How to Make a Rapist

Illustration by Julie Peterson

Illustration by Julie Peterson

(Content warning: This column discusses rape, rape culture and sexual assault.)

Several weeks ago, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the boys from Steubenville, Ohio who raped an unconscious girl, were both found guilty and sentenced. This doesn’t mean it’s time to stop talking about rape. On the contrary, we need now, just as much as ever, to talk about how we raise our children—especially our boys—to become rapists.

Of course, not all rapists are men, and not all men are rapists. These facts are indisputable and I would never argue otherwise. But we cannot beat the drum so vigorously in defense of men who aren’t rapists that we forget some men are. If we want to move productively toward eliminating rape, we need to accept the uncomfortable truth that rapists are not born, they’re raised, molded by a culture that normalizes and excuses rape.

How?

Start by teaching a boy that there are fundamental differences between men and women—not just in anatomy, but in behavior. Tell him that masculinity naturally means aggression and competitiveness, and that femininity naturally means timidity and an attentiveness to emotions. Encourage him to be “masculine” by surrounding him with masculine peers. Show him that there’s something inherently unacceptable about displaying “feminine” traits—like wanting pink toenails.

Expect him to be a winner. Teach him that seduction is a sport, a competition between his natural offense and the other side’s naturally guarded defense. Drill him on a gameplan that involves scoring by whatever means possible. Keep sex a highly valued commodity, in low supply and high demand, so that when he does score, he knows he’ll win the status of a victor.

Teach him he has a right to others’ bodies. Show him through shock and scorn that it is unusual to not want physical contact—that by default, he’s free to touch other people as he wishes. Raise him to understand that in certain circumstances, others owe him access to their bodies.

Never expect him to control himself—least of all when he’s horny. Make that someone else’s problem.

Water down what the word “rape” means. Use it to talk about video games, football games, tests—make it sound like a minor inconvenience, like stubbing your toe. Show him that the wholesale violation of another human’s will is something you should be able to laugh about or wish on someone.

Demonstrate to him that he will always be protected. Show him that his community, his teachers and his coaches will support him, no matter what he does or how clear the evidence against him. Impress upon him that his sex will excuse any “mischief” he causes, because “boys will be boys.” Teach him through a sympathetic media that if he rapes, it will be a crime against himself and his bright future, not against the person whose humanity he ignored and whose body he violated. Show him a world that will make every excuse possible to make it not his fault.

And never once talk to him about consent.

Give him years of sex education where the only time he sees the word “consent” is on parental permission forms. Never tell him that just like turning an invitation to coffee down without saying the word “no,” someone—no matter their clothes, their makeup, their history or their behavior—can say “no” to sex simply by not saying yes. Never tell him that people who are scared or intoxicated might be unable to say “no,” and that he has the power to put his libido on hold in order to respect what they may be unwilling or unable to say.

Then tell him that rapists are psychopaths and monsters who can’t be reasoned with—not normal people like him. Tell him rape is committed by strangers in dark alleys—not him, with someone he knows, in his bedroom. Suggest to him that rape is only “legitimate” rape when it’s violent.

Tell him he is not, and will never be, could never be a rapist.

This is what “rape culture” means. If we want to fight rape, any single one of these points is a good place to start.

Or we can sit on our hands and continue to make excuses.




Filed under: Opinion

Responses


A whitman alum Apr 5, 2013 6:55 AM

I think this article is the best I’ve ever read in the Pio, hands down. Beautifully written, powerful, moving stuff. And as someone affected by child abuse, Miriam, you can’t say that this article “oversimplified” the issue when you make pretty broad oversimplifications yourself. Antisocial tendencies are extremely complex to understand or even diagnose, as I’m sure any psych major would admit. I think what you were getting at is important, which is that there is no archetypal reason why someone rapes someone–which is why the conversations that the author encourages us to have are all the more important.


Another ex-student Apr 6, 2013 0:13 AM

I second “A whitman alum.” It even added depth to some perspectives I had not fully considered. I wish this article would be distributed nationally; it would engender a greatly needed discussion on a topic that is slowly coming to the national forefront through consequences of neglect and inaction (as many taboo subjects ultimately emerge). Great stuff Mr. Wharton!


Blair Hanley Frank Apr 7, 2013 12:27 PM

Editor’s Note: some comments above have been removed at the request of the author.


Alum Apr 10, 2013 15:56 PM

With due respect, I must disagree with the vast majority of your opinion piece.

Whether or not you agree with it, there is a fundamental difference between men and women. Testosterone and estrogen levels in the average man and average woman are vastly different for one. Type ‘risk/reward between women and men’ into google and you will find studies showing genetic differences between men and women when it comes to the amount of risk you may be willing to take for a given reward.

I am grateful every day that my parents taught me to strive to be a winner, and I will do the same to my children. Winning is an admirable action that very few people know how to consistently complete. Losing teaches you valuable lessons, and those lessons should in turn be used to help increase the chances you will win the next event in your life. Whether buying a home, fighting to keep your marriage/family together, getting/keeping/advancing in a job, or even just playing monopoly, winning is a good and healthy thing. For you to think that teaching our children they shouldn’t win is a deeply flawed suggestion. The self-sacrifice one makes in order to win or help his team win can be extremely admirable. Laying down a clear moral foundation that cannot be broken, even to win, is a better idea.

With regards to seduction as a sport, many time have I seen this sport go both ways. For you to suggest that men are the only ones to treat seduction as a sport is incorrect. Women are just as guilty as men when it comes to wanting to seduce whatever man (or woman) they are attracted to. When you finally kissed that boy or girl you were after, I promise you it felt like a victory, because you had succeeded in your goal.

Teaching boys that they have a right to others’ bodies is not a lesson that we learn as children. Contrary to whatever book or movie put this thought into your head, no young boy is ever taught “…that by default, he’s free to touch other people as he wishes.” I am curious if you just made this up to make your article more convincing or you truly believe this. We are not raised to understand that others ever owe us access to their bodies.

Men are raised to be masculine, and women to be feminine. This stems from the basic instinct of protecting those who cannot protect themselves. If you are in a dangerous situation (i.e. incoherent/drugged) you would want someone to step in and protect you, if that person happens to be a muscular man then all the better for you. As someone who has stepped in and broken up fights/unwanted advances many a time while watching less masculine men stand back and watch, I find it hard to believe you wish I was more like them in those situations.

You are correct that we should never forget that some men are rapists. However you cannot throw all men and how they were raised into a category of how to raise a rapist. Telling me that I was raised to be a rapist because I took years of martial arts, played varsity sports, and lift weights religiously is like telling you that you were raised to let rape happen because you didn’t do those things. How many self defense courses have you taken? How many times have you gone to the gym and lifted weights to gain legitimate strength? Have you ever learned how to use a gun or knife in self defense?

You strike some legitimate points as well. I agree with your assessment of sex education that children go through. It is a bare minimum and improvements are needed. I also can agree with your opinion that the term ‘rape’ gets watered down when used to describe less serious events. However, for you to claim that because I was raised to be so masculine as to not shed a tear, to not prefer pink toenails, and to constantly seek out competition, I somehow encourage the “rape culture,” then I have to disagree.


An alumna Apr 11, 2013 18:16 PM

Alum, you’ve missed the point of the article in a big way.

Whether or not you agree with it, the fact is that scientific studies are affected by cultural assumptions. Biological determinism has a long and storied history, even if we only stick to gender and don’t even bother bringing up race: try looking up “hysteria” sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. (If you really want a trip, google “phrenology.”)

The point about winning was pretty clearly not about ambition or success. It was about treating other people as commodities, as objects, as prizes to be won. When there are real prizes–hooray! Competition! It’s healthy, sure! But when it’s a person? People. Are. Not. Objects.

I have to disagree with you. Every time I have ever kissed someone, it has never felt like a victory: it has felt like a gift. I did not “win” them, I did not “conquer” them. They did not “give away” anything.

This is the language that comes from treating people as prizes.

You say that “men are raised to be masculine, and women to be feminine,” which is close enough to a tautology to make very little sense as an argument. Sure, we pressure children into gender roles, but does that mean they will necessarily enact them for the rest of their life? Not at all. Does that mean they’re natural? Not at all.

Does “feminine” mean weak? Not at all.

You followed this point up with “this comes from the basic instinct of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.” Again, let’s talk about biological determinism. A “basic instinct” (even if that’s a basic instinct, which: debatable!) doesn’t mean that it will always appear in every individual, or that everyone will follow their instincts.

And, you know what? Good for you for breaking up those fights. But I find it very interesting that you attribute that to “masculinity,” and not basic human decency.

Now we get to the last part of your argument. You say that “you cannot throw all men and how they were raised into a category of how to raise a rapist,” and I say that you have entirely missed the point of the article. That is EXACTLY what you can do. That is exactly what women are expected to do when they enter the public sphere, since society judges the victims of rape based on their behavior, and sometimes it’s just safer to assume that any person is a potential attacker. It’s how we’re raised, after all. And the mealy-mouthed protests that “not all men are rapists!” ARE contributing to rape culture.

You know what can help fight rape culture? Stepping in to ask a woman if she’s ok when a creep is harassing her–NOT because you’re such a manly man, but because you’re a decent human being. Believing a woman when she says she’s been raped, instead of slut-shaming her. Speaking up for a young boy who’s sent home from school because he wants to wear a dress, rather than pants. Speaking up for a young transgendered kid when they’re sent home or suspended for “gender-inappropriate” clothing. Fighting for increased access to comprehensive sex education. Fighting for reproductive rights and domestic violence protection for ALL people, not just those deemed “worthy” by conservatives. Raising your children to treat everyone, regardless of gender, with respect–for their choices and their bodily autonomy.


Yet another alum Apr 13, 2013 5:47 AM

I find it curious that the majority of the discussion here is going on between alumni. Where is the on-campus discussion? I hope there’s so much of it going on in person that nobody feels the need to comment online.

That said, great article. Powerfully argued. Just this week I was shocked to see an acquaintance spouting statements so strongly shaped by the rape culture, I couldn’t understand how he didn’t see it himself. Something has to change in the way children are raised and the issues and viewpoints their parents discuss with them.


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