I have been asked numerous times by numerous people over the years to write about feminist issues, especially regarding teaching kids about consent, pornography, and healthy sexuality. The reason I have not tackled this project yet is that I know full well most people—even people who think they want to know what I have to say, who think they probably agree with me to a large degree—will find what I have to say too overwhelming, depressing, and painful to handle.
People have interesting perceptions of me, which shape their expectations of what I will say. I am generally cheerful and affirming to be around. I frequently advocate for justice issues by speaking with passion and blunt honesty in ways people find uncomfortable or comforting, depending on where they stand on that particular issue. People want to feel safe and affirmed by me personally, but they also want me to keep speaking out about justice—so long as I do not make them too uncomfortable.
I wrote two separate posts about rape and consent this past week, but I can’t publish either of them. They are too upsetting for you to read. With a per-post word limit, I do not have space to address your painful emotional responses to the things I have to say. So instead, I am going to start by addressing the emotional response as its own topic. Maybe this introduction will help people engage with the more painful truths I name in later posts.
I am going to say some very, very upsetting things. I am going to talk about:
- Studies that show what percentage of men would probably rape a woman if they thought they would get away with it
- The percentage of men who find filmed rape and misogynist violence arousing and consume it on a regular basis,
- The ways our culture grooms females to comply with their own rape, dehumanization, and exploitation
- The ways our culture grooms males to ignore and override female boundaries, and to justify those actions
- The ways our culture grooms males and females to believe that most rape is not rape
- The ways our “Rape Culture” destroys the ability of males and females to have healthy relationships or healthy sexuality
- The ways men and women can help keep everyone safer, happier, and healthier
What I am NOT GOING TO SAY:
—-And this is important, because it might sound to many people as though I am saying things I am NOT SAYING!—
I am NOT SAYING:
- All men are rapists
- All men are bad
- Women never rape or abuse men (or boys)
- Boys and men should feel horrible about being male
- Being male is bad
- Being female is inherently better than being male
For example, I am going to talk about how to keep my children as safe as I possibly can from rape and assault. That seems like a fairly universally approved idea, right? Who could argue with the idea that we should try to protect our children from rape and assault? It sounds pretty benign and non-controversial when we phrase it like that.
But that sort of bland, general statement does nothing to achieve safety for my daughters or for anyone else. In order to keep my girls safe, I must actually address, in detail, from what and from whom I want to keep them safe.
Let’s make the idea a little harder to hear:
I want to keep my children safe from boys and men who want to assault and rape them.
People experience more pain and resistance to that statement. Suddenly, instead of a vague, anonymous danger, the danger has a biological sex and a violent behavior. People do not like to talk about the topic this way. Similarly, people much prefer to write a news headline that reads, “A woman was raped” rather than “A man raped a woman.” Phrasing the danger as vague avoids the unpleasant emotions that arise when we name the responsible actors. Passive language keeps the attention on the woman as the victim of a crime rather than on the male criminal who committed the crime.
The reason we feel uncomfortable talking about “men and boys who want to assault and rape women and girls” is that naming the responsible actors and their violent behaviors means we must confront the fact that one half of our species, the male half, commits the vast majority of violent crime (including 96% of homicides, 96% of child abuse, and nearly 99% of rapes (of which 16% are committed by juveniles).
Even if these data are somewhat skewed by men and boys who do not admit they have been raped or abused by females, the pattern remains quite clear. A more conservative estimate says:
“Men are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence in America. According to a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. Moreover, when men are victims of sexual assault (an estimated one in 71 men, and one in six boys), 93 percent reported their abuser was a man. It’s true that women also assault men, but even when victims of all [biological sexes] are combined, men perpetrate 78 percent of reported assaults.”
I understand that naming such demographic patterns of violence feels painful to males and to women who love boys and men. It feels as though I am saying that boys and men are bad, and they do not deserve love or compassion. It feels to some women as though I am saying your precious little son, your beloved brother, your cherished husband, or your honored father are monsters just because they are male.
I am not saying that boys and men are bad. I promise. There are boys and men whom I love dearly, too.
It feels to men as though I am saying you are bad, your maleness is inherently evil or sick or wrong.
I promise, that is not what I am saying. You deserve to feel good about yourself as males. You deserve to love yourself not despite your maleness, but your whole self. Your maleness is precious and divine and beautiful. It is not a flaw or a source of shame. It is sacred and worthy of love.
So, readers, when I say far more painful things than the above, I hope with all my heart that you will find a way to receive what I am offering you. If we are to attempt the task we all agree is important — “keep our children safe” — I need your help. I need you women, and I especially need you men. My writing about this topic will achieve absolutely nothing… without your help. So please: stick with me. Trust me. The first step in conflict transformation is often naming the conflict by shining a light on the violence that has been so normalized that it has become invisible, hidden, accepted, and part of a stable, but terribly dystopian, status quo. I promise that my motives are not, in any way, to cause harm. But I may cause pain… because sometimes, we have to rip the bandage off to see and cure the infected wound. Hang in there with me. We can do this.
[This post is the first installment of an ongoing series.]
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.