I’ve been wanting to discuss this for a long, long time and then someone else not only beat me to the punch, but they did it better than I could.
Read this: Rape Culture in Popular Culture by Anne Thériault from Shameless magazine.
This is the part that resonated most with me:
When a man is pursuing a woman and will not take no for an answer, no matter what his reasons, what he is really saying is: “I know better than you.” The message that he’s sending is, “my opinion/feelings/beliefs are more valuable than yours.” When, in a movie or book or television show, a man wins over a woman after repeatedly being turned down, what we, as the audience, learn is, he was right and she was wrong. We learn that, at the end of the day, men know what’s best for women.
So what do men who grow up in this culture learn? They learn that women are theirs for the taking, as long as they feel a strong enough attraction to them. They learn that no doesn’t mean no, it means, keep pushing until she says yes. They learn that women are crazy, inconsistent, moody, and changeable. They learn that their feelings are more valuable than anyone else’s.
What we most often learn from the media, then, is that when a man won’t give up on pursuing a woman, that’s beautiful and romantic. When a woman won’t give up on pursuing a man, that’s just plain ridiculous.
As a woman, particularly as a black woman, I’ve spent my entire life being told in a million different ways that I am only allowed to love myself in relation to how much a man could desire me. The more sexually desirable I am, the more confident I’m allowed to be. The less sexually desirable I am, the less confident I’m allowed to be. I’ve heard it about my hair. It’s too curly and unruly and it doesn’t blow in the wind so it’s not sexy, and because it’s not sexy I have to hate it. I’ve heard this about the colour of my skin. I get even darker in the summer which is apparently too dark and I should be worried and stay out of the sun. Being a little black is OK, but being too black is ugly. (Exact quote from, oddly enough, a black female friend.) I’m not allowed to like my laugh or my personality, because my laugh it really loud and my personality is really strong. This makes me “emasculating” and “intimidating” to men (again, true story) and I am therefore too much person to fit inside one man’s ego. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read or heard or inadvertently participated in discussions about whether black/Asian/Latin/insert-something-not-Caucasian-her women are “attractive” as though beauty is a club one buys membership into. I say beauty is a very complex, case-by-case, person-by-person, highly dynamic part of the human experience. It’s not something you parse out with your friends when you’re four drinks deep in the back of a nightclub.
What does this have to do with rape culture? Well, women of colour are more likely to be raped than Caucasian women. And trans* women are the most vulnerable group of all. Regardless of race though, sexual assault isn’t ultimately about sexual desire or how attractive you feel, or how attractive another person thinks you are, although it’s helpful to have those discussion together.
It’s about power, and forcibly taking away someone else’s power. It’s about the danger of constructing male knowledge as more valuable and trustworthy than female knowledge. This is especially the case when it comes to a woman’s ability to know herself and what she wants and who she is. And of course, her knowledge of what her boundaries are and her agency in enforcing them.
That’s what’s been on my mind this Thursday.
Know thyself, and feel confident in that knowledge because no one has the right to tell you who you are and what you want. Other than you, of course.
Stay safe and stay strong.