Archives for posts with tag: sexual assault

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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

(Content warning: sexual assault, rape, victim-blaming)

In February of 2014, actor Shia LaBeouf was whipped, stripped, and raped. By a woman.

Although he remained silent about the assault for a time, the young actor eventually told the world that he was raped by a female stranger during his Los Angeles art installation, #IAMSORRY. The installation ran during Valentine’s Day weekend and allowed art show attendees to sit silently in a private room with LaBeouf, who wore a paper bag over his head.

In an October 2014 interview with Dazed Digital magazine, LaBeouf told reporter Aimee Cliffthat a woman whipped his legs for ten minutes, removed his clothes, and proceeded to rape him. After she fled from the scene, LaBeouf sat silently in shock, unsure of what to do or where to turn.

LaBeouf’s art show collaborators, British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, claimed to have intervened to stop the assault, but the woman (whose identity remains unknown) has not been charged with any crime.

Sadly – but not unexpectedly – LaBeouf received disturbing backlash for speaking out.

Critics asked why he didn’t “fight her off” (thus attempting to discredit the deep loss of control that LaBeouf experienced when he was raped) and made jokes that he must have enjoyed it because “what man wouldn’t enjoy no-strings-attached sex?”

Others accused him of fabricating the rape for publicity or laughed off the feasibility of a man being raped by a woman entirely.

These taunts, accusations, and denials are exactly the type of victim-blaming that the feminist movement has been fighting against for decades in terms of the rape of marginalized people.

They deny the power and control that LaBeouf’s female assailant exerted over him because he is a man and therefore should have “fought back.”

Many people simply won’t admit to the real societal damage caused by women who sexually assault men.

The patriarchy has cemented society’s idea that “real” men are always craving sex and constantly, infallibly “ready to go.” Under these prescribed circumstances – where women hold the key to sex, which men are relentlessly seeking – men are expected to be grateful for any sexual advances thrown their way, wanted and unwanted alike.

Worse yet, popular culture has made male rape into a culturally accepted joke.

Let me be very clear about one thing: Rape is never a joke.

The concept that sexual assault of a man by a woman is impossible, ridiculous, or funny stems directly from assumptions about patriarchal gender roles – precisely the same assumptions that are used to blame and silence other rape survivors.

There is no question that in our world, the number of cisgender men raped by women is much lower than the number of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men. But this doesn’t mean that male survivors should be cast aside or laughed at.

In order to be true allies of rape survivors, we absolutely must support all survivors – not just those who we identify with.

This article seeks to investigate the experience of one type of rape survivor specifically – that wherein the survivors are cisgender men, which means that their experience of their own gender matches that which they were assigned at birth.

And hopefully, by understanding more about the rape of men by women and recognizing ways that society undermines male rape survivors, we can create a more inclusive community where all survivors feel safe and supported.

In order to do so, let’s take a look at some significant reasons why the rape or sexual assault of men by women should never be downplayed or joked about.

1. An Erection Does Not Equal Consent

Let’s start here: Not all men have penises, and not all people with penises are men (because not all people are cisgender!). However, the social myth that it’s impossible for men to be raped by women comes from the (oppressive) assumptions that 1) all men have penises and 2) erect penises are always signs of sexual arousal and consent.

But despite what people will tell you, it is physically possible for someone with a penis to be raped by someone with a vagina.

The scientific truth is that men can have a physiological response to sexual coercion even if consent has not been given or desire does not exist.

Research shows that deep fear and traumatic stress, coupled with the physical stimulation of an assault, can result in involuntary erections or ejaculations.

As another example, according to research psychoanalyst Paul Joannides, most men experience REM sleep erections in the morning when they first awaken – and these erections are often not accompanied by feelings of sexual desire at all.

Simply put, just because a man has an erection does not mean he wants (or has consented to) sex – because the body is capable of having erections without any sense of sexual desire.

This is not unlike the phenomenon in which people with vaginas who are raped sometimes experience self-lubrication of the vagina or even orgasm during their assault.

These survivors often have a hard time admitting that they experienced physical arousal or pleasure while being raped, and feel that their body has “let them down.”

It’s plain and simple: Sex without consent is rape – erection or not, lubrication or not, and last but not least, orgasm or not.  And this is universally true, regardless of either person’s gender or sexual orientation and no matter what prior relationship existed between the two individuals.

All people deserve to have complete autonomous choice in their sexual activity.

This remains true even if no physical violence has been enacted against the survivor (see section three for more about this important distinction). Just like a woman is not “asking for it” by wearing a short dress, a man is not “asking for it” because he has an erection.

2. Sexual Assault of Men by Women Is More Common Than You Think

Society teaches men and women from an early age to strive for power and control – and that rape is one of the most devastating and powerful forms of control over another person. To believe that these societal messages affect only men is false. Women are susceptible as well, and women can be rapists – even if the number of female perpetrators is much, much lower than the number of male rapists.

For example, statutory rape of a male student by a female teacher is one way in which an older woman can exert authority and power over a younger man. And although she may be the most famous case, Mary Kay Letourneau is not the only predatory teacher ever to take advantage of a young male student.

Over the last few years, an increase in cases of female teachers committing statutory rape against their teenage male students has been reported.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the numbers of assaults are going up – it may simply suggest that more survivors are coming forward.

Still, there are undoubtedly many more cases that go unreported – due to manipulation and abuse of the minor, or due to the minor’s fear of society’s retribution against them.

Statutory rape of boys by adult women occurs outside of the classroom as well. Women who sexually assault their own children or children whom they have authority over (as the child’s counselor, coach, or mentor, for example) make up many of the cases.

But it’s not just boys under 18.

Adult men are also sexually harassed or assaulted by their female partners.

However, because of the lack of research done in this field and the fact that many men feel intense pressure not to report these crimes, statistics regarding the rape of adult men by women are unreliable.

When reviewing this topic, it’s also very important to recognize that the number of identified woman rapists is very low compared to that of men overall. Only 3-4% of single-perpetrator sexual assaults are attributed to women.

Taking into account that we don’t have reliable statistics about how many men are raped by women – and the undeniable fact that even if we had accurate numbers, they would be drastically lower than those of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men – it’s crucial to recognize that we can still help male survivors of rape.

And of equal importance is the fact that we can be supportive of them in a way that doesn’t detract from the support offered to other survivors.

3. Not All Sexual Coercion Involves Physical Violence

Woman perpetrators often use very different tactics than men to push for sex, such as repeated unwanted touching, emotional manipulation, and intoxication.

Categories of sexual coercion include foresexual or presexual contact (kissing, touching, or groping against the survivor’s will or without their consent), coercive sex (described above), attempted rape, and completed rape.

Studies show that women are much more likely to instigate unwanted foresexual contact or coercive sex than the latter two categories.

New research estimates that roughly 19-31% of college men experience some degree ofunwanted sexual contact, and researchers believe that the bulk of the perpetrators in these cases are women.

A woman who coerces or forces a man to have sex with her, even without initiating any physical violence, is still a rapist. “People think men can’t be raped and they don’t understand that…no still means no,” says Curtis St. John, a representative for MaleSurvivor, a national support group for male survivors of sexual abuse.

It’s crucial to remember that all sexual harassment, manipulation, and assault is extremely problematic, for men as well as women – and downplaying any aspect of it hurts the movement to support survivors.

4. Survivors Who Are Men Are Even Less Likely to Report Being Assaulted

Survivors of sexual assault who are men are much less likely than women to report it to the police. There are many reasons for this, all grounded in society’s fucked up teachings about gender.

Sadly, some men may not even realize that a crime has been committed against them.

According to sexual assault researcher Garnets, “because most men have internalized the social belief that the sexual assault of men is beyond the realm of possibility…men have trouble accepting their rape experience as real, not only because it happened to them, but that it happened at all.”

This idea is bolstered in cases where no physical harm was done to the survivor.

Other men may feel that they have lost their manhood as a result of being assaulted and experience profound shame and embarrassment, causing them to stay silent.

Many straight men don’t speak out due to fear of being ridiculed as gay because they weren’t interested in sexual advances from a woman.

Because the patriarchy has taught them that being gay is “wrong” from birth, they may not even be willing to admit that they didn’t want to have sexual contact with their rapist, for fear of being labeled as gay.

Project Unbreakable has chronicled some of the horrible things that male survivors have been told by their rapists and their supposed “support systems.” One survivor’s ex-fiancé told him to “man up” when he panicked after seeing his rapist for the first time in the eight years since the rape occurred. Another young man was told by his rapist, “You’re a guy. You can’t say no to a girl like me.”

When messages like these are the prevalent experience of male survivors, it’s no surprise that many are hesitant to speak up.

In order for this to change, it’s crucial that we as a society stand up for male survivors along with other survivors. All survivors deserve equal recognition and equal justice.

5. Male Victims Experience Traumatic Fallout After Rape, But Are Still Made into Jokes

Many men who are sexually coerced or raped by women experience long-term negative consequences, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

This is especially likely to happen when older women rape young men or when alcohol is involved in the rape.

As previously mentioned, a man who has been raped by a woman and achieved erection or ejaculation during the assault may feel deep disappointment in his own body. He may feel that he doesn’t have the “right” to call the event rape because he had an orgasm.

Even if his body had a different reaction to the assault, he may still feel deeply conflicted about calling the rape out on what it is. After all, society has told this very man – consistently since he was very young – that having sex should be one of his top priorities in life and that he will be admired and venerated for his sexual conquests.

Research shows that most rape survivors, regardless of gender, are deeply traumatized by the unfathomable loss of control over their own bodies that they experience when raped.

However, men are much less likely to be honest about how much they are suffering in the aftermath of an assault, due to gendered expectations of masculinity and the public response to male rape.

It’s no secret that the rape of men is downplayed by the media and often made the punchline of jokes. Whether it’s a news commentator doubting the legitimacy of a survivor’s experience, or a crude joke on Tosh.O, the rape of men by women simply isn’t taken seriously in the public eye.

But here’s the thing. Rape is never funny. Certainly not to survivors. And it should never be delegitimized or downplayed.

Check out this article for just a few reasons why rape jokes are never acceptable (and ways to cope with hearing them).

Resources for Male Survivors

Men who have been sexually assaulted or raped by women are not alone.

Organizations like MaleSurvivor and 1 in 6 offer helpful resources for men dealing with the aftermath of rape, including hotlines, support groups, access to therapists, daily affirmations of hope, and recovery retreats. They also provide a large body of research for people who want to learn more.

And if you are the partner of a rape survivor, read up on ways that you can support and help your partner.

All Rape Is Real

There’s still a long way to go in acknowledging and respectfully representing men assaulted by women.

After LaBeouf’s experience at #IAMSORRY, popular commentator Piers Morgan made an all too familiar victim-blaming statement, proclaiming that “LaBeouf is one of the toughest actors in Hollywood…[but] he just let it all happen.” Morgan also called LaBeouf’s allegations of rape “truly pathetic and demean[ing to] real rape victims.”

As if Morgan – or anyone else, for that matter – has the authority to define what “real” rape is.

Rape comes in many forms and sizes, but it is devastating to the survivor no matter what.

And as feminist critic Van Badham eloquently states, “After Shia LaBeouf’s art gallery trauma, we should affirm that all rapes are ‘real,’ and all are breaches of trust.”

***

To become a better ally of rape survivors, we must support all of them. And wonderfully, supporting male survivors of rape actually helps all survivors.

By working together – and never delegitimizing any case of sexual abuse – we can create a more inclusive survivor community.

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Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism.

Morning: a man shuffles out of a cab in last night’s rumpled suit, holding a pair of dress shoes in his hands that have begun to pinch. The neighbors stare. This is the walk of shame.

Afternoon: a man skips lunch and pops three aspirin before heading into the waxing salon, preparing to endure searing pain for a clean, hairless nether region. This is the beauty routine.

Evening: a man leaves work to attend his kid’s school play; his all-female management team judges him for “putting parenting before work” (even though many of them have kids too). This is the double standard.

…Just kidding.

In reality, the man gets a high five from his doorman, drinks a beer while enjoying his lunch break, and rests easy because he knows his coworkers won’t criticize his work ethic just because he’s a dad.

From unrealistic beauty standards to slut shaming for promiscuity, there are a lot of things that women think about every day that men have never once had to consider. From the workplace to relationships, simple by being male, men experience privilege that makes their lives easier –and that they (usually) don’t even notice.

So we call out that privilege.

Not to castigate men for being born into it, and not to shame them for benefiting from this privilege—but to make them aware of how it affects their everyday lives and the lives of the women with whom they interact.

Because it’s not their fault that they aren’t conscious of it. Our patriarchal society works extra hard, day-in and day-out, to make sure that men aren’t aware of their privilege.

Let’s look at some examples of questions men don’t need to ask themselves – and how they make a difference in our lives.

1. Why am I expected to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on my looks? And why do I get condemned as vain and superficial for doing so?

“Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”

While this quote is satirical and full of stereotypes, Tina Fey has a point. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards that are impossible to meet.

And if she spends all that money, works out relentlessly, shuns fattening food, and achieves something akin to the patriarchy’s idea of “perfection?” Well, then she’s just vain and self-obsessed.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t choose to meet these standards, she’s a slob and doesn’t care about herself or her appearance.

There’s really no way to win, is there?

2. If I smile at people, will they interpret my friendliness as a sexual invitation? If I don’t, will they tell me to lighten up?

On a regular basis, many women have to deal with catcalls and degrading sexual offers from men as they walk to a meeting, the grocery store, the gym, the mailbox—you name it.

If she smiles or appears friendly, these offers and salutations will usually become more pronounced and gratuitous – almost as if she is expected to follow up on a simple smile with a blowjob.

But if she walks with her eyes forward and no smile on her lips? Then men will tell her “smile, sweetheart,” or “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.”

How many men are told on a regular basis that they should smile? Especially by perfect strangers?

Not many, that’s for sure. In our patriarchal society, men are allowed the choice of how to portray themselves to the world – without the same level of judgment that women receive.

3. If I wear something that shows skin, will I get harassed?

From an early age women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies—men, not so much. Therefore, men don’t grow up believing that in order to be virtuous, they must cover up – or pay for it with degrading comments and behavior from others.

And although some men get criticized for their style of dress, it is much less likely that they will be sexually harassed for what they are wearing – I mean, men can walk around without even wearing a shirt and no one blinks an eye.

Conversely, women who choose to reveal skin are consistently sexually harassed, slut-shamed, or fat-shamed for showing off their bodies.

Simply put, society does not police men for how much skin they show. Unlike with women, the decision of what to wear is left up to them, not considered fodder for public discussion.

4. If I wear sexy clothing and enjoy partying, will people accuse me of provoking sexual harassment and/or assault?

“Why was she wearing such a short dress?” “Why was she out so late?” “How much did she drink that night?” “Why didn’t she know better than to hang out with those people?”

When we discuss a burglary, we never assign blame to the victim by saying that the beautiful garden in front of her house “tempted the robbers in.” Obviously, that would be ridiculous. But in the case of a woman being sexually harassed or raped, people often justify the crime by putting the onus on her provocative appearance, level of intoxication, or “improper” behavior.

Men aren’t held to these same standards (although sadly, they deal with an entirely different degrading patriarchal construct involving sex and consent).

As mentioned above, men aren’t criticized for showing off their bodies –and conversely are encouraged to drink to excess by the ingrained fraternity culture of our society.

5. If I have sex with him, will everyone think I’m a slut?

No one calls a man a slut for having sex. But women run the risk of being called sluts just for kissing a guy.

It’s simple: the sexual double standard still rules in America. Men can have promiscuous sex and be congratulated for it. Women who are sexually promiscuous are rarely viewed in a positive light.

6. If the condom breaks, will I get pregnant? If so, what then?

This is a no-brainer. No cis man has ever wondered this – and barring some very intense scientific advances, no cis man will ever have to. They will never have to worry about having to choose between aborting the child or having their whole world change as their body accommodates a new life.

Before anyone gets up in arms, let me state: this is biology, and no one would ever blame cis men for not being able to conceive. But it’s just one more example of how sexual choices affect cis men and cis women very differently.

7. If I reveal my gender, will I receive the same level of respect?

In an experimental Yale study, a group of scientists were given the same application to review for a lab position. Half of the scientists received the application under a female name, while the other half received the exact same application with a male name attached.

Across the board, the scientists rated the “male” applicants higher in competence and hireability, and offered them higher starting salaries than the “female” applicants.

For the exact same application.

And that’s just one small example.

Because of the myriad ways that women are discriminated against in professional, academic, and social circles, some women take to hiding their gender in order to be accepted into the “boy’s club” and to receive more respect from male counterparts.

Especially in the professional world and academics, but also in other online forums, women often have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men, because of society’s gendered expectations.

8. If I become upset at work, will they blame it on PMS?

We’ve all heard it a million times: “We can’t have a [cis] female President because she might go bomb Russia when she has PMS!

As ludicrous as this idea is, it’s still talked about.

Here’s a little dose of reality: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) does not make us irrational.

Can PMS make a woman feel more moody? Sure. Physically uncomfortable? Hell yes. But hands down, PMS does not change a woman’s brain chemistry enough to make her irrational or less competent.

Because cis men don’t menstruate, they don’t have a recognized equivalent syndrome that their rash behavior can conveniently be blamed on. On the contrary: when men display anger or intensity at work, they are often thought of as “strong,” “alpha,” or “dominant.”

9. Will I have less of a chance of being hired or promoted because of my gender?

The good news is that sex discriminationwhich involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of that person’s sex – is illegal in the US.

The bad news is that it happens all the time anyway.

Studies show that the majority of industry managers (especially in male-dominated industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and STEM fields) tend to look for masculine stereotypes when hiring and awarding promotions.

Because of these male-biased hiring and promoting practices – which spring partly from a lack of diversity in the industries themselves – it is often extremely difficult for women to excel and move up in the company.

10. If I don’t do well at my job, will people take it as a sign that people of my gender shouldn’t be doing this line of work?

Sometimes the system keeps women from succeeding at their jobs.

For example, women working in male-dominated industries are often subjected to huge amounts of pressure to conform to the same masculine traits exhibited by their male counterparts. If they don’t, they are usually viewed negatively and kept from advancing in the company. And as we already know, the system – from hiring, to awarding raises and bonuses, to achieving managerial status – is stacked against women, making it much harder for them to rise to the top.

Sure, there are certainly individual women – just like there are individual men – whose particular talents aren’t suited for these jobs.

But using a couple of examples as reason to write off an entire gender is foolish, uneducated, and sexist – and fails to acknowledge the success of female leaders everywhere.

11. If I do well in my company, will people say that I slept my way to the top?

When men in high-power jobs succeed, it is generally presumed that they worked their asses off to get there. But women who reach the same level of success are often accused of sleeping their way to the top, despite the falsity of the claims.

This is because society often dismisses a woman’s hard work and perseverance, and reduces her to an object only valuable for bringing sexual pleasure to others.

12. If I have kids, will people assume I don’t care about my career anymore?

For years, studies have shown that working moms are discriminated against in ways as small as being left out of meetings, to as substantial as losing promotions – or even their jobs.

In September 2014, the federal government reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo over allegations that the banking giant discriminated against pregnant women, new mothers, and women on maternity leave.

Studies also show that working fathers simply do not deal with this level of discrimination. But because many people still believe that a woman’s place is “in the home,” they pigeonhole working mothers and discriminate against them unfairly.

13. If I don’t want a family, will people assume there’s something wrong with me?

Barren. Cold. Unloving. The crazy cat lady.

People make a lot of judgments about women who decide not to have children or get married. This is probably because the belief that women exist to be mothers lives on to this day in the assumption that a childless woman must be lonely, or unhappy, or that she should be pitied for not having been able to find “the right man.”

When a man decides to do the same, there may be some similar pity – but he is also likely to be venerated as a successful bachelor who “can’t be tamed” (think George Clooney).

In reality, having a family is entirely a personal choice – and there is no reason why men and women should be judged differently in relation to that decision.

***

These are a few examples of male privilege at its most insidious – patriarchal norms working below the surface to uphold sexist double standards in society.

Yes, everyone has a different life experience, and some men may, at some point in their lives, ask themselves some version of these questions. But that does not negate their male privilege.

We can all learn more about how patriarchal structures perpetuate this privilege. And the more we know, the better we can change how people respond.

Because even though men don’t generally have to think about all the things on this list – and so many others – they should.

Just by acknowledging their male privilege, men can start chipping away at it. And that’s a damn beautiful thing.

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I haven’t written in a long time. I haven’t been able to.

Every time I considered starting an article or researching a new topic, I stopped myself. Instead of the intrigue and passion that I usually feel, all I found was a stinging, bitter pain.

Because I was hurting; because I was afraid.

Writing is usually like therapy for me – it allows me to vent to the world and at the same time to no one at all. If I end up writing something worthwhile, fantastic. If all I get is a sore back from hunching over my laptop and a sappy piece of nonsense that no one would ever want to read, so be it.

But for the last month, I have avoided my laptop like the plague.

Where did this pain come from? And why was it so hard to get past?

It originated with the very act of writing an article about something I care about. About something that I am so sure of that I could never have imagined the backlash that I received from expressing my beliefs – or that they could even have been interpreted the way that they were.

But as I was once told, intent is not always the same thing as effect.

The topic of the article that started it all? Self-protection through assault prevention techniques and self-defense.

The aftermath of a sexual assault is so complicated – the range of emotions  can jump from guilt to shame to anger to confusion and beyond; the reality of self-blame can be crippling; and the effect on a victim’s life is unquantifiable. Not only this, but every victim deals with and recovers from sexual assault in their own way. What is true for one person might be unthinkable for another. And no one – whether a survivor themselves or not – has the right to tell another person how they should feel in the wake of this horrendous crime.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to write my article in a way that would place blame solely on the perpetrator. I wanted to present ideas for self-protection and self-defense as possibilities for those who might find them worthwhile. Nowhere did I hint that if you eschew taking a self-defense class or find no use in my ideas it would be your fault if you were assaulted. I would never – could never – say, think or believe anything even close to that.

Others took my article differently. In fact, on the day of its publication, it caused a veritable scandal in the feminist community. I was harassed on Twitter, called a failure and a victim blamer, told that I epitomized the Patriarchy, and watched as my article was smashed to smithereens. In the opinion of the individuals making these comments, I was placing blame on victims of rape by offering ideas about prevention.

The piece was far from perfect. In fact, if I were to write it again, I would make an absolutely rigid point of trying to look at what I wrote from eyes different from my own. To read every last word from a completely different perspective. Maybe then I would have seen what these people saw.

And yet, I was also commended by the women’s self-defense community for writing it. I received emails, tweets, posts and texts from people who were as dismayed as I was about the reaction. A well-known, deeply respected self-defense instructor even wrote an article in The Hairpin about the whole mess (note: opinions in The Hairpin piece are strictly those expressed by Susan Schorn).

The thing is, it really was a huge, ugly mess. No one was to blame. It just kind of happened – and then exploded in a nasty way. But I am about as sensitive as they come (great quality in a writer, right? ha!). I was shattered. I cried for an entire day and went into bouts of depression every time I thought about it for a month afterward.

Not that I can’t take being criticized or called names. People criticize my opinions all the time, and I have been called some verrrry interesting things (especially by Men’s Rights Activists)! Generally, I welcome or endure it – to a point. I suppose the deeply reactive subject matter made everything different this time.

I felt…invalidated. Silenced. As if my experiences and beliefs could be overturned and expelled with a gust of wind.

The thing is, they can’t. Others don’t have to agree with me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t hold true to my ideals. And more appropriate to this situation, others may not always see the intended message in my writing. There isn’t much that I can do about this except to keep moving forward, carefully, while trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the world around me.

This has been a huge lesson. And from where I stand today, it won’t stop me from writing in the future. My sadness and frustration are still there; I’ve just learned how to move beyond them and try to turn them into something more positive and healing. And that’s why I’m sitting at home writing a blog post on this rainy Friday night.

Because really – hiding my laptop behind the couch isn’t helping anyone, especially not myself.

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Sometimes you read something that you wish you could unread. But then you realize, that no matter how much it hurt, you are stronger and better off for having read it. Because you are looking through the eyes of a person with a completely different worldview than you, who has divergent morals and boundaries – and it’s good to know that those people exist, so that you can learn how to keep as far away from them as humanly possible. And so that you can speak out in response.

I had such an experience the other night. While browsing the internet as I am wont to do on sleepless nights, I came across an article from the blog Feministe that confronts a recent piece in the Good Men Project (GMP). GMP is a collective of people (mostly men, of course) working to “define enlightened masculinity” in the 21st century and “identify what makes a good man.”

The story is written by a self-admitted rapist. A raging alcoholic rapist, who despite having been told by at least one women that he raped her, still doesn’t usually feel that the label fits (except when he’s morbidly depressed). And he has a claim to make:

“When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs…you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape.”

So, the author sets us straight: Rape is just a side effect of partying. When you drink to excess, you’ve just got to expect to get raped some of the time. Or that you yourself might become a rapist due to your intoxication.

Written anonymously, the article chronicles the “struggles” of a young man who loves to binge drink and has had “more than one, less than six” experiences that he knows may have been considered rape by the women involved. But that’s not going to stop him from drinking – no siree.

The article, deftly entitled “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying,” was hailed by the female GMP editor Joanna Schroeder as a “frank, open confession;” she also goes on to thank him for “sharing his struggle with his own experiences.” Anonymously, that is. Schroeder does note that she and GMP “do not agree with his conclusions” — and yet her tone throughout her editorial notes is one of praise and acceptance for his “honesty” despite admitting that he is “deeply troubled.”

On the surface level, I can understand why GMP might have thought this was an acceptable thing to publish. They may have believed it was unexplored territory that might educate other “unaware” rapists who have a drinking problem. But when you read the piece and the editor’s notes as whole, it invariably leaves you feeling pity and understanding for the rapist. It is the exact rape-apologist bullshit that the author himself decries in his confession.

Do I think that something needs to be done to help more people understand what the concept of consent means? Absolutely, hell yes. Education on the issue would probably prevent some people from “unwittingly” date raping (as if there were really such a thing). But presenting a sob story about how this poor dude has been walking around being a rapist all these years without even knowing it — and harping on why we should understand that it’s mostly society’s lack of understanding of consent and his substance abuse that are to blame — works to make the reader feel forgiveness and understanding for him instead of making them want to change the system. They may finish the article and say, “Wow, I never really thought before about the fact that rapists have feelings too, and that they just drink too much to know what’s going on. He was a really nice guy most of the time but he just got out of control.” As if to conclude, “who among us hasn’t drank a pint of whiskey and then molested someone without their consent or when they were passed out?”

I just cannot find this point of view valid in any way, shape or form. I feel somewhat incoherent in my writing because my blood is still boiling. Date rape hits close to home – I know a lot of survivors, many of whom continue to blame themselves for what happened. But this post by NO MEANS tries to say that only men are rapists or that only women are raped. Rape is universal, perpetrated by both genders, all ages and against all different classes.* I use the example of this article because it is particularly inflammatory and works to uphold current standards of rape culture, and because the acts committed by Author Anonymous are an extremely common but ignored form of rape.

I know that the editors at GMP received a lot of backlash for posting this piece, and that I am very late in jumping on the bandwagon, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to speak up. They should be ashamed of offering pity for the author instead of denouncing the fucked-up mindset that allows people like him to continue raping without consequence.

We cannot go on like this, for the health and sanity of future generations. I want my children to grow up in a world in which they are not taught that date rape is “no big deal.” I want them to understand and look for consent in their sexual lives. I want them to know that what they wear, what parties they go to, or whether or not they choose to consume alcohol and/or drugs does not mean that they must accept rape as a tradeoff.

I want to teach my boys to respect women, and my girls to respect men. There cannot be one without the other.

*Check back soon for a piece on the molestation of men by women, which should be completed in the next few weeks.

rehtaeh

When I heard about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, I was devastated. We’ve lost another young girl, who – after being allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online – was bullied mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

A year-long investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was closed when it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.” Insufficient evidence– although many people saw the photos taken of the rape (which occurred when she was only 15), knew of the attack and witnessed Rehtaeh being bullied at school.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped.” Things got so difficult that the Parsons moved to another city, but the bullying had taken its toll. Rehtaeh’s parents watched their once lively and high-spirited teenage daughter become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. After the move, Rehtaeh made some new, more supportive friends and heard from some of her old friends, who relented and decided to stand by her. But it wasn’t enough to undo the damage. Last March, she checked herself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. And then on April 4, she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom.

Since her death, the police have reopened the investigation based on new evidence and a witness who is willing to verify the identity of the suspects and cooperate with investigators. Cyber-activist hacker group Anonymous has also claimed to have evidence that one of the attackers has admitted to raping Rehtaeh although he knew she was too intoxicated to defend herself.

Everything about this story is tragic and misguided – from the crime itself to the police’s handling of the case. But what also stands out to me is the bullying – the girls and boys that taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly that she ended her life. “People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’” says Leah Parsons. “Girls texting, saying ‘You’re such a slut.’” Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their maturity and this level of harassment is (sadly) not surprising. But why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did so many other girls – some of whom may conceivably have endured similar experiences – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

Undoubtedly, the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists. But if Rehtaeh hadn’t endured the bullying that she did, she might be alive today. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  According to Yale University studies, bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And technology such as cellphone cameras and social media have made bullying that much easier for teenagers. Snap a picture, and it can be distributed to the whole school with one click.

This type of cyber-bullying is not uncommon. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Steubenville case: the rape of a 16-year old girl; photos of the night gone viral on the internet; months of constant bullying from her peers; and the subsequent conviction of two star football players for the crime. Steubenville garnered a lot of attention. But what about Audrey Pott, a 15-year old Northern California girl who killed herself after allegedly being sexually abused by three young men who released explicit photos of the rape on the internet? She committed suicide just days after the photos went viral.

How does it feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls? To be called a slut/whore/skank by people who barely know you? To be judged for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do? For some girls, it is utterly life-destroying.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, have slut-shamed before – shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage. I’ve seen people do it countless times. Sadly, I’ve done it to others in the past, and even to myself. But I want to change that. The double standard remains: why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut but a boy who has sex is a stud/player? In movies, on television, in magazines and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” in reference to women willy-nilly. But how many of them think about what their words imply? That a girl or woman is a prostitute because she has sexual desire? That because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? That women should ignore/not act upon sexual desires even though men can/do? Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard. If we support one another – and remember that we are all human beings just living, learning and changing over time – we just might succeed in changing this societal mindfuck.

Sign this Change.org petition to get justice for Rehtaeh by launching an investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the case.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.