Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why men don’t get to decide if talk about rape is threatening

In the comments section to Jill’s post about Ciolli’s firing, one commenter, shawn, defended the frequent rape threats at that discussion board thus

you people have a very broad interpretation of the type of serious threat that is not protected speech. However nasty comments are, you have to look at both the message and the context in which it is conveyed.

I didn’t participate in the debate, and only saw the comment a while after it was posted, so I wanted to make some general comments on this general stance.

Men, myself included, don’t get to decide if threats about rape are really “threatening”. Actually, I would even go as far as to say that only the woman that the threat was aimed at gets to decide if it was threatening or not, but right now I am just focusing on why men should just shut the fuck up when it comes to this.

The reason is very simple. We cannot relate to it. Men are not in constant risk of rape happening to them, so it’s quite easy for us to dismiss such threats. Women, on the other hand, are in risk of getting raped (and an all too large number already have), so they can easily relate to such threats.

At this point I could start going into the horrifying rape US statistics, but I have already covered those in an earlier post. Instead I’ll try to tell two stories that one of my acquaintances have told me, in the hope of at least conveying at least part of the difference in what men and women risk.

My acquaintance is not Danish, and these stories relate to her home-country (which I won’t specify, other than say it’s not USA).

The first was a story about when she grew up. When she became a teenager she started going out, mostly in a local nightclub, where there was a dance-floor. It was a local place, where people pretty much knew each others, and it was the same crowd hanging out.
One night, a gang came to the nightclub, barricaded the doors, and raped all the women in there.
My acquaintance was lucky, since she wasn’t there that evening, but no woman in that town would ever feel safe again when going out in town, and especially not to that nightclub, which was the only one in town.

The second story is one that has haunted me ever since I’ve heard it.
In her home-country, it’s quite common to travel into the nature to get drunk and enjoy a good time.
Recently, some of her friends went to a lake and got drunk there. While being there, they could hear that there was a birthday party going on somewhere at the shores of the same lake. It was a girl’s 18th birthday party, and they were obviously having a good time.
Then during the night, the sounds changed, and they could hear that the girl got raped for hours by a group of men.
The people hearing this were powerless to do anything – they tried calling the police, but they were too far away for the police to do anything, and trying to stop the rape would most likely get them killed.

Both these stories are brutal and nasty, and while the men, who experienced them, certainly got traumatized, they were not the ones who got raped. And they are not the ones risking getting raped in the future. Men, like me, who didn’t experience it, can certainly get horrified by such stories, but again, we are not the ones risking getting raped in such brutal matters.

So, since we don't live under the same risks, we don’t get to dismiss the fears of women. We don’t get to dismiss rape threats as jokes, because they are not. Not to the women they are aimed at. And we don’t get to joke about rape. Period.

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Blogger baby221 said...

I wish more guys grok'd this. Just the other night a friend of mine said something to the effect that "rape isn't a good enough reason to distrust an entire gender" and I'm sure my eyes damn near popped out of my head at the sheer privilege behind his statement.

May 14, 2007 7:41 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...


I've always been somewhat aware of the privilege I have due to my gender (and due to where I live).

However, the thing that really hit it home to me, was once where I was helping a woman I knew with some school stuff. Since the school buildings had closed, and it had to be handed in the next day, we went to my apartment, to finish it.
After we arrived, I realized I was out of toilet paper, and just went down to get some, leaving the woman I was helping in the apartment.

When I came back, she mentioned that she was surprised that I would leave her alone in the apartment like that. I hadn't really thought much of it, and it made me realize that I hadn't thought of how she would feel about going to the apartment of someone she only knew a little - putting herself into a risky situation.

Now, we are close friends, but back then she didn't really know me, and I hadn't even considered this when I invited her to my place to finish the school stuff. Privilege in action.

May 14, 2007 8:54 PM  

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