Thursday, October 29, 2009

If I Were a Rapist...

If I were a rapist-- a serial sexual predator bent on destroying as many women's independence and control over their own bodies as possible-- and an omnipotent one at that, with the power to create my custom rapist's utopia in which I could move and act freely, I can imagine the sort of society I would create.

In my imaginary society, women would be trained from a young age to disconnect from their own needs and feelings, and to focus instead on meeting the needs of others. They'd learn that what they really want in life doesn't matter so much, and that they always have to be polite and nonconfrontational, and that it's better to let someone else be "right" than to be too assertive. I'd make sure they saw plenty of examples of assertive, independent women who look out for their own needs being labeled "bitches," too, to remind them of what happens when women step outside the meek and accommodating mode and learn to stick up for themselves. Just to make sure they got this message loud and clear, I'd make the popular media be full of caricatures of women-- hard, assertive, mean characters, and modest, pleasing, timid characters. Maybe then they'd never figure out that real women can be both strong and vulnerable, both assertive and compassionate, both humble and accomplished.

I'd make sure women didn't know how to discern and protect their own boundaries. From the time they were small, I'd hope for their parents to make them kiss and hug relatives they don't want to kiss or hug-- "Awww, come on, kiss Aunt Ruth goodbye-- don't you want to be a nice girl?" "I know you think he's weird, but it would really make Uncle Keith feel a lot better if you gave him a hug." I'd want their caregivers to dismiss their feelings, making them believe that children's emotions don't really matter and aren't really real-- "I'll give you something to cry about," and "Quit whining-- it's just a toy." The younger we begin to teach kids to disassociate from their feelings, their pain, their discomfort, the easier it will be to maintain this training all through the rest of their lives.

By the time they were teenagers, their boundaries might be so completely blurred and unstable that they'd be primed to begin to engage in consensual, but unwanted, sex, having sex they don't want to be having for reasons ranging from "he expects it on the third date" to "she'll leave if I don't do this" to "if I do this, he'll know how much I love him." They'd continue to have sex that leaves them feeling empty, whether or not it is truly enjoyable and pleasurable and fun for them. I'd make sure that our society sends them messages letting them know that they're doing the right thing by being "sexually empowered" in having sex frequently, doing my best to obscure the part of the message that "empowerment" involves claiming power, not giving it away. And to make sure they were left feeling further confused and isolated, I'd want society to send messages of shame and judgement, so they'd know that they were doing something dirty and secret, that they were "sluts" for engaging in risky sexual behavior, and "bitches" if they made it about their own sexual gratification, and "prudes" if they wanted sex to be about real love and connection.

I'd make sure that married and partnered women and men knew that putting out on schedule-- some arbitrarily assigned number of times per week-- was part of their "job requirements," whether they felt like having sex or not. Then, they'd be more likely to continue the pattern of dissociating sex from passion and pleasure that was begun in their youth. And just for kicks, I'd pound into their minds the belief that you can't be raped by your spouse-- that he has "rights" to your body because of marriage or past sexual encounters, and that you don't have to consent or agree for him to take you when he wants.

I'd make sure that entire classes of people could be oppressed, and that all of us would be culturally trained to see other types of people as "less than." Further, I'd make sure we were all so scared of being labeled "prejudiced" that we'd be scared to even examine or admit our areas of judgment, staying blissfully unaware of how we contribute to the problem. I'd want a society that sees sexual harassment and battery and rape used as a instrument of subjugation, in military and war and corporate settings. I'd want a society that uses ritual degradation as a rite of passage or entry, like a form of hazing, because once degradation of another human becomes a norm, the door is open for sexual degradation to be part of that ritual.

I'd want every child who comes forward claiming sexual abuse to not be believed, because a child who is not believed will learn to expect that nobody is there to protect him, that nobody will believe her, that there is nothing that can be done to stop violence and violation and betrayal. I'd want grandparents to side with family members who are abusers rather than with the victim, so the kid learns that speaking out results in people turning their back on him. I'd want parents to tell the kids to quit making up stories-- that there's no way grandpa could be an abuser. I'd want parents to be so ashamed that sexual abuse may have touched their family that they'd refuse to report it to law enforcement for investigation, hesitate to get their child needed counseling and treatment, and live their lives in a false world in which nothing ever happened and none of it exists. Kids who are abused and ignored learn that being ignored is what happens when you try to make something of it-- I'd bet they'd make prime targets for me once they are older.

In my rapist's utopia, I'd make sure that women's bodies were used to sell EVERYTHING, and that half-dressed women in sexy poses, airbrushed and photoshopped to perfection, were on the covers of almost all the magazines in the stores. Then women would compare their bodies to the women they're seeing on the magazines and TV commercials and movies, and realize they could never measure up. Thin, beautiful women might work excessively at staying thin and "beautiful"-- doing everything they could to look like the women in the media, hoping to gain some sort of acceptance, while all along learning to use their beauty and superficial sexuality to make gains in life, win attention, and make life easier. Then they'd come to view themselves not as whole women, competent and with great potential, but as shells to be polished and presented, whose worth depends completely on a specific set of ephemeral physical qualities that may or may not last through life. I'd make sure that women who don't fit that narrow definition of socially approved physical "beauty" doubt themselves, and constantly think that nobody could ever find them sexy, so that when they are offered less than ideal sexual experiences that are degrading, devastating, or dismissive, they'll readily accept, having been taught that to be found sexy and attractive is an ideal to aspire to in and of itself, with or without the empowerment that comes from having your sexuality honored by a caring and attentive partner. And I'd definitely want children to see these media images from a young age, so that little girls learn that their value comes from their ability to use their sexuality, and little boys learn that women are objects to be used.

If I were a rapist, the concept of the sex industry would THRILL me as a key component of my utopia because it sets the precedent that women's bodies and sexuality can be bought and sold, and anything that can be bought and sold is fair game to be stolen. I'd want strip clubs galore, where young women barely out of their own childhoods and still experiencing the poor judgment of adolescence would come when they felt that they didn't have options, to take their clothes off for men of all ages. I'd make sure that there were no other entry-level jobs in my society that pay very well, to ensure a steady flow of desperate young women who know they can't make as much money in any other business. In the strip clubs, they'd see that they can make more money based on the degree of graphic nature of their performance, and that the more they DID, the more they'd MAKE. They'd probably end up meeting up with a girl or two who did pictures and videos, and these porn stars would be glamorized! Every "feature" dancer brought into the club would bring in a huge crowd, and be fussed over like a celebrity based upon appearances in a number of magazines and movies. So the girls might branch out into some nude pictures or "soft" video porn.

Eventually, they'd discover that if you go beyond pole tricks and lapdances, you can move into working for escort services and prostitution. The pay would up the ante, with sex itself (instead of just sexuality) being the commodity, opening the door for sex to be stolen. Women in prostitution would learn that sex is sex and that empowerment is empowerment and that pleasure is pleasure, and that they rarely ever go together, lowering her expectations for what sex should be. She's already learned how to suck it up and engage in a sexual act while dissociating somewhat from her own pleasure and sensuality. At some point, she realizes that exchanging sex for money brings a level of attention and identity that she may have been missing before. Perhaps this is the first time she's really been shown a lot of attention, or made to feel sexy, or whatever. Perhaps she has been doing soft porn, and discovers she can make even more money based on what she's willing to do on camera. So, she may branch out into harder porn, eventually engaging in sexual acts that she herself might find offensive or undesirable, simply to make money and "protect" or promote herself in some way.

If I were a rapist, the sex industry would be like an exquisite, gift-wrapped present at Christmas, bringing me precisely the kind of cultural phenomenon I would need to make potential victims have no real connection with their own true power, drive to be empowered, and genuine sexuality; all while making potential bystanders and accomplices learn to see women as bodies, as sex acts, as personal gratification, instead of as sentient, intelligent, independent beings with emotional needs and dreams and desires. The sex industry, particularly the parts of it that encourage violence or brutality as norms, would serve to desensitize my entire utopia to the objectification and victimization of women. I guess if I'm really omnipotent, I'd make sure that thinking people who object to the objectification of women were portrayed as anti-sex, or crazy, or not in touch with reality.

In my imaginary society, people who wanted to "justify" their sexual domination of another person could travel out of country, so they could take advantage of foreign, "different" children, and still consider themselves to be upstanding citizens, because they don't hurt "real" women or children. I'd make sure that every school child in my society was taught about the "end" of slavery, and how awesome our current society is for not allowing slavery, while ensuring that they never learn about the illicit sex slave trade that is alive and well, even in our society. I'd do everything I could to make sure that rape, and child sex abuse, and prostitution, and sex slavery were all things that we could not speak openly and comfortably about in our society, so that more and more people would remain unaware of what was going on in their own families and communities-- right underneath their noses.

And these same qualities of my imaginary society that would make women ideal victims would also serve to make men ideal victims. After all, if women are constantly portrayed as weak, sexual objects ripe for the taking, thus making them easy victims, men are portrayed as strong, unemotional conquerors. What man who has been assaulted and raped wants to admit to being in the same league as weak sexual objects? Men who have been raped are even less likely than women to come forward, to demand justice, and to admit what happened to them.

With all these pieces in place, I'd be damn near guaranteed that I'd have an unlimited supply of victims who would ignore their boundaries long enough for me to make a move, who would have mixed expectations about their own sex lives, increasing their accessibility and vulnerability to me for acquaintance rape. And when I committed a rape, acquaintance or stranger, extremely violent and brutal or simple and straightforward, this utopia would make it extremely unlikely that victims would come forward. Some might not even define what I did to them as "rape," afraid that it implies some degree of ignorance or self-blame on their part. Some might consider it rape, but worry deep down inside that others wouldn't believe them, would blame them, or would say they are lying. After all, these "others" have been seeing the same societal messages, received the same cultural training, and heard the same rape myths. Some might know it was rape, want to come forward, and still feel shamed into submission. Some might come forward and have well-meaning but ill-informed friends, authorities, and professionals question what they did to cause it-- after all, we have all been trained to mistrust the inherent wisdom of women's bodies and to doubt that women are capable of understanding the truth about their lives, much less speaking honestly and directly about their sexual experiences.

If I were a rapist, this is exactly the kind of society that would lead me to feel safe weaving in and out of different circles of people, always being able to hone my craft, never truly worrying about getting into any situations I couldn't talk my way out of. This is exactly the kind of society that I know would be more likely to blame or not believe my victims.

5 comments:

chris said...

We all participated in the building of society. Women are the dominant of our spieces, simply making men believe they are in charge in order to satisfy their testosterone driven needs. I believe women are resposible for this state of affairs. Women.
Nice piece though. And this is only one perspective. It has been built by all of us. You included. You participated, therefore you yourself have been fuel for this socialogical design.

antipornfeminists said...

Hello,

This is a very interesting essay, and thank you for linking to our blog.

I've used an extract for a quote of the day, I hope that's ok with you?

A

The Thinking Southerner said...

chris- I don't believe it was created by women or men. I just believe it's the result of a complex interplay of historical and social factors over many, many, many generations (decades and centuries and millenia) that have led us to where we are. The point isn't who caused it-- the point is, this is where we are, and unfortunately, it's an ideal "rape culture" in which a tiny percentage of offenses are even reported, an even smaller percentage investigated and prosecuted, and a microscopic percentage successfully so. No blame being laid-- only a sad observation.

The Thinking Southerner said...

Also, in saying I don't believe it is created by women or men, I'm referring to a more general "your average American man or woman" definition. Clearly, this kind of setup has been more advantageous to men historically, which can't be ignored. And I also don't think that women are dominant in our society, or "make men believe they are in charge." That's a pretty sexist assumption.

CNH said...

Sobbing.

Thank you for writing this.