"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Friday, December 16, 2011

On Rape and the Temptation of Misguided Anger

*The idea of being raped and murdered- or just raped- terrifies me.

It’s terrible, terrible, terrible. It’s one of those things that makes me want to cry, “Why, God, why?” (But I don’t think there’s actually a god listening, unfortunately.) 
And it makes me hope that it never happens to me. (Or anyone I care about. Or anyone, ever.)

It’s difficult not to take issue with men. At least with the abstract concept of men. 
Throughout my life I've been informed of countless brutal rape-murders. 
All my life I’ve been warned not to listen to the emotional manipulations of men, because ‘he will say whatever needs to be said to get what he wants from you.’ I want to believe that it isn’t true, that I can trust people, that “men” could not be so cruel and that they must see me as more than… I’d rather not be crass. As more than a toy to be used. But it’s hard to hold on to that belief when your father and your uncles and most everyone you know tells you this. 
That’s the scary thing, really. I could shrug it off relatively easy coming from a hurt woman. Pain clouds personal judgment. Just because he did that to you doesn’t mean it happens all the time. 
But when it’s all of the men who are in a position to care about me that say it (with an unspoken, trust me, we do it all the time lurking in their eyes)… my faith in “man” falters despite my stubborn adherence to a belief in the goodness of people.

I have been instilled with a fear of walking alone. Anytime, anywhere. Especially at night (Of course. I mean it’s really out of the question).
Maybe I am too precautious, but given the stakes, I say better to be safe. 
But it does strike me as a bit unfair when I realize that my male friends have likely never hesitated at the thought of walking to the grocery store by themselves- for fear of the possibility of being kidnapped, raped, and discarded on the side of the road somewhere. And when I wonder whether I will be able to travel through Europe next fall, because I am not going with a group of people I know, and what if I don’t make friends with similar travel destinations while I am abroad? Is it safe to travel alone? I want to believe so… but…. I don’t know. Perhaps I’d better not. 
These are fears that ought not be necessary. But they’re there, and I can’t ignore them or shrug them off easily. Of course, travelling alone is also dangerous for a male, I suppose… but not nearly as dangerous as for a female. Men may have their wallet taken from them. Just about anyone who attacks me will make sure to seek other advantages. Even if they primarily just want the money, why not make the best of the situation and rape a lone female? And even if both scenarios (male victim and female victim) end in death, why must the murder of my counterpart almost always be preceded by rape? Perhaps it seems to make no difference, but it does to me. Why can’t we be spared that shred of dignity?

I know a large number of men-- in the same way that I know a large number of women-- whom I respect and who I firmly believe to be individuals if integrity. There are those whose esteem I prize, and a very few whom I would trust with my soul. It’s not a matter of male or female; it’s a matter of character. This I believe more deeply than any anti-male sentiment I may utter. I may be called a fool, and perhaps I am, but I refuse to let go of the belief in the goodness of individuals- not of men or women (or of Muslims or Christians or atheists or any ethnic group or just any group), but of individuals.   

So forgive me, fellow believers in justice, when I slip into anger toward the concept of “man” when I hear that “in a survey of college-aged men, 35% admitted that they would commit rape if they believed they could get away with it” (http://www.uic.edu/depts/owa/sa_rape_support.html). Or when I recall the confusion and sadness and incredulity that filled me when I expressed to a dear male friend- whose honor and decency I would pledge to in a heartbeat- that I could not understand how someone could rape someone, could take pleasure in the act despite the pain they were inflicting upon another, despite the screams and the struggles and the tears and all of that… and he shook his head and told me that no, he could see it… It makes sense… (And I wanted to scream that no! It can’t make sense! It doesn’t make sense! How could it ever make sense? I still want to deny that. There must have been some error, some misunderstanding, some discrepancy in terminology that prevented the clear communication of ideas.) Or when I think of women impregnated and abandoned to raise their child alone. (This seems unfair to the woman, but my real pain here is for the child, who deserves better.) I’ve never understood why responsibility for a child tends to be considered so disproportionately… but it’s another one of those warnings that haunted my girlhood. And then there’s that whole history of inequality between the sexes, which produces the occasional pang of disappointment.

I know this sounds ironic, but it actually isn’t. I mean it, and am only trying to provide you with my perspective, that you may understand the temptation. So please do forgive me when I slip into anger toward the concept of “man.” I ought not to name this character so. But I have yet to conjure a title for this beast. 
(A note: I should clarify. I do not put men who do not play in equal role in raising their children and that long line of men who played a role in the oppression of women “beasts.” They may be weak, but they are not beasts. The beast is the rapist, the murderer, the torturer.)

So reader... I trust that you are good. You may have your flaws and your weaknesses, but so do we all, and I believe that you will do the right thing when put in a sticky situation. You are strong.
I trust that you will keep an eye out for the weak and protect them if possible.
I know that you will support survivors. I know that you will remind the people around you that we are to treat people with dignity, and that you will teach by example.
I know that you do your best to live with integrity and honor- and for that, you have my utmost respect.
We are good, strong men and women… and we must do our utmost to keep the beast at bay.

*These thoughts, on this particular occasion, were provoked by the following sites:

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