Zerlina Maxwell speaks, receives death threats, refuses to stop speaking

[Trigger warning for discussion of rape and racism]

Writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell spoke on FOX with Sean Hannity to point out, rightly, that no amount of precaution and preparation and weaponry can protect women from rape as long as there are still rapists. It’s the obvious statements like that that, for some reason, seem to appear so revolutionary and controversial that they’re worthy of argument or even death threats.

A rape survivor herself, Maxwell dismissed the idea that arming women is the surefire answer to rape by noting that when violence is begin committed against women, particularly when it’s by men the women know and trust, it makes no sense to tell them stop being raped and all the sense to tell men to stop raping.

I think the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want women — I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear, how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I need a gun in order to prevent my rape. And in my case —

In my case, don’t tell me if I had only had gun, I wouldn’t have been raped because it’s still putting it on me to prevent the rape.

I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention.

There are organizations that do this. Men stop — men can stop rape. Men Stopping Violence. They train young men not to rape.

I won’t repeat the epithets thrown at her on social media as a result of her speaking out. (You can see a sampling at Talking Points Memo, if you feel compelled.) They told her in disturbing detail what should be done to her; almost all of them referenced her race. One mentioned that if she were thusly attacked, “Maybe then [she’ll] understand why white women have to be armed.” Because, goes the implication, rape is different for a black woman; she deserves extra punishment for speaking out.

Her crimes were being a black woman in public and believing that women can’t be called upon to stop everything and believing that men are more than feral animals and can and should be taught not to rape. All unforgivable, of course.

But despite numerous violently threatening instructions to shut up, she didn’t. She retweeted a sampling of her more vicious threats, then spoke with Ed Schultz on MSNBC. Then she talked with Democracy Now. And she outlined in Ebony five ways that men can indeed be taught not to rape.

1. Teach young men about legal consent

2. Teach young men to see a woman’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure

3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity

4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim

5. Teach young men about bystander intervention

Because women are not responsible for their own rapes, and they haven’t failed to protect themselves — society has failed to keep them safe by accepting a culture that refuses to hold rapists accountable and to make prevention a priority. And that message, she says, is why the slurs and the threats won’t keep her from talking.

“I’m certainly taking steps to protect my emotional health, but I will not be quiet. Because I refuse to be bullied into silence,” she told Schultz. “The whole entire point of why I went on Fox to talk about this issue that I am so passionate about is because so many women are afraid to talk about it. That’s because they are blamed and shamed into silence, and I refuse — I refuse — to be silenced.”

Read posts by Arturo at Racialicious and Imani Gandy at RH Reality Check, Maxwell’s interview with Juan Gonzales and Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, and Maxwell’s article at Ebony. And h/t to commenter miga.


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This entry was posted in Media & Media Literacy, Racism, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

114 Responses to Zerlina Maxwell speaks, receives death threats, refuses to stop speaking

  1. theLaplaceDemon says:

    Can Zerlina Maxwell be President? I would really like that.

    • Hrovitnir says:

      Can you imagine the awesome? I don’t even live in the US, and our politics aren’t quite as bad (think same old, same old, but rather toned down) but I still get all happy imagining someone like her in charge.

      No one’s perfect, but someone who has not been broken down into a politician by the political system, someone honest, someone not-white AND female, someone passionate, someone who doesn’t pander to bigots… oh, what a pipe dream.

      • steven says:

        we jut need to get all feminists elected. we need a strong progressive feminist government and make it global.

  2. tomek says:

    [Paraphrase: misses point entirely, now WATM? ~ Mod Team]

  3. miga says:

    :D thank you!

  4. tigtog says:

    I’ve been really impressed with how Maxwell simply asserts her points and refuses to be silenced. I’d never heard of her until my tweetstream was suddenly full of links last week, but everything I read is so clearly expressed. I’m glad to read that’s she’s prioritising her emotional health while at the centre of this particular cyberhate silencing campaign.

  5. I applaud this well-written article about one of my heroes, Zerlina Maxwell. As a fellow “Rape Thriver” (my name for us), I refuse to be silent as well. She is so courageous and has given me permission to write my a– off all weekend about the gang rapes happening globally, where I’ve seen it firsthand. Thee is a tipping point and I AM A PART OF IT. I thank you, Caperton, for playing such a GREAT part! Bless you!

  6. trees says:

    Maxwell emphasizes the predominance of acquaintance rape and how even if you own a weapon for personal protection, it wouldn’t likely be of use in these situations. You’re less likely to have your gun on hand when you are with someone you trust, and it is the very people you trust who are most likely to sexually assault you. Also, she makes the point that you don’t necessarily want to pull a weapon on someone you care about, even when they pose a genuine threat.

    • Angie unduplicated says:

      First thing an abuser does is take the car keys OR the gun, if you have one, or both. Rapists plan their moves. The real reason that rapey wingnuts hate Maxwell may be that she’s walking hand in hand with Dr. King’s spirit by teaching nonviolence to those who need it most.

  7. Tyris says:

    3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity

    Is there such a thing? Is there a definition of masculinity that isn’t shaped purely by absences? Can that ever be healthy?

    • A4 says:

      I’m a man, and I have no clue what “healthy masculinity” is supposed to be, let alone how to express it.

    • DP says:

      Are you suggesting that all masculinity is inherently unhealthy?

      • AMM says:

        Are you suggesting that all masculinity is inherently unhealthy?

        I’m not Tyris, but I do.

        Actually, I don’t “suggest” it; I declaim it, I preach it, I shout it from the rooftops.

        Any “masculine virtue” that isn’t equally appropriate for a woman isn’t good for anyone.

        (FWIW, I am male.)

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        This sounds vaguely dismissive of trans* men. If all masculinity is inherently unhealthy, then someone who identifies as masculine is compulsively unhealthy, i.e. sick. Please be aware of what you are saying.

      • EG says:

        Why do you think that masculinity isn’t appropriate for women?

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        EG,
        Me? I don’t think it’s inappropriate. At all. But my point stands that if it’s unhealthy, then anyone who identifies as masculine is being called sick. And that is what AMM wrote.

        Q: Are you suggesting that all masculinity is inherently unhealthy?

        A: I’m not Tyris, but I do.

        This, I have a problem with.

      • AMM says:

        This sounds vaguely dismissive of trans* men. If all masculinity is inherently unhealthy, then someone who identifies as masculine is compulsively unhealthy, i.e. sick. Please be aware of what you are saying.

        I don’t know how what you (or trans men) mean by “masculine” in the phrase “identifies as masculine” relates to what I mean by “masculinity.”

        My experience of “masculinity” is that it’s a set of behaviors and characteristics that men are expected to take on and women are expected to avoid. This is why I used the phrase “masculine virtues.”

        And with the exception of those behaviors & characteristics which I would consider equally appropriate for women, I have found no “masculine” behavior/characteristic that I think it is worth anyone having. They are unhealthy, in the way that methyl alcohol is unhealthy.

        I don’t really know what trans men mean by “identifying as masculine.” But to the extent that they mean by that phrase internalizing the “masculinity” cr*p that I’ve been force-fed all my life, then I would say it is an unhealthy pursuit.

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        See the conversation between EG and timberwraith below. This sums up what I was trying to say.

    • M Dubz says:

      I think it’s more about expressing healthy HUMANITY through a male lens. i.e. a good human being stands up for what’s right, takes care of the people they love, respects others’ boundaries, etc. For some men, it will be useful to frame it in terms of what a good MAN does.

    • Hina says:

      We define what masculinity is. What is considered masculine has changed throughout history and is defined differently across cultures. So if we don’t define masculinity as having power over women, ability to control women, ability overpower other beings, stop considering anger and aggression as masculine qualities… then yea men can express healthy masculinity.

      Masculinity and femininity should be associated with positive traits only and negative traits should be labeled as person who behaves like a jerk or has low self esteem. Your gender shouldn’t give you a free pass or make it okay to be a jerk or doormat

    • Emolee says:

      My understanding of “healthy masculinity” in this context is masculinity that does not mandate violence or contempt for women. Way too often I hear a “boys will be boys” attitude concerning both of these points, as if they are just inevitably part of being male.

      To me, it goes along with #2, which was teaching men to see women’s humanity instead of seeing women as just sex objects. I think teaching men to respect women (as human beings, not in a chivalrous sense) would go a long way towards decreasing the prevalence of rape.

    • xzaebos says:

      Pretty much any man who you would describe as a “good” man or person is more likely than not displaying healthy masculinity

      • Niall says:

        And a lot of these ostensibly “good” men can and do rape; another factor which helps keep rape culture alive.

      • EG says:

        Really? What about that study about repeat predators?

      • Niall says:

        @EG:

        Really? What about that study about repeat predators?

        If you’re referring to the Lisak and Miller study that was posted over at yesmeansyes, I’m familiar with it.

        The point I was trying to make was regarding xzaebos comment that any man who could be described as “good” is probably a model of healthy masculinity who — among other things — doesn’t rape. But I think we all know that a lot of men who have raped are regarded positively – ie; pillars of the community, someone’s loving, attentive husband, father, brother or son etc.

        The guy who raped me was widely regarded as a funny, likeable, easygoning and popular guy by pretty much everyone else I knew. He was all of those things, and yet he was also a rapist.

      • EG says:

        Ah, right. Now I understand your comment: we can’t necessarily tell the good men from the predators. Thanks for the explanation.

    • timberwraith says:

      I think Tyris asks a valid question. The current modes of masculinity promoted by US culture are pretty dysfunctional. Of course, one could say something similar about the current modes of femininity promoted by US culture, too.

      To echo M Dubz, can we expand our scope and horizons a bit? Why can’t the we aim for raising both boys and girls (and young women and men) to express a healthy humanity? Not all men/boys identify with masculinity. Not all women/girls identify with femininity. Not all people identify within the sex binary of woman/man-girl/boy. In reality, there’s a plurality of gender expressions that do not fit into a simple binary. I think this is an important point because those who are seen as gender variant by this system so often wind up in the cross hairs of sexual abuse.

      I think one of the big problems with the way so many cultures construct gender is that those cultural systems are so rigidly bound to bimodal ways of being. This tends to promote a conformity that damages people and, I think, lends to promoting an “exploiting class” of human beings vs. an “exploited class” of human beings, each approximating one half of humanity.

      We are masculine, we are feminine, and we are also so many other modes of being… regardless of body shape.

      • EG says:

        The current modes of masculinity promoted by US culture are pretty dysfunctional. Of course, one could say something similar about the current modes of femininity promoted by US culture, too.

        Sure. But I would say the same thing about Christianity, romantic love, and work, and that doesn’t mean that healthy models of those things are neither possible nor desirable. I am certainly on board with understanding gender as many different kinds of spectrums, which can be fluid for a person (or not, as they wish), but getting rid of masculinity and femininity as concepts is neither possible nor, in my opinion, particularly desirable, considering how much a part of many people’s identities they are. I’d vote for remaking them every time.

      • timberwraith says:

        EG said:

        Sure. But I would say the same thing about Christianity, romantic love, and work, and that doesn’t mean that healthy models of those things are neither possible nor desirable.

        Indeed.

        I’m not advocating that we abolish masculinity or femininity. I’m advocating radically broadening how a culture views gender. So, there wouldn’t just be masculinity or femininity but a whole range of recognized ways of being. And of course, those ways of being already exist and are being expressed by people right now (probably by people on this very comment thread). However, these “alternate” forms of gender are still widely viewed as odd, immoral, deviant, and flawed. And, most importantly, we still forget to include them in conversations such as the one addressed by Jill’s post. (Which is a great post, nevertheless.)

        I’m also advocating broadening society’s notion of who is expected to express which variation of gender. Right now, things are still far two rigid: that is, there is the assumption that masculine people are born with penises and feminine people are born with vaginas. Any other variation is viewed as problematic or it is viewed as an aberration.

        I would hope, as a part of this process, people would be afforded the freedom to allow a re-imagining of what femininity and masculinity entail.

        Long reply made short: rather than abolishing gender, shake it up and diversify it instead.

      • timberwraith says:

        Oh shoot, this wasn’t Jill’s post. It was Caperton’s. Sorry.

      • EG says:

        Ah, in that case, we’re on the same page completely.

    • timberwraith says:

      To add one edit to my second paragraph above:

      Not all children and adults identify with the sex assigned to them at birth, nor that sex’s associated social expectations. I think trans* kids/adults often wind up slamming headfirst into these rigid, bimodal social expectations… as do LGB folks, too.

    • Computer Soldier Porygon says:

      I honestly have no idea what ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ mean. When I start thinking about what it means to be masculine/feminine, my brain just shuts down.

      • Hrovitnir says:

        Yeah. I’m fine with the idea of “healthy masculinity” because people often identify really strongly with masculinity/femininity, so if approaching it like that works, great!

        But I can’t see how masculinity or femininity can exist as concepts separate from gender essentialism. So not *bad*, per se, but not something I can ever see as being a useful concept for me.

    • Tyris says:

      This got a bit big, so we posted the reply in #spillover.

      (Link may not work immediately; it’s in-moderation at the time of writing this. Possibly this will be also.)

  8. TomSims says:

    Zerlina Maxwell is very impressive and lists very good points. But, as Hannity said, a criminal does not respect the law or what other people tell him. And even if a woman knows her and trusts her rapist, he is still a criminal and is not ever going to listen to others telling him not to rape.

    The young woman testifying wants the right to carry a concealed weapon. And the law is denying her that right. It’s about a woman’s right to choose. And just as she can choose to have an abortion, she should also have the right to choose to carry a concealed weapon.

    • Emolee says:

      While some criminals simply don’t respect the law at all, I don’t think that is the case for some or possibly most people who commit crimes- they may simply not respect the *specific law they are breaking.* For example, someone who shoplifts might think that they need/deserve the stuff and that big corporations can take the hit. Or someone who illegally downloads might think it is no big deal, it is not really stealing. Shockingly, in the same vein, some people who rape (not all rapists, obviously) do so because while they know it is against the law, they just don’t see it as a moral outrage, and some think that what they are doing is not really rape. This is why I think education targeted a boys and men about rape, consent, and women’s humanity is important and will be effective in preventing some rapes.

      • Emolee says:

        And I feel like I have to respond to my own comment before someone asks: are you comparing illegal downloading to rape?!!eleventy?!! Yes, I am. Not because I think they are comparable crimes, but because women’s consent is so devalued that the thought process behind many rapes, for example, rapes like the Steubenville rape, is “who cares?” and “what, this is rape? this is illegal? no way.” The two things should be beyond comparison, but sadly they are not.

      • TomSims says:

        While some criminals simply don’t respect the law at all, I don’t think that is the case for some or possibly most people who commit crimes- they may simply not respect the *specific law they are breaking.* For example, someone who shoplifts might think that they need/deserve the stuff and that big corporations can take the hit.

        Yes I understand what you are saying, but all criminals try to justify their crimes as not being crimes, since they happen to disagree with them. And many people justify their crimes but stating big corporations are not hurt by their petty crime. But like the old saying goes “Don’t do the crime , if you can’t do the time”

      • Emolee says:

        I’m not sure what your point is here, or how you disagree with me. I was not arguing that criminals shouldn’t “do the time.” What I was arguing against was the idea that potential rapists cannot be turned into non-rapists by teaching men not to rape, since they are criminals and criminals won’t listen. I was arguing that teaching men what constitutes rape and that women are humans deserving of bodily autonomy, as well as creating a culture of consent could indeed stop some people from becoming rapists in the first place.

      • TomSims says:

        I was arguing that teaching men what constitutes rape and that women are humans deserving of bodily autonomy, as well as creating a culture of consent could indeed stop some people from becoming rapists in the first place.

        We agree on consent. I forget where I copied the following but am sure you would agree

        “Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in specific sexual conduct. The following are clarifying points: Consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity. All parties must have a clear and accurate understanding of the sexual activity. The person(s) who initiate(s) the sexual activity is responsible for asking for consent. The person(s) who are asked are responsible for verbally responding. Each new level of sexual activity requires consent. Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is acceptable, but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before sexual activity occurs. Consent is required regardless of the parties’ relationship, prior sexual history, or current activity (e.g. grinding on the dance floor is not consent for further sexual activity). At any and all times when consent is withdrawn or not verbally agreed to, the sexual activity must stop immediately. Silence is not consent. Body movements and non-verbal responses such as moans are not consent. A person cannot give consent while sleeping. All parties must have unimpaired judgment (examples that may cause impairment include but are not limited to alcohol, drugs, mental health conditions, physical health conditions). All parties must use safer sex practices. All parties must disclose personal risk factors and any known STIs. Individuals are responsible for maintaining awareness of their sexual health. These requirements for consent do not restrict with whom the sexual activity may occur, the type of sexual activity that occurs, the props/toys/tools that are used, the number of persons involved, the gender(s) or gender expressions of persons involved.”

    • hotpot says:

      Thank you for writing about this Caperton.

      Criminality isn’t some mark of Cain that babies are born with, forever destined to be rapists from the moment they popped out of the mother’s womb. Generally it’s a combination of socialization and environment. Hence the variability of crime rates depending on location or through the passage of time. Yes, women should be able to defend themselves as best and however they can. But that’s not enough, because you can be the best prepared in the world, and still be raped. And morally, the onus shouldn’t be on women to respond to violent assault from men. The problem needs to be attacked at its root, which are in the attitudes and behaviors of men.

      The gun lobby is also misleading the public when it tries to use violence against women to shore up its position; in reality, as a lobby they don’t give a shit about violence against women. When it comes to guns in the hands of abusers, look who’s side they’re on. If the statistics from Mother Jones are correct ( In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers., A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun. ) the idea that womens’ need for safety is an argument against restricting access to firearms seems to be disingenuous at best and the opposite of reality at worst.

      But that’s a different topic. The point Zerlina was making is that we as a society need to do better than just accepting a discussion of rape revolving around what the intended victims can do, when the real problem is the potential rapist.

    • theLaplaceDemon says:

      That isn’t really how humans work, Tom.

      Yes, I will acknowledge that it is theoretically possible that someone could just be hardwired to commit crimes. There are stranger things in nature.

      However, there is a HUGE amount of research on the role that social roles, expectations, norms, and feedback play on morality. There are all kinds of contextual and social factors that can increase the likelihood that someone will commit a crime.

      I am only remembering this vaguely, so i could be getting the details wrong, but I think I also read a study that suggested that there was a correlation between committing rape/sexual assault and objectifying women. Obviously, correlation =/= causation, etc etc., but in the larger context of evidence about when people break moral rules/norms and the plentiful observations made on how rape is handled in popular culture and cable news, in makes a pretty damn good case for intentionally teaching boys–actually, ALL PEOPLE–about rape, about treating women with respect, and what constitutes good consent.

      • Mariucel says:

        Very well put, and a point that needs to be brought up whenever someone brings up the old “criminals won’t be dissuaded by [sensible legislative action X], that’s why they are criminals.”

      • theLaplaceDemon says:

        Thank you!

      • TomSims says:

        I was actually replying to Emolee and we actually agree. I don’t know where I said any different than you just said. But when it comes to any kind of crime, whether or not a criminal is hard wired or his upbringing lead him to commit crimes, most criminals do try and justify their actions whatever those actions may be.

    • Past my expiration date says:

      The young woman testifying wants the right to carry a concealed weapon. And the law is denying her that right. It’s about a woman’s right to choose. And just as she can choose to have an abortion, she should also have the right to choose to carry a concealed weapon.

      I’m speechless. I really am speechless.

      • Emolee says:

        I continue to be amazed at the number of people who just don’t get (or pretend not to?) that the right to an abortion means the right to *control your own body* and cannot be equated with rights that are less basic than bodily autonomy. Just like I am continually aghast at people who frame the “abortion debate” around questions solely about the fetus, as if the pregnant person does not even exist. For the record, I believe in basic handgun ownership. But this comparison I still found incredibly offensive.

      • Drahill says:

        I’m not so sure. If the right to bodily autonomy is absolute, then could it not be argued that such a right to autonomy implies the right to defend that body and that autonomy in a manner of one’s choosing? I’m not saying you are incorrect, but I think a logical argument exists for the right to bodily autonomy implying a right to defend that autonomy. Sort of like how SCOTUS found that the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure implied the right to privacy. One could logically be viewed as an extension of the other.

      • Past my expiration date says:

        Drahill, is there anything about self-defense that is unique to women? Only women have the right to defend themselves? Only women have the need to defend themselves? Only women have the ability to carry concealed weapons?

        Describing concealed carry as “a woman’s right to choose” is either a willful or a preposterously ignorant misunderstanding of what the phrase actually means.

      • Drahill says:

        I never said it was unique to women. The right to bodily autonomy extends to all people (and let’s not forget that the right to choose extends to trans men as well, so that is not limiting either).

        And I never said Tom’s phrasing was correct. But I did note that “the right to choose” is really a statement about one’s bodily autonomy (I do not read “choice” solely as an abortion concept, we may differ on that; I believe choice extends to all concepts involving bodily autonomy). I was pointing out that if one believes that autonomy is sacrosant, then the ability to defend autonomy must logically be implicated as part of the right.

      • miga says:

        Drahill, the difference is that carrying a concealed weapon is a risk to other people.

      • Drahill says:

        Miga, forgive me, but how is that an argument? I would argue that having the mindset that thinks rape is acceptable is a risk to other people. I take legal psychotropic medications that carry a risk of harmful behavior – that is a risk to other people. I carry pepper spray, I carry a karambit (which is a nice knife for self-defense). All these things increase my risk to others. I agree that guns are different in the sense they can surely harm more easily, but you’re solely arguing on the basis of risk, which i think is an untenable argument. Thousands of behaviors pose risk to others – but that does not mean they are inherently bad.

      • Emolee says:

        But Miga did not say that a concealed weapon was “inherently bad.” I believe Miga’s point was that determining whether one should have the right to concealed carry involves more (or at least different) considerations than does the right to an abortion.

        I think you should have the right to carry that knife and gun for self defense (with some limits). However, I think there is more analysis involved in that determination than just the concept of bodily autonomy, because the safety of others must also be considered. On the other hand, if you have an abortion, that does not have the potential to physically harm other people, so that should be an absolute right.

      • Drahill says:

        Emolee: I think they are two disparate conversations. You were essentially arguing that the debate over the second amendment is totally separate from discussions about abortion. I disagree; let me explain. The right to an abortion is not a single, isolated right. Abortion rights are a logical extension of the right to bodily autonomy. SCOTUS didn’t pull the right to an abortion out of thin air – they made great pains to note that the right was a logical EXTENSION of the right to privacy and the right to bodily autonomy. So if the right to bodily autonomy exists (and I do believe it does), the right to DEFEND one’s autonomy is implicit within it. Miga was making an argument that because guns (or any weapons, let’s be frank) pose risk to others, it is nothing like a discussion of abortion. but that misses the most essential point – that both conversations come from the same starting point, which is an inherent right to own one’s own body. Which is why, to me (and to Tom, I believe), they are logically linked.

      • Emolee says:

        I can understand how the conversation about second amendment rights and the conversation about abortion rights involve some of the same principles. But while they may “come from the same starting point,” it takes longer to arrive at the right to bear arms than the right to an abortion.

        First, since abortion poses no risk to others, it should be immediately and unequivocally granted if the starting point is bodily autonomy. On the other hand, concealed carry does pose significant risk to others; therefore, granting of this right ahould be subject to a balancing of rights and to reasonable limitations.

        What’s more, I see something fundamentally different between being forced to use one’s entire body to carry a pregancy and give birth, and not being allowed to carry a specific, potentially very dangerous object to attempt self defense if it becomes necessary. I mean, if someone is trying to rape, otherwise seriously wound, or kill you, should you have an absolute right to defend yourself, even with lethal force? Yes, I believe so, and, yes, this is because of our right to bodily autonomy. I just think that the right to carry a specific weapon, such as a gun, in order to have it ready in case this happens is a question that takes the analysis a step further and so requires more questions to be asked and rights to be balanced, etc.

        Maybe I need to think this through a bit more to determine exactly why, but there is something about equating the two rights (which is what Tom did) that just skeeves me right out. I’m not saying the two rights have nothing in common. Just saying that they cannot be equivocated.

      • miga says:

        Thank you, Emolee. I was planning on coming back to elaborate once I got my words together, but you stated it better than I ever could.

      • @Drahill

        It is not necessary for me to possess a means of ending another human’s life. It is necessary for me to possess a means of controlling my own.

  9. Pingback: Feminist Files: Steubenville edition | The Sin City Siren

  10. Heather says:

    Another strong feminist woman refusing to be shut-down. Good.

  11. matlun says:

    It really stings, but I agree more with Hannity in their original argument.

    I have never understood how “teach men not to rape” makes more sense than “teach people not to murder/rob/commit crimes in general”. How is this an alternative to trying to defend against crime?

    If we are talking about long term improving the culture to eg decrease the incidence of rape, then sure. In the same sense we might want to improve social dynamics to decrease the incidence of for example robbery. But that must be a complement to fighting crime in the here and now. These are not mutually exclusive.

    • Caperton says:

      Maxwell wasn’t saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to have guns if they wanted them. She merely pointed out that in a lot of cases, particularly in those many cases where the rapist is someone the woman is close to and would be reluctant to shoot, being armed wouldn’t be helpful.

      Saying “women should carry guns to prevent rape” is nothing new. It’s theme and variation on everything else that’s been said to hold women responsible for their own rape. It’s just a step up from “women should carry tasers,” which is one up from “women should carry pepper spray,” which is one up from “women should carry their keys between their fingers.” Why are we expected to say, “Oh, yet another version of what we’ve already been doing that’s proven to not prevent rape? Revolutionary! Indeed, this will keep women from being raped where the last iteration failed to do so.” Until it doesn’t, and then women are expected to carry hand grenades, and Hannity will assure us that that will certainly succeed where other approaches have failed.

      Maxwell was saying that since doing the same thing over and over again and just upping the firepower has proven ineffective, we might actually look to doing something different — in this case, tackling the root of the problem by addressing rape culture.

      • matlun says:

        But the discussion here was about giving women the choice and more options.

        I agree 100% that it can very often be problematic to say “women should do X to avoid getting raped”. And it can be hurtful for those who have already been raped who are often already painfully second guessing themselves and thinking about what they should have done differently. It is very important not to trip into victim blaming.

        However, some defensive measures are relatively effective, even if there are no silver bullets. If the question is “What realistic action can I take to be safe from rape?” the answer is “Nothing”, but again that is not that different from other crimes.

        Are concealed carry a good idea in general? I am skeptical, but I felt with the testifying rape survivor from Colorado in the beginning of that clip.

        The “only” difference between rape and other crimes here are the culture and history of victim blaming. But if we agree to treat rape as fundamentally different from other violent crimes, aren’t we surrendering ground to the apologists?

      • Drahill says:

        I agree. I think we can have both conversations. It’s worth pointing out that Zerlina, on Feministing, points out that she never said women should not be able to choose to arm themselves IF they wish. On Hannity, the opposing guest was arguing that the best thing to prevent rape was arming women. Zerlina was merely pointing out that such a statement places the onus on women rather than men, where it belongs. She never said women should not arm themselves – she merely said that such a thing should not be considered a given, when such a measure does not ensure protection from assault.

      • Miriam says:

        That wasn’t really the discussion is the problem. Concern for women’s ability to protect against violence is being disingenuously used to oppose gun control measures that are being raised right now because of a school massacre. Rape is only part of the conversation because the anti-gun control lobby is cynical enough and smart enough to reframe the issue to one where they can pretend to sound compassionate and caring.

        Rather than discuss the merits of proposed gun control legislature accurately, Hannity and Trotter are using one woman’s perception of her experience to make an emotional appeal against something that already exists in many places. Campus gun free zones do not target women; they target a place of property in a way that is common to many places of property in the US. I can’t carry a gun into an airport (and yes, people have been raped in them). I can’t carry a gun into court. Everyone is denied the “right” to concealed carry on a campus. It’s not really about rape or women at all.

        Now how would I have responded to Collins? I don’t know… her framing makes the question difficult because I don’t believe in telling a survivor how to experience her assault or what to believe. But she’s making a claim that cannot be supported or proven because it’s about something that didn’t happen. Collins believes a concealed weapon would have saved her. Hudak was right–the best guide we have for hypothetical situations are statistics of times when the situations weren’t hypothetical and statistics say Collins is probably wrong. If she’d had a gun, it’s unlikely to have prevented her rape. It may even have led her to be killed or more severely injured. Her assailant may have had a gun in that eventuality (assuming he didn’t… I haven’t seen her full testimony so the quotes I saw imply neither had a gun). But no one can prove she’s wrong nor can she prove she’s right. But even if she is right that a gun would have saved her, that makes her case an outlier, which is why policy shouldn’t be made based on any single incident.

        Unfortunately, Trotter and Hannity’s cynical use of Collins’ testimony draws from and reinforces rape culture by portraying rape as a crime perpetrated by criminals against strangers and as inevitable as bad weather. Rapists are evil forces lurking out there, and women have no choice but to be prepared to defend themselves against them. That’s why Maxwell’s point is so powerful and relevant. The reality of rape–especially campus rape–is that rapists generally rape people they know. It happens in spaces that feel safe, sometimes the survivor’s own home and bedroom. Rapists aren’t evil other forces. They’re our co-workers, friends, friends-of-friends, classmates, exes, significant others, spouses. Guns can’t protect against betrayal. Indeed, every shred of evidence we have says that guns are far more likely to harm than protect.

      • matlun says:

        @Drahill: Right.

        While she was not responding to comments in that clip, her comments do seem to be part of a longer running debate with Gayle Trotter. So they should probably not be read without this wider context.

      • AMM says:

        She merely pointed out that in a lot of cases, … being armed wouldn’t be helpful.

        Not to mention that if she does shoot someone attempting to rape her, she’s likely to be the one to go to jail. Cf. what happens to women who kill an abusive spouse or live-in boyfriend. (For some reason, “stand your ground” doesn’t seem to apply when it’s a woman defending herself from a man.)

        I also can’t help thinking of the Steubenville case. How can having a gun in your purse protect you when your rapists have an entire town (not to mention a large chunk of the national media) aiding and abetting them?

      • Bagelsan says:

        An entire town of rape-enablers is the reason that you also need to concealed-carry a dozen clips with 30 rounds each, natch. Taking time to reload between every 20 shots would totally prevent me from defending myself!

        /sarcasm

      • timberwraith says:

        How can having a gun in your purse protect you when your rapists have an entire town (not to mention a large chunk of the national media) aiding and abetting them?

        Which goes back to the notion that there is something really off about how the culture views rape and by extension, how the culture constructs the sexual boundaries that are incorporated into men’s notions of masculinity.

    • theLaplaceDemon says:

      I have never understood how “teach men not to rape” makes more sense than “teach people not to murder/rob/commit crimes in general”

      I think all of things things make lots of sense, actually. I mean, we teach kids that stealing is bad. We teach kids that killing is bad.

      We don’t do it perfectly. These crimes still exist. But I don’t think that anyone would disagree that “teach kids when they are young why stealing is bad” shouldn’t be part of a multifaceted approach to stopping shoplifting. But to suggest that people need to teach kids not to sexually assault people (I am intentionally using a broader term then rape here, because I think the bright white line that people like to draw between rape and other forms of sexual assault is a big problem) is, for some reason, controversial.

      Will it stop all rape? Of course not. But I’d bet money that kids receive more straight-forward and explicit teaching about both theft and murder than they do about sexual assault.

      • Emolee says:

        Right. There were witnesses in the Steubenville case who testified that they saw the defendants penetrate the victim while she was unconscious, and yet they did not register what they were seeing as rape. At least one of these witnesses was sober at the time. We need more education on rape.

      • TomSims says:

        Great post. Maybe things have changed since I was growing up, but my mother taught me to respect girls and women (Dad died when I was 131/2) In addition to other crimes such as murder, stealing etc. And I did walk the straight and narrow growing up. But back there was no computers and no social media. Things were much simpler then or looking it seems that way.

        In fact we all believed that a girl only had to accuse you of rape and her word alone would send you to the electric chair. It may not have been true, but we all believed it. And perception trumps the truth every time. Fear of severe punishment has a huge impact on how a teenage boy acts. Or at least back then it did.

        And finally all education starts at home with the parents. And it’s no secret there are many parents doing a very poor job educating their sons. So maybe the schools can add a course that deals with sexual assault and respecting girls and women. And also include respect for LGBT folks and other minorities.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Good for her! She’s a great role model for refusing to be silent and calling out the intimidation for what it is.

  13. Emolee says:

    I really admire her unwillingness to be silent in the face of all of that violent racism and misogyny, which was clearly meant to silence her. Zerlina, I really appreciate the work you are doing.

  14. Datdamwuf says:

    Thank you Zerlina, you are so amazing.

    Does anyone know if the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign really reduced rape cases by 10% in Edmonton? I’m just thinking it could be the kind of example that might help with the people who say you can’t teach this.

  15. timberwraith says:

    Zerlina Maxwell is an inspiration. She continues onward in spite of so much vicious push-back. I’ve felt so worn down by the seemingly endless supply of jerks in the world. It’s great to see someone who zips forward, regardless of the jerks. She’s just full of awesomeness—what more can I say?

    Thanks for the article and the many links, Jill. I’ve been really enjoying your posts.

  16. Alara Rogers says:

    To be completely honest, while I can respect the feelings of a survivor who wants to carry a gun, the circumstances where carrying would help a person fight off a rapist are almost nonexistent.

    Home invasion? If you are a woman living alone, you’re a light sleeper and you keep your gun under your pillow… maybe. But many home invasion rapes were initiated while the victim was asleep. Others, while she was awake but going about her normal day at *home*, where generally speaking even cops don’t carry. Others involved tricking the woman into letting the rapist in the door by convincing her that he was not threatening and that it would be rude to refuse him. If it’s rude not to let a guy into your apartment, it’s much, much more rude to have your hand on your gun as you do. Women who are paranoid enough to carry are paranoid enough not to let guys in on the basis of “it would be rude not to”, and will probably not be raped by a man using that strategy (but will, probably, be called a bitch, frequently, by friends and family as well as strangers.) Some particularly infamous cases involved women who had children; a woman with a child would be deeply foolish to carry in her own home, because of the greater odds that the kid could get her gun and use it. And if a woman *is* keeping a gun under her pillow, the odds that she will accidentally kill herself, a consensual lover, or a family member are really high.

    So for the majority of home invasions, the victim would not have had access to her gun even if she’d owned one. It would have been in her safe, or in her purse, or in her dresser drawer, because few people actually carry their guns around in their house. Also, rapists know they’re going to rape; victims do not. The rapist who decides to target a woman who is carrying will probably pin her arms *first*, because honestly, that’s the best strategy for stopping the use of any weapon at all, including sharp fingernails, mace, fists, tasers, etc. And because he has the element of surprise, he’s likely to win.

    Carjackings? If you’re carrying while seated in your car, you’re an idiot; you’re either sitting on the gun, or it’s in a place you can’t easily get to it, or it’s interfering with your ability to drive. And the carjacker knows he’s going to hijack your car and kidnap you, so again, element of surprise.

    Acquaintance rape? Even a woman who *is* carrying at a party — and god knows I don’t want to invite her to my parties — is not likely to be willing to use deadly force against a guy she knows, who “probably just doesn’t understand”, until it’s too late. Women who get raped by acquaintances generally don’t instantly recognize that this is a rape in progress; it takes some time to realize, no, he doesn’t misunderstand, he’s not playing, he’s really planning to rape you.

    Drugs, drink, roofies, etc? You aren’t capable of using a gun safely. You’re more likely to shoot yourself or an innocent person than you are to successfully defend yourself from rape.

    About the *only* times a gun might be even slightly helpful would be if a, you’re attacked while walking down a dark street alone by a man brandishing a knife — which happens, but it is incredibly rare in comparison to how often we think that rapes go like that — or b, you are being stalked by an abusive ex who you are afraid might kill you. If you have a known, identifiable enemy who wants you dead, guns can be a good idea. You are likely to end up convicted of the guy’s murder, but that’s preferable to dying at his hands, and a good lawyer might be able to make the fact that this was self defense clear enough to the jury to acquit you. But that’s a strategy for defending yourself against murder, not rape; if you shoot an ex who intended to *rape* you, and he doesn’t have a gun on his person, you will almost certainly end up going to jail for it. And the dark street scenario just does not happen enough to justify the danger to your family and yourself that carrying a gun can present. If you keep the thing locked up when you are at home and take it out only when you are traveling, and you’re the only one with the key or the combination, and you resist the temptation to *ever* share it with your boyfriend/husband/lover or any of your children, maybe you can keep it safe enough to justify it… but it’s really, really unlikely to ever protect you from rape.

    • Drahill says:

      Let me try to shed some light on this (as a woman who owns guns for self-defense).

      At least when I started looking into owning a gun for self-defense, the instructor was very honest with us. The chances of you having the gun ON YOU when the attack commences are slim. Unless you have it on your person at all times (and yes, there are people who do), you will need some primary defense first to even get to it. I have a black belt (and a few other belts) in various martial arts, so that is largely what I rely on. A lot of other women take a basic self defense class – one that covers the basics (breaking a hold an attacker has on you, vulnerable points, safe retreat, etc.) That sort of thing is fundamental before you could even start to consider gun ownership.

      Truth be told, the majority of people now who have guns should not have them. This is due in large part to marketing them without regard for who buys them. I have friends who, as much as I love them, I can tell right now would NEVER, even if they were being attack, be able to take another person’s life (I’m not judging them, but there are people who simply could never kill; nothing wrong with that). These people are the ones who, if they do have a gun, it’s gonna get taken and will be used on them, not the attacker. I purchased one after a great deal of reflection and prayer, because I wanted to make sure I could kill another person.

      I don’t think gun ownership is the answer to solving rape culture or lowering the statistics. But I believe women should have the right to make a choice about the weapons they have (and your points are not unique to guns – they apply to all weapons). If she is informed, properly trained and mentally prepared, the risk of harm actually drops and she’s more likely to use the gun properly in self-defense. The problem is that gun sellers and advocates don’t focus on responsible gun ownership, they just focus on ownership overall. And that is dangerous.

      • TomSims says:

        Great post and I agree. But the fact that you own a gun and have both weapons and martial arts training do improve your chances of surviving sexual assault. If you had neither of these, your chances are slim and none. There is no silver bullet in this matter.

      • EG says:

        But the fact that you own a gun and have both weapons and martial arts training do improve your chances of surviving sexual assault. If you had neither of these, your chances are slim and none.

        I know many women with neither guns nor martial arts training who have survived sexual assault. You are mistaken.

      • Drahill says:

        Tom, I’m not sure what you mean – surviving sexual assault to me just means that your attacker doesn’t KILL you. Which is the majority of cases, whether or not a victim offers any resistance. If you mean it increases your chances of escaping assault in the first place, that clarifies things.

      • TomSims says:

        <blockquoteIf you mean it increases your chances of escaping assault in the first place, that clarifies things.

        That is what I was trying to say. Sorry I did a poor job of making my point.

  17. Πενθεύς says:

    Writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell spoke on FOX with Sean Hannity to point out, rightly, that no amount of precaution and preparation and weaponry can protect women from rape as long as there are still rapists. It’s the obvious statements like that that, for some reason, seem to appear so revolutionary and controversial that they’re worthy of argument or even death threats.

    This does not seem to be correct, though. Surely precautionary behaviours, including the carrying of a firearm, do reduce the probability that a woman will be raped. So much is obvious from common sense, and it is a little irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

    • theLaplaceDemon says:

      See the comment thread right above this one.

    • Mariucel says:

      I’m not sure “common sense” is your friend here. Will ‘packing’ a gun help you when a friend decides to rape you? Will you be able to draw on a friend? What about people purposefully incapacitating you with drugs or drink? Will packing a gun help? And in the (statistically very rare, compared to other occurrences of rape) case of strangers violently attacking you in the streets, would having a gun on you not possibly escalate the situation?

      I feel that advising people to carry guns is very irresponsible: unless you also train them carefully and over a longer period of time, having a gun will likely put them in more danger rather than in less danger.

      And what’s more, focusing on the ‘stranger in the street’ scenario over the ‘someone close to you’, or ‘someone at a party’, just to make a boneheaded gun’s rights point, is also irresponsible. It detracts from teaching men not to rape – if you have looked at the Internet around the Steubenville case, it’s clear they need to be taught. Will some lunatic prowling streets at night looking for a victim be dissuaded by campaigns? Probably not. Will friends/family/party guests maybe think twice about accosting that drunk girl/friend of the family/etc.? Probably yes.

      To sum up my slightly disoriented rant: focusing on guns-as-rape-prevention strikes me as unhelpful in two ways: it might put you in more danger, should you carry a gun in one of the few situations where it might help you, and it shapes the public rape debate in the exact wrong way. We need to focus on telling men not to rape, and what rape is.

      Well, my two cents.

    • mxe354 says:

      Yes, firearms can be used to fend off (some) rapists. They also can be – and often are – seized by the rapists and used against their victims. Oh, and most rapes are committed by acquaintances, not people on the street.

      It’s not even close to being “common sense,” which is a term that is always nebulously defined to begin with.

    • Scott Cunningham says:

      I don’t see how guns would help at all.

      Speaking as a guy who’s been sexually assaulted, in each case I couldn’t move my arms enough even to elbow my attacker in the stomach. I was attacked from behind without warning.

      If I can’t move my arms, how am I going to draw a gun?
      If I can’t turn around, what, exactly, am I going to shoot at?

      And this second time, the rapist tried to kill me. I am very, very glad I didn’t bring him a gun.

  18. Xexyz says:

    I am certainly on board with understanding gender as many different kinds of spectrums, which can be fluid for a person (or not, as they wish), but getting rid of masculinity and femininity as concepts is neither possible nor, in my opinion, particularly desirable, considering how much a part of many people’s identities they are. I’d vote for remaking them every time.

    I just don’t see how it’s possible to have healthy definitions of masculinity & femininity while keeping them distinct. I’ve racked my brain and I can’t think of a single concept I would want to define as masculine or feminine; the only sensical definitions are biological.

    • Datdamwuf says:

      I tried this exercise too and can’t come up with distinct differences we would want or encourage. Am I missing something?

    • EG says:

      I wonder if it’s because you’re thinking of “masculine” and “feminine” categories as boxes into which people would have to fit, rather than wells from which they can draw? So one could construct oneself by drawing on the different sources, which is more or less what people do anyway, but only some combinations are acknowledged and respected.

      I’m also thinking of genders as fuzzy sets, defined by centers rather than borders. So one’s gendered sense of self can be closer or further from the centers labeled “masculinity” or “femininity,” but doesn’t have to share any one quality with those centers or with the other gendered senses of self in that “galaxy.” And of course, that gendered sense of self doesn’t have to be fixed.

      I think it’s important to work with existing ideas of gender because those ideas aren’t going anywhere. You can’t do a mindwipe on people or on human history. Those ideas are there, and we can’t undo their existence. But we can try to rework them.

      • J says:

        Maybe this is getting into spillover territory, sorry.

        I can’t say for the posters above, but my issue isn’t with thinking of these terms as boxes. I think that being involved in feminism and related social justice circles relies on accepting fuzzy borders with self identities. I have no meaningful definitions of masculine or feminine, though. The identities seem to be far less defined than, for instance, the spectrum of sexualities (equal in that they aren’t boxes like the labels can imply to some)

        Labels should describe an aspect of people, not prescribe and dictate traits to a person who uses the label, of course. What I don’t understand is why we should continue to use gendered labels to apply to human concepts. I am not more masculine or feminine based on my personality or interests. I have no working definition to go one when someone identifies as either. The borders are too fuzzy, and the words are too loaded. I would absolutely try to amend these to labels that more accurately describe whatever they are trying to rather than subtlely inplying a gender has a hold on x thing. Genders aren’t that powerful and our language shouldn’t hold to those notions. Possible? Not in my lifetime, but I won’t let that be the reason I support the terms.

      • EG says:

        I disagree insofar as the working definitions are pretty clearly coded by our culture, and gender identity is a pretty important aspect of many people’s identities. In that sense, genders are indeed that powerful.

      • EG says:

        I disagree insofar as the working definitions are pretty clearly coded by our culture, and gender identity is a pretty important aspect of many people’s identities. In that sense, genders are indeed that powerful, and I’m not sure why our language shouldn’t reflect that.

      • Xexyz says:

        I wonder if it’s because you’re thinking of “masculine” and “feminine” categories as boxes into which people would have to fit, rather than wells from which they can draw? So one could construct oneself by drawing on the different sources, which is more or less what people do anyway, but only some combinations are acknowledged and respected.

        I’m also thinking of genders as fuzzy sets, defined by centers rather than borders. So one’s gendered sense of self can be closer or further from the centers labeled “masculinity” or “femininity,” but doesn’t have to share any one quality with those centers or with the other gendered senses of self in that “galaxy.” And of course, that gendered sense of self doesn’t have to be fixed.

        I think it’s important to work with existing ideas of gender because those ideas aren’t going anywhere. You can’t do a mindwipe on people or on human history. Those ideas are there, and we can’t undo their existence. But we can try to rework them.

        My issue is one of definition. For masculinity/femininity to have any meaning, they would have to be attributes that each one possessed that the other did not. Otherwise, if you can’t make a distinction between them they’re meaningless as concepts. So as I see it, the only ethical markers for attributing to masculinity/femininity are biological ones, such as defining having a penis (for example) as a masculine trait.

        Attributing abstract concepts to gender, on the other hand, is wholly wrong to me. I refuse to accept the notion abstract concepts such as courage, loyalty, integrity, empathy, and so forth could/should be gendered. So that leaves the aforementioned biological markers as masculine/feminine traits, which I guess is fine.

        (Also, to be clear, I also don’t consider masculine/feminine a binary relationship. It’s more like you said, they’re a set of traits that any individual can use to define themselves by any combination they feel best describes them.)

      • EG says:

        For masculinity/femininity to have any meaning, they would have to be attributes that each one possessed that the other did not.

        I’m not sure I agree. But where I know I think you’re wrong is in thinking that those traits have to be immutable or abstract concepts. In current western culture, long hair is coded feminine. That doesn’t mean you can’t have long hair and be masculine; it means that the long hair itself isn’t considered feminine, and that’s only a problem if femininity is somehow lesser or worse than masculinity. Violence is usually coded as masculine in that same culture. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy violence–pretend or real–and be feminine. That’s only a problem if for some reason people who are mostly feminine pay a price for also encompassing masculinity.

        As for most really abstract concepts, like loyalty…I don’t have much truck with them. I find them far less useful than gender.

      • J says:

        Sorry if I nest fail.

        I’m not sure I agree. But where I know I think you’re wrong is in thinking that those traits have to be immutable or abstract concepts. In current western culture, long hair is coded feminine. That doesn’t mean you can’t have long hair and be masculine; it means that the long hair itself isn’t considered feminine, and that’s only a problem if femininity is somehow lesser or worse than masculinity

        It’s not a problem only if you view femininity as lesser, bit because it’s arbitrary. In another culture or time, I wouldn’t inerently know that long hair is “supposed” to be feminine as said by my modern US upbringing. The word does not need the gendered weight to it. I don’t understand how it is a useful or necessary categorization.

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  25. aveskde says:

    I agree that it isn’t the victim’s fault for rape, and I think it’s utterly crass and contemptible to lash out at someone for pointing it out, however this part bothered me:

    In my case, don’t tell me if I had only had gun, I wouldn’t have been raped because it’s still putting it on me to prevent the rape.

    I don’t think anyone making the argument to carry a gun is making an explicit or even implicit argument that if you don’t carry a gun, you’re at fault for what happens. The argument is along the lines of “if you have reason to suspect that you’re vulnerable, a weapon (or countermeasure) provides protection should the worst happen.”

    It’s sort of like when you park a car in public, and lock the doors, or use one of those anti-theft devices. No one will say to you “it’s YOUR fault your car was stolen” but instead those measures exist to discourage theives should they try to steal your car.

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  28. Maggie says:

    The lower bound of idiocy has been lowered once again.

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