Today we have an amazing guest post from a good friend of mine, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein of Rensselaer County SACVAP. I met Catt and her husband at a panel on gender politics in fandom at a local science fiction convention in early 2009; we hit it off instantly. I was thrilled and unsurprised when, seeing how much I love BARCC, they signed up to become advocates with SACVAP. :) We reprised the gender politics panel at this year’s convention and also did one on rape and sexual assault in genre fiction; both of them went wonderfully, and I look forward to doing even more awesome social justice stuff with them. Like me, Catt is a writer, so she has a particular gift in communicating with people and helping them understand rape culture. When I saw this post on her personal blog, I was bouncing - “Yes yes yes! That! Brilliant!” - and she graciously gave me permission to reprint it here. Consider this part of the “how to talk about rape culture” series. And without further ado, here’s Catt:
“Forgive me,” he said, with genuine respect in his voice and bearing, “I don’t mean to be insulting about it, but wouldn’t you say that there’s a big difference between the jogger at the park, and these girls who go to bars and dress provocatively?”
And I said, “Only in degree, really. Many serial rapists actually prey in bars because their odds of getting away with it are better if their victim is impaired.” And he brightened, as if I had proved his point. So, sorry I had to disappoint him, I went on. “There are situations and places which carry more personal risk than others, but the question is, why should they BE risky, really? Is it dangerous for a man to dress in tight jeans, a flimsy tee shirt, and go out to a bar? Is he likely to be drugged, dragged off, and sexually compromised just because he was present, and wearing cologne? And if he is, is he likely to be called a slut and a whore in the press because of it?”
He looked confused, but after a moment, he nodded his understanding unhappily. “But still, the way some of these women dress…” He was Muslim, you see, and quite earnest in his faith, though clearly not wishing to give offense to me.
I cut him off. “I liken it to driving a car, actually.”
And he looked up, shocked enough to actually laugh. “Seriously?”
“Absolutely,” I grinned in reply, as much to defang what I was about to lay on him, as to show that I didn’t take his cluelessness personally. “Hundreds of thousands of people die in cars every year. Even more are maimed for life in them, but do you really, seriously think about those odds every time you make the choice to get into one?” He made a thoughtful face, and nodded again. I went on. “Now, there are steps you can take to help pare down the basic risks of driving, of course; you can wear your seatbelt, you can keep your car in good order, you can use all your mirrors and turn indicators, you can avoid speeding, tailgaiting, and driving after you’ve taken cold medicine…” He looked up, sensing, I think, what was coming next. “But you can still get broadsided by a bus, even when you have taken each and every one of these precautions.”
This time, his nod was thoughtful. It really was sinking in. “And then there’s the fact that sometimes you can get into someone else’s car, and their choices can put you into danger that you cannot escape, and for which you cannot be responsible, as well,” I told him. “Friends haul each other out to parties, urge each other to do things that aren’t exactly smart, and cheer each other on to greater heights of daring in the name of fun and acceptance, and many predators know just how to find a girl in that kind of a flock, and cut her out like a cheetah with a gazelle. The rest of the flock might notice she’s not with them, but they often won’t know she’s in real trouble until it’s all over.”
His expression turned a little sour, and I could sense a gender disrespect issue arising, so I moved to head it off before he could bring it to words. “And also, I want to point something important out about those provocatively dressed girls who are getting drunk in the bars.” And here, he looked up, cautiously. “For every one man who made the decision to rape that girl we’re talking about, there are twenty or thirty more who were there, who saw her, heard her, and maybe even bought her a drink, but who made the decision not to rape her.”
And I watched that sink into his brain like a boulder in mud—too big a truth to just swallow and chatter on, or to wave away like a stinging fly, and he was conscious and conscientious enough that he didn’t care to delude himself on account of his manhood alone. This was the cornerstone of rape culture that I’d just chucked at him with very little warning, and while I watched his face, he managed to get it down.
There was a lot more I could have shown him, down the rabbit hole of understanding, into which he’d just begun to peek, but unfortunately we hadn’t any more time. While I had been talking with the earnest young man in the crochet cap and camo BDU’s, the SUNY health fair had been shutting down around us. Ken had packed up the SACVAP display table, and was waiting for me to shift a bit, so he could get the last of the flyers into the case. It was time to go, and really, he’d had about as much as he was ready to retain from one encounter, I felt.
I offered to shake his hand. He graciously declined, explaining that his faith forbid it, and then he thanked me for taking the time to educate him on the matter. And I thanked him for staying to hear what I had to say about it.
And then he was gone. But he left behind the persistent sensation of hope inside my jaded, cynical breast; that men realy CAN learn to get it; they really can understand, and reject rape culture without resorting to a kneejerk fear reaction, or defensiveness. They can actually hear that their suppositions are flawed, and deeply so, and can carry that away to repair in their own time. That the dismantling of rape culture isn’t necessarily going to rest entirely on the shoulders of feminist men and women—that non-feminists too can just reject the underlying sleaze that holds up the code of conspiratorial silence, apologism, and victim-blame.
Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won.
Many stones can form an arch
Singly, none. Singly none.
And together, what we will
Can be accomplished still;
Many drops can turn a mill
Singly none. Singly none.