I wrote about Brock Turner and it went super viral, almost broke my website. As one might expect, I got a lot of comments, on the blog, on my Facebook page, via messages and emails. Quite a few private messages and emails were from men who wanted to tell me they agreed with what I’d written and were also horrified by Brock Turner’s actions and subsequent inadequate punishment. A couple of these guys were creepers, for sure, but most of them seemed genuinely supportive. They weren’t asking for any kind of dialogue; they just wanted to give me a virtual high five.
But the thing is, these men messaged me privately to tell me this. They didn’t publish their words publicly on my blog or on a Facebook thread. I didn’t think much of it at first; It made logical sense to me that a man might feel more comfortable privately acknowledging his outrage over the Turner sentence than publicly acknowledging it.
It made perfect sense to me that a man wouldn’t want his friends and family to see how much empathy he had for Brock Turner’s victim or for survivors of assault in general.
This made PERFECT SENSE TO ME.
This is what people are talking about when they say the words “rape culture.” For those who deny its existence, the phrase “rape culture” is a kind of supernatural phenomenon; it’s like, sure, there are people who believe in it, but really, we all know it’s just a bunch of hooey. It’s not REALLY real.
But the fact that I could offhandedly accept the reasonableness of a dude only privately sharing his agreement that a guy who rams leaves up an unconscious woman’s vagina should serve more than three months in county lock-up…that’s rape culture, people.
Culture is an ingrained system of beliefs, a core understanding of HOW THINGS WORK. Culture is the manner in which we perceive and interpret our world based on what we feel we know. And what we feel we know…where does that come from? Well, it comes from everywhere and everything. Everything around us, everything we’ve ever been exposed to for our whole lives cumulatively impacts how we interpret our experiences.
It is so incredibly sad to me that our culture is such that a man would feel limited in his ability to express empathy and outrage for a woman who has endured what Brock Turner’s victim endured. It is equally sad how readily I accepted this. But that is rape culture, you guys. We’re not talking about fucking phantasms, here. This is REAL, and we’re all part of it. Even me. I can’t believe how effortlessly my mind went to “Oh, well that makes sense that he wouldn’t want to share that publicly.” I can’t stop kicking myself. It makes me sick.
Someone just shared a TED talk with me, given by Bobby Eckstein, a Sexual-Assault-Prevention Educator at the University of New Hampshire, about bystanders and the roll they play–or don’t play–when it comes to sexual violence against women. In his talk, Mr. Eckstein pointed out that the typical support system for female victims of sexual abuse is other females. That, for whatever reason, our culture generally* limits these conversations to women with other women. When a woman has been sexually assaulted, she does not typically confide in a man.
Regarding the women in their lives, Eckstein encouraged men to ask themselves:
Are you confident that they will turn to you?
Are you confident that they will see you as an ally?
Watching Eckstein’s TED talk made a lightbulb go off for me; it made me think of these kind gentlemen who had messaged me privately. It made me wonder what inhibited them from speaking out on a forum where their friends and family might see.
I guess I’m not the first person to ever have this idea, and I know there will be a ton of resistance and doubt and Good luck trying to change things, but I think that if we can get out our torches and pitchforks to condemn a man for sexual assaulting another human being, then maybe we can also mobilize all the good men in our lives to be advocates for women everywhere, to help us shift and mold our culture into one in which a man is never, ever shy to express outrage over sexual assault.
Maybe we can drop the “rape” from “rape culture.”
Will you stand up for us? When your bros talk about how so-and-so is so easy when she’s wasted so definitely keep passing her more shots, will you point out how fucked up that is? When your friends call a girl a whore for sleeping around, will you ask them how many people they’ve slept with and then remind them that a woman’s private life is none of anybody’s damn business? When your friend leers at a woman walking down the street solo, will you slap him on the back of the head, all chummy-like, and tell him to quit being a fucking sleaze ball?
And, with regards to the women in your lives, will you speak up in their presence? Will you let them know that you understand the importance of consent, that you believe rape culture is real, that you acknowledge the existence of male privilege, that you will be there for them if someone ever hurts them? Will you let the women in your lives know that you stand for them and with them?
I recently read an article claiming that, when it comes to violence against women, we shouldn’t have to ask men to think “What if she was your sister, mom, daughter?” That we shouldn’t have to paint a visual for someone in order to elicit empathy from them. I disagree with this. How do we encourage empathy in our children? We say, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” We personalize it.
With my son, when he was six, he hit his little sister and made her cry. I did not yell at him and tell him that hitting was against the rules. I took him by the shoulders and turned him so that he could look his sister right in the face. “Look at her,” I said. “Look at her tears. Look how you made her feel.” It was the most effective punishment I could have given him, because being forced to really see and experience the impact of his actions made it that much more personal and real. And we can do the same, I think, in our culture. In our rape culture.
Eckstein asked it in his TED talk, and I will ask it too: Men, think about the women in your lives–the women you love. Your mother, your sister, your daughter, your girlfriend, your wife, your friend. Picture each of these women you care for being leered at, picked at, swatted at, grabbed, assaulted, beat, raped, torn, bloodied. Destroyed. Go ahead, picture it. Graphically. Now consider that every woman you ever come across, though she may only be a stranger on the street, is someone else’s mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, wife, friend.
Tell me you don’t want to be the guy who speaks up. The private acknowledgments of the problems within our culture are awesome, but it would be even better if you could be just a little bit louder. Or even…a lot louder.
It might seem like a drop in the bucket, but we need all the help we can get.
*”generally,” meaning, I know that men are also victims of rape and that sometimes women DO confide in men, but statistically, the situation is more likely to present itself as I’ve stated.