It’s morning on a Monday, and I’m at the computer again. I open the window to get a little feel of the outside. And to try and hear the owls. It’s rush outside right now, just road.
Yesterday in the paper I read an opinion piece by a man who, when he was in college, worked with the rape crisis center and led trainings with frat brothers. The writer described the need for education, that the young men he worked with, as much as they didn’t want to see him there — he called himself the ultimate buzz kill at the party — they still, many of them, needed what he was selling: they didn’t know what rape meant. They didn’t know that a drunk woman couldn’t consent to sex. They didn’t know a woman could say she wanted to have sex and then change her mind. They didn’t know that a woman shouldn’t have to physically fight them off in order to communicate her desire not to have sex.
The op-ed was responding to Betsy DeVos’s recalling of the “Dear Colleague” guidelines for dealing with rape on college campuses, because she wants to make sure that the rights of assailants (I’m sorry, of “the accused”) are well tended to. As though perpetrators of rape haven’t been tended to and cared for and given all benefits, in the law and society at large, since forever. But good, now they can be assured of greater protection (again) at college — as though most rapes (on college campuses or anywhere else) still don’t go unreported. As though anyone who is raped doesn’t blame themselves for getting drunk, for wearing the wrong thing, for not saying no soon enough or loud enough or enough times or enough enough enough.
We are not even close to the place where perpetrators (whether on college campuses or in Silicon Valley) need to be concerned that their rights don’t have pre-eminence in society.
I read the op-ed by the rape educator with the same rage that rises up in me whenever someone claims that, if we want to end rape, we just need to teach men how not to rape. I just don’t buy it. Men know that rape is not ok. We all know that rape is not ok. Don’t tell me that, by the age of 18, anyone in this country (or, frankly, anywhere in the world) doesn’t know that it’s not all right to fuck someone who doesn’t want you to fuck them. These are lessons we get as children — hands are not for hitting, don’t take what isn’t yours, take no for an answer, be gentle and kind with one another. This has got to be the most consent-aware generation of men, of people, that there has ever been. And yet assault on campus continues to be wildly prevalent.
Educate these men about patriarchy instead. Educate them about the history of societies that have indoctrinated them down to their bone structure and cells with the idea that women (and children, and other men) are theirs for the taking, the breaking open, for their use. Let them speak of their own violations at the hands of men, what it took for them to become men, what they are afraid of, what they think masculinity means, how they got the idea that rape is their right. Let men have spaces in which to grieve their perceived (and real) losses, that they are no longer allowed to have what their fathers and grandfathers had or took, that they are expected to behave differently if they want to participate in society. Let them learn to view toxic masculinity with a critical eye. Teach them that toxic masculinity is not their due.
I don’t believe that men need to be told what rape is and that it isn’t ok. I do think men need support not to follow the pack, not to do what they think is expected of them as men. I do think we need to continue to change our socialization away from the violence and physical manifestations of power that we expect of maleness and masculinity. We aren’t there yet.
There are lots of (mostly white) men who are tantruming these days over the fact that they have to behave like decent citizens if they want to get an education or have a job. They are mad that they can’t act out however they feel like, that they are going to be held accountable (by other men, even!) for their behavior. They are hurt and disappointed they don’t get to wag their penis or their fist with impunity anymore. (At least in some places, at some times. If he wants pure impunity to assault, let him become a catholic priest.)
What needs to change is something deeper than a freshmen orientation that includes bits about not getting so drunk that you can’t consent to sex and learning (again, again, again) that no means no. It’s got to be something deeper, a societal shift that will allow the valuing of well-being of women and children not in some chivalrous fashion but fundamentally, that sees women and children as as human as men are. That sees us all as worthy of existing. That values kindness and respect.
Kindness and respect. Can you imagine? If only that weren’t such a hard sell in America.
Thanks for being here today, for reading. Thank you for the space you create for others to be all of who they are, in their messy and honest humanity. Thank you for all the new lessons you teach by holding open space for yourself, for your own complicated beauty, for your creative resilience, for your words.