Saturday, July 27, 2013

A different kind of rape culture

Background reading: For a fairly decent understanding of the typical meaning of "rape culture" (should you happen to need one) check out the wikipedia entry.

This is not my favorite topic. First, it fits a little too well into the stereotype of the man-hating feminist. It also doesn't create a helpful environment for fixing the obvious social problem (that rape exists at all).  It is all too easy in a discussion of "rape culture" to both criticize a (probably male) individual for his actions while simultaneously diminishing his individual responsibility. Take this story in which a male video game producer was accused of a casual rape joke. The outrage seems to simultaneously blame the man for being intentionally disrespectful of the female gamer and being shamefully ignorant of how his casual remark might be upsetting. How can the poor dude be guilty of both malice and ignorance? This story is also overblown in terms of gender bias, though it would still have been sexist I can honestly say I think he would have said the same thing to another man. If you want to get outraged over   a cultural issue pick the one where men taunt each other by equating weak with female ("You fight like a girl!"). The men I know take rape very seriously. 

So imagine my surprise when I find myself submerged in what I can only call a "rape culture". Here's my story.

I was out at a bar in downtown Denver for the first night of my 10 year high school reunion. A friend of mine was getting picked up by another friend but she needed to get some stuff out of my car, which was parked about two blocks away. Neither of us had been drinking at all that night, but I'm not sure that's relevant except I was sober enough to over-analyze this. We were stopped at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change and I was looking around to assess the situation. I observed the following: the street was well lit and traffic was light (Conclusion: tolerable place to stop for a moment). There was a group of three young men across the street who didn't look like they were going anywhere (Conclusion: potential threat). There were two men standing behind us also waiting for the light to change and standing closer than the totally empty sidewalk justified (Conclusion: moderate threat). There were other people about but further away and generally male (Conclusion: no threat but potentially no help either).

I looked down at my phone to answer a question from my friend when I realize that someone is now close enough behind me that I can feel him. It was the same dude that was just a little too close a moment before. I turned and looked right at him and I honestly don't remember exactly what I said. I was a LITTLE JUMPY. He slurred his response and I immediately reevaluated (Very drunk. Conclusion: Minimal threat). His friend helpfully pulled him away from me and I calmed back down. When I went to walk back to the bar there were a lot more couples and people clearly walking to cars instead of just milling about and I felt better.

Until I realized that I had basically just spent the last 10 minutes ruthlessly assessing every male in a 30 yard radius for his probability of violence. Sheesh. I've always been a little paranoid, but last night it was just depressing. I don't even have any thoughts right now other than a wistful dream that maybe it doesn't have to be like this.

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