Let’s Talk About Rape, Man to Man

I spent the June bank holiday weekend in Kerry with my family. It was idyllic like you’d imagine but weird too, in the unexplainable way families always are onto themselves. I got to spend quality time with my nearly year old nephew Sean. I had emigrated when he was born so it was nice to spend time with him, to literally catch up. A highlight from the weekend was getting to watch my two year old niece Elsie, his older sister, try mussels for the first time and her, against the odds of the table, loving them and finishing the majority of my portion. I left hungry for Kerry and for my mussels but entirely satisfied with my niece. And then you plug back into the world…

This letter the Stanford rape victim read to her rapist, and to the court which gave him a farcical sentence, left me bewildered and frustrated and angry. There I was, a Feminist, in my righteous indignation.

Brock Turner - HeadStuff.org
Stanford rapist Brock Turner, image source

I met the patriarchy once. There were four of them. Four men drinking beers at night in a playground. There was a fat one, a ginger one, and one of them was from Arizona. Conversation was polite and introductory seeing as all four were relatively unknown to one another and had been newly recruited to teach English in rural Japan. “Oh yes, I studied Japanese in college.” “Arizona has a dank craft beer scene.” “Autumn is supposed to be particularly beautiful.” Like so the exchange laboured on, until, ushered by the beer and the ungodly humidity, a common ground was struck upon.

I met the patriarchy once. There were four of them. Four men drinking beers at night in a playground.

The particularly gnarly drill bit which loosed the torrent went something along the lines of “There are three things wrong with the liberal arts in contemporary academia; African American Studies, Queer Studies, and Feminism.” What followed can only be described as a massacre. A massacre of reason, of empathy, of the most basic human decency. This bigotry was so robust and fully formed that it carried itself, without lull or stilt, for well over an hour. After an uncomfortable amount of time it did tire and spiral, straight into the world of online gaming, and eventually it abstracted itself into talk of popular culture, films, books, TV, and the conversation continued as seemingly harmless as it had begun.

I did not contribute. I waited. I judged. I checked the time table for my train. I excused myself. I left. I was outraged and purple with indignation. And up until tonight I was righteous. But now I see I’m the fourth man. The silent one. Who let the others away with it.

Rape culture - HeadStuff.org
Image source

I came back to the letter and I came back to exasperation. From women who’ve heard this same story too many times. From women who’ve lived this story. From women who live in fear of their potential role as the protagonist. There was exasperation, from me, from everyone, and then there was a challenge. Like the best of the tempestarii before her, Sarah Maria Griffin has been able to bottle lightning. And she called me out on my silence. I’m here, writing this, because she’s right. Right about men. Right about our “deafening silence.” It is time to speak.

I excused myself. I left. I was outraged and purple with indignation. And up until tonight I was righteous. But now I see I’m the fourth man. The silent one. Who let the others away with it.

The gargantuan effort of the Yes campaign in the Marriage Equality referendum led to interesting observations about the divisions of opinion in our society and to even more dynamic attempts to connect those seemingly distant rifts. “The Awkward Conversation” became apparent and necessary. It was something that needed to happen. With Grannies and Uncles, Aunties and Brothers, Sisters and Fathers. Conversations needed to be had with those we hold dearest, those we wished least of all to hurt or affront but nonetheless those who we felt were in the wrong. And those conversations happened. And after great labour significant progress was made thanks, in part, to them.

The lesson from all of this is simple. We need to talk about this. Man to man, we need to talk.

As far as I’m concerned today is the beginning of the rest of my Feminism. This piece is a part of the conversation that we, men, need to be having. We need to be able to call each other out when we’re in the wrong and applaud righteous action, action such as listening, and actively become a positive factor in the conversations that women have been having for all of their lives. Conversations about rape.

Rape culture - HeadStuff.org
Image source

Feminism will always be an academic exercise for me. I live in a patriarchy but I’m a man so I don’t have to live with sexism. My Feminism will never be rooted in lived experience, in fear or dread, it will never be a necessary survival technique, it will always be a third nature. Something I’ve to check in with to make sure I’m in alignment with. Instinctual empathy will always be my true friend in this. This isn’t something I can change. Hopefully with practice it will become easier, more automatic. Practice here is the key word. My Silence being the antithesis.

I’m here, writing this, because she’s right. Right about men. Right about our “deafening silence.” It is time to speak.

I’m in a group chat. We’re all old friends, all men. You know the one. Amidst planning the nights out, the relentless teasing and jeering, there are stories of sexual misadventure, links are forwarded which lead to lewd content, almost always of a sexual nature. I don’t think I see anything wrong with this, not in the abstract anyway. But this is not abstract. Not anymore. It never has been. Not when the sexual subjugation of women in our humour enables, if not readily aids, rape.

More recently in a car with a family member driving, who looked sideways at a woman as we passed by and beeped. The road was empty of cars except our own and other pedestrians. There were only the three of us there, two of us in the car. No one spoke.

It’s not funny. It never has been. I feel shame for having contributed with my silence. I’m hopeful, determined, to be the one who calls it out from now on. The one who starts the conversation.

Woman road - HeadStuff.org
Image source

At the risk of generalising I’d posit that every woman who has ever been raped had a man in her life, a Father or a Brother, Uncle, Boyfriend, Friend, who’d have given anything to be there, to stop it from happening. But they weren’t there. And that’s not where the difference is going to be made. Rape culture is too prolific, too insidious, for that to be the case.

Hopefully with practice my Feminism will become easier, more automatic. Practice here is the key word. My Silence being the antithesis.

The difference is going to be made in dismantling the hegemonic acceptance of women as sex-objects. The difference is going to be made down the pub when you refuse to laugh. The difference is going to be made when you call your friend up on his casual sexism. When you say “leave it out.” or “that’s not funny.” The difference is made when you define yourself, your masculinity, though more than a binary opposition reliant on the decaying, emotionally crippling, power structure of Man Vs Woman.

My niece Elsie is going to grow up to be a fantastic woman. I know this because she’s already an incredible person who likes to colour outside the lines and eat shellfish. I’ve spoken with Sean but the conversations have been somewhat one-sided; he’s only got the syllable “da” and an unsettlingly accurate tyrannosaurus rex impression. I’ll have to talk to other men about these things while he catches up with the lingo. Better yet, I’ll learn to act the part so that when he grows up and we’re ready to have this conversation he’ll already know what I mean.

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