Do Men Just Not Get It?
Content Warning - This is a post about sexual assault. If that's triggering to you, please walk away. Take care of yourself first, always! You deserve love and positive energy and safety!
Writing is easy. Sharing your work with others is so very hard. It is especially difficult when you write about trauma. You're essentially putting the most vulnerable pieces of yourself onto a Word Document and hoping others "get it."
And something I've noticed over the past few years of sharing my work?
Men just don't get it.
I'm talking specifically about rape. Men do not understand rape. (For the purpose of this blog post, I'm talking cishet men. Trans people experience sexual assault at disgustingly high rates. They get it. Cishet men... not so much). Men can't define it properly, they can't recognize it when they see it, they ask the dumbest questions about it, questions that are downright triggering in and of themselves.
Disclaimer - I know lots of authors say we shouldn't write about rape. To those, I'd just like to say, let writers process their traumas the way that works for them. You don't need to dictate how your fellow authors work through their histories. Sometimes writing about it helps, it's healing. We understand if you don't want to read it. That's why content warnings exist.
Back to the topic.
I write about sexual assault. But I don't go in with a big flashing light sign that reads "RAPE!" Because I write about the quiet rapes. The ones that get zero attention. The ones when the victim rationalizes what happened to them, tells themselves of course Trustworthy Boyfriend would never have done that, they surely misunderstood, then reads a short story ten years later that hits a little too close to home, and suddenly, it's like... someone actually understands. That even though you weren't bruised, and even though you kept dating that guy for another month, you were still traumatized by what he did.
When women beta-read for me, they get it. They recognize it right away. They don't need it spelled out for them. Some even tell me about their own experiences.
When men beta-read for me, they just don't get it. They'll flat out tell me that what I've written is about consensual sex between two willing participants. Even my husband, after reading a short story I wrote a few years ago, though it was about consensual sex (it wasn't).
Friends, I am beyond baffled by this.
Because I can only lead to one conclusion. Men don't know what rape is. They truly do not understand this word and all its definitions. Grown-ass men do not know what rape is!
Which is a fucking scary thought. The more I think about it, the scarier it gets. Men don't know what rape is! They literally cannot recognize it when it's staring them right back in the face.
And men who can't recognize rape... won't stop themselves from committing it. They can't.
Scared yet? I'm terrified.
I'm thinking about eighteen-year-old me. She didn't recognize it either. She didn't understand all the forms sexual assault came in. And if she didn't know, how on earth would her boyfriend have?
See, I don't think most men set out to sexually assault someone. I think they just don't know. I honestly think... it's less a violence issue, and more of an ignorance issue. (This does NOT mean that we should all forgive our abusers, just that I truly believe many of those abusers don't realize they're doing anything wrong. I think that's the problem we tend to forget about.)
When a child doesn't know how to read, you teach them. When they don't know how to ride a bicycle, you work with them until they learn. When they don't understand Algebraic concepts, you break it down for them into easier pieces until they all fit together and you can see the "aha" moment in their eyes.
We need to be doing a better job about teaching teens about sexual violence. We need to be explicitly teaching them, during those fun puberty months (hopefully BEFORE they've had a chance to hurt someone), exactly what consent is (and what it isn't). And we need to keep teaching it through adulthood, until every single person can recognize it when they see it.
Until every person who reads a short story about sexual assault comes away feeling horrified, not amused.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, please ask for help!
National Dating Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054