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Discussing rape culture can be hard for a bloke. We feel like we’re being attacked at our core, like we’re being accused of a horrific crime. It’s an uncomfortable feeling because we’re not quite sure what rape culture is. It was never taught at school and as far as we know we’ve done nothing wrong. On that basis it’s easy to see why we try not to talk or think about it.
However, it’s even harder for women. It’s hard for women to discuss these issues because so often it ends up being a one way conversation — so often we switch off, and so often women go to great lengths, even sharing personal experiences, only to be met by silence. It feels wrong to call it a “difficult conversation” because that implies it’s being discussed by both sides. Currently, it’s a subject we’re eager to sweep under the rug.
I’m not going to try convince you of anything, or fix any great issue with a student magazine submission. I’m not going to speak on behalf of women. I’m just going to make a few points from my own perspective — as a male, a dude, a brother, a bloke, a lad, a son… you get the drift.
Growing up I had the gift of a positive female influence. My mother, my nana, and my oma are all powerful women, who have in their own ways faced adversity and pushed on in spite of it. In some ways I am writing this for them. I also currently flat with four strong, intelligent, courageous young women. This is partly dedicated to them too.
But this piece is written for my boys. Good guys who I know sometimes get that strange feeling when they or their friends make a joke that’s a bit too edgy, and there’s that half second pause where everyone is waiting for someone to say something, but no one ever does. This is an opportunity to change that, or at the very least to think about why we should.
As a 19-year old it’s only now, in the last week or so, that I’ve tried to think about life from a female perspective. I support equity and equality, but only in very recent days have I actively tried to listen. This comes with a feeling of anxiety and a pinch of guilt. Confiding this in a female friend I was told not to feel guilty. We don’t have to feel shame. All we have to do in the immediate moment is listen, and think.
Listen to the boys when they’re talking about pulling. Listen to the words they use to refer to half of the global population, which includes your mother, your sister, your future daughter. Listen to your friend when she tells you about getting catcalled on the street. Think about how “those assholes” used the exact same words your boys did just the other day.
Listen to yourself when you swear you’ve been sexually harassed because of that one time you think your butt got slapped in town, even though a memory of that is not comparable to a fear of walking anywhere at night.
And on that note, think about why you automatically offer to walk a girl home after a party. It’s obviously the right thing to do, but why? And think about that time you texted a girl to come over, but you ended up going over to hers, because of course she couldn’t walk to yours after ten.
Think about how what you value changes when you’re on the piss. How quickly the atmosphere can turn toxic. When you’re a good cunt for 12 beers, and she’s tragic for three.
And most importantly, listen to that one “annoying feminist girl” in your friend group. You don’t have to agree with everything she’s saying, just give her a basic level of respect to actively listen. Think about all these things I’ve written, and then think about what makes all of them happen, and then think about what this means for our society.
I’m going to step out of line for a moment to speak for the opposite gender, and make a quick assumption. When it comes to women’s issues, the first and simplest thing they want us to do is listen. I can’t stress that enough.
There’s a slight hypocrisy when it comes to how much we “the boys” get annoyed at gals getting offended all the time, but the moment the subject of rape culture or women’s issues of any kind comes up we retreat into a fortress of refusal and know-it-all-ism. We end up acting as offended as we accuse them of being. I think it’s because the nature of the culture is so fundamentally ingrained that it genuinely feels like there is an assault on our personality. It’s important to remember to not take every conversation as an accusation. It’s an emotional topic which can get heated, but when both sides are patient progress is made.
The fact is we didn’t grow up sharing the same experiences as the opposite sex, and so it’s a matter of logic that we just can’t assume to know what women go through. Listening when they try share these experiences can mean the world. As one of my flatmates just said as I wrote this, “dismissal is the most offensive thing.”
I don’t expect anyone reading this to strive to become a mastermind of political correctness, who counts and considers every word they say. I don’t want you to drop your BCom, LLB, BSc, or whatever it is you’re studying and pick up four years of papers focused on feminism and the effects of pornography on the human brain. All I suggest is thinking about the culture we exist in, how it affects women, and how it affects us as males. Just ten minutes a day listening and thinking. Such a small effort can go a long way.
Ending on a personal note, if you asked me about the fine points of rape culture I would probably turn pale, because I honestly don’t know, and I will likely never fully understand. But it’s important to look at the world through a different lens. Sexism, and the idea of a rape culture, is something that is easy to comment on as a political issue, but real change starts when we identify how these issues exist in the context of our own lives. We’re not going to get everything right, but hopefully if we start listening then for our mums, nanas, omas, flatmates, and we the boys too, the world might be a better place.