Redefining masculinity is key to stopping rape
Women can’t stop rape. We’ve been trying for decades.
From the early days of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminists have launched anti-rape campaigns. But, while rape crisis centres continue to promote the message that rape is not a women’s issue – rather it’s a social problem that can only be rectified by a change in the male mentality into one that acknowledges men’s power to stop rape – few people seem to be listening.
In Australia, we’ve seen evidence of male sexual violence inherent in Rugby League and several elite boys colleges, while in Canada, photos of the gang rape of a teenage girl were posted to Facebook.
According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life. Seventy per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a family member, friend or workmate. Of the remaining 30 per cent of sexual assaults most are committed by a person the victim meets socially or goes out on a date with. For one in 10 adult women who are sexually assaulted the perpetrator will be their current or past intimate partner.
Why these men believe it’s ok to rape or sexually assault a woman or girl is bound up in conceptions of gender normativity and the imbalance of power between men and women that flows from such assumptions: Masculinity is associated with dominance and virility while femininity is deemed passive. Men’s sexual prowess is regarded as something ‘natural’, while women’s sexuality must be controlled.
One of the negative outcomes of the current obsession with ‘raunch culture’ is the slut-shaming of women and girls who dare to be sexual – sometimes with many different partners; who dare to explore their sexuality and desires – sometimes in public.
A recent example is the ThinkUKnow campaign created by the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and developed by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia. While its motives may be honourable – protecting young people from unwanted images of themselves being distributed without their consent – the delivery is not. A short video, ‘Megans Story’ shows a teenage girl walking into class happy and confident after ‘sexting’ her boyfriend. Her confidence turns to shame and humiliation as the sext is forwarded to her classmates and teacher, and she runs out of the room in tears. The message is clear: If a boy behaves inappropriately (by forwarding a private sext of his girlfriend), the girl is to blame, not him.
This is a spin-off of the victim-blaming mentality that says a woman was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing, or because she left a party with a group of men.
When are we going to see a prolific national campaign to educate boys and men that it’s their responsibility for not raping or sexually assaulting girls or women? When is it going to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum to teach boys from a young age that it’s not ok grab a girl’s breasts or genitals unless she explicitly gives permission? When are we as a society going to redefine what ‘makes a man’ and reject the hyper-masculine qualities that see women violated sexually as an activity that bonds ‘real’ men together?
Let’s be clear: The rape of women by men is not about men’s uncontrolled lust – it’s about power and domination that stems from fear and hatred of the female and the feminine.
On 29 October national Reclaim the Night rallies will be held across Australia and other parts of the world in which women march through the streets to protest against men’s sexual violence. These events first took place internationally in 1976 and the fact they still need to happen today is a sad indictment of men’s refusal to acknowledge and use their power to stop rape.
Some men have made an effort in this area, such as Men Can Stop Rape, an international organisation that aims to redefine masculinity by mobilising men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women, but they are few and far between.
By and large, preventing rape is still put on women’s shoulders. Well-meaning college campuses distribute advice to female students on how to avoid being sexually assaulted: don’t get drunk or stoned, don’t leave a party with a group of guys or alone, carry a whistle. The problem is, it’s all about controlling women’s behaviours, not those of men.
A Facebook friend recently circulated a document that turns the tables and offers “100 per cent foolproof tips to prevent rape/sexual assault”. It includes helpful suggestions to potential rapists such as: “Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself assaulting someone, ask a friend to stay with you when you are in public” or “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”
Facetious as some of the advice may be, it’s a stark reminder that there is only one way to stop rape: Don’t do it.
Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger