The Vagenda

On Arguing With Men About Rape


I’ve been wanting to write about arguing with men about rape for a long time now. I sort of knew my argument, and I tried to write it before, but it just wasn’t clear enough in my head.  It took one of those full-blown arguments on (yes, you’ve done it too) a Facebook thread to get my thoughts and feelings to click into place for me.

So this is what happened: my friend posted this video of Cate Blanchett walking the red carpet, cheekily asking the cameraman, as he slowly scanned her body from toe to scalp, ‘do you do that to the guys, too?’

Straight away, it got lots of ‘likes’ and nods from the ladies, who identified with that unnerving feeling straight away. But this was followed by the inevitable:  ’BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ?!?!!’

‘This happens to men too, by the way’ surely must be one of the most infuriating argument styles of all time. Whilst I’m not belittling the experience of men who feel objectified and scrutinised, I don’t see why it should detract from or undermine the experience of women. Two wrongs don’t make a right – we can all hate that panoptic gaze together, guys. So getting back to the Facebook thread – the general consensus amongst the males was, ‘but by designers dressing her up and going down the red carpet, surely she accepts that’s going to attract certain behaviour?’

Well, let’s look at the facts here. Cate didn’t launch into a scathing, infuriated, radical feminist diatribe. She made a light-hearted quip that got us all thinking. She’s been an actress for some time, so of course she expects the camera flashes and obsession over what she’s wearing to occur at an awards ceremony. But that doesn’t mean that she can’t draw attention to something that makes her feel uncomfortable. Becoming a successful actress needn’t insinuate that she is ‘asking for’ attention that she finds disquieting, nor should she has to accept the established sexism of Hollywood. Cate’s allowed to express her own truth – that she (and no doubt many others like her, men and women) – don’t particularly enjoy a camera scanning her body silently and proprietorially.

The predictable reaction (girls ‘liking’ and relating, men defensively justifying sexist behaviour) to my friend putting that post up made me think of pretty much every time I’ve talked feminism, where many men seem to recoil and go on the defensive. If I’m on my own, they’ll start a rallying defence of all men, and, if I’m in a group of fellow feminists, they’ll just go quiet rather than engage (or heaven forefend, agree with us). And I truly have no idea why, because clearly my feminist friends and I don’t live a life of rigid and vehement man despising.  Many of us don’t even own a pair of dungarees.  The snarly, uppity reaction of so many men to the #yesallwomen campaign illustrates that, sadly, it appears that lots of them really do think feminists hate men – when really, we just hate sexism. So whenever an issue that seems to be a bit of a no-brainer comes up, say, for instance, this Cate Blanchett video, there’ll be all these impassioned guys rallying to the defence of the poor, put upon patriarchy.

This is never clearer than when the subject of rape is brought up.

Tell me I’m not the only one to encounter this…

Man: I totally agree that rape is bad/abominable/unforgiveable…but…
[NB NO good sentence ever begins with this line]

…You have to agree, that there are just some bad people out there, and there are risks you shouldn’t take. I’m not saying it’s the girl’s fault, but…
[Once again, ‘BUT’ WHAT?]

…If she gets herself into a situation, like she’s passed out drunk or walking alone at night in a tiny skirt, or leads a guy on then she says no at the very last moment, there is some modicum of blame to be had on her part.

Me: But most rapes aren’t in a dark alleyway by an illegal immigrant on crack. In the majority of cases the rapist and victim know each other.

Man: I know, but what I’m saying is…in some cases the girl has some sort of responsibility for it.

I’ve had this baffling conversation with so many men, innumerable times. And it’s very often well-educated, thoughtful, kind men who respect women as equals and love their girlfriends. The conclusion I’ve come to is that…

a) Men seem to think that when we talk about rape and feminism, we’re accusing all men of being rapists and generally hating on all men and…

b) To demonise the rapist as an evil, anomalous ‘other’ and/or the girl as ‘asking for it’ they can detach and distance themselves from the scenario. Whereas to accept the cold, hard fact that last year, in 90% of serious sexual assaults, the victim knew the perpetrator means a level of empathy may be felt by the guy I’m talking to, which must surely be a very disconcerting sensation.

I discussed this with my boyfriend, who has definitely brought up the aforementioned scenario in the past. He’s great, because our views on certain matters do differ, and he’s never afraid to express his opinion, even though it might not sit well with me. I much prefer this to someone just going quiet and disagreeing in his head, because when a subject becomes taboo, the divide widens and prejudices sink deep inside, rearing their ugly head in discriminatory behaviours (say, certain folk grumbling that ‘they don’t want to offend the PC brigade’ but then voting UKIP). Plus our heated discussions help me clarify my own opinions. So, I tested my theory on him and we shouted at one another for quite a long time, eventually realising that we were in agreement. He said that yes, he finds it hard to stomach that the reality is that rapists are men like him, the implication of this being that he has the potential himself to rape. I think that many, many men, if they were honest, also feel this way.

Rapists can be our fathers, sons, husbands, legal guardians, friends and work colleagues. Women are raped in their own homes; women who are quiet and plain are raped, disabled women and elderly women, those wearing pyjamas or a burqa. Rape consists of everyday men raping everyday women, (and I’m aware I’m not even broaching the subject of male rape here) and I think that’s very shocking and difficult to truly, deeply contemplate – so it’s much easier to seek refuge in that tiny percentage of scenarios where women are deemed to be ‘asking for it.’

As frustrating as it is to me, I am going to try to empathise with the man next time I have this argument (and I have this argument a lot). The above must be a discombobulating notion to get one’s head around, and perhaps leads to this defensiveness. If I bear this in mind in future when I talk about the subject, I might be able to argue more effectively, managing to develop more of a dialogue rather than the usual shouting match from either side of the pitch. My views on rape are extremely passionate, and this is pretty obvious when the aforementioned ‘rape chat scenario’ comes up. I yell, I shout repeatedly that ‘rape is by its very nature sex without consent, so the fault is with the rapist,’ and tears spring up in my eyes. The man brings up ‘asking for it’ or ‘there are bad people in the world,’ to be met with my stony gaze. I know I’m right, having grown up in a patriarchy and being actively feminist I’m armed with a lot more knowledge and detailed Home Office statistics: nevertheless, every time, a frustrating stalemate is reached. The guy definitely won’t bring it up the subject in future in case I get shouty – but his opinion won’t alter – if anything, it’ll be strengthened. Nothing will change.

I’m not apologising for rape apologists, I’m just saying that I could make more effort to understand why this clichéd narrative of rape is brought up so many times. Am I angrily pointing my finger at these guys? No. Are they part of the problem? Yes, because the ‘asking for it’ mentality filters into the brains of the police, friends or relative that will ask, ‘what she was wearing?’ ‘Was she drunk?’ However, if I want to get these guys on my side rather than just shouting at them, I need to understand that in numerous cases, many men are upset and disturbed because, once the fallacy of the ‘stranger in a dark alley’ is exposed, it highlights how ordinary men commit these kinds of acts every day. Maybe that just  feels too close to home and that feeling, coupled with my anger, puts them on the defensive, which is how this impasse has been reached.

I wrote this article because I’m tired. Things need to change, and maybe, in order to change, I need to understand and even empathise with the subtle ways in which these sexist attitudes are so very entrenched in our society. I wish all my lovely friends would realise that we’re all on the same side – that when I protest and argue and talk so passionately about injustice surrounding rape, I’m not accusing them of being the bad guys. I’m not rallying against men, but against rape. I wish that this unsettling empathy that men feel with rapists – the realisation that it’s men like them, not crazy weirdos that lurk in alleyways – could be embraced and used to mobilise action against rape. Instead, nothing changes: the chronic lack of justice suffered by so many , nor the baffling denial; the slut-shaming or the victim blaming.

- Rebecca Pearson

50 thoughts on “On Arguing With Men About Rape

  1. Yes, thank you!

    We’re not accusing all men and it may feel like it, but their response that some women have to have asked for it could then be seen in a similar light – so all women are to blame, and deserve it

  2. Thank you, as a man, thank you for taking the line that you want to get men on your side and that you want to understand why there are some men who are not. I really appreciate it.

    Firstly, I think the default position that a lot of men have is that, if somebody is shouting at them about something, they will automatically oppose it. I’m not sure why this is – it could be because boys are taught to try to win arguments rather than seek agreement, it could be simple bloody-mindedness, it could be anything. It’s something I see in myself and my friends all the time. If we’re being shouted at by a rampant UKIP supporter, we’ll argue the other way; if we’re being shouted at by a rabid socialist, we’ll argue conservative, even though we’re all liberal. Most men know when to turn off this default stubbornness, because we can identify or empathise when it’s really serious … like, for example, rape. However, some men can’t, or won’t. I don’t think it’s because they’re bad people, I think it’s because they genuinely don’t get how important the issue is. I would guess that the men who you have these arguments with would be very different if rape had directly or indirectly affected them. A friend of mine used to unintentionally victim blame, until he dated a woman who had been raped. Once he’d seen how rape affects people, he very quickly dropped the statements like “it’s not the woman’s fault, but…”. The problem is a lack of empathy coupled with a kind of stubbornness. I don’t have any instant solutions, but taking the approach of wanting to get men on your side, rather than shouting, is definitely the way forward.

    Secondly, when men do agree with or even put forward prevailing feminist views themselves, please don’t then accuse them of trying to get into your pants (unless they’re being really obvious about it – “I’d fill in your pay gap, hurhurhur”). It’s really frustrating, and only damages the feminist cause. I know that #notallwomen do this, but the ones that do do it a lot.

    • I’ll agree men I know do take the “well some women…” line because they are completely ignorant about rape, who is doing it and who its happening too (some other women, who is not like the women they know…)

      I personally don’t find my male friends inherently stubborn. I will disagree that men are born stubborn, because I know men who are willing to listen and engage in topics – someone yelling at them won’t change their stance (although it will make them disengage, as it would any person if one is faced hostile confrontation right off the bat). I suspect when it comes to admitting any kind of ignorance/privilege those who are privileged may find it easier to deny it. For example, my male friends don’t want rape to happen, but admitting it does happen to women they identify with, does involve coming face-to-face with an awful horror: this could be happening to women they love, and it could be perpetrated by men they know and they are powerless to stop the act.

      It’s my opinion that admitting the rapist is to blame and not the victim is to face your own powerlessness as a man. A powerlessness that would not otherwise have to be faced if one continued to blame the victim.

      I have found this defensive stance taken by most privileged groups when confronting the physical consequences of oppression – to deny/minimize and blame the victim (be they a victim of racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia etc)

      What do you think? I personally find it very uncomfortable to admit to and face my own privileges and to engage with my friends who are oppressed in ways I’m not – I find it uncomfortable because I feel powerless to stop oppression and I really, really want oppression to stop.

      On a positive note, male voices make a big difference, if someone makes a rape joke or starts to blame the victim, if another man is like “nah man that’s crap and here’s why…” well it changes the whole dynamic of the argument. I love my male friends for that.

      I will add as an ‘off topic aside” it’s not constructive to ask “us” to please stop accusing men of trying to get into our pants if men bring up feminist issues – I agree completely: it’s annoying to hear your opinions minimized and disregarded because you’re a man talking about feminism… but despite the hashtag #notallwomendoit, you’re addressing a collective of all kinds of people here and addressing us through a very specific lens of your experience – clearly the women who accuse men of trying to get in their pants if they’re feminist men, need to be addressed individually (either by yourself and by other people) rather than all of us getting a “telling off” because we’re female, feminist and on this site. You may not mean it to come across that way, but it does for me. I’d suggest reading this site – I have found it very useful (please don’t consider me flippant or rude).


  3. Maybe the trick is to try and avoid generalisations. The problem with the ‘yes all women’ campaign, or the claim that ‘all’ women are victims of a certain kind of male gaze is that it doesn’t really allow any rhetorical space for those men who do not engage in sexist behaviour. That is, if “all” women suffer from this general problem, it does seem as though the problem is men in general. Since you’re talking about argument here (something that lives and dies in interpretation), rather than the facts of the case, this does seem important.

    To see the connection with rape arguments, consider that what’s at stake here is a definition of rape, rather than claims about what we ought to think about rapists (everyone in your arguments (both imagined and real) agree that rape is wrong, after all). It seems to me that your fellow arguers are trying to defend a narrow definition of rape – one where the perpetrator is a “bad” person. You’re arguing back with a broader definition: the perpetrator is often very “normal” – such that you make the claim that the men with whom you converse are possible rapists themselves. Well, they’re possible murderers, too, but we don’t make that a big point of conversation. Such a broad claim would be in a certain sense demeaning, right? So why think that making the same kind of statement in relation to rape is going to win an argument? Just like the “yes all women” approach, it leaves no rhetorical space for the innocent man.

    It would seem to me that everyone’s best bet here is to emphasise not the normality of rape, but rather how rape manifests an imbalance of power between men and women that exists in many, but not all social spheres. It is when men cross into these spheres (be they teenagers’ parties, university clubs, sexist work environments, an unlit alleyway) and do nothing to confront their unfairness that they cease to be normal and start to be cruel (because affirming and possibly thriving on the imbalance of power). The question of rape (like sexism in general), then, is no longer one of normality. It is about whether or not men are standing up to or going along with those mores and structures which allow rape to happen.

    At this stage, the argument seems a little more pithy. It is not about whether someone is normal or not, but whether they are ignorant or not.

    • Just wanna say, I really enjoyed this comment. I particularly resonated with the statement ” It is about whether or not men are standing up to or going along with those mores and structures which allow rape to happen. ”

      Recently I was in a discussion about sexism/sexual violence/harassment in my own field (it is heavily male dominated) and I was told “certain types of men” are attracted to or work in my field – that is it is “normal” for sexist/violent types in my line of work. I had to completely disagree, what makes it sucks for me is precisely as you stated – men going along with the mores and structures which allow [sexism/violence/harassment] to happen. Unfortunately I didn’t have your words at my disposal that night.

      And I agree, it’s about ignorance & not normality.

    • You make some very good points, but I am fully in support of using generalisations in the context of pointing out oppressive or problematic behaviours. Using ‘some’ as a qualifier automatically allows members of the privileged or accused group to assure themselves that they are not part of the problem as opposed to analysing their behaviour and thoughts to either reach this conclusion in an informed way or realise that they are in fact making mistakes behaviour wise.

      In terms of the potential rapist argument, it is more to point out that there is no way of knowing than to demean men as a whole. People are almost never blamed for their own murder (unless other axis of oppression e.g. racism are in play), so it would be irrelevant to point out that everyone is a potential murderer. However the same is not true of rape, particularly rape of women by men. It is necessary to then point out that women cannot always tell if someone is or isn’t a potential rapist. In order to be safe in many situations, precautions must be taken that assume the latter, and that is a problem that both men and women need to work to fix.

      I’m aware the first instinct is to lash out at generalisations that accuse a group you are part of but it is often a necessity, particularly when calling people out. Instead of being offended by the generalisations, it is far more productive to try to work to correct them by calling out members of the group who do fit that generalisation and give the group a bad name, which is what causes the generalisation to occur in the first place.

  4. For anyone who wants to read more about the ‘monster myth’ should try this article, from the Guardian back in April, which tackles the idea head on, from a man’s point of view.

    “I froze because I’d been socialised to believe that men who rape are jabbering madmen who wear tracksuit bottoms with dress shoes and knee-high socks. The only thing more disturbing than that paradigm is the fact that most rapists are normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family.”

  5. Maybe you could quickly turn the argument around:

    You: Do you know, those clothes make you look really attractive… Do you think if you were raped on the way home tonight it would be fair to say you were asking for it ?

  6. Very good article. Shows how widespread rape culture is when so many men have such reactions to rape and believe the myths which abound on the subject (not helped by media coverage of it). The only point I’d take issue with is “it’s very often…thoughtful, kind men…” – any man who could ever suggest a woman is responsible in any way for being a victim of rape isn’t “thoughtful” or “kind” in any way. They’re victim blamers who perpetuate rape culture and are the kind of people who help ensure it continues.

    I see your point also about “empathising with the man” but I don’t think you should have to. How can you even begin to “empathise” with someone who claims a victim could have been in anyway responsible or even worse “asking for it”?

    • Hello, I do hear you but I can empathise with people quite easily. We all have our strengths and weaknesses – I’m dreadful at coming out with articulate arguments on the spot, hence my frustration at the common ‘rape discussion’ above. But I can understand how other people reach their (wrong and stupid) opinions. The good thing about this is that we can all tackle it from different directions!

      I just understand that many of the men

      A) have not grown up suffering the sexism that the #yesallwomen and Everyday Sexism shows that we do, so they honestly don’t think it’s an issue.

      B) feminism is counter, ie it is not mainstream or encouraged. I am happy to admit that it’s only in my 20s, when I truly started questioning the world around me, that I got into it. previously i said I ‘wasn’t feminist’ because a boy I fancied at 15 said feminists are ugly. And sadly, many (most?) teenage girls just want to impress boys. (Also Caitlin Moran didn’t exist for me then, sadly).

      C) may not have grown up with strong female role models

      So you see they are kind and thoughtful boys, they are just misguided in many ways. And understanding that and arguing with them in the ways I’ve said above have actually helped bring lots of them round to my way of thinking!

      Though obviously, there are plenty of douchebags that you just can’t engage with – most of them live on twitter.

  7. Good article, and I agree with you about your diagnosis of why men react this way: They are afraid that they are being accused, and it feels unfair to them. But saying, “Yes, you really might be a rapist, because after all rapists are just normal guys”, does not seem helpful.
    Rejecting the fallacy of the stranger in a dark alley does NOT mean we should regard rapists as “normal guys”. They are very often known to their victims, and that probably means that they SEEM like normal guys, but that does not make them so. They are predators DISGUISED as normal guys. That in itself may be disconcerting. Maybe your normal-seeming friend is a rapist. But it shouldn’t make me as a man worry that maybe I could be a rapist, and if that’s what’s bothering men who react the way you describe, they really need to get over it.
    You see this problem in one of the comments above, from Paul: “[I]f ‘all’ women suffer from this general problem, it does seem as though the problem is men in general”. No, no, no! It does not, for example, follow from the fact that one in five women are being assaulted in college that one in five men are assaulting women. It could be that some much smaller number of men are each assaulting a lot of women.
    It seems to me that simple common sense tells you that that is what happens: The kind of guy who sexually assaults women is going to do it over and over, not just once when there’s a misunderstanding. And besides common sense, we have actual research on this topic. Most rapes are perpetrated by a fairly small number of serial rapists, and that is ESPECIALLY true of rapes committed by someone known to the victim. See, for example, this post:
    and related material.

  8. Excellent article, so much better articulated than I can ever manage when having this conversation.
    I had a heated discussion with my boyfriends parents over the dinner table not too long ago about the different “levels” of rape. With them both asserting that being-drunk-and-not-quite-consenting isn’t really rape whereas being pounced on by a stranger in a dark alleyway is very horrible proper rape. Like you say, it took a full blown argument about it to really crystallise my own beliefs on the topic and its so crucial we continue to have these awkward conversations and provoke thought and discussion!

    • I totally hear you and I KNOW that feeling!

      I remember a friend’s parents talking about yew tree, and saying ‘well the Rolling Stones were doing it all the time. Are we going to arrest them as well, now?’ As if lots of people engaging in sex with minors makes it more acceptable than one or two! Same sort of folk that would talk about different ‘levels’ rape like your discussion.

      I suppose sometimes it’s about channelling that fury you feel into a really lucid but calm argument, and understanding the generational and cultural differences that may give rise to their opinions (not always easy!)

      Rebecca x

  9. I love the honesty of this article. I so often see rape discussions on line go in the same direction:

    A woman expresses in some fashion that rape is bad.
    A man fin one way or another challenges her about the validity of this.
    Woman reacts.
    Man reacts to her reaction.
    It goes downhill from there.

    I’m always astonished that anyone would defend rape for any reason. But I agree with “F” that “taking the approach of wanting to get men on your side, rather than shouting, is definitely the way forward,”.

    The problem starts, it seems to me, with the taking of Sides in the first place. That’s why male activists who support women are the only way to change this conversation on a cultural level. MEN will have to speak against rape and sexual assault, Women can only do so much, because men so often tend to see women as “The Other” and “The Enemy”, so they attack rather than express support.

    BUT I’ve just made incredibly broad, sweeping generalizations. I do love what Paul said: “It is about whether or not men are standing up to or going along with those mores and structures which allow rape to happen,” and I’ve also noticed a LOT of men lately standing up for women and against male violence. When men stand up for women they are also standing up for men, and the whole of humanity.

    I’ve seen a lot of men lately entering the conversation and c hanging it. The other day on Twitter a young woman posted her assault experience. A man replied to her that it was funny and she needed to “Get over herself”. Immediately another man jumped into the conversation and told that guy to “Have a nice big cup of shut the #$%& up,”. And that guy DID shut up.

    The conversations are changing and so is the culture of tolerance of misogyny. I am extremely hopeful. And it’s because so many men are speaking out about how THEY feel, and because not all women are looking to start a gender war.

    That won’t win it.

  10. This has perfectly described many conversations I have had with many men, and unfortunately women. When the #yesallwomen movement began, I recall a conversation in which I had with one of my male friends who is a feminist. I told him about the movement and how it highlights the injustice that cat-calling, sexual harrassment, sexism happens to ALL WOMEN. He didn’t seem to take it seriously, and got rather defensive about the fact that it wasn’t all men who did it, and how this movement seemed to almost demonize men. It made me angry because it completely missed the point of this great campaign, and it also illustrated a mentality that a lot of people have about feminism being merely about hating all men.

    Too often people try to defend rape, and too often I find myself defending feminism.

  11. Excellent. Next time this comes up in conversation, I’ll be reciting certain lines from this. My argument just got a whole lot stronger and far more articulate.

    • I’m so so happy to hear that! Mine has gradually got stronger as I’ve amassed statistics as well as a general feeling of strength and camaraderie from feminist books and sites like vagenda! More power to your feminist elbow x

  12. One of the best vids I’ve seen about what we can do is a TED talk by Jackson Katz, a prominent anti-violence educator: It looks at the big picture and gives great suggestions, admittedly not so easy, to combat this scourge. The systems that help to promulgate men’s violence against women are the same ones that perpetuate men’s violence against men. We need men, especially, to start making it clear that certain behaviors won’t be tolerated in their peer culture.

  13. I don’t know if I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a conversation with a man I know and respect that has gone like that. I think men are perfectly capable of seeing rape the same way as feminists do, and the better men do see it as we do as a matter of course. I don’t believe for a minute that the various responses you describe in the article are sincere or that we need to empathise with the people who make them. I think they’re extremely disingenuous, mostly designed to shut women down on this topic, and frankly, if a man EVER thinks a woman could ever be ‘asking’ for non-consensual sex (how do you even do that? It doesn’t make any sense), he’s incredibly stupid, a jerk or, given the statistics, probably a rapist himself. We give men too much credit when we meekly emphasise that we *know* it isn’t all men. They know that we know that it isn’t all men, and this is a way of pushing back, making women guilty, apologising, appeasing. Fuck that. Given the statistics on rape, everyone almost certainly knows one or more men who have raped. I am tired of assuming that the people who are arguing the toss on this are innocent and just a bit confused. Maybe we start assuming that if they make rape apologist arguments, especially more than once, that they *are* rape apologists, and likely for the good reason that they are rapists. The onus is not on us to engage, it’s on men to sort themselves out and stop having totally offensive opinions about appalling crimes committed by their sex against ours.

    • Wowcher. As they say, that escalated quickly. In your evaluation of those who see shades of grey in questions of rape and sexual assault you go from insincere to disingenuous to stupid to being rapists themselves! On what do you base these rather strong accusations? The article above is about the nature of the argument over rape, and how highly charged it is. Going in there and suggesting that everyone who disagrees with you is probably a rapist would surely do nothing other than take the argument back into the dark days of rejectionist feminism, which did nothing but harm the cause of gender equality. It’s also a pretty reprehensible form of bullying (if you disagree with me, I’m going to slap one of the harshest and most damaging labels society currently has onto you). Why not go further, and suggest they are child molesters too? Lastly, your rather ridiculous position has nothing to offer for those women who are uncomfortable with some of the darker implications of the “normal men are rapists” hypothesis.

      This is a complicated issue because rape isn’t about sex, but about power, and all power struggles are vicious and unpleasant. Moreover, they’re pervasive: to gain equal power, women will have to see men give up some of the privileges they currently have. Many of those who enjoy these privileges may be loath to face up to them and the injustices they allow, but that doesn’t make them morally problematic or defective (despite your rather wild accusations). It makes them normal. If we move beyond sexism and look at the various ways in which society keeps poor people down, we’d find just as much of a reluctance to accept how much we are all a little bit responsible. Just today a perfectly fair-minded friend defended the manipulation of inheritance tax rules to ensure that as little of her inheritance was taxed as possible. All of my (London-based) friends willingly been party to the same behaviour, since they feel they need the money to afford a house here. Are they all vicious robbers because of this denial of how unjust the UK inheritance system is?

      • There aren’t ‘shades of grey’ in questions of rape and sexual assault. This whole notion that it’s about blurred lines and confusion, and that sex is just such a bewildering area for men that they make ‘mistakes’ like shoving their penis in the vagina of a woman who doesn’t want it there, is self-serving twaddle made up to protect male privilege. A man knows if he’s having sex with a woman who isn’t consenting. He’s not confused, he either just doesn’t care, or he’s enjoying the fact that she isn’t consenting. The fact that all the scrutiny is on the victim and almost none on the perpetrator appears to have obscured this reality to an extraordinary degree.

        I am not suggesting that people who don’t agree with me are rapists (what a silly way to characterise my post), I am suggesting that people who maintain that there are situations in which women are ‘asking’ to be raped are rape apologists, and then I am suggesting that there is little reason for someone to justify the behaviour of rapists unless they are themselves rapists, or possibly just hate women enough to be pleased that other men rape them. Can you tell me why someone who wasn’t a rapist and who agreed that rape was an appalling thing, would be keen to defend rapists and buy into the strategies of obfuscation that prevent a large proportion of victims from obtaining justice?

        The language of your post is in itself quite worrying. What can you possibly mean by ‘the “normal men are rapists” hypothesis’? It sounds like you are trying to argue that only men with visible horns and a tail are rapists, when in fact rapists are completely indistinguishable from the rest of the male population. This is widely acknowledged and forms the basis of the ‘advice’ to women to be ‘careful’. If rapists weren’t in all other respects perfectly ‘normal’, they would be easy to avoid. And what are the ‘darker implications’ of recognising this, that you claim women are uncomfortable with?

        The nature of your sympathies is also betrayed when you talk about ‘rapist’ as being ‘one of the harshest and most damaging labels society currently has’. It’s not a ‘label’, it is a crime that some men commit. In the case of no other crime would you be talking about ‘labels’. You would be saying X murdered Y, so he is a murderer, not X murdered Y so he has been *labelled* a murderer.

        Finally, what’s with the property comparisons that so many rape apologists make? (you wouldn’t leave your car unlocked, so why would you go around at night/in short skirts/drink with a vagina?) If you can’t see the difference between defending inheritance tax and defending rapists, you really need to sort out your moral priorities.

        • I would indeed consider my moral priorities to be somewhat askew if I was making such a claim. But I clearly wasn’t – I was rather showing how silly it is (to my mind) to equate disagreement over a moral wrong with guiltiness of that moral wrong. In any case, I stand corrected over your characterisation of rape apologists. You say:

          “if a man EVER thinks a woman could ever be ‘asking’ for non-consensual sex (how do you even do that? It doesn’t make any sense), he’s incredibly stupid, a jerk or, given the statistics, probably a rapist himself.”

          And that does indeed make perfect sense. But it’s also not particularly interesting, given the article above. It seems to me that the author is talking about people who would not make such a claim (which as you say is nonsense anyway). Instead, she’s concerned with “normal” people who would indeed recognise nonconsensual sex as rape. As I see it, the problem is that these people nonetheless think (probably as a result of non-reflection, rather than a deep desire to exonerate rapists) that women have some responsibility, maybe not to put themselves in a situation where rape is highly likely. The author’s point is that this is a moot point, once we recognise that the vast majority of rapes are carried out by someone the victim knows (and probably trusts). Of course, anyone who accepts these facts has to agree. Stranger rape has a greater sway over the public imagination because the media runs on fear, but rape and sexual assault is in fact largely the horrible underside of power inequality and misogyny.

          The point I’m concerned to add is that demonising those who disagree with you because they either a) want to defend their privileges or b) don’t want to accept the normality of rape is simply counterproductive. Again, the article is about trying to convince people, and how hard it is to do so. It seems that by your reckoning, our collective failure to do so is the result of our not insulting those we disagree with enough; to my point above (referring to others’ beliefs that there may be shades of grey), for instance, you state that these views must be selfish. Ergo: call them on their bullshit, and they must concede. This is plain wrong, to my mind, and shows a failure to recognise how encultured and contested the issues at stake here are. “Normal” men don’t struggle to accept the ubiquity of rape because they’re out to defend the patriarchy, but rather because they’ve been socialised according to cultural ideas of heterosexual sexuality which suggest that sex is always the women’s prerogative (unless it’s violent rape… hence the problem), and because they largely live and work in environments which manifest power inequality so insidiously that it’s hard to see, unless you happen to have read a book or two about feminism. Hence my point (way, way) above: this is a problem of straightforward ignorance more than it is of ill-will. Going purely after the latter in a blustery insult-fest is a strategy doomed to failure.

          I want lastly to defend myself against your claims of “worrying” language use. The “normal men [rape] hypothesis” is just that: the hypothesis that normal men commit rape. This is rhetorical rather than meaningful; to use your own straightforward logic, since rape is abnormal, and rapists commit rape, they are far from normal. The problem is that rapists often appear to be normal. But appearance and reality are here two different things; if we accept that rape is about power, misogyny, and control, then rapists are those who are violently jealous of power, are misogynistic, and want to control women. To claim that normal men (who are none of these things) is thus rhetorically dumb. Instead of getting these men on side, and explaining how the structure of everyday life can facilitate these problems, this tactic makes all men out to be possible rapists. Again, that’s a truism, but it’s not a useful or interesting one if what you want to do is to win an argument. What’s worrying about that?

        • “Maybe we start assuming that if they make rape apologist arguments, especially more than once, that they *are* rape apologists, and likely for the good reason that they are rapists”

          “I am not suggesting that people who don’t agree with me are rapists”

          Rape apologists are people you disagree with yes?

      • I’m with you Paul – rape isn’t shades of grey (rape is rape) but attitudes surrounding it ARE, because you have to take into account the personal biographies, upbringing, experiences and education that went into forming those opinions. And when you take those into account and understand how a conclusion might be reached, you are better prepared to tackle it. Call it slightly Machiavellian.

  14. Hmm….but I think Teabag has an interesting point to make; if we try to argue with apologists it’s going to end in a stalemate anyway. But to put the mirror on the apologist is something that never even occurred to me. In my experience in this argument appealing to common humanity falls flat because the rape apologist feels injured, apparently, by the subject being brought up at all. It’s like rape is a sacred cow. d

    To deny the injuries of rape is to stand up for the crime itself and for the perpetrators of it. By not saying no, you are saying yes.

    It would be interesting to see how an apologist would react if challenged with the mirror: “Since you’re expressing more empathy for perpetrators than for the victims, you’re making yourself look like a sympathizer with offenders, which creeps into accomplice territory. I’m sure you’re not an offender – but if you are NOT an offender, than why support their cause? Why stand up for rapists? If you want to show that not all men are rapists, then you’ve got the opportunity to do that right now, at this minute. Show empathy for the victims, express respect for their struggles, and vow that you will stop harassment and attack if ever you see it. Then you’ve proven yourself an ally. When you defend rape, you put yourself in a doubtful light,”

    I think that’s fair. Nobody defends animal cruelty or cancer. That would be telling everyone you are a monster. Why wouldn’t you be a monster for defending rape?

    • Thank you, that’s exactly it. And the reason for my impatience with the original post is that it bends over backwards to accommodate common strategies used by some men to obfuscate, belittle or avoid the realities of rape and the culture that facilitates it. There is an enormous amount of pressure on feminists to be ‘more reasonable’, ‘less angry’, ‘more understanding’ towards men, and it is nothing other than a shutting down strategy. For people who talk like that about feminism, no reason, no degree of calm, no understanding will ever be enough until we completely abandon any claim to need or deserve equality.

      Every online discussion about rape in which rape apologists participate always ends by talking about the victims and their behaviour, with women being pushed into talking about how they know all men aren’t rapists, and feeling obliged to treat men who systematically and aggressively defend rape and rape culture as if these are reasonable people to engage with. I say we call time on this approach. I don’t think that any man worthy of respect would ever employ the expression ‘asking for it’, or deny that most rapists are apparently ‘normal’ men known to their victims, or that a man having sex with a woman knows full well whether she’s activity consenting (and if he really thinks he can’t tell, he shouldn’t be having sex in the first place), or any of the other nonsense that gets peddled in support of the ‘blurred lines’/'grey areas’ argument. Therefore we should assume that men who do make these arguments are rape apologists, and treat them accordingly – frankly, as the scum that you would have to be to do anything other than throw your full support behind any conversation that can help address rape and work towards reducing it and securing justice for the victims.

    • The “what kind of person does this make me” basis for moral viewpoints is fair enough, but I must confess I don’t think it’s likely to be very useful in this debate. You’re falling into the same trap that lots of people in these highly charged debates do, thinking that people are choosing their position with full knowledge of its implications. But why would anyone choose to stand up for rapists? That’s certainly not what the men in the original article are accused of doing – they simply hold a different conception of what how rape occurs to the author. At which point, what does a moral mirror offer? Someone who says “women should avoid dangerous situations” is going to look in that mirror and say “yep, I’m a realist”, when what we’d want them to say is “yep, I don’t know what I’m talking about”.

      And whoever admitted that?

      • I can relate to points in both Paul and Teabag’s posts.

        Yes I have seen these “common strategies used by some men to obfuscate, belittle or avoid the realities of rape and the culture that facilitates it.” but I’ve also met completely ignorant men, who as Paul says have ignorance that has flourished “because they largely live and work in environments which manifest power inequality so insidiously that it’s hard to see…”.

        Unfortunately we can’t know the difference between men who are ignorant, willing to learn and become allies, and men who are ignorant and would like to keep it that way because privilege works for them.

        Furthermore, even if does meet the former type of man, the fact is, it sucks to be oppressed by patriarchy and then have to engage with men and be understanding of their ignorance all the time too – this is particularly difficult when being understanding and trying to correct harmful opinions about rape can (a) touch on personal traumatic experiences and (b) a person doesn’t know if a man will be receptive to their ideas or not.

        • You’re of course right, and the point is well-taken that, as in all reasoned debates over how to interpret a problem, neither side is going to be completely accurate. I should also say that I share your and the original author’s and Teabag’s frustration that we have to continually argue this case (despite being a man, I think it’s my duty to argue too) against seemingly intransigent opponents.

          However, I think it is a fundamentally flawed strategy to give in to that frustration and to resort to unreasonable attacks on political opponents. Now I’ve been thinking about this, and my reasons for saying this aren’t because I don’t think this strategy might not work. After all, real-world politics functions largely on the basis of appeals to emotion and clan-style group identities rather than mature and impartial reason, because most people are so bored, ignorant and disaffected that the only way you can get to them is through fear and anger. If the rhetorical war could be won so that ambivalence towards rape was as stigmatised as ambivalence towards child-abuse, then in a certain sense, the debate would be won.

          The difficulty is that the debate is not the same thing as the problem we’re concerned with: rape itself. Winning an argument through emotion is unlikely to do much to change the attitudes of the multitude of people who, through their tacit support for inequality, create the conditions for rape to happen (much as the old-fashioned support for the institution of familial “privacy” allowed/allows marital rape to happen). The real outcome we want, surely, is not for people to say and think things that make us less angry, but for people to DO things that lead to less rapes. And here, it is simply not enough to say “just stop defending rape, you idiot”, because as I have continually pointed out, rape is a social, political phenomenon and will not go away just by us having people think “rape is bad” more. It’s not even enough to emphasise the “normality” of rapists, because actually their seeming normality (and I persist in my belief that rapists are non-normal, even if we cannot see the social problems that lead them to rape) is not the problem.

          So, unfortunately, we’re going to have to slog this debate out and remain reasonable if we want the right results. In fact, I think all debates which involve challenges to the status quo have to be slogged out in the same way. Campaigners for climate change, for animal/children’s/minorities’ rights, for equality, for a living wage, for tax-justice etc. ALL feel the day to day process of debate is a bit like banging your head against a brick wall, because while they all have to make a persuasive case, the status quo can get by on sheer force of inertia (and remember, people don’t care about politics). But they all have to do it, and sometimes good results happen at the end.

  15. I think there’s a lot of rubbish talked about rape. Firstly, there ARE different levels – there are different levels of murder, FFS. Secondly, rape is about power, not about sex? Wrong, it’s at least a little bit about sex. Those men who rape in warzones don’t do it because they have been commanded to, they do it because they can get away with it.

    I believe that a lot of men feel uncomfortable about how they feel about rape because AS A FANTASY it can be a little bit exciting. I used to feel dreadfully ashamed of this as a man who is a committed feminist and could not square it at all with my beliefs of who I am and what I think not just about gender equality but about how we should all treat each other in a decent society. My ex wife tried to convince me I was some sort of nascent serial killer because I opined that the Jody Foster rape scene in The Accused was unecessarily titillating and she was (or pretended to be) horrified that I could even believe that any person could find it so. This affected me so deeply that In the end I needed psychiatric help just to get the confirmation that I was an OK person, and certainly not about to go on some sort of sadistic rape and murder spree.

    My current partner, on the other hand, only knows that I like rape fantasy because SHE ENCOURAGED IT and I found out (my first marriage was when I was very young and naive) that it is not all that uncommon AS A FANTASY for some women too. Guess what? It is now easier for me to be outright condemnatory of rape in all forms, because I see the dividing line between our marital fantasies and the disgusting reality very clearly indeed. I know, as someone who is able to be honest with himself and his wife about the extent of his non-consensual fantasies, that there is absolutely no excuse ever to attempt to have any form of sexual contact with a person who does not absolutely wish it. If a person like me, who is reasonably muscular, not too short of intellectual resources, highly sexed and seriously turned on by *fantasy* nonconsensual sex can resist raping someone, then ANYONE can.

    Other men, I believe, can be stuck where I was before: desperately trying to shut out of their minds the exciting component of non-con sex — because it doesn’t match their view of who they are or their deeply held convictions. This leads to victim blaming in circumstances where they aren’t sure whether or not they’d have felt some slight temptation deep in the darkest recesses of their minds. Thinking about a scantily clad young girl in a dark alley with nobody else but you around? It’s pretty exciting, but they daren’t admit it even to themselves, let alone to anyone else. So they start thinking that “she’s asking for it” because it is the only way to let themselves of the hook for that gut feeling (well, loin stirring, if we’re brutally honest).

    This, I think is the problem. Nobody would think that imagining killing someone was bad in and of itself – it doesn’t seem like it’s going to turn into real life homicide. However, rape is so taboo that even fantasizing about it unacceptable in the minds of most “right-thinking” people. I, on the other hand, think about pouncing on some sexy young women in an alleyway at least 10 times a day. Ironically, being able to accept that about myself I can now square it with my genuine feelings of absolute horror about real sexual assault. Fantasy is fantasy, reality is reality. You want men to be able to condem all forms of sexual coercion? Easy, just let them know it’s ok to think about it – even act it out with willing partners – as long as they never, ever under any circumstances actually do it.

  16. I must admit that as a male feminist I have always been accepted as part of the group and never felt like I was on the outside looking in. I also have taken part in many feminist comedy nights, to poke fun at the penis (and educate women, that, THE BRAIN controls the penis – not the other way round) – My comedy perfomances usually end up with me nude and role reversing the sexist attitudes that some men have toward women. Here’s a sample of one of my performances, that I do at these comedy nights -

  17. There are two separate issues here the author is conflating:

    1. Putting yourself at risk by poor decisions.

    2. Someone else doing something bad to you.

    If you get assaulted (or worse) because of #1 then you most certainly are responsible for the bad decisions leading up to Bad Things happening to you. We as individuals are are responsible for our own personal safety. That said, the other person is 100% fully to blame for the actions they took. For some reason many people keep treating these two separate issues as one in the same though. Hint: they’re not.

    Every time you hear someone talking about protecting yourself by using risk avoidance techniques such as being mindful of how much booze you consume, using the buddy system, etc and some nut screeches about victim blaming, they’re making the same mistake of conflating the two issues. This is dangerous and a disservice to women in particular in this situation because it limits discourse on personal safety advice thereby putting even more women at risk of being assaulted.

  18. There’s a book called “Teaching men to be feminist”. It’s aimed at the same men the author’s mentions in this article, and talks through issues like this, along with everyday sexism and what feminism actually is. I’m a girl, and have been a feminist since I learnt what the word meant so I don’t really need it, but I bought it so I am able to solidify my arguments, my point of view, and be better equipped if I ever find myself in an argument about sexism and rape culture, and I would really recommend it to anyone.

  19. No woman “asks for it”. No woman “deserves” to be raped.
    BUT, if any person, male or female, gets too drunk to know what they are doing, that person deserves criticism and lack of sympathy for deliberately losing control of their own actions. People who are drunk do and say things they would never normally do. They also do and say things they do not remember the next day. If I were ever on a jury, I would take the evidence of a witness who was drunk at the time with a huge pinch of salt. (If the sole witness to a bank robbery had drunk a whole bottle of wine plus several shots, would you convict someone of the basis of their evidence alone?). If I were on a jury, I would of course weigh the evidence in that particular case. If defendant and complainant were both drunk at the time, I would also have to weigh .the life-long damage done to someone who genuinely believes she was raped against the life-long damage done to a man sent to prison for several years when he genuinely believed he had consent.
    Jane, female, age 69

    • Nobody ever gets paralytic on purpose and drink spiking is a thing that happens on a regular basis. I drank a little in a place I felt safe, my student union that happened to be less than 100 meters from my room, though I’ll grant you I was stupid enough to let a guy buy me a drink (shoot me). The next thing I know I’m not in the union anymore, he had to hold me up the whole time and ran away as soon as he’d finished.

      It really upsets me that you have this opinion. I’m a girl, I’m as vulnerable drunk as I am sober to a man who has got it in him to rape someone. The POINT is, I should be able to get drunk, walk where I want and wear what I want and not get raped. It is entirely the rapists decision to BREAK THE LAW, if they ‘can’t help’ raping a drunk girl they have a mental issue or just plain don’t give a shit.

  20. I’ve had this conversation before many times and have held the position presented here as the man’s. It’s definitely an emotive subject.

    Depending on which branch the conversation takes it’s often clear to me that two things have been conflated; the acceptable warning of a potential danger and the unacceptable imposition of responsibility for the consequences of said danger.

    The next time any of us enter this conversation with someone we would all benefit from taking a moment to consider which one of these things is being expressed and, if you are adopting the ‘man’s’ position, how what you’re saying is being interpreted.

  21. This article is very interesting – as is some of the debate thereafter. However, the point seems entirely to have been missed by teabag, who (I respectfully suggest) should re-read what Paul has written, because apart from the excellent article itself, he has written the most sense on this difficult subject that I have EVER read.
    Bob (not a rapist or an apologist)

  22. I’ve been traveling for a while now and have experienced a lot of sexism, however my worst experience was when I was working in the Australian outback and met a guy who told me “he doesn’t believe in rape”. I was appalled. His argument was “if a girl comes up to me without bruises or cuts and says she’s been raped, I’d tell her to fuck off she asked for it”.
    It’s disturbing how some peoples minds work, he was by far the most closed minded person I’ve ever met.

    • If a shop worker had said they had handed over the contents of the till to an armed robber, and presented without cuts and bruises, would he say they were complicit in the offence?

      This guy sounds disturbed, not just closed minded. Insisting that women must use ultimate physical force to defend “their honour” (even though that may increase the risk of physical harm or even death) is utterly ridiculous.

  23. A beautifully eloquent piece, that I 100% agree with. The argument is real, the fight is real and posts like this help open up conversations. I am going to forward this link to a couple of my male friends who struggle with the concept that it is always the rapists fault, regardless of circumstance. Thank you!


  24. I agree with points in this article, but I’d like to draw attention to the one sentence which says ‘He said that yes, he finds it hard to stomach that the reality is that rapists are men like him.’ This sentence shows a gap in law, which makes it pretty much impossible (without use of a foreign object), for women to be convicted of rape. The law should read that anybody who has sexual intercourse with someone else, against the other persons will, has raped them. However, the law (at least, in the UK, where I live) says that
    1-(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
    (a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
    (b) B does not consent to the penetration, and
    (c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

    Meaning that only a man can commit rape. Which is wrong, and if you want equality (as I believe true feminism is aiming for), women should be able to be convicted of the crime as well.

    I apologise if I have offended anyone with my views, but I would be more than happy to clarify any and all points I’ve made if asked.

  25. Full disclosure first, I am a man who identifies as a feminist, I am a victim of rape and sexual abuse from 2 different prominent women in my life and I by no means believe in a patriarchy or in rape culture.

    As a feminist I believe in equality of the genders, I firmly believe we should be equal in all things. Sadly there are areas where men don’t have the same rights as women and there are areas where women don’t have the same rights as men.

    When it comes to the topic of the over sexualization of women in media and the objectification of women I pose the question of why are we not focusing on how both genders are open to this kind of portrayal in the media (I am a feminist after all, I tend to look at things equally from as many perspectives as possible.

    If the way people are portrayed in media is an issue then how is looking at just the female side of it supposed to fix the problem? Surely the whole problem should be addressed to be tackled effectively. Perhaps the angry responses that the author has had in the past are due to this, since men may feel attacked and discriminated against by not being considered or included in the search for a solution to this problem.

    If sexism is making assumptions and holding beliefs about someone based on gender then believing all men want to maintain control of women and plot to do so (the patriarchy) or that all men are so full of lust that the can hardly control themselves around women and are prone to just loose control and rape everything that moves then that thinking is very sexist.

    I acknowledge all women don’t hate/objectify/discriminate against all men just as all men don’t hate/objectify/discriminate against all women but some people on both sides do those things and people on both sides need to be dealt with. Focusing on one gender will never fix such a broad problem and believing that men saying it happens to them to are somehow trying to deflect the conversation away from women is actually redundant since the attempt is in my view trying to add to the conversation and perhaps together men and women can tackle this problem.

    Women as a whole have most of the influence over the children in society. Female gender roles have traditionally been the people who both raise and teach the children, men have traditionally been at work providing for a family he won’t get to enjoy watching grow up. Answer me this? If up until recently women have had almost the sole monopoly over the development of boys then when exactly do they get indoctrinated into the patriarchy? Childhood are a kids most formulation years and if females are the dominant authority in boys lives then wouldn’t it be fair to say boys grow up to try and make women happy as a way of seeking approval?

  26. I was involved in a rape. Pretty horrible to admit but I was. I was wasted and a girl who I was getting with last Halloween bought me to her house. We were with friends and they left to go to a party. We decided to stay and hook up. I remember her dragging me up the stairs and pointing me to her room. I was pretty out of it already. She comes in and tells me she wasn’t sure if we should or not. I started kissing her and she ended up touching up my body and pulling out my erect penis. She initiated foreplay with hands and mouth. I returned the favor and just stuck it in. After a few pumps I asked “Is this okay for you?” as it felt awkward. She replied “Does it matter?” I carried on like okay then…but then eventually assured her I wanted to pleasure her. We continued and she asked me “Can we stop mow?” and I was sick of the red, green, red green light so continued. I thought if I make her come shell be fine, like maybe she was bored etc. After a while something clicked she wasn’t okay with it. So I stopped, apologized, and said to her “That was like a minute right? Sorry that was too long to continue”. Then she replied “More like fifteen!”. And I was confused so said “You wanted sex right?” and she was like “No” too which i responded “Fuck off”. Then when it calmed down I just stuck it in foolishly saying “c,mon lets just carry on like before” and so on. After realising that was a mistake as she was upset and I was too I grabbed her arm etc to kiss her, calm her down and so on. I didnt realise it was a big deal till months later when I lost all my friends etc. I did like her, did respect her. I was just confuzed and wanted to impress her. I wasnt violent and since ive spoken to her about it. Lots of people. Im not a rapist but I was involved in a rape. Lots of people say it is or it isnt. But at the end of the day its amistake I find hard to live with. Since then ive helped a lot of women through rape, different types. But theres the fact men make mistakes by accident, and evil men abuse on purpose. I think me and many others are good people who have made mistakes to learn about sexuality. It does need to be addressed in an honest way, but the title “Rape” holds a stigma of evil and violence. We live in more modern non sexist times where as laws etc are fairer to when the word was initially used. We need an update, an honest one, and across the board.

  27. If men insist on being the more destructive of the genders, then it is their responsibility and theirs alone to change it. A friend of mine complained about how I keep blaming men for everything and I told him that men are the ones who must change the tarnished reputation of masculinity as it was several men over the years that have contributed to it

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