I’m going to be very upfront with you now: this blog post is much, much heavier than my previous entries. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days, and as much as I’ve tried to shake it off and focus on other things, I realized that I needed to write my thoughts. As much as I could.
A few days ago, I shared a link on my Facebook profile about Henry Cavill’s comments on how difficult it is to ask someone out, because of his fear of being called a rapist. That seemed like such an extreme reaction, and I couldn’t help but be shocked at his words.
A lot of people commented on it. Some ready to condemn him, some willing to see his point of view. Initially, there were good points on both sides.
A very close friend of mine added her opinion on things. About how important it is to remember that just because a man didn’t intend a woman to be frightened, that doesn’t mean that she has no right to be. One of my guy friends commented that the intention is what matters. As the discussion continued, a lot of interesting points seemed to be made on both sides.
Initially, I kept out of it. I didn’t feel like I had anything interesting to add to the discussion, and I must admit, it did make for some great reading.
Then, gradually, things started to escalate. The conversation started to get more heated, especially when another of my friends joined in. Usually, this is one friend whose opinion I respect. Particularly since we share very similar interests and have similar views. Most of the time. But I wasn’t sure that I agreed with some of the points he was making this time.
And as much as my close friend’s views were very strong, I couldn’t help but feel that the core of her opinion was being ignored. Specifically, that a lot of women do face a lot of sexual assault, and that for some, a fear of men is learned behaviour.
Then, to really hit the point home, she gave very brief descriptions of what had happened to her. Of how she had been sexually assaulted in the past. Of how she had even been raped.
That’s when one of my friends, someone’s whose opinion I had at least generally respected up to that point, replied with these exact words:
“Womansplain” it to me then.
After that, he strongly suggested that my close friend believed only women are victims, or only women can be raped, none of which she had even remotely suggested. At that point, that’s when I had to shut the argument down. I defended my close friend, even though I’m sure she didn’t really need it, and brought the argument to a close.
But you know what? It isn’t fucking enough.
Rape is a deeply traumatic experience for anyone. It’s not exactly easy for anyone to talk about. So if someone brings it up to a complete stranger, I’ve found it’s usually to make an important point. One that’s worth listening to.
Now, if someone you’re debating with brings that up, after listening to their point of view, you could change your mind. You could still disagree while showing sympathy. Or bring everything to a close, if you feel there’s no more ground to be made.
What you don’t fucking do is dismiss it with a fucking dumbassed statement. You don’t write it off as “womansplaining”. Even if there were times to use that word, that’s not the right time. Not even remotely.
Maybe my shock and anger was due to the fact that my best friend’s opinion was dismissed when it really shouldn’t have been. Maybe I’m still shocked by the fact that it happened to her more than once, which I’ll get to in a minute.
But honestly, just writing off any rape victim’s opinion like that so completely is not only fucking wrong. If you were making any kind of point to a woman along the lines of, “But not all men are like that”, and then say the word “womansplaining”, or make any dismissive kind of comment like that, you’ve just fucking proved her point, right then and there.
There’s one more reason why I’m feeling so strongly about this, though. It’s not just my close friend I know that was raped. Over the years, I’ve heard the same thing from several of my friends. And with some of them, it’s happened more than once.
Let me reiterate: a traumatic experience that shouldn’t happen to anyone has happened to people I actually know more than once.
Here’s what people generally believe about rape (particularly men). We believe that it’s not really that common. We’re consciously aware that it’s one of the worst crimes a person can commit. But for many of us, we assume that it’ll come out of nowhere. That it’ll be a stranger who would attack our friends and family in a terrible manner.
This is at least partly due to how rapists are presented in films and on television. Even in The Sopranos, the one time we see a character unambiguously raped in that series, in the award-winning episode Employee of the Month, the rapist is a complete stranger, an attacker who comes out of nowhere.
We assume that rapists are always lurking in places we should never go to. That they’re never people we actually know. We basically expect a sign advertising their presence: “Here there be monsters”.
So if we or the people we love are able to avoid those areas, as they clearly should, then rape can never possibly happen to them. That it’ll just be something that happens to “other people”. People whose names are in the papers, not anyone we actually know. Just like the rapists themselves.
The reality of course is completely different. There are no signs, no clear areas where we can avoid it, not really. Oh sure, perhaps some areas have higher statistics of attacks than others. But really, the fact is, it can happen anywhere. And I do mean anywhere.
Especially when you take this statistic from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, (or RAINN for short,) into consideration: seven times out of ten, rapists are people that we know. They could be friends of friends, or even much closer than that. And when it is someone you know – worse, someone you trust – then how can you possibly avoid that?
One of the most terrifying things a friend said to me:
Even the good guys get it wrong.
When she explained exactly what she meant by that, my horror and disgust grew and grew. The person who raped her wasn’t a stranger, or even someone that she only barely knew. It was, in fact, a friend. A very good friend. One who liked her and, as she described it, “took it too far”.
As someone who aims to be a good person himself, there is something absolutely fucking terrifying that someone a victim of rape would label as a “good guy” would be capable of the worst.
I said that we believe that it isn’t that common. That’s certainly something I used to believe. But then some of my friends talked about it. Then #MeToo happened. And then I saw this statistic.
According to RAINN, “1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime”.
One in six. Really think about that. Really fucking think about that. How many women do you know? What would one out of six of them come to? While it’s easy to assume you’d know if they had been raped, the question is, would you?
Sometimes, it’s important to listen. Especially when someone has something fucking important to say. We can’t just keep pretending that this isn’t a problem. We can’t keep saying things like, “Women in the West have it far easier than in some Eastern countries!” Just because that’s true doesn’t make that statistic even remotely ok.
We can’t keep saying, “But men get raped too!” Yes, men do get raped, and that is a problem. One out of every ten rape victims are male. But that still means that nine out of every ten rape victims are women. That might sound fucking obvious, but to many, that needs to be stated. And unless we fix the broken system with women, I suspect that men’s cases will continue to be taken even less seriously.
And because there’s such a broken belief in the American justice system at least, only over a third of all of these crimes are reported to the authorities. Even less end up in a conviction, and when that does happen, well…we all know how lightly Brock Turner got let off.
We can’t keep dismissing what women are saying. We can’t just assume that it’s exaggerated or made up. While that does happen, it’s to an incredibly small extent compared to when it doesn’t.
And we certainly can’t write something from a victim of rape off as “womansplaining”. When a rape victim tells us there’s a problem, that’s when we need to shut up and fucking listen.