Getting Off On Hurting People

Grammy asks some excellent questions here and I have some thoughts, but maybe no good answers:

What I wonder (Hi, Aunt B.! Love your stuff -just love it.) is: what can we do to address this hideous internalizing bullshit? I’ve heard that line before, about blaming the victim because she was dressed a certain way, or flirted, or whatever – line was, in fact, used on me by a 30 yr. old man when I was 17 – and the sad truth is, you hear it from a lot of women, as has been mentioned.

What do you say to someone like that woman in your self-defense class, Dr. J? What should I have said to my sister-in-law who, after we watched Jodie Foster in The Accused, said, “well, she was kind of asking for it, wasn’t she”?

Like I said, I don’t have good answers, I don’t think, but let’s start with what’s going on.  Just tease that out.

  1. There’s this idea that certain women deserve or are asking to be raped.  That, in itself, is complicated.  You’ve got the whole “Who decides what behaviors women do that ‘deserve’ to be punished by being raped?” aspect of it.  Because, clearly, at first, at least, it’s the rapist who decides that the woman ‘deserves’ to be punished.  And yet, you’d think that it would be easy to see that rapists have a vested interest in framing most activities of women as being worth punishment.  To make an inadequate comparison, if we had a cultural idea that bad drivers should forfeit their cars, wouldn’t there be incredible suspicion of the person who said to the person with the nice care, “Shoot, you’re a bad driver, hand me your keys” and drove off with it?  So, even if we, for a second, bought the idea that women’s activities should be closely monitored, you’d think we’d not leave it in the hands of the folks who most benefit from women failing to “live right” to judge whether or not they’re living right.  And that’s on top of what feminists normally talk about in terms of our right to be out in the world doing what we want.
  2. There’s a great element of superstition there, this belief that, if I live right and dress right and act right, I will never be raped.  I am here to tell you that you can cut off all your beautiful curly hair and dress in sweaters that hang to your knees and be as vile and obnoxious and bitchy as you can be and someone might still try to rape you.  But we want to believe that we know what magical things to do that will keep us safe and if there are women out there who are too stupid to do those things, well, then, they have it coming.
  3. And there’s the belief that men are just monsters, that they cannot help themselves, which we’ve talked about repeatedly.

But Grammy’s comment made me realize something, when we’re talking about how women internalize this idea that some women just deserve to be raped, that I hadn’t ever articulated to myself before.

When we accept that there are women out there who deserve to be raped, we become like rapists.

Here’s the thing about feminism, I think.  It’s not a moral position.  I’m not a feminist because I believe that women are different and better than men.  I don’t believe that women are more moral than men.

So, while it’s true that men are rapists at a far, far greater rate than women are rapists, we can’t for a second believe that the impulses that drive men to rape aren’t also present in women.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment.  Say that one in twenty men would rape someone if they thought they would never be caught; in other words, they believe that, feelings of the victim aside, there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape someone.  Don’t you also believe that there are one in twenty women who believe that there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape someone?

You hear Dr. J’s story or read Grammy’s comment and it’s not too hard to believe–that there are a lot of women out there who think it’s sometimes okay to rape someone.

Thinking it’s sometimes okay to rape someone is, in fact, thinking like a rapist.

I think that most of us, men and women, don’t actually think that raping someone is ever okay. And then there’s a smaller, but vocal circle of folks who do think that there are circumstances under which raping someone is okay.  And, within that circle, are the folks who actually act on it.

The people who think that there are circumstances under which raping someone is okay think that for the same reasons that rapists think that, because it makes them feel powerful to decide who should be hurt.

But staring that in the face–to admit to yourself “Hey, there’s something about sitting around speculating about which people deserve to suffer”–is not something most people want to do.  So, you have this impulse–to enjoy imagining the suffering of others–but you can’t admit to yourself that you have that impulse because you recognize that impulse as being ‘bad’ and most people want to believe that they are good people.

So, instead, you want to bring other people into it, to get them to be complicit in your fucked-up-ness.

To say, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she was wearing this or that or dancing like this or went back to his house or whatever, okay, then I can see it.”

In other words, you want them to also think like a rapist, just for a second.

This, I think, is what pisses me off so much about all the desire to sit around speculating about what rape victims could have done differently after the fact.  Because, regardless of what folks say, there is a world of difference between discussing reasonable precautions (knowing that said precautions aren’t going to necessarily save you) and looking at a rape victim and justifying why what happened to her happened to her.

But, before I lose my train of thought, I do think that it’s easy to become tainted by that, by other people’s desire to draw you into speculating about what a person might do to deserve being raped.  After all, we don’t want to seem impolite and we don’t want to seem like we think there’s something wrong with the person talking to us.

But it is a sick view of the world that sees the suffering of other people and finds pleasure in it.

And I think it’s important for us to recognize that that’s what’s going on when we are having these conversations–that there’s a good chance that the person who is advancing the position that there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape people, is advancing that position because she or he likes to sit around and speculate about those circumstances.

In other words, I don’t know if you can reach those folks or not.  Sometimes, if they’re young or just sheltered or whatever, I think you can, maybe.  But the important thing is that you recognize that for the red flag it is.

Any woman who wants to sit around and speculate about what other women might do to deserve being raped has problems and you’d be wise to keep that in mind when dealing with her.

22 thoughts on “Getting Off On Hurting People

  1. Whoa! You dazzle me with your agile mind. I agree with you on almost all points, so to avoid a choir practice, may I just say that the hope I hold is that there may be some alternative to simply shouting “WTF?!” which is my usual response to such matters. That and contemptuous breathing.
    What makes me so sad is that any woman who would blame another woman for being raped, either implicitly or overtly, is participating in her own oppression and clearly has problems, as you say. I just wish I had magic words to make this woman, any woman, see that.
    Cowboy up and live in the real world, you say. Fucking fuckfuck, I say.

  2. So, while it’s true that men are rapists at a far, far greater rate than women are rapists, we can’t for a second believe that the impulses that drive men to rape aren’t also present in women.

    Why can’t we?

    And I don’t think it is “wanting a woman to be punished” or “thinking she should be punished” as much as acknowledging that certain behaviors are playing with fire. Which ties into my question above . . . the lusts of some men (or some men) are like fire.

    That being said, I do agree, at least in part, with your point (that you’ve asserted before) that what is at work in a woman who says “she kind of deserved it” or something to that effect is the effort to assure oneself that there are ways to avoid being victimized. I think there are certainly ways to make being a victim less likely, though from what I remember, you reject any such assertions. Whether or not a woman should be free to act any way she wants or be anywhere she wants isn’t the issue, and a person is not saying that rape is okay by acknowledging that bad men are constantly on the lookout for opportunities and targets for rape and a woman is wise to (a) be armed, and (b) not wear a big target on your back.

  3. “the lusts of some men (or some men) are like fire.” – Then those men should be responsible for carrying around their own fire extinguisher. ;)

  4. At the end of my copy of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (I may be getting her name wrong), there is an interview with the author and she said that she would be at book signings and boys would ask her why the protagonist in the story was so upset about having sex.

    They truly didn’t understand that she was raped. They couldn’t understand that she wasn’t wanting or expecting it.

    The onus is still on women to protect ourselves. Where is the eduction of boys and men that rape is wrong? That we aren’t all sitting around waiting to be “taken.”

  5. Sarah, that’s a good point that I don’t quite know how to resolve into my unified theory of why women take such satisfaction in talking about how some women deserve to be raped.

    I think it’s because I can’t quite face up to what I’m concluding.

    Here’s my question. Is it too much to assume that some women believe there are circumstances in which it’s okay to rape people because they somehow benefit from that?

    See, I’ve been thinking about Ned’s comment and thinking about some of our previous conversations here about rape and I think that the tendency for good people is to try to assume that there are instances of rape that are just about misunderstandings, that are just about a man succumbing to his uncontrollable desire.

    Because that’s how deeply ingrained in us the myth of man as monster is. We cannot let go of this idea that the rapist just needs sex so desperately, especially after having been riled up by a woman, that he has to have it, regardless of her feelings.

    And–I think this is especially telling–we talk about it as if men just can’t help it. That they’re like bulls someone’s set loose in the china shop.

    Here’s my question: Who would teach boys and men that rape is wrong? Who, still, in our society is responsible for the education of our children (both in the home and out)? Who, in general, do boys love deeply and cannot suffer to see hurt?


    Here’s what I think the score is. I think that women have been traditionally without social power (often without even a right to be in public), but given a great deal of power over the home (a power which is, of course, dependent on a man’s willingness to continue to provide them with a home), which means a great deal of power over children.

    If you don’t have any power in any realm other than your home, you’re bound to be pissed off. You might be pissed off at women who seem to have some power outside the home, say women who hang out at bars and capture the attention of your husband with her provocative dress. You might be pissed off at women who are too outspoken, who stand out too much. In other words, you might be pissed at the kinds of women who–surprise, surprise–are the very types of women who “miraculously” end up deserving to be raped.

    If you have little power and you’re pissed about it and the shape of your anger is on those who are like you but dare to try to be more, you might be tempted to act against them. To tear them down to your level.

    But how are you going to do that, since you have no public power?

    You set your sons to it.

    Maybe not specifically, but if you tell a boy from the time he’s a child that he’s a monster, that he can’t help it if he hurts others, that he just doesn’t have the same emotional capacity as women, that he can’t help but be confused about what women want, it doesn’t really matter if you never sit down and say “Now, son, some women are just Slutty McSluttersons, and you can do with them whatever you want.”

    Plus, it has the added advantage as a coping strategy of letting you feel superior to your oppressors. You might be trapped in the house, but they’re monsters.

    In other words, I can see why women propegate this idea.

    But why men would sit there and take it, why they don’t say “Hey, in your theory of how the world works, you posit me as being some kind of barely human force of evil and that’s bullshit,” is something I always find surprising.

    It’s funny to me that they call feminists the man haters. It just goes to show you that they aren’t in the kitches after Thanksgiving dinner, because you talk about man hating, you’ll hear it then.

  6. Also, I just want to reiterate that this is part of my grand unified theory about why women sit back and get all smug and high and mighty about rape.

    Rape still comes down to someone choosing to do that to someone else; no excuses. It is on you, rapist, for raping.

  7. What was most insane to me about that woman’s comment was that two women in the self-defense class had already admitted to being raped when they were younger. One by a guy she had been dating for a month her freshman year in college (he drugged her). The other woman told us she was raped by her ex-husband. As someone who likes to assume that rape doesn’t happen as much as it does, I was shocked that in a room of eight women in a small town in the Midwest, two had been raped. And I wonder if the crazy erection-power lady was trying to somehow soften or deconstruct the fact that the vast majority of women get raped by people that they know. Like you said, she wanted to feel a sense of power, wanting to think that most rapes happen because of certain behaviors that she can avoid and therefore avoid rape. I still can’t believe she said that, though, in a room with two women who had been raped under very ‘un-slutty’ circumstances.

  8. Gosh, AuntB. There’s a lot there that’s wrong. I’m worried that you might be trying too hard to fit things into a grand unified theory rather than letting an accurate grand unified theory demonstrate its cogency by reflecting reality. I’ll be back later to elaborate.

  9. Oh, please, Ned, do go on. Lord knows I love nothing more than being told by you all the ways in which I’m wrong. I so look forward to you elaborating on that.

  10. I’m a bit torn by your answer because I don’t here anything about fathers in your answer, Aunt B. I think mom’s get the short end of the stick (pun intended) all the time and to put rape on them too is a bit much. Certainly a man is going to get a chunk of how he feels about women from his mom, but also from his dad. But to lay that much at her feet feels wrong to me.

    (I do love your comment about post-thanksgiving kitchens, though.)

    I think you hit on the concept that rape comes down to: power. But a son’s feeling of powerlessness (is that a word?) can come from many places. Fundamentally, though, the only way change will happen is if both men and women commit to making rape of any kind wrong and respecting each other.

    I’m not surprised that 2 of 8 women in a small town were raped at all. I am from a wealthy suburban town outside Chicago, and my family was the picture of American pefection: lawyer dad, active-in-the-community mom, smart and pretty children, a cat, and a big house with a yard full of flowers.

    My reality: I’ve been raped, molested, sexually harassed, and had an abortion at 19. None of those things are supposed to have happened to “someone like me,” but they did.

    I’m lucky. I haven’t been killed by the two ex-boyfriends who became my stalkers (they have stopped now).

    What would I teach my son if I had one? To respect women, I hope. But I’m not powerless. I’m self-supporting. ironically, the act of having a child would diminish my circumstances and I would probably be very angry with HIM for being the cause (incorrectly) of that. There’s a twist we haven’t talked about, but I think it is real.

  11. Well … Gerda Lerner, in The Creation of Patriarchy, discusses how women were co-opted into participating in early patriarchal family institutions by being given power (contingently, through the men on whom those women became dependent) over others. But that power was/has been not so much over children (since sons could wield power over their mothers at an early age) but over other women. Because this system depends on hierarchies of perceived personal value, women of high status got to decide which lower status women ought to be perceived as reserved to high status men (and therefore ought to be untouched by others) and which lower status women ought to be perceived as generally available.

    And, to the extent that women should be held responsible for acquiescing in or helping to teach that certain women aren’t really harmed by rape, it’s in the ways they teach their children that there are some women whose worth is too negligible to be considered. In the modern world, the basis of this determination has mostly been changed from consideration of status to consideration of behavior.

    I don’t see how any of this can be separated from the ought-to-be-safe, respectable women, depending on men to give them that status. The whole system of thought depends on men considering that they have the right to have power over (at least some, maybe most) women.

  12. And someday, women like me will learn how to close tags. Obviously, only the two words at the beginning of the paragraphs of italics were actually supposed to be in italics. Sigh.

  13. Sarah’s comment about dads was dead on. Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of uncomfortable jabbering with my son for no reason.

    He knows the general idea of rape, even though we’re still nailing down the specifics of certain sexual acts (he knows just about everything but the “this part goes in this part” details – even then, he gets the general idea).

    But I’ve taught him the morality of these things since he was old enough to talk. We started with the “under no circumstance can you hit a girl” talk. It was quite frustrating to him, because at the young age he was, girls were just as strong as boys. But we talked about how one day you will be MUCH stronger than girls, and if you haven’t made a habit of NOT hitting girls no matter how mad you get, you might end up doing something very bad.

    He didn’t like it, but he went along, and now at age 11, I’m so proud of him – his sister has a best friend who I think has a crush on him, so she shows it by pestering and teasing him, and trying to make his life a living hell. I’ve seen situations when I was sure she pushed him over the edge, but he never strikes her or even attempts to. I’d like to think I planted the seed of this good behavior in his subconscious when he was 2.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to teach the same things about sex. I no longer change the channel on TV when the subject of rape comes up, because I know my kids will ask me about it. They know what it is, at least. I’ve already talked to my son about how, after puberty hits, no matter what, he should never, ever force or trick a girl into having sex. (I also have told him to wait till marriage, but more as lofty goal than a command).

    Funny, my son is a little fuzzy on the details about sex so far (once you get to conception, he’s an expert). But he certainly knows that whatever it is, he should never do it with a woman without her eager participation.

  14. I think Sarah’s initial comment about some men not understanding that women don’t want sex is an important bit missing from Aunt B’s unified theory.

    Certainly there is a segment of rapists who know they are raping and either don’t care or actively prefer sex with unwilling partners.

    But there is also a group of rapist who have convinced themselves their partners really, truly, deep in their hearts, want to have sex. Not only do they not perceive themselves as raping, they believe that rape is wrong. Addressing this group of rapists requires not teaching that rape is wrong, but teaching what rape is.

  15. AuntB,
    I followed the link and read your original post and share your outrage about the comments of the woman who mixed it up with Grammy. I had not read that when I wrote any of my comments in this thread. So, while I disagree with various of your assertions above, I don’t want to risk seeming to legitimize the comments that you’re addressing. There is no excuse for men who pull such crap (and of course rape is reprehensible) or the women who condone it (and of course, who rationalize rape)..

  16. Well, let’s keep in mind that mine is not a grand unified theory of rape, but just a grand unified theory of why we run into women who believe that some women deserve to be raped.

    I happen to believe that there’s just one reason why anybody rapes (man or woman)–because they can. And I’m convinced that rape prevention starts and ends with teaching people not to rape and not to raise rapists.

    As Slarti’s comment proves, it’s not the most comfortable activity, but it can be done.

    The question here we’re looking at is how can we reach women who believe that some women deserve to be raped.

    I’m going to tell you, I don’t believe that’s as pressing an issue as how to stop rape, but I do suspect that they’re deeply intertwined.

    Ned, and I was a little more snarky than you deserved. Sorry. I’m having a rough time of it here lately and my fuse is shorter than it should be.

  17. I went to a museum today. One of the paintings was of a naked woman attempting to cover herself with her hands. The title of the painting was “seduction”.

    It bothered me that an action that says “no” loud and clear (covering up your body) is portrayed as meaning “come get me”. I think some women believe there are certain signals that mean “I want sex, any kind of sex, with anyone, now” and that if a woman uses those signals she is, literally, asking for sex. Not that the woman deserves to be raped, which I think is an important distinction.

    I think to address this problem one has to combat the idea that these signals exist. Sure, certain actions mean “I’m looking for a man I find attractive and hope to get him attracted to me”, but the idea that anysignal could possibly be an unconditional request for sex is absurd. And yet the idea of this signal has become so pervasive in our society that it shows up in our museums. I can’t imagine how that could not contribute to a rape problem.

  18. “I think that most of us, men and women, don’t actually think that raping someone is ever okay. And then there’s a smaller, but vocal circle of folks who do think that there are circumstances under which raping someone is okay. And, within that circle, are the folks who actually act on it.”

    I’m not sure about this. I think that actually most people in our society do think there are circumstances under which raping someone is ok. When you start asking people questions about real marital or domestic partner rape scenarios, you’d be amazed at how many people think the law doesn’t apply; that consent doesn’t matter; and/or that the act in question might not be ideal, but it “isn’t rape”, saying it is makes you a big meanie and the rapist is now a victim we should all rally around and protect from the evil victim.

    “Is it too much to assume that some women believe there are circumstances in which it’s okay to rape people because they somehow benefit from that?”

    No, it’s not, and you’ve already described reasons why. The superstition aspect is a major one. Another, actually a part of the superstition aspect now that I think about it, is the fact that most rapists are surrounded by people who don’t want to believe that the rapist would actually rape; in order to have a good safe-making superstition there need to be rules to identify successfully who the baddies are, which means you have to deny the reality that rapists are very ordinary-seeming people, which means you have to construct a theory of baddies that gets around that, by, say, blaming the victims.

    “If you don’t have any power in any realm other than your home, you’re bound to be pissed off. You might be pissed off at women who seem to have some power outside the home…”

    I actually run into this a lot — women who get angry with me for choosing a very non-domestic life and thriving.

    “It’s funny to me that they call feminists the man haters. It just goes to show you that they aren’t in the kitches after Thanksgiving dinner, because you talk about man hating, you’ll hear it then.”

    Ugh, no kidding.

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