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A woman who draws boundaries to say enough threatens rape culture, bringing out the aggression in men who feel their entitlement is being challenged.
I have this male friend I consider very sensitive and evolved, who once told me that it took him a long struggle to face this uncomfortable realisation: that although he had never committed rape, and never would, he did have this part in him which would not mind forcing a woman to give him sex if he could get away without consequences.
That if not in his actions, in his thoughts he had a potential rapist within him.
I was feeling really touched by his revelation, when he added, ‘But you know, I could come to this realisation ONLY because I was held and supported by women.’
This last statement instantly made me uncomfortable. What was being implied — we were talking about the #metoo movement — was that if women want men to heal from a rapist mindset, they MUST hold each man and therapy him till he is healed.
Something in me screamed that I don’t want to — that it is not my job.
While I do fully acknowledge that the struggle that brought my friend to his realisation cannot have been an easy one, I also do not like this entitlement. And so unsurprisingly, this friend had missed the fact that while he did have some more awareness of his culpability than most men, he still was stuck in that place where he was expecting women to satisfy men — to meet men’s needs just because those needs are there.
In short he was implying that women must do something so that men can stop raping.
This is what I call rape culture.
~ Any time a man feels that women must meet his needs, in any field of life, he is part of rape culture.
~ Any time a man tries to control or manipulate a woman, invalidates her or tries to tell her what she should do, think or feel, he is part of rape culture.
~ Any time a man feels that a woman must do something to help men not behave violently or unfairly towards them, he is part of rape culture.
~ Any time a man fails to take full and complete responsibility for his behavior towards women, he is part of rape culture.
~ Any time a man tried to blame or shame a woman for being who she sees fit to be, he is part of rape culture.
It does not have to be sexual. Any time a man feels a woman owes him something just because she is a woman, it is part of rape culture.
Because physical rape and any other kind of man-to-woman coercion and dominance comes from the same root of entitlement. It is part of the culture that creates the physical phenomenon of rape, but rape is not the only thing this culture creates, rape is not the only way in which this culture hurts women.
The basic tenet of this culture is that women are duty-bound to behave in ways that men want them to behave — and that belief is rape culture.
Part of rape culture is that it puts the onus of defending her space — her body, her resources, her home or workspace, her space in conversation and discourse, entirely on the woman, while it gives men full entitlement to intrude or appropriate at will.
My culture tells me that as an izzatdaar — honourable– woman I must rebuff male attempts to be familiar and intrude in my space, but gives me no real base of self worth from which to do so.
As an izzatdaar woman, I was supposed to do it to protect my family’s honour, but not because I amounted to something on my own. Or because my will or choice mattered in this regard. Because when the intrusion is made by the ‘right’ person — the husband, family (paternal or marital) or authority figure, I have to also yield and accept the violation with suitable docility.
And it gives me no tools to protect myself against violence that results from drawing boundaries, whether in the ‘right’ places or the ‘wrong’ ones.
That is why, for me, and I am sure for other women as well, there has been lots of heartache and fear around speaking up when I feel uncomfortable around men being too familiar or intrusive.
~ If I protested sexual harassment, I was asked, did I think I was pretty enough to be harassed?(Patriarchy apparently cannot make a distinction between sexual interest and sexual violation )
~ If I protested against physical intrusion which is not necessarily sexual — like a man taking up more than his share of space on a shared seat in a bus — it was interpreted as an accusation of sexual harassment and I was again told I was not ‘worthy’ of it. (Read that again if necessary)
~ If I protested the appropriation of my financial resources or energy, I was told I was too proud and who did I think I was?
And in all cases I was told that my protest made me unworthy of male attention. If I protested being told what I should do, I was told I was egoistic and difficult.
Though it was never said aloud, the message was that the only way I could be worthy of male attention is if I allowed intrusion, appropriation, exploitation.
Lately I have been drawing my boundaries with men way more clearly than earlier. But it is an effort every time. Since most of my interactions with men at this time are virtual, I feel safer to draw boundaries because I am not in immediate danger of direct physical violence. Also because I don’t have to respond at once and can think things through.
Yesterday, a dear female friend admired one of the responses I had given, asking for distance, to a man who was being too familiar. She said I had been firm without being aggressive, and called me a queen.
I was touched by the recognition and love. And I am also aware it took me 8 hours to work out that perfect response, because I had to deal with both the painful impact of that man’s abrasive familiarity, which was a clear violation, and my own fear of what might happen if I spoke up — the fear of that man’s possibly violent reaction. It was a significant and depleting effort.
And what I wish to say is that this should not be this hard. It should not take a 50 year old woman eight hours of emotional labour to be able to rise to the title of ‘queen’ while still knowing how wobbly her crown still sits.
Any woman should be able to draw her boundaries in any area of life with any man, with assurance of safety and her boundaries being respected.
That would be the real end of rape culture.
Image source: a still from the film Masaan
Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous and forest foods. Gender and patriarchy are among her favorite subjects in her contemplative writing. Formerly she has had a read more...
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