Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Feminists Women People have a lot to be pissed off about today.

Like the Steubenville rape.

Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)

Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know.  The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality.  The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.

Unsettling, right?

Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad.  And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.

This marks a critical moment for feminism.  People are with them on this one.  People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture.  We can’t hide from it anymore.  Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.

But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.

I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.

“Rape culture” is a powerful term.  No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”

Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.

I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote.  But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.

Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed.  I get that. I agree with that.  But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”

We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we?  The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women.  Everyone should want to get on board with that.

This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people.  So where’s the disconnect?

Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):

1)        They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

2)        They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.

3)        They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.

And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.

My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime).  He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased.  I remember one such comment.  It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”

“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”

“But I don’t speak feminist…”

“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”

But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.

Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not.  And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.”  During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape.  He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight.  His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology.  He got defensive.

When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”

You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.

But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.

Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of  people are on board with.  And that’s good.  Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk.  After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.

– – –

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I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
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9 thoughts on “Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

  1. The problem with this though is that after years and years of the system breaking them down, you cannot tell anyone who is fighting for social change that their message works better if the reign it in and stop being angry. It doesn’t work that way. Anger is a real and natural response to things like this. Its hard to take but we cannot tell people who are being oppressed that we’ll listen if they talk to us in “our civilized way” which is often implied when we say anger isn’t effective. It ends up seeming like more oppression.
    Not that your point isn’t real and true and all. Just, its all so complicated. I have some articles, somewhere that might explain this better. Yes, we need to attempt to work past our angry responses into solutions and empowering each other to change. But anger is going to come first.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Steph. Of course there is room and justification for anger. 🙂 I, like others, can only speak from my own experience. That experience tells me that allies are gained when anger is accessible and constructive, rather than intimidating and accusatory. A lot of people in my life, mostly men, are uncomfortable with “the f-word,” even though they hold many feminist values. In fact, they’re terrified to even start a conversation about new or challenging idea with a declared “feminist” for fear the (albeit justified) anger might smack them in the face as they seek to understand.

      It scares me to think that if feminist discourse DOESN’T welcome in people like my father, or some of my male friends, or even me, then there is plenty of other discourse that WILL. And that discourse might leave rape culture out of the conversation.

      1. I wonder though, if there is also a place for accusations. I mean, we all contribute to this stuff, and I think we can really only contribute to change when we know that. Maybe we need to designate safe, non-angry places for some of the conversations, where people can ask questions and some things can be explained and devil’s advocate before getting deeper into that deeper, harder to hear stuff? Maybe if we started vague gentle, and moved towards anger instead of starting with it… Ugh. I don’t know. I prefer gentle, compassion with my anger, but I would never want to, say, tell Aboriginal Canadians to curb their anger instead accusing whites of continuing to contribute to their oppression. That scares me too.

  2. This echoes a lot of the conversations around our homestead lately. Thank you for going out on a limb in writing this and reminding everyone that civility still counts.

  3. Also: for the past three months I have been in the fray here and there online, weighing in and tracking all the myriad of things being called Rape Culture. Panties that say “sure thing”. Seth MacFarlane’s jokes. Steubenville. Google search algorithm bias. It has been extraordinarily risky/difficult to even make the observation that this term is becoming divorced from its original intent and substituting as a catch-all — and that this is nothing new. This is the problem social science has always struggled with when we speak of “culture”. There are some dangerous things inherit in lumping our grievances into a catch-all in this way, as we have done as a society again and again, with terrible outcomes. So this is just a problem I’ve offered up to the feminist discipline to consider. Some of the time it’s dismissed as “mansplaining”. But most of the time it silences the room.

  4. I am not a rape victim but know some. And it breaks my heart when I see people on social media sites saying rape victims deserved it because they’re “whores” and “drunk” and various other things. This type of thinking hurts me. Today I wanted to chuck my phone at the tv because CNN did a segment on people tweeting the Steubenville victim asked for it and that it wasn’t rape because she was passed out. It’s so sad

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