The Wednesday Weigh-In: Reddit rape thread edition

*Trigger warning*

So let’s talk about that Reddit thread. If you haven’t waded into what is sure to be a highly triggering space, I don’t blame you. But, if you can stomach it, you can check out a condensed summary over at Jezebel.

I agree with Katie that it can be useful to hear directly from people who’ve committed sexual assaults about their motivations. As we know, rapists do not usually come in the “scary strangers hiding in the bushes” variety. While most men are not rapists, most rapists are men we know and, maybe, love. As Katie writes, “We have to acknowledge that the people telling these stories and making these decisions are the men (and women) next door, not necessarily inhuman savages.”

Over at Feministe, Amanda notes that since this thread features rapists who are willing to talk about their experiences, it likely over-represents those who feel like they can justify their actions by saying they just got drunk and misread the signals and maybe felt bad about it later. Amanda worries that this reinforces the myth that consent is tricky, because, in fact, most rapes are committed by serial rapists–guys who, as this chilling account shows, are pretty unapologetic.

But I actually think one of the striking things about the thread is while many guys echoed the usual excuses about how they were “extremely horny” or she had this “sexual way of carrying herself” or blahblahblah, they mostly knew what they were doing. It’s not that they misunderstood consent–because, really, it is not a difficult thing for most people–it’s that they’re well-aware of the ready-made excuses they’ll be handed if they just ignore the fact that “she wasn’t really into it.” (Of course, some of them are now getting the message back from their fellow Redditors that what they did was totally A-ok, which is terrifying.) As Melissa notes, “If there is one thing that the Reddit thread makes clear, it’s that no one is more intimately familiar with the rape culture, and how to exploit it to his advantage, than a rapist.”

For me, this thread is a urgent reminder that we need a sea-change in how we we teach people about sex. Megan Carpentier nicely summarizes: “The people who need to be educated about rape are our men and boys. They need to learn that sex isn’t a zero-sum game, it’s not keep-away or capture-the-flag, it’s not a thing they do with their genitals to the genitals of another person at whom they don’t look, let alone see. It is something they can engage in and share with another person and, if the other person – the whole of other person – isn’t sharing in the sexual act, for whatever reason, at whatever moment, then it’s not sex.”

What do you all think of the thread? Do you know anyone who has sexually assaulted someone? If you’ve been sexually assaulted, do these stories ring true to you? How do you think we change the culture? Discuss.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I actually think this is a super important conversation to be had. The problem is, I think Reddit is the wrong venue. But I think it’s actually great for guys who have rationalized their behavior that they knew to be wrong speak up about it. I think it’s an important teaching tool when we talk about sex and consent. This is part of turning the conversation away from victims to rapists. Instead of teaching women how not to be victims of rape, this is a way to speak with men and boys about how not to be rapists.
    These accounts show that these rapists want to think of themselves as nice guys who weren’t really in control. I would want to read some of these accounts to guys and say, “when you’re with a woman, has she said ‘yes’? Do you know you’re doing something right or are your rationalizing your behavior?”
    The problem is, Reddit is out of control and leads to people justifying rape. Not really a teachable venue.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Very well said. I think the most interesting thing about listening to confessions of rapists is their issues with control. There’s a mountain of evidence that rape is often about the perpetrator trying to assert control and power over a victim. Yet, when you listen to these men, they often express how out-of-control they felt during the act.

      The biggest problem with Reddit is that it needs more women! Join up!

  2. Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    When I was in college women’s studies, we talked about the intersection of rape culture and slut-shaming, and her solution is really probably the best solution IMO.

    We need to learn that “No Means No” and men need to learn that first.*

    Because women are still trained that if they want it, and say yes, it makes them dirty whores, and a lot of women are still very invested in being Good Girls, too many women still say no when they mean yes. And men know this, and so this enables rapists to shrug their shoulders and say “well, she wanted it” even when she didn’t.

    However, if we can push through that No Means No and Men Learn it first…

    If a woman says no and she means no and the man stops, then he has successfully avoided becoming a rapist.

    If a woman says no and she means yes and the man stops, the woman now begins to learn that if she wants to get off, she needs to say yes. So she learns to say yes and might even begin to think about how fucked up slut-shaming is in our culture. Win-Win.

    * Or, because no one can ever let this one go without nitpicking — a safe word means no and no means no.

  3. Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    If you want to know what rapists are about, read “I Never Called It Rape.” They surveyed a bunch of college men who admitted to rape when the word wasn’t used (they euphemistically said “forced to have sex” or something similar to get honesty). It has actual data with context that doesn’t excuse or apologize for the behavior. No one will try to tell you’re wrong or crazy and you’ll realize how fucked up normal is in a rape culture. Same goes for professionals’ interviews with rapists. Don’t give a self-selected group of rapists center stage to brag, instruct and earn praise for their “bravery and courage.” It’s as helpful as giving any other hate group an open mic. We need professionals to support listeners and interpret the data, not commenters defending the perpetrators or patting them on the back. All the benefits of the thread can be found elsewhere at a much lower cost and risk. We have the information already, we don’t need to wade through a pool of rapists and apologists to read it.

  4. Posted August 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Encouraging these men to tell their stories is not as educational as we would like to think. Perhaps it drives the point home that these men are people we know, and not the creeper in the bushes, but I think glorifying their side of the story as this thread makes its way around the internet allows them an opportunity to brag about their so-called exploits, and that’s not right. In fact, it makes me angry that these rapists have more of an outlet for their stories than most victims will ever get. No thread about victims’ stories ever gets the same sort of attention, because people tend to assume that if you’re raped, you’re scarred for life and will never be functional in the world again. I think the assumption that once you’ve been raped, your life is over forever and you can never be valued by anyone again is the worse misconception, and if we’re looking to help victims heal, we need to find ways to combat that belief, not pander to monsters on the internet.

  5. Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I think it was a good thing it happened for several reasons, but the most important one is that it highlighted that rape doesn’t happen because of the behavior or demeanor of the victim, but because the rapists actively decided to rape. That’s a really hard message to get across to people generally, but it’s something survivors need to hear too, as this brilliant blog from Gherkinette explains

    And with apologies for self-promotion, I said much more about this in a blog here

  6. Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for linking to my post! It definitely bothers me that some of the admitted rapists posting on the thread were remorseful, but others would tell them not to worry about it…

  7. Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Hey all. Long time feminist, first time poster here. This is the first I am hearing of this subreddit, so I just popped over to take a look- wow, just wow. I completely agree from the get-go (with Hannah), that this is an important conversation to be had, but Reddit is the wrong venue for it.

    I know the environment can be a light and casual one, great for discussions of light and casual topics, but for this material, Reddit is just not reliable, and I don’t think waiting around to see what they do with this power is wise. Reddit is not doing anything to help solve problems within rape culture and the evidently incredibly hard to grasp education/awareness plan of teaching not to rape, as opposed to not getting raped.

    I’m not sure if you folks are aware of some of their other subreddits (like r/rapingwomen, r/painal, r/beatingwomen, etc…), which are horribly viscous and violent subreddits that I am petitioning be removed and not reinstated in different form.

    As far as the administration of Reddit goes, they turn a blind eye to anything they can get away with, and you better pray you’ve got a moderator that doesn’t verbally attack you on your blog when they find out about your petition (just saying).

    Important discuss, but it needs a reliable and responsible safe space. I don’t consider leaving the integrity of this issue up to anons and potential apologists to be the right answer.

    If you’d like to check out my Change.org petition, here it is:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/demand-reddit-remove-subreddits-that-promote-rape-aggressive-misogyny-transphobia-violence-against-women-and-ableism

    (Like I said, I’m new here, so sorry I don’t know how to post clickable links yet!!) :-)

    • Posted August 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      Hi Victoria. I think you’re right about a lot of things. However, as a redditor, I’ll just throw out a quick quasi-defense:

      All over, there have been lots of comments like “this is an important discussion to be had, but uggghh, why did it have to happen on Reddit?” I think the better question is, if it’s an important conversation, why isn’t it happening elsewhere? Because Reddit is so loose in its moderation, somebody had the idea to speak, and just did it. It wasn’t put to committee. Nobody weighed the pros and cons. The conversation happened. And even if it was difficult to stomach, and there were commenters who were inappropriate, or downright misogynistic, it’s now all there, in front of us. And, I think, what we’ll be able to learn from an organic discussion like this will dwarf what we might have learned from some produced “discussion” in which the every post and comment is pre-approved.

      You’re right that there are some awful things on Reddit. Yes, the subreddits you mentioned are very disturbing, and probably should be closed. But, I think there are close to 200,000 subreddits now. The vast majority of them are amazing. And there are some great ones for women and feminists:

      /r/TwoXChromosomes
      /r/femmit
      /r/TwoXSex
      /r/Feminism
      /r/AskWomen
      /r/BirthControl
      /r/BodyAcceptance

      Reddit is notoriously male-centric. But this is changing. And there’s actually a lot of feminist discussion that goes on, even if it is mostly between guys. There were a bunch of posts debating the rape thread. And, in many cases, the comments were very similar to what I’m reading on Feministing and Jezebel.

      As I said in an earlier comment, more women should join up. Help change things! I think you’re much more likely to get those subreddits removed if you start a conversation about it within Reddit.

      PS: sorry, I realize this was sorta a rough response to your first feministing comment.
      here’s something cute: http://i.imgur.com/bC0Ns.jpg

  8. Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I have just been reading the “Top 200″ or whatever you call it on Reddit, so I’m probably reading a heavily edited version of the thread, but… I have to agree that this is a good conversation to have, and while framing it around the rapists in a way that asks them to self-select and exonerate themselves isn’t particularly constructive, a lot of the posts I read were about people talking about abusers in their life second-hand.

    In other contexts talking about things second-hand might be considered a non-primary source, ie a bad thing, but with sexual assault… educating people, breaking the silence, that is ally work that people who aren’t survivors themselves can do, and that might be a good way to get allies involved. A lot of posts I saw were not rapists exonerating themselves, they were anonymous disclosures or people talking about rapists and abusers they have known. And people commented (again maybe this is more the edited version) to say “That’s my story too”, thereby telling the most simple feminist message “You are not alone.”

    I also saw a post from a guy who self-identifies as shy and sensitive, and before he read this post he didn’t understand why women wouldn’t, say, meet his gaze on the street. He took it personally, and we in the feminist blogosphere probably would say that he might be on the path to Nice Guy territory. But he read this thread, and now he understands more about rape culture and why street harassment and simply the concept of safety is such a different concern for women than for men. That’s constructive work, and perhaps this person would never have found himself on our blogosphere, but because this conversation happened at Reddit…

    That said, a lot can go wrong, and probably did. I’m not saying Reddit in its current iteration is a good place to have this talk, just that… going into mainstream parts of the internet, we need ways to frame a discussion like this. This thread is at least… food for thought.

  9. Posted August 4, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    As a survivor, I will always see them as “inhuman savages”. I think these types of conversations might be useful to some criminal psychologist studying rapists, but I don’t think in everyday situations predators are going to present us with a running inner monologue to tip their potential victims off.

    But maybe I just think that because it really did jump out from the bushes—or at least from the semi-transparency of an ocotillo.

    • Posted August 4, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      Also, I don’t know if I can bring myself to take what rapists say at face value, particularly if they’re saying they’re “remorseful” or “lost control”…let a trained criminal psychologist determine how they’re lying.

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