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CHARLES WEBSTER: Rape culture. What women say

opinion

This is the fourth and final in a series of articles on rape culture, adapted from a speech given by the author at several boys’ high schools across South Africa.

There is an unfortunate need for men to speak out about rape culture. In a patriarchal society it is true that, very often, men will only listen when other men speak. It’s an ugly truth, though, and as mentioned in my piece titled Rape culture ‘prison' and the importance of consent, I remain conscious of the fact that I am a man, and don’t want to perpetuate the culture of men speaking over women.

So, I asked women on my social media networks to send me comments they’d share with men if they had the chance. I was flooded with ten pages’ worth of comments – which is indicative of women’s desire to be heard on these issues. I share selected comments here – anonymously, to maintain their privacy, but they were often written for social media so I’ve edited them for readability. Now – let me shut up. Here’s what women said:

• “Why do you feel so entitled to my body?”

• “Not all disrespect of women ends in violence against women, but all violence against women starts with disrespect. The sexist jokes, the locker room talk - these are not harmless talk. Imagine a scenario where you're in prison, from pretty much any movie or TV show you can think of. Imagine you're now the target of those kinds of jokes and locker room talk from someone physically stronger than you, and/or in a position of power over you.”

• "Can you walk through a carpark at night, see another man, and not feel threatened? Because women generally can't. Ever. Can you walk through a bar and not get groped or catcalled almost as a rule? Women can't."

• “…to have men understand that this system is costing them as well as us (in very different ways). It was only when I experienced the shift in a relationship with women of colour in my life through us both doing the work to dismantle white supremacy in ourselves that I realised there had been this invisible barrier between us that neither were aware of. It prevented us from accessing the levels of trust, bond, connection and love that were available to us without it.

Through doing that work those relationships are genuinely some of the most deep and profound relationships in my life now...and it was through that I realised that this barrier exists between men and women too. Men are not getting access to the kinds of deeply fulfilling relationships possible with women because without them doing this work, we cannot fully trust them, we cannot fully communicate with them, we cannot fully love them, we cannot fully bond with them, because the presence of this systemic dynamic sits between us. Recognising it is not about 'men being bad' this is about a system that is killing us all, and if we work together in dismantling that system, the levels of connection, bond, trust, love and support that will exist between us are deeper that any of us even know is possible. That is the only point when true partnership, true relationship is possible.”

• “Over a long lifetime, the men who have turned me on the most have not necessarily been hunks. They've been men who made me laugh, men who showed their affection for my animals, men who were happy to get playful with kids... but fundamentally, men who treated me as an equal, who had respect for me. Since those kinds of relationships are so deep and satisfying - and lasting - for both parties, I often ask myself, why would you want the cheap and transient thrill of domineering over someone, of getting your way by bringing fear into a relationship?”

• “I think it's important to show them how it's [all] connected. How the "locker room talk" (whether actively engaging in it or not calling it out) all adds to the problem. While the little things don’t mean you're automatically going to grow up to be an actual rapist, it all adds up to a climate where, for instance, women aren't believed when they report it.”

• “I see men on social media daily still denying that rape culture exists, when it's clear they just don't understand what it means.”

• “The single worst is having to endure the eye-rolling, sighing, slouching back in chairs, whenever gender issues are raised, like it’s such a drag. Also, being viewed with antagonism and suspicion for being known as a (gasp) “feminist”. In 2019.”

• “Maybe you should mention that women (or at least some) are really starting to think men have no self-control, and are actually, really, the "weaker" sex, morally. I'm really losing respect for men as a whole very quickly.... (yes, I know, not all...)”

• “I am so tired of being made to feel guilty and ashamed because my body is the body of a female. Men never have to feel ashamed because they are men. Born that way. They never have to feel they have to hide their bodies.”

• “I think it's really, really important to understand that the whole concept of dominance is at the root of rape culture. And that doesn't just play out in men dominating women, but in men dominating other men. The whole idea that, to be a man, one has to show that one is stronger and more dominant is the problem. So, if a guy sees another man harassing or assaulting a woman, then dealing with that "protecting her/her honour" and beating that man up, is still being part of the problem.” And, ultimately, the fixation on dominance involves domination of one's own feelings - not being allowed to feel sad, scared, kind, gentle, in need of help or love, etc. So, as indirect as it may seem, praising boys and men around you for being soft or emotional, or calling out others (female or male) how tell boys to "man up" or "stop crying like a girl", etc., is also vital to fighting rape culture.”

• “I am a professionally registered person in a male-dominated industry. I have the same qualification as all my male counterparts. When I am in meetings, if there is no secretary or minute-taker, why is it assumed that because I am female I should take minutes or make tea? I always have to say sorry –why do you assume I should fulfil this role? They say it’s because I am a woman.”

• “The value of accepting “no” as an answer. It does not mean we are playing hard to get. It just means no. And we do not have to say no thank you. We can just say no. For example. Him: “Would you like to dance?” Me: “No.” And don't expect a woman to justify why she says no. Whether she has a boyfriend or husband, or a girlfriend or a wife, is none of your business.

• “Another fundamental idea that ties in with supremacy is entitlement. Boys are taught to feel entitled to attention, especially female attention. And entitled to female bodies. My opinion is that if we want boys to actively participate in dismantling rape culture, boys must be taught to see rape culture as something that is just as harmful to them as it is to girls. It denies them the full scope of rich, human experience by giving them a strict role to play and a script to follow, using misogyny as a bonding experience.”

• “As men you are not entitled to anything. Especially sex, it is not a right, even if you are married. Life does not work like that, sex is always 100% consensual, and with respect.”

• “The other thing that is very powerful and very telling were the responses to the tweet asking what women would do if men had a 9pm curfew (bearing in mind that this is just what they would do at night, doesn't cover what would happen during the day)...and for men to realise that women don't get to do these things EVER without some level of fear of lack of safety. These are ways that women have literally learned to adapt their lives around doing, that men wouldn't even think about doing. And the amount of our energy and time that gets expended in trying to keep ourselves safe in a world which is fundamentally unsafe...that we have become so normalised to that often we don't even realise we do.

• “If they know of any abuse going on, they need to go to the authorities (anonymously is ok) and report it. By remaining silent, they are siding with the perpetrator/s. They need to emulate the desired respectful behaviour women would like to see in men - to be the example.”

• “Colleagues in the workplace making suggestive comments irrespective as to whether you're married or single. Calling women bitches should they dare challenge or ignore. Getting harassed while out jogging or not wanting to jog when it's early morning since we don't feel safe, being intimidated in traffic because he's in a big fancy car or with mates... the list is endless.”

• “Being suspicious of every rape victim. Believing the myth that women lie about assault. They honestly think they’re likely to get falsely accused of rape. Lots of victim blaming.”

• “The waves of relief, grief, hope, anger at finally having a man want to learn, want to listen, believe me, want to be a part of educating other men, want to be a part of changing the system…at having a man show up in this moment as what feels like a genuine ally. The experience is overwhelming. All just at being asked to share my wisdom, believed in what I said, and asked to share more. That in and of itself is something to share.”

• “There is no such thing as ‘friend zoned’. Women are not sitting around as potential mates for every man who shows interest. Just because you are interested in her does not demand that she also be interested in you for anything beyond friendship or being an acquaintance.”

I won’t presume to say anything more.

Charles Webster is a former news journalist and is now a corporate communications consultant for an American multinational. He completed an undergraduate degree in communications and English and later Honours and Master’s degrees in philosophy. Follow him on Twitter: @charlesjwebster

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