Considering the Rape Culture

[Content Note: Rape culture; rape apologia.]

All day yesterday, I saw responses to Louis CK's appearance on The Daily Show, some of those responses in direct tweets and emails to me, that are some variation of: Men so rarely consider rape culture at all that what Louis CK did was remarkable.

A lot of them stated plainly: Men never think about the rape culture.

Implicit in those responses is the idea that Louis CK was not feigning awareness in a contrived bit of ass-covering because he doesn't want to be known as a rape apologist, but instead genuinely had some sort of epiphany leading to a heightened sensitivity to rape culture, which I do not believe. (Frank Lee has some thoughts about what authentic reflection might have looked like.) But I'm going to set that aside for now in order to address the notion that men rarely or never consider rape culture.

Because I am calling bullshit so hard on that conventional wisdom.

I previously noted that the broad use of "men" in this convention excludes a lot of men who have had, by necessity or choice, occasion to consider rape culture. "Men," as it is being used when men are said not to consider rape culture, generally means privileged straight cis men who have never been victimized by sexual violence. Already, this notion stands on wobbly legs.

But let us consider, then, the alleged failure to consider rape culture of those privileged straight cis men who have never been victimized by sexual violence.

If those men never consider the rape culture, then how is it that virtually all of them know its tropes and narratives? How is it that virtually every male person is, by the time he hits puberty, capable of sophisticated victim-blaming, armed with a full arsenal of rape culture memes and stereotypes? How are they all so perfectly versed in the language of rape culture that tasks women with "crying" rape and "claiming" to have been raped, rather than reporting it? How is it that I have heard male children talking about how women lie about rape? And why it is that so many privileged straight cis men complain about being "profiled" or "made to feel like rapists" by women doing the quickening step in front of them, or giving them an anxious side-eye in an otherwise abandoned space?

For people who never consider the rape culture, they sure have an amazing working knowledge of it.

And what of the 4% of men who are serial rapists? Do the one out of every twenty-five men who have raped multiple people never consider rape culture, do you suppose?

Those legs are a-wobbling, they are.

Iain has noted before that no cis straight man is really as disconnected from rape culture as so many of them assert themselves to be, that most men have experienced a lone woman quickening her pace on a sidewalk ahead. Some men use that as an opportunity to empathize with the woman. And some of them use that as an opportunity to get angry with her for "treating me like a rapist."

All of us live in the rape culture. All of us are presented with opportunities to consider it.

That we are exhorted to identify with its various purveyors of contempt for consent, rather than with its primary targets and survivors, is another self-perpetuating trick of the rape culture. But a failure of empathy is not a failure of consideration.

It's not that privileged straight cis men who have never been victimized by sexual violence don't "think about" rape culture. It's that they don't think about it from the perspective of a potential victim.

And I'm really goddamn tired of being obliged to pretend that's the same thing.

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