In South Africa, the continuous occurrences of rape and sexual assaults are impossible to ignore. And yet you barely see people discussing this problem head on (unless you have these discussions with people you know personally, as I often do). When rape is spoken about, it is always in a manner that I disagree very strongly with. In SA, it is usually in a way that makes it seem like it only happens to a specific type of person, by a specifically monstrous being that couldn’t possibly have human qualities and, of course, the discourse involves blaming the victim for their own assault.
I have to link this to my own politics, feminism (and consequentially, patriarchy) because without this, I don’t have a full-grasp on how people can be tolerant of systems that hurt vulnerable groups in our country. You can’t begin to look at the circumstances of rape and the resulting dialogues around it without looking at the society in which it occurs. Unpopular opinion: our society does not regard women on the same level as men. Looking at this, I immediately understood why the majority of sexual violence victims are women. We (and by we, I include myself, and you dear reader) trivialize a brutal form of assault because it’s happening to people we don’t regard as important.
Don’t gasp. You may not think you trivialize it, but you probably do.
Rape culture is:
** My friends walking out of a difficult exam and saying that it “raped them”.
** My mother telling me about the possible sexual assault of a family friend’s daughter and asking me, “but what was she wearing?”
** Dudes saying, “I’m not paying R500 for a date if she isn’t gonna fuck.”
** Countless people not being aware that they’ve been assaulted because we make it seem as though men can do whatever they want to whomever they want and something must be wrong with YOU if you don’t want it.
** The “he doesn’t look like a rapist” or “but he’s such a nice guy” commentary. First, what on earth does a rapist look like? Do they have horns and a nametag? Second, of course they seem like nice guys. They’re human. They can also “seem” heroic, funny, romantic…? A nice rapist is still a rapist.
** People wanting you to take your assault like a hero, to forgive a person who hurt you like no one could, or else your words mean nothing because they’re dripping with anger.
** The joke “If you rape a sex worker is it rape or stealing?”
** Entitled men thinking it’s alright to touch and treat you as they please, even in the street as you walk.
** Women having to consider their outfits before leaving the house i.e. check if they’re showing “too much” skin because if anything happens to them, they’ll be blamed for dressing too provocatively and therefore having brought the assault upon themselves.
** A man being raped being thought of as less than a man because it somehow “doesn’t count” as rape when the victim is male; he’s just supposed to always want it. Or worse, because he’s supposed to be “manly” enough to defend himself against the rapist.
** People not being aware that most victims know their rapists. It’s not some creepy man in a dark alley.
** The phrase “Real men don’t rape.” So who are these people being raped by? Ghosts? Human beings rape, not “monsters”.
** People wanting “to hear both sides of the story” REGARDLESS of the fact that very few rape accusations are fabricated when compared to those that are left unreported.
** A conversation overheard where a woman was telling another, “Just give him what he wants. You know how men are.”
** ‘Corrective’ rape being considered okay because the victim is lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or intersex.
** People making light of someone else’s rape because that person is open about their sex life.
** Grown men sleeping with underage girls and saying “but she wanted it”.
** The highest position in our country being held by a man who was accused of rape and during that trial the focal point being the victim’s sexual history. And that being okay.
** The joke “don’t drop the soap” and “get some Vaseline” when referring to men in jail.
** Plenty of people not knowing that even if you’re dating or are married to your rapist, it is still rape if you did not consent to it.
** People asking me why I even cared about fighting for justice for rape survivors: “but you haven’t been raped before, why do you care?”
** Me asking a male friend to keep an eye on me because I become hyper when I drink and him deciding that what I meant by this was “rape me while I’m drunk.”
** Me denying the title “rape survivor” because I wasn’t even aware that it was rape until I told a friend of mine.
** Me telling an ex that I had been raped and him asking, “Are you sure? You flirt a lot when you drink.”
** Me not having admitted much of this to anyone because I feared being shamed.
Out of all the points I’ve expressed, the one that gets to me the most, that many don’t seem to consider in between all their slut-shaming, victim-blaming ways, is that they have made the basic assumption that men are incapable of rational thinking.
Why are we condoning things with “that’s just how men are”? No. That is not how men are. That is how callous, entitled human beings with no consideration for the consent of others are. Men are capable of cognitive thinking and empathy. Men are capable of controlling their sexual urges. Men should not see a woman dressed as she pleases and immediately rationalise that forcing himself on her is okay. Her clothing is not invitation or consent. Consent is consent. Men’s innate programming is not stuck on “rapist”. Rape culture doesn’t only hurt women; men are hurt in it too. Why are we allowing our boys to all be assumed to be potential rapists? We need to do better. We need to get to a point where we’re able to be comfortable around men without worrying that they’ll harm us. By teaching them that they are not entitled to women’s conversation, time, body we’ll be able to work towards a society without men who hurt others when they feel rejected or unwanted. This feminism is an act of love.
We need to be teaching our boys about this. We can’t keep speaking of “be a man” and “a REAL man protects his mother/ sister/ daughter” without looking at the roots.
Playing down rape doesn’t just mean that you literally do not care about it; it means you aid the systems of thinking that do not care about violence towards women. Let’s change this. Let’s educate ourselves. It should not be okay that people are being violated and you’re going on with your life, fuelling the culture that makes their violation okay and more difficult for them to get justice for. Why is it okay that rape is a form of violence that results in the victim being questioned rather than the assailant? We need to tackle this.
I wrote this because I’m angry. I’m angry not only at the lack of justice that victims are getting, but also at the fact that not much is being done to prevent this. We can’t keep pretending that rape is some phenomenon that we have no clue about. We are raised not to drink, not to provoke, not to dress as we please. The rapists? No one bothers to teach them not to rape. But by identifying this root, we can move toward eradicating the problem.
Boys and men hurt too and they should be allowed to express it in a way that is not aggressive.
We need to be teaching our boys about this. We can’t keep speaking of “be a man” and “a REAL man protects his mother/ sister/ daughter” without looking at the roots. These people being hurt are human. Boys and men hurt too and they should be allowed to express it in a way that is not aggressive. We can’t keep condoning that men are violent as a way to “deal” with their problems without offering them a healthy way to express this hurt. We can’t keep identifying these hurt people as “mother, sister, daughter” as if the mere fact that they’re human isn’t good enough to keep them safe. These hurt people are human. We’re all being hurt and we need to address this practically.
So practically, how do we get the problem resolved? Definitely not by fuelling rape culture. Definitely not by refusing to educate ourselves about the realness of this crime. Definitely not by teaching children that abstinence or condoms are the only important points within sexual discussions but never teaching them about consent. Why are so few people talking about consent when they speak of rape culture? How are we to look at the problem of rape when so many people aren’t even aware of what the concept of consent is? Let’s start teaching girls that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Let’s start teaching boys, not only that “no means no” (because they clearly aren’t hearing this much), and that no does NOT mean “try harder”.
See, some of those statements aren’t things that I knew when I started having sex. We can’t expect miracles when so many people have no clue about this. When so many people probably don’t even know that they’ve violated others and others aren’t aware that what’s been done to them is a crime.
Let’s teach our peers, our cousins and completely random strangers. Let’s work on changing the stats rather than just reporting them. I am a part of an initiative that’s trying to educate people about this. And if you’re interested in joining forces, exchanging ideas, moving forward together, contact me. Let’s keep this conversation going. We shouldn’t have to be abused into silence.