Trigger Warning for rape apologism and discussions of sexual violence
Earlier this week, Meghan Murphy of the Feminist Media Collective blog wrote a piece attacking an old blog post I wrote about rape apologism specifically directed at male rape victims, as well as a recent post on a similar subject by RMJ over at Bitch. This post is titled “Can Women Rape Men? I’m Not Sure I Care.” If you’d like a more elaborate answer to the title question, as best as I can deduce from the whole post, Murphy has concluded “Well, yes, technically, I guess. But I still don’t care. Also, I’m really, really annoyed at those who do.”
Her annoyance seems to largely derive from serious — and one cannot help but wonder if they are deliberate — misreadings and distortions of both my post and RMJ’s. (Or, at least, a misreading of my post, and a certainly very different reading of RMJ’s than I have.) Because I wrote about rape apologism directed at male rape survivors and how it both resembles and differs from rape apologism directed at female survivors, and because RMJ had the audacity to point out that rape jokes are not funny regardless of the target, Murphy declares:
I get the feeling that both authors want these men’s experiences to be viewed as equal to women’s experiences. As though they are equally at risk, equally victimized, as though men, just like women, are in constant danger of being raped. Bullshit.
Of course, any regular reader of my writing knows that it’s absurd to suggest that I think rape culture makes equal victims of men, that I don’t know women make up the vast majority of rape victims, and/or that I think the impact that the threat of rape has on the everyday lives of women is negligible. From what I know of RMJ (and I have no desire to put words in her mouth), I’d say that she probably understands the advantage that men have in rape culture, too. And yet on the basis of these posts, which are specifically about the phenomenon of women raping men and not exactly representative of the topics that either RMJ or I blog on most frequently, Murphy accuses:
What is it with this decade (and, might I add, the third wave) and ignoring context? Now we are supposed to talk about rape while constantly reminding one another that women ‘rape’ men too? Fuck off.
Somehow, I’ve been transformed into the kind of Men’s Rights Activist troll who regularly cries what about the menz? whenever someone talks about rape against women, or rape as a gendered crime. Meanwhile, Murphy is portraying herself as the kind of rape apologist who denies others’ experiences and puts the word “rape” in scare quotes to invalidate its meaning and realness.
In short, Murphy wants to know why either RMJ or I would respond to jokes about men being raped by women with outrage apparently similar to that which we would use for jokes about women being raped by men, when men so commonly rape women and women less commonly only “rape” men.
To briefly answer her question with regards to RMJ, here is why what RMJ wrote about is important: because jokes about non-consensual sexual conduct — rape — reinforce rape as normal, natural, acceptable, and funny. The increasing pop cultural change from women victims as the butt of rape jokes to male victims is only indicative of a shift in cultural attitudes towards gender, but not towards the normalcy and acceptability of non-consensual sexual conduct in general. When rape is still being portrayed as normal, no matter who the victim, rape culture is being heavily reinforced — and it’s not just the butt of the joke who is affected. It is a danger to us all, and it is the absolute last thing that needs to be heard and repeated in a rape apologist society in which we live.
As for me, here is in large part where I think that Murphy and I differ: She seems to think that our goal ought to be to end rape as a specifically gendered crime committed by men against women. I think our goal should be to end rape.
Of course, addressing the gendered nature of most rapes is an integral part of reaching that goal — that’s why it’s something that I talk about in virtually every single post that I write. But I’m not satisfied ending it there. I don’t consider it a win to joke about rape that isn’t a specifically gendered crime. And I don’t think that it’s a win to simply stop rape as a tool used by men against women as a means of reinforcing patriarchy, when rape is still going to inevitably used as a tool of reinforcing other kyriarchal structures of power.
I still believe that where some of us our vulnerable to rape, any of us can be made vulnerable to rape. I think that where the bodily autonomy of some of us is not respected, the bodily autonomy of any of us is liable to being denied. (Though of course some of us will always be at more risk than others.) I think that even if it wasn’t, fighting even for the bodily integrity of even one person is enough. And while I center the vast majority of my work on fighting for bodily integrity and autonomy for women, I don’t do it because I think that women deserve something special. I do it because I believe in bodily autonomy for everyone as a human right, and women are among those who are being specially denied it.
I don’t fight against rape just because rape is mostly committed against women, though that is a part of it. I fight against rape because it’s one of the gravest violations that a person can commit and that a person can experience. I fight against rape because it is a violent means of reinforcing kyriarchal power, and I believe that kyriarchy needs to be stopped fully. And so saying you “don’t care” about some rapes and some rape victims puts us squarely on different sides, with different goals in mind.
We aren’t gender blind, just like we aren’t colour blind. We are not living in an equitable society and therefore all things do not carry the same meaning. This is why a man cannot be sexually objectified in the same way as a woman can. And why there’s no such thing as being ‘racist’ towards white people. Because of, (all together now) CON-TEXT. I feel very strongly that, to speak as though men raping women is the same as women raping men, is both deceptive and dangerous. Men and women aren’t the same. It is because we don’t live in an equitable society that, to talk about rape happening equally or in an equally significant way between men and women, is just not ok.
Murphy is absolutely correct in her assertion that sexual assaults can have different meanings based on the marginalized identity or lack thereof of both the victim and perpetrator.
I do believe that most rapes are committed against women because they are women — and thus think that in a non-legal sense, they can be properly referred to as hate crimes. Specifically, some rapes are committed against trans women because they are women and because they are trans*. Some rapes are committed against trans men because they are trans*. Some rapes are committed against men, whether cis or trans*, because they are gay. There are also many, many more examples, and the oppressive hate aspect of the crime can easily exacerbate trauma. All of these rapes carry somewhat different meanings, because they’re all based in different though sometimes intersecting oppressions. And while there may be reasons that a rape by a woman against a man is properly classified as a hate crime (see some of those listed above), it’s true that this is not usually the case in the way that most rapes of men against women are hate crimes.
But the fact that such a crime is not usually a hate crime does not mean that it wasn’t a rape. And it’s wrong and appalling to dismissively talk about actual rape committed against men, which causes very real harm and trauma, as though it is similar to the myth of “reverse racism” and the petty, privileged bruised feelings of a white person who has been called a “cracker.”
This is absolutely clear to anyone who views rape not as a simple function of body parts or as just an exertion of specifically oppressive power — though it most commonly is that, too — but also as a grave violation of one’s autonomy and one’s self.
But Murphy makes quite obvious in her article that she thinks rape is all about body parts. Indeed, in her attempt to argue that only cis women are the really real rape victims worth talking about, thanks to us having the only really real oppression, she also manages to completely erase and deny the experiences not just of many rape survivors who aren’t cis women, but of those who are.
Rape is gendered. Domestic abuse is gendered. This is not to say that men aren’t raped. It is to say that or to imply that women are capable of raping a man in the same way that men are capable of raping women is damaging and unclear. A man can penetrate a woman. A man can penetrate a man. He has that power. A woman does not.
Let’s not mince words: Murphy is quite clearly talking about penises. With fingers and objects obviously being available to the vast majority of us, penises are what she seems to think that men have that allows them to rape and what she thinks that women lack to exempt them from it. This is extraordinarily cissexist, of course. Penises aren’t body parts exclusive to men, and penises aren’t something that all men have. Some people don’t even identify as men or women! The assertion is also extremely heterosexist, as she has deduced penetrative sex acts to be the only acts that can be committed as rape.
And so with these words, she erases very many trans* survivors of rape. She erases many cis male survivors of rape. And as a cis woman survivor of rape, she erases me.
Reducing rape to “non-consensual penis in orifice” is just plain gross. It’s also incredibly silencing.
I was raped by a man. But I was not raped with a penis. This is none of your business, actually. And it has no bearing on anything I’ve ever written. But I’m telling you now quite simply because I’m tired of being silenced, I’m tired of being erased, and I’m tired — so very, very tired — of being silenced and erased while knowing that countless others are being silenced and erased. I’m tired of feeling too afraid, too dismissed, too vulnerable, my status as a rape survivor too precarious, to open my mouth and say something about it.
I was not raped with a penis. But I was raped, goddammit. I was raped.
And so was everyone else who survived a sexual bodily violation that didn’t involve a phallus. We all were. And we matter.
Here’s the thing: if you’re going to go around erasing survivors, it’s pretty difficult to erase only the ones you want to. You can’t come up with a good reason why male rape survivors don’t count without also erasing some women rape survivors or survivors of other genders. If it’s about the rapist having oppressive power based in gender over the victim, you erase women who have been raped by women or by people of non-binary genders. If it’s about penises, you erase women who have penises, men who don’t, and victims who were raped with something other than a penis. If it’s about men having so much power in society and you just being understandably really angry about that, it’s impossible to make a non-oppressive argument that white rape survivors, straight rape survivors, cis rape survivors, abled rape survivors, and so on, shouldn’t also be erased.
In short, you can’t come up with a good reason why any rape survivor doesn’t count without creating a bullshit litmus test that damages us all.
It’s absolutely acceptable to center a particularly oppressed group when talking about rape, especially when you belong to that group yourself. I find it entirely acceptable and even positive for women to focus on rape committed against women, and to not be constantly compelled to talk about men, who are in a position of relative privilege. I find it similarly acceptable and positive for trans* people of whatever gender to focus on rape committed against other trans* people, and to not be constantly harassed about caring more about cis survivors. I find it acceptable and positive for people with disabilities to talk about sexual violence specifically committed against other people with disabilities, and to not have to deal with constant reminders that abled people are raped, too.
And I honestly have not the slightest clue why anyone would think that I might want to take that from them.
But actively denying those survivors you don’t center is a different story. Castigating someone else for talking about them ever, and for even calling their experiences rape, is an entirely different subject. Outright saying that you do not care if they are raped may indeed be an expression of righteous anger, but it’s sure as hell not getting us anywhere, collectively. Ejecting other survivors from a larger community of survivors is alienating, as is also attempting to eject those who dare mention their existence.
No one should be expected to care more about male survivors of rape than any other survivors, or even to care just as much. But if we really believe in the right of others to define their own experiences, if we really think that sexual violence is wrong, and if we really think that rape apologism and denialism is a destructive force both personally and socially, we do still have to care.