The more power we lend to the idea of rape as the "worst thing that can happen to a woman" the more powerful angry men (and women) who are likely rape people will feel. Rape is bad, but it is not the worst crime: it is not murder. It is a form of assault that, due to our cultural biases about sex, may to lead to great and lasting emotional trauma for the victim.

I have a good male friend who has considered rape as a reasonable option for "getting back” at a woman who cheated on him and then left him. Since he was good friend, he was able to tell me how angry he was. I comforted him and told him he had a right to feel angry. I also pointed out that hurting the woman wouldn’t really make anything better or make him feel any better. After talking some more, he agreed with me—and let the notion go. He seemed to feel better since he’d talked about it.

Later he told me that he had tried to talk about it with another friend and she was so shocked and angry that she still would not speak to him. (!) This made him feel even more alienated and angry. He said that the fact that I listened gave him the chance to really think about what he was saying, and to feel vindicated in his anger without needing to act in revenge. This is how I know that attempting to stamp out all evidence that some people have such urges only makes the problem more ugly.

I am perplexed by the nearly hysterical reaction some people have to the idea of rape. I say it is “hysterical” because in comparison to assault or murder it seems somewhat out of proportion. That is, I think, a remnant of the times when a woman who was not a virgin was thought unfit for marriage. I am perplexed by the emphasis some feminists place on rape as a “crime against women” this only continues to reaffirm the notion that women are primarily valuable as sexual chattel rather than as people?

I have exposed these views on rape since I was 16 or so. (Often getting in arguments with my peers.) Depending on my line of argument I’ve been threatened and on more than one occasion someone has said “I hope someone rapes you, then you’ll learn to be more sensitive!!

Well, oddly enough that wish came true, last year… I was raped by three men I don't know. “Gang Rape” I am bitter and angry: But I have not changed my views. I asked the detective to treat the case as "poisoning and assault" (they put something in my drink, then picked me up in the parking lot.)

I told the police that I don't believe in "sex crimes" only in assault and was very proud of myself for standing up for the things I believe in.

I’m not a ruined woman. And won’t let anyone mourn me as if I were.

A very good writeup, futurebird. If I may, I would like to write a counterpoint. (This is not an attack on you; please realise, I do not wish to do that. I would like, however, to help paint a more complete picture.)

Rape is bad, but it is not the worst crime: it is not murder.

There are some who would argue that point. To my mind, this is related to the issue of euthanasia: is it a kinder, more humane thing to end a life, or to allow (or, in the context of this argument, cause) a great deal of pain and allow life to continue? The degree of a crime is a function of cause, effect, society, the values of the person judging, and too many other things; 'the worst crime' is far too subjective a term to be pinned down. To my mind, "rape is not as bad as murder" is akin to "apples taste better than oranges". Many people will unhesitatingly agree with this statement, but if presented with a rotten apple and a fresh orange, will choose the orange. I believe it is possible for a particular rape to be a crime worse than a particular murder, and I believe it is possible for a particular murder to be worse than a particular rape.

Re your story about your male friend; I am glad you talked to him, and I am glad he changed his mind. However, this is a non sequitur: it does not support your thesis, "Fear of sex is the power of rape". He chose to turn away from the powerful urge to rape, and it had nothing do to with fear.

This is how I know that attempting to stamp out all evidence that some people have such urges only makes the problem more ugly.

The conclusion you come to is true, but the path you take is (IMO) not justifiable. His other 'friend' was angry at him. She had a right to be. But she was not necessarily trying to stamp out all evidence of his urges. He talked to her about his plan to rape. He made her, in a sense, an accomplice. It seems clear that to hear things spoken to him compassionately and plainly (which is what you did) made it easier for him to defuse his anger. I feel it is likely that he knew this on some level, and wanted it, which is why he started talking about it to his friends in the first place. But when he tried to make her responsible for saying things plainly, in order to help prevent a violent crime from happening, he was trying to manipulate her into being responsible for actually preventing a crime - or, indirectly, allowing (or causing) a crime if she didn't say what he wanted to hear. Quite likely, neither party fully understood all the dynamics of the situation. Also quite likely, I'm only skirting the periphery of those dynamics myself - but I believe what I describe is a plausible angle on the situation. "He said that the fact that I listened gave him the chance to really think about what he was saying". He gives you more credit than you deserve, I'm afraid - and in doing so, he continues to avoid taking responsibility. You did not give him a chance; he had always had that chance. You were mature and secure enough to know that the (potential) crime was not your responsibility, but being a good friend was. His other 'friend' may not have realised all this. She was entitled to believe the responsibility was his, and should be his, and that she did not have to give him the option to not rape because it was his option to take, then and always - and she was entitled to believe all of this, because it is all true. Perhaps she did not understand what he wanted (or was not confident enough that she could give it), and did not want to take that responsibility from him. She did not want to be an accomplice to his rape. Who can blame her? 'Stamping out all evidence' does not apply to this story.

I am perplexed by the emphasis some feminists place on rape as a "crime against women" this only continues to reaffirm the notion that women are primarily valuable as sexual chattel rather than as people?

I hope I can unperplex you. The idea that the only effect a rape has on a woman is to reduce her value as 'sexual chattel' comes from the idea that the only sexual value of a woman is the external value, i.e. how others judge and evaluate a woman's sexuality or sexiness. Most feminists (that I know, at least) do not subscribe to that idea. Women (and men) value their own sexuality for themselves, and for their own reasons. That a rape may damage the external sexual valuations placed on a woman by others is not so deep, not so violent, as the damage done to her internal sexual values as she applies them to herself. The focus is not on the value of a person as sexual chattel, the focus is on the damage done to a person's self-worth, identity, … faith in the goodness of humanity. For example, rape often leads to very serious depression - that is the kind of thing that makes it a crime. Rape is a "crime against the victim (be it woman or man)" because it is more an attack against the victim as a person, than it is an attack against a pretty label pasted on that person by society.

The gripe I have against calling rape a 'crime against women' is that it ignores, even belittles, the fact that rape is a crime against men too.

I have exposed these views on rape since I was 16 or so. (Often getting in arguments with my peers.) Depending on my line of argument I've been threatened and on more than one occasion someone has said "I hope someone rapes you, then you'll learn to be more sensitive!!"

No friend would say that. But then I notice, you used the word peers.

The way you word your argument, though, does allow for an interpretation which makes you seem very insensitive (I'm not saying you are insensitive - I'm just saying the way you put your argument allows for that interpretation). To criticise calling rape a "crime" (against women or not) is to allow rape to not be called a crime at all. To allow for this, is to disregard all the suffering endured by those people who have had bad after-effects, to claim they are unimportant. I see that you have never stated that rape should not be a crime, and I appreciate the fact, but to criticise calling rape a crime does point in that direction. Leaving that door open may explain some of the hostile reactions you have received.

Well, oddly enough that wish came true, last year...

I am sorry to hear that.

But I have not changed my views. I asked the detective to treat the case as "poisoning and assault" (they put something in my drink, then picked me up in the parking lot.)

You have strong convictions. You are entitled to choose whichever valid charges you can bring against the perpetrators of any crime against you. I am sure your particular choice confuses, and perhaps maybe even alarms, some people - but that's a topic for another node.

I told the police that I don't believe in "sex crimes" only in assault and was very proud of myself for standing up for the things I believe in.

Well, I won't stand up for the same things as you. I consider sex crimes to be a subset of assault, and just because "theft" is a crime doesn't mean that the term "pickpocketing" doesn't have any meaning. But it is good and right that you should feel proud for doing so for yourself.

I'm not a ruined woman. And won't let anyone mourn me as if I were.

Brava.

Your experience, and the amount of time and care you have put into forming such difficult thoughts, makes you (IMHO) an expert on the subject. (I hope I do not devalue that statement in your eyes when I say I consider myself somewhat of an expert, too :).) But it should be pointed out that your attitudes on rape are not applicable to everyone. They apply to you. It's good to know what applies to you and what doesn't, no matter what side of any particular argument you may fall on. It's good to be able to express all of this too, so that anyone who cares to listen will be able to make a more informed decision for themselves. I thank you for this contribution to E2.

It's a nice theory, but it doesn't stand up to an examination of the attitudes towards rape in different societies at different times, and how those in turn relate to the sexual mores of those societies.

As a generalisation, the more repressed a society is sexually, the lower the status of women, the more debased the value of their bodies as inviolate entities etc., the less that society tends to react angrily to rape. To put it in the terms of the original writeup, it's a simple equation: the more a woman is considered to be "sexual chattel", the less "hysterical" the societal response (as measured, for example, in jail terms / convictions) will be.

To give just one recent and pretty uncontroversial example, in western countries it was only within the last 10-20 years that rape within the confines of marriage was acknowledged to be a criminal act. The traditional position being that by marrying a woman had given implicit consent to her husband's using her body as and when best suited him; thereby, inasmuch as rape is defined as sex against one party's will or without their informed consent, making the very act an impossibility.

It was only with the emancipation of women outside the home that the inegrity of their bodies as such became a legitimate subject of discussion. In many more traditional societies, not only will women not react "hysterically" to the plight of their violated sisters, but will willingly participate in their punishment as adulteresses (in much the same way that it is women who often help perpetuate the traditions of female genital mutilation).

In short, if anyone thinks that the modern discourse about rape is too impassioned, it is not the murky depths of the patriarchy, but the giddy heights of emancipation that are to blame.


Of course rape is not like any other assault - it is an assault which has a single psychological aim and mean to gain no pecuniary, larcenous or defensive advantage. A rapist is someone who expresses their pathological (if often only momentary) need to humiliate, dominate, debase and dehumanise another person. While I'm happy to say that I do not speak from experience, I would hesitate to encourage the abolition of the offense as a distinct and abhorrent crime.

An assertion has been made that to prosecute rape in the same way that nonsexual crimes are prosecuted would rob rapists, or potential rapists of their power. One of the beliefs underlying this line of thought seems to be that society gives rape power in the way that it treats female sexuality. Society seems to cordon off female sexuality as something special, isn’t it true? And since we do view it as an object, it can be stolen, just like shoplifting a calculator or a loaf of bread, but much more thrilling, and also more physically satisfying for the ‘thief.’

So, our claim is that society cranks up the value of a women’s sexuality. One way is through treating it as a special crime aside from regular assault. This is rational for a patriarchal society. After all, on top of assaulting a human being you are also stealing something, hence the greater punishment. But the greater punishment reinforces the objectification of women. By elevating the status of these crimes, the system is basically legitimizing this objective way of seeing women’s sexuality. So I would say that, yes, to remove that special status would be a sort of top-down way to negate rape, and even to take back equality for women. Theoretically it would serve as a way to ‘de-victimize’ women. This makes sense to me, and I think that it was really courageous of futurebird to walk the walk in this respect. She is a very principled person whom I could never call a ‘victim.’ I admire this.

Unfortunately the criminal justice system is not the only force within society that reduces women to objects with regard to their sexuality. There are many such forces, but the worst of all is the hegemonically cogent mentality instilled in women themselves through the process of gender socialization. Women hold up their own sexuality as something especially valuable, because this is what they have been taught, in both an overt fashion and via covert social indicators, ranging from the subtle to the incredibly blatant (see certain advertising pitches, as Andersen mentions below), so as sexual objects they become especially valuable and more at risk. A criminal is getting away with more when he rapes a woman than if he just, say, robs her. He’s also showing her his power over her as a male, all due to the fact that her sexuality is a more valuable commodity than his own.

Speaking of codifications, the above is just a way of paraphrasing a fairly basic line of feminist thought about rape. The sixth edition of Thinking About Women, by Margaret L. Andersen, is a basic text for Sociology of Gender courses. It’s an older edition from about 2003, but on page 282 it says:

Feminists suggest a fourth perspective on rape that explains violence against women as founded on the political and economic status of women in patriarchal and capitalist societies. This political-economic theory states that women historically have been defined as the property of men in these societies. For example, the rape of African American women by White slaveowners is evidence of the relationship between rape and the property status of women. Although women in contemporary society are no longer explicitly defined as the property of men, their use as sexual objects in advertising reduces their sexuality to a commodity. Images of violence against women in advertising and the popular media legitimate violent behavior against women and reiterate their status as sexual objects. To become an object is to become a piece of property, and this status, according to feminists, dehumanizes women and makes them an object for male violence.

The fact that most rapists do not believe that they have done anything wrong shows that violence against women carries some degree of legitimacy within the society. Those women who are perceived as the least valuable in the society are apparently most likely to be raped. This fact explains why African American, Hispanic, poor, unemployed, and unmarried women are those most frequently raped. The evidence is that high rates of poverty and divorce have the strongest relationship to the likelihood of rape. This is a suggestive finding, since we have already seen the increasing linkage between divorce and poverty.

But good fucking luck with eliminating the legitimization of rape as a special category of especially nasty crime. What politician would ever jump off that bridge? Once they get into power, they like the power and want to stay in power. As Andersen goes on to say on the next page (283), “criminal justice institutions minimize or cover up violence against women; and legal institutions resist radical change in policies to protect women from violence.”

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