Rape Culture, It’s The Real ThingPosted: October 14, 2012
In researching for another post, I came across some interesting data pertaining to rape culture. Since it’s nearly always an exercise in extreme patience when trying to explain to men why rape culture is a real thing, I was relieved to find some qualitative data to back up the important message I’ve been trying to convey to the men I know. It’s not that all men are offenders, it’s just that our culture socially sanctions certain behaviours, which has a disinhibitory effect on those who choose to offend.
Douglas W. Pryor, author of Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children, conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind, and Pryor found some general patterns which explained why some men choose to sexually abuse children, which will be further explored in an upcoming post, Why Men Rape – Part II.
Unfortunately, it did not really come as a surprise to me when Pryor also noted that his data unequivocally state that the only difference between the sexual behaviours of child molesters and pedophiles, and that of the general population of men, is simply that the molesters and pedophiles engaged in certain manipulative and coercive behaviours with children, rather than with adult women. Otherwise the two groups are virtually indistinguishable.
This is quite a bold and unnerving statement, so why would I find it relieving instead of nauseating? Because the idea that we live in a culture that condones rape is simply denied by most men – at least that’s been my experience – so I welcome all the supporting evidence I can find. A man who is willing to let his guard down and really listen to a woman share her experiences of how she is routinely objectified, harassed and violated in society is a rare kind of man. Heated arguments often arise during such conversations, with the men claiming that they have never thought about a child in a sexual way, or have ever entertained the thought of raping a woman. It’s not that I don’t believe them, it’s just that their personalized take of it is meant to be proof that because offending has not been their experience, that rape culture simply does not exist by extension. Pryor noted that, “Interestingly, nearly all the men I interviewed said the same things before they became offenders. It is difficult for men to accept that they might be participants in a culture of rape or sexual abuse.”
Pryor’s thoughtful response to rape culture deniers has been to have the men simply answer a specific set of questions, namely: “Have you ever asked or tried to talk a girlfriend or your wife into having sex when she did not want to? Have you ever looked at a child and thought or commented strongly about his or her looks? Have you ever looked at a group of young females and noticed that some were attractive even though you did not know their ages?”
In answering these questions Pryor hopes to show men that although not all men are going to commit sexual violations, that there is still an existing and very much accepted cultural framework that facilitates offending for those who chose to offend.
So the predominant viewpoint that sex offenders are extremely “odd” or “different” from other adult men is simply not true, and only serves to absolve the entire male gender from all responsibility in facilitating a culture of rape and abuse.
So is it a crapshoot which men end up choosing to sexually victimize children? Not exactly. Pryor further notes that in comparing offenders with the general population of men, “one exception is the data on the early childhood histories of the [offenders], in particular their reports of a greater incidence of childhood sexual contact with adults than is commonly found in the general population.” So there are other factors influencing who offends and who doesn’t, and certainly not all men who are sexually abused as children grow up to be offenders, but the taboo nature of child sexual abuse keeps our perception of sexual offenders and the average man completely separate when there are actually more similarities than differences. By putting all the blame on offenders, by dehumanizing and stigmatizing them, men (and women) in general choose not to take responsibility for their contribution to the ease with which some men can and do sexually offend against women and children.
~ “I don’t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” – Andrea Dworkin