I know I’ve been beating this one into the ground, but it’s been bugging me. I took a few days to think over why I’m so hung up on this, and what I came up with is basically: These narratives enable rape. There are numerous studies that show adherence to rape myths (men who commit rape are just confused, women bring rape upon themselves by sending “mixed signals,” acquaintance rape is just a miscommunication) actually increases rape proclivity. So when articles like the ones at GMP are published, they not only enable rapists or would-be rapists to justify their behavior, but they increase their propensity to rape. It’s not “just” starting a conversation when you send those kinds of messages. What I also found in the research is that when men with already-high acceptance of rape myths either see or believe that other men are coercing women into sex and perceive that sexual coercion is common, they interpret that as “normal” and are then increasingly likely to do the same thing. So publishing an unrepentant rapist? That makes the men who are already likely to assault even more likely to see their actions as normal and justified. These aren’t just “conversations.” This is playing with women’s bodies and our physical safety to get page views. And that’s why I’m so pissed about it, and so hung up on it. Over at the Guardian I detail why “we’re just starting a conversation” isn’t a good reason to write about sexual assault in a way that perpetuates rape myths. The GMP editors may have been well-intentioned at the beginning, and I’m even willing to accept that their defensiveness is a result of feeling attacked (although as an aside, some of them have had really obnoxious MRAs who I banned from Feministe long ago do the “heavy lifting” of going after me on Twitter, but that’s another story). But I hope they read this column and the linked research and see why this is important, and why good intentions and “just starting a conversation” don’t outweigh the serious damage done when you publish what they published. A bit of the Guardian piece:
What is true, researchers have found, is that cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely. In social groups where there is wide acceptance of rape myths – for example, the beliefs that acquaintance rape is a problem of communication or “mixed signals”, that rapists simply can’t control their sexual urges, that women often lie about rape, or that women invite rape upon themselves by their actions or manner of dressing – rape proclivity is higher. When men internalize rape myths, they are more likely to commit rape or see rape as more acceptable.
When men perceive these rape myths as being widely-accepted social norms, their rape proclivity increases. When men believe their peers are using coercion to “get” sex, those men are more likely to engage in the same behaviors. But when men see that rape myths were challenged or not accepted, their rape proclivity decreases.
In other words, challenging rape myths means less rape. But when writers, cultural figures, media-makers or individuals perpetuate the idea that rape is a grey area or that acquaintance rapists are “nice guys” who are just confused or that women somehow bring rape upon themselves, that enables rapists and feeds their propensity to rape.
Which is exactly why feminists get so angry when posts like the ones at the Good Men Project are published, or when people defend predatory men as “nice guys”. Actions have consequences, and how we write and talk about these issues matters. As well-meaning as the authors and editors might be, and as much as they insist they just want to “have a conversation about rape”, when they inject “grey rape” and victim-blaming into the narratives and when they publish unrepentant rapists who believe that their actions are common, these publications are unwittingly – or, I would argue, negligently and irresponsibly – enabling rape.
It’s not just the Good Men Project or the town of Steubenville, Ohio. Those are simply the examples that came up today; rape culture is so pervasive that if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll be able to direct to you several others. Buying into social myths about rape is world-wide phenomenon. Every day, conversations are had and articles are published that feed into these myths. Every day, adherence to these myths gets rapists off the hook. Every day, they groom more men to rape.
You can read the whole thing here.
- And just when you thought the Good Men Project couldn’t get any worse… by Jill December 10, 2012
- Adria Richards, Sexual Assault and Victim-Blaming by Jill March 26, 2013
- The painful lessons of the Central Park Five and the jogger rape case by Jill October 5, 2012
- Rape: the sinister blame game by Cara February 16, 2010
- Should NYC Compensate the Wrongly Convicted Central Park Five? by Jill November 20, 2012