The guest post on Shapely Prose about “Schrödinger’s Rapist,” although written fairly recently, has already become one of those blog posts or websites whose content is universal enough to have already become widely-read and well known. The first time I read it, I found myself nodding and silently cheering. I get it! I get it! Score another point for “male-privilege-gotcha”!
Several more read-overs, though, and I started to have some problems.
For readers unfamiliar, I urge you to go read the post. Regardless of any criticisms I may give it and no matter how many times I am about to ridicule it to shreds in the following paragraphs, it is a good piece worth taking in, especially for men who are new to the experiences of women and how that relates to gender equality, the Patriarchy, and rape culture. That said, though, the author makes several errors in judgment in both her tone and the implications of her post.
The guest author, Phaedra Starling, begins her post by addressing her intended audience, the Nice Guy(tm):
Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.
Her intention is to help aid these apparently naive little boys in their quest for a fulfilling romantic relationship with a female. She concedes that they are probably nice, well-intentioned guys, and just wants to help them out, by explaining the shockingly terrifying world that females manage to navigate through, day in and day out. The trials and tribulations, the fears, the tears, and the pain. She wants you to understand that, no matter how rough you think your life, quiet and sheltered as you are, may be, it will never, ever, ever be as terrifically horrifying as the world that all presumed to have a vagina exist within.
So, you want to meet a nice girl? You don’t work with any, and you don’t have classes with any? You probably want to meet one, though, huh? Well, I see that you are left with public spaces. But– WATCH OUT!!– approaching a female in public is very, very difficult. You must approach her with great respect, as though she is made of only the finest, most ancient alabaster. Because she is. And if if you didn’t even touch her, if she breaks, it’s your fault!
So, go forth with caution.
Starling introduces Naive Boy to Oppressed and Scared Woman:
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
She is dealing with challenges. And it’s true; women have to go through a whole lot of different and probably surprising (to men) shit just to go about a normal day. The Male Privilege Checklist already has it pretty well covered. But the women that you, Poow Wittle Boy, are about to encounter in public are different. They are uberoppressed! Starling explains:
When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
She can’t even go on a date without making sure that she properly prepares for her own murder! That’s some heavy shit. And, just so you know, this is exactly what she’s expecting you to do to her on your first date; rape and/or murder her.
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
Fair point, Starling. The “one in six” statistic is actually rather modest, compared to the “one in four” stat I’m used to. The majority of women I know have told me about at least one sexual assault that they have been the victim of in their lifetime thus far. These are woman between 16 and 60 in age. An unbelievably huge number of women have been sexually assaulted. At least one in your “friend group,” I guarantee it. More than likely, more than one of your close girlfriends has been the victim of sexual assault.
What’s also true, though, is that in wartime, men are more likely to be seen (and treated) as combatants, rather than innocent civilians. No, Schrödinger’s Rapist isn’t about wartime, but it’s easy to see how this plays out in every day life. Men are more likely to be targeted as victims of random physical assault than women are. Are we, as women, likely to walk down the street and be raped or murdered? No. It’s been established that the majority of female rape and murder victims are raped or murdered by someone they’ve known for a long time, or someone with whom they are in a romantic relationship. But men are just as likely to be victims of random physical assault as women are of being raped or abused by their domestic partner.
Well, shit, what now? Should we try to talk about how being raped by people close to us is worse than being randomly assaulted and possibly murdered by a stranger? Well… no… that wouldn’t be very productive now, would it? Should we suggest we nevermind the stats about male-on-male assault? How about we just blame it on men being men and villianize all the men? Tell them to deal with it themselves, in-between stopping male-on-female violence? Wait, that doesn’t sound terribly productive, either.
But, now that we know that both men and women face scary challenges just by walking out the door in the morning, what do we do? How do we face life, and how do we treat the people around us, that we come in contact with every day?
Let’s start by summarizing the basic, hard to disagree with rules:
I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm… you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.
What are our ideas of a potential threat? Probably everything about you. I mean, that’s what you have to think, because the way that Starling frames her argument, every single thing that a woman can possibly be afraid of is definitely something to be legitimately afraid of, all the time, and whether she’s correct or inaccurate, she’s definitely right, and you just have to deal with that. Sorry, but you’re a rapist. You just are. At least for now. RAPIST!
This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.
Unless you’re Preppy Dude from the Burbs or Wall Street, just go online to date. You won’t make it in this big, bad, raping world. (RAPIST!) Good luck.
Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.
If you wear a tee shirt that has a rape joke on it, no one should need to tell you that you’re unworthy of affection. No; I’m actually serious. You’re a fucking idiot if you own a shirt with a rape joke on it. You’re a fucking worthless moron if you wear it, and you’re exceptionally stupid if you try to hit on a female while wearing it. Problem is, though, some women are also exceptionally idiotic and will not only allow you to hit on her while wearing a rape-joke-shirt, but she might laugh at the rape joke, then reciprocate your flirtations. But we can’t blame them; they’re just poor, helpless, blameless victims of the Patriarchy who aren’t yet aware of their precious victimhood.
The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.
You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.
Hear that? Don’t Talk To The Woman! Just DON’T! Unless she’s looking you right in the eye, smiling, and commenting on your shoes, don’t talk to her! And even if she is doing all of those things, it doesn’t mean she wants to talk to you! Just DON’T TALK TO HER! NEVER SPEAK TO THE WOMAN!!!
If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.
This, though, is the truth. It’s really fucking obvious when someone isn’t interested in you. Don’t make them give you 12 hints before finally reluctantly moseying away. Seriously. Because you do make yourself the problem at that point.
…Here’s the thing about that, though. I’ve rarely met a “normal” guy who doesn’t know how to take a hint. The people that I meet that can’t take a hint 15 times are the random assholes who are literally on a drug and alcohol binge in the middle of downtown on a Saturday night. They’re the random two guys at the party who no one can remember inviting, coked out of their minds, talking to everyone in the most obnoxious manner possible. In other words, they are the exact people one would assume to be that fucking clueless. Doesn’t give them a pass, but it also doesn’t make every male worthy of this assumption.
Starling ends with a very poignant and relevant point:
The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.
Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.
Got it, then? I’m sure, though, knowing the audience Starling is speaking to, you’re obviously not the type to do any of that bullshit. And Starling probably knows that, because she already said so, in the first couple paragraphs of her blog post. So, too, do I, and the vast majority of women I know. So, too, do the vast majority of women you know. You’re not a damn rapist; none of us actually believes you are. But some rapists don’t look like what we’d normally picture rapists to look like, so there needed to be this post, where Starling speaks for all women and calls you all RAPISTS!!!
You are. I mean, obviously… we presume you have a dick, and if you have a dick, you probably want to rape us with it. All of us, all the time. And if you’re not a rapist, you should feel as guilty as one anyway, because we’re not going to bother treating you as though you aren’t a rapist (even though the vast majority of you actually aren’t, statistically), because it’s easier for us that way.
To be serious for a moment, though, to presume that all women really go through all this shit, all the time, and to insist that all males willingly accept the label of “potential rapist” every time they meet a woman? Who the hell…? Are you kidding? This is ridiculous. And I assure you, falsely accusing all men, the majority of whom are innocent, of rape is not something I am particularly interested in being a part of. No. Just, no.
So, in sum: All men are rapists, and all women believe they’re going to be raped ALL.THE.TIME.NO.MATTER.WHAT.