Rest in peace Sarah Everard. Rest in peace to every person who was just walking home and didn't make it.
Now a little bit removed from the Sarah Everard tragedy, I decided to write about sexual violence.
I can't help but feel like social media activism is a zero-sum game and sometimes does more harm than help. Perhaps I'm wrong, or I'm looking from the wrong angle, or I just don't understand, however, there's a difference to me between documenting activism on social media and keeping your activism solely to social media. (I say this while writing a blog about it.)
There's a line from unwomen.org I really like: "While no one may disagree that rape is wrong, through words, actions and inaction, sexual violence and sexual harassment is normalized and trivialized, leading us down a slippery slope of rape culture."
(We'll get to rape culture in a second.)
This is to say if you asked a lot of people point blank if rape is wrong (unless they're a fucking psycho who wants to go to prison or get knocked out) people will say no. It's our actions in other, more subtle areas that influence our view on sexual violence.
For example, I've heard of rape stories where two people were naked and kissing, the girl repeatedly said "no" to going all the way, and froze as the guy made his move anyways. He had sex with her even though she said "I don't want you to" multiple times. I have a difficult time believing that guy would say "yeah I love rape" if he was asked. It's more likely that he has deeply rooted impressions of what sex means to him that made him do that: perhaps his friends chastised him for his lack of sex, perhaps he's been told he needs to "get it at all costs" or "don't take a no." Maybe he was deeply insecure and felt like if he didn't have sex with this person it made him a loser.
I don't know what was going through his mind, and in the end, something terrible happened.
When it comes to sexual violence, there is an angle of "if everyone swept their own porch the whole world would be clean." Don't protect your daughter, educate your son, and if you don't have a son, don't just be a white knight with no action, educate the men in your life and hold them accountable when they do something wrong. Make sure there is an effort to understand a women's perspective completely, as the odds of being a man who is a victim of sexual violence are usually lower than if you are a woman.
I agree wholeheartedly. One of the best things about the internet is ideas can travel quickly, and the effort into understanding other people's points of view is something that has become popular recently. I don't think it goes into enough depth at times because it is just social media, although the intent is definitely there and I can appreciate that a lot.
Respecting women by listening to them and their experiences is massively important and need to happen on a wide scale.
I think that message can sometimes be interpreted as "this is going to solve everything," and I hope that's not the case. While I don't see that explicitly being shared per se, the downside of social media is things become incredibly simplified. All you can do is share and DM people. Face-to-face conversations where you hear another human being's voice rarely ever happens. Fleshing out ideas and talking in-depth about things doesn't happen, so it's easy to latch onto catchphrases and keywords. This is where "not all men" comes in.
They're right, it literally is not all men. In fact, it's a minority of men.
The problem with slogan activism online is we are not responsible for how other people act. That's not to say we shouldn't educate and understand at all, what it is saying is while my friends and I and our friends are with the cause: we don't sexually assault anyone and we hold each other accountable, a random guy we don't know and have no way of knowing could jump a woman walking home one night, or on a first date, or in any situation we couldn't have seen coming.
Again, this is not to say you shouldn't walk your friends home if they feel unsafe. Not at all, and yes I understand the odds of being abused by a partner or someone you know is far higher than a stranger attacking you. It can still happen though, which is important to remember. When it comes to something like sexual violence we can't just play the odds and talk about the most common form of prevention and go "well, this fixes it."
The problem with only using "educate your son" as an explanation for why sexual violence happens is because it ignores situations where educating someone would not effect the outcome of what they did.
There are some men who are twisted rapists or grandiose narcissists who will lie and manipulate and put on a good front to get what they want.
After all, Ted Bundy worked at a suicide hotline centre, which some think contributed to him being a better killer.
There seems to be an angle of moralistic fallacy when it comes to the topic of sexual violence: because women shouldn't have to worry about their safety in public, it shouldn't exist.
I don't think that's a great way of looking at it, because it does exist, and I have a difficult time believing there will be a point in time where sexual violence is eradicated from planet earth.
Again, that's not to say "oh well" and throw your hands up and do jack shit about a problem. There are some problems that will never hit zero, and are absolutely worth working to minimize and remedy in order to help other people. It's just saying we need to look at the entire situation and analyze what we can control and how that affects the big picture.
Rather, it's an acknowledgment that we all have our own crosses to bear that are inherently unfair. Whether it has to do with your race, gender, ability, physical appearance or background. There are some things that are beyond our control, and that's worth remembering.
I think a more helpful way of looking at it is: how do we prevent this from happening (this is the biggest piece), and what should we look out for signs so we know what to do if you find yourself vulnerable in a potential situation?
Think about it this way: if you don't engage in gang behaviour or do drugs or get mixed up in shady crowds, the odds of you getting shot go down significantly.
However, it can still happen.
That doesn't mean go do drugs and join a gang because you can still get shot anyways.
There are going to be some people who don't listen when it comes to sexual violence. Looks can be deceiving, and when someone gains your trust and the signs don't look like red flags at first, disaster can happen.
Who remembers the case of Larry Nassar, the former doctor and physician of Michigan State gymnastics who was sexually violating the athletes who came to see him? For the longest time, nobody knew what was going on. Not his wife, not the parents, and a lot of people didn't believe it because Nassar seemed like a great guy and was excellent at his job. It's easy to see how the parents didn't want to believe the person in charge of helping their daughter while they're trying to live their dream was the person who was destroying them.
This happened from 1997 to the mid-2010s. 499 women came forward with stories about Nassar. It's one of the biggest sexual violence scandals in history.
I've seen a lot of graphics and posts being shared about how to eliminate rape culture, or how to prevent sexual violence, and they're similar for the most part.
There's one thing that I have further questions about, however:
There are some people who say that rape jokes help perpetuate rape culture.
Rape culture, as defined by Marshall University, is "an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety."
When people say "rape jokes contribute to rape culture" does this mean jokes:
- About rape
- Involving rape - With rape in it
- Mentioning rape
- Alluding to rape
And are rape jokes ok if it's someone who has been raped and is using it to cope? I've had friends who are survivors and use humor as a coping mechanism. I wouldn't say they're perpetuating rape culture. Or if it's a rape joke against a powerful entity, i.e. the Catholic Church? As someone who grew up Catholic, some of my favourite jokes are based on the scandals with the Catholic Church because I was told my entire life that the church is the gold standard of morality.
Dave Chappelle also had a joke about men getting raped and I haven't seen any outrage about it. Is it wrong? Or is it ok? Is it only wrong if we are talking about women and trans folks being raped? Or is all of it bad? Or can we punch up only? Does this take "dropping the soap" jokes off the table?
Another thing I think is worth noting is while rape jokes are deemed more and more culturally inappropriate, murder jokes seem to be ok, and I wonder why that is. I'm not trying to say one is better than the other, however making jokes about killing people or murdering others doesn't seem to get the bad rep that sexual violence jokes do.
Is that because sexual violence is more common than murder? Does that mean those jokes are more likely to impact sexual violence?
I ask this because these are all important distinctions to make when you want to draw lines in the sand.
The Marshall University website even mentions that sexually explicit jokes help perpetuate rape culture. That's extremely vague, and if someone makes a sexually explicit joke about consensual sex, does that contribute to rape culture?
I would give that notion significant pushback.
Obviously, Marshall's website doesn't speak for everyone, and some people have different criteria as to what rape culture is, what perpetuates it and what's ok.
That's where the lines start to blur.
Some people have different interpretations of what rape culture is (the nucleus is more or less the same, I'm talking about the fringes), and if we are talking about ways in which promote sexual violence, that seems like a big deal to not be on the same page about. If there are many different variations of the same idea, is that not reasonable to question?
There can be a wide scale of things people claim contribute to rape culture.
- saying "fuck you" or "suck my dick" perpetuates rape culture.
- calling someone a "tease" is perpetuating rape culture.
- saying "give me a hug" is perpetuating rape culture.
- asking someone "why don't you want me?" is perpetuating rape culture
And I'm not trying to bang on this article or writer or devalue their experience. There are actually very valid points to be made about each thing they bring up in terms of how we view certain phrases and acts in society. I'm sure in a longer form conversation (OR ARTICLE, you should read it I linked it above) there is a greater point to be made about coarse language (know your audience), knowing when to give up on a sexual pursuit (although, yes, some people absolutely lead others on and that's also fucked up), assuming others want to be touched (just ask please?), or learning how to deal with rejection in a healthier manner ("why don't you want me" is a bit of a dramatic way of framing things, if you're curious just ask, just please know nobody owes you jack shit in this life, especially an explanation as to why they won't finger your butthole or whatever it is you want).
What I am trying to do with this example is illuminate certain situations and phrases that some people deem extremely harmful, where others would disagree completely. There are grey areas if people cannot agree or if there are counterpoints, and while you can acknowledge that some of these things can be inappropriate, does that mean they contribute to a culture that normalizes rape?
And I'm not someone who finds jokes about raping other people very funny, however, the question goes beyond that, because it's not just my opinion that matters.
As well-intentioned as this notion is, some people are going to have a very difficult time giving you any merit or getting behind the cause of eliminating rape jokes because they feel like they're being attacked. They would say it's just a joke.
"But I'm not attacking them."
I know you aren't. (Unless you are, then that's a different story.)
There will be a rigid portion of people who don't believe you. Now, of course there are going to be portions of people who don't believe anything (think of Holocaust deniers or people who think slavery was fabricated or a good thing) so should that disincentivize you from continuing on with your cause? I don't know. Are people who like rape jokes more likely to commit sexual violence? Are Holocaust deniers more likely to start a Holocaust? Or slavery deniers more likely to try to get slaves?
If the answer is yes (obviously I know starting a Holocaust and acquiring slaves is extremely difficult) then that puts us in a difficult scenario. If people who make jokes are more likely to rape, and they won't stop the jokes, then that's a significant roadblock. If they aren't more likely, does it harm others? Does it negatively affect others' actions? Are they responsible for other's actions?
And also, if there is an edgy joke made about some inappropriate subject matter between two people privately that doesn't leave their scenario, is that bad? Does that have a negative effect on the culture as a whole? Is that going against the idea of antifragility?
Should we be working toward eradicating ideas that we deem harmful for the greater good? Or are we creating an echo chamber? Is it contributing to helping others? Or are we telling people how to think? Is that dealing with the problem in a healthy way?
One thing that I think of when we try to shift the culture is if you tell someone not to do something, they're far more likely to do it, especially if they have no attachment to the situation. So if eliminating rape jokes actually does prevent rape from happening/furthering rape culture, and telling people not to make rape jokes makes them want to do it more, that puts us in a difficult scenario.
Bad things happening is a tragic reality in life. Some things happen even if we prepare for the best. That doesn't mean it's pointless to try, that doesn't mean we can't gain a greater sense of understanding. It's just to say we need to look at the situation as a whole instead of pointing fingers on social media because it's easy.
Often times we offer easy solutions to complex situations or hope that shares on social media make a dent. That's not to justify sexual violence or bigotry or say that social media shares have led to absolutely ZERO progress overall, it's just to say it's the easiest way to contribute because it's convenient. It lets people enjoy the idea of them making a difference and doesn't warrant a deeper look into a dark topic. To be fair, it's hard to look deeper into these dark topics, they're dark for a reason.
Sexual violence is vile, and yet I think we do a disservice by acting like the problem is simple enough to be solved with one solution or JUST sharing social media posts. Cultural shifts take time, as does progress on a grand scale. It's going to take a lot of effort and discomfort to continue to make progress, and I hope that we are up to that task. Education, preventative measures and other forms of understanding all need to be considered when we talk about people's health and safety.