Thoughts on vulnerability, risk, uninhibition, ethics and power.
Everyday Feminism, in a list of 25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture catalogued “Women feeling less safe walking the streets at night than men do” as one such contender. Immediately after reading this, my eyebrows furrowed, my expression soured a little bit. It worried me that this was something the feminists thought they could change, I realized. Some may feel inclined to consider me cynical or complicit for insinuating that I don’t think this universal female experience can honestly be altered, but I’m only attempting to contend with reality and human nature, what is and has always been.
That women should have their nagging feelings of vulnerability whisked away would undoubtedly be wonderful, but as difficult as it may be for some to stomach, it’s just not realistic.
Woman has always been more physically vulnerable than man. Men are biologically more capable of overpowering women than the reverse. They are also more prone to physical aggression and violence. These are the facts that we have to live with. Of course, feminism has long touted the narrative that the sexes are essentially the same and simply overlaid with heaps of social conditioning that supposedly account for the disparities that we can detect.
Feminists don’t particularly want to admit that there are sexual differences that exist that are rooted irrevocably in biology and that cannot be changed with social projects and persistent feminist activism.
These are the somber truths we do not want to swallow: Women are more physically vulnerable than men. Men can innately overpower women with far greater ease than the inverse. These are old, ancient realities. Though I’m sorry to say it, I do think women will always feel more vulnerable traversing dark streets than their male counterparts will. If you, the reader, have any solid course of action for potentially remedying this, by all means let me know.
The point I’m trying to make: We can’t stamp out female vulnerability. It is not necessarily a social crime that females feel a lingering sense of unease when they make their way home at night. This trepidation is a natural female response to a dynamic as old as our species.
Consider that the vast majority of rapes occur at the hands of a known individual present in a woman’s life. Rape in a dark alleyway is decidedly rare, yet remains a collective female terror. The threat of it certainly looms, chilly and nightmarish somewhere in our minds. The alleyway rapist is incredibly uncommon in reality. But it’s an archetypal manifestation of male and female sexual relations, broadly speaking. It’s a manifestation of the broader unspoken reality that has existed for millennia that females are more vulnerable to sexual conquest.
So yes, I think something’s askew when feminists engage in hopeful postulations of upending this reality. Naturally, holding such a belief could garner me the accusation of capitulating to the patriarchy, because what I’m saying is so at odds with the feminist rhetoric that believes there’s a utopia that can be aimed at wherein women are completely safe. Women will never be completely safe. We have to see life as it is, observe the natural, age-old realities that exist rather than feeling justified in constructing a new reality to aim at that involves eradicating female vulnerability — which would be nothing short of a fantasy anyways.
During the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and 70s, the waters were wildly churning, the cultural winds momentously changing. The ensuing counterculture atmosphere spawned the popularity of sexual freedom in addition to the burgeoning beginnings of societally-endorsed sexual recklessness.
Women were demanding more of that delicious liberation, certainly. But they were also trashing aspects of the original culture which they deemed oppressive. For example, chivalry was increasingly regarded as demeaning, disdainfully pushed away as the stain of patriarchy. Sexual inhibition was looked down upon. Casual sex became vastly more common. Before too long, second-wave feminism began to show signs of locking onto a narrative of female victimhood, which was an interesting simultaneous development to be occurring in the wake of the Sexual Revolution.
What was naturally produced from these counterculture efforts? Freedom. That’s what everyone wanted, right? But on the opposite side of the equation of freedom lies risk and responsibility, and this reality was not fully absorbed. What were these revolutionary efforts aiming towards anyways? Unregulated sexuality. And such an aim has consequences.
Suddenly, women were not only exposed to newfound freedom in this radical new era, but they were acutely exposed to its dangers, as well. Hookup culture gained a footing, and conservative-style courtship faded from being in vogue. Risk that hadn’t been present in the old model now materialized in this new environment wherein it was now considered somewhat fashionable for women to sleep around. And women didn’t want to acknowledge that risk — they wanted their cake, but they didn’t want the consequences of the calories. Bad analogy? Maybe so.
Nowadays, we see plenty of young women who will proudly call themselves feminists who are just appalled at the notion that they might be the targets of even a brush of unwanted sexual attention at some liquor-infused college party. But if you’re going to put yourself in such an environment, you are entering into unregulated territory, brimming with the unknown. It’s not ridiculous to take healthy precautions and to be naturally guarded, and it’s also not criminal and unjust that women should feel pressured to “protect” themselves.
After all, you have to care about your own safety before you can reasonably demand that institutions or wider society should be concerned about it. A completely safe culture is not your birthright! (But so many nowadays, particularly those my age, feel fully justified in demanding such coddling from their universities, for example.)
And so, if you want sexual freedom, you’re also asking for the danger. But feminists would like to think that they can get the former without the latter. What’s more, they rage against the latter, insinuating that they hold the right to be as libidinous as possible and to not have to deal with any of the consequences that arise. That’s stupid; you can’t ask for that! If women want to fling all their repression to the sidelines, then why is it appalling that men might follow suit? Would this not be the logical outcome?
Take the annual SlutWalk, for instance. That LA-based parade of girls that fling their tops off, cart around poster board with snarky, feminist slogans and, indeed, wear the label of ‘slut’ as a badge of honor. Is it really an applause-worthy display of claiming one’s sexuality? Is that really what we see when we view it? (It’s certainly what its participants insist anyways.) I feel faintly nauseated in fact, sifting through images from the event. It’s hard not to describe it all as, well, vulgar. Implicitly, SlutWalk participants are trying to fight rape culture with sheer feminist willpower and performative antics. They think they should be able to achieve this by being as wanton as they please. They think that unflinching respect from men is their rightful due.
Have they stopped to consider that what they want is incompatible with their conduct? Or is my mere mention that there could even be an incompatibility an outrage? A SlutWalk would have been unthinkable seventy years ago. The attitude towards sex was totally different then. Over the decades, there has been a coarsening of sexuality. There’s a cruder feel to it in popular culture. It’s more unrestrained; also, a little flippant.
In previous decades, a code of chivalry would have been partly responsible for conferring a collective societal regard onto women. But frankly, feminism has helped claw that down and we’ve pretty much thrown that into the dumpster in the intervening years, haven’t we? Nowadays, we don’t have those guardrails as much — that protective buffer.
And in any case, you can’t expect to change men and masculinity in the same environment in which women are going on SlutWalks and exhibiting vulgarity as if it were a contemporary virtue. I get it — they want to be seen as free, autonomous, etc. — but on some level, it doesn’t read as self-respect. It just doesn’t, and I think most people have at least a hazy awareness of that.
‘Rape culture’ is a term descendant from the Women’s Studies department. It’s totalizing and capable of condemning large swaths of society. Its constituents talk about rape as if it were something they, bright and brilliant woman warriors, stumbled upon and uniquely brought to light, requiring the attendant feminist jargon of patriarchy, oppression, and the like.
Rape is not the result of the male gender being uneducated about “womenkind’s right to full humanity” or about being unenlightened about feminism. Rape is not an issue that requires framing men as these flawed, oppressive forces that society necessarily created. It’s really not about “institutionalized sexism” — that magisterially coined expression. (And if anything can fall under the category of “institutionalized sexism,” it’s got to be women’s studies itself. Think about it.)
It’s not about misogyny either, though feminists take a particular liking to intimating that men just have this inherent, apparently vehement hatred towards women. (I think that on some level there is an energy to be acquired from feeling as if one is spurned, hence why the misogyny narrative is so popular. That feminists are so eager to trot out this intense claim — widespread misogyny — is weird.) But rape is principally not about any of these things. Rape is mostly ethics.
Boldly put, the lifeblood of modern feminism is the power struggle. Continually asserting women as the oppressed class at the hands of the oppressive male gender/patriarchy is the central aim. Sex differences — if feminists believe in them at all, that is — are flagged as marks of inequality and inequality, in their eyes, is fundamentally unjust. According to this logic, unjust sexual differences must be stomped on, eradicated.
Feminists insist that we live in a culture of sexual violence, though I would maintain that a culture of sexual risk is probably a more appropriate label. There will always be danger in sexual culture but feminists, who would like to put their full faith in social constructionism and would also like to demonize men for their masculinity, do not want to submit to this view of things at all.
In a way, the accusation of ‘rape culture’ has the consequence of destroying the reputation of masculinity, of condemning it as inherently corrupt, devoid of redeeming qualities. But in the end, it’s not necessarily correct to call it a masculinity problem. It’s an ethics problem.