I want to tackle rape culture, not just sexual assault


The #MeToo movement has really taken off, sparking many discussions about sexual assault and how women are treated in general. Of course in this debate people still (deliberately) misunderstand what the #MeToo movement is about. Countless people only focus on sexual harassment or sexual assault, which is of course what sparked the movement, but it is not the only thing we want to see changed.

In conversation with people – men and women – about #MeToo, I often hear the comment “Well, if that is sexual assault, then we can’t do anything anymore.” Comments like this are often made when someone reports that they had sex because they were too afraid to say no. Or where they had accommodated a man because they were afraid of the repercussions of saying no.

I have spoken before about the importance of enthusiastic consent. I argue in that blog post that if both parties don’t enthusiastically consent to sex, then maybe sex shouldn’t happen. How many times haven’t we heard it say “she should just have said no”? Or, “Well, she didn’t say no, so how was the man supposed to know she didn’t really want it”? And situations in which a man misreads the woman’s non-verbal cues are held up as an example of ways in which a man should not be accused of sexual assault, because he didn’t know the woman didn’t want it.

I am not going to get into whether or not the above situation is sexual assault. I am not interested in that debate. People who throw up these arguments deliberately want to misinterpret the #MeToo movement because to acknowledge that there is a wider problem with rape culture beyond sexual assault is uncomforatble. When sexual assault is only an issue with a few powerful scumbags, we can all point fingers of blame and rest easy that we are not like that.

This is wrong. As I say in my title, I want to tackle rape culture, not just sexual assault. Rape culture exists, whether you are ready to acknowledge this or not. And it exists because men feel entitled to women’s bodies. Men feel entitled. That is what needs to change. Women don’t need to send better signals, say ‘no’ more forcefully, or communicate better. I hate this tendency to lay everything at the feet of women again. No, MEN have to change how they view women.

The problem is that men assume that sex is on the agenda whenever they go out with a woman. Maybe not consciously, but subconsciously they expect the evening to end with sex. Too many men react angrily, even violently, if a woman denies them what they perceive as their right to sex. Too many women agree to sex in order to avoid confrontation. It doesn’t matter that the man in question may not react violently: we don’t know that. We have heard too many reports of men lashing out violently when a woman says no that we have become skilled at inventing excuses not to have sex without outright saying no. Is that an inability of women to communicate? Absolutely not. It’s a safety mechanism and a way to – sometimes literally – preserve our lives.

It’s up to men to make sure that a woman knows that saying no is a safe option that is open to her. It’s up to men to ensure beyond reasonable doubt that the woman he is with consents to sex. There are MANY hot ways of asking consent, and any man who refuses to see that, is not interested in women’s feelings and is therefore a sexual predator.

We need to tackle rape culture. We need to change how men view women, and this involved ALL men, not only the most obvious sexual assault perpetrators. Until we change this feeling of entitlement to women’s bodies, time and emotions I fear rape culture cannot be eradicated.

1 thought on “I want to tackle rape culture, not just sexual assault”

  1. Yes – I agree. This is a subtly different message but most definitely one which rings true. I think we will soon be watching older films/TV or reading books and suddenly the sexual dynamic we used to not blink at is going to look very wrong or lopsided with this new, clearer perspective.

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