Zerlina Maxwell. (Fox News)
Of all the feminist ideas that draw ire, one would think that “don’t rape” is a fairly noncontroversial statement. It seems not.
Last week, Zerlina Maxwell, political commentator and writer, went on Fox News’ Hannity to talk about the myth that gun ownership can prevent rape. Maxwell made the apt point that the onus should not be on women to have to arm themselves but on men not to rape them:
I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there…You’re talking about this as if it’s some faceless, nameless criminal, when a lot of times it’s someone you know and trust…If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape.
And with that, the floodgates of misogyny opened. Right-wing media outlets like TheBlaze oversimplified Maxwell’s comments, writing that her call to teach men not to rape was “bizarre.” Online, Maxwell started receiving racist and misogynist threats—including, ironically enough, threats of rape.
The reaction to Maxwell’s comments, while horrific, are not entirely surprising. Women who speak their mind—especially women of color—are often targets of harassment and threats. But what I find most telling is the incredulousness people are expressing over the notion that we teach men not to rape. Crazy talk!
Here’s the thing—when you argue that it’s impossible to teach men not to rape, you are saying that rape is natural for men. That this is just something men do. Well I’m sorry, but I think more highly of men than that. (And if you are a man who is making this argument, you’ll forgive me if I don’t ever want to be in a room alone with you.)
And when you insist that the only way to prevent rape is for women to change their behavior—whether it’s recommending that they carry a weapon or not wear certain kinds of clothing—you are not only giving out false information, you are arguing that misogyny is a given. That the world will continue to be a dangerous and unfair place for women and we should just get used to the fact. It’s a pessimistic and, frankly, lazy view on life. Because when you argue that this is “just the way things are,” what you are really saying is, I don’t care enough to do anything about it.
Do people making this argument really want to live in a world where we just shrug our shoulders at epidemic-levels of sexual violence and expect every woman to be armed? (And little girls, do we give them guns too?)
The truth is that focusing on ways women can prevent rape will always backfire. Not only because it’s ineffective—what a woman wears or what she drinks has nothing to do with whether or not she’ll be attacked—but because it creates a culture in which women are responsible for men’s actions. Because when you say there are things women can do to prevent someone from raping them—owning a gun, not walking in a certain neighborhood—you are ensuring that rape victims who don’t take these steps will be blamed.
Rape can be prevented by focusing on men and misogyny. All rapes, ever? No. But creating a world with less sexual violence starts with abandoning the awful idea that rape is an inevitable part of life. That’s not naivete—it’s hope and it’s action. And that’s better than complacency any day.
What does Oz the Great and Powerful owe to turn-of-the-century radical feminism? Read Michelle Dean’s take.