By Nian Hu
(Nian Hu ’18, Student of Harward, a Crimson editorial executive, lives in Mather House.)
Rape (noun)–”unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.”
For decades, women have been taught how to prevent rape from happening to them. Women learn that they can prevent rape if they abide by an extensive set of rules: Don’t forget to carry a rape whistle or pepper spray. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t leave your drink uncovered. Actually, just don’t drink at all. Don’t wear anything provocative. Don’t stay out late. Don’t go anywhere without an escort. Don’t go to frat parties. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.
If you forget any of these things, however, all bets are off. Too drunk? Asking for it. Wearing a short skirt? Asking for it. Passed out unconscious? Asking for it.
But this begs the inevitable question: Why are women always being taught how to avoid rape, but men are never taught—quite simply—to not rape?
It’s impossible to teach men to not rape, the argument goes. There will always be rapists. There’s nothing you can do about it except make sure that you’re not their next victim. Women need to be cautious and vigilant, always armed and prepared to prevent a rape. Take proper precautions, and you should be safe. Fail to take proper precautions, and then you only have yourself to blame when you get raped. After all, if you leave a Ferrari in a bad neighborhood and it gets stolen by thieves, that’s nobody’s fault but your own. What else would you expect when you leave such a tempting object in front of people with no self-control and no moral compass?
But this logic is fundamentally unsound and preposterous. Women are not Ferraris. They are human beings. When you compare a woman to a Ferrari, you’re dehumanizing and objectifying her—she’s no longer an individual with thoughts and feelings at that point, she’s just a pair of breasts and a vagina. You cannot compare the theft of an inanimate object to the physical assault and violation of a living, breathing human being. There is absolutely no comparison.
I am not a Ferrari. I am a human being. And the only time I’m asking for it is when I actually open up my mouth and ask for it.
But there’s something even more crucially flawed in this logic, an aspect that is often overlooked. It’s the fundamental assumption that men are inherently monsters. In arguing that women need to be taught how to avoid rape, it presupposes that rape is inevitable, that men have no self-control. It presupposes that men simply won’t be able to help themselves from taking advantage of a woman.
And in this way, the rape culture is just as unfair and insidious to men as it is to women. Women may be the Ferraris, shiny pretty inanimate objects, but men are the thieves, monsters with no self-control and no moral compass.
And this notion is not unique to the rape culture. This idea is reinforced over and over again in society. The popular saying “boys will be boys” tells men that society doesn’t expect anything better from them. Society expects them to be aggressive and stoic and hyper-masculine, always getting into trouble and making a mess. Anything less would make them a “pussy” or “gay.” Society expects men to be the troublemakers and mess-makers of the world, and then expects women to be the ones to clean up their mess. And that’s not fair to either of us.
We need to get rid of this underlying assumption that men are inherently aggressive and violent without a shred of self-control or morality. Only then can we see that it is indeed possible to teach men to not rape.
Right now, boys and men are not fully included in conversations about rape. At the University of Iowa, at a discussion about sexual assault, women pulled out the weapons and objects that they carry every day to keep themselves safe—and while none of the women were surprised by the number of rape whistles and cans of pepper spray in the room, the men were shocked. That was probably the first time these men were actively involved in a discussion about sexual assault.
Furthermore, studies have found that a lot of men don’t think rape is rape. In a 2014 study, researchers discovered that while only 13.6 percent of men said they would rape a woman, 31.7 percent said they would force a woman to have sexual intercourse. The 20-point divide suggests that many men don’t exactly know what rape means. They don’t even realize that what they’re doing is considered rape. It suggests that we have a lot of work to do in terms of educating men on rape and consent and including them in these discussions.
We need to stop putting so much of the onus of rape on girls and women, and start bringing boys and men into the conversation as well. For decades, women have been taught how to prevent rape from happening to them. It’s high time we start teaching men how to not rape and how to have consensual sex instead.
Consent (noun)–”permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.”
Caption of picture : Nian Hu in 2013 Winter in NY.