Gun Industry Profits Will Not Stop Rape

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, March 11, 2013 9:52 EDT
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You are not a big man because you can scare a woman.

Zerlina Maxwell has the right’s number on this whole push to sell guns by offering them as effective rape prevention: It’s a form of rape apology and denialism. As I noted before, it’s telling that the organization spearheading the “guns prevent rape” campaign is IWF, an organization that is devoted to rape apology and denialism, including minimizing the number of acquaintance rapes, exaggerating the existence of false accusations,* crying bloody murder every time feminists organize anti-rape initiatives like campus productions of “The Vagina Monologues”, and opposing anti-rape legislation like the Violence Against Women Act. That’s because by pushing guns as the sole answer to the rape problem, they can subtly suggest that the only rape that “counts” is a scary guy jumping out of the bushes, i.e. a very small fraction of actual rapes. And Zerlina has their number:

Quote from Zerlina:

I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.

The whole thing has been really gross, because gun nuts are using feigned concern over rape to deny that the majority of rapes are really rapes, and of course, to viciously attack actual rape survivors, who they wish to silence lest we educate the public on the realities of rape. A couple of weeks ago, I ended up blocking dozens of people yelling misogynist garbage at me on Twitter because, as a rape survivor myself, I spoke out about what bullshit it is to reduce the problem of rape to men jumping out of bushes, which is the only rape that theoretically could be halted by a gun. (In reality, it’s not even that helpful against stranger rapists. Rapists spend a lot of time gaming out how they’re going to rape, and they’re usually smart enough not to give you a chance to react before they subdue you.)

That was terrible, but what Zerlina is getting is much worse. I suspect part of the reason is that only a fraction of my attackers knew that I’m out as a rape survivor, but since Zerlina identified her experiences on national TV, a ton more people want to attack her and scream at her in hopes she’ll shut up about the realities of rape. Zerlina’s brave refusal to be blamed for being raped on national  TV has drawn out scary numbers of hateful assholes. She blogged about it here, and Josh Marshall blogged in support of her here, where he recorded some more of the abuse. Warning: People will go to shocking lengths to silence rape survivors, so be forewarned about reading these reactions.

Now, I want to be clear: I don’t think most conservatives, even the ones who are deep into rape denialism, are pro-rape. Maybe these guys above, but most, no. I think they want rape survivors to be silent (except for the “good” ones attacked by strangers, whose experiences can be exploited to sell guns), because if we start talking about the reality of rape, people are going to start figuring out solutions. And conservatives really, really don’t like the solutions, since all the solutions involve challenging gender norms we hold dear. These are some of the things that need to be done to end rape culture that conservatives don’t like:

  1. We need to challenge the idealization of male dominance and violence. Right now, much of American culture casts “being a man” as being indifferent to the feelings of others, eager to dominate and control others, and dominate over women in particular. You can deny that until you’re blue in the face, but the reality-based community has eyes and we can see it. Conservatives fucking worship a culture of masculinity-through-dominance, which is why they were so easy to whip into a frenzy of support for the Iraq War and Bush strutting around like a rooster over it. (Until things went south, of course.) That goes double for gun nuts. Unfortunately, to stop rape, we have to stop teaching young men that there’s something admirable about male dominance, especially over women, and conservatives balk at that. Any suggestion that they learn to define themselves not through fantasies of dominance and violence, but by cultivating qualities like compassion, responsibility, and ambition will be met with massive resistance.
  2. We need to end the obsession with controlling female sexuality. One of the reasons that rapists rape with impunity is that they can be assured that if their victims speak out, the victims will face a lot more shaming than the rapists will. Victims will be treated like terrible people if they go to parties and drink, if they have had consensual sex in the past, and especially if they were inclined to have consensual sex with the rapist before he decided to violently assault her. If we, as a culture, accepted that it’s perfectly okay for women to, as we accept of men, have their fun and party and have sex if they want to, rape victims wouldn’t get the third degree. Focus would then shift to the only choice that matters—the choice of whether or not to rape—and rapists would be held accountable. Conservatives, needless to say, do not want to give up policing female sexuality, and will resist this at all costs. Of all the things that seem to set off Zerlina’s detractors, her insistence that rape victims are not to blame seems to have set her detractors off the most.
  3. We need to teach men to stand up for women when other men are being domineering and sexist. There’s a lot in intra-male dominance games that go on, and often men are expected to “prove” themselves to other men by going along with sexism. Young men need to learn the skill of standing up to other men who are being dicks. If you practice a lot by learning not to play along when you hear a sexist joke or hear a man try to build himself up by tearing women down, it’s a lot easier to stand up to a guy at a party who you see is sexually harassing women or you fear is trying to get a woman alone so he can rape her.
  4. We need to teach men from an early age that women are people, and not just a class of people put here to be used as you see fit. Needless to say, Zerlina’s detractors strongly disagree with the contention that women are not toilets that exist for you to dump all your shit into.

Those two things would dramatically reduce the incidence of rape, and unlike trying to put a gun on every woman and saying to her, “Good luck,” we know that these things work. The Justice Department certainly has given us reason to believe that dismantling sexism and male dominance works wonders for preventing rape.

In 1979, according to a Justice Department estimate based on a wide-ranging public survey, there were 2.8 rapes for every 1,000 people. In 2004, the same survey found that the rate had decreased to 0.4 per thousand.

(I won’t vouch for the rest of the article, but I think the stats are good, since they measured things the same in 1979 and 2004.) To be fair, most crime rates plunged dramatically, and a lot of theories have been offered to explain why, including the end of leaded gasoline. We do know this: Even as the number of young men in the population has gone up, crime—especially rape—has gone down. I think that feminism is a huge part of the reason. The traditional links between men, power, and violence have been eroded as women have started to gain power. Masculinity-as-domination has been challenged relentlessly, and the result is that fewer men feel the compulsion to dominate through violence. As Atrios noted recently, you don’t even see as many bar fights as you used to. There are just way fewer young men who feel they have something to prove. This is good, and we need to keep at it.

With that, I’ll leave you with Patrick Stewart’s amazing speech to Amnesty International about ending violence against women. He talks about his own experiences growing up with domestic violence, but just as critically, he cops to having had moments in his life when he struggled with the urge to exert power over women with violence. This kind of real talk about how men are socialized and what it can take to overcome it is an important step to ending rape culture. Continuing to push more guns is not helpful, and can be counterproductive to this task.

Another quote from Stewart:

 Violence against women is learned. Each of us must examine – and change – the ways in which our own behavior might contribute to, enable, ignore or excuse all such forms of violence. I promise to do so, and to invite other men and allies to do the same.

Emphasis mine. I recommend that all the cowards who are attacking a rape survivor for speaking the truth of her experiences listen to Patrick Stewart. And learn another way to feel good about yourself other than finding some woman you can scream at in hopes that will make you a man.

*The main effect of exaggerating the incidence of false accusations—which are a small fraction of the already tiny number of false reports—is that rapists don’t see justice. I’m sure rapists are intensely grateful for the IWF’s tireless efforts aimed at making sure that rape victims who speak out are not believed and are accused of making it up to cover for their slutty ways. As long as people are willing to attack the victims and call them liars, rapists feel emboldened. Really, they owe the ladies at IWF some flowers.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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