The Ugly Side of Feminism and Rape

5 years ago

Some time around 2008 or so, I seriously began to wonder if I should still call myself a feminist. I'd identified as a feminist for well over half my life at that point, but I wasn't super thrilled with things that I was reading by feminists. A lot of it stemmed from the primary, during which I was told by many feminists that I had to support Hillary Clinton or else I was betraying women everywhere. Feminism has always had serious socioeconomic divisions, and has always, to some extent, had a strain of bullying involved: you must think this way or else you are the enemy. That's sort of the point of any "ism," or what's the point?

Everything ended nicely enough, though, so I went ahead and continued to fly my little feminist flag. This week, though, another flap over how we express ideas, control discourse, and deem things acceptable has given me pause. Last Monday, a woman I e-know (I met her through blogging, where we respectfully disagreed over whether shaved snatch is great or disgusting) wrote an essay about rape culture at xojane. Over the past few years, I knew her to be an outspoken advocate for healthy sexuality, involved in slut walks, as a rape crisis counselor, and as a person who survived being raped. Yet Alyssa Royse was nervous about the reaction her essay would get, which I thought was strange. I read it and thought it raised many interesting points. Her premise is that while it is always the responsibility of the perrson who commits an act of rape, our culture's demented relationship with sexuality causes mixed signals to be misinterpreted by both genders. As a society, we should work to eradicate these double standards and twisted messages. Why would anyone object to a thoughtful piece exploring rape and society and how we can change things and stop rape?

Sometimes I am ridiculously naive.

Rape is clearly one of those triggers that brings out the orthodoxy of feminism, and sadly our ugly side, too. feministe labeled Alyssa a 'rape apologist," and the comments included lovely sentiments such as "fuck Alyssa Royse with a tree." Alyssa was relentlessly attacked on twitter as a rape apologist and a woman-hater. She felt threatened enough that for the first time ever, she shut down her public feeds.

I don't think the point of feminism is to make change by bullying and threatening people who disagree with the dominant thought pattern. I'm not saying that I haven't fallen into this trap myself many, many times. It's easy to do. But it's not acceptable to bitch about Rush Limbaugh using his bully pulpit to lambaste Sandra Fluke and then do it ourselves because someone said something we deemed offensive.

It's not that I think we have to just let comments we find problematic sit around so that we can be considered playing nicely. In an attempt to foster dialog, though, Joanna Schroeder at The Good Men Project published a follow up to the Royse article and a similar one they ran in which an anonymous guy confessed to raping someone when he was drunk. That was also written off as more rape apologism, and all legitimate and thoughtful points raised set aside as if they merited no dialog. Yet that is exactly what we need. Clearly our current feminist approaches to ending rape have not worked. Why wouldn't we want to think about all of the factors that go into it?

This type of knee-jerk response is alienating and useless. I'm certainly guilty of it myself, and this incident made me think. How many times have I gone beserk on someone who didn't exactly reflect my point of view? (Yeah, I'm cringing.) As a feminist community, we should be open to discussing controversial ideas, seeking out new ideas and approaches to problems, and not bullying those who have a different take on the issue. Feminism needs a diversity of thoughts and voices to thrive. Let's move beyond reacting to trigger words, stop acting like Rush Limbaugh, and be ready for serious talk.

Credit Image: © Thomas Campion/London News Pictures/

Suzanne also blogs at CUSS and Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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