The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The fears of one woman

I can only really write about this from my own experience, and from the anecdotal evidence of talking to female friends and relatives, but rape is definitely something I worry about frequently. Most often when I'm in carparks, but other times too.

Even though I know that if I am ever raped it will most likely be due to the actions of someone I know, stranger-rape is much easier to fear, in an odd way. It means you don't have to confront the fact that men you know, men you like, could be rapists. It doesn't really bear thinking about too much.

But I can think of two men that I have been friends with over the years who I know for sure either raped or had to be stopped from raping. One started penetrating his girlfriend after she said no. When she protested further he did stop, but he never should have started. The other told me himself that he had to be pulled off a young woman once when he was drunk. In both of these cases never were the words rape uttered between us.

The first of these incidents (amongst other things) soured the friendship slowly but surely and I no longer see this man, and have no desire to. It wasn't really until a few years later, when I was running date-rape awareness seminars in hostels, that I put the pieces together and recognised his act as what it was - rape.

In the case of the second we are still friends. I turn my brain away from it as it is too horrible to think about, that he might have raped if he hadn't been stopped. And that he has never thought about it as attempted rape. And that there are probably many many other men I know who have similar stories to these two, in their sexual histories somewhere.

So when I read posts and comments maintaining that there are as many mothers who kill their children due to postnatal depression as there are rapists, I am disgusted. My own fears - of rape, of molestation, of attack - are minimised by this attitude. It's an attitude that says that women fear irrationally, and that rape is rare. Or that if rape is not rare, neither is infanticide by mothers. Either way it is an attitude that hates and blames women.

Rape is not rare. I wish it was. To minimize it's frequency is to protect those who rape. Sometimes this attitude actively protects those who are aware of their actions. But I suspect more commonly it makes men who touch or use women's bodies without their consent feel that they are not doing anything wrong - that their actions fall short of that standard. They don't have to confront their sexual practices because they can explain it all away - rape is rare, I didn't rape, I'm not a rapist, I don't need to change, I didn't do anything wrong.

The attitude of (male) ownership and entitlement needs to be challenged. No one owns my body but me.


stef said...

You you what's odd. I've been the subject of far more harrasment and dangerous situations in Korea. Yet I find myself less afraid here than I was in NZ, even though the situation is far more dangerous than it is back home.

Now on the surface I could blame the fact that I don't read about it in the newspaper to make me scared. But that's because that rape isn't taken seriously here. My friends and I went for a girls' night out on the town and we found this girl that had been raped and robbed by some guy she met in the club. The guy was still there, so the group broke up. Some of us stayed with the chick, some kept a look out for the guy, and my friend and I went down to the police station (as it was just around the corner). The police did absoultly nothing. They just said it was the chick's fault for being alone with a man, and the told us to go away. They'll let serial rapists (and I'm talking dozens of rapes) away with 10 month prision sentences, and when a taxi driver raped an american solider, the court threw out the charges because she didn't sustain enough injuries.

Despite being the victim of some rather nasty experiences here myself, I refuse to let myself be scared and bullied by people who want to hurt me. The difference between being attacked or not often rests on whether you are percieved as being weak, chances are if you have a don't fuck with me attitude, then the attacker isn't going to fuck with you and find someone weaker to attack.

I also think that dwelling on fear like this too much is unhealthy and something that creates a more hostile enviorment.

I think when discussing rape you need to be careful to not alienate men who will support you by being too confrontational about it. I know that sounds hypocritical, given what I just said. But I think rape can be just as touchy a subject for men, and we should be careful not to alienate them from the discussion just as woman find themselves alienated from discussions as well.

Lucyna said...

Can I just ask, in both the cases of the men you knew who would have raped if not for circumstances, did the women involved consent initially to the sexual exchange and was it a case of the men getting carried away? If so, that to me is a far less dangerous situation than being dragged off into a dark corner somewhere against your will.

When I was much younger, I was very concerned with being attacked in some way as I tended to attract alot of male attention. So, I learned martial arts and have been very careful. I don't worry about it so much now, I am more worried with my 9yo going into men's restrooms alone.

Anonymous said...

Both cases are something I am very aware of as a male. I think it would completely destroy me to think that I did something like that, consequently I try to be very careful around sex.

Maia said...

Lucyna that's true - women can reduce their risk of rape if they make sure they're never alone with a man or consent to sex of any sort.

This is a really good post Span - I think it's interesting the different ways women respond to it - in a way that's an indication of the different ways of coping

Gerrit said...


Males have similar but different fears. Mine are to be alone in a restroom with a young kid (aka Lucyna fears for her 9YO) and being wrongfully accused of child molestation. Will always leave a restroom if i'm in there alone with young kids and wait for another adult to enter.

Am I paranoid? Yes. Am I right to be cautious? Yes. Yet I feel pathetic.

I wont ever molest a child (or rape a woman) but need to protect myself in case wrongfull accusations are made.

It is very sad reflection on todays society where you and I have such fears.

Agree with Maia that this is a very good post.

Psycho Milt said...

I can see your point - the various blog arguments over the Louise Nicholas trial (after all, it was her on trial wasn't it?) showed that plenty of men are happy to define rape any way that excludes their own past. But I do think it's a bit more complicated than that.

Thinking back to when I was 18, I never faced a situation where I was about to penetrate a woman who then changed her mind. It would be nice to be able to put my hand on my heart and swear that if I had I would have instantly respected her wishes, but remembering just how intense those feelings were at the time, I really don't know if I would have done the right thing.

So I don't have any great problem with the concept that any man can be a rapist, any more than with the concept that anyone can be a murderer. But I also think that if I had raped somebody under those circumstances, it would have been a matter of letting hormones order me about, rather than demonstrating an attitude of male ownership and entitlement. That difference wouldn't entitle me to any less of a jail term, but any political analysis has to take it into account.

Ghet said...

I want to agree with what stef said. Having a discussion about rape that excludes men, especially if you're trying to find solutions, is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle after deliberately throwing away half the pieces. Also, I'm very disturbed by the kind of discussion of rape which, consciously or not, excludes the possibility of men being rape victims.

You talk about carparks, and I'm going to generalise from that and I hope that's okay. The fear of walking alone after dark, through parks, dark alleys, etc. Except we all know, those aren't the circumstances in which most rapes happen. It would be more rational for a woman to be afraid of being at home with her partner.

Where it becomes a problem, I believe, is the point at which fear controls your actions, where you miss out on opportunities because, say, you can't get a safe lift or find someone else to walk home with you. I've made a conscious choice not to let that happen. It's important to me that I was a rape victim only when it happened, not continually for the rest of my life.

Lucyna said...

Psycho, I disagree. You would be entitled to less of a jail term if you'd continued with sex after a woman had said no.

What worries me about this sort of situation is that it could be used as a form of entrapment for men. Something I'm thinking more about now that I have two young boys that will grow up to navigate the sexual minefield previous generations have been creating for them.

We have a situation now where sex is though to be merely recreational. If it's just recreational, then what is the big deal, really?

Gerrit, I would feel far more comfortable with my 9yo in male restrooms if men like you felt it their duty to look out for the children in there, rather than fleeing the scene for fear of false accusations. My 9yo has no idea what could happen - and I'm keeping it that way for now. I don't want him to become overly paranoid, so am just relying on his own sense of self-preservation to keep himself safe. And I stay outside the door with my ears perked.

Gerrit said...


Never thought of it as a duty that one could do to protect the kids. You are right, us honest ones need to take responsibility to look after the kids. Will look at it from this light on in future.


span said...

I find many of these responses depressing and distressing.

Not because they are challenging but because I clearly haven't communicated what I wanted to in the original post, to have got some of these responses. Please don't take offence, those who have already commented. I'm not sure how to communicate better my distress at some of your words, right now anyway.

I shall think more and comment again later, but in the meantime if others would like to comment please do so.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine wishes to become a teacher. He would do a fantastic job. Yet he is afraid because of the fears surrounding male teachers being alone with pupils.
His fear is completely justified, but so to are those of parents who don't want male teachers looking after their kids in a one-on-one situation.

I have no solution, all I know is that there is fear out there that needs to be overcome. The best way to do that is to stop sexual assaults (of all and every kind), but the way to do that, is beyond me.

span said...

Ok I'm ready to comment a bit more now. I guess I'm disappointed that some of the above comments continue the old beliefs about rape, which I had hoped with the recent discussions on various blogs might have been evolved a little.

I'm distressed that some commenters clearly think that women saying no at a late stage of the process makes rape more acceptable (can it be more acceptable? I tend to think of it as rather strict liability myself).

Others seem to think that I am paralysed by my fear, or that writing about my own fears somehow excludes male rape victims. I very deliberately wanted to write this about my own situation, my own point of view. I am not paralysed by fear but it is something I frequently have to shove to one side. I definitely do not deny that men are raped too. However I do note that men are usually raped by other men. I was thinking quite a bit about Matthew Sheppard (sp?) when I wrote this, but I wanted to root it in my own experience.

Overall what I find depressing and upsetting is that some of you who have commented are people I like and respect. To discover that some of the views you hold on this emotional and pivotal issue to me are not particularly pro-woman saddens me.

Of course I'll add the patented Apathy Jack disclaimer - not YOU, the other commenters.

But seriously I would appreciate it if people could think further on their views and perhaps consider what I actually wrote instead of what you read into what I wrote. If anything is unclear you have this wonderful comment facility to ask questions, or you can email me.

Please don't take this as a personal attack - and please don't feel like you can't comment further. I hope that this discussion is valuable and that it continues.

Lucyna said...

Hi Span,

I don't feel personally attacked, so don't worry about that.

I don't know if I want to get more into this, except to say that it's just your interpretation that my views are not "pro-woman". I consider my views to be very "pro-woman", in that I do not think like a perpetual victim even though I did feel not completely safe when I was younger. But I did something about it. I decided it was up to me to ensure my personal safety. That's very pro, in that yes, we have power and we can use that power.

Have you ever thought about how much women's personal safety would be enhanced if we were allowed to carry concealed firearms?

stef said...

I think my attuides to feminism have changed a lot of the last few years. Perhaps they've been shaped a lot from having to deal with shit that I just don't have to deal with back home and having to do so with a very limited support network. So sometimes I wonder what everyone is complaining about.

Of course I realize the flaw in my view is that I tend to look on the west with rose-tinted glasses a lot of the time, even though part of the reason I'm the target of violence here is because of the way the west projects women to the world.