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rape, men as potential rapists, fear of

There's an Internet conversation about rape, one post about which is here.

After reading that post, I saw several posts in which a woman said although she intellectually understands that many women fear men as potential rapists, she doesn't have that fear, and she has never been sexually assaulted, either because no one tried or because she defended herself with words or weapons.

I'm really glad that these women haven't suffered sexual assault or fear of sexual assault.

But I don't understand why a number of women are apparently responding to this conversation by saying that they aren't afraid of rape and don't have a general fear of men as potential rapists. Do they feel they should be afraid? I'm getting the impression that they feel not being afraid of rape makes them weird. Maybe that it makes them unfeminine somehow? Is this because our culture sends the message that all women should be afraid of rape?

I'm also not sure what I think about the suggestion that a certain attitude or body language -- specifically, attitude/body language that shows a lack of fear -- can prevent an assault from happening. I think it can make a difference in some situations--maybe a lot of situations. (I gather that it's part of what's taught at self-defense classes.) But I don't think it's any kind of guarantee. I know plenty of people who have a "don't mess with me" attitude/body language who have been assaulted.

(For the record, I haven't experienced sexual assault either. I have feared it in a few specific situations.)

Comments

( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
elynne
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
To me, that post seemed to make the assumption that yes, rape is an integral part of our society, and as such, women should - think of all men as potential rapists, which implies being afraid of them. That is an entirely subjective reading of the post, though; I have to admit, I'm pretty croggled by the whole thing.

I have been in situations where I have feared the possibility of sexual assault; I've been lucky or something that such a situation has never come to pass. I've also been in situations where I should have thought about it as a possibility, but not realized it at the time; again, I've been lucky or something, in that nothing happened.

I make absolutely no suggestions that certain attitude or body language provides a rape-free guarantee. Sometimes, all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that wrong place can be your own home, and there's really not a damn thing that can be done about it but try to survive. No Blame Attaches to being the victim of sexual assault. I'm pretty sure that a combination of my own attitude, certain learned behaviors, and care about my associates and choices of when to relax versus when to be on my guard has gone some way towards my lack of experience; but there have been times when it really was just luck that there was nobody who decided to take advantage of a situation I was in.

Mostly, what that post and most of the responses are doing to me is making me feel like an alien again. :P
firecat
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
as such, women should - think of all men as potential rapists, which implies being afraid of them

I didn't read that assumption in the post. I saw it as addressed entirely to men, and not telling women they should anything. But I can see where your reading came from.
(no subject) - elynne - Jun. 7th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - elynne - Jun. 7th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
xiphias
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
I got the impression that a lot of the "I'm not afraid of rape" posts were asking the question, "So, what's different between women who are afraid of rape and women who aren't -- and can something useful be learned and gained by studying this difference? Can women in either group make their lives in some way better by adoping things from the other group?"
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tylik - Jun. 7th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
elisem
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
I just read a post that said,
"
Over the years I have tried to discuss this, with varying success (usually not much). People tend to hear "it doesn't happen to me" as "it doesn't happen," which is NEVER what I mean. But it seems to me that if there is a bad thing that happens to some people in a category and not to others, it might be useful to try to discover what makes the difference--NOT with an eye toward blaming the victims for not being different than they are, but for the possibility of understanding more about the pathology of the perpetrators. (That is, what does the fact that the perpetrator chose as a potential victim this person rather than that person tell us about how we can help keep people from becoming perpetrators?)"


(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
tedesson
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
I haven't read the original post, so this is just an en passant comment.

A friend of mine is m-to-f trans, and had moved away around the time of her transition. She made a comment about being afraid to walk on the street near her usual coffee shop, which I thought odd at the time (this was before I knew of her transition), as my recollection of him was someone with sufficient physicality to discourage random street hassles.

Is broadcast fear a female social signal?
And what is the behavior on the part of others it's supposed to encourage?
tylik
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
It's *complicated*. Because yes, a lot of women are taught to be afraid. (I was mostly not, actually.) But even if you aren't, there is a societal assumption of vulnerability associated with the feminine - even if you're tall and muscular and wearing sensible shoes. Even if there's an excellent chance you could hand most guys their asses, minced, baked and served on a platter. Long hair makes it worse, BTW. I suspect the large breasts / small waist bit makes it worse, too, but that's not such an easy fix as the hair. I've noticed it a lot more since I moved - I think the gender roles in Cleveland are rather more rigid than I'm used to. (A lot of things combine hitting upon with icky power dynamics. Ew. Ew. Ew! No, being paternalistic is not attractive. And making a point of holding a door for me and then acting like they've put a down payment on my tush?!)

Are you familiar, though, with the stats regarding violence towards transwomen?
pir_anha
Jun. 7th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
trans women are statistically in greater danger than cisgendered women.
janetmiles
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
But I don't understand why a number of women are apparently responding to this conversation by saying that they aren't afraid of rape and don't have a general fear of men as potential rapists. Do they feel they should be afraid? I'm getting the impression that they feel not being afraid of rape makes them weird. Maybe that it makes them unfeminine somehow? Is this because our culture sends the message that all women should be afraid of rape?

Well, yes, actually, it does make me feel weird; I find myself wondering how it is that I missed out on being socialized to this attitude. It's similar in nature -- although by no means in degree! -- to my learning in my late 20s that women can't wear white shoes from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and that everyone knows that.

And I wonder, too, should I feel more afraid? Am I kidding myself? Am I setting myself up for some kind of disastrous fall? And when that disaster strikes, will it be my fault because I wasn't properly cautious?

I do not, ever, intend to blame the victim of any kind of assault, sexual or otherwise. However, I do think there are some things that people can do to reduce -- not eliminate, but reduce -- the likelihood of being assaulted. I also know perfectly well that a person can do everything "right" and still fall victim to someone who is determined to do harm, or who is completely unconcerned with the results of his/her actions on others.

It's a very difficult mental dance.
firecat
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
I find myself wondering how it is that I missed out on being socialized to this attitude. It's similar in nature -- although by no means in degree! -- to my learning in my late 20s that women can't wear white shoes from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and that everyone knows that.

I knew about the white shoes all along (I read my mom's copy of Emily Post as a kid), but I didn't encounter "women should fear men as potential rapists" as a social meme until I was 18, as part of my initial encounter with feminism in college.
elisem
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
At first, I thought you were talking about comments to that post, rather than separate posts. Then I read through my friends list and saw a number of posts in various women's journals, and realized that this was the kind of thing you meant.

But I don't understand why a number of women are apparently responding to this conversation by saying that they aren't afraid of rape and don't have a general fear of men as potential rapists. Do they feel they should be afraid? I'm getting the impression that they feel not being afraid of rape makes them weird. Maybe that it makes them unfeminine somehow? Is this because our culture sends the message that all women should be afraid of rape?

O.o

Sorry. That paragraph seriously boggles me. It also hits on a real hot button thing for me. I'm not sure I can be coherent about it yet. One part: people routinely use their own LJs to look at how other things (news stories, somebody else's LJ post, whatever) directly relate to their lives is a big one of them, but that lately a post ruminating on one's reaction to someone else's post is judged as off-topic if it does not conform to the parameters set by the original poster, even if that ruminating post is in one's own journal, which one presumably has so that one can ruminate sometimes if one wishes.

Your bit in the comments ("I didn't read that assumption in the post. I saw it as addressed entirely to men, and not telling women they should anything.") is what hit the button for me. The button is mine, and I own it, (says the Lioness with a wry grin), but I think there's something going on in conversations-as-aggregate I want to figure out. It'll take serious pondering, because it's connected to so many other things.

elynne's comment ("Mostly, what that post and most of the responses are doing to me is making me feel like an alien again. :P") resonates for me, though possibly differently than intended. It never occurs to me to wonder why somebody posts about their own reactions to something in their own journal.

There's a rhetorical trick (which I definitely DON'T think you're doing) where somebody "wonders" why somebody would post something, and what they mean is they disapprove. (In a sort of "I wonder why anybody would post that?" way.) While I don't think you're doing that, the speculating about motive gets my back up. ("Do they feel they should be afraid?" "Maybe that it makes them unfeminine somehow?") Maybe it gets my back up because it reminds me of people saying, "Why do you want to talk about that, anyway?" with a strongly implied "What's wrong with you?" Because maybe they want to talk about it to figure out more about what it means for them and to them.

Sometimes a person doesn't know stuff until they ruminate on it a bit in company.

Most of my ruminations are locked, these days, for reasons strongly linked to the "must conform to the configuration of the original post" attitude thing. So it's entirely possible I'm looking askance at what you say here for reasons that hadn't oughtta be brought in. But it's what I got, and here I am getting bold and commenting. I'll go back under my rock now. I miss the days when I felt bolder much of the time. But the widespread "why would somebody post X? Are they [speculation] or [speculation] or [extremely distateful speculation]?" is really grating on me on LJ these days. It keeps feeling to me like the complete inverse of consciousness-raising, if that ancient reference makes any sense.

I realize that you're just posting in your own LJ ruminating on your reactions to all these posts. Which is why I almost didn't say this. But it left me shaking, and I figured hey, I might as well get my guts together and say something.

Wish I knew a good way for all these things to get pondered. Maybe the way we're doing it is the way. Maybe reacting by wanting to hide under a rock is just my own personal problem. I dunno. But I don't wonder why they posted that way. What I wonder is why I don't have the guts to post. (And this just suddenly made a huge lightbulb go on for me about questions-heard-as-disapproval as it connects to disability stuff related to hearing loss, and I am going to have to go figure out a post about it. Huh! So thank you.)
firecat
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your commenting. I'm sorry my post poked your hot button. You're right I didn't intend to do the rhetorical trick of saying "I wonder" when I mean "I disapprove," but I see why my post could look like that.

I also agree with you that speculating about motive can be disrespectful or judgemental. I didn't intend disrespect, judgement, or "What's wrong with you?" but since it's easy to read speculation that way whether or not it's intended, I probably shouldn't have speculated at all.

I'm looking forward to your post.
(no subject) - elisem - Jun. 7th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 19_crows - Jun. 8th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
elisem
Jun. 7th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Posting their own reactions and ruminations about how the topics relate to their own lives in their own LJs is derailing?

Edited to add:

Oh, the hell with it. Thank you for making my point so well.

If my journal goes friends-only in its entirety or is deleted later today, this is why. I'm sick of this, sick of the way I am reacting to it, and there's probably not anything I'm saying of value anyway, so nobody will miss it. I've got it backed up on Dreamwidth anyway, under total private-lock, so I'll have it in case I ever want to go back and look something up. But the hell with it.

Edited at 2009-06-07 06:38 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
i'm on another train heading south - pir_anha - Jun. 7th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Re: i'm on another train heading south - pir_anha - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i'm on another train heading south - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i'm on another train heading south - elynne - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i'm on another train heading south - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i'm on another train heading south - pir_anha - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i'm on another train heading south - elynne - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
bah humbug - pir_anha - Jun. 7th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 7th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
starcat_jewel
Jun. 7th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
Is this because our culture sends the message that all women should be afraid of rape?

In a word, yes. Not as a universal, of course, but that meme is extremely active, and sometimes among the most surprising people.

Try a little experiment sometime. When you're chatting casually with a bunch of mainstream people (as opposed to fannish and/or feminist friends), mention something you did that involved being out by yourself late at night. See how many people will immediately say that you should be more careful, that it's not safe for you to do that, etc.

This is also part of the rape-victim-blaming meme. How many times have you heard the argument that women who go somewhere unaccompanied, especially after dark, should expect to be sexually assaulted? "What was she doing there by herself?" is one of the most common victim-blaming statements.

Variations on this are all thru the culture.
firecat
Jun. 7th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
See how many people will immediately say that you should be more careful, that it's not safe for you to do that, etc.

I'll try that sometime. The only time I remember something like that happening is when I went on a long hike by myself once. (Prior to the era of GPSs and cell phones.) Several people I encountered on the hike told me I shouldn't hike alone. I think some of them were clearly thinking about sexual assault, but some might have been thinking of stuff like falling and getting injured.
there be monsters - pir_anha - Jun. 7th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janetmiles - Jun. 9th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 9th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
ljgeoff
Jun. 7th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
But I don't understand why a number of women are apparently responding to this conversation by saying that they aren't afraid of rape and don't have a general fear of men as potential rapists. Do they feel they should be afraid? I'm getting the impression that they feel not being afraid of rape makes them weird. Maybe that it makes them unfeminine somehow? Is this because our culture sends the message that all women should be afraid of rape?

I think that, in my case, I needed to explore my own feelings about the potential for rape. I would definitely say that I feel that not being afraid of rape makes me feel weird. My feelings make me feel like I should just shut up and not be part of the discussion.

I can't remember ever thinking that rape was about sexual attraction. I feel impatient with the argument that men rape because they feel they have the right to have sex with women because that's not how I understand rape. I understand rape as a power thing, a predator-prey thing, and something that just incidentally has something to do with sex.

I'm not saying that how I understand rape is the reality of rape -- it's just how I understand it. I can't imagine a guy wanting to have sex with me because he thinks he is entitled if I was trying to kill him. I'm not saying that rape in that situation doesn't or can't or wouldn't happen, I'm just saying that I can't imagine it.

I can't imagine letting myself become insensate in the company of someone who'd rape me. I *have* been insensate and had guys fuck me, but I was there by choice and I knew that it'd happen; I trusted the guys and I knew that I was safe.

All of this, all of these personal feelings and emotions and not being able to get my head around rape doesn't negate the reality of rape. I wrote about rape in my journal because I was trying to figure out why I feel like I shouldn't talk about how I don't get it; why if feels like not only do I not have anything important to say, but anything I say will derail the discussion, or hurt someone that I care about, or support someone who really is *trying* to derail the conversation, and so I should just shut up.
firecat
Jun. 7th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting.
innerdoggie
Jun. 8th, 2009 02:40 am (UTC)
I hope this doesn't derail the conversation, but I've found that I am less afraid of rape than I used to be as a child, teenager and young woman.

Part of this is just a benefit of middle age, but also I've gained 40 pounds since then and I think that helps!

I also belatedly took a self-defense class.

And the DNA technology is reassuring. Now they can often tell who the perp is. If not today, then eventually, and you'll have the real badguy, and not some innocent schmoe who looks like him.

I get way, way less street harassment than I did back then, and I don't know why that is. Our world has changed, but so have I.

I'm still afraid of rape and very wary in some ways that might look like a phobia (enclosed places, not being able to see an exit to a room or building and easily get there). But it isn't like it was.
firecat
Jun. 8th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
I'm glad you are less afraid.

When you mention gaining weight, does that help because you feel you are less attractive to potential rapists or because you feel you are better equipped to resist?

(As someone else mentioned, I used to think that being fat reduced my chance of being raped because it made me unattractive. But I don't think that any more.)
(no subject) - innerdoggie - Jun. 8th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
beaq
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
I, too, have noticed a sharp decline in casual harassment as I've gotten older. I'd like to attribute it to an increase in perceived authority, but sometimes I wonder if I haven't simply learned what to avoid doing and where to avoid going. I know people who stick out as unusual in some way tend to attract attention, and thus harassment, so it might just be that older = less interesting, too.
(no subject) - innerdoggie - Jun. 8th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 8th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - innerdoggie - Jun. 9th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Jun. 9th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
tiger_spot
Jun. 8th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
Years ago, when I first ran into the fact that most women are socialized into avoiding things like walking places alone at night because of the fear of rape, I commented that I did a bunch of the things on the list and wasn't much afraid of rape. (Hey, look, here's the comment thread. I guess that wasn't all that many years ago. Feels longer.)

Yes, I felt that it made me weird. Or -- hm. I guess I more feel that now. At the time it struck me as very odd that other women were that scared about the possibility, and I didn't really see where that was coming from, because I hadn't gotten quite the same socialization. I theorized about my attitude / body language as a factor, too, in hopes that it could be useful to some of the women who were scared.

The culture definitely does send the message that women should fear rape and curtail their activities to avoid situations that are perceived as particularly dangerous, and I have seen more examples of it doing that now than I had at the time, so I am less confused about why other women experience that fear and therefore less inclined to examine why I don't and what the differences might possibly be.

I have been sexually assaulted. Kind of. I should tell that story sometime.
firecat
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting. If you want to tell your story I would be interested to read it.
innerdoggie
Jun. 8th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I thought about this some more and realized I'm afraid of rape, but not of burglary or even robbery. (Although I am afraid of home-invasion style robberies because you hear stories about those leading to rape and murder.)

I haven't ever been robbed, so I might sing a different tune if I were, but I have had more than one burglary, including one where I was at home! Those were unpleasant, but nothing like sexual assault.

I think the difference is that a burglar or robber just wants property, but the point of a rapist is to harm *you*.

Still, I take reasonable precautions against burglars and robbers, but I don't really fret about them that much.
firecat
Jun. 8th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid of being mugged but not of rape. (Neither has happened to me, although I've had my car broken into.)
( 56 comments — Leave a comment )

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