New Internationalist

Responsibility for rape is a male issue

2013-08-27-women-590.jpg [Related Image]
Creative protest Devon Buchanan under a Creative Commons Licence

I am a feminist – and male. Thankfully, a few of us do exist. Yet the idea of a ‘male feminist’ still seems to confuse many men. Indeed, after my blog post exposing a sexist pub quiz went viral last month, I received many tweets and comments from men who seemed not just confused by the term, but also angered that a man would identify as a feminist.

Our society has created, and maintains, an atmosphere in which men are placed above women. Sexual harassment, violence and rape have been normalized and, because of this, the crimes themselves are committed more often. I believe that, in order to complement the current fight by women against misogyny and patriarchy, and to rid society of violence against women, all men need to realize that they too have a responsibility in changing this atmosphere.

From an early age, boys are given mixed messages regarding what is acceptable and what is not. Teachers, for example, are more likely to condone boys’ misbehaviour than girls’; after all, ‘boys will be boys’. The boys may be punished, but their behaviour is still regarded as something to be expected. This attitude develops throughout childhood: misbehaving becomes a ‘badge of honour’ and a way to impress other boys.

It is within this context that sexism, misogyny and jokes that normalize sexual violence appear as the boys grow up. Male bonding is made easier through the creation of an ‘other’: the sexualized, stereotyped female. When a woman questions this, the result is further sexism, rape threats, even bomb threats.

When women are portrayed as objects of male gratification, men are more likely to accept sexual harassment and everyday sexism against women. The National Union of Students (NUS) has published two independent reports (2010, 2012) showing how sexism and the normalization of rape through male bonding and ‘banter’ in British universities have encouraged sexual violence against women.

A man who tells a sexist joke to gain approval from his male buddies may not want to encourage sexual violence, but he is helping to create an atmosphere which does encourage such actions.

Longer jail-terms and more convictions for perpetrators of sexual violence are important, but they will not solve the problem in the long term on their own. All of us must challenge the way men behave towards and speak about women. Some men do this, but most do not. Silence becomes complicity.

When individuals in one group (in this case, women) face daily harassment and potentially dangerous situations because of the behaviour of another group (men), arguments of free speech are no longer valid. No-one would, or should, argue that racism in the southern states of the US after the American Civil War was an issue of free speech; neither is today’s atmosphere of sexism an issue of free speech.

This is an issue of collective responsibility, and all men are responsible for stopping the perpetuation of these crimes in society.

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  1. #1 ged 29 Aug 13

    Sexist pub quiz? Link please, to video or report on it. Afraid I missed the original report of it.

    I'm a feminist male too. I was raised with 3 older role models who were, and remain, constant in my life. A mother and 2 sisters. By the time my oldest sister left school to start work, I was still in short trousers and awaiting puberty to arrive. My other sister had left home by then also, so I was entirely dominated by female role elders.

    There are stark differences between the idea of equality between sexes and the roles and manner of bonding between sexes. These were not decided for us or dictated to us, these arrived over millennia and have left a massive imprint.
    I have recently heard, from professionals, who were leading groups at the time, that verbal communication is, variously 7% and 30% of all communication. In a close relationship where sex may happen, stopping and asking ’is this OK?’ ’is it OK if...’ every five seconds is most likely to be a massive turn off for many. I suppose in this modern enlightened age we could always tweet one another and arrange it in the calendar: '20:35 - cocktails and light chatter; 20:55 - stand and move towards the kitchen (adjacent to the bedroom door); 21:05 touch her shoulder; 21:15 manoeuvre her into the bedroom.[N.B. please add, edit or delete any part of the above arrangement to your satisfaction and return it for my perusal.]

    Or, we could get a bit more real about it.

    Rape is a crime. If someone is forcing sexual penetration on another and ignoring their demands to refuse this, then the full weight of the law should come into play. If, on the other hand, there is a game afoot and one or more parties are aware of the game, how it is played and any consequences of that game which may arise, and they remain (accepting they have no option to leave, which brings another crime sector into the equation), then is it really a unilateral blame situation?

    There is a limit to all culpability and responsibility and there is also a shared limit and responsibility, even if it is 100:0% balance, or entirely one sided on the odd occasion.

    A rapist who leaps onto a stranger and inflicts harm, control, fear and assault is 100% at fault. Once there has been some interaction that 100 can (and I repeat here - 'CAN') reduce.

    I'll give an actual situation which I found myself in. I met a woman via dating site and agreed she visited me. She did, we got on fine and we continued to chat online. Another day she arranged at short notice to come again. She openly invited me for sex, and was very eager for it. She said so openly and very candidly, which I was fine with. For various reasons I gently declined and it didn't happen.
    OK. Had I accepted her invitation and she changed her mind at the moment of penetration, would I STILL be 100% to blame if I thrust that extra bit?

    It didn't happen in this case above, and I was the one who declined, but it has happened other times, and I did accept the change of heart, but I was sober and it was very frustrating and I was very aware that a game was being played, later accepted as such by the woman who played the game.

    To simplify these things is never easy. To make such bold, sweeping, narrow and definitive statements, as if one is a god or something, is never accurate. Reality has far too many variables to allow this to be easily defined.

  2. #2 Rod Van Mechelen 29 Aug 13

    The author must not live in the US, because women were elevated above men socially, legally and economically above the vast majority of men in America more than 20 years ago, all the lies to the contrary notwithstanding. Moreover, when I grew up in the years preceding 2nd wave feminism, men received zero mixed messages about women: you treated them like a lady, never forced yourself on a woman, and hoped and prayed for the chance to play the hero by ’rescuing a damsel in distress.’ You can thank the feminists for the death of chivalry. Still, it's ironic that another way to say that responsibility for rape is a male issue, is that only males are responsible; the corollary to which is that women are irresponsible, and you will never hear me make such a sexist assertion. But then, as far as feminists are concerned, as publisher of The Backlash! I em the embodiment of sexism merely for existing.

  3. #3 Cynthia Stephen 30 Aug 13

    Dear Mathew,

    Thanks for stating what should have been obvious, but is not, due to the patriarchy infused into our entire worldview. We women welcome your brave but quite-unpopular-with men worldview. Welcome to the world of the awakened humans, as we seek to combat the rapid degeneration of the quality of human interactions in daily life.

  4. #4 Alka 30 Aug 13

    Well presented views by a sensitive ’male feminist’ who has guts to shove away the burden of belonging to the horde. Congrats!! Society needs many more of such kind. Regards

  5. #5 Catherine Rodgers 31 Aug 13

    Thank you Matthew for helping society move forward, I really appreciate it. To ged, the ’game’ I think you are referring to comes about because women are called disgusting names and practically hated for enjoying sex, so of course our gender is hesitant sometimes, when society starts enjoying women and their sexuality then this game will go away. Of course a person can change their mind at the moment of penetration, if a dildo was being used I am sure you would agree, it's the same thing. And to Rod, I live in the US and the men here all think they are superior to women, things started to get better about 40 years ago, but no way are women elevated above men. Practically every conversation I have with a man, he sizing me up for sex, and the lowliest bum on the street thinks he better than Hillary Clinton for christ's sake. Thanks again Matthew!

  6. #7 Cecile 06 Sep 13

    ’No-one would, or should, argue that racism in the southern states of the US after the American Civil War was an issue of free speech; neither is today’s atmosphere of sexism an issue of free speech’

    Actually - I hate to break it you, but the very same argument defending racist free speech and expression is made to this very day.

  7. #8 Harshit 09 Sep 13

    I agree with you that at the bottom of this is the sick mentality of men of the male dominant society, more or less, dominant in India.
    I think this is a fact now, but the point is how to get rid of it and what can be done to do so.
    ’No difference on the basis of sex’ could be one prime objective of the present education system. But, then again, one would have to choose whether to give women the rights over men as privileges just because they are women OR to award em with true respect and dignity and entrust em to be equally capable and human as any other member of this society.
    And if stating something which you find just and having an opinion not favouring or favouring a sex makes you a feminist in our society, then, so am I.

  8. #9 LINEEKELA 25 Apr 16


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About the author

Matthew Vickery a New Internationalist contributor

Matthew Vickery is a political activist, former journalist in the West Bank, and freelance writer who specializes in issues regarding the Middle East, human rights, and feminism. He can be contacted via twitter: @mmvickery

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