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Class of Nonviolence - Lesson Five - Essay 2

Rape is All Too Thinkable for Quite the Normal Sort of Man

By Neal King and Martha McCaughey

Men have trouble discussing rape. Some men rape, say some men, imagining that members of a subspecies abuse women in this culture. But let's be honest and tell it like it is: Normal men rape.

We are not being metaphorical or loose with our terms: we mean this the way it sounds. The vast majority of men who rape are quite ordinary.

If this sounds absurd, let's review some facts.

Rape is the bodily penetration of an unconsenting person. Men need to be reminded what this means. It is not listening when your partner says "no;" it's getting your date drunk to get sex from her; it's taking advantage of an unconscious women at a party; it's using your economic or political power to intimidate a coworker into sex. These forms of rape are far more common than the stereotypical scene of a stranger jumping out from the bushes and attacking a woman.

Nearly half of all American women have had at least one man try, successfully or not, to rape them. And many women have been attacked a number of times. The men who did this must be normal; there are not enough "abnormal" men in this society to accomplish abuse on that scale.

When a rape is grotesquely violent, or when its perpetrated on the wife of another man or on a very young girl, many men get upset to the point of proclaiming their desire to kill the rapist. But people have grown so accustomed to the sexual coercion of women that most rapes go unnoticed, especially by the men who commit them.

Most rapists are not strangers or even strange; they are their victims' friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, dates, lovers, husbands, brothers, fathers. They are the everyday, run-of-the-mill normal men in the lives of normal women.

Male readers may be getting defensive at this point, thinking, "I'm not one of them!" nd they might not be. But the fact is, most men do not know what rape is. To these men, forcing a woman who is not willing is part of the game, perfectly normal, and, for many, especially satisfying. These men may acknowledge that using physical force is rape, but prevailing over a woman through trickery, blackmail, or other means is simply sex. This implies that men don't want to know - that rape may be part of their normal sexual encounters. Normal men rape because they engage in normal sex - normal sex often being coercive and abusive to women.

Those these women feel injured and demeaned in such encounters, they are not surprised to feel that they have been raped. Men don't define the experience as rape, and men are oblivious to the pain they've inflicted. Many a man who forces his date to have sex will call her up the next day and ask her out again. Normal men can be that out of touch with women's feelings.

So often women hear men refer to rape as if it were some kind of compliment, "You're so attractive that I have to have you," or "She's too ugly to get raped," or, "You look so good, I can't control myself." The notion that rape can be normal is evident in the inevitable questions about what a woman was wearing at the time: "Dressed like that, what did she expect?"

If men respected women as peers, they would see the fixation on women's body parts as a fetish, the fascination with adolescent women as pedophilia, and the desire for female passivity as necrophilia. They would also see the sexual coercion of women for what it is - rape.

In this culture, sadly, a man can be normal in believing that sex is what women are for. But that is not what women are for.

If sex is not consensual, it is rape, and men must start learning the difference by looking at it from women's perspectives.

The man who can truthfully say that he has never forced or tricked a women into sex may dismiss all of this - "It's not my concern." It is. All men must work to create a culture where sexual aggression is unthinkable for normal men. Men have to examine their own relationships with women and talk to other men about rape. The man who says that rape is a women's issue is part of the problem. The wall of silence that men have put up against this "normal" violence must come down. Normal men rape, and normal men, together, have the responsibility to stop it.

From Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1989.


This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202/537-1372