Thursday, January 25, 2007
Bullies, bullying, and rape (part 1)
Rape is bullying... pure and simple, that's what it is.
I think a lot of folks think of rape as a crime of intent. They imagine that a rapist specifically intends to rape a person. When those folks who hear that rape might not be a crime of intent-to-rape, they have a hard time understanding what, exactly, it is. Well, it's sexual bullying. Even if the rapist isn't specifically thinking of rape, it does require a certain intent, or a certain profound indifference.
Let me explain that last bit. You could break bullies down into two classes, those who want to hurt someone else, and those who want to get their own way, regardless of whether or not someone gets hurt.
You might think that there's an advantage to the first type; you'd think that such folks are obvious. Sometimes they are; sometimes they get off on hurting a person badly, and it's pretty obvious that there's a poison-mean streak in them. But it might not be obvious. After all, poison-mean is ugly, and people can be cunning about hiding it, and folks aren't necessarily poison-mean to everyone. However, there is one advantage to the first type: it's a lot harder to justify the behavior if someone is confronted with the results directly.
People who are "aggressive" in trying to get what they want, well, it's easy to think that maybe they made a mistake, or got a little carried away, or whatever. Many a childhood bully has gotten away with the "we were just playing!" excuse, just as many rapists get away with the "we were having fun, and I didn't know she didn't want me to continue!" And, children might be asked "well, were you rough housing? Is that how you got hurt? Was it just an accident?" to the point that they aren't sure of their own perceptions. Similarly, many a rape victim has been asked if she's sure that she made her desires clear.
I think that this is where the "rape is bullying" idea can be extremely useful.
One of the difficult things about discussing rape with men (yeah, I know, I'm a man) is that there's a tough line to draw. Socially, guys are expected to press for sex, and it can be important to do so, at least on some level. I mean, if a woman doesn't think you're interested in her sexually, she's not nearly as likely to be interested in you sexually. Guys who want to get laid have to make a move (unless they're lucky enough to find someone willing to make a move on them).
So, it's okay to make a move, right? Well, not necessarily.
Look, no one likes being pawed or groped at when they're not interested (or not interested 'yet'). It's not okay to make a move on a woman if she's not interested. Unfortunately, horniness and wishful thinking often go hand-in-hand. Guys will make mistakes, especially early in their dating careers.
I'm not saying it's okay if you make a move on a woman and move too fast/too far/too soon. It's rude, and unpleasant for her, and there's one other thing you need to think about.
Imagine this big burly guy is coming at you, looking angry as hell. You think he wants to twist your head off your neck, and then maybe do something really violent. It turns out that he just wants to give you a playful noogie, and pay you the twenty bucks you bet him on last week's football game, when his favorite team got clobbered. You don't recognize him through the haze of your life flashing before your eyes.
But you don't know that. For all you know, your life is in danger, and the biggest problem is, you don't know if you can make him stop before he really hurts you.
That's why it's not okay to put the moves on a woman when she doesn't want you to. You might know that you're just trying to seduce her; she might not realize that. If you don't realize that she doesn't like what you're doing relatively quickly, she could be having those very thoughts: can she stop you before you really hurt her? And that's in addition to how lousy it feels to have someone pawing you when you don't want them to be doing that.
So, making a move on a woman isn't always okay, but here we see an important point about the bullying metaphor.
If you're trying to seduce a woman, if you want her to feel hot and sexy, when you notice she's feeling distressed, you will stop. Whether it's empathy, or whether it's pragmatism ("distressed women don't put out"), you will stop.
This is the difference between a decent guy with the horny-stupids and a bully/rapist. Decent guys emphatically do not want a woman to be hurt, scared, distressed, etc.. They might not be looking for the signs as carefully as they should be, but they want consensual sex, and that requires that their partners feel comfortable and safe.
Bullies/rapists don't care if there's pain, fear, or distress.
This is one of the key things I've wanted to be able to explain to people when talking about rape prevention.
If a guy's with a woman, and they're at the point at which there are hugs and kisses being exchanged without awkwardness, unless the guy does something really outlandish, rape can't happen in a second. It takes time, and during that time, she is showing distress, and only a bully is going to ignore that.
Rape isn't an accident. It's not a miscommunication. It's not crossed signals. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes either a profound indifference to, or a preference for, fear, pain, and distress.
Decent guys make mistakes, sometimes, and those mistakes aren't "okay"; they can be ugly.
But as awkward and painful as those mistakes are, they don't hold a candle to rape.
If you're one of the decent guys, maybe a little clumsy or stupid from time to time, but absolutely unwilling to proceed without the enthusiastic consent of your partner, sure, admit to your mistakes, be a bit embarrassed about them - I know I am! - but don't make the mistake of thinking that a woman who has been raped is talking about a similar situation. Recognize that it's a huge, obvious difference.
Understand that, and you'll be able to listen, and learn, rather than question, and argue.
And we'll be that much further down the path in the fight against rape.