“But was it rape?”

// 6 January 2009

Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage has a hit podcast, in which listeners call in with their sex and relationship problems, and Dan portions out advice.

What with Christmas and everything interrupting my commuting habits, I only just got around to listening to the 9 December episode. One of the callers is a university student, who is asking about an incident that occured last year.

He explains, basically, how he was with some friends and they came across a very drunk female student. She came with them to the party they were going to, where one of his friends locked her in a room and “had sex” with her – when she was clearly incapacitated, and very likely unconscious.

He wants to know if he should still be friends with this man.

A couple of things struck me, listening to the podcast – but mostly it was his reaction when Dan Savage calls what happened rape. Which it very much sounds like it was – but the student sounds surprised and a bit shocked (he’s labelled this as a possible “sexual assault” if I remember correctly).

It’s a sorry state of affairs, and shows how far we have to go, when it’s a surprise that forcing yourself on an unconscious woman “might be” considered rape. Obviously, the caller understands there’s something very wrong with what he’s witnessed – but still! I think that the correct response at that party would be to force the door and stop what was happening. To call the police. (To be fair, it seems like some people at the party tried to stop the assault.)

I wasn’t totally happy with Dan Savage’s response, either. Although he makes clear that it’s not acceptable, he (initially) names what happened as rape, and says that the student should no longer be friends with this man, and he makes the point that, by ignoring what’s happening in front of them, men can perpetuate sexual violence against women, he didn’t go nearly far enough, I think.

Maybe he was making a judgement based on the reactions of the caller, but he at one point suggests that if his friend is contrite and sorry, then they could be friends again.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 6 January 2009 at 1:18 pm

Dan Savage was correct because what this caller witnessed was in fact rape. However, far too many bystanders do not understand that if a woman is rendered unconscious because of alcohol this means she is incapable of giving ‘consent’ or stating her refusal. It is irrelevant whether the woman voluntarily became drunk or not what is important is the fact excessive alcohol incapacitates a person’s ability to give informed consent or refusal.

We do not hold victims of burgleries responsible for not safeguarding their homes from would-be burglars yet there is a presumption women and girls are expected to safeguard themselves from male sexual violence and if they fail then it is the woman’s/girl’s fault never the male rapist’s.

Another central problem is the fact males are still socialised into believing they have no responsibility or accountability with regards to their sexual behaviour. Males are expected to use coercion, pressure or even force against women and girls because this is perceived as normal male heterosexual behaviour towards women and girls.

Jackson Katz is a pro-feminist activist who works with men to challenge the male bystander behaviour. It is not enough for men to say ‘I would never commit rape’ whilst refusing to challenge those men who do commit sexual violence against women. Dan Savage did not explain clearly enough why ‘bystander behaviour’ effectively condones rape because if we do not challenge men’s beliefs they are entitled to rape women who are drunk or rendered unconscious through drink then we are effectively justifying male sexual violence against women.

It is very easy for a male to claim he is contrite and then accept his apology but apologies do not alter the fact this man raped an unconscious woman. If the man was really contrite then his actions should speak louder than his words. If this man really believed he was wrong then he should demonstrate it by his behaviour and refuse to remain a ‘bystander’ when he hears other men stating they are targetting a woman for ‘sex’ because she is drunk or incapacitated or they claim ‘she is obviously willing to engage in any sexual activity the man/men have in mind.’

julia // Posted 7 January 2009 at 2:24 am

Dan Savage is as sexist as they come. My local weekly carries his column, which I would never call ‘advice’ and because he is syndicated most US weeklies carry it to. He is always harder on women, calling us misogynist names, telling us to put up with men’s cruelty, selfishness, immaturity and violence.

His column is about using – using women, using people. Sex as a commodity, something you can buy at the store.

Years ago, the San Franciso Bay Guradian carried sex educator Isabel Altman’s column. She is smart, funny, respectful and you can actually learn something about relationships from reading her.

Jess // Posted 7 January 2009 at 10:44 am

I remember that podcast – I’m a huge fan of Savage even if he sometimes irks the shit out of me. I thought his reply was good – like you, I remember silently praying for him to say ‘dude, you know it’s rape, right?’.

I found the guy’s reaction was really telling – deep down he *knew* this was fucked up shit that had happened (as Dan says, if it happened a year ago and you still think about it, shit was NOT right) but his brain just didn’t make the connection between what he witnessed and rape. He knew it, but he didn’t, if you catch my drift.

Cara // Posted 7 January 2009 at 4:01 pm


while I agree with Jennifer Drew…tbh I think that was about the best that can be expected from a man in this day and age. I know it shouldn’t be about ‘well what do we expect’ but in an institutionally sexist society, it’s hard enough to get people to name rape as what it is. Unless it was strangers dragging the victim off the street, it can’t really be rape. Exactly as Jess said – they don’t make the connection.

So while I agree that Savage wasn’t emphatic enough, I think he did pretty well.

Haven’t heard Dan Savage before…generally think it’s a great idea, just talking about sex in the open has to be a good thing (I do mean actually educating people, not in a porny way) and I can’t imagine a similar sex advice columnist in the UK.

But yes. I guess my verdict, too, is a B-; not bad effort but could do better.

posierider // Posted 7 January 2009 at 5:18 pm

I was utterly saddened reading this and have had to quell the rising nausea that is my response to any account of rape before I could risk responding. Not being familiar with the show or the presenter, I can only comment on the atrocious confusion of the caller and his attempt to avoid responsibility, moral or practical, for intervening in what is obviously, instinctively, a rape.

What bothers me most is that, because of his gender and his association with what I believe is termed ‘frat’ culture (excuse the scare quotes, as a Londoner I’d rather admit my limited experience of this phenomena than mislabel anyone!) he could be so insensitive to an attack on another human being simply because she was a woman shows the dire level that relations between individuals have reached due to misogyny and ignorance.

I’ve no doubt that it would have been instinctive to intervene if he saw a male friend being physically assaulted. Even if a stranger (male or female) was being attacked he might at least have felt that what was happening was morally wrong, even if he didn’t feel obliged to help.

That he lacks basic empathy with a woman experiencing a sexual assault is horrific and as complicated a problem as the perverse desire to rape. It indicates that, as well as reducing women to sexual objects, he is unable to conceive of them as suffering, experiencing human beings. He was basically calling the talk show to affirm whether woman in fact have a subjectivity at all.

It is a frightening indication of how men who do not take sadistic pleasure from another’s pain, but who go on to rape, can maintain a numb disassociation from the women they are attacking. As a consequence of social relations that sexualise and silence young women, it couldn’t be more dangerous.

Rose // Posted 7 January 2009 at 9:40 pm

You have to wonder what the rapist would call himself. A stud? A real man? A lady-killer? I’d happily put forward a few suggestions…. .

They take womens confidence, pride, self-respect, dignity and freedom. Their mates either don’t say a word against it, or they actually encourage it.

Im 21, I would say 1 in 5 guys pose a physical threat, and that 9 out of 10 would ‘take advantage’ of seeing me drunk, (to some extent). I’ve had experiences similar to those describe above, and can tell you that not only do people not help you, but if you manage to defend yourself against an attempted rapist, it makes you a ‘prik-tease’, because everyone knows what a turn-on a vulnerable girl is!

There is a very clear line of what is or is not rape, but it suits the interests of a patriarchy to ignore that. The question is, how much of a womans suffering is a guys ‘jollies’ worth? If women are lesser creatures, then greater liberties can be taken. This lack of empathy is a lack of recognition of women as complete human beings, in and of themselves.

It’s just another symptom of societies great sickness.

Genevieve // Posted 8 January 2009 at 4:10 am


Maybe I’m allowing my five-year-long adoration for Dan Savage to get the best of me, but I’d hardly say he’s “as sexist as they come.” I tend to see him being pretty much equal in terms of telling people what they should and should not put up with. And no, I don’t think he believes in using people. Remember, he writes a sex-advice column, those writing in are asking for advice on their sex lives–how to get the sex they want sex the way they want it. The medium itself is based on “using people,” but I do see some compassion in his work, especially when I’ve read essays of his which are not his actual column (and therefore not based on giving advice), or his books.

He’s not perfect, of course. He has been sexist. But how can you call Dan Savage “as sexist as they come” when we have people like Christopher Hitchens and Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh running around?

Qubit // Posted 9 January 2009 at 2:05 pm

Rose, it is possible I am being naive but I think your assessment of men is either overly cynical or you have met a very bad sample group. It is important not to demonise men not just so we aren’t presenting negative stereotypes but so we don’t set expectations too low. If you are either straight or bisexual then your low expectations could lead to you excepting far less than you deserve in a relationship. Even if you are lesbian it is still likely you will form some form of relationships with men (be it friendship or working) and to consider incredibly bad behaviour normal will increase your tolerance more than it should. By lowering our expectations on men we change what we define to be normal and consequently what becomes considered acceptable.

I don’t think the caller behaved dreadfully from what he said. I wouldn’t be friends with someone that I felt I couldn’t leave with a drunk woman because he would rape her and it sounds like the caller was the same. He didn’t notice they were together until the end of the night when other people were already reacting and even if he did it is likely he trusted his friend and felt he shouldn’t have to worry. Had his friend said anything or was he aware of what was going on then he should have done something but I think the level of trust he had in his friend was fairly standard and it was unfortunate he was let down.

I sometimes (unfairly) judge a guy by what he expects other men to do. Therefore a guy who would expect his friend to have sex with a drunk unconscious girl is either cynical or likely to consider the activity himself. I get the impression the caller didn’t even consider the possibility his friend might take advantage of the girl, again I think this fits with standard behaviour of expecting decent behaviour of your friends.

I am a bit worried by the implication (from the host of the pod cast) that the caller was somewhat at fault for taking the women to the party. It is true had she not gone to the party she would have avoided being raped but I think this takes it a step further and implies she shouldn’t have gone to the party incase she was raped. This gets very close to theories such as don’t walk home alone, don’t drink etc. After all had the guy who raped the women not been at the party she wouldn’t have been raped.

The only fault to find with the caller is that he failed to mention it or react for a year but again this isn’t overly surprising. You use for your judgement on what happened how other people react, if everyone else thinks something is normal you often begin to question your own judgement. Maybe he should have brought it up sooner but I think the fact it troubled him showed he wasn’t a bad guy although far from wonderful.

It is a disturbing case and shows some of the worst possible behaviour on behalf of the friend but the fact people did react and knew it was wrong also shows that a lot of people don’t think such behaviour is acceptable and will do their best to stop it.

Rose // Posted 9 January 2009 at 5:22 pm

Qubit, I appreciate your concern, but…

most of my friends are male, and I am regularly shocked by both what they have heard other guys boosting about, and also, what my friends ‘didn’t realise was a problem’, (such as the surprisingly comment thought that spiking isn’t much worse then buying a drunk girl a drink).

I’ve also heard alot about the drive to reproduce being natural in a creature such as the human animal – as if this explains rape! Oddly enough, I’ve never punched someone in the face and stolen their sandwich, because I felt abit ‘snackish’.

I don’t lower my opinion of what a man should be, because so many behave so badly. I expect extremely high standards (and the ability to discuss what it is to be a ‘man’, on a philosophic level).

Men are great! But knuckle-dragging apes are everywhere, and they need to be watched for.

Until civilisation requires gender equality, these apes have no reason to evolve.

maggie // Posted 9 January 2009 at 6:53 pm


It doesn’t take Occram’s Razor to deduce this either.

George // Posted 9 January 2009 at 8:10 pm

Rose, I find your comments quite disturbing. Please don’t try and make out that the majority of men are knuckle-dragging apes, because I really don’t believe that it is true! Moreover, I think women are just as guilty when it comes to failing to protect their friends from rape or abusive situations, or indeed when it comes to saying things along the lines of, “You were asking for it”. I am not saying that some men don’t act badly, just that this isn’t an excuse to accuse 50% of the population of being subhuman.

maggie // Posted 9 January 2009 at 10:27 pm

oops that should read

Occam’s Razor.

Rachael // Posted 10 January 2009 at 11:46 am

George and Quibit – though I think you make some good points – I think Rose has it spot on. I will explain why below using an old post I have written on male sexual entitlement.

I believe there is still a massive problem with men’s entitlement to women’s bodies that is at the core of rape.

Much personal sexual interaction between men and women can border on violent. Sounds controversial? Let me explain.

I have had many generally nice and caring boyfriends and lovers. But there is a definate theme running through the male subconcious of sexual entitelment which has now virtually brought me to the conclusion that I would rather be alone – how sad.

I had a very sexual relationship with an ex. I am a very sexual woman. On one occasion though, I did not want sex. He then said…”perhaps I should…no, you would kill me”!! In other words he meant (and confirmed by him later) – rape me (though of course – he put it, “do it anyway”).

Another example. This time, a lover. He got on top of me and tried to kiss me – “warm me up”. I had to say no three times before he stopped. After, we discussed it. He said “Well, you know – sometimes a woman says no but you carry on touching her until she kind of lets you carry on”!!! I replied that I would NEVER try to carry on if a man said no..and that is the difference.

Now – I am not suggesting that in either of these examples, I was raped. However – these and similar comments have come from many other of my sexual partners (men because I am heterosexual) and show a real need to get to the nub of this issue.

This is that men feel totally over-entitled to women’s bodies sexually and that if – in ANY circumstance – we withold them, they feel entitled to take what they are “owed”.

I am not going to say that “all men are rapists” – but this sense of entitlemt does show that this is not just a few messed-up individuals (as some have suggested – even on this site). That it is a cultural and society-wide problem that needs addressing at it’s roots – our socialization of our children.

Initiatives to prevent rape are amazing -but it is the beginnings of male-entitlement that we must tackle – not just the end results.

Yes – absolutley many women have made apologies for the men that have “gone to far” with me. Women do it too – but they are just reacting the way that they have been socialized, too. Just like men. And that socialization is at the core of men’s treatment of women and women’s treatment of each other.

kez // Posted 10 January 2009 at 1:12 pm

Hmm, well, I don’t know. I do think that men who are married or in relationships tend to have a sense of entitlement to sex with the women they’re in relationships with, but I also think this is (though clearly still problematic) light years away from the situation described in this post.

I was intrigued by the post and some of the comments, so I carried out my own unscientific survey of a few men I know aged between 17 and 50, just describing the situation and asking for their reactions. Without exception they were all appalled, instantly labelled it as rape, and said they would definitely have tried to intervene. Now I know this is hardly a representative sample of men (as they were mainly members of my own family) and also that what people think they would do in a certain situation and what they actually do when confronted with said situation are not automatically the same thing, but I found it encouraging.

Rachael // Posted 10 January 2009 at 4:46 pm

Kez – I am sure the men you spoke to were (rightly) appalled – but this is because this is a more onbious example of rape.

The rape that happens in relationships is usually MUCH more subtle – and how many men will admit thet once they went “a bit too far”? They have no need to because they do not see going “a bit too far” as rape.

Also men’s entitlement to women’s bodies is universal so it is certainly not limited to married couples or relationships.

I have had many sexual partners and some relationships – and never married. And all (bar maybe two if I am honest) displayed some form of sexual ownership over my body.

And I am certainly not saying this to man-hate or anything – quite the opposite actually!! I am saying it because I am now so saddened by the way that men act towards women sexually – that I have all but given up on sex or relationships. Isn’t that sad?

Qubit // Posted 10 January 2009 at 7:16 pm

Rachael I find your stories scare me slightly. I have been lucky in the fact that my exes and current boyfriend has respected my decisions and don’t want to continue if I am not in the mood. I find it sad that this is lucky, I don’t want to think of this as being lucky. This should be the standard of behavior we expect of people. I find it hard to decide whether I have been fortunate or whether you have been unfortunate. I hope, I really hope you have just met some nasty guys but it does seem likely a lot of men are like you describe.

Anna // Posted 10 January 2009 at 7:23 pm

My own partner, who is the most feminist man I know (and that’s saying he is feminist, not just that I know a collection of misogynists!), when in a bipolar mania once hassled me for sex until I gave in. To an extent, I wanted to and it wasn’t a problem, but for a while I was in a situation where I felt extremely uncomfortable. I wouldn’t be happy using the term rape, he would be horrified probably to the point of suicide if he thought for a second either that was what he’d done or how I saw it.. but nevertheless.. I don’t know, in all honesty.

George // Posted 10 January 2009 at 8:19 pm


I feel there are a number of strands here that need to be teased apart – and a major one is separating issues about consent from issues about entitlement. Although they are obviously related (if you are fully entitled to something, consent doesn’t come into it), they don’t necessarily come as a package.

For example, I see it as perfectly possible that someone might misunderstand how important “No” is in a sexual situation, without ever feeling that they have automatic entitlement to someone’s elses body. It is still really bad, but I think we need to combat both aspects seperately rather than just bundling them in together.

The power imbalance that leads to men’s entitlement is indeed universal. However, this doesn’t mean that its specific manifestations are all the same, or indeed that individuals are without agency within this structure. By that, I mean that different relationships between different people function in a huge number of ways, and I’m pretty sure from my own experience that not all of them feature entitlement (although you are right, some of them do, and it *is* really worrying/upsetting/frightening).

What I mean by this is that falling into the trap of condemning a whole subsection of society (with no regard to how other factors such as sexuality, culture, personal history) won’t help us to either understand or combat the specific situations of abuse, nor educate ourselves into a better situation.

I am also not advocating rape apology, nor defending men, or whatever. I’m just reluctant to condemn large groups individuals, especially when I believe it won’t help actual people from being abused.

Peter // Posted 11 January 2009 at 2:00 am

Rachael, just for one data point, I would like to add that in every relationship I have had with a woman, I have also felt that she took some form of ownership of my body. This may cut both ways, only you don’t see it on account of being on only one side of the fence. Anecdotes are tricky things.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 12:45 pm

“I feel there are a number of strands here that need to be teased apart – and a major one is separating issues about consent from issues about entitlement.Although they are obviously related (if you are fully entitled to something, consent doesn’t come into it)”

Hi George – hope you don’t mind my using one of your quotes – but it illustrates male entitlement perfectly, for me. Men feel fully entitled to women’s bodies so unfortunately, consent sometimes isn’t that important to them. They do not see what they are doing as “rape” because they are given the right to ownership of the woman’s body – constantly – by society.

I know you didn’t mean your point like that – but that is the exact nub of this issue.

Peter – I am very sure you have felt some women have taken ownership of your body. I don’t doubt it – but this is not the same as the universal feeling of ownership that most men have over women. You are still phyisically stronger – you can stop a woman if she tries to over-power you sexually. Most women could not.

Anna – am sorry to say but I think you are having that not-very-nice sensation of “waking up” and realizing male-entitlement – that I had to. I feel for you – because the very fact that you are still uncomfortable about this episode says to me that it was as bad for you, as you say.

Quibit – I am sorry that my stories scare you – that is not my intention. And these were not particularly “nasty” men. They were very normal men who feel very “normal” sexual entitlement over women. And I also stated that I have seen this thread through most of my lovers – and through society.

I’ll be honest in that I don’t think you have been lucky – or I unlucky. I just think that as women we are made to be blind to this sexual subjugation because it would mean facing up to the fact that we are very vulnerable to ordinary men who claim to see us as equals – and yet still see “going too far”or “misunderstanding” as not what it is – rape.

It is sad – and a painful journey for me to realize all this. And of course – it should be men who wake up to their uneven privelidge – but they have no need to, they are fully supported by society. I am 37 now – and it took me years to realize all this.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 1:47 pm

Anna – I really hope you don’t mind my posting your quote or addressing your post again – but in all honesty, I felt I had to. And please know that what I am trying to do with this is to support you – I have been through similar.

Your quote: “To an extent, I wanted to and it wasn’t a problem, but for a while I was in a situation where I felt extremely uncomfortable. I wouldn’t be happy using the term rape, he would be horrified probably to the point of suicide if he thought for a second either that was what he’d done or how I saw it.. but nevertheless.. I don’t know, in all honesty.”

Two things struck me about this – “to an extent, I wanted to”. Don’t mean to be rude but that just sounds like you really didn’t want to at that particular time.

And the second thing: where are your needs in all this? Not only do you have sex you don’t really want – then you have to reframe it as “not forced” to suit your boyfriend!!

Forgive me – but I have heard so many women do this for their partners (as I have done it). And I have told boyfriends the same – to save their egos…….but no more!!

And I am not gonna patronise you and say that it is just that your boyfriend is bipolar or that he was one of those “nasty” men that are few and far between. I am going to say that insofar as his obvious entitelment – he is very normal.

Having worked in child protection – I see the same threads running through rape of children as I do of women. “Oh HE could never do that….he is normal”. Yes – it’s always the strange, freaky person – not one of US!! Well – actually – that is rubbish.

The statistics that show that you are more likely to be raped by someone you know, are there for a reason – they are correct. When are we gonna get out of this ridiculous blanket-denial and start addressing male sexual ownership as the crux of child abuse and abuse of adult women??

We are all supposed to be adults – so let’s start taking responisbility for ourselves and behaving like them! If we don’t – rape will stay hidden and just continue.

Anna: this rant was not directed at you!! Just so you know! It is just blanket anger at male sexual entitlement and adult denial.

Kez // Posted 12 January 2009 at 2:02 pm

To be fair to Anna’s partner, his behaviour was in the context of an episode of acute mental illness. I’m not sure it can be used to generalise about men or indeed about his own normal behaviour.

That is certainly not to downplay the unpleasantness of the situation for Anna.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 2:28 pm

Kez – then how come what Anna’s boyfriend did sounds so familiar to me? None of my exes were bipolar and they did as he did.

If mental illness causes sexual violence – then how come the millions of diagnosed women with the disorder are rarely sexually violent.

And let’s not forget that illnesses have been used for centuries to explain anger in women – the same can happen in men.

Not saying that Anna’s boyfreind is not bipolar – just that his illness and male sexual entitlement are two seperate issues. And it was male sxual entitlemnt he was using when he hurt Anna.

Cat // Posted 12 January 2009 at 3:13 pm

George said:

“For example, I see it as perfectly possible that someone might misunderstand how important “No” is in a sexual situation”

Two letters, one word, you use it every day. How can ‘no’ be misinterpreted?

Ignoring a woman who is saying no in a sexual situation makes the act non-consensual. A non-consensual sexual act is rape or sexual assault.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 3:22 pm

..and as an extra note to my post above: if he was so out of control with mental illness when he hurt her – then how could he remember after…and use clear cognitive thought processes to make Anna feel guilty and justify his actions?

He is clearly covering his tracks by confusing Anna and using her love for him as a way to stop her being angry.

If he had hit someone in the street, as an example – then they would be much more likely to prosecute. He uses sexual violence because a) women are unlikely to complain (due to all the reasons mentioned) and b) someone who loves him is less likely to complain. This is cogent thought…concious or subconcious.

Kez // Posted 12 January 2009 at 3:30 pm

Now hang on a minute, I did NOT say that “mental illness causes sexual violence” or that everyone who commits an act of sexual violence must be mentally ill.

Merely that someone in a bipolar manic state can and indeed does tend to behave very out of character, doing things they would not normally dream of doing, which can include sexual behaviour.

I’ve seen many people in manic states commit acts which they are later astounded and mortified by. Insight and decision making ability are severely impaired at this time, which is indeed recognised by the legal system.

I’m not seeking to defend anyone who commits an act of violence. However, the fact that someone is acutely mentally ill at the time must surely have a bearing on the matter.

Rachael // Posted 12 January 2009 at 4:38 pm

Kez: “Now hang on a minute, I did NOT say that “mental illness causes sexual violence” or that everyone who commits an act of sexual violence must be mentally ill.”

I was not suggesting you were. But I just think that there are issues of male entitelment here that are nothing to do with mental illness.

Anna’s boyfriend seemed very cogent and logical to me. How else could he be using very logical thought processes to cover his tracks and make Anna feel guilty after the rape?

Am sure there have been many people who are bipolar who act out of character – and then are apologetic after ….but that is also what men who physically abuse their wives do. They say they were “out of control” and then make excuses after.

My point being that male entitlement itself is explained away as anything but – CONSTANTLY.

Anna // Posted 12 January 2009 at 4:52 pm

Racheal: it’s not been mentioned since it happened, I don’t want to bring it up as whilst it occasionally makes me uncomfortable to think of it doesn’t horrify me in the way that rapes that I can clearly distinguish as so (after a great deal of debate – after all, why was I drinking/taking drugs if I didn’t want to put myself in a state in which men could ‘take advantage’ – it’s scary how the fact a man ‘had sex’ with me, despite the fact I was physically paralyzed at the time is regarded as little more than a social faux pas because I had willingly taken drugs – ironically to try and calm myself down after being raped on the street the same night) does.

I just physically cannot reconcile the man that has comforted me countless times over the above incident, the first and only man to actually get *active consent* by asking me outright several times the first time we slept together that I really wanted to, the man that’s recently been there for his cousin who has just suffered rape, the person I still want to spend the rest of my life with, with the idea of *a rapist*. I’m not making excuses for him on grounds of mental illness – though he behaves scarily differently whilst manic in all areas of his behaviour I would never use mental illness as a defense I just cannot make myself accept that. Rationally, yes perhaps, logically.. but emotionally I can’t do it. I do still believe he is a genuinely good person.

Having said that, when he’s in a mentally better state (he’s just been diagnosed with oral cancer) I’ll certainly discuss it with him to explain my discomfort with that situation, and it’s implications, and see how it goes. Thanks everyone for your input –

I probably ramble, and I didn’t mean to derail the thread, sorry.

Kez // Posted 12 January 2009 at 5:53 pm

Rachael says – “..and as an extra note to my post above: if he was so out of control with mental illness when he hurt her – then how could he remember after…and use clear cognitive thought processes to make Anna feel guilty and justify his actions?

He is clearly covering his tracks by confusing Anna and using her love for him as a way to stop her being angry.”

I’m sorry, but I must have missed the place in Anna’s post where she said anything to suggest this.

Anyway, I’m uncomfortable with discussing and speculating on the sexual behaviour and mental health of a person I don’t know, so I’m not going to go any further with this.

Lynn // Posted 13 January 2009 at 12:21 am

This is my first comment on this site. Having read the blog & comments, I have a question….

I would defend my right and any other womans to claim sovereignty or control over her own body. Rape is abhorrent and no means no. No woman ever deserves to be raped, for me that is unequivocal.

This however, is where I struggle. I may claim the right to drink as much as I choose, I should be able to drink alone and remain safe, but with that there surely must come some personal responsibility to safeguard myself as far as possible from potential harm?

On this basis, I would question the statement “We do not hold victims of burgleries responsible for not safeguarding their homes from would-be burglars yet there is a presumption women and girls are expected to safeguard themselves from male sexual violence and if they fail then it is the woman’s/girl’s fault never the male rapist’s.”

There is much to be challenged about male behaviors and attitudes towards rape and sexual assault. Burglary is not rape, but if one is using that analogy, it is not out of bounds to argue that if you live in an unsafe area, where burglary is rife then no right minded person leaves their doors and windows open and unlocked.

In an ideal world you could and should be able too, without risk, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Do we not therefore have a duty to examine our own attitudes and behaviors alongside those of men and take responsibility for minimising that risk?

If it is me that is out of step, then I would appreciate some feedback on why my logic is faulty.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 January 2009 at 9:05 am

I’m uncomfortable with discussing and speculating on the sexual behaviour and mental health of a person I don’t know, so I’m not going to go any further with this.

I’m concerned that Anna might feel a bit cornered, so I think it’s probably a good idea to stop speculating about this unless Anna specifically asks for some advice…

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 13 January 2009 at 9:35 am

Do we not therefore have a duty to examine our own attitudes and behaviors alongside those of men and take responsibility for minimising that risk?

One problem with that is the question of how far do we take ‘minimising the risk’?

Should women never go out alone after dark? Never go out alone ever? Never date a man? Never allow a man into her house? Never get married to a man? Never drink alcohol?

Those could all be regarded as ways of ‘minimising the risk’, but they lead to women not having much of a life, which is very unfair.

The other problem with encouraging women to ‘minimise the risk’ is that even if women take a ridiculous number of precautions, they are STILL not guaranteed safety from rape. Women are raped in all kinds of different situations, including when they are at home with a man they loved and trusted.

The best way of reducing rape is to put the onus on boys and men to stop doing it.

Laura // Posted 13 January 2009 at 10:22 am

Hi Lynn,

My issue with the minimising risk argument is that it is based on the myth that rape is usually committed by strangers, down a dark alleyway or when a woman’s walking home from a club etc. In fact, women are most likely to be raped in their own homes by someone they know, meaning that the ‘logical’ way to minimise risk would be never to allow men in your home or your life. Obviously that is a completely unreasonable suggestion. Changing your life by not going out at night, not drinking, not walking home etc would be a response only to the least common forms of rape and would not actually keep you safe considering the context in which most rapes are committed. Therefore I don’t think changing your life this way makes sense (although of course it is any woman’s prerogative to do so and I wouldn’t criticise anyone who did). We can hold the rapist responsible for rape, and analyse the way in which social attitudes towards wmen and sex contributed to his behaviour, but the woman is never responsible, no matter what she was doing, or wearing, or where she was at the time.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 January 2009 at 10:37 am

What Cockney Hitcher said.

If you also bear in mind that most attacks are carried out by someone known to the victim – i.e. friend, partner, etc, it becomes clear that it’s actually impossible to really take precautions. What precautions can you take against being raped by your, for example, husband, boyfriend, best friend?

Also, this idea that women can prevent rape by taking precautions perpetuates the commonly-held view that women are responsible for being raped if they don’t take those precautions. As Amnesty’s surveys on attitudes to rape have shown, many people already believe this – we need to work to overcome this myth.

For example, we might individually decide to take self-defence classes. But if a person has not taken self-defence classes, does that make them responsible if they are unable to fend off an attack on the streets?

The sure fire way to prevent rape is not to stop: drinking, leaving the house, staying in the house, having sex with anyone, flirting with anyone, wearing ‘revealing’ clothes, going out at night. Instead of expecting women to live in a virtual prison, which can never guarantee against rape anyway, we need to start shifting the blame onto actual rapists.

Rachael // Posted 13 January 2009 at 11:21 am

Jess – yes, I agree about discussing Anna’s situation. Am sorry.

I just wanted to make a more general comment on this post – and it will be my last because I am shocked by what I have read.

I came on this post with just a few of my own stories of male sexual entitlement. I expected sone disagrement because my own realization of this was very slow!

However, what I did not expect was so much blanket denial! I get this every day when I try to make my case in the wider public! I guess I was surprised at the amount I got on a feminist site. I am extremely saddened by the reactions because it shows me just how lonely I will really be.

Feel free to comment on what I have said if wou wish but this will be my last post on this issue.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 January 2009 at 11:29 am

Rachael – Sorry I haven’t chimed in before, but I do actually agree with a lot of what you’ve been saying about male entitlement. I’m sure lots of people reading the comments feel the same; often people only feel compelled to comment when they disagree with what people have been saying. Thank you for speaking up, and telling us about your experiences. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds some of what you’ve been saying startlingly familiar.

Kez // Posted 13 January 2009 at 11:53 am

Rachael – was that “blanket denial” comment aimed at me? I apologise if this is how I have come across, but it was certainly not my intention. I have my own experiences of the perception of male sexual entitlement and would never deny that these problems exist.

I did feel uncomfortable though with your comments on a particular situation as I felt you were making possibly unfounded assumptions about one individual in a very specific situation and using this to illustrate your general view (much of which I agree with).

I’m 41, I’ve been a feminist for well over 20 years. I’m the last person to be an apologist for male sexual violence and that is absolutely not what I am doing. I stand by what I have said throughout this thread.

Kath // Posted 13 January 2009 at 2:03 pm


I am very sorry to hear about the situation you find yourself in whereby you would rather not be in a relationship because of your experience of mens’ sexual entitlement over you. As you say yourself, that is very sad. Men *are* encouraged by society to feel sexual entitlement over women’s bodies. I have experienced that myself in various forms. But you suggest (and forgive me if I am wrong) that we are in denial if we don’t recognise this behaviour in all men. Neither of my two long-term lovers has ever displayed such behaviour. I am not in denial or making excuses for them. There has never been any incident I would write off as a “misunderstanding” or “going too far”. I may indeed be lucky, in fact I suspect I am. But my experience with these two men over a long period of time is as I recount it and I don’t think you should dismiss that.

Rachael // Posted 13 January 2009 at 3:18 pm

I wasn’t going to comment again on this – but I feel that replying to my comments has taken over from the original debate about rape…which is exactly how patriarchy deflects us from dealing with it.

Kez – it was not a specific comment about you – but all of the poeple who reacted to my comments adversley because as I see it – yes that is denial. And I am very sorry if you felt uncomfortable -that was not my intention either.

I do not feel I was generalizing – but I think there are others here who are….. using lots of other arguments to not deal with reality.

And speaking of generalizing: THIS is a genarlization I will be happy to make: most (notice I said most not all) men hold unequal sexual ownership and power over most women’s bodies. And this is the issue here!

Deflecting it by using other arguments is exactly how patriarchy stops us discussing and changing it. And I stand by everything I have said.

headey // Posted 13 January 2009 at 3:29 pm

Male “entitlement” to access to a woman’s body.

I have two stories:

Some years ago my brother shocked me when he recounted a conversation with a woman friend. She’d told him that she’d met a man and they’d gone to bed together. However, she told him intercourse was not on the menu. “Imagine how shocked I was to wake up to find him f***ing me.” My brother’s response was, “What did you really expect?”

Many years ago I had a girlfriend (who is still a friend) who said she’d been with many men, but only had intercourse with one. With every lover she made it clear that everything except intercourse was acceptable and she’d never had any trouble.

Was my friend just lucky? Was my brother’s friend unlucky? I certainly don’t know the answer. However, I am prepared to consider that it might be that my friend was a better judge of people than my brother’s friend. It might be a rather insensitive comment to make: If you don’t want to meet dogs, don’t frequent kennels. However, I am shocked and depressed when I hear of women repeating mistakes when choosing men.

George // Posted 13 January 2009 at 4:50 pm

Hi Rachael :) –

“Men feel fully entitled to women’s bodies so unfortunately, consent sometimes isn’t that important to them. They do not see what they are doing as “rape” because they are given the right to ownership of the woman’s body – constantly – by society.”

I agree. When this is the case, talk of consent is out of the window. But I don’t believe that every man has the same attitude of complete entitlement – I think it varies between individuals and also between communities or subsets of society.

Cat –

“Two letters, one word, you use it every day. How can ‘no’ be misinterpreted?”

Perhaps a technical point, but I don’t think “No” always has the same meaning and interpretation. Like most words, its meaning is mediated by context. Just because the context SHOULD be one of “no means no”, doesn’t mean that it always is this clear cut. Hence, where the education bit comes it.

Following on from Kath, I have had both ends of the spectrum – that is, boyfriends who think they have complete entitlement and also boyfriends who really don’t. I think this really influences my thinking about it – I’m very keen to say that the former were borderline abusive, and the latter were/are good guys.

Going back to the original post, it’s obvious that entitlement does have really severe results – it’s just that these aren’t all the same as each other…

Anne Onne // Posted 13 January 2009 at 6:19 pm

@ headey: I’m sorry to hear about your brother’s friend’s experience. Whilst there is an element of choice people can make about who they spend time with, I don’t think it’s that simple.

For a start, even if I think someone is creepy, it’s not always possible to avoid contact with them. They may be a colleague or friend or a friend, for example.

Second, whilst I agree that some people are very noticeably creepy and therefore easier to avoid , if only because they act like they have a huge ‘I’m a misogynist’ badge, many aren’t.

Statistically, a very large number of women report being raped, otherwise sexually molested, and abused. By the very scale of the problem, it is clear that it’s not just a few really obvious people going around and doing this, but that many perfectly ordinary looking men must also be raping and abusing women. One of the main problems rape victims have is often explaining to people who know the man what really happened, because people really don’t want to believe that anyone so nice/normal/smart/etc could really do that.

So I have to disagree, because many men look perfectly normal, and act perfectly normal, and later end up to be raping abusing lowlifes. These kinds of people may present warning signs, or they might be perfectly congenial and gentlemanly until a woman goes against their wishes.

Society encourages women to put out in case people see them as frigid or paranoid. To socialise at all, we have to try and get to know other people better, and this does come with a certain element of risk: you can’t know what someone is like until you know them, and that may sometimes be too late. This kind of thinking is counter productive, because it’s impossible to date without learning to trust someone who you didn’t know previously, and hoping they’re not murderous rapists. As women,we’re taught from day 1 that we have to be careful, that if we do X, Y or Z we can avoid it, but we evidently can’t. And we can’t avoid all men lest they may rape. I’m not saying you’re implying this, because you’re not, but that these arguments in general break down in reality because it’s near impossible to guess who is a potential rapist.

Implying that if women work hard enough, we can somehow avoid abusers and rapists guilts women into feeling responsible for what happened to them. Even when they clearly set out boundaries and made it clear they do not consent, such as the woman in your example. It takes the focus off the people who are crossing the boundaries and manipulating and doing the raping and abusing. Again, this isn’t necessarily what you mean, but the arguments along the line of ‘if women tried to avoid X, or could judge men, there would be no problem’ is difficult as an idea.

So one was unlucky and the other lucky. It’s sad that our bodily integrity lies in luck, and in the presence or absence of someone willing to respect us. As women, we put an element of trust in the men around us every time we’re with them. It’s not always conscious, and every woman experiences rape anxiety at a different level, depending on the situation and her experiences, but this is something we’re brought up to fear. Yet men are all around us, and most of them are decent people. We have male friends and family members and colleagues and neighbours and aqaintances. Many women love men romantically and want to sleep with them or live with them. We can’t avoid men, and it’s not always possible to notice or avoid those that we would like to.

As Melissa McEwan said, what differs between normal situations (dating, getting drunk, fooling around, whatever) and sexual assaults is one thing: the presence of a rapist. Someone decides to cross the line and put their power trip over another person’s wishes. And sadly, there’s often little someone can do about that.

polly styrene // Posted 13 January 2009 at 6:40 pm

Do we not therefore have a responsibility to examine our own attitudes and behaviours along with men and take responsiblity for minimising that risk?

No. Quite simply no. Is it a good idea to minimise risk? – yes, my house has strong locks and a burglar alarm, fitted after I was burgled.

But women do not have a responsibility to minimise the risk of being raped. a)because it’s damn near impossible to do, unless you are never, ever alone with any man and b)because it’s not women’s responsiblity to stop rape.


It’s men’s responsibility to not commit rape.

Oh and Qubit, there was a study done once of male US college students. 60% said they would rape if they knew they could get away with it. I haven’t got the link to hand, but you can probably find it by googling.

Rachael // Posted 14 January 2009 at 12:40 am

Polly styrene: THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for putting it so honestly and so clearly!!

Exactly my feelings on this!

And I think I also saw that study of college students you mentioned. Scared the crap out of me….but sadly – it did not surprise me one bit.

I think it went something like: they asked them first “would you force sex on a woman?” and then they got the results.

And then they asked the same question in a different way – “would you rape a woman?” And surprise, surprise – the men were much more honest if they were asked the first question.

Was that the study you mention? Please feel free to correct me if I have my studies mixed up!

And that is what I have been trying to convey. That people use interpretations – ie: less scarey language – to downplay the serioiusness of rape…..and indeed that is how men justify it in their minds. “It wasn’t really rape (agh) – I just used a tiny bit of force” or “I only pushed it a little”, etc. Both of these justifications, I have heard used in instances of rape – and many, many more.

Kez // Posted 14 January 2009 at 9:00 am

I certainly wouldn’t argue on it being entirely men’s responsibility not to commit rape… the whole concept of victim blaming is hideous. I remember that judge (far from the only example, but one that sticks in my mind) who said the victim had been “guilty of a great deal of contributory negligence” – as I recall, because she had made the mistake of getting into a car with a strange man. It may doubtless be unwise to get into cars with strange men, but it can hardly be construed as an invitation to rape. And the one who said there were extenuating circumstances in the case of a man who had raped his stepdaughter, because his wife was pregnant and had gone off sex….

Bang. Head. Very. Hard.

Both those examples are some time ago now, but the culture hasn’t changed that much.

Ellie // Posted 14 January 2009 at 11:52 am

Most of what I think has already been said on here. I just wanted to respond to the “Do we not therefore have a responsibility to examine our own attitudes and behaviours along with men and take responsiblity for minimising that risk?” by saying that I think most women do already.

I’m pretty sure that every girl and woman in our society is trained from a very young age to be wary of going out on their own at night, to avoid walking home by themselves, to avoid alleys and dark streets, to stick to busy areas if possible. I can’t count the number of times when I’ve been walking alone at night and heard someone behind me, that I’ve checked how far away they were and what side of the street they were on and then if they were male I’d assess my person for potenial weapons, make sure I was alert and ready to run or twist away should they try to grab me, kept note of the speed of their footsteps, etc.

That’s pretty much as far as I’m willing to go to minimise the risk of assault but I think its something.

Polly styrene // Posted 14 January 2009 at 5:00 pm

The study I’m thinking of was done quite a while ago Rachael. AFAIK the question that was asked was ‘would you commit rape if you knew you could get away with it” I’ll try to find a link.

More recently one of my work colleagues was horrified when her son brought home a student magazine that contained a poll on ‘most rapeable female student’.

Yes really. I’m not making it up.

polly styrene // Posted 14 January 2009 at 6:12 pm

Hi Rachael

There are various similar studies on male attitudes to rape which are discussed and linked here.


Kez // Posted 14 January 2009 at 7:07 pm

Polly Styrene, OMG, how horrible (the magazine). I hope people complained loudly.

Cara // Posted 14 January 2009 at 9:54 pm

Polly – that is scary.

HALF – 53% – of men would rape if it’s not actually named as rape, and if they could get away with it. Bloody hell. I would have thought it was bad, but not that bad.

I think most rapists wouldn’t admit to themselves that they raped…sure, a small minority would. But as has been discussed, the culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies…it goes deep.

Most of the remaining 47% of men have probably done stuff short of rape. Our whole cultural script says that men are the ones in control of sex.

Rachael // Posted 15 January 2009 at 5:08 pm

Polly strene: Thanks for the info and the links! I had heard vaguely of the studies you mention – but I had a good read…and nothing in them surprised me.

The only thing that does still astonish me – the denial involved even when there is evidence to the contrary basically everywhere!

And that student poll you mention on ‘most rapeable female student’ – wtf?????

Notice how rape has now almost become a synonym for sex!! Girls and women are expected to WANT to be raped by men to prove they are attractive!!! It’s a terrifying trend that I have noticed on the net and on tv.

It’s the same as the nasty “sexy dead” trend.

Example: can’t quite remember the programme – but there was a trailer for this programme on tv a few months ago.

Am assuming the male “hero” must have been known as violent or a killer – because in this trailer there is him seen “flirting” with an attractive woman.

She asks him: “Are you going to kill me?”

He answers, “Don’t flatter yourself”!!!!!!!!!!!!

Proof that the only “sexy girl” in our society is a dead one – or a raped one!

Rose // Posted 15 January 2009 at 11:10 pm

Wasn’t it on this site a little while ago (in an article) that 1/4 women at some point in their lives experience rape or attempted rape? (Which strikes me as an understatment, by the way).

If you put that with the idea that most rapes occur at home and are commited by a man you know (ie. a partner), does that not suggest that about 1/4 men will at some point in their lives at least ‘try’ and rape a woman?

Not only do I think that women already do enough to ‘minimise’ their availability to what I consider a hate-crime, I think that men need to look amoung themselves, if they are really going to help reduce levels of rape.

As women discuss what is right/wrong for us to do, I think men need to discuss what is right/wrong for them to do. A little ‘peer review’.

For example, my oldest brother knows how my other brother behaves, and has agreed with me on the definition of rape for his actions on a number of occasions. Though my opinion means nothing to him (the ‘dodgy’ one), I think that a ‘big brother’s’ condemnation of his behaviour could actually reach him. That that conversation could effect him, profoundly.

Unlike me, my oldest brother is too gut-less to bring up ‘that issue’.

For the record, most people like ‘the dodgy one’, he’s clean, well-tempered, polite, educated, he really passes for a decent human being.

Rachael // Posted 16 January 2009 at 10:17 am

Rose: “most people like ‘the dodgy one’, he’s clean, well-tempered, polite, educated, he really passes for a decent human being”

Thanks for clarifying that! It is about time people realized that it is the supposed “normal”, “nice guys” in our lives that are doing this! There have been far to many suggestions here that this is not so.

All of the men who raped/sexually abused me have professional jobs, great friends – and very normal lives. And all of them have considered their sexual rights to my body to be inalienable…whether I have objected or not!

Qubit // Posted 16 January 2009 at 12:00 pm

I think it is an important distinction to make between someone who is nice and normal and someone who appears nice and normal. I’d say if a man rapes someone he can no longer be considered nice and normal. It is obviously important to mention these people seem normal however I think as soon as you begin saying it is normal for men to rape women then you are almost questioning if it is wrong.

For example in my guide book I was told to expect to be grouped when travelling in Japan and possibly worse. This made me think about my attitudes, the idea of being groped by a stranger horrifies me BUT if this is normal behaviour and most women put up with it I can’t really moan. In fact I could argue easily that if I didn’t want to be grouped I shouldn’t go to Japan as I have been told what to expect and it is normal over there. While I know this is a minor problem I think saying something is normal trivialises the effect it has on people.

Similarly if you accept rape as normal you are changing the emphasis and telling women it is what they should expect, after all most men do it. Therefore if you don’t want to be raped never spend time in the presence of men because otherwise you will be. It is just what men do.

It is important to emphasise that while common rape is neither normal or acceptable behaviour. I think as soon as you say it is normal for a guy to rape you begin to question whether it is reasonable for a woman to be upset.

Is there any reason why I should feel grateful that none of my male friends have ever tried to rape me or even put either emotional or physical pressure on me to have sex? I am not grateful none of my friends tried to rob me or murder me because that is what I should expect. I think saying rape is normal also implies a man is wonderful for not attempting to rape a woman, that is messed up.

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 January 2009 at 3:08 pm


I think you’re missing the point:

For example in my guide book I was told to expect to be grouped when travelling in Japan and possibly worse. This made me think about my attitudes, the idea of being groped by a stranger horrifies me BUT if this is normal behaviour and most women put up with it I can’t really moan. In fact I could argue easily that if I didn’t want to be grouped I shouldn’t go to Japan as I have been told what to expect and it is normal over there.

Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or accepted. Normal in this context just means ‘extremely common’. In Japan there is a lot of goping on the trains, but also efforts to stop the problem – including women-only carriages and prosecutions of gropers – indicate that Japanese women obviously think it’s a problem to be groped! It doesn’t matter how “normal” it is, clearly the behaviour is abusive.

This is the kind of area where I think excessive moral relativism segues into, sorry, but quite patronising ideas about other countries and cultures. I mean, seriously, the idea that groping is ‘just how they do things over there!’ Also, groping is sexual assault – it’s not a minor problem. It’s of course a criminal offence in Japan.

. I think as soon as you say it is normal for a guy to rape you begin to question whether it is reasonable for a woman to be upset

Lots of things have been “normal” throughout history, while still being extremely wrong. Slavery, to give just one example. Rape isn’t wrong because it’s unusual!

Rachael // Posted 16 January 2009 at 4:17 pm

Jess – thanks for helping to explain what I meant.

Qubit – I think you were missing my point a little. I meant that all the guys who raped me are “normal” in that normal guys rape!

Most people try to believe (because this makes them feel safer) that the average rapist is a bit sad and lonely (a bit of a social misfit) and hangs around street corners just waiting to grab a woman. They are not – they are the normal guys we live with and are friends/lovers with.

I am trying to get this across to people to STOP rape seeming normal to women!

I am sorry if I contradict what you believe – but I have had FAR too many women say things to me like “Well, we were both fooling around and I wanted to stop. I said that to him – but he just sort of carried on. Did he?! Could he have?! NO – he couldn’t have…he’s really nice”!!

Rape is totally normalized in this society – and most people HAVE almost accepted it as just part of what men do.

Which is exactly why I am trying to show through my experiences just how wrong and sick this is!

JenniferRuth // Posted 16 January 2009 at 4:36 pm


I think you missed the point slightly. No one was saying the rape should be treated as normal or that “normal” men do it. Rather that a man who rapes will most likely appear to be “normal”.

Basically, society tells women that rape is confined to specific set of parameters – certain situations, certain places, certain “types” of men, etc. It is in effect a way of telling women that they should recognise the signs of rape before it happens. Therefore, if you do get raped, it was probably partly your fault. But the truth is that the only surefire way to avoid rape is to avoid all men and to never leave the house. This is simply because you can’t tell who is a rapist and who isn’t by looking at them – they appear “normal”.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 January 2009 at 5:09 pm

Jess, Qubit also said ‘While I know this is a minor problem I think saying something is normal trivialises the effect it has on people.’, so maybe Qubit is arguing that these normalising arguments start off trivial (ie other people tolerate street harassment, groping etc, if you don’t like it, leave) and that this argument is dangerous because it can be applied to any crime that others deem appropriate to punish people with. From the rest of their comment, I got the impression that Qubit isn’t arguing that these things are all relative, but rather, pointing out how dangerous it is to think like that.

By the same logic one can argue that schoolgirls in Iraq should know better than to go to school if they don’t want to be attacked with acid.

In case that’s not the case: normailising something does not make it less wrong. Slavery used to be VERY normal, but it’s being unethical is not changed by this fact. Whether something is acceptable is not based on how often it occurs, or how much the perpetrators defend the practice, or how much the victims think that it’s their lot.

Besides, there is plenty to see or do in Japan that does NOT include sexual harassment. If I want to go to see Kyoto, or volunteer there and learn the language, or go to a convention in Tokyo, or go babkpacking through the mountains, this does not mean I consent to sexual harassment, any more than my being in London means I consent to being mugged.

We wouldn’t tolerate someone telling us ‘if you don’t want to be harassed or mugged, don’t got o London because these things are quite common there’. That these crimes (and they are crimes) are common and considered acceptable by many is a huge problem, not a reason to ignore them. Frequency of a harmful act is not an excuse to ignore it, nor does the act’s prevalence in a particular place make it sacrosanct.

Groping isn’t a cultural emblem unique to Japan: it’s a global problem that needs to be addressed. And even if it were, it would have to be dealt with. Oppressive (truly) cultural practices can be fought by supporting the women that they directly affect. Something belonging to another culture would have to be approached with reflection on our Western privilege, but there are always plenty of women (or other minorities) from within that culture fighting for change. Sometimes we have to play an auxiliary role, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t fight for equality.

butterflywings // Posted 16 January 2009 at 8:33 pm

Jess deriding moral relativism! HA HA!

I thought everything all Chinese people did in Tibet was fine, cos like we don’t want to be racist against the Chinese?!

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 January 2009 at 9:05 pm

@butterflywings – Too much of anything’s a bad thing.

Actually, I think moral relativism has a lot to add as a tool to complicate our thought processes, force us to reassess and revisit our assumptions, but I don’t think it’s ultimately a satisfactory way to understand the world, in and of itself. Obviously!

That said, the point made above is a misapplication of moral relavitism – as I pointed out, groping is illegal in Japan, and however common it is, it’s still basically seen in a similar way to groping in, say, the UK – i.e. sexual assault. So saying “this subset of (mostly) men feel it’s normal to grope people” doesn’t mean “groping is acceptable in Japanese culture therefore I don’t have a right to complain if I go to Japan and it happens to me!”.

Really can’t remember writing anything about Tibet!

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