1. Talk about it with a view to promoting change
Rape culture is real. When we talk about it, we should be asking questions, not perpetuating myths or stereotyping victims. Our patriarchal society's double standards and the Madonna/Whore dichotomy perpetuate the idea that if a woman goes out in a miniskirt and gets drunk, she's asking for it. No, she's not, but vulnerable people are more likely to be targeted. To be honest, it doesn't matter what you're wearing at the time, if a rapist thinks you can't or won't fight back, he's got you. It's not about being physically attractive, it's about being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the man you thought wouldn't do that.
2. Challenge the notions
Read this post from Badass Digest. Unlike the appalling Todd "Legitimate rape" Akin, he's done some research and got some experience on the subject, so he knows what he's on about.
LET'S SAY HULK TOLD YOU "HEY, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO GO INTO THAT DANGEROUS PART OF TOWN. IT'S POSSIBLY UNSAFE!" NOW. THAT MIGHT BE REASONABLE ADVICE FOR YOUR IMMEDIATE WELL-BEING, RIGHT? BUT IF YOU TAKE THAT LOGIC ONE STEP FURTHER AND HULK SAID "THE PROBLEM WITH CRIME IN THIS NATION IS THAT WHITE PEOPLE ARE GOING INTO DANGEROUS PARTS OF TOWN!" WELL, UHHHHH, THAT WOULD NOT ONLY COME ACROSS AS REALLY PROBLEMATIC, BUT IT WOULDN'T REALLY BE A SOLUTION EITHER, RIGHT? FOR STARTERS, IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY ADDRESS ANYTHING ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL INTERACTION AND JUST PROMOTES AVOIDANCE. AND IT CERTAINLY DOESN'T FIX ANYTHING. IN FACT, IT ACTUALLY SERVES TO PERVERT THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE ON THIS ISSUE ALONG RACIAL AND CLASS LINES. IT INSTANTLY TURNS "THE OTHER" INTO THE BAD GUY. HECK, IT'S NOT EVEN A BAND-AID SOLUTION, IT'S ACTUALLY A DEEPLY AMORAL BID FOR SEGREGATION... SEE HOW QUICKLY THAT ESCALATES? SEE HOW REASONABLE ADVICE FOR AN INDIVIDUAL BECOMES PERVERTED WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT IN A LARGER CONTEXT?
This is the Madonna/Whore dichotomy played out along racial lines. I advocate personal vigilance because creeps will be creeps but that's not going to solve the problem; if someone breaks into your home and wants to jump you, what then? It does happen. What advice would you give that poor soul? Live in a cheaper flat?
The patriarchal construct of the Virile Male for whom Whores are provided to slake his sexual thirst and Madonnas to bear his children when he's stopped sowing his wild oats is the actual problem, not whether we're being careful enough to protect ourselves from them. And, let's face it, the moment we report rape, we run the risk of being sorted into either of those two categories. This needs to stop. There is no Good or Bad woman, there is only woman. Whether we are sexually active or not should not have any bearing on the case; if someone decides to treat you like a fairground ride, it's rape, whether he leaves you requiring surgical reconstruction or not.
While personal vigilance is necessary for the moment, we should also be working to change male attitudes.
Many of the preventative measures I've mentioned so far put the onus on the potential victim to protect herself. Well, while we're waiting for male attitudes to change, who else is going to protect us? Well the good news is, there is such a thing as a decent guy. I wouldn't rely on one showing up, of course, but we do need to encourage more men to adopt appropriate, protective attitudes towards women. Drug-spotting nail polish is all well and good (and highly recommended) but it shouldn't be necessary. Men should behave well in the first place and demand that their brothers do, too.
How can a man help?
- Say, "Are you alright?" if you see a woman who looks uncomfortable with another man. Be willing to stand your ground and help her out if the situation turns nasty
- Say, "That's not funny" or "That's not true" if you hear an off-colour joke or remark about rape. Be ready to argue the point
- Listen to "No." If you want to help a woman but she doesn't want to accept it, leave her. She'll be fine.
- Accept that you're not entitled to sex even if you spent a lot of money on her. If she wants to come across for you, that's up to her, but she doesn't owe it to you
- If you're hot and she's not, and you're sharing a bed, get out of the bed till you've got your head right. Pushing it till she reluctantly consents just so she can sleep is rape because she doesn't want it
- Never use derogatory terms when speaking of women; "tail," "piece of ass" or "bit of skirt" reduce us to our body parts and it's no way to think of us. It's one thing to call Sandra a muppet because she locked her keys in the house, it's another to think of her purely as a talking sex toy. Don't do that
- Don't be dismissive if a woman complains about your attitude; change it
- If a woman seems uncomfortable around you, take a few steps back to give her space
4. Be a real man
The idea of the gentleman, the cultured, educated, generous and kind-hearted man who is deferential and respectful at all times is one I'd like to see perpetuated. The gentleman is so called because, above all, he is considerate of the needs of others, and is therefore gentle in his dealings with them. Real men are gentlemen who stand up for us, not boorish brutes who treat us like fairground rides. When you think of heroes, they may well "get the girl" but they don't force themselves on her. They intervene when they see wrongdoing and they stand up for what is right.
My husband is a real man. I work with real men every day, they're not some kind of artificial construct I'm trying to promote, nor is the idea new. All of the men in the office I work in are thoroughly decent, hardworking, and fun. I've never felt uncomfortable with any of them.
Think of women as you'd like other men to think of your mother or sister. They are someone else's sister or daughter, after all. Treat them with respect whether you think they deserve it or not because it's right. Stop thinking of sex as the be all and end all; being a man is about taking responsibility, not getting it on with as many women as you can. Life is not about getting laid, it's about what you can say about it when it's time to check out. Do you want to be thought of as a great role model or the creepy guy mothers warned their daughters about? A woman's body is her own. Ask her what she wants to do and be willing to accept that she might not want to play. Remember that, and you can't go wrong.