My introduction to working at the Lorain County Rape Crisis Center left an indelible impression. I was a senior in college and earning my final few credits through an internship. After completing some introductory training I was given an office of my own and some clients to support. Beyond my naiveté and an interest in listening and caring, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
I was, nonetheless, assigned clients to work with. My first was a gentleman who was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by his mother. Prior to retrieving the man from the waiting room I heard the social worker intern speaking rather loudly in the director's office:
"Men do the raping, women do the healing. He doesn't belong here as an intern."
I remember being annoyed and hurt, but didn't really have time to think about the complexities of what the social work student had said. I had a job to do--I had to figure out what the hell I was doing.
In the intervening 21 years, I've thought a lot about what the social work student had said. I woke up this morning with her words on my mind. There is a national dialogue going on now about rape, rape culture, and specifically the events that occurred in Steubenville Ohio. Simultaneously, there is a good deal being discussed about sexual harassment related to an incident in which Adria Richards spoke out about an experience she had at a technology conference. These two events are definitely part of the reason why my early experiences at a rape crisis center have come to mind. There are no doubt myriad others.
There is a growing consensus that seems to be developing: teach men and boys not to rape women and girls. Teach boys and men to be kind. This is great. It's also a totally unsophisticated intervention that, beyond making us feel better in the moment, will accomplish nothing.
Platitudes are not nearly enough to stop rape and other forms of sexual violence. We live in a culture that places unbearable expectations on boys and men--and as a collective society we are totally unwilling to look at these expectations.
Don't get me wrong. It's important that we teach that rape is wrong. I think it's great that many are calling for efforts to teach boys to be kind. Men and boys could be a great deal kinder. However before we ask men to be kind, we also need to think about how men who are kind are often treated in our society. We need to look deeply at how our expectations of men are deeply rooted and intertwined with homonegativity, heteronormativity, and misogyny. We need to look at how both men and women are active participants in teaching this to our children.
I was thinking aloud on Twitter this morning and came up with a few thoughts worth thinking about:
- If we want to stop rape we need to stop calling men and boys who act in kind ways faggots.
- If we want to stop rape we need to examine how homonegativity and heteronormativity distort the possibilities of masculinity.
- If we want to stop rape we need to look at how we put impossible pressures on men to act hyper masculine yet also not be sissies.
- If we want to stop rape we have to stop teaching our boys to act like a man by not crying like a girl, and call them sissy boys and faggots if they cry.
There is no excuse for sexual violence. This much I know for sure. I also know that so long as we continue to raise our boys with toxic levels of unattainable heteronormative and homonegative expectations--and ask them to be kind--there will be problems. We cannot continue to cast aspersions on men who don't act like "real men" and simultaneously expect them to be something else.
Men also need to stop raping women. Women need to stop raping men. Men need to stop raping other men. Women need to stop raping other women. Men and women need to stop raping children.
We also need to look at our own behavior. We need to be responsible for the world we are creating with our unexamined demands on what masculinity is supposed to be.