opposite is not true for men.

2) Women are also subject to an amazing amount of street harassment, to the point that I had several months in a row where every. single. time. I left my house someone harassed me. I was even "catcalled" by 3 12 year old boys when I was 6 months pregnant, for being pregnant. I don't believe a strange man will rape me, but yell at me, flash me, follow me home, make inappropriate comments? Happens all the damn time.

Last I checked, this is also not true of men.

It is true that the vast majority of rapes are done by people the victim knows. I was raped by someone I knew, if you define "know" as "met last week in French class." Know could also be "rode the bus with every day for months" or "coworker I've talked to a few times." That means that men you know only a little bit are far more dangerous than strangers, and that's a rather large group right there.

JoGeek said...

Ashley:

Thanks for bringing in discussion! I'm sure the men can offer personal examples here, but I wanted to touch on a few things.

#1 is exactly WHY men are less likely to be aware of danger or report attacks and abuse. Our society pressures them to think of themselves as completely invulnerable, which leaves them less prepared to handle an actual attack. It doesn't make them less often victims. And when men are attacked they are absolutely told it is their fault. Worse, they're told that they are failures as men for "allowing" themselves to be "vulnerable." Something women aren't often subjected to. The fact that women are taught to fear men and not the reverse is part of what perpetuates rape culture. It sets up one gender as the enemy, furthering objectification in general and providing barriers to mutual understanding.

#2: JD can tell you all about the street harassment he was subjected to growing up in Grand Rapids. I've seen men cat-called by groups of women or individual women. The difference is that no one questions the assumption that they're supposed to "like it". I've also been harassed, threatened and followed home by women (specifically teenage girls) who think it's funny to torment a fat chick. The point is not whether men or women are more likely to verbally harass someone or be harassed. The point is that at the root of both cases is the fact that people are taught to think of other human beings as things, instead of people. Once we play into the "my opression's bigger than your's" argument, it completely misses the more relevent point that People Aren't Objects.

Miriam Heddy said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I've worked in rape education before (at the college level, as a peer educator) and you're entirely right that male survivors of rape are particularly under-represented in discussion, for many of the reasons you've outlined. As an undergraduate, I spoke to men and women about rape, and women regularly came up afterwards to say, "I was raped." But no men ever did, though of course, statistically speaking, I knew some of them had been raped.

I will say that much of the very good writing out there about male survivors has come from a feminist perspective, and even if you didn't see it in the SP thread, it's out there. Feminists are and do talk about and work towards recognizing male survivors.

Dismantling some of the stigma of being a male survivor involves thinking deeply about the stereotypes/assumptions about what it means to be a man (things like physical power, always being in control, being tough, not crying) that feminist theory does tend to address, recognizing that patriarchy hurts men.

The difficulty is that so much male on male and male on female violence (particularly rape) is perpetrated by men who feel insecure in their masculinity and us violence as a means of defining themselves as "real men."

It's possible that women as perpetrators are likewise driven by anxieties about their own powerlessness. Though if that's the case, a good analysis of women as perpetrators would look at the ways in which women don't have access to the kinds of institutional power men (particularly white men) do.

Where I would argue with you is in your presenting men and women as equally objectified. I think that's absolutely insupportable by evidence, and it's an assertion of equivalency that isn't even necessary to your argument.

I'd argue, instead, that the objectification of women (and not men, as a rule) means that male privilege is conditional, and the threat is held against men that they might, at any time, lose their rights to personhood simply by appearing to be in any way like women.

Any man that steps outside of the rigid boundaries of masculinity--by being gay, by expressing vulnerability, etc.--is called womanly, effeminate, a pussy, etc., and thus he is told he is, like a woman, less than a person.

Women must be continuously, systematically treated as objects--as less than men--so that men can be kept in line. Objectification of women is a part and parcel of patriarchy, and denying it or arguing that men are objectified just the same as women ignores the way in which female objectification is used against men like yourself.

We can be allies while recognizing the ways that misogyny works on men and women differently.

Mickey said...

I appreciate this post, and it is a point of view that does not get aired often enough, that of the male survivor of sexual abuse.

That said, though, a lot of people seem to be missing the point of the original post. The point of the Schroediger's rapist post does not appear to be rape prevention or a "focus on stranger rape." It is an explanation to men of why women react badly to men who approach them places where they can't readily escape them, or see themselves as isolated, i.e. the bus, the train, a dark street...

That's it. It isn't accusing all men of BEING rapists, really. It is stating that until a women knows you (and even then as many, many people have pointed out) she doesn't know whether or not your the sort of guy who'll rape her, because most of us are smart enough to know that rapists don't walk around with handy brands on their foreheads proclaiming them a danger.

The post is an explanation for female hostility that seems unfathomable to some men (although my husband read it and went, "Well, duh."), and tips for guys on how not to trigger that response.

That's it. I think a whole lot of people are reading WAY more into it than is there, and I say this as someone who regularly posts and speaks out about sexual assault on all genders, ages, etc...

I repeat, thank you for sharing your experiences with us, it does seem to be harder for men to admit that sexual assault happens to them, too and that sucks. It sucks that it happens to anyone, and it sucks whenever anyone is intimidated into not getting the help and support they need.

Shoshie said...

This is a really interesting post, and one that I need to think more about.

JoeGeek, I understand what you're saying, that men are supposed to be tough enough to handle anything that comes their way, so they're not taken seriously when they report an attack. However, this also frequently happens with women. Well, what were you wearing? Did you fight back? Did you yell? It doesn't matter if you thought he was armed, could he have thought you were playing hard-to-get? You like rough sex, don't you, so how is this any different?

Marlie said...

I feel like stereotyping and generalizing leads to seeing people as objects. When you hold one or a few people up as representative of a whole, you are attributing your thoughts, fears, opinions of that person to a group that may not compare.

It is difficult for me to take this post seriously, because there is blatant stereotyping and generalization. I know very few women who give random hugs to strangers, and never men. I don't know any women who hear a man is in a relationship and continue to pursue them. I know that there are women who do this, but the fact that I don't know them makes me believe that it is not as common as TV, books, or film make out.

I understand how JD can be upset to read "men do this" or "men feel that" because it upset me a great deal to read things about women in his post that did not apply to me. Was that the purpose? If it wasn't, how can you prove your point that a belief or method of delivery is wrong when you are spouting those same beliefs and methods of delivery in reverse?

JoGeek:

I think you are wrong to say that women are not equally considered failures for "making" themselves vulnerable. I don't know how many times I've heard: "well, why was she by herself?", "she should have known better", "why did she wear such short skirts".

What's more, I think there is a difference between being taught to fear men, and being taught to protect yourself. Protecting yourself may include a wariness or avoidance of strangers, but I don't believe that equates to fear unless provoked. I think everyone is taught to protect themselves, but they are given different tools to do it. We should probably all be given the same tools. Is this what you're trying to say? I have trouble reading either of you, because again you are using the same tactics and language you are refuting, and I have trouble seeing past that.

JoGeek said...

I was anxious about the possibility for kneejerk, nasty comments on this post, but I'm very pleasantly surprised that everyone is keeping it on a high level. I've only had to delete one "I don't have to listen to you unless I decide your oppression is equal to or worse than mine" troll. Thank you to those who are bringing real discussion to it!

Mickey: While the original post's primary purpose was "this is why women react strongly to you" it went way beyond that and lost it's message pretty thoroughly. If the writer wanted to set out ettiquette for human interaction, they assumed that the only people behaving inappropriately were men. Personally I've been creeped out, touched inappropriately (forced hugging!), harassed and attacked more by women. I'm not trying to flip the blame, I'm (and I believe JD is) trying to say that the cause and solution are more complicated than often assumed by Feminism as a movement, and standards of threat and behaviour apply to both genders (regardless of whether one gender has further to go than the other in acheiving them).

Miriam Heddy: I'm going to let JD defend his own statistics, since he knows where he got them from :-)

JoGeek said...

"I know very few women who give random hugs to strangers, and never men. I don't know any women who hear a man is in a relationship and continue to pursue them."

Really? I've met a LOT of women who do the forced-hugging thing, in many varied social circles. The secretaries in my office had to get a supervisor involved when one woman wouldn't stop walking up behind people (male and female) and hugging them, rubbing their shoulders or back, or otherwise inappropriately touching them. She honestly protested that it's only harassment if it's done by men. I'm personally uncomfortable being hugged by someone I don't know, so I notice it a lot.

You might also find this interesting reading:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17619-its-true-all-the-taken-men-are-best.html#

This may be a case where my personal experience, or JD's, doesn't affirm your own. But I would ask (and honestly) if you are as offended by the generalizations and stereotypes in feminist posts as you seem to be by JD? Did you find the original SP post hard to accept or read?

I'm asking because everyone (and I mean everyone, it isn't criticism) reads statements they agree with with more forgiveness towards objectionable language, stereotypes, mistakes and bias. When they read statements they disagree with, they're more likely to focus on how it's expressed than the ideas themselves.

Shannon Russell said...

Whoa. Heady stuff.

I'm curious about a few things. First, I was under the impression that male on male rape was more common than female on male rape. Are there any statistics on that? I was also under the impression that the male rape statistics included prison rape. I'm not trying to be dismissive, I'm just seeking clarification as to what the statistics portend.

There was a story a few weeks back about a woman who tracked down the teenage son she gave up for adoption as a baby and raped him. My wife and I had the same question: how does that work? Again, not trying to be insensitive or provocative. Veronica said the legal definition of rape means penetration. So, if its not asking too much, how does female on male rape typically "work"?

Again, not trying to discount JD's testimony, but I don't see or feel the kind of culture of fear from women that many women report feeling from men. I've never been cat-called, never been harassed, never been leered at or approached on the train. I've always just assumed I'm not physically attractive to women, which is why women never hit on me.

But I have been harassed by men. My second job was at Pretzel Time at the mall, and my boss would stand next to me and let his hand rest on my ass. This happened twice before I started asking around, and when word got back to the boss he proceeded to threaten me with sexual harassment suits for asking about his sexuality. So, I quit.

All that being said, I do believe that whatever the rape statistics are, that a man has more pressure not to report rape than a woman. Although there is a rape culture (though what all that includes I'm not certain), there has also been an educational drive to encourage women to step forward in the event of sexual assault. I think that has been very important and has no doubt had an impact on how many women step forward.

There's no such message for men. There is definitely, DEFINITELY a stigma for a man to admit being raped. There is pressure to not appear weak, and I would say it would be worse to admit you were raped by a man than a woman. Although admitting a woman raped you would be seen as a sign of weakness, admitting a man raped you would tread on gay taboos that make many men uncomfortable. They would have to admit that they were sodomized, which challenges their sexual identity, which is of prime importance in male culture.

So, I don't know. JD's post was eye-opening to be sure, but although there are problems with men being raped, my gut reaction is that women experience the brunt of fear from strangers.

As a man, justified or not, I don't fear being raped by men or women on the train. I more fear someone snatching my laptop.

Just my opinion.

Peace,
Shannon

Anonymous said...

You said 50% of men who are raped are raped by strangers and 30% of women who are raped, it does not follow logically that men are more likely to be raped by strangers than women are. Rather that *if* they are raped it is more likely to be a stranger. Other than that you raised excellent points and articulated them very well. I will keep these things in mind.

JD said...

There have been a lot of well-thought out, considerate responses. Thank you.

However, something keeps coming up in the course of this discussion that resembles the comments to the original "Schrödinger’s Rapist" post on Shapely Prose: the idea that certain things can be considered self-evident without evidence to substantiate them.

The "common knowledge" described in "Schrödinger’s Rapist," that women live in fear and men don't, is definitely not substantiated by evidence. Based on my experience I would say that men and women live with different kinds of fear.

If you want to talk about fear of physical violence, we run into statistics that show that: 1) Men are more likely to be the victims of physical violence, and; 2) That serial rapists and other maladjusted individuals will target any person or group they perceive as vulnerable, regardless of factors such as gender.

If you want to talk about who is "responsible" for the violence, then things get very complicated very quickly.

First of all, how reasonable is it to profile violent offenders and generalize that to an entire group? Is it acceptable to generalize about who is dangerous based on gender? What about ethnicity or race? What about economic status? Sexual orientation? Age? Where do you draw the line? At what point does profiling become prejudice?

Second, how reasonable is it to judge the flaws of a society based on the behaviors of its most dysfunctional, anti-social members? Yes, those elements are bad and need to be eliminated, but are they truly representative of the whole?

Third, at what point does it become reasonable to stop trusting just because you've been hurt? After all, the rational pursuit of self-interest only takes us so far. If we each decide individually to only do what seems safe, all of us lose out. In order to truly get the satisfaction we want out of life, we have to trust one another. And trust can't be based on rational arguments.

The point of the "Schrödinger’s Rapist" post seems to be: "Even though we need to be able to trust each other, the burden of proving trustworthiness should be on the man, simply because he is a man." Which will work only if one can find a man willing to make that leap of faith on his own, knowing that he's making the leap alone. That's expecting a lot. A person could get pretty lonely waiting for that to happen.

There seems to be an assumption that a man should have to prove that he's not like those other, bad men out there. That he's one of the "good" men.

But what happens when you substitute a word other than "man?" Try something that describes ethnicity or race. Try something about economic status, sexual orientation, age, or whatever else strikes your fancy. See how it sounds when you read it. Again, at what point does profiling become prejudice?

You might respond by saying: "Hey, I have good reason to distrust those people!" Whoever those people are, I'm right there with you. I have good reasons to distrust men *and* women. Yet here I am, in a relationship. A very happy one.

The only reason I'm in it, though, is that I was able to set aside my mistrust, without expecting Jo to "prove" her good intentions to me first.

I can't change your mind, and I can't make your choices for you. But I can make my own. I chose not to live in fear. I have to say I'm pleased with the results.

--JD

Marlie said...

JoGeek,

I reread your comment and wanted to clarify. I don't disagree with what JD said. I believe entirely that his experience is valid, and that anyone can be a victim of harrasment and anyone can be the aggressor. I believe that our society does not support victims of any kind, and leaves it to them to protect themselves. I believe that men are told to protect themselves by being strong and/or clever, and when they are victimized society may not consider them to be these things any longer. Those things are what I understood the post to be about, as well as the fact that it is unfair to isolate men as the enemy and absolve the actions of women entirely.

I already agree with that, so my only issue is how the message is delivered. Delivery matters, and often when people criticize it they have a valid point. It seems more conducive to discussion to acknowledge, or even justify, a flawed delivery and re-iterate your claim, than to say "well, you're not seeing the big picture".

sosoclever said...

But unless we try, not just to be understood, but to understand, we aren’t likely to have much success.

I think this particular sentiment could be applied across an extremely wide range of topics. Far too many people insist on being understood, and having allowances made for them, and they have no desire to do the same for others. Very few people are willing to walk a mile in another man's moccasins.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to walk in yours.

Amy said...

The point of the "Schrödinger’s Rapist" post seems to be: "Even though we need to be able to trust each other, the burden of proving trustworthiness should be on the man, simply because he is a man."

Nope, the point of the post was "Even though we need to be able to trust each other, the burden of proving trustworthiness should be on the person who approaches strangers socially out of the blue in public, simply because they are the instigators."

My experience has been that men are much more likely to approach (by which I mean start a conversation with, hit on, catcall, treat in a familiar manner, etc.) strange women in public than women are to approach strange men in public. But even if that's not true, the post was written by a woman who was saying, "Hey, men, if you want to approach me in public, here's what's likely to be going through my mind and why." It did not rule out the possibility that men have similar sorts of fears about other men or about women.

Whiner said...

So much to talk about! But trying to whittle this down into just a couple of points so that it's not swept away in a sea of words:

1. I think the Schroediger's rapist post started with good intentions, as a reaction to the XCKD comic and an explanation of why people might not appreciate being approached in public places. But once people got swept up into the emotions of the thing, it ballooned out of control, with a lot of people going "Yes! I feel threatened like this! YOU MUST ALL FORWARD THIS TO EVERY PERSON YOU KNOW TO TELL THEM HOW TO BEHAVE!" Even though the advice wasn't *relevant* to every person in the world, because not every person approaches strangers and is clueless about why they're scared/annoyed. And then there began the push-back wave of "This post proves women are all crazy hating bitches! Forward it to everyone you know!" And, well, drama.

2. Some people seriously do not believe female-on-male rape exists. Even with plenty of references, and despite the stigma of reporting you CAN find references. Even with references including unconsciousness, drugs, restraints, and/or injuries. 'He must have wanted it, otherwise he can't have an erection.' Yes, I've had very long and frustrating arguments on this subject.

3. The term privilege is overused, even among people who are aware of crossed issues and how you can have advantages of one kind while having disadvantages of another. And yes, I'd rather use 'advantages' than 'privilege', because 'privilege' does tend to sound sneering.

But especially because the whole POINT behind recognising privilege is realising that not everyone has the same advantages and experiences that you do... and this includes those that you may think of as privileged. Everybody has advantages and disadvantages. You don't know exactly what someone else's life is like if you haven't lived it!

Andy Jo said...

Thank you for posting this...

I know a man who was sexually harassed by a woman at his workplace. He never reported it for all of the reasons you state but, primarily, because he felt he would not be taken seriously.

--Andy Jo-- (female -- despite the spelling)

JD said...

In response to some specific comments:

Ashley, you said "last I checked, this is also not true for men." I'm curious how you know. As a man, I can disagree based on personal experience. Jo was able to offer some reasons for disagreement herself, also based on experience. Did you check with any men you know, or did you assume your statements were self-evident?

Miriam, you made some very insightful statements about how men who live in our society are kept under control by the threat of losing their right to personhood. But then you described how we live in a "patriarchy." Can you truly call our system patriarchal if men are just as conditioned to live in fear as women are? Oppressive, yes. Patriarchal... it depends on your definition. I’m inclined to go along with the ideas of the sociologist Max Weber regarding social status: in many cases where a person has power over you, it is simply because you believe that person has a higher status than you do. Thinking makes it so. Jo has some more developed ideas on the structure of our society which I hope she will share at some point.

Shannon, the beliefs that men can't be raped and that male rape mostly happens to children and prisoners are also "common knowledge." They are also false. The NCVS statistics I quoted exclude children under 12, prison inmates, and military personnel. As far as how many rapes are committed by women, there is no reliable data. I wish there were, but I wish even more deeply that there was no need to collect it. If you want to know how female-on-male rape is physically possible do a search for "male rape survivor." Just be sure you want to know.

Anonymous, what I actually said is that 50% of men who are violently attacked are attacked by strangers, as compared to 30% of women. Despite this, when the statistics for the NCVS were gathered no men admitted to being raped by strangers. By comparison, nearly one-third of female rape victims said they had been raped by a stranger, even though they were less likely to be attacked by strangers overall. The problem with the data on male rape is that it is obviously incomplete, but not in such a way that one can draw any clear conclusions. Men may be more likely than women to be raped by strangers, or they may not. All we can safely say is that a lot of men are clearly unwilling to admit that they were raped, especially by a stranger. How many is “a lot,” though? There’s no way to know unless people come forward.

Marlie, I completely agree with you that delivery matters. If the original “Schrödinger’s Rapist” post and the comments which followed it had focused on the topic of fear and uncertainty in a dangerous world, it is likely that what I said would never have been written. In all fairness, Starling never mentioned privilege once in her post, so you might reasonably consider it a “hijacked thread.” Considering how the comments were moderated, though, the owners of the blog didn’t seem to think so. That leads me to believe that it became exactly what was originally intended.

It became a discussion about what men need to do to allay the uncertainties of women, when it seems to me we are all in the same boat. Because my delivery was meant to address that specific issue, I’m not particularly sorry about how it came across. My only regret is that some of the more practical reasons against accepting Starling’s fear-based perspective didn’t come to me until I considered some of the insightful comments made here. Those reasons are stated in the comment-stream above.

JD said...

And a couple more:

Sosoclever, thanks for pointing out that particular line. Unfortunately I can’t take credit for it; it comes from a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi. Whether he wrote it or not, there is a great deal to be gained from it. It has been used by organizations ranging from the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Theresa to the Royal British Legion to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Amy, based on what you say, Starling could easily have made her post inclusive and gender-neutral. But she didn’t. I don’t think that was accidental, especially considering the long stream of comments which followed, many of them making big assumptions about what men owe women simply because they are men and therefore in possession of some sort of nebulous “privilege.”

I know that I have a lot of privileges, many of which I take for granted. On the other hand, I recognize that a lot of women have privileges as great or greater, than mine, and I see them taken for granted as well. Gender is too simplistic a way of assessing status in our society. One of the many problems with overgeneralization is that it leads to people seeing things in absolutes. If you see something as absolute, chances are you’re not seeing something.

alice said...

Lots of good points, and I want to say at the outset that I'm very sorry to hear about the rapes you've experienced, JD. I appreciate your writing this, since I imagine it can't have been easy, and it's given me a lot of good things to consider.

I agree with you that objectification hurts men as well as women, and that there are challenges that men face when they survive sexual assault that women don't have to deal with. There are unique pressures on men to not consider certain incidents as 'rape', because when's a guy not up for sex? What kind of a 'man' admits that he was overpowered by a woman? The list (sadly) goes on for a while.

Miriam Heddy already addressed the differences in the frequency and scope of the ways in which women face objectification above, so I won't go there. However, the tone of your post kept coming back to some variation on 'Women aren't more hurt than men! The pain that women deal with isn't worse than men's pain!' You explicitly state that male victims "are more abused because they are male."

This isn't a contest, and I get angry when the conversation goes there, because it sets up questions where no one wins. Who has a right to feel hurt after a sexual assault? All victims. Who has a right to be angry? All of us. Who has it 'worse'? I don't think that things can be compared in this way.

To my mind, it's the absolute amount of pain, disbelief and abuse that matters, not the relative amounts. Victims of rape are treated poorly - period. Male victims of rape have a number unique challenges that they face which have been systematically ignored, and that needs to change - period. Women are more likley than men to be victims of rape during the course of their life - period.

All of these statistics impact *how* we need to approach these issues (getting a sample size larger than 10 for men who experience rape is a big starting point), but they don't determine which crimes are 'worse' than others.

While I agree with the point you made in the comments about different individuals having different amounts of privilege, this cannot be extrapolated to mean that gender-based privilege is irrelevant, which seemed to be what you were saying. It often gets oversimplified, but there *are* benefits of status that come from being male in our society. That's not the end of the discussion, but it's also not as incidental as you seem to keep saying it is.

Again, I want to thank you for posting. Because I agreed with the 'here is why women often find unsolicited advances to be creepy' part of the SP post, I wasn't as critical of the rest as I should have been. I appreciate having to think more about it, since this stuff is too important to gloss over with unexamined ideas.

TanteTerri said...

Wonderful post JD.

In many ways men are "victimized" by our society. Women have been able to start breaking out of tradional gender roles, but I think men have a much harder time being accepted when they try to do the same.

I think objectifying other people is a huge problem. And I think most (if not all) of us are guilty of doing it from time to time.

And men have the right to feel what they feel when they perceive themselves to being objectified, and those feelings should be respected - just like women's feelings should be respected.

I think Jo makes an excellent point that we should all learn to protect ourselves - to the level where we, individually feel "safe" or comfortable, rather than to be fearful. Fear doesn't help - self defense skills (whether those are physical or mental) do.

If I find myself in a place that seems dangerous - I am likely to be more alert to any danger - not just men; and I think that is a reasonable response. I think any reasonable man would react the same way. It's a people thing, not a gender thing.

And I have to admit, I am a hugger. For a long time, I was not - I did not enjoy hugs and I did not give them. It took me a long time to become comfortable enough in my own body to learn to accept a hug as an expression of affection instead of an intrusion. Usually, I don't hug strangers unless they seem open to it. But sometimes I do hug someone I don't really know, on the presumption that I will be getting to know them better in the future. I apologize to all who I have hugged without permission (especially you JD), and in the future I will keep this in mind.