Question #3: Somebody, one of the first, who taught me an enormous amount about being a decent human asked, “Does talking about rape as a gendered issue which primarily affects self-identified women … reflect the reality of rape in America today, or does this just reinforce the dangerous gender binary and make certain victims invisible?”
Oof. Hardball. And this question is one I have been struggling with a lot lately, so it was eerie to have it lobbed back at me.
If we are talking generally about survivors, like I was on Monday, I always use multiple pronouns. Anyone can be a survivor. All kinds of people are survivors. I see no reason (as a different page on Pandora’s Project lazily does) to use she/her pronouns “for the sake of simplicity.” I could go into a lot of depth about how str8 men aren’t “able” to be assaulted by womyn (the double edge of patriarchy, of course, is that in oppressing womyn violently, men suffer indirect violence too). If a man is assaulted by a man, society immediately imposes homophobic fantasies about “predatory queers” or, even grosser imho, “prison rape.” People whose gender/s doesn’t/don’t fall into those two camps, uh, don’t exist in these narratives.
Sexual assault, in that way, is never solely “a womyn’s issue.” It is certainly a womyn’s issue, but it is also a men’s issue and a non-binary people’s issue, if we’re going to keep divvying it up by gender/s.
And here comes the BUT.
At Swarthmore, in my experience, there is a discrepancy between who perpetrates sexual assault.
Misogyny, plain and simple, fuels a lot of the rape culture here. Womyn’s bodies are too frequently bullied and policed in male-dominated spaces. The old “BUT SOMETIMES WOMYN LIE ABOUT RAPE” card comes up in any discussion about sexual assault almost immediately — and it is almost always a man who plays it. Hell, the “WOMYN LIE” narrative comes up in response to some men simply being challenged publicly on any opinion it is or isn’t relevant to. Open discussions about sexual assault issues are most frequently only attended by womyn. If I sit behind a table consisting mostly or all of men at Sharples, the words “bitch” and “slut” buzz around my ears. Some men act as if they have run and won a marathon if they have participated in one or two or three conversations about rape. Also, most perps I know of are men.
(I am definitely not excluding queer men from my count here because some repeat offenders have been queer dudes. In those cases, misogyny is less of a factor; instead, identity-policing and in-crowd pressure dominate: “All gay men have anal sex, so … ” There are obviously more intersections and influences at work, such as age/class year, but this subject could have its own column.)
I think there are ways to have these conversations without obscuring the facts that womyn also can and do commit sexual assault. Womyn can rape and have raped, here and in the wider world. Non-binary people can and do commit sexual assault. Non-binary people can rape and have raped, here and in the wider world (and masculine non-binary people need to be accountable for and active in not replicating or enabling misogynistic words and behaviors). I believe that Swatties can hold both the knowledge that it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to not rape and that men may more frequently be perps, due to that heady combo of male privilege and misogyny.
So I really don’t think we can afford to lose sight of male privilege and misogyny in these conversations – and those nasty complexes target womyn, specifically (obviously, other people suffer from misogyny and male privilege, but womyn are their direct and intended victims). I also don’t think we can afford to let go the fact that white privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis privilege, able-bodied privileged and class privilege also create discrepancies in who commits sexual assault and rape AND in whom is assaulted and raped.
Acknowledging all of those problems and systems that are at play does not require erasing victims/survivors who are men and/or str8 and/or cis and/or able-bodied and/or class-privileged. It means developing a deeper, more nuanced conversation than mainstream media allows.