If there is a rape culture, can men truly understand it?

I originally wrote this a year ago. However, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, particularly on things related to feminism and in light of the ongoing Ched Evans saga I decided to update it with some of the things I have been mulling over in recent weeks.

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Just over a year ago I wrote an article for my university’s online student publication which interviewed a victim of rape and talked about rape culture. Around a month later I got into an argument with a male about the article in my Student’s Union on a night out and at one point he shouted at me ‘’There is no rape culture!’’. The result was that I went home in tears, and afterwards I spent a lot of time after thinking about rape culture, and if there is such a thing.

Two things convinced me that I was not wrong. The first thing was a post I stumbled upon on when trawling Tumblr one night; it spoke of a class discussing homosexuality in a book which resulted in some males saying homosexuality was ‘’disgusting’’. When asked to expand upon their comments, the male students admitted they found homosexuality disgusting it was because they were terrified of homosexuals making a pass at them. The teacher’s response was “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.

The Tumblr post made me realise that it is incredibly difficult for males to truly empathise with girls in relation to things like rape, street harassment, sexual assault etc because, compared to females, not many males will experience the fear of unwanted sexual advances of somebody who has the physical strength to overpower them. From the moment I hit puberty I quickly learned that street harassment is something that women should not only learn to expect but to also accept. I have lost count the amount of times I have had men, either in groups or on their own, have shouted things at me or followed me down the street or harassed me on public transport. One particular incident that stands out in my mind was when I was 17 and walking home at around 9pm in the evening and a man in a car was following me down the street asking me to get in. This is not something very many men will experience, and even though some men may experience women shouting stuff at them in the street (which is not acceptable) the difference is that when a man verbally harasses a woman every fiber in her body is on edge because she knows that she could very easily be overpowered and be sexually assaulted or raped.

This brings us to the issue of rape itself. Whenever there is a story in the paper about a woman being raped, if the victim was reportedly intoxicated at the time of the assault then immediately her account loses credibility. Not only that people automatically flock to protect the accused of the crime and show more sympathy for man accused of rape (98% of rape defendants are men) and his reputation than the victim. In many cases there is still a perpetual belief that it is more likely that a woman will lie about being raped as opposed to a man lying about not raping a woman. The reality is that  when a woman reports rape she is often encouraged to drop the charge from family, peers or the police and if she decides to pursue it faces a tough prosecutionwho will often accuse her of lying. It is alleged that 12,000 men and 80,000 women are raped in UK each year, but just over 1000 of the attackers are convicted. Also over a period of 5,651 rape prosecutions there were only 35 prosecutions for false allegations of rape. This in turn supports the idea that even though there are women who falsely accuse a man of rape, the number is completely dwarfed by the number of men who rape women.

In regards to the Ched Evans case, the victim is still often deemed to be a liar even though she has gained nothing from Evans being convicted of rape apart from being forced to change her identity multiple times, move away from her family, incur the wrath of Ched Evans fans and watch the media debate Evans’ conviction. Whether Evans should be allowed to return to football is another debate entirely because whilst the former Sheffield United player undoubtedly has the right to pursue a normal life upon the completion of his sentence, one must ask whether it is appropriate for a convicted rapist to be allowed back into a profession where he will be celebrated and looked at by young fans as a role model.  Other people have argued that other footballers have been convicted of heinous crimes and have still been allowed to return to professional football. However, does that mean just because other convicted criminals have been allowed to return to we should continue to allow it to happen?

The second thing that convinced me that there is a rape culture was when I attended Loughborough Student Union’s Women’s Network Launch. Listening to a room full of girls talk about what it is like to be a woman at Loughborough reinforced my belief that it is difficult for males to emphasise with women and understand rape culture. A girl spoke of how she was getting followed around by a male on a night out and would not leave her alone and when she asked a bouncer for assistance he told her ‘’Well, maybe you should have covered up more’’ which was in relation to her wearing short shorts instead of helping her. Then another girl spoke of how when she was walking up some stairs in a night club a male reached under her dress and groped her which reduced her to tears. Rape culture is not simply telling rape jokes, it is something which is institutionalized. Rape culture is evident in how in a rape case the man’s reputation is considered more important than the trauma the victim encountered, it is evident in how girls are often slut shamed. Even the recent ‘friendzone” phenomenon reduces female sexuality to a concept of ”I’m nice to her, therefore she should want to have sex with me”.

However, whilst I have spoken of males not being able to truly emphasise, I think it is important that I stress that I know many wonderful males who would not grope a girl or follow her around on a night out. If I told them about the time I was walking home alone in the evening and a male followed me down the street in his car asking me to get in then I don’t think they would be able to understand the fear I felt like a girl would. Of course, they would be able to sympathise and show their concern for me but it is unlikely they will ever know what the fear feels like, and I think this is a problem with rape culture: because many men can only sympathise and not empathise it is difficult for them to recognise rape culture.

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5 thoughts on “If there is a rape culture, can men truly understand it?

  1. Men who understand, emphasize, and sympathize do exist. I am one of them. From the age of 4 (At least my first memory of it) to the age of 17, I was continually raped by male members of my family. When I said I would tell; I was strangled and threatened with death. When I did tell; I was punished as though I were the guilty one instead of the victim. I fear being near men, I fear men’s gaze. I am most comfortable around women and because of this; I am viewed by predators as an easy target. I do know what you speak of, and even though most will never admit it because of the macho culture that goes along with the rape culture; there are many other men out there who also know.

    • Hi,

      I’m so sorry to hear you went through that. I am aware of cases of males being raped and I should have offered more clarity in my article. In the UK, around 69,000 women are raped each year and for me it’s around 9,000.

      Obviously,for both males and females rape is horrific but the higher figure and other issues such as street harassment which many women suffer from was something I was intending to focus on. However, I completely agree that in such a case that men can completely relate.

  2. I wrote an article in my college newspaper 10 years ago about the same subject and had to edit it extensively because the editor, who involved the school administration, was concerned about how it might make the school appear , among other related issues about people involved. No one really wants to think about it, I suppose. And, men surely don’t want to recognize it.

  3. Enjoyed your post, very much, agree with it. I remember the first time that I felt sexually threatened. That feeling of powerlessness, helplessness and intense awareness of my physical limitations was a sobering experience. Going to that from a previously and undisputedly held life view of equality, self assuredness and the feeling that I could do anything and be anything I wanted was a deeply scary experience. It’s definitely made me realise that it’s an experience which is hard to really understand unless it’s one which you’ve experienced.

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