On Rape as a Symptom

5 Oct

This post is reblogged with permission from And The Pursuit of Feminism.

By now, you have heard about the Stanford rape case, the shortened sentencing, seen the rapist’s face, seen that men are valued over women in such a disgusting, blatant way.

So I’m not going to talk about Stanford rape case. I’m going to talk about rape as a symptom–not a cause–of oppression against women.

I recently saw a photo with the text, “forget transgender people, this is who you don’t want in your bathroom,” written over the Stanford rapist’s face. However, these problems are deeply interrelated and cannot be teased apart. Violence against women is strewn throughout our society, in a myriad of ways: we have less access to reproductive choices (abortion, birth control), we are paid less, less able to take care of our children, decide how and when we have children, etc etc. The list goes on. Rape, then, is just one way in which women are terrorized, but it is symptomatic of a large scale issue, and we cannot separate it from these problems.

The first person to expose me to this idea was Angela Y. Davis, in her essay “We Do Not Consent: Violence Against Women in a Racist Society.” [I highly recommend reading it; she explains it a lot more fully than I’ll be able to in this blog post]. She discusses multiple, structural causes that interweave race, class, and gender to create these hierarchies that put women at the bottom. I’m going to narrow this down a bit, and discuss the emotional mistreatment of men that leads to the oppression of women (bear with me).

Davis, in her essay, writes “Men’s motives for rape often arise from their socially imposed need to exercise power and control over women through the use of violence. Most rapists are not psychopaths…the overwhelming majority would be considered “normal” according to prevailing social standards of male normality.” Masculinity, then, is a cause of rape. Patriarchy is responsible for the way men think, feel, and interact with each other.

In The Will to Change, bell hooks beautifully describes the myriad of ways men suffer from the patriarchy, from being told to suppress their feelings. Not only that, but boys are socialized all the time to inflict violence on girls without consequences (“boys will be boys” “he’s pulling your hair because he likes you!”). Hooks argues that this ultimately destroys relationships, and leaves men being unable to love. Even beyond loving, they are not taught to ask for consent.

And why do you think men don’t ask? Because they’re scared the girl will say no, they’re scared to be embarrassed or ashamed. And that is a pretty shitty reason to rape someone, but “there is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger.”. Men aren’t allowed to feel embarrassed or ashamed. They don’t know how, and they can’t talk about it.

Now, I’m not saying I have sympathy for rapists, or that most rapists are just confused men. What I’m saying is that as a society, we haven’t taught men to respect women, and we haven’t taught men to be emotionally open, which respect requires.

So I know this will sound crazy and minuscule, but I think one way we can start ending rape and violence against women is by this: sharing our feelings. Especially men. If we talk more openly, if men learn to discuss emotions, to love openly, and to be an emotionally open role model for the young men in their life, there will be less shame, and less need to cover up insecurity with violence, dominance, and rape.

When someone asks you how you’re feeling, be honest. When you cry over an episode of Game of Thrones, tell someone about it. And when they text you back, saying “don’t be a pussy,” ask them to watch that Hodor scene and not get upset. Or, who knows? Maybe they’ll say that they cried too.

We need to start addressing the structural issues that inflict violence against women in all aspects of their lives. We need to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. I know this is only one part of it. But it’s a start.

The author has her B.A. in Secondary Education and English. She works now as a freelance writer and tutor, and occasional bike-repair woman. She loves chai tea, independently owned business, comic books, and literary fiction. She encourages her students to learn trades, because there’s few things greater than being self sufficient and fewer things more frustrating that not knowing how to fix things.

This blog was started as a way to explore gender, sexuality, and race, and as a way to process experiences in and out of the education system. The author loves a good conversation, so feel free to comment on anything that interests you!

You can reach her at andthepursuitoffeminism@gmail.com or tweet her at @and_thepursuit.


6 Responses to “On Rape as a Symptom”

  1. carlypuch October 9, 2016 at 12:17 am #

    The scary thing to me is how young these expectations are put onto us in the world. Little boys already know crying makes them appear weak.

  2. Joe Doe October 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    This article is problematic.

    *Firstly:* “Violence against women is strewn throughout our society, in a myriad of ways: we have less access to reproductive choices (abortion, birth control), we are paid less, less able to take care of our children, decide how and when we have children, etc etc. ”

    1) None of your examples are examples of violence
    2) Men have even less of an option to opt-out of the responsibility of having a child than women.
    3) It has been Illegal to pay women less in the USA since 1963. If this is true then women should take their employers to court… but they don’t. Why?
    4) Please elaborate on why women are less capable than men to take care of their children or choose how and when to have children… I just don’t know where this point comes from. You would think that if men were better at taking care of children men would win most custody battles.

    *Secondly:* “why do you think men don’t ask? Because they’re scared the girl will say no, they’re scared to be embarrassed or ashamed. And that is a pretty shitty reason to rape someone”

    In my experience asking gets you nowhere while assertiveness and to some extent dominance (the tenants of “masculinity”) do. 50 Shades of Grey would not have been so successful if there were not a lot of women who fancy the idea of an overbearing, controlling, dominant male force in their lives enough to fantasize about it. My point is rapists don’t rape because they are afraid of anything. Rapists rape because they want something and they are willing to take it even if it harms the person they are taking it from. They are like every other criminal (not including serial rapists and the like who have mental problems).

    *Thirdly:* “So I know this will sound crazy and minuscule, but I think one way we can start ending rape and violence against women is by this: sharing our feelings. ”

    This will not work because of the point I made above. Rapists don’t care about your feelings, at least not enough to refrain from hurting you. If they did, they would not be raping you.

    Please don’t censor this comment. I would like to have a discussion.

    • Cliff Leek October 9, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      I’ll do my best to address the issues you brought up (you brought up a lot so my apologies if I miss something).

      1) That depends entirely on how you define violence. If you define violence broadly as interference with bodily autonomy then yes, the things the author lists absolutely are forms of violence. The author also does not say “less than men” in that sentence. I read that sentence as “less than we should”. Meaning, women have less access to reproductive options than they should. Women are less able to take care of their children than they should be etc. And these “less thans” are a result of interference by a number of forces – government, workplace policy, individual relationships (often with men), etc.

      2) Just because your experience happens to be getting turned down, or as you say “getting no where,” does not make that a generalizable reality. Also, you do realize there is a difference between fantasy and reality right? Just because some women might fantasize about a dominant and controlling man does not mean that is what they want in their real lives. I have fantasized about it raining meatballs, and maybe even read a book about it, but I don’t actually want it to happen.

      3) Did you entirely miss the rest of the paragraph that you pulled that quote from? The author talks about men being open about our feelings as we raise young men. The author talks about role modeling but you seem to have entirely missed that in your rush to proclaim that rapists don’t care about our feelings.

      • Joe Doe October 9, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

        In response to you Cliff,

        I think at this point we need a Social Justice or Feminist Dictionary to be able to have clear communication between your circle and the rest of the world. I honestly hope the author made a mistake rather than attempt to redefine violence otherwise she was using the word to conflate the issues she listed in her examples to the same level as actual violence. Because a woman has to pay for contraception instead of getting it for free is not violence against her – because a woman has to pay for child day care instead of getting it for free is not violence against her… and the last time I checked you can choose how and when to have children – I am literally throwing my arms up in confusion. I am apposed to using the word Violence in this context unless it was being used metaphorically because it devalues it.

        To your second point, I admit, I was not very clear here. What I was trying to convey is that this type of alpha “asshole” male persona is desired by a lot of women and as long as there is a demand there will be a supply. I was concerned the author thought some men rape because they are “afraid” she will reject them and I was trying to point out how ridiculous that sounds. Out of curiosity, are we assuming that 1 in 4 women are raped in college? I’m not sure of the statistic that you guys quote.

        I know that the author was talking about being emotionally open role models for young men in an attempt to make them feel less insecure so they wont resort to dominance and rape. I just don’t think it will work. There are many different kinds of rape, and you cant make a one-size-fits-all solution to something as complex as the motivations for violent crimes, but before I can comment on this further I need to know what kind of rape we are talking about and what kind of statistics we subscribe to.

      • Cliff Leek October 9, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

        1) You don’t need a social justice or feminist dictionary to understand violence broadly defined because that concept has been around far longer than the terms “feminist” or “social justice” (so put down your pitchfork). Violence as a broad concept has a very long history in classical social theory. Also, it seems as though you are intentionally misrepresenting and minimizing the issues at hand. Women’s access to contraception, including abortion, is heavily restricted and historically has been (in the US and more globally) – claiming that the issue is just about having to pay for it is the intentional minimization on your part that I am talking about.

        2) I don’t adhere to any one specific statistic on sexual violence (in college or beyond) because I don’t believe that we yet have the methods to accurately measure the issue. (I also don’t see the author mentioning a statistic for it either so I am not sure where this line of questioning is coming from anyway). Anyways, I have seen a wide variety of studies measuring women’s experience of sexual violence and the findings range from 1 in 3 to 1 in 8 – I personally believe that even if we are on the 1 in 8 end of that spectrum it is still happening way to damn much. I also don’t think it is “ridiculous” to say that some men may rape because they are afraid they will be rejected if they seek consent. To be honest, I don’t even need to speculate here. In the work that I do I have met and spoken with perpetrators of sexual violence (some convicted and some not). I have personally spoken with men who admit sexually pursuing women who are intoxicated (or even intentionally trying to get women intoxicated before pursuing them) because they are afraid that they would be rejected.

  3. Joe Doe October 10, 2016 at 3:15 am #


    I understand “violence broadly defined” as a concept however I object to the word being used in this context because of the points I outlined above. Please direct me to somewhere I can read up on “violence broadly defined” and how it can be useful in conversations about social theory so I can understand. As of right now to me, and I would expect to anyone not well versed in social theory, I will assume when you say “violence against women” that you are talking about actual violence if you do not preclude that with your own definitions.

    To say some men rape because they are afraid of rejection is like saying some thieves steal because they are afraid of being told they can’t have something. I just don’t subscribe to it. Now I am defining rape as when someone engages in sexual intercourse without consent but I’m not sure how you define it. To me rape is a physical and violent assault on another person and one of the most heinous crimes you could commit.

    When you say sexual violence are you talking about actual violence? I wish I did not have to ask, but i’m not sure if this is a social theory violence or a real world violence. You mentioned convicted so i am going to assume you meant violence in the traditional, dictionary definition use of the word. Pursuing a woman who is intoxicated or offering a woman you are interested in alcohol are not crimes. I don’t think you can absolve people of the decisions they make when they are intoxicated if they choose to become intoxicated – If we could then DUI charges would be unprosecutable.

    If anyone is telling you they raped because they were too afraid to seek consent then I think they are lying to you.

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