Rape culture. My culture.

I’ve been alerted recently to the disturbing fact that some white liberal men still don’t really know what rape culture is.  Or what a rapist looks like. So here are some thoughts. This is my story, but it’s also the story of many women. 

Young girls are not taught that all men are rapists/threatening/dangerous. What we learn – through our parents’/caregivers’ words to us, admonishments to us, abuse of us in many cases, through watching men with women, feeling their energy, is the art of risk aversion. We learn it from a very early age. At the age it begins, this gendered inculcation, we aren’t aware of the word rape. We aren’t being told the word at that stage. We watch the world around us and we notice things. I adored my Dad, but I knew at a very early age, when he argued with my mum, that men could be a bit scary. And I noticed, when I was small, how men talked to women, how there was a bit of an energy about them that was a bit unsettling. When I was 8, and had to walk home alone from Brownies (a reasonably short distance, I have to say) – and this was in 1972 – my mother told me that if anyone were to ever follow me, I should swear loudly at them and go to the nearest lit house, as if it were my own. She didn’t say who that person would be, but I assumed it was a man. Why would I assume that? Because the only people, up until that point, that I had found at all vaguely scary were always men. 

When I was about 10, a man on Takapuna beach – an elderly man – saw my friend and I coming and spread his legs, to flash his genitals at us. I laughed at him – quite ridiculous – but that was my experience of the world. Other young girls would have found that upsetting. Not a bad man, necessarily, just a bit of a dick, getting his jollies. That’s rape culture.

When I was 17, and at University for the first time, I had a boyfriend. He wanted to have sex with me but I wasn’t ready. I was dumped after 3 months of him trying. Not a bad man, but with a sense of entitlement. That’s rape culture.

When I was 19, I was walking through Albert Park – back then it wasn’t well lit, nor was it well peopled because we all knew it was a “dangerous” place at night, and were well schooled in risk aversion – some young men tried to jump on me. I used my salty language to great effect, and yelled at them which scared them off. Not bad men, necessarily, just boys out for a laugh. Until it wasn’t. That’s rape culture.

When I was 20, I was at a party and my good friend and her boyfriend went off into the bedroom. And then I heard him lock the door. And then I heard her yelling. I leapt up, and banged on the door, and somehow or other, we got it open, and her out. He was hustled away, but no police were ever called. That’s rape culture.

When I was 21, I had a party at my parents’ house, and a man I fancied was there. He came back after everyone had gone, and I was in bed. I let him in. Both into the house, and into my bed. I didn’t want sex, but he did. I said no, he said “oh come on”, and I acquiesced. It wasn’t violent, but it was nonconsensual. Not a bad man. He just wanted sex – he even stayed the night. That’s rape culture.

When I was 22, I used to regularly walk home from University, down K Rd. On a number of occasions, cars of young men would stop and invite me in. I always refused. On one occasion, a car stopped, and I was asked if I wanted a ride. I refused. I walked a bit further. The car stopped again. “Come on. It’s late”. I refused. I walked further on. And then they stopped again. “Get in the car, bitch. Now.” And then I started yelling swear words at them, and they drove away. Not bad young men, normally, maybe. But they wanted something, and I wasn’t playing the game, so they felt gypped. Thats rape culture.

 That same year, I was walking home along Ponsonby Rd, and I heard footsteps behind me. I sped up. The footsteps sped up. After a while of this, I turned around and yelled, mightily. I was terrified. It was a male friend who’d been trailing me, to make sure I got home safely. Or was he? That’s rape culture. 

When I was 23, and newly arrived in the UK, I was invited back to a boarding house situation with a group of young men. I went, and when I got there, the room they were in was dark, and someone locked the door behind me. Most of them seemed to be asleep, but a group of them suddenly greeted me, and I felt very threatened. Once again, I yelled, swearing, at them, to open the door. They did, whilst proclaiming that it was only a bit of crack etc. Not bad men, necessarily. Only out for a bit of a laugh, because they thought I was up for it. That’s rape culture.

For all of my life, it seems, I have been aware that men were capable of bad things. And then that awareness turned into experience. I took those experiences as being examples of how foolish I had been, with my own safety. Silly girl. If I hadn’t done this, that wouldn’t have happened. I believed that until fairly recently. That’s rape culture.

Now, I believe that I walk through this world, claiming my space in it. That no-one has the right to do anything to me that I don’t want them to do. That if I let my feelings be known – through words, or body language – that should be respected. Nothing I have ever experienced in my life has led me to believe that all men are rapists, but I also know that all men are capable of various forms of violence. Because they feel entitled. To their space, to getting what they want, to believe that the world is their oyster, that they are right. Their mothers and fathers, their caregivers, have taught them that. As children, our upbringings are so subtly soaked in this gendered inculcation, and it’s not going away any time soon. It will never go away until we understand that rape or violence of any kind is not just something that other people do. And it will never go away until we routinely raise our boys with a sense of fairness, and encourage gentleness, and respect, in them. Until we are determined that kindness is more important than winning, and getting what you want, in this life. That none of us have the right to wield power over another. We can teach our children these lessons, but first, we have to want to. 





20 thoughts on “Rape culture. My culture.”

  1. woah i can really identify with this. the idea of getting what you want. i’ve always felt that it was important for me as a man to “get what i want” and if i couldn’t get what i want through the force of my will, no one would respect me. to have control is to be male, and i wanted to be as male as i could, still do in fact. when i felt i did not live up to this standard i beat myself up, but thats because i tend to internalise my emotions. there are a lot of other people that do the opposite. i’d hate to think what i might have inflicted on other people had i externalised my feelings of innadequacy. but the funny thing is that it was all just the means to get attention from girls. just my 2 cents.

  2. Here’s another take.

    I’m gay. Zero interest in women sexually (but men, oh boy! YUM). However, the rape culture affects me as well.

    I don’t pass as identifiably gay. I present as a Straight White Male, albeit modified so those that can ‘read’ people will know I’m not.

    But when-ever I am out in public, and I inadvertently find myself walking behind a woman who is alone (we are both walking along a street or a public thoroughfare), particularly at night, or whenever I find myself in a space with a woman who is alone, I have to be very aware and conscious of how I walk or move around her. I find it incredibly uncomfortable. I am aware of how her behaviour is responding to her perception of me – a recognisable SWM – and how she quickly modifies her behaviour.

    I feel quite sad that she should feel fear, but I have no words to let her know that hey – I’m a fag. That’s because it’s been conditioned into me that I do not disclose my sexuality unless I am in a safe position, and no-body I know goes around telling people, strangers really, particularly women alone at night in public places, that they are gay.

    So I consciously modify my behaviour – I sped up and walk in a wide berth around her so I am in front of her. Or I stop and pretend to be looking at my phone or something so she can get on ahead. Or I cross to the other side of the street. Anything really to put her at ease. To let her know that I’m not a SWM.

    1. As a SWM, and obviously so, I constantly do the same. I know just what you mean. Even as an SWM ally, the culture effects everybody.

    1. As @feministallies has said, part of the problem is people not understanding the term rape culture. In this instance, it was some of the people I follow on Twitter who should know better.

  3. @”Phil”: One reason: These are the folks who *should* be allies in this regard, but who continue to contribute to the problem. Sure, lots of other sorts of men also contribute, but it’s a special hell for women fighting these fights when the folks on “their side”, who tend to have more visibility/power than women, throw them under the bus.

  4. Fair comment mostly but I have to take exception to being told that “all men are capable of various forms of violence. Because they feel entitled. To their space, to getting what they want, to believe that the world is their oyster, that they are right. Their mothers and fathers, their caregivers, have taught them that.’

    I think everyone is capable of violence but not because we men “feel entitled” or at least that is certainly not my experience – and tarring a group of people (males) with the same brush just isn’t helpful.

    I do know, however, that certain friends (ex friends) have shocked me by exhibiting some of this “rape culture” you write about.

    So maybe my family – and in particular my very strong and independent mother – has guided me to know that NO violence of any kind is acceptable and women should be respected and protected and I really hope things are changing and today’s men will not behave as many men who came before them did.

    But as a male, I am interested in this issue and how we can make things more comfortable for women, but tarring us all with the same brush can make things worse.

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