Me Too: Our Own Role in Upholding Rape Culture

We should live in a world where survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment feel comfortable coming forward, whether they are male or female.

We should live in a world where women (and, in some cases, men) can write “me too” on social media, and everyone behind their computers reads that and doesn’t judge them for that, but rather realizes that this is a huge societal issue that needs to stop.

And we should also live in a world where this doesn’t stop there.

I do believe that the “me too” campaign was, in fact, a good idea, because I think that there are many people out there (and men in particular) who don’t seem to fully grasp just how much of an issue this is for women or femme people.

In the past, I have told men about my experiences being catcalled, to which they responded by saying, “what! Why didn’t you call the police?” Because, what am I going to do? Call the police every time that happens? And, besides, it’s not like the police are going to be able to do anything; there are no laws against harassing a woman on the street.

In the past, I have had female friends cancel plans because they happened to take place in a sketchy area, where rapes were often reported, and my male friends responded by saying, “I don’t know what they’re so upset about! It would have been a good time, if they weren’t so sensitive.”

And I think we have all heard about that guy, the one who gets mad at a girl who won’t go home with him even though they just met, and rationalizes his anger by saying, “what? Does she think all men are rapists?”

No. Nobody thinks all men are rapists. But the thing is, women are taught to fear all men as potential rapists, at least until they get to know them well enough to let that fear subside. And I don’t really think that’s something that the average man tends to understand. In fact, almost worse, when certain men do start to see this in women, they don’t see it as a societal problem, but as a problem with the woman herself. She‘s too sensitive, she’s being judgemental.

He forgets that, if she were raped, then people would ask her why she didn’t take measures to prevent it; clearly, she must have secretly wanted it if she was in that place, with that man, wearing that outfit.

The thing about the “me too” campaign is that it’s all well and good to be aware that there’s a problem, but most women are aware, because we live it everyday. We know what it’s like to leave the house and need to walk with headphones in so that nobody mistakes us for wanting to chat, adopting our resting bitch face and staring straight ahead so that we get left alone. Women know what it’s like to tense up when a man walks too close behind us, to have a plan for what we’ll do if he tries to grope us.

For the most part, women know that there is a problem. And while there are some men out there who are also aware, who will be there for their female friends if another man crosses the line, there do need to be more men out there doing something about it.

And I don’t just mean being there for your female friend who got a little too drunk and is now being eyed by several creeps in the bar – although, don’t get me wrong, you should definitely do that too.

I’m talking about thinking back to every time that we might have been told “I don’t know” and interpreted that to mean, “yes”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when we touched or kissed someone that didn’t want to be touched or kissed, all in the name of “going for it”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when the one we were pursuing said, in no uncertain terms, “no”, and we figured that all we had to do was keep trying, keep making gestures, keep making them feel guilty and uncertain, because sooner or later, we’d win them over.

And I’m not necessarily trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they have engaged in this behaviour; all that I am trying to say is that rape culture is part of our culture, and there are many who aren’t even aware of it. Maybe we thought that we were being romantic at the time, because society has given us this narrative that this behaviour is romantic. But it is behaviour that we need to question. Because if the “me too” campaign has taught us anything, it is that this behaviour is common and it is harmful.

And if this behaviour is going to stop, then we all need to question it. Every single one of us.

Women cannot end the issue of sexual assault and harassment alone.

So let’s not allow the “me too” campaign to end with survivors sharing their stories and that’s it. Let’s actually open up this discussion. Let’s take a close look at what rape culture is, because the amount of people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment proves that this is not only being done by a few outlier creeps who nobody knows or speaks to by choice; this is a massive, societal problem. This is the result of a society that excuses and normalizes rape. That says that it’s perfectly romantic if we never give up on the person who has turned us down already, because they have to say yes eventually. That says that women who are flirtatious, or wearing a certain outfit, or going to a certain place, have already given their consent to whatever the other party wants. That says that men cannot be sexually assaulted, because they clearly want sex all the time.

And as uncomfortable as it might be to look at ourselves and our own behaviour, it is something that we need to do right now. Because we cannot control whether other people change or not, but we do have control over our own change. And if the “me too” campaign succeeds in little more than making a few people critically question their own role in upholding rape culture, then it will be worth it.

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“Men Get Raped Too”: Why Rape is Still a Gendered Issue

Increasingly, there is this phenomena across the internet where a woman will talk openly about rape, and about how rape affects women, and when you scroll down to look at the comments, they will be filled with male commenters pointing out that “men get raped too”.

Now, I know that a lot of people say that you should ignore the comments on anything on the internet. The comments are a free-for-all where anyone can say anything, and sometimes they aren’t always intelligent anythings. But this specific comment, this “men get raped too” has appeared again and again, across multiple videos, articles, Facebook statuses or posts, and so the more often I see it, the more often I find myself wondering why so many men feel the need to place it so frequently on posts about female rape.

I’ll admit, the first few times I saw this comment, I rolled my eyes a little bit – not because I don’t believe that men can be raped. They very much can be. According to SexAssault.ca, approximately 20% of sex crime victims are men (more on this in a little bit). But when I saw these comments initially, the fact that they were very brief and placed specifically on discussions of female rape made me think that these commenters didn’t really care about male rape victims at all – they were just trying to derail the argument of the woman who initially posted. The way I saw it, it was their way of saying, “yes, women get raped, but men get raped too, so shut up and stop complaining about it”.

It was only recently that I saw a posting that made me change my mind on these commenter’s intentions. This particular post was, again, made by a man, and again, it pointed out that men get raped too, but it went a little bit more into detail about it. What this man was trying to argue was that men get raped too, and therefore rape isn’t a gendered issue – it’s a universal issue. It isn’t a topic for feminism, it has nothing to do with women’s issues.

And I have to admit, that is an interesting perspective – but, respectfully, I disagree. Although I will agree that rape is something that happens to both men and women, it is still a very gendered issue, and it is still an issue that should be addressed by feminists.

Now, why do I say that? What about rape is gendered if it is something that happens to both men and women? Well, the thing about rape is that it is something that people experience differently depending on gender.

Let’s start with the way that women experience rape. Women are raped more frequently than men are. In my home country, Canada, 80% of sexual assault victims are women, and one in four women will report being raped in their lifetime. That, however, is only the reported rapes, and the majority of rape victims will not report being raped, for a plethora of reasons. Although women face no issue being told that it is possible for them to be raped, they are still doubted when they come forward, and often times for very gendered reasons. Women who go to the police face a barrage of invasive questions, designed to make the crime seem as though it were her fault. What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Are you sure you didn’t lead him on at all? Because, you know, if you dangle a juicy steak before a dog, what else is he going to do but bite? And you, as a woman, are less of a human being and more of a juicy steak, a hunk of meat to be taken advantage of and fulfill a man’s pleasures. Women who have gone forward in an attempt to report a rape have described the experience as being a second violation. She is forced to relive her experience again and again. She is doubted, villainized, told that she has no chance of winning her case because it’s her word against his and a man’s voice will always be trusted before hers. And many women don’t even try to come forward, because the man who raped her was a friend, a boyfriend, a husband, someone who she trusted and doesn’t want to hurt, or someone who she knows will be trusted before she will. Who will ever believe that a boyfriend raped his girlfriend, after all? She must have consented and just changed her mind later. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to bother, to go through the whole terrible violation of seeking justice when she knows she won’t win anyway.

Female rape victims continue to be classified by the misogynist worldview of the virgin or the whore. If you were raped and you were wearing revealing clothes, or you flirted with him first, or you were promiscuous before even meeting your rapist, then you’re a whore and you were clearly asking for it. If you were raped and you were a virginal nun who never so much as touched a drop of alcohol or saw a party, then it’s a terrible tragedy and how could those boys do such a thing? Even women who haven’t been raped are classified in this way. Party girls who go out every weekend are told to “look out” or they might get raped, as though rape is the inevitable punishment for wearing a skimpy dress and drinking alcohol, whereas girls who stay in every weekend and read are praised by their fathers, who say that “something like that would never happen to them”, despite the fact that they are still at risk, simply by being a woman in a society that excuses the aggressor. Just because they don’t go out to party, that doesn’t protect them from the boyfriend who feels entitled, the employer or teacher who pursues more than he should, just because they are women and their aggressors are men.

Now, what about male rape victims? Men report being raped much less frequently than women do, but when men are raped, they too will rarely report it, but for very different reasons. Many men live under the illusion that men cannot be raped, simply because they’re… well, men. They’re big and strong. They can fight off any woman who expects more from him than he’s willing to give. And more than that, as a man, he wants sex constantly. If a pretty girl is asking him for sex, then of course he consented. He’s a man. Many male rape victims aren’t even aware that they have been raped because of this myth. But some male rape victims are aware, and yet they still don’t report, and often times, the reason for that is that they feel as though rape is a threat to their masculinity. They are supposed to be big, tough men, so why couldn’t they fight off their aggressor? Are they lesser men because of it? After all, the typical image that we as a society have of rape victims is a frail, small woman being attacked by a aggressive, predatory man; it is very difficult for men to accept themselves in the role of that frail, feminine victim (not that being a victim is at all a feminine thing to be, I am merely discussing society’s perspective). And if they were raped by another man, internalized homophobia might also play a role in their refusal to come forward.

When men do come forward, however, they face just as difficult a time as women do, but for different reasons. Women are doubted because they must have somehow been at fault; men are doubted because it simply couldn’t have happened. Men can’t be raped, not the way that women can be, or so they are told. There have even been cases of men turning to rape crisis centres and being turned away because they are doubted. Even the community that has dedicated itself to helping them refuse to do anything.

And to return to statistics, 15% of sexual assault victims in Canada are boys under sixteen, which adds an entirely new layer to the discussion. When children are being raped, they have a very hard time reaching out to anyone, or even understanding what’s happening to them, but the mental side effects will last a lifetime.

So to return to the commenters on the internet, I will agree that, yes, men can be raped too – that is most certainly a fact, and I agree wholeheartedly. But that being said, rape is still a gendered issue. The reasons that we as a society have for doubting victims when they come forward are extremely gendered, and the ways that we respond to them are gendered as well. Men are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a man should be, and women are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a woman should be. This results in very different experiences for the victims (each of them equally terrible), and very different reasons for why the crime is committed. But when I say that rape is a gendered issue, I am not saying that rape is an issue of men vs. women. At the end of the day, the crime is the same; it is only society and society’s expectations around gender that makes the experience different. And it is the goal of feminism to create a society where these expectations around gender are no longer relied on so heavily – for both men and women. My hope is that we as a society can someday reach a point where male and female victims are not treated differently, if they are raped at all; they are equally believed and they equally receive justice and support from their community. But the thing is, we simply are not there yet, and in order to get there, we must continue to discuss and dismantle the gendered issues around rape.

Hot or Not: Women and Competition

It was a very usual day, and I was passing the time in a very usual way – by bumming around on the internet. And while I was there, I came across a very usual post, one that I have seen variations of before and will see variations of again. This particular post used the figures of two female celebrities, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it asked the question: which of these two women is hotter?

Now, there are many things that I could say about this post. I could say that Madonna and Lady Gaga are both intelligent business women and artists who have fought to keep themselves relevant through the changing years, and yet this post reduces them to their physical beauty. I could say that both women are much more than their appearance, and more than that, they have represented themselves as being more than mere objects whose beauty is to be judged and determined by others. But that isn’t what I’m going to say. As much as all of that is true, what I am going to discuss is the manner in which these two women were being pitted against one another as competition in beauty.

And this is not a rare occurrence for women either – sometimes very directly, such as the example of the post that outright asked whether Madonna or Lady Gaga was hotter, and sometimes more subtly, such as when people make comments like “girls who are *insert body type here* are much more attractive than girls who are *insert body type here*”. This last example gets passed around quite often. Women who are a bit larger are made to feel as though they would be more beautiful if they just lost some weight, but in attempt to validate women who are larger, the internet produced a quote that read “real men like curves, only dogs go for bones”. And body weight is not the only area through which women are pitted against one another. Women who don’t wear make-up are told that girls who do are more beautiful, while women who wear a lot of make-up are told that girls who wear natural make-up are more beautiful. And the competition doesn’t even end at physical beauty – many women, especially teenage girls, feel the need to insist that they “aren’t like other girls”, as though to say that there is something wrong with other girls while she is inherently better.

In a lot of ways, it seems as though our society has decided that there is one clear way that is ‘right’ to be a woman, but they haven’t entirely decided what that way is. Some will say that curvy women are hotter, some will say that skinny women are hotter. Some will say that feminine women, who enjoy doing their hair and nails, are better, and some will say that masculine women, who fix up trucks and live for sports, are better. Some will say that Madonna is hotter, and some will say Lady Gaga is hotter.

And you know the reason for this? The reason is that there is no one way to be beautiful.

We too often forget that. We think that we can come up with a definitive winner in this competition that all women were unwillingly entered into. Who is the hottest woman? What is the best way to be woman? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. One person will like skinny girls, and another person will like curvier girls. One person will like girls who wear a lot of make-up, and another person will like girls who wear natural make-up. There will always be someone out there who will think you are beautiful, and there will always be someone out there who will think you are not, no matter what you do. It is impossible to please everyone, so really, why bother? The only person you have to please is yourself. So long as you are happy and you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will be able to see that and love you for it.

So let’s stop pitting women against one another. Let’s stop saying that one woman is hotter than another because, really, she isn’t. Both women are beautiful, and they are beautiful in their own ways. And this idea that women need to be in competition with one another to be the most beautiful or gain the most men (if the woman in question wants men, that is) is only hurting us in the long run. We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. We should be trying to make our fellow women feel like they have value, like someone out there cares about them, because that is a much more beautiful thing to do than tearing each other down to build ourselves up.

Being Not Okay

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As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across this post from QuotesGate. “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order,” it said. “Even with tears in her eyes, she still manages to say ‘I’m Ok’ with a smile”.

And I’ll admit, maybe I was in the wrong place in life to come across this post, or maybe I’m just not the right audience for this post. I mean, yeah, sure, I’d identify myself as a strong woman, and that’s the only audience that this post specifically calls out, but I’m a strong woman who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety three years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working hard every single day of my life, every last second that I’m forced to spend within my diseased mind, to achieve peace and happiness. But as hard as I’ve been working, the last month or so has been particularly hard on me. Completing my B.A. in English sent me into an existential spiral, wondering what the hell I was supposed to fill forty hours of my week with now – what would fulfill me in the same way that reading and learning new things did? To try and ease my pain, I got myself a job, which turned out to be thoroughly unenjoyable, and I was let go from it as soon as the busy period ended, which just threw me right back into that very same existential crisis, but with the added depression of wondering what I had fucked up, if I was actually employable in the real world, and what it was about this job that I had hated so much. And on top of all of that, I’ve had a very hard time getting in contact with old friends, I’m not very good at making new friends, and I am very, very, very, very single. And I’m not saying all of this to complain – everything that I’ve gone through is very simply a part of mundane, everyday life, and I know that I will get through it eventually. The only reason I am saying this is to explain why I have not been emotionally okay for the last month.

My life has not been kept in order. I’ve been trying to keep it in order, but I’m twenty two years old, which means that I have a whole lot to balance right now. My arms are filled with creative pursuits, my job, my ambitions, my friends, my family, my health, my love life, my passions, my financial situation, and because of my history with depression and anxiety, I’m holding all of them while balancing on one leg. And for the most part, I don’t think I’m doing a particularly terrible job at holding them. Some things slip from time to time, sure, but I’m confident in my ability to pick them back up again. Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a long time, and maybe life will suck a little bit until then, but I know that I’ll figure it out eventually, or at least learn how to live without them.

And here’s the thing – many of us have lives that aren’t in order right now. I am not alone in this. And more than that, many of us have lives that aren’t in order, and yet we don’t know how to put our lives back in order, but why should that make us any less strong? Having an orderly life is not the thing that indicates strength – what indicates strength is your ability to persevere, your ability to keep trying even when things aren’t in order. A strong woman (or man) may not know how to keep their life in order, but they shouldn’t be expected to. That is a hell of a thing to expect from a person, because nobody has all the answers, not even the strongest of us. The strongest of us just don’t give up, even when we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.

But more than that, let’s talk about the second part of this post, because it might be the part that irks me the most: the part that claims that a strong woman (or man) can tell the world that they are okay, even when they aren’t. And, yes, sometimes it is incredibly admirable of a person when they put aside their own feelings to fix or otherwise manage a situation. But that is not something that we can expect from someone constantly. As someone with a background in depression and anxiety, I know this firsthand. Sometimes, emotions get to be too much. Sometimes I need someone to talk to. Sometimes I need to let those tears in my eyes actually spill out onto my cheeks. And sometimes, when I’m not okay, I need to admit that I’m not okay, because that is the only way that I can figure out the best way to deal with the situation.

Emotions do not make us weak. Talking about our problems and admitting that we are not okay does not make us weak. For generations now, young boys have been told that strength means swallowing their emotions to become men, and as a result, there are many men who are emotionally immature and unavailable – this is not a message that we should be extending to women and girls now. Because here’s the thing – emotions are simply a part of us. We should be allowed to learn how to deal with this, how to talk about it, how to learn and grow with our emotions. Suppressing our emotions does not get rid of them – it only makes them manifest in different, more harmful ways.

And from my own personal experience, I was only able to confront my feelings around depression and anxiety when I was finally able to talk about them. I was only able to become okay when I was able to admit that I wasn’t okay. Because being not okay is perfectly natural. Sometimes it happens – there’s nothing shameful about it. And sometimes, admitting that you aren’t okay is the strongest thing that you can do.

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

I’ve met two different kinds of people when it comes to opinions about social media.

On the one hand, we have the social-media-is-the-god-of-modernity people. These are the people who live on Twitter or Instagram, the people who defend the existence of the internet by pointing out that it is a part of society that isn’t going away, and so we should not only get used to it, but get good at it. These are the people who think of social media as something that will be of growing importance, something that you must understand in order to function in the world.

And then, on the other hand, we have the social-media-is-the-gateway-to-hell people. The people who don’t have anything more than an email account because everything else is pointless at best and opening you up to being stalked at worse. The people who worry about children getting a hold of social media because they are not capable of enough critical thinking to realize that they shouldn’t share private information with strangers, or send out images of themselves that could lead to bullying or unfair treatment from others.

And the way I see it, both sides have their points. I know many people who have dealt with misfortune as a result of social media. Although I have never personally experienced cyberbullying, I have spoken with people who have, and they have told me that it is even worse than face-to-face bullying because there is no escape from it. It haunts you constantly, always there on your phone or your computer screen no matter what actions you take to try and avoid it. I have known young girls who have taken sexualized photos of themselves and sent them out on social media, only to be humiliated when those images fell into the hands of someone who was not intended to get a hold of them. These are problems that have existed before social media, of course, but social media has made them easier to persist.

But social media is not the problem. Social media is a merely a vehicle, and it can be used for just as good as it is capable of evil.

As much as I have known people who were tormented through their interactions online, I have also known people who have an incredibly difficult time making friends in face-to-face interactions, and social media has made that just a little bit easier. Social media makes it easier to talk about things that we do not tend to talk about in our daily lives, because it’s easier to bare your soul before an empty screen than a human being. You can be honest on social media, exploring issues like mental illness or personal insecurities without fear of judgment. You can reach out to people without ever meeting them face-to-face.

This has happened to me countless times: I discuss depression, or suicidal thoughts, or my struggles with my sexual orientation – the sort of things that I would never explore in vivid detail face-to-face with someone, and the next thing I know, I have people messaging me on Facebook telling me that they have felt the same way as me. Maybe they’ve felt suicidal at some point, but they haven’t had anyone to talk to about it. Maybe they’re closeted bisexual. Maybe they’ve simply shared my thoughts at some point. Either way, social media allows us to be more open, more honest, and because of that, it can make us realize that we aren’t alone. That our fears, insecurities, and struggles are merely human. They are something that many of us share, and the burden becomes a little easier to bear when we realize that we aren’t the only ones carrying it.

Social media allows us to meet and make connections with people who are nothing like us, as well. I’m a young white woman, and maybe the majority of the people who I see day-to-day are young white women, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only people I can ever speak to. Social media opens up my world to so much more than that, to so many different perspectives that I may have never considered before. I can read the private thoughts of someone living halfway across the planet if I want to, and I wouldn’t be able to do that quite so easily if it weren’t for social media.

Social media allows us to learn about people. Sometimes we learn ugly lessons about how much we are able to trust a faceless stranger behind a computer screen, and sometimes we learn to open our mind and consider perspectives that we’ve never encountered in our daily lives. So altogether, what does this mean? Is social media a good tool, or a an evil one?

Well, in my personal opinion, it’s neither good nor evil. Rather, it has the capability to be both. There are many things in this world that are just as beautiful as they are sinister, but that doesn’t mean that we should avoid them completely. Social media is a passive tool that is shaped completely by the person using it – it is up to them to make it what it is. And I can say that we should just be careful about what we post and try to make the internet a positive place for everyone, but at the same time, that’s a difficult thing to maintain completely. Some people are going to use social media for ill. Some people are going to steal images that don’t belong to them, or hack accounts, or simply be generally rude, and sometimes there’s no real way to avoid that. That’s just life. But just because there is negativity out there, that doesn’t take anything away from the wonder that exists as well.