Addressing Rape Culture: Power, Privilege, and Patriarchy
Last week, my campus hosted an event with Zerlina Maxwell, a political activist. Zerlina’s presentation focused on rape culture, and some of her work in this area. While much of the presentation was meant to explain what rape culture is and give countless examples on how the media, in particular, perpetuates this concept, Zerlina also explained her ideas on solutions to this problem.
The solution, she says, is to end the emphasis on teaching women to protecting themselves (as useful as this can be to some) and to shift the goal of this movement to teaching men not to rape. 99% of rapists are men, and yet, “rape prevention” is usually a concept taught to women. This really fails to be an actual solution to the problem. Prevention needs to be shifted to the perpetrator and not the victim/survivor.
Zerlina was featured on FOX News and received a lot of criticism for saying that we should teach men not to rape. The idea is seemingly too simplistic, no? Fact of the matter is that rape is a socialized norm and young boys are quite literally taught to act in ways that can lead to sexual assaults and other means of violence against women. The solution is clear—reconstruct the socialization of boys in order to create better men.
Zerlina wrote an article following her interview with FOX News because she received so much negative attention (including rape threats).
1. Teach young men about legal consent: Legal consent is number one for a reason. Without it, sexual contact with someone is rape whether you intended to rape or not. A woman who is drunk, unconscious, sleeping cannot give legal consent. And it’s not about a woman simply saying “no,” it’s really about making certain she’s saying yes.
2. Teach young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure: There is a reason why women are shamed into silence and teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio are caught on camera laughing about gang raping an unconscious girl at a party. The dehumanization of women spans all areas of American life.
3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity: The question that’s being asked about what women can do to prevent violence against them is the wrong question. It’s not what can a woman say or do that can prevent being attacked. We need to turn that paradigm.
4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim: The vast majority of women do not report their rapes to the police and many more only tell one or two people in confidence.
5. Teach young men about bystander intervention: Both Men Stopping Violence and Men Can Stop Rape have bystander intervention workshops for men of all ages. “It’s about community accountability,” says Pandit, “We require men to talk to other men in their lives and tell them about these programs. It is important that we have community networks that hold men accountable.”
Her article is much more detailed, and you can check the source above for the full explanation. She outlines some really important ideas that could greatly reduce sexual assaults committed by men. These ideas are not far-fetched. They’re entirely possible, and work is being done in this area across the country. New programs are being developed to focus on socializing young men and boys to be better men. Bystander intervention training is also being done so that men can learn to identify problematic situations and make choices that prevent sexual assaults.
Zerlina was highly criticized for saying that women shouldn’t need guns to protect themselves from sexual assault and while she’s not suggesting women shouldn’t have a means to defend their bodies, she’s saying this should not be the primary focus when dealing with sexual assault prevention. Fighting back is not prevention, it’s intervention. It may deter a crime but the problem still remains that men are attempting sexual assaults in very high numbers, regardless of the victim/survivor’s ability to defend themselves. The problem lies with hypermasculinity and the culture we live in that often sympathizes with the attacker—especially if they are young. (Case in point: Steubenville)
We need to shift this focus to bring change. We need to stop telling women to defend themselves and start telling men that consent matters. A large number of studies have shown that most men don’t even know that the crimes they have committed against women are, in fact, sexual assaults. This is a huge problem, and it needs to be addressed. Educating young boys about consent is Zerlina’s first suggestion as a solution to this problem, and I fully agree that it is of the upmost importance.