A video from 2005 has recently surfaced in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump crudely brags about sexually assaulting women. While I have provided a link to the video, I will not repeat his words here. After widespread criticism, Trump apologized in a video posted to social media, saying, “I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” While these words probably do reflect who Trump is, that is not what I would like to discuss.
I believe they reflect a large part of American culture. They reflect rape culture. Even if they wouldn’t admit it, many Americans are just as guilty as Trump, when it comes to how they treat women. And so as not to commit the fallacy of assuming that sexual assault only happens to women, I’ll say it: men get sexually assaulted, too.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), while sexual assault has fallen 74% since 1993 (an encouraging figure), it still remains high. One in six American women has been sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and the same goes for one in thirty-three American men. In addition, most assaults, 55%, in fact, happen near the victim’s home, and three out of four assaults are by someone the victim knows. However, only around six out of every one-thousand perpetrators end up in prison.
I firmly believe that the only cause of rape is rapists. Even if there are factors that make it easier for rapists to rape, they are still fully responsible for making a fully conscious choice. (That’s not to say victims shouldn’t defend themselves, but that’s another discussion.) Many people believe that the primary way to solve rape culture is to teach people not to rape, but if people can be taught not to rape, then it stands to reason that they were taught to rape in the first place. Who taught them to rape? Well, to answer that question, all you need to do is look in a mirror. The things we as a society value contribute to rape culture, and essentially teach people to rape.
I could talk about how obsessed with sex we are, or how we teach people that their sexuality is the most important thing about their identity, or how we’ve normalized any kind of sexual activity to the degree that even sexual assault is considered normal, or how we excuse sexual assault every time it happens, but I’m not going to. Instead, I would like to point out what I believe is one of the worst, and least thought about, ways we teach people, particularly men, to rape: emotional repression.
Men are taught from the earliest possible age to hide their emotions, or even better, to not have them at all. Men are taught to be tough and stoic at all times, and any display of emotion results in ridicule and social rejection. Consequentially, most men are extremely reluctant to be vulnerable with anyone, including friends, family, and even romantic partners, and socially restricted from intimacy of any kind. However, there is one kind of intimacy they are allowed, in fact, encouraged, to participate in: sex. Sex is the one societally acceptable way for men to be intimate. In fact, men are taught that having sex enhances their masculinity: it makes them more of a man, whereas having less sex makes them less of a man. It’s not difficult to follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion.
Now, does this in any way excuse men (or women) who commit sexual assault? Absolutely not. Not in the slightest. But if we believe rape is wrong, why have we created a society that encourages men to do it? We should be teaching men to value people and relationships, not sex. We should be teaching them that women are human beings, not sexual objects. We should be teaching them that their masculinity is not defined by their conformity to arbitrary societal constructs or by how much sex they’ve had. If we truly believe that sexual assault is wrong, then we need to stop fostering an environment that encourages it. We can’t have it both ways.
A full discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of this blog, not to mention beyond the scope of my qualifications. However, for further reading on these topics, I have provided some resources below.