I’m never going to see the other side of rape culture, because I’m the type of person that nobody would suspect. I’m allowed to be around children with no questions asked. I’ve never noticed anyone trying to avoid me on the street or clutch their purse closer to their bodies when I walk by. I’ve not been assumed to be the aggressor in any fight. In fact, instead others have leaped to my defense.
One of the insidious things that rape culture does is, once it has us frightened enough that we will be raped that we plan our lives according to relative risk, take responsibility to “avoid being raped” so that we retain our “purity”, and feel shame in being a victim; someone waltzes in and uses that fear and anger to pit us against one another.
This includes the unspeakable history of executing black men given flimsy or non-existent evidence for raping white women; the specter of which still aids rape culture in the modern day and has not actually completely ended. Poor black men are thrown in jail in alarming numbers within a bias justice system, while any suffering that they endure is made into jokes openly stating that any man in prison deserves to be raped.
This includes the conflation of gay men with pedophiles and homosexuality with sickness, sexual aggression and sin; and same-sex intimate relationships being criminal, while at the same time opposite-sex marriages coming with a license to rape.
This includes painting trans women as autogynophilic, delusional, predatory, sexually-confused rapists; and the violent push-back against allowing trans women into women’s bathrooms due to fear of rape, while at the same time denying trans women access to shelters and counseling when they are abused and raped.
All of that – is rape culture.
But if a person is powerful and popular, apparently in this society, that person can make a habit of raping children, and a significant portion of a college campus population will riot in defense of his enablers. In this society a couple boys can use a passed out girl as a party favor and a sex toy and a toilet, and she’s called a slut.
That’s what we’re up against, and if we allow kyriarchal forces to use the fear of rape to demonize marginalized groups, we aren’t fighting rape culture, instead we are doing its bidding.
When someone I know and often work with in activism, was accused of rape, I was taken aback. Someone sent me the original allegation through direct message without telling me who was making it. This is what the message said:
I have something to say. I dated [redacted] IRL last year. She raped me, emotionally abused me, and tore apart my support network. I am terrified of her. She scares me. And now she is harming others without any indication of remorse or hesitation.
I am saying this now because she is going on other social media and harming people. She is posting personal info (like addresses) of people online and this is to cause harm to the person.
That’s the kind of monster she is. Please be wary of her. How you act after reading this is up to you, but please do not let your guard down around her, because she is predatory and has no qualms about hurting people.
The activist, that was accused, was dealing with a mild controversy at the time because she published the address of a journalist who outed a trans woman who committed suicide. Other activists thought that doing so was out-of-bounds, so there was some conflict. It simply didn’t compute, in my mind, that such a controversy would prompt making public the allegation. To be really frank, on the outset, it seemed oddly opportunistic and (without context) dishonest. The two issues seemed barely related and to use that as an example of someone being “a monster” just seemed weird. So I was incredulous, but still concerned.
Then I found out who the person was who made the allegation. It was someone who had stalked an acquaintance of mine and targeted that person with rumors of sexual misconduct. I had also previously been warned about the claimant by people I trusted. Obviously, that made me even less inclined to believe that she was being completely truthful.
But in the end, I had no direct knowledge to make any strong conclusions. I did not know the accused well. I only knew the claimant by reputation. I resigned myself to try to stay out of it. I tried to avoid personally doing anything that I could not live with if I happen to be wrong.
The claimant enlisted a fellow activist, with many followers on twitter, to mount a campaign against the accused. The accused lashed out in her defense and became suicidal. The person making the claim wrote extremely emotionally charged messages on her twitter.
At some point, someone essentially asked me, “If it were a cis man that was accused, would you still disbelieve?” Another person asked me a similar question, “If it were a cis woman that was accused, would you defend her?”
To be honest, I was offended by these questions. I like to think that I’m a logical person and that I was taking a pragmatic approach to a really vile situation. I felt like these questions were manipulative since I was trying desperately to stay out of it. However, they were the right questions to ask. Imaging a situation with all else being equal, but the people involved being members of a different demographic group, is a way of testing one’s own prejudices.
However, in this case, I didn’t have to do much imagining. A few months prior, someone in the skeptic community was accused of rape. That person was a rich white cisgender man that writes books and gets paid to do talks.
So, here it is: a tale of two accusations.
There were many things that were similar. People chose sides, almost invariably based on existing political or social divides and loyalties, as well as who they most easily identified with. Both situations got nasty.
However, the rich cisgender man received the following advantages that the trans woman did not:
- Intense repeated tropic rape apologia. Such as:
- If she didn’t go to the police, she is lying.
- Drunk sex isn’t rape. She just regretted it.
- If a court of law hasn’t convinced the person of rape, we are morally obligated to believe she is lying.
- If the story is true, it was her fault for drinking too much in the first place.
- The people who believed that the accusations were most likely true, generally avoided actually saying that they were true. With very few exceptions, nobody called the accused “a rapist” and used terms like “most likely” “plausibly” “accused” etc. Very few engaged the accused directly. They did not want to be seen as making accusations they could not be 100% certain of.
- The claimant remained anonymous to avoid retaliation.
- The claimant simply made the claim, and did not engage with the situation otherwise.
- Several writers and associates of the accused came to his defense emphatically, accusing those making and presenting the claims as being irresponsible and libelous. One supporting video crassly made fun of the accusation, with the person making the video casually refusing a refill of his wine glass. (Because blaming women for getting too drunk to fight back a rapist is HILARIOUS.)
- A legal fund was set up for the accused.
- It was generally considered socially unacceptable to attempt to directly punish the accused.
- The accused had the resources to hire a lawyer, and was essentially told not to discuss the matter, so was never placed in a position of having to actually defend himself directly.
- Those who attempted to remain neutral were attacked for supposedly siding with the claimant.
When the trans woman (who happens to be autistic) was accused – none of this rape apologia or privilege was at her disposal. Not only did she not enjoy those advantages, but she had to contend with disadvantages as well.
- Those who didn’t believe the accusations, or pointed out evidence that the claimant may be lying, were often accused of rape apologia.
- The accused was routinely called an “abuser” and “rapist” with no qualifiers pointing to the uncertainty of that claim. These things were said to the accused directly and persistently.
- The claimant actively pushed others to retaliate against the accused.
- Discussing the claimant’s reputation (which was known prior to the claim being made) of making false claims of sexual misconduct, attempting to destroy other’s social support networks and mercilessly stalking others was dismissed as “able-ism” because the word “sociopath” was used to describe it. (Her former targets remain frightened of her and were hesitant to publicly discuss their experiences. “Her” being the person making the accusation.)
- Most of the people who were not convinced of the claim, were careful to avoid seeming as though they were dismissing the claim out-right. In an effort to not appear to dismiss a rape claim, they were hesitant to publicly support the accused even though they thought the claim was likely false.
- The accused has no money or friends with resources to fund a legal remedy.
- Those who believe the claimant are continuing to socially isolate the accused by pushing her out of various social forums and online communities. Punishing her, for some, is considered a duty.
- The accused was left largely to defend herself, with no legal counsel, while battling acute emotional distress.
- Those attempting to remain neutral were attacked for supposedly siding with the accused.
Oh – and at about the same time – a cis woman activists, in similar social circles, was accused of sexually harassing a trans woman, apologized for it, recanted that apology and then explained that she was the one being abused by that person. It didn’t cause much of a public fuss. (Let that sink in.)
If you are reading this and think that I’m attempting to make this all cut-and-dry, or that I’m making claims of knowing things I simply cannot know.
I’m trying to say, boldly and directly, that these issues are NOT cut-and-dry. Situations are individual and we need to treat them individually. The way that rape culture poisons our ability to seek justice is that it insidiously prejudices us in multi-faceted ways.
Simplistic sloganeering, not only rejects intersectionality, but sets up ridiculous ideological precedents ripe for exploitation. Please do not allow cries for justice to be fashioned into tools of hatred and fear.
The other side of rape culture, is still rape culture.