Men's "Cluelessness" and the Rape Culture

[Content Note: Rape culture.]

Rebecca Traister has written a very good piece for The Cut about the conversation we should be having in this moment of awareness-raising around the ubiquity of sexual violence: "The conversation we should be having, alongside the one about individual trespasses, is about mechanisms far larger than any one perpetrator. It's about the kind of power structures that enable powerful individuals and then shield them from resistance or retribution."

Men, she argues, need to have conversations about their participation in and maintenance of systems that abet sexual abuse.

They do. But most of them won't.

Because it's much easier to continue to ignore the problem. But not before a perfunctory expression of shock at how pervasive the problem is, often coupled with a confessed cluelessness about the rape culture.

The bad guys aggressively challenge the existence of the rape culture. The "good guys" publicly furrow their brows over their own ignorance.

(And if you're a dude who falls into neither of those categories, but actively works to educate himself and other men on the rape culture, congratulations for doing the bare minimum to be a decent human being. Don't make this thread about you.)

And just as "harmless" serves a particular function in upholding the rape culture, so, too, does "clueless."

Being "clueless," you see, is a nifty way for a man to explain why it is that he's not having the sort of difficult — and meaningful — conversations like the one Traister suggests. How can anything be expected of him? Why, he only just learned about the existence of the rape culture five minutes ago!

This is an affected cluelessness, invoked to justify inaction. And I'm calling bullshit on it.

If these "clueless" men have heretofore remained unaware of 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 of these "clueless" men have complained 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.

Iain has noted 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 hastening 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 the "clueless" men have "never thought about" rape culture. It's that they have never thought about it from the perspective of a victim.

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

Especially when that pretense is used to avoid having the kind of conversations that will move us beyond women disclosing being survivors, again and again, in the hope that something will change.

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