March 30, 2011

Gender Bias in Rape

So a short while back, I made a comic in response to a NYT piece about a gang-rape on a 12-year-old girl. The piece was editorialised in such a way as to emphasise the adult and sexual attire of the 12-year-old and the irresponsibility of the parent for letting her out in public that way. While these are important discussions to have, the problem with the article was that these statements glossed over the fact that multiple people at minimum performed statutory rape on a minor. Hence my comic.

Now, this comic has been spread around a bit on a number of feminist/liberal sites as a point of discussion and I'm glad for this. I'm the kind of person who likes to track when my work gets passed around (I like to see people's responses) and today I came upon this comment:

I get this, really I do. But, I was raped by a woman, so why is the rapist always a man? They even gender it with pink and blue and say “guy on the left is a rapist”. Shit like this really invalidates my experience of being violated by a female. I wish people would be more gender-neutral when calling out rapists and rape apologists.
Which is a fair point, and one I hadn't really considered. I mean, I know some rapists/sexual assaulters (?) are women but in this context it didn't cross my mind when compiling some examples.

So I think I've got a couple of things to say as a response:

1) I absolutely agree that sexual assault can comes from almost any type of person. Male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, (x)-sexual, adults, children, strangers, loved ones... I don't mean to make it sound like there are rapists round every corner, but the point is that yes, indeed, the perpetrators of such assault are not limited to just evil men. And this is definitely a fact we should not lose sight of as there is definitely a propensity to shrug off sexual assault by a woman as 'ridiculous' as if a woman couldn't commit such an offense. We should take every accusation of assault seriously and investigate and provide support accordingly.

2)However, this was not the point of the comic. The point of the comic was the intrinsic social misogyny that rears it's ugly head in many, many rape cases. Time and time again we hear that the woman must shoulder some of the blame for the attack because she was dressed inappropriately, that she was walking in a dodgy part of town or that she was too drunk to control herself. Now, while there is a need to act responsibly and be aware of potential dangers, there is simply no excusing the rapist for taking advantage of their victims weaknesses. If you walk down a dark alley and get stabbed and mugged, we don't transfer any of the blame from the mugger to the victim simply because the victim was in a dark alley.
But a significant portion of society does this with 'liberated' women who are assaulted by men and that was the issue I was attempting to highlight in the comic.
(Incidentally, I don't think you'd be able to find a case where a drunken straight guy was raped by a man and the straight guy was expected to accept his ordeal as a consequence of drunkenness).

3) It's very difficult to tackle a lot of issues in one punch. I think the comic seems to work (at the risk of talking myself for the briefest of moments) because it has one clear message. If you start mixing a number of issues into the pot then the 'punch' of the message gets lost.

So I absolutely sympathise with anyone who has tragically been the victim of assault, no matter who the perpetrator. I further sympathise with victims who have been assaulted in a manner that has yet to be given the seriousness it deserves (e.g. by a woman). But believe me when I say I had no intention of trivialising any aspects of assault by their absence.

EDIT: As an addendum, I've focussed on the assaulter in this post, but equally not all victims of abuse are women. Again, I have focussed on the victims who are most likely to have the blame passed onto them by social ignorance/the most commonly reported victims.