Now that you’ve had a little time to reflect on the mind-boggling controversy that occurred when Rebecca Watson suggested that propositioning strange women in elevators was creepy, and men – including Richard Dawkins – whined in response and wondered however would poor menz ever get laid again if they couldn’t creep women into giving it up, I want to tell you a couple of things you need to understand.
Rejecting a strange man’s sexual advances is scary. That’s right – scary. Some women will tell you it’s not and that Watson was overreacting, but no one’s experience is universal: the fact is, a small minority of people cope with rejection by lashing out in violence, and when those people are bigger and stronger than you, or have power over you, you can end up getting hurt. It is completely rational and sensible to think defensively when you’re in a situation full of unknowns. A man you don’t know may respond to your rejection with a friendly, “Well, couldn’t hurt to try, right?” or he may turn out to be a rapist who likes showing teh bitchez they can’t reject him, or he may fall into that huge gray area in between.
This should explain two things to you: why women are often unclear in their rejections (“I’m busy/engaged/have a headache” rather than “No, I would never be interested in you”), and why women are creeped out by situations men think women should find flattering.
Does anyone else suspect that when heterosexual men envision these situations, they’re seeing only beautiful women, without judo training, propositioning them to do something they really want to do? Of course. That’s how privilege works [required reading]. So let me present a more fitting version (previously discussed in comments, if it sounds familiar):
You’re a man. A really big, muscly guy gets in the elevator with you. He tells you he’d like to fuck you. You feel keenly aware that if he wanted, he could easily just spin you round, pull down your pants and fuck your anus as hard as he wants. You know it can happen, because this has happened to lots of men you know. You’ve seen it on literally thousands of TV shows and movies ever since you were a kid. And you also know that no one would believe you if you reported it, because he’s well-dressed and looks extremely respectable. And he wants to fuck you, and he can rape you if you refuse. Maybe you should just give him a blow job, to be safe. But then wouldn’t that be the same as being raped, since you don’t want to have sex with this guy? Yes, except, well, you’d retain some small measure of control. As you prepare to get on your knees, you think, “God, I hope he doesn’t ask for my telephone number afterwards.”
Do not read this as an argument that Watson’s situation was this terrifying. From what she’s said, it wasn’t. I’m just showing you an extreme because apparently some of you just don’t have a clue, and an extreme might be required to penetrate the dense fog surrounding your thinking processes.
Maybe a better example is Greg Laden’s wonderful post about encountering a dog, and how he’s not afraid of dogs generally, and he knows how to handle them generally, but sometimes you meet a dog and have no way of knowing if it’s the sweetest creature ever or rabid and vicious, and how, gee, maybe apprehension in that situation is absolutely justified. Ya think?
Whichever example you prefer, that brings me to my second point. Rejecting a strange man can, in the right circumstances, be so scary that some women will simply skip the rejection and do what’s being asked, in hopes that they won’t be brutally raped (because having sex you don’t want in order to avoid a worse fate is rape, too). Remember when we were all being told by public awareness campaigns in the 80s: do not fight with muggers, just give them the money and they’ll leave you alone, but if you fight with them they might kill you? That’s what women have known about men since forever, and so many of us are extremely pro-active in our avoidance of strange men in uncertain situations. And, yes, that’s a pity for you genuinely nice guys – but you if you are nice, you’ll blame rapists, not women, for making things difficult.
And that, folks, is one of the many ways rape culture benefits “nice guys”, or, men who are not legally rapists but are perfectly comfortable with manipulating women into sex rather than looking for mutual sexual experiences. Rape culture provides a ton of ways to frighten women into allowing you to rape them without anything resembling physical violence:
- Creeping women out by targeting them in the way a rapist would. Read Laden’s post. Be aware of the ways male rapists approach adult women: they come up to us in areas where we’re alone, where there are no witnesses, where “nice girls” shouldn’t be, when we’re obviously intoxicated, etc. Your best bet is to meet women in other types of situations. If you strongly feel the need to hit on a woman in a situation where you’d be creeped out if a big burly guy hit on you, the way to do it is: offer her your number instead of asking for hers. Ask her if she’d meet you for coffee in the hotel dining area tomorrow morning rather than right now in your room. Indicate your interest without pressuring her into demonstrating reciprocation. That’s exactly how rapists don’t think. (And honestly? If you think you need rapist tactics to “get laid”, you probably really are just a rapist at heart.)
- Being her boss, and having that long history of bosses retaliating against female employees who don’t submit to rape – and the long history of a society that didn’t understand why this was wrong until the 90s. Again, use a method acting trick to figure it out. You’re a man. Your boss wants a blow job. You know there’s not another job half this good available to you in the tri-state area. No one’s going to believe you if you claim he demanded this from you, because everyone thinks he’s so nice.
- Promoting the idea that your religion states that a woman can never deny her husband “sex”, when your religion is dominant in your culture and, perhaps, government.
These are just a few ways that rape culture enables men to rape without physical duress or fear of consequences. I bet commenters can name some others.
Rape culture works because rape is a history every woman shares. If you haven’t been raped, you know someone who has. Or you’ve been in situations where, in hindsight, you think you narrowly and luckily avoided being raped. You don’t know a strange woman’s history with rape culture. Just as she needs to assume you are a rapist until she has good reason to believe otherwise, you should assume you’re dealing with someone who’s keenly aware you might be a rapist and taking sensible precautions. You are not entitled to resent her for making that impersonal assumption. You are entitled to resent rapists for setting up a culture in which such assumptions are, sadly, quite rational based on the facts she has before her.
And rape is only the beginning of rape culture enforcement. There’s also the fact that women are far more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner, or a serial killer with misogynistic issues, or get beaten half to death when they’re rented out by one man to another for sexual purposes. Rape is traumatic as hell on its own, but just in case that’s not enough, we have to keep in mind that some men won’t be happy until we’re dead. And when we meet strange men, we don’t have a magic way of telling the harmless majority from the lethal minority.