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I was struck by inspiration today, and started writing. By the end of… - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Sep. 28th, 2005|10:03 pm]
I was struck by inspiration today, and started writing. By the end of the day, I was writing other stuff.

Rape has always been a big deal for me, and I've spent lots of time trying to find a way to express a lot of complex truths. I've just finished an essay that could tentatively be entitled "What's the big deal about rape, anyway?" It's an attempt to express why rape is damaging. There's a method to this madness, that I'll explain later if anyone's interested.

It's entirely unedited, at the moment, and at the end, I ended up going into "talking to guys about rape" mode. Still... if anyone wants to read it, it's behind the cut tag. Commentary is welcome, even if it's of the form "Not bad" or "this sucks". Advice, edits, suggested reading and research, etc., are welcome as well.

A note on language:

Men can rape women, and men can rape men. Women can rape women, and women can rape men. Never forget this.

However, by far, the most common occurrence of rape is a man raping a woman. As such, I will tend to use "he" if referring to a rapist, and "she" if referring to the person attacked. Striving for gender neutrality would be wrong, because rape is gender biased. However, men and women can rape, men and women can be raped. Never, ever, forget this.

So, what is rape, exactly? What is the big deal?

There are a lot of people who are afraid to ask those questions, because to do so is to invite scorn. At the same time, someone has to talk about these things because we expect them to be obvious, and they aren't..

Let me start with the second question, then. What is the big deal?

This is one of the things that few people understand. For example, they'll hear a prostitute is raped, and say "that's not rape, that's theft!" After all, prostitutes have sex all the time, how could they be hurt by having sex?

It's a complicated issue. I think that rape isn't traumatic because it's sexual, but I think that sex is what opens the door to make it traumatic.

This is pure theory, this is a guy who hasn't been raped, who is working from what he's heard from others, what's he's seen, felt, and read.

First, and I think the biggest issue, is vulnerability. Sex puts us in a very vulnerable position, both physically, and emotionally.

Has a doctor ever put those drops in your eyes that make your pupils open wide? Your eyes are made to see, to sense light; it's their job. Now, your eyes are hypersensitive to that. What does the doctor do before those drops go in your eyes? The doctor dims the lights, and afterwards, if you don't have a good pair of sunglasses, you'll get a cardboard pair. Ordinary light would hurt your eyes.

What I'm saying is that sex is something that opens the pupils of our emotions wide. Even ordinary emotional input is magnified. Being attacked in that state is like having someone pop a flashbulb in your face when your pupils are fully dialated.

In addition to that, there's the physical vulnerability. A person who is being raped might not have been threatened with violence (other than the rape itself), but the fact of the matter is, the rape victim simply doesn't know what will happen. If a person willing to commit rape, who knows what else that person will do? If you've ever been beaten up, so that you realized you were helpless to defend yourself, you probably have a good idea of this fear, and how terrible it can be.

I know that sometimes victims of physical violence feel a sense of gratitude that they weren't hurt worse, especially if the attacker evokes this sense. Now, the real term for this feeling is "relief"; if you think about it, gratitude is simply a feeling of relief evoked by another person. Nevertheless, a victim can feel gratitude, and feel ashamed for feeling grateful. This is another large block of painful and confusing emotional input, while a person is still emotionally vulnerable.

Finally, we're taught that sex is private, and personal, and meaningful; we have a large number of feelings about sex. Some of them might stem from nature, and some from nurture; many believe that there's also a spiritual component to sex, as well. Regardless, sex is powerful stuff. If you had good sex last week, you might be able to smile and feel a tiny bit horny about it today; if you've ever had a painful experience, it might still evoke painful memories today, no matter how long ago it happened.

There's more; there's always more. Nevertheless, I'm going to assume that this is enough. If you read this, if you understand this, you should be able to say that rape is a big deal, and have at least a vague understanding of why.

Not everyone can understand; some folks don't have the ability to place themselves in another's shoes well enough to understand how it will feel. Still, you can use these ideas, that the trauma of rape is based upon vulnerability, emotional overload, especially of fear, and a variety of issues that come from our feelings about sex.

For example, if you want to reduce the possibility of sex being unpleasant, you want a feeling of safety for everyone involved, so the vulnerability is not a bad thing. You want the situation that everyone feels good about, so feelings about sex aren't torn up, during or afterwards. You want to understand that emotions will be high, and vulnerable to negative shifts, so you want to make sure everything is okay from an emotional standpoint.

Some folks have gone so far as to say that violating these boundaries makes otherwise consenting sex into rape. I disagree with that... but violating these boundaries can make consenting sex as painful and regrettable as rape.

What I say here is that people can feel raped without being raped. Now, let's ignore whether it hurts "as much" as rape. It's not relevant, really; people who are in pain are in as much pain as they're in, and there's no way to measure it. The pain can be there, it can be real, and that's what's important.

What am I getting at? Well, as I said before, I'm going to go into "guy does the deed, woman gets hurt" mode for simplicity's sake, but keep in mind that you can change either gender and still keep the important ideas.

If a guy pressures a woman into sex, she can feel terrible if she gives in, because her feelings about sex weren't respected. It can hurt, and only an asshole would let sex cause this kind of hurt to another person. Also, if a guy has sex just to get his rocks off, without letting her know in advance, she can feel terrible for the exact same reasons. Only an asshole would do that.

If a guy is grabby, the kind who keeps reaching for more (figuratively and literally) than he's being offered, he's leaving a woman feeling vulnerable and quite likely frightened. Again: only an asshole would do this.

A guy who doesn't know a woman well enough to have a guess as to how to protect her emotionally during sex is taking a terrible risk... but this can be as much stupidity as assholishness.

But a guy who doesn't make sure that a woman has every chance to call for a halt, a guy who pushes when she seems uncomfortable, a guy who uses even the tiniest hint of force in trying to get sex, is an asshole, at least.

There are women who stopped struggling, because the guy they were struggling against made them so afraid that they decided to let him continue rather than risk having him hurt them, and then rape them. These women can be as traumatized as those who are shown a weapon, and told to submit to the inevitable, or they'll be hurt.

No one but the most cold hearted of bastards would even want to take a chance of that happening. "Asshole" is much too weak a word for this. And if any guy out there is reading this and says "How do I, er, I mean, how does he know she's scared?" well, he should ask that question long distance, or I'll be sorely tempted to smack him upside the head.

You don't know she's scared. Instead, you're supposed to know she's eager, or at least ready, willing and able. If she's not, you figure out why. You don't go on just because you don't know she's scared!

See, this is the really, really stupid thing about this kind of discussion.

A guy who lets the woman set the pace, by going slow, and making sure he never makes her unhappy or uncomfortable, he'll make a woman feel safe. A woman will notice if a guy cares about how she feels. A woman will notice if a guy respects her feelings about sex. Put all these together, and if she's hot for the guy, she'll be hot and ready, sooner than otherwise.

In short, the best way to get laid is to be patient and willing to let things progress naturally. Sure, be seductive; sure, make sure she can tell you're eager; sure, try to move forward, slowly, giving her plenty of time to tell you to slow things down, and when she does, slow down. And don't pout about it, for heaven's sake. Your slowing down when she asks you to is what helps her realize you can be trusted; it's what helps her feel safe.

The guys who don't take care, who aren't willing to make their partners comfortable, not only are they being jerks, they're frustrating themselves, and making it harder for rest of us. It's a lose-lose-lose situation, no matter how you look at it.

But I'm starting to get off-track here.

Rape is a big deal, because it's a crime that relies on deep vulnerabilities, fear, emotional overload, and rips people apart, mentally and emotionally. People who aren't assholes will not only avoid rape, they'll avoid the things that evoke any of the pain that's vaguely similar to rape, beause even those pains can be a big deal.

That's the first part. Next, we'll deal with "what is rape?".

[User Picture]From: merlin_t_wizard
2005-09-29 10:52 am (UTC)
John, on first read, looks good to me. I don't think that I could have put it anywhere near as well as you have. When you're done with it, would you mind if I kept a copy, and sent it here and there occasionally (giving full credit, of course)?
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-10-02 05:50 am (UTC)
Sure, it can be distributed anywhere with attribution. In the fullness of time, when I have an actual webpage, this will be on it, and I'd appreciate it if you include the URL (if you have it and remember to do so :-) ).
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[User Picture]From: ruth_lawrence
2005-09-29 12:06 pm (UTC)
This looks good to me, and I've experience quite a bit what you're describing.

I belong in the silent-due-to-trained-in fear group, which makes for trouble.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-10-02 05:53 am (UTC)
Nod. That some folks go fear-silent is one of the reasons I try to mention it... it's the kind of crucial information that can save good folks from a whole mess of pain.
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[User Picture]From: janetmiles
2005-09-29 02:04 pm (UTC)
This all seems reasonable to me, but since I've never been raped, I can't speak from experience (nor, ghods willing, do I wish to).

My only comment is one minor spelling error: dilated, not dialated.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-09-29 05:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks; you know, seeing that, my first thought was "Okay, so "to dialate" is an irregular verb, with "dilated" as the past tense". Another one of those words I've been very carefully misspelling for a long time. I wonder if there's a Philadelphianism in pronouncing it "die uh lated" that threw me.

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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-09-29 06:00 pm (UTC)
I know it's obvious, but that (last comment) was me. (Sigh.)
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-10-02 05:55 am (UTC)
Oh, cool, I'm helping to corrupt the young! :-)

(Of course, that *is* part of my goal, teaching guys ways to be rough and ready (or macho, or whatever the heck guys are these days) and sex-hungry and *still* safe as houses.)
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From: kightp
2005-09-29 03:17 pm (UTC)
I like it. A lot.

Depending on who reads it, I can imagine you getting some "Yeah, well, what about X???" protests from certain types of people, because that's what those people do in *any* discussion of sex that involves people taking responsible for their actions.

I expect you're prepared for those reactions, though.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-10-02 05:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm ready; I sometimes wonder if that was the entire point (from the universe's POV) of my last little escapade. (Probably not; the universe is pretty busy being a universe. Still, if I was going to take a lesson from it, that'd be a good one to take anyway.)
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[User Picture]From: teddywolf
2005-09-30 03:24 pm (UTC)
Mostly good.

If a guy is grabby, the kind who keeps reaching for more (figuratively and literally) than he's being offered, he's leaving a woman feeling vulnerable and quite likely frightened. Again: only an asshole would do this.

Some are assholes. Many are assholes. Maybe even most are assholes. But some are clueless. Some either do not recognize the cues being given or aren't given a cue to let them know to stop. They aren't assholes.

I bring this up because I was this clueless one time. When I finally got a cue I could recognize - even that one was not very direct, but still - I stopped immediately. The lady forgave me very shortly after. I've almost forgiven myself after checks watch16 years.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-09-30 04:12 pm (UTC)
Understood, and agreed. At the same time, isn't the reason you still remember it because you think something like "shit! That's the kind of thing only an asshole would do intentionally (or negligently), and *I* was doing it!"

I'm trying to think of a way to include in this series a way of saying "Yeah, guys can get a little stupid when horny. Sooner or later, I imagine most guys make a mistake, the kind of mistake that, if they did it intentionally, they'd be an asshole. The decent guys, it hits them, hard, and they learn from it." (And if you're 'hearing' that this means that I have such a painful story in my background, too, you're right.)

At the same time, one of the hardest things for decent guys to understand is how many assholes use the theoretical possibility of a misunderstanding to excuse their own actions... both to the woman they've just assholehandled (I can't use "manhandled" since a man wouldn't have done it.), and to anyone who tries to call them on their behavior.

We need the attitude of "How *old* are you, to be still making little-boy mistakes?" (Maybe followed by something like "Oh, you were shy, never dated, she's your first. Okay, look, let me clue you in how to avoid doing this again.") Sure, we (speaking for me and the squirrel in my pocket, and anyone else who chooses to agree with me :-) ) need to understand that guys *can* be clueless, but we also want guys to be determined to learn the lesson without having to pick up a painful story of their own, and willing to let their painful story be painful enough that it means something.

Herm. I hope you understand that, by "painful enough to mean something", I don't mean "grind it in to them"; I just mean painful enough that, if she doesn't forgive them, they realize it's their own stupid fault (no, they *didn't* know better, but they feel they should have), and if she does, they're grateful, because they realize she didn't have to. (NB: I'd hope that in 99+% of the truly-clueless cases, there *would* be forgiveness. But forgiveness is not deserved; it's a gift, because she'll *never* know if you're sincere, or just a smooth liar.)

Herm-sub-2. I've been doing a *lot* of thinking about this over the past little bit (maybe a year, maybe less), so there are a lot of conclusions that I might be presenting as obvious, because they are to me. If any of this sounds like a leap, feel free to let me know, and I'll try to break it down.

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[User Picture]From: teddywolf
2005-09-30 04:29 pm (UTC)
Understood, and agreed. At the same time, isn't the reason you still remember it because you think something like "shit! That's the kind of thing only an asshole would do intentionally (or negligently), and *I* was doing it!"

Actually, the thought process goes about like this:
I caused her distress.
Causing her distress was a not-good thing.
Said distress was avoidable.
Causing said distress was actually the worst thing to do under the circumstances.
I did not know I was causing her distress.
I did not and do not like seeing people indistress.
Not knowing that I was doing so is an understandable reason, but it is not an excuse.
I had literally no way of giving full redress for the distress I caused.

I did apologize after; I did my best to make things better. But those do not change that moment in the past when I caused the distress.

I base my own feelings on the action itself and its results, not so much on the perceptions of others about the action, that this could only be the action of an asshole - though the latter can bring me grief.

I still remember because it was, in its way, a defining slice of my life.

Does the distinction make sense?
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-10-02 06:00 am (UTC)
Yes, I do get the distinction, and, in fact, that's a preferable way to feel about it, I think... an internalized notion instead of an externalized one.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-09-30 04:14 pm (UTC)
That was, of course, me. Firefox closed, and I lost my logged-in status.

LJ needs a warning if you're about to make an anonymous comment or needs to default to "lj user"
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