Image source: Asiapacific.unwoman.org
*Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual violence.
An edited version was cross-posted at Hyphen on September 20, 2013.
. . .
Sigh. I really wish I didn’t have to write this, but with everything that has been going on lately, I didn’t feel right letting this one go.
So, last week, my husband’s old colleague (let’s call him Z.), a self-proclaimed lover of poetry, yoga, Eastern philosophy, and beautiful women, posted this publicly on Facebook:
Damn, damn, damn. Where to even begin?
Z. is alluding, of course, to the controversial report released by the UN joint program Partners for Prevention. The results indicated that half of the 10,000 men surveyed across nine areas in six countries in the Asia Pacific revealed that they had used physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner, while 10%-62% of men, depending on locale, admitted to “perpetrating some form of rape against a woman or girl in their lifetime.” (Other key findings: most of these rapes were against intimate partners, not strangers, and the overwhelmingly common justification for rape was the claim of “sexual entitlement” over women.)
Obviously, this survey yields pretty horrifying details that, as the study itself concludes, beg for urgent measures to counter the epidemic of male violence against women and to empower women and girls in both the public and private spheres, especially in societies where equality between the sexes is inadequately underwritten by cultural or legal practices.
But without minimizing the fact that this UN report deserves our outrage and calls to action, it must be said that many Americans’ responses to the study have been bizarre, to say the least: rape-culture denialists, for instance, have dismissed the findings, while in other cases, like Z., reactions have been self-righteous and even self-congratulatory, as a quick look at the comments to pretty much any article about this report will reveal. Over on Quora, a lively debate popped up on the question of why “the west [sic] is hell-bent on studying rapes in the east [sic].” (One user insightfully responded, “Is rape reporting in Western media biased? Yes. Absolutely.”)
Anyway, back to Z. When my husband read Z.’s Facebook post, he immediately posted a response (see C.’s reply below). As you can see, Z.’s flurry of counterattacks became increasingly unhinged, bolstered by his (female!) yoga instructor friend D.’s unhelpful generalizations of Asian men as “disgusting” devaluers of women, and Asian women as “meek and quiet yet manipulative in their own way”:
As I read through this again, I’m stunned by how rapidly the conversation moves from condemning Asian men, to condemning Asian women, to condemning all women, period – leaving American men blameless and victimized by so-called “pussy power plays” and “reverse rape,” which according to Z. is “every bit as wrong as a man physically raping a woman.” Wow. I don’t know, Z. Like my husband, I too seem to be missing your larger point “as it relates to humanity, behavior, culture and perspective.”
The conversation continued. My husband started receiving irate messages from Z., including:
amigo…did you marry an Angry Womyn? You sound increasingly de-balled on here!
say it ain’t so…
another factor to consider: pretty much NO reporting of instances where Women and Womyn use that pussy as a weapon. reverse rape, basically…
happens every day, lots in America
And I wasn’t the only Angry Womyn, it turns out. His cousin, the only other person besides C. to call out Z.’s misogyny, got this rant in return: “You really need to simmer down. And apologize…I sure hope you don’t end up talking to your husband like this. Nasty nasty stuff, cuz-o-roo…”:
Unsurprisingly, the next day Z. deleted the entire original post and conversation and decided to play the victim card instead:
Finally, he consoled himself with some Eastern philosophy:
Well. May the wisdom of the East make you feel better about yourself, Z.
. . .
Of course, my post here isn’t about outing a single misogynist with creepy racist undertones – first of all, because there’s zero chance that Z. will read this, and even if he did, we can probably predict that it would only add more fire to his raging sense of victimhood. As my husband said, Z. is just one sad, insignificant human being in the world. But as much as I want to believe that and then simply forget everything that Z. posted, his toxic words are sadly consistent with the disturbingly universal trend of men – more often than not, men in power – blaming women for sexual assault.
I’m talking, for instance, about two Chicago-area firefighters who were caught allegedly trying to rape a woman, with one of the firefighters claiming to the cops that the victim “had been making eyes at me.”
Or the conservative writer John Derbyshire who argued that women in the military are “eccentric” self-victimizers who are “especially susceptible to the associated pathologies…[of] victim hoaxes for attention, spite, or cash reward” – i.e., they lie about getting raped to get paid.
Or the ex-mayor of San Diego who, stepping down after over twenty women came forth to accuse him of sexual harassment, blamed everyone else but himself, including the “lynch mob” conspiracy fueled by the lies of his accusers, his old evil nemeses Awkwardness and Hubris, and the city of San Diego for not providing him with adequate sexual harassment training.
Or the ex-living monster of a man Ariel Castro himself, who repeatedly blamed his three victims during his sentencing, denying that he’d ever raped or beat them and characterizing himself as a hapless victim of the girls’ lies and sexual appetites.
While all this victim-blaming is going on, the real victims of sexual assault are getting scant support and acknowledgment from their communities and law enforcement. In tragic recent cases, young teenage girls who were raped by their peers or teachers committed suicide while their rapists went virtually scot-free. In the case of 14-year-old Cherice Moralez, the judge in her case sentenced her rapist ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to just 30 days in prison while describing the dead victim as “as much in control of the situation” and “older than her chronological age.” (The judge has since apologized for his remarks, though he couldn’t get Rambold’s sentence extended.)
And these are just some of the headlines from the last few months alone.
. . .
With stories like these constantly flooding the media, it’s alarmingly obvious that blaming the victims of sexual assault isn’t ever just promulgated by losers like Z., who live lives of (not so quiet) desperation, but by serial rapists, law enforcers, public intellectuals, and civic leaders alike. Tragically, such thinking also permeates our younger generations, who are growing up in a culture where online slut-shaming is the norm, and where young perpetrators — boys and girls alike — admit that they “often feel the need to shame other girls for their improper behavior.”
So it’s contemptible and oh-so-hypocritical when some Americans misuse news like the UN report in order to blame “Other” men — lately, Asian men — to feel better about themselves while willfully refusing to take a long, hard look at our own backyard (see for instance, if you can stomach it, the comments to this excellent PolicyMic article about Ariel Castro and rape culture). I’m sick and tired of it. Because, oh by the way, Z., 1 in 5 women in America have stated that they have been sexually assaulted. And, of course, that’s only the number of women who’ve reported it, and in an outdated study, besides.
So as much as I know how many good, good men there are, as long as there are those like Z. believing that American women “have it good” compared to women in the rest of the world if they’re not getting raped, and that men are innocent victims of whatever the hell “pussy power” is, and that whatever the hell “reverse rape” is is somehow equivalent to men raping women, all of us – all of us – have a serious problem on our hands. Let’s just please acknowledge it, please? And then let’s empower ourselves to keep fighting rape culture and victim-blaming in our own communities right here at home.
. . .
10.12.13: An interesting Reddit thread on this post.
Since this article ran in Hyphen late September, it has provoked a lot of thoughtful responses and been circulated by student groups, yoga schools (ironically enough), and national organizations serving victims of abuse. There’s been an outpouring of outrage against Z.’s comments and how they represent destructively entrenched ways of thinking about rape and the victims of sexual violence in the U.S. While there’s obviously still a long, long way to go, it’s good to be reminded that the Z.s of the world are far outnumbered by those who are calling them out and calling for change.