December 3rd, 2012

planet

how non-feminists can earn points by just being cool

So we had an interesting thread over in the spacefem feminism forum by a guy who felt like he was just suddenly surrounded by women who'd experienced stalking or sexual assault and he was really kinda 1) shocked by it and 2) suddenly realized what some of us feminists were talking about when we say there are systematic issues that need to be fixed. Feminists tend to talk about rape and violence against women as epidemics, not just a few isolated incidents that make the news when celebrities are involved. When you're in the movement and talking to women all the time, it's obvious. When you're not... maybe not as much.

I've heard this opinion from lots of non-feminists: that rape is awful, we should deal with rapists and punish them sure, but it doesn't mean we live in a "rape culture" or that the problem is entrenched in society and needs a movement to fix it. We just need to slap a few guys around.

Most of these self-proclaimed non-feminists have good intentions. They just don't see the problem. This has bothered me a few times in my life, but the more I think about it, the more I want to give them a little credit because they could have potential, they just need to see.

So here's the step I really want to make sure everyone takes, especially men: be in a place where you could be made aware of a problem.

The guy who posted in our forum was obviously someone whose female friends felt like they could come to him and talk about what had happened. That's actually a pretty big deal. One reason that women don't speak out is because they feel that they'll be marginalized or denied, it only takes one time. You'll be in a room of mixed friends and one person will make a rape joke. Or one girl will talk about a situation where she was assaulted, or maybe just threatened with assault, and someone will want her to shake it off. Maybe dress differently next time, don't be out that late at night alone, don't smile at the guy or lead him on, maybe you just misread him... etc etc etc. And suddenly every woman in the room knows who not to talk to if they ever feel unsafe. We know who the allies are, and we know who will shame us into hiding in the dark.

And too many women have these stories. In fact some have said that every woman has a story... about a time when she was violated, threatened with rape, maybe even raped, stalked, threatened, kept from living the life she wanted to live because she was female. Men don't have to hear about it. In fact sometimes, just because of that one party conversation, they won't hear about it, and can live their whole lives wondering why on earth we're so concerned about assault issues.

We love our all-out male feminists who sport the NOW t-shirts and walk by us at "take back the night" or hold signs at planned parenthood rallies, sure. But if you're not there, I will give you some points for just being a good listener and admitting that your experiences may be different from ours. That actually gives you some credit above a lot of the population, and puts you someplace on the feminist spectrum even if you're hesitant to label yourself a feminist. It's a big deal if the world has one more person who refuses to victim-blame, who listens with sensitivity, who doesn't marginalize assault. A big deal to us, educational for you, it's totally win-win.