(Okay, today is Thursday, but my day tomorrow is promising to be very tight. So we can as well do this today).
The other day I had a conversation with a lady friend and she said something that caught me by surprise. I have heard and seen it before around the internet, but I have always thought it is either an extreme side of feminism, or a figurative way of speaking, and therefore always dismissed it. What surprised me was that my friend seemed to believe it in a literal sense. She said:
“You know we should stop telling our girls not to walk at night, or not to drink until they black out. Instead, we should teach our boys to respect women whether day or night, whether they are drunk or sober.”
Now, I have no problem with the part about teaching boys and men in general to respect women. We should. I have said it here before that we as men need to realize that we live in a different dispensation from our great-grandfathers. We live at a time when we know (or at least should know) that women are as human as men, and therefore need to be given the same respect as men, not treated with the traditional paternalistic superiority that our grandfathers treated them with.
That said, the idea that we should stop telling our girls not to take care of themselves is disturbing. It is like saying I should be leaving my door wide open at night, or while going to work, because we should teach our children not to steal. Let us get this straight: rapists, whether they rape drunk or sober women, children or adults, girlfriends or strangers, are criminals. And we have no way of negotiating with criminals, outside the criminal justice system.
Telling a woman to take care of herself so that she is not mishandled by male criminals is not a gender issue, it is a common sense issue. If you drink until you black out, while expecting to be carried a cab guy you do not know is unnecessarily putting yourself at risk. The same way, if you are a man and you black out amongst strangers, while you may not be raped (which we cannot rule out these days), you put your property (and even personal safety) at risk. It is common sense.
Because the truth is, most rapists do not do it for sex. I do not know what pleasure a man derives from raping a 7 month baby. Or a ninety year old grandma. So good sex is not always the motive. Domination? Perhaps. But not always. Because it is hard to argue that someone feels superior to a 7 month baby by raping her. And if they do, then it explains this point: that they have a twisted criminal mind, perhaps facilitated by drugs. It is certainly not about gender.
Thus, it is unfair to push the burden of rape to all men. Because there are many good men who, while they may have chauvinistic biases due to socialization, do not have criminal minds. There are countless stories of couples who are attacked, the men beaten (and sometimes killed) and their wives raped (and sometimes killed). Anyone who does this is a criminal, just like a murderer or a robber. He cannot be equated to the ordinary man, however chauvinistic.
But does chauvinism play a role in rape? Yes, in a way it does. Most men who rape women certainly do feel superior to the women. But chauvinism is historical. Our grandfathers thought women and children were their property. That they could do with them as they wished. Hence, some men still feel entitled to sex, whether or not a woman consents. So yes, we should continue to push for a change in our socialization of men, to help men come to accept women as equals. Perhaps that will lower rape incidents. Especially rape within marriages and romantic relationships. But it is idealistic to imagine that it will eliminate rape altogether.
Of course, besides socialization, there are criminals who will attack women simply because they (the men) are physically stronger. The women, to them, appear vulnerable and defenseless. They are cowardly criminals. A friend once asked once why women have to be escorted by men when it gets dark.
“Kwani huyo mwanaume ako na gun?” she asked.
The truth is, if I am escorting you and we are actually attacked, I may be as defenseless as you are, especially if the men are armed. Or if they are many, and/or physically stronger than I am. But the other truth is, because of our socialization, there are many would be (cowardly) attackers who will be deterred by my presence. Because a man is seen as more likely to defend himself than a woman. Hence, a man and a woman walking at night are less likely to be attacked than two women walking together. Because the cowardly criminals will generally keep off, perceiving the man to be a greater risk. It is only the real criminals (and they are many) who will attack where a man. It is a question of perception.
The point of this post is this: let us not drag rape into gender wars. Rape is a serious crime that we should all join hands in fighting, by whatever means. And one of the most practical ways I have heard is teaching women martial arts to protect themselves. So ladies, prevention is better than cure. Do not unnecessarily put yourself at risk. This world has many brutal criminals. And I can’t promise that they will go away anytime soon.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/sun-shadows-play-sunset-girl-2445460/