There's been quite a firestorm online lately about rape and rape prevention, much of it sparked by Zerlina Maxwell going on TV and having the audacity to claim that instead of telling women how to avoid getting raped we should be teaching men not to rape. A radical idea, apparently. It has been, honestly, pretty terrifying to witness the backlash, how incredibly angry so many people got at her for saying something that should be common sense, even sending her rape threats. It is terrifying to see how many people seem to feel entitled to do what they wish with someone else's body. To make such threats so casually. To honestly believe that teaching men not to rape is "useless" or a "lost cause" (forgetting that we've already done a lot towards lowering the incidence of rape, though we clearly still have a long way to go).
My sister Criss wrote an excellent post on rape, rape culture, and misconceptions surrounding it (quoted below but do go read the whole thing. I can wait). Most people who balk at trying to "teach men not to rape" assume it's impossible because, well, you can't teach criminals who have no morals already! But there is so much that we take for granted or see as "normal" that is really not ok, and that's what we need to wake up to.
We're talking about the "nice guy" who tries for the third time tonight to rub his hands on his date's thigh, even though she has pushed his hand away every time and keeps inching away from him.
We're talking about the guy who tells himself she's just "playing hard to get" when she says no and pushes him away.
We're talking about the guy who thinks that because she didn't "affirmatively say no" (because she was too drunk to say anything), that's good enough and he can go ahead and have sex with her.
We're talking about the guy who looks at a girl who's passed out and thinks it's okay, that it's funny, to post photos and video of her online saying she's "so raped."
We're talking about the guy who thinks it's funny to make jokes about rape. And we're talking about all the guys who will jump in to defend that guy when he gets called out for saying, "Wouldn't it be funny if, like, five guys raped her right now?"
We're talking about explaining how all of these things create and perpetuate rape culture. How they excuse proto-rapist behavior. How they lead to rape scenarios, and to your bros encouraging you to act in rapey ways.
Looking back on my dating years, yeah I remember guys doing quite a few things that at the time I chalked up to just normal guy behavior and now cringe thinking of how rapey they were. And those were "nice guys", respectable guys, not creepy or mean or forceful but just had been socialized to think it's ok to keep trying to push things till you convince the girl to say yes. Some of them probably realized what they were doing, others may be just as horrified to look back and realize the sort of stuff they tried to pull.
I look at my two boys and I don't want them to ever try to pull that crap on someone. I don't want them to think it's ok for any of their friends to do so, either. I don't want therm to think rape jokes are funny, or acceptable in any way. These aren't things that will just magically happen by virtue of them being "nice guys"-- plenty of nice guys do horrid shit. They need to know how hurtful those things can be, how important things like consent are, how serious rape is and not to ever take it lightly. That will only happen by talking openly and specifically about this stuff. We need to have these conversations. That's part of how we teach people not to rape.
In reaction to all this, Maxwell wrote a post on 5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape. Go read that one, too. This is really important stuff, and we don't have to wait till kids are teens to talk about this, we can set the stage now with our young kids. Consent is a big thing in our household-- no means no whether that relates to giving/receiving a hug or a kiss or tickling or just wanting to have some space away from everyone else. There are exceptions, of course (sometimes I have to change a poopy diaper or give medicine despite most definitely not having their consent) but we try to follow that rule as much as possible, and try to be respectful and explain why for the exceptions. I try to respect their bodily autonomy and ask them to respect mine. I really think (hope) that this will help set a good foundation for those more serious talks down the road. I'm also trying to figure out how to talk about many of the images they see (like the magazine covers of nearly naked women prominently displayed in every store, sometimes right next to the childrens books) so they don't subconsciously absorb this idea of women as merely pretty/sexual objects to be looked at, or at least try to counteract those messages (anyone have ideas on this one?). I really feel these are things that need to be talked about, not just once or twice as Big Embarrassing Talks, but as an ongoing conversation that lasts all through growing up (and beyond). I think that's our best bet for making a true cultural shift.