A Letter to My Brother: On Rape Culture, the Patriarchy, and Him
My brother is a feminist and a feminist ally. When an item popped up in his newsfeed instructing mothers and fathers not to let their daughters wear skirts to the park because it might be too tempting to some men, he was understandably perturbed. He sent me a screenprint from his Facebook timeline and then texted me to talk about it.
Y’all, we talk about this stuff a lot. We have complementary ideologies in that we both want to see rape culture end, and we can both learn new perspectives from each other in that we were socially conditioned somewhat differently, being that I identify and present as a woman, and he identifies and presents as a man. Typing on a little touchscreen phone sucks, and I pretty much don’t like to do things that suck, so I e-mailed Adam, my baby brosky, to carry on the conversation. I’m going to put that e-mail here today and share it with you so that if something like this happens in your social circle and you want to address it or understand it a bit better, you might find this helpful. When he told me he was frustrated with what his friend was saying, and that he couldn’t exactly put his finger on the ‘why’ of exactly how it was so frustrating, and how he should approach his friend if that’s what he chose to do, this is what I said to my brother, my best friend, a person I love and trust:
SUP, BRAH! Typing on my phone is not as awesome as typing on a keyboard.
So you and I have talked about rape culture and misogyny before, right? If not, let me know and I will give you a run down of what those are in short form. What your friend is doing is perpetuating rape culture and expressing internalized misogyny. This is totally understandable and not uncommon, being that our cultural narrative teaches and impresses upon us that women are responsible for the actions of men, and men cannot control their sexual urges. This mythology hurts both men and women, and that’s why it’s important that we push back against it in both subtle and overt ways (you have to pick your battles and when to speak up and how. This is life.)
One of the important points that your friend is missing here is that the clothing a person wears is not indicative of whether or not they will be assaulted or raped. You can cover up whatever you want, but that doesn’t really deter a rapist, because clothes are just garments, not weapons or protective barriers. Furthermore, most rape and sexual assault doesn’t happen at the hands of strangers, and people are more often than not actually victimized by somebody they love, know, trust and care about, like a partner, caregiver, or other trusted family member or friend. Stranger rape and assault is definitely a real thing, but it’s managed to remain the dominant fear while actually being a lesser issue, in large part due to cultural myths about rape and media portrayal of rape victims and rapists. Your friend is helping to perpetuate that stereotype. She probably doesn’t know that it’s a stereotype, ya know?
Another thing is that the women and girls should not have to alter their dress in an attempt to control the behaviors of boys and men. Instead of teaching that women are in control of what men do, the reality is that only men are in control of what they do. Not only that, but by intimating that a girl is more likely to be assaulted or raped if she’s in a skirt, she’s contributing to a culture that insists that only women dressed or acting a certain way are rape-able because they are ‘asking for it’ or are ‘a tease’ or ‘a temptress.’ The reality is that no clothing choice can keep a person safe. Some women are raped in their homes, in their own bedrooms, by a friend or family member. The idea that had they been wearing something different they could have prevented it is absurd. This is a statistic I have no data on, but that I’m sure is true: ‘Every day in America, a pants-wearing woman is raped.’
I’m fancy. You can quote me on that.
So what your friend is saying is frustrating, troublesome and problematic for sure. Beyond that, it’s actually harmful. Rape culture, gender stereotypes, and the patriarchy are all damaging to men and women, boys and girls. It hurts everyone. The portrait she’s painting is one wherein women and girls are responsible for the sexual violence inflicted upon them and a world wherein women and girls can control whether or not a man is sexually violent based on what they choose to wear. This is demonstrably false. Her ideology also hurts men, because it perpetuates the myth of men as sex-driven imbeciles who are a slave to their urges and lacking the mental acuity, empathy, and common sense to respect the body and boundaries of a woman in a skirt. She is implying that the legs or bottom half of a girl or woman in a skirt are so seductive to a man that he would not be able to resist raping. That’s pretty fucked up, right? And that’s one reason why men need to be good ally’s and on board with overturning rape culture. This shit affects them negatively, too. It’s patriarchy that says men are an imbecilic monolith, base and unchanging, incompetent, puerile and animalistic. Feminism says men can do better, men are better, the standard is higher, and we have faith in you.
The really important thing here is that she probably doesn’t know that she’s putting violence out into the world, and likely hasn’t considered this perspective before. Do you remember when you first started seeing this side of things? I don’t remember exactly when I did, but I remember that it was LIFE CHANGING! such an ‘a-ha!!!’ moment that went against everything I had been taught up until that point. Every message we got from our schools, our media, our parents, our church and our peer group contradicted this new knowledge. I was not always in favor of marriage equality, pro-choice, or understood that rape culture was real. In fact, with some of these issues, I had years of moderate leaning before liberal, and was conservative before that.
So sometimes things that seem really obvious to you or me won’t be obvious to other people, because just like this was once new to us, it’s new to them. If you weren’t raised thinking this way and this is new information or a new perspective to you, it can seem confusing or overwhelming at first. We are essentially asking people to look at the world around them, the messages they receive and the lessons they have been taught and to call bullshit on what they think is true and right and think about it differently. That’s gonna be really hard for a lot of people, and it takes time. A good approach is to be kind, patient, empathetic, and come from a place of sharing a teaching moment and a new perspective rather than a combative, condescending, or angry place. Because even though the tone of an argument shouldn’t distract from the content, it often does. And ultimately, if you want somebody to hear you, we often have to be kind.
And that’s not always possible, and I know. Sometimes I get really angry and I get frustrated and I show it. That will probably never stop. Reading, writing and talking about rape culture every day can be incredibly harrowing, traumatizing, and overwhelming. With that can come a fatigue that makes continued patience and understanding impossible sometimes, and I’m not always as considerate as I could be. Never has being a jerk to somebody helped them understand my point of view or to respect what I had to say. As soon as I’m mean, defenses go up and they stop listening and now we’ve all wasted our time, know what I mean?
So I think that you have an opportunity, if you’re comfortable with it, to share with somebody a new idea or concept they haven’t heard before and to have an open and lively discourse with them. It could go horribly, it could go really well, or maybe nothing at all will come of it. Maybe somebody will overhear or see it and it will change their mind, or spark an idea for change or a kinder world, and that’s good, right? I think so!
I love you, Adam!
Do you and your friends and family talk about rape culture, or how to approach problematic things? Are you working to affect change? Meet me in the comments, and let’s talk about it.
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