“Consent Culture” and Propoganda

One of the reasons why advocacy against sexual violence is a bit of a mess is because many of the advocates cannot keep their arguments straight. Case in point: Soraya Chemaly wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called Consent and Ending Violence Against Women and Children. In her piece, she focuses first on demolishing the notion that men and boys can be victims of sexual violence and painting sexual violence as something only men do to only women. She then goes on to argue about a lack of a “consent culture” that ignores the way societies actually work. .

For example, Chemaly wrote:

Everyday we hear stories about institutions, places and people surprised to be caught in the crosswinds of this evolving understanding.  It’s hard to cede power.  But, consent is a basic prerequisite to preventing and ending violence against women and the principles behind it far exceed “just rape.”  Consider this list:

  • The Catholic Church
  • Casa Pio
  • Penn State and Jerry Sandusky
  • The BBC and Jimmy Savile
  • The Boy Scouts

These are with little exception examples of men, operating in virtually all male power structures, not respecting the idea of consent and the rights to bodily autonomy of those without. I know that saying “men rape” is disturbing. So is saying that communities, filled with women, support them. But, this is, as we keep seeing, an overwhelmingly gendered crime. Not saying it out loud will change nothing. And, while women do abuse children sexually, they do not have the power to do it systematically, in groups and behind the cover of institutions.

In all but one of the six instances of sexual abuse cases she listed the victims are either all male or mostly male. When she argues that sexual violence is a “gendered crime,” the very cases she cites proves her wrong. Indeed, when one looks at the majority of cases involving systemic sexual abuse in institutions, most victims are male, particularly in Western countries. There is no single explanation for this, however, one aspect is definitely that societies are more willing to turn a blind eye to sexual violence against boys and men than women and girls.

Secondly, it is a vastly different argument to say “most sex offenders are male” and “men rape.” The former, while not necessarily true given the lack of research on female offenders, is defensible because it simply states what the current police reports and feminist-run research shows. The latter, however, makes a broad judgment on all men based on the actions of a few.

Thirdly, it is factually untrue that women “do not have the power to [sexually abuse] systematically, in groups and behind the cover of institutions.” According to studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice women are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults in both juvenile and adult prisons against both male and female inmates. Since women do not run many institutions, we cannot say for certain they would not abuse in those situations. In the institutions where women are the majority, like schools, we not only see women committing sex crimes, but often getting away with those crimes because they are women.

This is part of the problem with the current advocacy community. By ignoring women’s violence they perpetuate the myth that only men rape and that only women are victims. To my knowledge, there are no studies asking women about their willingness to commit sexual violence, but there are some asking men about that topic. When one never asks the question, how can one know for certain what the answer will be?

What we find when we ask people about women’s violence is that women commit more abuse than we realize. The CDC report from 2010 showed that. Several studies show that. And self-reports from victims show that. In each instance, we see people reporting women as abusers in 20% to 60% of the cases, and most of their victims are male. It is worth noting that Chemaly has a history of denying women’s violence.

When Chemaly finally got around to arguing about consent, her argument proved nonsensical:

Many “everyday” assaults, say on U.S .college campuses where 28 percent of women are assaulted, take place because of of people’s differing understandings of consent and their expectations regarding who says “yes” and what “no” means. The point of consent as a norm is to make these situations unambiguous and rare. This means we have to accept that telling rapists not to rape, or to face real consequences, works. As it clearly does.

(Quick note, Chemaly’s example of telling rapists not to rape working is not actually an example of it working. Instead, it is an example of feminists taking correlation for causation without providing any other insight into why the rate of sexual violence fell during the period of time the campaign was active.)

Chemaly failed to note that the vast majority of men do not commit rape. There is no need to make consent the norm because it already is. Most men do not commit rape. This feminist argument about men ignoring consent is a common one, yet it never plays out on the larger social level. If men were so unconcerned with women’s consent, one would expect to see far more cases of sexual violence against women. More so, one would expect to hear and see men talking about ignoring women’s consent openly. We do not because most men, again, do not commit rape. Consent is not an issue for them because they either ask for it or wait until the women give it to them.

In most cases of sexual violence, the drive is not entitlement. If it were, one would again expect those committing the act to express those views publicly because entitled people tend to let others know they feel entitled. Most often the drive is about sexual power, either the desire to humiliate the victim sexually, to act out one’s sexual desires with the victim whether the victim is willing or not, or do both. People who are inclined to commit those kinds of acts are not likely swayed by a campaign because they clearly do not care about the victim’s consent to begin with.

While talking about consent is a wonderful thing to do, it is not going to affect the women and men who want to rape others. Fortunately, that is a small group of people. While they do a great deal of damage, because they are not a large portion of our society, there is no reason to assume that many or most people think like they do.

Unfortunately, Chemaly does not agree:

In the U.S., we have a long and rich historical tradition of the appropriating of people’s bodies by the uncontested powerful.  In our near history, where black women were raped day after day after day,  rape was an integral part of social and economic order.  The legacy of this bubbles occasionally erupts.  Similarly, in many contexts still the ability to assault someone sexually is a benefit that comes with a job, a title, a marriage, or simply being a certain kind of man in a deeply misogynistic culture.

Violence is a part of the human experience on all levels. It is going to occur whether we like it or not because it is human nature to take from others what we want and to hurt others to get our way. This is partly why Chemaly has no problem marginalizing male victims to make her arguments. However, most people are not violent and do not condone violence, particularly sexual violence. That a handful of people commit these acts does not mean that an entire culture supports those acts.

Instead of trying to paint the situation as dire and dystopic, Chemaly should acknowledge that for the most part people oppose this kind of behavior. What is true, and this is something that Chemaly only hinted at, is that while people oppose violence, they also do not like to discuss it. People prefer not to deal with these kinds of issues head on. This makes it easier for people to cover up abuse. It also makes it easier for people to create stereotypes about who can be victims, to engage in victim blaming, and to marginalize certain types of victims.

The only way to challenge that is to stop playing politics and talk about the situation honestly. There is no need for doctrinal rhetoric or sexist comments like “men rape.” We can address these problems without pointing fingers or trying to score political cred.

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19 thoughts on ““Consent Culture” and Propoganda

  1. I agree Allan. Just like every VAWA study ever made. The one I heard on NPR was that 1 in 71 men are sexually assaulted in their lives. This statistic was culled by women making random phone interviews with people who met specific criterion. More women were interviewed than men and it is not indicated how many men actually finished the interview.

    It’s all about money. They will argue that women’s services therefore need that drastic a percentage more money than men.

  2. By labelling it as a gendered crime, does that not actually harm the advocacy for boys?

  3. By labelling it as a gendered crime, does that not actually harm the advocacy for boys?

    It does, Archy, because it creates the false notion that males simply are not victims. This has happened with human rights groups in African countries. Many of them refuse to help male victims of war-time rape because of the notion that rape is a “gendered crime.”

  4. Promoting Healthy Masculinity – Pennsyvania Coalition Against rape. (PCAR)
    “Prevention, at its core, is about changing social norms and beliefs that make violence acceptable in society. Sexual violence is connected to all forms of oppression, but sexism (or the belief that women and girls are less valuable than men and boys), is one of the strongest forces. Although the anti-sexual violence and feminist movements have done tremendous work and education around sexism and how harmful it is to women and girls, men and boys have not historically been part of this conversation.”

    Ironically it is feminist “sexism” that allowed the Sandusky debacle (and others involving boys) to continue unabated for decades. Then they immediately set about collecting buckets of cash at football games “for victims” after the proverbial shit hit the fan. Where were they thirty years ago?

    Leaving men and boys out of the “conversation,” that’s where. Because of their own hate, bigotry and yes, sexism. That’s why. To say “…feminist movements have done tremendous work and education around sexism…” is nonsense. They’ve done a lousy job by deliberately leaving out half the population for political reasons.

    But whenever a feminists bring up gendered crimes, I never defend men and concede that more women are raped and more men are perpetrators. I immediately turn the “gendered crime” arguement to child abuse which women are the primary perpetrators. Feminists will argue that’s because women are the primary care givers. Phil Donahue once said “[t]hat’s like saying more men hit home runs.”

    Which is a lot like saying more men rape because they’re big and strong. Being primary caregiver is no excuse either.

  5. Which is a lot like saying more men rape because they’re big and strong. Being primary caregiver is no excuse either.

    It is not, yet what else can they say when faced with such basic evidence? The majority of child abuse is committed by women. Arguing that it is a matter of access is a moot point because if men were the crazed, abusive hounds many feminists suggest they are, men would simply seek out children to abuse. A pesky thing like not being the primary caregiver would not matter.

  6. I didn’t read all the sources – but I assume it’s clear that they’re talking about a North-American or western setting ? I do think there’s cultures where it’s genuinely true to say that large fractions of males do not understand, or do not respect consent. For example about 25% of men from South-Africa said they had raped someone when questioned anonymously, about half of those more than once. ( http://www.mrc.ac.za/gender/violence_hiv.pdf ) The study was completed by 1736 men, so the sample wasn’t tiny either.

    When one in four says he’s a rapist, I agree there’s a cultural problem to fix. Equivalent numbers for most western countries are an order of magnitude lower, though. And even in South-Africa, despite the alarmingly high numbers, it’s *still* true, even there, that most men are not guilty of rape.

  7. Agrajag, the study does not show that men do not understand consent, only that a certain number of men will ignore it. From the study:

    In total, 8.9% said they had raped with one or more other perpetrators when a woman didn’t consent to sex, was forced or when she was too drunk to stop them.

    I am somewhat skeptical of the results because the study clearly has a subjective feminist lean, and the questions they asked and the limited choices men could choose from are very problematic. However, even their own results, despite the spin, show that issue is not a lack of education among men:

    Education was also associated, with men who had raped being significantly better educated, although they were not more likely to have a tertiary qualification.

    Clearly the men who rape know full well that their victims are not consenting. However, despite the researchers’ attempted feminist spin, the results shows that the issue is really untreated trauma experienced by the men who rape. While most victims of abuse never abuse others, some do. Most of them have never dealt with the abuse they suffered, and that often leads to them engaging in risky and violent behavior.

    The solution then is not to “change masculinity and male entitlement” but to address the violence committed against men and boys and provide them help so that the few male victims who might go on to abuse others will not do so.

    The study has two other problems: the researchers only asked men about committing rape, and never asked the men if women ever raped or attempted to rape them. If you are trying to understand how rape works and concepts about consent, it makes sense to ask both sides, not just one.

    Coincidentally, a previous study found that 2 in 5 South African boys reported being raped, most of which was committed by female perpetrators. That is the same population of males the feminist study interviewed, so I think there is evidence that the real issue unaddressed violence against males, particularly women’s violence against males.

  8. There are other problems with that South African study.
    The areas sampled come from the most impoverished areas of the country with the highest crime, violence and unemployment figures. (youth unemployment 90%+ in some areas), and the numbers were then extrapolated for the whole country. This has been raised in the media but we still hear the 1/4 number and women act like one out of every four men around them is planning to rape them. Online Ive seen feminists going from 1/4 to 1/3 in the same thread.
    The sampling method is also worrying. PDAs are not a device that the poorest of the poor have a lot to do with. In the rural areas of the East Cape you might have trouble finding young men that have even seen a PDA being operated, never mind handled one themselves. As the data input was done unsupervised (in order to get around self-incrimination laws) I can’t help but wonder about the accuracy of the inputs.
    Raising these issues on SA websites will get your comment deleted.

    It’s sad because SA undoubtedly has a serious rape problem but like most parts of the world its proportional to the serious violence problem. If you have ever lived in South African township or urban slum (as I have) you will know just what a waste of time the anti-rape crusades really are. It can be like living in a post-disaster zone. Everybody is poor and struggling. Drink and drugs are a plague. Everybody is afraid all the time. You don’t go out after dark because your chance of being a victim of violence is excellent. If you have anything of value you’re a target and even if you don’t the thugs might want to have a check.

    The fantasy of women being able to walk the street at night while the general security situation (indeed, the general mental health and economic situation) remains unchanged, is just that. A total fantasy.

  9. While I agree with the notion of standing up against sources that claim that only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims, there is a fallacy in this writing that needs to be addressed. Interpersonal violence is still about power, whether the act is male on male, female on male, female on female, or male on female. Most of the sexual assault cases that involve male victims and/or female perpetrators also involve some form of power that the perpetrator has or claims to have over the victims (age, status, etc.). And just because the voices of male survivors or the acknowledgement of female perpetrators are not validated enough does NOT mean that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators are male and of survivors are female. Which, again, brings us back to the issue of power. We do currently live in a culture that supports rape and rape myths.

    I agree that there are much much fewer rapists than there are non-rapists (no matter the gender). However, what are there MUCH MUCH fewer of than rapists? Convicted rapists. What are there MUCH MUCH fewer of than victims of these heinous crimes? Believed victims– male and female. And that is because we have created a culture where it is shameful to be raped (note: not to rape, but to be raped), so shameful that we, as a society, must separate from the victims by finding something he/she did wrong to bring on this violence. And this says to those few abusers out there– go ahead, we will not hold you accountable– some of us will high five you, some of us will encourage you when you refer to college freshmen as “prey,” some of us will pretend we do not notice your girlfriend’s bruises.

    So until we address our own rape culture and the power dynamics of interpersonal violence, until we move toward a culture of consent, a culture of respecting and not objectifying women, a culture of refusal to sexualize children (and if you do not think we do this, I encourage you to look at the clothes we consume for our children, especially girls, and to reflect upon what it means to have an entire industry of ‘barely legal’ pornography), a culture in which all human beings, regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, class, etc. are actually considered culturally and legally to be equally deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these violent acts will remain unacceptably common. And even though there are far fewer rapists than there are non rapists, one in four women and one in twelve men (the statistics may vary, but they are more likely to be greater than this than lower) are UNACCEBTABLY common numbers.

  10. And just because the voices of male survivors or the acknowledgement of female perpetrators are not validated enough does NOT mean that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators are male and of survivors are female.

    The problem is that the “vast majority” of perpetrators are not male and neither are the “vast majority” of survivors female. “Vast majority” implies that something like 70% to 90%, and that is statistically untrue. What is true is that people are more likely to report male abusers to the police and that females are more likely to come forward. However, when ask men about their experiences of sexual violence, we find that about 1 in 5 have experienced sexual violence by adulthood.

    Every time someone frames sexual violence as something only men do to only women, which is what your statement does, that makes people think it does not and cannot happen the other way around. Once that happens, people will simply ignore evidence to the contrary. That, ironically, sends people who abuse males and female rapists the message of “go ahead, we will not hold you accountable because what you do is not really that bad and never really happens.”

    There is no such thing as a “rape culture.” Few in our society support rape, and there is very little that happens in our culture that condones it. What you see is how people react to violence in general: they do not want to deal with it, and create tropes to explain why it happens, most of which allow them to pretend that bad things can be avoided.

  11. Speaking of incorrectly using words or phrases, take for example you taking my use of the phrase “vast majority” and claiming I am then saying “only” anything (“something only men do to only women, which is what your statement does…”). And why don’t you take a look at these http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/offensiveads.html and then tell me that they are completely removed from us living in a culture in which sexual violence happens at such high rates and with such low numbers of convictions.

  12. “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.”

    Is listening so foreign a skill to you, that it is a major project to once do it?

  13. It is so foreign a skill to most that it deserves focus as an active and continuous project. I really like that quote, thank you for sharing.

  14. ListenProject, a handful of ads are not proof that we live in a culture that condones and endorses sexual violence against women. Sexual violence starts with people, and the notion that removing such ads would stop violence is easily disproven by the thousands of years where such ads never existed and yet people committed violence.

    Violence is a part of the human condition. You cannot wholly remove it, nor can you point to a handful of random things and claim they are the cause of it.

    As for the other comment, please note that I wrote “Every time someone frames…” The distinction is important. You did not explicitly state that only men rape only women, but the implication of your “vast majority” phrase is that sexual violence really does not happen to men and really is not done by women so why bother talking about it. Again, it is inaccurate to claim that the “vast majority” of rapists are male, particularly since most victims do not report their rapes. The latter is precisely why it is inaccurate to claim that the “vast majority” of victims are female. You cannot address sexual violence as a whole if you keep playing the “who has it worse” game.

  15. How do ads featuring sex make it a rape culture? Unless the ads are showing rape, then consenting sex and rape culture are extremely different. Wouldn’t it just make a horny guys n girls culture that has consenting sex? I’ve seen LOTS of porn, doesn’t make me want to go and rape someone…just makes me want….omg, you guessed it…consenting sex!

  16. It is hard to have a constructive discussion with someone who misrepresents what I say, so I will kindly remove myself from engaging this further. I appreciate the thought you put into your responses even though I do not agree with you, and I hope that you continue to discuss these important issues with people, and continue to challenge yourself to be genuinely open to others’ points of view.

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