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Power Dynamics in Rape and among Rape Victims

Posted by Curt on Monday, 14 June 2010

The Power Button (okay, so it's not usually used in this context, but whatever! I couldn't find anything better)

About five days ago, Meghan at Feminisms wrote a post in response to Cara’s post on men being victims of rape at The Curvature.  Meghan criticizes Cara for tackling the issue of rape against men by treating the rape against men on a more or less equal basis as the rape against women (assuming the rape is committed against them by a member of the opposite gender – male on female rape, female on male rape).

I’m going to paraphrase Meghan’s argument right here to make it as concise as possible, so please correct me if I get something wrong as I really want to be fair with this.

- Gender matters.  There is a specific power dynamic behind gender, one which favors men and hurts women.
- Consequently, this power dynamic impacts how men and women commit and deal with rape, with the implication that men are able to deal with it and commit it from a position of power, thus hurting them less, compared to women who are generally in a victimized position.
- Thus (given the title of her post) the issue of rape against men should not be regarded as a significant issue, or at the very least, an issue feminists should treat as equal to the rape against women.
- Similarly, racism against a white person shouldn’t be regarded as (and thus as bad as) racism against a non-white person and shouldn’t be seen as significant an issue.

Meghan’s post goes in greater depth justifying those points, so please go read it if you’re bewildered at how anyone can believe in such things.

Meghan’s certainly correct in that gender matters and how it impacts how we see the issue of rape against men vs. rape against women.  However, I’m not so sold on the power dynamic argument.  As mentioned in posts before, I can think of various ways in which women (at least in the West) have power over men to counter such a notion, which leads me to question how universal this power dynamic is.  Meghan does make the claim:

“[M]en are not meant to experience anything as victims and are, rather, meant to experience everything from a position of power and control.”

Which I think is vastly overstating it.  When you think about it, very few people, both male or female, are meant to experience anything as victims unless they are actually violated, assaulted, or whatever in some way.  Traditionally speaking (and still largely true today), the difference is that men are pressured, by both men and women, to overcome such things (thus making it a personal deficiency to the man if he cannot overcome it), whereas the victimization of women is generally regarded as the failure of society (the society’s failing to protect women, not a personal deficiency for her).  A woman is taught to pass the blame of her victimization to a larger issue; the man is not.

It is perhaps for this reason why men appear to not talk about the ways in which they are vulnerable or have been made victims very much, despite that they have certainly experienced ways in which they have been made victims (however big or small).  Feminists by and large have come and taught women to view their victimization under the schema of patriarchy as opposed to society’s failing to protect women, which in itself is sexist as it assumes women are incapable of protecting themselves.  In doing so, women will supposedly be able to rise up beyond their victimization.  This is a bit of a catch-22 I think because if women wish to attain the “position of power” men have, they need to begin blaming themselves for their victimization and rising up to overcome it just as men do.  You cannot overcome your own personal victimization through a position of power without making your becoming a victim a personal responsibility of yours.

And if you think that’s a bit harsh, it most certainly is.  It builds an ego and pride (a seemingly insufferable one at times), it builds confidence (sometimes overconfidence), and to react to violations of it, they must do so through anger (perhaps to compensate for it, expressing it through a position of power).  The same will hold true if you try expressing it all through a more collective movement (like feminism); reactions will typically be angry, hence the phenomenon of the angry feminist.  Anger in itself is a tool of power, but do not mistake using that as not being victimized – it is rooted from the same burning sensation of violation women feel when they have been victimized.  Men are simply taught to treat it and express it differently.  Often times, a number of men have a difficult time conforming to this and overcoming their own feelings of victimization – these men learn to express themselves differently (the whole emo fad a few years ago comes to mind, though that certainly isn’t the only way).

Don’t get me wrong either.  I’m not saying that women should begin blaming themselves for every time they are raped; in fact, I think it’s men who should learn to become more open to expressing vulnerability, but such a thing will never happen until you can get women onboard to accepting it – part of the reason why men feel so pressured to doing so is because of an appeal to women, and indeed, I can tell you from personal experience that a man will not attract a woman by talking about the ways in which he’s been made a victim, but he may very well do so by talking about the ways in which he’s overcome his own victimization.  This is why when we speak of the empowerment for either gender, you cannot think of that gender in isolation from the other – both are too interconnected for that and you have to change the attitudes and practices of both simultaneously if you ever hope to achieve any sort of gender equality.

——————

Back to rape.  I personally think statutory rape is on a completely different level than what I consider “actual” rape.  Statutory rape is only rape because the one of the individuals is younger than the age of consent, making it legally rape.  I say legally because in actuality, the “victim” may not consider him or herself a victim at all because if they did indeed consent, they won’t frame it in such terms and the impact of their (perceived) victimization may not be present at all.  Because of this I think statutory rape should be considered totally different from rape and not regarded at all on the same level, where I believe rape itself is much worse.

This may perhaps muddle the argument between Meghan and Cara I think, though they tend to stick with Lil Wayne’s example of being 11 years old when he had sex with a 14 year old girl.  Lil Wayne certainly does not regard himself as having been rape, and indeed, if he doesn’t I don’t think anybody should.  I don’t think anybody, particularly feminists, should be in the business of telling anybody they were raped when they do not believe they were, as if they were speaking for somebody else’s experiences.  You could certainly claim that he was too young to consent, and he may very well have been, but he certainly doesn’t feel raped.  Why consider it rape unless you’re trying to push an entirely legal argument which would certainly not include any thoughts on the (perceived) victim’s victimization?

The same could be said for a 14 year old boy who had sex with an 11 year old girl.  Meghan, however, does have it correct that women learn to deal with this differently from men and not just for power reasons but because women are also generally taught to withhold having sex; indeed, men will turn it on its head and brag about it as a result.  I wouldn’t, however, say that the girl is necessarily made into a victim here, though if she feels she was violated (despite her consent, which at that age would be too young to hold up in a court as it would be argued that she was too young to understand what she was doing, which may well be true), the case could be made for her having been raped.

However, if we do assume both feel victimized, I do not believe, like Meghan, that the way they treat their victimization differently means that men don’t generally don’t feel like victims for the reasons I’ve stated above.  Thus I think a lot of her power dynamic argument is bullshit (at least in the way she frames it), though the power itself, and the position of power it can create for that individual, that she brings up is not.  They are very different things because it means that nothing is stopping women from doing so as well; it’s more that they’re simply not taught to do so.

It is because of this that Meghan argues that this context makes joking about men being raped funny but women being raped offensive.  On this specific point I agree, but it’s hardly fixed and it’s hardly as if men don’t feel a deep sense of violation.  It’s here where I think Cara has it more correct and, as much as I often disagree with her, I do appreciate her consistency here quite strongly.   Rape, no matter who it’s committed by and done against, is a horrible crime and there’s very few out there who will disagree with that.  The way the victim of rape deals with rape itself is, in my mind, beside the point as the ways the victim deals with it is taught and thus can be changed.  I also do not believe that penetration is the only requirement for rape either; rape is broader than just that.  I can see why feminists emphasize rape against women more than men given feminism’s focus, however, I think to say that you only want to end rape against women is callous.  Anybody who finds rape disgusting and wants to end it should be advocating the end of rape against all individuals (or at least as much as possible), not just the rape against a single gender.

One Response to “Power Dynamics in Rape and among Rape Victims”

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