I’m sure we’ve all heard it before – never read the comments. An interesting phenomenon occurs in the comments section of every article ever written on an issue close to feminism’s heart. This phenomenon is so intriguing that it even has its own Law. Lewis’s Law states that the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.
This past year has seen a handful of rape charges becoming public. Reading the comments of articles referencing these cases is about as infuriating as trying to explain to a men’s rights activist (MRA) that feminism is not a threat to him and that it’s actually patriarchy enforcing gender roles and impeding everyone’s freedom.
A common theme in the comments, and even some of the news articles, is a confused sympathizing with the rapists. The rape victims are being decried as vindictive sluts who have ruined the rapists promising futures, with very little regard given to how the victim’s future has been altered. There is an underlying assumption that women do something that incites the rapist – they lead him on, say no but really mean yes, or regret their decisions afterwards and claim rape. Victim blaming is a widespread and extremely harmful practice. The only thing that causes rape is when an individual does not care about consent. Walking alone at night and short skirts have never been an invitation to sexual assault. In short, if you don’t hear a resounding “YES!” from your partner, then do not try to have sex with them. If you think this might be difficult, here are a few tips on how to not rape.
While this misplaced sympathy is appalling, there is a second common statement made by commenters, which is equally alarming. These kinds of comments follow a formula of condemning the rape, but they also believe that only some sort of deranged psychopath could commit rape. This is a myth, and a harmful one at that. It stigmatizes those with mental illnesses – assuming that they all are potential rapists – minimizes the conscious actions of the rapists, and ignores the ways in which society condones rape.
I doubt that these young men would meet criteria for psychopathy, or even antisocial personality disorder. Unfortunately the answer is a bit more complicated than just a DSM diagnosis. Our culture fosters a systemic downplay of rape – glorifying it in TV, movies, music, jokes, porn, I could go on but I think you get the idea. Rape culture is the idea that our society normalizes sexualized violence. In this system it isn’t just callous and unemotional individuals committing rape, but the everyday people who just don’t think it’s a big deal. Or don’t even understand that their actions constituted rape.
Instead of placing the blame onto individuals assumed to have mental health problems, there needs to be a critical reevaluation of current social constructions. “But what can I do?!” I hear you cry from behind your computer monitor. That’s a great question! Get involved with anti-oppression organizations (like WAVAW), support equality, and educate yourself on becoming an ally. Don’t assume that rape is only done by the clinical population, and talk to your friends about what you think consent is and isn’t.
I know it’s terrifying to think that normal everyday people you know commit sexual assault, but unfortunately it’s the truth. So get out there and talk to the normal everyday people in your life about ways we can fight against sexualized violence.
Written by Amanda – WAVAW Volunteer