Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Retrospective Rationalising

Hmmm, there seems to be a new idiot zeitgeist surrounding the topic of rape at the moment, either to somehow build a straw man argument around abortion in the US or to defend Julian Assange in a bid to perpetuate what seems the most convoluted conspiracy theory I've heard in a while.

I'm not going to try and cover the facts of these recent cases as they have been covered expertly by countless others in far better posts.

I want to turn my attention to this phenomena of various people, predominantly men, trying to redefine rape. Why do they do this?

I'm hyper aware as a man myself I am potentially walking into a minefield here, but I think it is quite simple - no simply means no, before or during.

So why all these re-classifications by people? I think it is what I would call retrospective rationalising. What do I mean by this?

Put simply I am convinced many men in their past have been in a scenario that was either extremely borderline or was rape. This is probably quite hard for them to reconcile.

I think this is because of the fact that rape narratives for so long were of the violent stranger definition, therefore all other forms of non consensual sex don't or rather can't fit into the "legitimate rape" category because to do so would make countless men who do not consider themselves rapists to realise they have raped or nearly raped in their past, hence the post rationalisation we are seeing.

Bold and sweeping generalist statements I know, but let me explain my rationale.

I can already think of a handful of situations in my own formative years where I could have come quite close to crossing that boundary in a terrible mess of hormones, opportunity and drunkenness. I'm thankful I didn't but I do recognise the possibility of it amd that is scary. I think there are countless others who know this too, but won't admit it and won't recognise that it would be rape.

That's a sad indictment isn't it? That as men we have not had this conversation about where the boundaries are and what it means, recognising that our testosterone is a powerful driver that we have to control, particularly in adolescence or the discussion has been had and we didn't listen.

Thankfully I never had too much ├╝ber testosterone flowing through my body and thus became deeply irritating in sexual encounters by asking multiple times for clarity on consent - if I could have had a contract I probably would have because in my brain it deeply concerned me about either being coercive or pushy in this arena as so many teenage men probably are.

I think I thought about it a lot because I had the unfortunate encounter of being in a public toilet and listening to a group of lads conspiring to gang rape my sister when she was 15. They didn't know I was her brother.
I don't think they realised they were conspiring to rape her either, just spike her drinks until she was unconscious later at a party and then all have "a go on her", they were deliberating which order they were going to do it when I intervened and pointed out I was her brother.

Sadly I have heard a number of similar discussions like this over the years, this I think is more common than most realise.

Too many men also think the predatory approach is all part of the game, there's an element to this approach that also starts to validate rape in their minds too.

I've been on the receiving end of predatory males persistence before, I've started politely to state that "I'm sorry, but I'm not gay" to still be lightly molested by grabbing and once having my exit blocked and locking of the door, I thought then I was going to be raped myself and that feeling of violation of your consent and your personal space is unforgettable. Sadly I think women have many more stories of incidents like this with men than I do.

So I think there are many things in the melting pot, there was a severe lack of discussion about rape being about non consensual sex and the different forms that takes and may still be. Too much emphasis on rape as a violent stranger assault narrative.

Not enough discussion or education with young men about respect and consent in sexual encounters.

So when I hear people re defining rape in the ways I've heard of late, I tend to think that they have a situation in their past which is consciously or subconsciously making them retrospectively rationalise the subject.

These are just thoughts and happy to hear your thoughts.


  1. This is exactly what I've been thinking, lately, well said.

    I've also seen some interesting regional and age-related variation around alcohol: I curse chivalry.

    In college towns in Iowa, I found that in many contexts it was an insult if I wouldn't buy a girl a drink.

    I have some friends, though, who lived in Europe for a while and decided that they would forever refuse to let guys buy them drinks: drink spiking seemed far too common a threat. This made it very fun to visit them, of actually: I could go to a club with a bunch of attractive women and drink for free. Most of the girls my age that I met were following similar procedure: "don't buy me drinks".

    It shouldn't have been, but it was a shock returning to the USA and seeing even some of my closest guy friends try to buy drinks for girls until they were too drunk to say "no". Awkward conversations have followed.

  2. Interesting thoughts, especially since I'm from the age group that a lot of this "redefining" seems to be coming from. In my day getting a girl drunk enough to go to bed with you (I'm not talking passed out drunk, or spiked here) was seen as a perfectly legitimate tactic and I'm quite sure a fair number of guys got sex that way. Throw the "too drunk to consent" at them and they will resist accepting it because it was normal, accepted, part of the game. I never did, but I would have given the chance, which is an unpleasant thought but at least I don't have to face calling myself a possible rapist. It has to come down to education about what is acceptable - get it in early, and make the message strong.

  3. I think the problem is that male sexuality has been defined by rapists; basically men are supposed to be wanting sex all the time, think about it every 8 seconds etc (as if - how the hell could they rule the world if that were true?) and be focussed on "getting" it, by trickery, persuasion or coercion - everything up to actual physical violence. Once physical violence is used, most men accept that is rape, but the continuum of "getting it" regardless of whether women want to have sex with you or not, is the mainstream narrative.

    This can only change if we accept that sex isn't something men or women "get" from each other - it's something we share with each other, it takes 2 enthusiastic participants and if one isn't enthusiastically doing it, then it shouldn't be happening (leaving aside prior agreements to role play etc).

    Changing the narrative means recognising rape much further up the continuum and that of course is something many rapey men don't want to do because it will mean giving up their guarantee of possibly being able to get away with raping a woman without it being called rape. Even if those men have never raped a woman in their lives, they want to leave that door open.

    Very brave, honest and thoughtful article Colmmu. Thanks for posting it.

  4. Thanks very much for writing this. I've often wished more men were willing to open this conversation with one another.

  5. Very interesting article, thank you for posting

  6. One common excuse/justification males make concerning their pseudo male right of sexual access to any female of any age is the claim 'I am ruled by my male hormones so therefore I cannot be held responsible for coercing/forcing a female to submit to my male sexual demands.'

    This claim is another male created rape myth which justifies male right of sexual access to females; exonerates male accountability and ensures women and girls are always blamed for supposedly 'leading males on.'

    Males are fully capable of controlling their sexual impulses but Male Supremacist System accords males the right of sexual access to females and it is not called rape under Male Supremacist System.

    Males are never taught as boys they are accountable for their sexual behaviour; instead males learn as boys the world revolves around them and their rights/demands/expectations and guess who are the ones supposedly existing to accord males these rights? It is women and girls because only reason for our existence is to 'do what men and boys demand including being males' disposable sexual service stations.'

    Male sexuality must never be subjected to critique because that would be engaging in 'man-hating!' The elephant in the room is how males learn as boys they have the innate right of accessing female bodies in order to gratify/reinforce their male power over women and girls. Males learn as boys and this misogynistic view is constantly reinforced during the male's life span that he is never accountable for his sexual proclivities or behaviour because to be a man means he has right of sexual access to female bodies.

    Try telling a heterosexual male that 'penis in vagina or penis in female ass' is not real sex' and heterosexual male will become enraged because his sexual gratification always supercedes a woman's right to refuse submission to his sexual demands. That is the real elephant in room - men's denial of women's and girls' right to sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies.

    This is why so many men deny they were/are rapists because Male Supremacist Legal System deliberately defines 'real rape' from a very, very narrow viewpoint which totally ignores women's/girls' lived experiences of male sexual violence.

    Men need to read Rus Funk's book 'Stopping Rape: A Challenge for Men because Funk accepts he too was a rapist and he too subjected women to male sexual violence. Holding men and boys to account is a 'no no' in our Male Supremacist Rape Culture because apparently 'boys are ruled by their supposedly male hormones (reality check there are no male hormones merely hormones in female and male bodies).

    As Catharine A. MacKinnon rightly states 'there is a very fine line between male sexual violence against women and normal male heterosexual expression given men learn as boys male sexual aggression against females is (supposedly) normal male sexual behaviour. That is why so many males ply women with alcohol because they know such male behaviour exonerates them from the charge of raping a female(s).

    Note too this male author recognised that the proposed male group rape of a teen girl was 'male sexual violence' because the female victim was his sister - aka his male property. Whereas if those male teens had been discussing a female not related to the male author I doubt he would have taken any action because female victim was not related to him. Male mantra was 'males aren't allowed to sexually subject my female relatives to male sexual violence but I and all other males can subject other females not owned by males to male sexual violence.

  7. Excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Jennifer - thank you for your interesting comments. I do have to strongly disagree with your proposition though of the idea that I view my sister as my property and that I would not view the encounter the same if these boys had been talking about another woman. You are labelling me with a stereotype of a male which is equally as bad as stereotyping women. I have in my life intervened in many situations of either physical, emotional or proposed violence, oppression or denigration of women by men. Having been solely raised by women with little male influence in my formative years I feel lucky not to have some typical hardwired male viewpoints and as such often do not like or feel comfortable in the presence of typical male environments thus seldom engage in discussions that expose me to the worst excesses of typical maleness.

    Being divisive in this arena is not helpful, it closes the dialogue. We also have to ask where the reinforcement of these so-called male norms come from and as a parent of young children I see male sterotyped norms being taught to young boys by mothers as much as fathers, sometimes more so. It is not a male conspiracy but actually a fundamental flaw in our culture and society - one of which I see less of in the other foreign culture and society I belong to.

  9. Interesting article.

    On another tangent, men often play dirty tricks to gain competitive advantage in gaining consent from women. Perhaps it is also true to say that one of the consequences of this is that men can easily focus so much on winning consent (so much so that the goal shifts from gaining consent from the woman to ensuring consent is not granted to the competition) that often the manner of how they gain consent flies out of the window ... as does the threshold of consent ... "she grinded with me on the dance floor, she was saying yes!!!".

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