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April 29, 2013

Comments

ajhgarrett

I really appreciate the discussion you've been having here. Thank you for your investment in this issue.

I want to talk about this quote you put up: "I think we need to make a deliberate effort to stop talking publicly about how women can avoid rape and start talking publicly about how men can stop being rapists." I combines in one sentence things I really adamantly agree with and something I'm not comfortable with.

First, I love that this comment says we should stop talking PUBLICLY about how women can avoid rape. I agree. The public weight of censure should be on the perpetrator, not on the victim in any form, but qualifying that with "publicly" allows me to not feel ashamed that, as a mother, I will continue to privately teach my daughter the best ways to be safe, while still assuring her that being victimized is never her fault. Until the world is perfect, I think there is no shame in trying to keep yourself safe, as long as that does not translate to blaming those who, for whatever reason, ended up not being safe.

However, as the mother of sons as well as a daughter, I dislike the phrasing employed in discussing how to teach "how men can stop being rapists," as the comment above puts it. It is phrasing I have heard before, and disliked before. I have given a lot of thought to why that is so. Language is important to me, so I think we need to be clear, as you pointed out that we should be clear about the difference between sex and rape. "How men can stop being rapists" implies that all men are rapists unless explicitly taught how not to be, which is not true, and also, I believe, feeds unintentionally into the very rape culture we are trying to suppress. It puts the responsibility outside of the man, onto society, or his parents (most likely, mind you, his MOTHER), or his school. If this type of phrasing becomes too prevalent, I can imagine a rape trial in the not-too-distant future where the defense attorney argues that the perpetrator "wasn't taught what rape is, so can't be held responsible." That thought turns my stomach. Rapists should be punished, should feel the weight of society's disapproval, not see a lot of people finding ways to excuse their behavior as "only natural." I absolutely and whole-heartedly believe that we should teach all of our children the meaning of consent, the difference between sex and rape, all of that, clearly and thoroughly. But I also believe that we should not fall into language that implies that the default state of a male human is "rapist." It isn't true, it isn't fair to our boys, and it could backfire on us horrifically.

Sheri

I have been reading these posts and comments with interest and I really think the point about sex vs rape in a previous post was good and thought provoking. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to the table! As a thirty-something year old woman who was also raised in a conservative home, I was fortunate to be in a place where women are respected (the opposite of rape culture). I guess that's what leads me to disagree just a little with the idea that there should be no focus on teaching a woman to keep herself safe. I was taught caution/wisdom in many areas, both at home and in school but I was never made to feel anywhere like rape or any other crime was acceptable. To me, it's just like teaching a child safety when it comes to strangers. The public at large does not condone pedophilia as acceptable because children are publicly taught safety. That's because children are vulnerable, everyone knows it, the adults in their life want to keep them safe. Women are vulnerable too. (And so are men, although generally for different reasons than women). Ultimately, there are people who do bad things, and there are people who are victims. That doesn't mean we should stop trying to change the equation, as you are here on your blog. But I don't think that publicly ceasing to teach safety is going to help.

Lizzie

Thank for the thought-provoking posts, Shannon. They gave me a lot of food for thought, and a much deeper understanding. Thanks for also posting that email from a teacher. Her perspective added a lot to some of the questions still in my mind. It fills me with sadness to think of so many girls and women struggling and suffering under issues like this. Growing up I was taught wonderful things, in my home and in my church, about what sex really is, and it has been a huge blessing to me. I had no idea it could be so vastly different for so many and the kind of sad fallout it can cause.

Regina

This is a wonderful discussion, and I agree 100% about shifting the focus from "suggesting how a woman or a girl can avoid getting raped" to "how men (or women) can stop being rapists". When I went through orientation before my first year of college, my university made a good stab at addressing date rape issues. They put on a very tactful skit focusing on date rape, and prefaced it well enough that there were no jokesters calling out or laughing about the subject. Then they separated us all off into groups so that we could talk about it.

The first question they asked us: "How could this girl have avoided getting raped?"

I was absolutely flabbergasted at the time - here was a very well-thought out program that sought to deal with this important issue in a serious way, and it immediately fell into the trap of blaming the victim for the crime. I spoke up at the time, saying that surely this was the wrong question to ask - surely it was the rapist we should be blaming, not the victim! And I was again surprised by the facilitator's response. They considered it, said, "Hmmm, well, I guess...", and then went back to the original question.

I think part of the problem is that it is easy to discuss what not to do, how to never put yourself into such-and-such a situation, etc. (even though this changes nothing). It is much harder to address the roots of the problem, such as, what in our society makes people think it is okay to rape others? Where have we gone wrong, as a whole society? But it is definitely something that needs to be thought about and discussed. So I thank you for writing about it and providing a place to discuss.

Tessa

Wow, Megan. I thought I had been following the comments on these blog posts, but I somehow missed your phenomenal comment. I've been trying to reconcile the girls-protect-yourselves and the guys-don't rape aspects of this discussion. It all made sense in my head, but you articulated it perfectly. Yes, we should try to protect ourselves, but talking about what a victim should and shouldn't do derails the focus of the conversation from teaching people not to be rapists.

Tessa

* should have and should not have done. Past tense fail.

Megan Whalen Turner

Are you familiar with the "Don't be that guy" campaign?

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/dont-be-that-guy-ad-campaign-cuts-vancouver-sex-assaults-by-10-per-cent-in-2011/article1359241/

Tessa, the reason you missed my earlier comment is because I am so slow to make up my mind what I want to say that by the time I've finally started typing the conversation has moved on!

Mary

Thank you for writing about this. I think that respect for another human being goes back to children and how we raise them.

Linda W

Keep getting the word out!

Maggie

With regard to the whole "we should teach against rapists and not how women (and men) can avoid rape" thing, I think we should teach both. We should take every precaution. It is helpful for a girl to be told that getting herself out of potentially dangerous situations (or never getting into them in the first place) could prevent bad things from happening to her. Of course many rapes are not preventable, and this rational should be in no way connected to the victim being at fault for the rape. But if you could prevent something from happening, wouldn't you?

With that said we should also teach "how women and men can stop being rapists". (However I was taught this in school so I think the focus has shifted a little already). But like ajhgarrett I believe this is a slippery slope if not done correctly.

And as I said before in another post... I'm not sure we're even teaching any of the material in an effective way. Somethings were drilled into my head during my five school health classes and others seemed to fall through the cracks. We should rethink the process, or at least parts of it if society is to change as a whole.

Lizzie

Okay, I really thought I was done commenting, but two more things.

First, that looks like an awesome campaign in Vancouver, Megan. Thanks for sharing. I hope that it really is making an impact on the number of crimes. That would be so encouraging if it is.

Second, I wanted to share something that just happened to me. I was talking on the phone to my mom, not on this subject at all, and found out that someone very close to me was this past year in school was bullied by a group of boys, supposedly some of her friends (friends?????), who threatened to rape her. I guess it was meant somewhat jokingly, maybe. I am flabbergasted. Maybe it's just a testament to out of touch I am that I didn't realize how widespread this kind of attitude has become. The thing is, though, these were among boys I am quite sure HAVE been taught how wrong rape is. What in the world is going on here? Like Regina said, getting at the roots of the problem IS harder than talking about how to avoid being a victim. What is making it so that otherwise nice young men start to devalue the seriousness of rape?

Tessa

Lizzie, I think rape has become a common threat, something to say online when you're mad at someone else, but not something you would actually follow through with. How that ever became acceptable thing to say is beyond me. It normalizes rape until it's not big deal. I don't think those boys realize how horrible their threat was, but that's part of the problem. Somebody needs to make it clear to them and the rest of society that rape is NEVER okay and not something to be joked about.

Jess

When I was a teenage girl I can remember my first lesson about how rape was wrong and it made me roll my eyes because it was so absurd. Maybe it was because I was disabled and an easy target but I already knew that saying no was useless, that telling someone was pointless if your abuser was better liked than you, and that it was up to me to protect myself because no one would do it for me. I had learned from girls and women that if you are weak you will be abused by those stronger than you and that was just how it was and your abusers will always justify their actions and not count it as abuse because people like you don't matter.

Instead of teaching people not to rape how about we teach people not to abuse those weaker than themselves and then the idea that rape is okay would never occur to someone.

Melissa @ Book Nut

Megan Whalen Turner is spot on right about this. And thank you, Shannon, for being brave enough to have this conversation.

Amy Marshall

I have been following this conversation and thinking about it a lot. I find myself coming back to the same (probably controversial)idea. It is considered wrong on so many levels to put any blame on a rape victim. The rapist is always wrong, no matter what the victim did. I get it. But (here's the controversial part) I also find this message dangerous, especially to young girls and women.

My daughters are 10 and 11. Some of their classmates dress very provocatively. They talk suggestively. They behave in ways that might be considered sexual. They are experimenting, of course. Mimicing what they have seen in an effort to seem older than they are.

But they also think they can do so safely. They believe they can tempt a young man (or an old man for that matter) and he has to stop if she says no. They have innocent faith that "no means no" and that they have all the power over what happens to their bodies. I wish that was true. I really do. I think we all do. But when we tell girls and women that they can do whatever they want and their actions don't have consequences we are setting them up for heartache.

It also suggests to young men who are also experimenting and trying to figure things out that if women are dressed a certain way or behaving a certain way they must want to have sex. So, as a society, we are telling girls they can "send signals" and not mean it while telling boys to look for those exact "signals". There must be a balance.

On a slightly different tangent, sex is very different for males and females. Our needs are different, our reactions are different, our desires are different. I believe for women it is much more personal and intimate and that is why rape is so devastating. I can't remember ever being taught this in any sex-ed class. It was always about sex as a "normal human function". Wouldn't it help if boys were taught from a young age to respect a girl's sensitivity instead of making fun of it? What kind of world would we have if we stopped using phrasied like "cry like a girl"?

Christen

Those were some amazing and thoughtful comments. Wow. I am in awe of these women... Just another reminder that we all have to be stewards of our society.

Jahnelel

I am an avid reader of your blog as well as your books and want to thank you for this conversation. I haven't read other comments, but I'm sure many feel the same way. You are in the public spotlight, a hero to countless young girls and youngish women and still-feel-young-but-aren't-really women - this is a topic all should read and embrace and you are in a perfect position to do so. Thank you for your bravery and bluntness and willingness to tackle a difficult yet vitally important subject that is all to often hidden and shadowy and avoided. You are empowering and you are awesome. You are truly using your power for good.

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