Rape and Violence

Heather Wilhelm mocks this blog post as "an impassioned defense of making your rapist breakfast," but that's even more unfair than it sounds. It's not a defense of having done it at all, let alone an impassioned one. Just the opposite: the author wishes she had been brave and fought, but admits that she didn't. What she did instead was to try to tell herself a different sort of story about what had happened, one in which this was a sort of romance.

I find it clarifying and helpful, because I think I understand why the man she calls "my rapist" thought it was appropriate to stay the night and have breakfast in the morning. Most likely he doesn't think of himself as a rapist at all. He may have no idea that she thought it was rape at the time.

The story as she tells it involves her not fighting him. She says no, but when he asks "why not?" she doesn't tell us if she replied, or how, except that it was not by fighting (or even by cursing, her graphic implies).

One of the ways in which men and women experience the world radically differently is in our experience of violence. Men are the victims of all forms of violence (including criminal violence, except possibly rape) at much higher rates. It's an ordinary part of our childhood and adolescence, as testosterone kicks in and young bucks clash for position and respect.

My guess is that this didn't seem like violence at all to him. She invited him in, she didn't fight, she didn't curse or spit, perhaps she didn't even argue when asked "Why not?" In the morning she made him breakfast and carried on as if there was a romance. He may well have no sense of her experience of the evening at all, and can't be expected to without having it explained to him.

The markers that he would rely upon to know that he was entering the territory of violence are not present. In the world he likely lives in, if it's anything like my world, violence and force are accompanied by clear markers of rage and reaction. She showed no sign of either. What she experienced as a horrible violation, he probably experienced as a moment of hesitation quickly overcome by passionate ardor.

This is something you really need to teach young men, because you can't expect them to have learned it from their very different experience of the world. Her honesty in making this cartoon helped me understand it, perhaps more clearly than ever before. She should be praised for that honesty. Though Wilhelm calls her "weak kneed" and she herself says she "is not brave," this took significant courage to admit to herself, let alone to the world. If we listen to what she is saying, it might provide a useful lesson for young men. The concept of violence for many men is clear and has bright lines, but they are far removed from the much larger space to which she gives the same name.

There's a lesson there, for men and for women.

28 comments:

douglas said...

What's the moral obligation for letting someone who is obviously unaware that they're doing something hurtful that they are in fact doing something hurtful? What's the moral burden for committing an act which you did not know, and had no particular reason to know was hurtful, but was in fact hurtful? It's a really tricky subject, and just talking about it seems like walking into a proverbial minefield.

It's a good cartoon, to be sure, about the different ways we see/experience the world, and why complicated things like sex are better left to being negotiated between people who actually know each other well enough to communicate better.

Cass said...

It's a good cartoon, to be sure, about the different ways we see/experience the world, and why complicated things like sex are better left to being negotiated between people who actually know each other well enough to communicate better.

I love this comment, Douglas. And I couldn't agree more with Grim's conclusion that young men need to be raised better.

I have been both shocked and deeply revolted at many comments I've read on righty blogs from men about women/relationships. They bear zero resemblance to my experiences IRL - I literally don't know men like this, yet they clearly exist.

There are two sides to most things: young men are often raised to be bold, to take what they want, to pressure/intimidate weaker people. They are taught that this is manly, and there are obviously very positive uses for acting that way.

You don't win wars (or even, often, succeed in a hostile, competitive world) by being timid or worrying about everyone else's feelings.

But if that natural masculine forcefulness isn't tempered by strong moral precepts and channeled to positive uses, it can be enormously destructive. Traditional morality did this by teaching men to protect women, but also (sadly) by encouraging them to think of women as lesser/weaker beings.

I've often wondered whether this is the only way to make what we often call "chivalry" understandable to men: to place everything into the context of a pecking order.

I wish we could find a way to teach our sons that women aren't lesser or even necessarily weaker. We are stronger in some ways, and undoubtedly weaker in others. But the "lens" here can't be, "compared to a man".

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could see being fully human as a spectrum, along which men tend to position here and women there, but in which - as we mature and grow - the area of overlap grows too?

I always thought that was the entire purpose of marriage: for men and women to teach each other how to be better rounded, more flexible, wiser?

I look at my husband of 36 years and he is so much *more* than he was at 18. He hasn't lost any of his strength, but to that strength he has added gentleness and the wisdom to realize life is not just black/white, win/lose.

Grim said...

I'm going to start a new topic to discuss the issues you raise, Cass.

Douglas, I agree that the question of moral responsibility is difficult here. Usually we say that you are only morally responsible for choices, and if you didn't know X you didn't choose X. But there's an exception of sorts, which is when you should have known. Then we're talking about a case where your blindness is inexcusable.

Assuming he really didn't know, we have to ask if he should have known. That would require a lot more facts.

What may be more important, and what Cass is getting at, is how we make sure to raise sons in such a way that they will know.

Jason said...

How about raising daughters in such a way that they will make their perspective known? This particular story reads an awful lot like the stereotype of the woman who expects the man to read her mind, and gets all outraged when he can't.

Cass said...

How about raising daughters in such a way that they will make their perspective known?

People should. But there have been tons of studies out there that confirm what I've certainly experienced in real life: men don't always listen to women or take them seriously when they try to communicate.

This is not because men are bad/wrong/evil, but because men and women interpret the same words differently.

In the linked cartoon, she said no right up front. The guy didn't stop. Had one of my sons done that, I would be ashamed of him but I hear guys saying that women who say they want to be left alone are just "playing hard to get".

Saying no, even once, ought to be respected by any man of honor or integrity. And women should similarly not wheedle or pressure men into doing things they don't want to do.

A person of either sex who views objections from the other as trivial inconveniences to be pushed aside is not worth much.

MikeD said...

I'd like to touch on what Jason said. And I think there's a great deal of truth to it. The ultimate issue is that men and women (I'm going to refresh my standard caveat that any time I speak of men and women I am only speaking in general... there are and always will be exceptions, but it is my firm belief that the opinion I am expressing is true for the majority of people belonging to each respective gender) communicate differently. Be it a biologically caused difference, socially, whatever... modern American women communicate differently than modern American men. And each is honestly mystified by the communication strategies employed by the other.

It took me nearly ten years of marriage to work out that my wife frequently did not like to ask direct questions, or make direct statements. If asked "which do you prefer?" I almost universally got "oh, it doesn't matter" or a similar equivocation. So I would chose whatever preference I had. After several such decisions being followed by unhappiness on her part, I finally sat her down and asked her why she kept getting so upset with my choices when she expressed none herself. Because, she would explain, I ignored her feelings in the matter. Well, clearly I thought I had by asking her preference, but she thought I hadn't because I didn't attempt to find out what she really wanted.

And she for ages thought I simply didn't want to discuss my feelings when she would find me quiet and "deep in thought". When asked what I was thinking about, I'd reply "nothing." She took this to be an avoidance, and never really comprehended until she once pressed me on the matter. Incredulous as matters became clear, I asked "you mean you are constantly thinking about something all the time? Isn't that exhausting?" And the lightbulb went on for her. There indeed were times I would "veg out" or just "drift" and not be contemplating some hidden feelings.

And too, I see it in my younger married friends. I explained to each why a particular fight had happened when she asked him to do the laundry, and he replied he'd do it after he took a shower. She understood that to be an avoidance, so she did the laundry herself (and resented it). He meant it literally, and did not know why he had gotten in trouble nor why she was doing the laundry when he got out of the shower. She could not fathom that he had literally meant that he just wanted to take a shower first, and he could not understand how she had really wanted him to do the laundry right at that moment (given that she hadn't asked).

MikeD said...

I've come to understand that much of female communication is indirect, non-confrontational, and generally circumspect. If you want something done, you don't just ASK someone to do it unless it's urgent. She hints "there sure is a lot of dirty clothes in the hamper!" and that's a signal that if you are thoughtful, you will take care of it without being asked. If she asks directly, that means your time is up, do it now. And if someone asks a question of your preference, they're being perfunctory unless they really press you to decide. And it would be rude to "pick for them".

Men on the other hand (I know from personal experience) tend to ask directly if they want something, "hey can you pick up the dry cleaning?" And if they need something done right now, that's generally in the request itself. And if he asks your opinion, that's because he wants to know what you think. If he doesn't ask, then he doesn't care. In reverse, if you ask him what his opinion of these drapes vs those drapes "I don't care" does NOT mean he doesn't care about YOU or what you like or that it is unimportant, it means he doesn't have a preference. And that means, pick the one you want, it'll be fine. That little fight starter only took me about three years to learn.

I don't know the people in the article. But unless he was actually a rapist who didn't care what she did or did not want, had she said "I said no!" when asked "why not?" that likely would have ended it. Yeah, maybe he'd have gotten his feelings hurt at being rejected, but I'm willing to bet he'd have preferred that to being thought as a rapist. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I doubt it. And before someone floats in here and says "you're blaming the victim for getting raped", spare me. I am doing no such thing. Had he been a willful rapist, he would have raped her regardless of what she wanted or could have done. But I suspect he was not a willful rapist, but a guy with no experience in female styles of communication who expected her to actually have a reason for saying no, and taking the lack of any response (as far as we are told) as a change of mind. In other words, he thought she was consenting. And the breakfast in the morning would have lent credence to that belief in his mind, even if it were not so in hers.

Texan99 said...

May I be allowed to hope that many men would not be confused about whether a woman who had just said "no" was now engaged in "passionate ardor" or was instead going along passively or resentfully in a desire to avoid a possibly damaging fistfight? Does our guy in this story really lack the interpersonal skills to tell the difference? I grant you that the woman might have been more clear, but come on. How oblivious is the guy supposed to be?

If, on the other hand, the woman actually behaved in ways that a sentient human being could interpret as passionate ardor, then I submit that she did change her mind, even if she now believes she was subjected to undue influence in that process.

Cass said...

May I be allowed to hope that many men would not be confused about whether a woman who had just said "no" was now engaged in "passionate ardor" or was instead going along passively or resentfully in a desire to avoid a possibly damaging fistfight? Does our guy in this story really lack the interpersonal skills to tell the difference? I grant you that the woman might have been more clear, but come on. How oblivious is the guy supposed to be?

AMEN. Assuming she isn't lying, and she really *did* say no, that should have been the end of it (at least for that night). Pestering/pressuring someone who just said no to sex is both childish and obnoxious.

That said, I'm having a LOT of trouble getting from "obnoxious/overbearing/desperately seeking a clue" to "my rapist".

I very much enjoyed both of Mike's comments. Men's communication styles sometimes seem rude or overbearing to women. We generally don't talk to each other like that, and if we were to talk to men like that, the result would be Bad.

It took me years to learn that when my husband is occasionally brusque, it's not (always) personal. I need to look at the whole picture - how he treats me every day - not just one isolated interaction. He's crankier than I am.

He would admit that he sometimes gets irritated and speaks in a way that, had I addressed him in the same tone, would have caused a big fight. Though I bristle every.single.time he does it, over the years, I've learned to make allowances for him having to switch gears b/tween dealing with Marines at work (who occasionally have to be hit over the head with a 2x4 just to get their attention) and dealing with his wife at home (for whom the smallest hint of irritation is usually more than enough to get the point across).

In return, he makes allowances when my reactions seem - to him - stronger than the situation warrants.

Texan99 said...

I'm just really having trouble picturing the interaction. She said, "No," and he riposted with a clever "Why not?"--an argument so shattering that she was left speechless, unable even to summon the vitality to try again with, "No, really"? After that, sex of some kind? Is his sex life normally so impersonal and dispirited that he can't tell the difference between a woman who's thinking "Yippee" and one who's mulling the idea of calling the cops once she gets to her feet? Or is it she whose mental state is so divorced from her physical actions that an impartial observer can't tell which of two diametrically opposite mental states she is in even from an admitted intimate vantage point? The whole thing is crazy.

But the breakfast totally does it for me. If this young woman doesn't know her own mind any better than that, the only thing I can fault the young man for is choosing sex partners with nothing between the ears about whom he knows virtually nothing--though I have to say, that's a dangerous hobby.

Unknown said...

If I had a nickel for every time I took no for an answer and made that woman mad...

"I had to make you work for it, I didn't want you to think I was easy."

"I wanted to make sure you really wanted me, I guess you didn't."

"My mouth was saying no, but couldn't you hear the rest of me saying yes?"

My response to all of these later things, some literally decades later, have been "Why, then, did you play games?" I have always been taught, hammered into me, to let my no mean no, and my yes mean yes.

Life is tradeoffs. You grab X, you let Y go. If you wish men to respect "No" at face value, that's fine - but then, madam, you trade off pursuit, persuasion, and seduction which so many women find thrilling. Even romantic. And as evidence I submit a large truckload of successful chick-flick videos and second edition because the first edition sold out romance novels, each with a unique title, with just such themes and a promise that I can find more - all largely consumed by women, and fulfilling much of the same purpose as porn for many men.

The truly exasperating part of this is, had that man been a romance she had earnestly desired, I could see a wholly different cartoon written by her. In this one he would have stopped at no, and left - and in the morning she would have eaten her breakfast angry and hurt at his rejection of her, finishing in the same way that one day she would enjoy eggs again but for now were symbolic of her rejection.

Grim said...

There's a lot we don't know, even if we assume the absolute truth of the woman's account.

For example, was the "Why not?" accompanied by a pause in which he could think he was assessing whether she was merely hesitant, or committed to a firm "No"? She doesn't say.

She doesn't say how, or if, she responded to his inquiry. That's also an important detail.

But I'm not interested in assessing blame -- that's not the point of my post. I'm interested in this (to me sudden) realization that there could be this kind of deep disconnection on the issue of whether or not violence was happening. I had assumed that if you're doing violence you know it, and if you're receiving violence you know it.

I talked this over with a philosophically-trained friend last night. He and I reviewed our experiences growing up -- him in Texas, Indiana and Colorado -- and they largely matched up. Fighting was a normal part of his life as a boy too, in all of those places.

So how, I asked, do you know if you're involved in a situation of violence? "It slaps you in the face," he answered.

So then I introduced this cartoon, and we talked about that. He was instantly sympathetic to the woman -- kind of a left-leaning guy, though very much a man's man, he's inclined to think well of feminism and the usual feminist account of rape. But he agreed that he wasn't sure, if it had been him, that he would have had any idea that she thought she was experiencing a violent crime. He would certainly not be intending one, but it's imaginable that a woman could feel like she was experiencing one without him realizing what she felt. There was nothing in her example that would 'slap him in the face' the way violence as we've experienced it does.

This is the last guy on earth who would ever force a woman, to be sure. But is it imaginable to him that he could experience a disconnection of this kind with a woman? The answer is yes -- and he's a very smart, thoughtful guy whom I have observed to display acts of significant character.

Texan99 said...

There's all kinds of things that could follow "no" besides his abruptly leaving and her stewing in hurt rejection. They might have a conversation--shocking notion! They might get to know each other; he might find out what was making her hesitate.

If the only thing on his agenda is sex one way or another, though, the conversation won't happen, and the chances are good of a "disconnect" severe enough to accommodate the man's thinking he got a free romp in the hay while the woman is thinking she's kind of sorry she ever met this guy.

Anonymous, perfunctory, impersonal sex is not all it's cracked up to be. It promises to be simple, but in fact strong feelings are getting stirred up between two people who are doing everything in their power to ensure that they misunderstand each other, and frankly they may not be putting that much work even into understanding themselves.

Grim said...

Anonymous, perfunctory, impersonal sex is not all it's cracked up to be.

A point of perfect agreement between us. One reason I always advocate (and have myself adhered to) a traditional notion of courtship and marriage is just to avoid a whole host of dangers, moral and physical, that attend to sex with someone you don't know.

It seems as if it would probably avoid this one too, as courtship involves an ascending spiral of consent to ever-more intimacy. That's not to say that rape is impossible in those cases, or even in marriage. However, I don't think in those cases you're unlikely to know that you're trespassing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Wait. Wait. What is the evidence that either one of them is telling the truth? We cannot assume that this is some misunderstanding that goes to the heart of how men and women perceive things. The far more likely answer is that one of them is lying.

Grim said...

Well, we have no account from the man, so he can't be lying because he hasn't said anything. But why think she is?

Hutz said...

Sorry to interject, but I can't help thinking that we are over-thinking how to turn boys into good men wrt women. My two sons have watched me love and respect their Mom, all my sisters, their Grandma, their friends Mom's and every other woman they've ever seen me talk to. I don't think it is rocket science.

Grim said...

Sorry to interject, but I can't help thinking that we are over-thinking...

You may find yourself saying that a lot.

Cass said...

My two sons have watched me love and respect their Mom, all my sisters, their Grandma, their friends Mom's and every other woman they've ever seen me talk to. I don't think it is rocket science.

I think that matters a lot. I think it made a huge difference to my sons - it wasn't just what I taught them when we discussed dating, but also a lifetime of watching their Dad treat women with respect and speak of them with respect.

And when I was dating, I did run into several guys who pushed to have sex (what made them think I'd have sex with a guy I hardly knew is a mystery to me, but whatever) and what this woman reports is very consistent with my experience: an initial overture, followed by a "no", followed by over the top nonsense about how pretty I was (I wasn't all that pretty) or how badly they wanted me, or what an incredibly special snowflake I was (how they knew this on such short acquaintance was - again - a mystery). I was very naïve, but somehow had a sense that a guy who cajoles and flatters and pressures you to do something you've already said you don't want to do is not to be trusted.

But attraction and sex (especially for young people) can twist people's minds around, so I do think there's enormous value in encouraging young people to think how they will respond - in advance - to various situations they're likely to find themselves in. While certainly not foolproof, that gives them a fighting chance to override the hormones, and it also reminds them that there are standards higher than, "If it feels good to you, go ahead and do it."

That said, I doubt I would have talked to a daughter much differently than I talked to my sons. I think it would be more a matter of emphasis than essential content differing.

Cass said...

One point that occurred to me when reading this was how much of a handicap it is for both girls and boys not to have parents who set an example of what healthy relationships look like.

A boy or girl whose father doesn't respect women or whose mother doesn't stand up for herself may think that's the way things are supposed to be. Almost invariably when I was younger, female friends who didn't seem to expect to be treated respectfully had parents who acted the way the (screwed up) guys they dated acted.

Cass said...

If you wish men to respect "No" at face value, that's fine - but then, madam, you trade off pursuit, persuasion, and seduction which so many women find thrilling. Even romantic.

Really????

I didn't. My boyfriends pursued me, and we went through the whole courtship dance. It's just that the focus wasn't on whether I'd have sex with them, but rather on whether I was willing to take myself 'off the shelf' and go stead with them.

It was always my understanding that something of the same evaluation of me was going on on their side: do I like her enough that I want our relationship to be exclusive?

I would never have dated a guy who didn't respect a "no" and am not sure why a man would pursue women like that (other than for casual sex). Seems to me that you paid these women the compliment of assuming they knew their own minds.

I never wanted a boyfriend I could push around, and am not sure why a man would want a woman who can't hold up her end of a relationship unless he's very insecure.

Texan99 said...

"If you wish men to respect 'No' at face value, that's fine - but then, madam, you trade off pursuit, persuasion, and seduction which so many women find thrilling. Even romantic."

When I read this, all I could think was "Blecchh," so I've been trying to bring some more order to my thoughts. For one thing, a man who refuses to respect "no" at face value doesn't make me feel romantic. He gives me the creeps; I don't want to pursue the acquaintance.

At AVI's place, a discussion of this same topic included the experience of a friend who was assaulted by a man who evidently doesn't consider himself to have committed an assault. As he sees it, he "knows her own mind better than she does herself." Big clanging danger signals there: he doesn't even know she's a separate person from him. Nothing she can tell him about herself can ever register. He thinks he already knows.

Like Cass, not only can I not imagine enjoying being pushed around, I'm puzzled by a man's being interested in a woman who did enjoy it. No wonder some men think so poorly of women, if this is the kind of woman they find attractive.

Cass said...

At AVI's place, a discussion of this same topic included the experience of a friend who was assaulted by a man who evidently doesn't consider himself to have committed an assault. As he sees it, he "knows her own mind better than she does herself." Big clanging danger signals there: he doesn't even know she's a separate person from him. Nothing she can tell him about herself can ever register. He thinks he already knows.

Nailed it.

JSPetersen said...

I have to say I cannot imagine you not being able to imagine it; it is such a staple of "chick flicks" and cheap romance novels that it is a trope. It may be alien to YOUR personal experience (Or perhaps you are far removed from the dating scene) but I can assure you from my own experience, and watching my son navigate it that the woman who wishes to be pursued is more common than not; it is what is often referred to as a "sh!t test."

Women say "No" all the time when they often mean "maybe." (We even have songs written about it) Sometimes they wish to not seem easy or slutty, but it is far, far from unknown.

I've left such women alone myself as I have no time for such games, but I also come from a position of being conventionally attractive and reasonably successful, so I was able to afford to be picky.

Texan99 said...

True enough: I meant "can't imagine it" in the sense of "can't imagine it in a healthy person." I guess I was reacting to Anonymous's apparent complaint:

"If you wish men to respect "No" at face value, that's fine - but then, madam, you trade off pursuit, persuasion, and seduction which so many women find thrilling. Even romantic."

That sounded sort of like wistful approval, not the identification of behavior that a picky person would avoid.

Cass said...

... I can assure you from my own experience, and watching my son navigate it that the woman who wishes to be pursued is more common than not; it is what is often referred to as a "sh!t test."

I am sure there are women like that, but I very much doubt they're more common than not. The group of women you or your son have dated isn't a random sample. Neither is the group of women I know, but it's probably more random (because I'm not selecting them as romantic partners) than yours would be.

One of the more amusing things about undesirable behaviors in the context of a relationship is that almost invariably, they are reinforced somehow. Not always positively, but it's still reinforcement of a kind.

I would imagine that sh** tests come in two varieties:

1. Women who legitimately do that sort of thing to see how much they can get away with. Men do this too, by the way. Just read any PUA site - they actually brag about doing this, which is just beyond idiotic. The style differs, but the behavior's the same.

People of both sexes should run from anyone who deliberately tries to manipulate them.

2. Situations where a woman is genuinely upset by something a guy is doing (could be for a good reason, or could be she's not being reasonable but is still very upset - feelings aren't always reasonable) and the man chooses to view it as an attempt to manipulate him and labels it "sh** test".

I would run from a man like that so fast it made both of our heads spin.

Both parties need to be reasonable in a relationship. If they're pitching a fit every 20 seconds, there's something wrong. But not every conflict or misunderstanding is manipulative.

I can think of tons of examples over the years where either I or my husband did something that upset/angered the other person (and which said other person did NOT understand). If you care about the other person and they're not normally unreasonable or manipulative, you try to understand and change your behavior.

Cass said...

Women say "No" all the time when they often mean "maybe." (We even have songs written about it) Sometimes they wish to not seem easy or slutty, but it is far, far from unknown.

OK, I'm really confused here :p

So, a guy makes a pass, the woman says, "No tonight, dear" and he has several choices:

1. (this one's pretty radical and shocking) Interpret "not tonight dear" or "No, oddly enough I do not wish to sleep with a guy I don't know well" literally.

She does not wish to have sex tonight, but she has not said she never wants to see you again, nor that she never wants to have sex with you, period.

If you're confused, you could even ask her which one she means.

2. Interpret a single "not tonight" as a rejection for all time. Which it probably isn't.

This is probably what many women mean when they say, "I wish you had kept trying". They likely don't mean, "I literally wish you had overridden my objections and ridden me like Secretariat, you big, dominant stud muffin, you!".

It's probably more along the lines of, "I don't generally jump into bed with every guy that asks. I prefer to get to know a person before letting them that close".

If that kind of "no" is a sh** test.... wow. Just wow.

So what's the downside (besides not having sex that night) to not overthinking a declined offer to have sex? And why is this even such a big deal at all?

I'd heard of the term only because years ago I wrote about some of the dumber goings on at PUA sites, and it wasn't my understanding that the term had much to do with being turned down for sex.

Leaves me wondering how many men there are running around who think women are manipulating them if they don't want to have sex at that moment.

*sigh*

Also makes me very glad I found a guy who doesn't think that way

Texan99 said...

We've got "No means yes" and "No means I'm a horrible person for saying no," but apparently (in some minds) there's no such thing as "No means I have a choice in the matter, and I just expressed it."

I feel lucky, too.