This is the second time a blog about rape has turned into an argument of semantics and I wanted to post my position on the situation here since I feel like I keep saying the same things over and over. While I highly recommend starting here to get an understanding of what I’m talking about, it’s not necessary in order to follow along. I also want to point out that I am not the spokesperson for women and not all women will agree with me. I also am focusing on the rape of women in this post, but that does not mean I do not recognize that men are raped as well. It just makes sense for me to focus on the rape of women since I’m a woman who has been raped and 9 out of ten rape victims are women.
It's easy to understand why some men might be annoyed or uncomfortable when they hear the phrase “all men are potential rapists.” Even I find the phrase too exclusive and do not prefer using it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used it personally (though I have obviously defended its use), but that doesn’t mean I think there’s anything inherently wrong with the statement. I guess I would rather bring more men into the fold then exclude them and this phrase, not matter how correct it may be, definitely doesn’t say welcome.
That being said, I want to explain why “all men are potential rapists” is sometimes used and what it means. I also want to explain why its pretty freggin offensive to have to cater around a person’s delicate sensibilities when we are trying to talk about the horrific experiences one out of six women experience.
The most common objections I’ve heard about the phrase “all men are potential rapists” is:
a) Its offensive to men
b) Its not true since I know I’m not capable of ever raping someone
c) It makes no more sense then saying “all people are potential murderers”
First off, I want to clarify that the statement "every man is a potential rapist" or “all men are potential rapists” is not the same thing as "every man is a rapist." It doesn’t mean that every man would rape if given the chance nor that every man wants to rape. What the phrase means is that since rapists don’t wear easy to identify signs to show they’re rapists, it is in a woman’s best interest to be cautious. Maybe if rapists always acted like evil fucks women wouldn’t need to think along these lines, but as long as a woman is more likely to be raped by the people she knows (lovers, brothers, fathers, neighbors, pastors, teachers, etc) the need to be cautious of the people the very people one would never really expect to rape a person remains. It means that even those people a woman has accepted into her circle of trust can be the very person who rapes her. That is the tragedy here.
Still don’t like it? Well neither do rape victims. Try for just a moment to think about how hard it is for a woman to come to grips with the fact that 73% of women know their rapists. No one wants to have to think this way and I get no comfort from saying something like "every man is a potential rapist." But what is the flip side? Let’s say that out of the realization that not all men are really potential rapist’s women stop being cautious of men who don’t fit the accepted idea of what a rapists acts like or looks like. What would happen then? Do you think women would be safer for not being “paranoid?” Do you think more women would avoid being raped?
I don’t. And if you truly do think women would be safer then why do women buy pepper spray? Because that man walking down the street may be a rapist. Why are women taught to never let someone else make their drink? Because a rapist might be trying to drug them. Why are women taught to walk with their keys out on the way to the car if it’s late? Because a rapist could be waiting to ambush them. Why are women repeatedly told to use the buddy system? Because that hot guy at the bar might be a rapist. Why would women be expected to take these precautions (and if they don’t then they deserved to be raped right?) if it was not assumed that any man might rape us at any place?
In regards to the issue of whether or not every man is capable of rape, obviously women don’t actually think that every single man is a raving rapist just waiting for the right opportunity. I believe there are many men that would rather suffer a painful death then commit such a horrific act. The problem is I'm not a mind reader so I can't know that with any sort of certainty though. When a man says, “I know I would never rape a person,” I have no idea if that’s true. It’s not like rapists go around shouting “hell yes I want to rape someone.” How am I supposed to know if the person making the claim has truly thought about the different ways a person can consent or whether it’s just a thoughtless “I’ll never rape” being thrown out there? The answer is I can’t. So a person can claim they would never rape a person till they’re blue in the face, but it’s still incredibly selfish of them to assume that women should be less cautious around them because of it.
I also don’t believe that if the person claiming they would never rape doesn’t accept that, like all people, they have the potential (because they possibility exists) to be a rapist then they haven’t really thought about it sufficiently.
Finally, on to the last part and why I get so angry when men talk about being offended by this sort of self-preservation tactic. For one, to be offended by this sort of thinking is to also be offended by the behaviors of self-defense women take, some of which I talked about above, since they stem from this very sort of thinking (that since you can’t know who the rapist is be cautious of every one). I hope I do not have to explain how terribly selfish this is.
All I can say to the person offended is this is not about you. It is incredibly insulting for you to tell me, a person belonging to a subordinate group you don’t share, how I am supposed to see the world. The threat will not go way if I change semantics to make you feel more comfortable. Don’t like it? Blame rape culture. Blame the people who blame the victims. Blame the rapists.
But do not blame women who are just trying to avoid the danger of rape the best way they know how.
Understand that unfortunately most rapes are committed by men and therefore “rapist” is a subset of “men” for the most part. I will not pretend that being suspicious of the dominate group in our society, especially one that has committed an insane amount of atrocities throughout history, is some horrible burden for men to carry. While I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable, you need to realize that your feelings are not the most important aspect in this situation. And if all it takes for you to not feel offended is for me to stop using the phrase "every man is a potential rapist" or “all men are potential rapists,” then I would argue that you do not really care about women and rape at all. Instead your ego is at the forefront and I find that horribly heartbreaking.
Finally I think it’s worth pointing out that while women are looked at as man-hating banshees for thinking along these lines, women are also blamed if they don’t. Otherwise why would we ask about how short a woman’s dress was, how many drinks she had, whether or not she was flirting, or any other of the thousand other questions we ask to take blame away from the rapists.
Don’t want the phrase "every man is a potential rapist" to be used anymore? Then do something about changing rape culture. I promise you’ll see much more of a difference then you would if you focus on lecturing rape victims.
Who are the Victims?
Rape Culture 101
From the male perspective:
No Cookies for Me
Hugo Schwyzer (via Britni)