Rape culture: How we all contribute and what we can do to change

Just a day before the Trump video was leaked, I read a boldly written piece on rape culture you can find here.

I shared the essay on my Facebook, knowing that most men  would not sit well with the text (for the purpose of this essay “men” will refer to cisgendered men).

As it turned out, only women liked it and few women at that.  It isn’t easy to read over and over “men ain’t shit.”  But, it’s important to realize the author is saying, “We ain’t shit when it comes to rape culture.”

I did not read that as a condemnation of men as human beings.  The friend who’d initially shared it is a man; I never got the feeling the author was saying that men have no worth.  He was specifically addressing the work that doesn’t get done when any of us think we’ve arrived at enlightenment.

None of us have arrived.  We need to keep arriving.  If we think we’ve already arrived we can no longer learn about what work we still need to do.

I had more men in my life favorably receive this article which importunes men to own their  responsibility as it pertains to participation in rape culture.

We all are aware that there are people who rape.  Our laws have called such action a crime and we have a system of justice to hold people accountable for the act of rape.

The term “rape culture” acknowledges that while rapists are responsible for their actions there may have been many people along the way who led each individual to believe that the rape was warranted and excusable.

Most women are raped by someone they know.  An acquaintance.  A neighbor.  A friend.  A boyfriend. A husband.  A doctor.  A coworker.  A mentor. A teacher.

I think one of the more frightening realizations is that sometimes the person raping may not even regard what they have done as rape.

Many women who’ve been raped have yet to come to terms with the idea that they were raped.  As a society, we’re so good at blaming women that women who have been raped continue to blame themselves, and excuse the rapist.

I’ve heard many men say, “Well, this woman doesn’t think it’s rape either,” as though that settles the matter.  But this ignores that the woman who defends the rapist  grew up in the same culture that told her women were to blame, as a rule.

Yes, women have also participated in rape culture.

The culture of rape is a system of stories we’ve be told and keep telling, again and again, to young girls and young boys. These stories are remnants of a past when women were literal property to be completely controlled by their fathers until they were given off to a husband who would continue that level of control.  Of course, that dynamic still exists in the world.

After millennia, narratives which supported the exploitation and abuse of women were maintained as truth regardless of the merit or contradictions within.  Those stories say things like:

Boys want sex all of the time.  Boys can’t control their behavior when it comes to sex, therefore, it is up to girls to keep their legs shut.  Boys can’t control their behavior so girls must wear modest clothing (“modest” will be different for each culture).  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.

We needn’t have been instructed by our parents, either.  Words from peers, coaches, mentors, song lyrics, movies, TV shows, politician’s speeches- all may have elements which to reinforce the culture which tells us that rape, or groping, or harassment, is excusable for men because they have no control -so we must be in control.

A clear example of this are rapes which occur in the military.  Often it’s said “What did she expect?” and “That’s why we keep women out of the military.”  Reckon that justification with the reality that more than half of the sexual assault victims in the military are male.

The truth is that much of the motive behind sexual assault is a show of power and dominance.  The cover story in our narratives remains that men have no control over what they do because their sexual desire cannot be contained.

This narrative exists side-by-side with the narrative that boys are better suited for leadership because they are less emotional.  Western culture prizes the rational mind as superior and categorizes men as more rational, on the whole.

Emotions can be volatile things, I will agree.  In what sense does passion escape that same category of emotion?  Anger is an emotion, yet the culture allows that passion and anger are acceptable- even expected- traits among men.

Men are simultaneously granted the monopoly on mastery of one’s self as it pertains to the ability to execute in positions of authority (she’s too emotional to lead) while still getting monopoly’s “get out of jail free” (often literally) when we’re speaking of self-control as it pertains to sexual desire.

Men and women both have sexual desire though the level of desire varies within each gender.

We shame men who have little desire to the point that it’s not even discussed.  If not for the commercials for Viagra,  we might think a lack of desire in men was a myth.

Conversely, women are told that they don’t have sexual desire, particularly when compared with men.

The message in our narratives maintains that men are out of control of their own bodies when it comes to sex; they are ruled by their own desire. All in our society are taught that men can’t control their sexual impulses so it’s expected that they’ll verbally harass, leer, grope, cheat, sexually assault, or fully rape you.

Men are encouraged to pride themselves on control so when the control is lost, the blame is placed with the woman whose body caused his desire.  Again, many stories throughout time have reinforced that narrative while others merely reveal that the culture has encouraged men to use women as a scapegoat for their own lack of control.

Men have been excused of responsibility and, instead, the responsibility is placed on women. Your woman’s body is too attractive and too irresistible.  Really, your body made them do it.

What happens when we do encounter a woman with sexual desire?  She is immediately called names to let her know that she is a lowlife in society.  “Slut.” “Whore.” She is a lowlife for having the same desire as a man.  In some cultures, they cut out all of the areas of pleasure because of the fear they have over women’s desire.

No one seems to notice that this woman with desire wasn’t supposed to exist in the first place- after all it was the biological difference in men’s level of desire that was supposed to excuse men’s behavior.

If a woman has desire but isn’t harassing, isn’t groping- isn’t raping- we’d have to acknowledge that women exhibit more control over their own bodies than men do.

I do not feel that the level of control, or lack, is innate in any of us.  We have either been trained from an early age to self-police our desire, or to be libertine.

If a woman is verbally harassed on the street, or physically assaulted, someone will ask “Well, what was she wearing?”

If she was raped they’ll ask:

“Did she drink?”

“Has she had sex with many (or any) other men before?”

“What was she doing there?”

Women are trained that they must be the ones to cover up, stay sober, and not ever have sex (unless they are married in which case they have to always say “yes”).

Men can wear what they want.  Men can drink.  Men can have sex- in fact they are compulsive seekers of sex in our narratives.  We give men freedom to do all these things; they can be wherever they choose to be.

Men can have sex but they cannot get pregnant.  Men cannot get pregnant but they can brag about getting women pregnant and will not be shamed.

Women who have children from multiple partners will be shamed.  Women who choose to abort will be shamed.  Women who want the option to abort will be told that they cannot have control over their own body.

When pregnancy begins a man leaves some blue prints but the woman builds the fetus out of her own blood, her own cells, her own life.  It is a part of her body.  That is the entire concept of viability- the point at which a fetus can live separate from its creator.  Up until that point, the fetus is her body.

Men are not in control of their own bodies but are somehow allowed control over yours.

Whether we’re speaking about how society excuses sexual assault as “boys will be boys” or we’re letting the state tell women they can’t have an abortion, really we’re telling young girls and women- “Your body is not yours.”

If abortion were not at all about control of women’s bodies and sexuality, then those who wish to see fewer teen pregnancies and abortions would encourage us to nationally adopt the same strategy which has worked in Colorado.  There, the birth rate and abortion rates both fell nearly 50% in merely five year’s time.  It’s insincere to state that you are against abortion and fail to embrace such programs.

Men are not in control of their own bodies but are somehow allowed control over yours.

Trump’s words regarding his sexual assaults and his statements regarding punishing women for abortion continue to foster the environment which told the boys and men in our lives that our bodies existed for them.

We’re taking back our bodies for us.

Our bodies exist so we can breathe. Our bodies exist so we can learn.  Our bodies exist so we can experience, teach, love, dream, sing, and dance. Our bodies are not here for you.

Our bodies are our own.

Your eyes don’t have to be beautiful; they are here so you can see the sunrise, the trees, and faces of loved ones.

Your legs don’t have to look the way anyone else wants them to look; they’re here for you to walk and explore your world.

Did we even remember that women have minds? This seems lost in the narrative where women only exist to give sex or children to men.

Women’s bodies are not here so that men can experience them but so that women can experience the world.  That is the story we need to tell now.

We’re taking back our bodies for us.

Women: your body is your own.  Your body is your own. It’s here to serve you.  Your body exists for your edification, your enjoyment, your adventure, your teaching, your learning, your pleasure.

It’s insulting to men to suggest that they have no control over their own bodies – particularly to men who do exhibit control and don’t feel the need to speak every thought which pops into their head as though they were a child.

I would ask even of those men to remember that the purpose of a woman’s body is not to be beautiful for you, or even to be beautiful at all.

The purpose of her body is to serve her adventure and exploration of this life.  If you love the women in your life, please promote that narrative.


Romance is in the Sky

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Not feelin’ it? It get it.

If you’re in a relationship, there can be a lot of pressure to make sure you’ve made the day special enough.

I’ve been raised in a family who, thankfully, doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on celebrating on specific days. Why can’t we show our love all of the time? And why would it need to be shown through how much money you spend?

My mom has never wanted to go out on Mother’s Day. “Take me out when it’s less crowded,” she’d tell me.

A misery of capitalism is that it preys on insecurities and exploits them to sell products. If you are uncertain you’ve done a good enough job loving someone then maybe you can purchase that love.

Of course, the people hit heaviest on this day are those who are alone and have believed the myth that romance and love and intimacy are reserved for someone we call “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “husband,” “wife,” or any term related to that type of dynamic such as “significant other.”

I have no boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or significant other. Yet, I have love. I have romance. I have sensuality. I have intimacy.

How can this be?

The term “romance” has never been limited to the one most associated with Cupid. I have been in love (of that kind) and I know the feeling it can give. There is, at first, an otherworldly quality about it as though one is in a dream.  I can find that same feeling when I stare at the sky, moon, and stars, and in any beauty I can see, hear, or witness.

I remember taking a walk in the woods a few winters back. It had been a hard winter and we were experiencing a warm day in the midst of it. I was so inspired by the beauty of the land that, out of nowhere I yelled, “I’m in love!!” If anyone was close enough to hear me they probably thought I was making an exclamation in the way that Mitzi Gaynor does in “South Pacific.” That is what most people think when they hear those words.  However, my exclamation was inspired by an overwhelming appreciation for the beauty around me, and the serenity it provided. I was in love with the world, the land, the trees, and the feeling was filling my heart so much that it could not be contained.

In that same way I experience sensuality. I used the term to refer to living in my senses. I actively appreciate that my eyes can work to see beauty and my taste buds function to experience flavor. If I can be like a child as I touch things, appreciating how different each surface is, there can still be joy in such a small activity. It’s about being intentional with the act of touch. It seems too many adults can only activate such fascination with the assistance of drugs but, I assure you, it is possible to engage without.

If there are loved ones around me- family or friends- I can take the time to hug them and appreciate them in this way, also. Cuddling may also be an option, though each person has a level of comfort we should all respect in this regard.

Touch has been proven vital. Babies can’t thrive without it and we all receive oxytocin from it. It seems our puritanical roots still default to a sexual association with touch once a person is no longer a child.

We don’t say to a ten year old, “You’re growing up now, you should toughen up and stop needing food.” Essentially, that is the message we’re given regarding touch. While we will not immediately die without touch, science is only finding more evidence that our health is compromised without it.  I wonder how often people connect sexually simply because they need touch of some kind.  I hope we will learn to respect this need; I’ve been excited to see the increase of cuddle parties and professional cuddlers.

Intimacy is available at all times. This is also about a conscious intention to be present but, in this case, the focus is on the other person. If I can be open and share, I allow room for others to do the same. I experience the joy of this intimacy often in my life with close friends, or with strangers with whom I will only share a vignette of experience and time.

I’ve also taken to speaking “I love you” to myself. I regularly say, “I love you, Susan.” I began this practice a couple of years ago. When I first started, it would make me cry, sometimes. Then it became routine. Eventually, I was surprised one day when during a time I would normally berate myself with accusation “why were you so stupid” instead I found myself saying, “I love you, Susan.”

I am now a firm believer that we should speak these words as often as possible. Of course, we should also realize that the words mean nothing if the action does not follow. Many of us speak things to ourselves that we would never say to others. Replacing that inner dialog can allow us to move toward goals in life; as we believe we are worth more, we can take greater risk. Failure is needed as a path to success but can be unbearable if we don’t already believe we are loved and loveable.

I realize that those who have been fully immersed in the myth that the highest quality of love and intimacy is the one we most associate with this holiday will not be consoled by this and will think I’m a fraud. They will probably assume I can’t be happy and content. There cannot be joy without “the one.”

I can do nothing for those who are thoroughly convinced.

However, I encourage all to find love, romance, sensuality, and intimacy with each moment of each day. None of us can remember this all of the time, of course. Life gets in the way. But if we can remember it even some of the time, we will have much more joy.