Feminism: Lies, Damn Lies, and Mansplaining

[Content Note: Rape Culture, Swearing]

The greatest blog post ever written on the internet is, of course, Phaedra Starling's Schrodinger's Rapist. (At least in my opinion. As with all words that I write.)

It's a lovely post, and I love every word of it. I don't fully agree with every aspect of it -- lately I've been tending to the side of You Do Not Have The Right To Impose Your Words On Me, Period, And Especially Not To Inform Me (No Matter How Politely) That You Think I'm Fuckable, which means that even the merest suggestion that it's alright to say Hi to the cute girl trying to memorize Beowulf on the subway is not something that I'm particularly open to right now. But my minor quibbles of framing do nothing to take away from the Roaring Lion of Awesome that is this post. Good post, pretty post.

It is such a good post, for that matter, that the very concept of Schrodinger's Rapist was immediately and irrevocably enshrined in the pantheon of feminist memes, where it will live on for eternity until rape culture is finally dismantled, at which point it will reside in a very respectable meme museum, over the doors of which will be inscribed the words NEVER FORGET so that we don't have to do this all over again. But in the mean time, we must continue to reference and link back to Starling's beautiful, beautiful post to explain why some women -- not all, and it's worth pointing out that women get hit on this from either angle, and more on that in a minute -- are just a teensy bit wary around strange men we don't know.

Unfortunately, Every. Single. Time. someone links to her post, someone who does not have the slightest grasp of statistics and how they work pops up to 'splain to all us wimmins how we should set our personal threat levels lest we LIVE IN FEAR like the silly, irrational creatures that we are. Broad, sweeping statements are made comparing us to helicopter parents, here defined as "people who won't let their children walk to school by themselves". (I KNOW. If you can even imagine.) And these squirmy little trolls latch on to the point, THE VERY RIDICULOUSNESS *SCOFF*, that some of us might be anxious of Strangers On The Subway because Rape Culture, and they hasten to inform our silly little selves that women are statistically more likely to be raped by people known to them.


You'd think that would be the sort of thing we would want to be on fucking top of! What with us being feminists and all! Eleventy!!

So here is the post for all the internet trolls who consistently try to tell us that, really, being afraid of strangers is SO SILLY and SO EMOTIONAL and SO WIMMINLY and that we should cut it out immediately because they say so and because statistics. Because fuck you.

1. You Do Not Get To Impose Your Own Threat Levels On Others

First and foremost, let's be really really clear on this: You do not get to impose your personal threat levels on other people.

Gods know you will try, because imposing threat levels is practically a national pastime. Threat levels are imposed on pretty much everyone, but women in particular seem to get hit with a triple dose of this. If a woman expresses reticence to do X, no matter what X may be, there are hundreds or thousands of people ready to pop up like little whack-a-moles in order to lecture her on how she's LIVING HER LIFE IN FEAR and she needs to totally stop that, like, now, for no reason other than because those people are really pissed off that she's not using their threat levels as her own. And on the flip side, if a woman states that she does Y, there are hundreds or thousands of people -- in some cases the same people as before -- ready to leap to their feet and howl that she's GONNA GET RAPED because everyone knows that doing Y is just a red-flag to rapists out there and what is she thinking?!

And no matter what the topic under discussion is, there will be people on either side of the topic, saying that either the women MUST do that thing or MUST NOT do that thing, and the woman can never, ever, ever win. Because that is the zeroth rule of patriarchy: the women must not win.

So I am telling you, right here and now, that you do not get to impose your threat levels on other people. There is no "you should do X" or "you should not do Y" allowed here. The only factor that really matters in terms of whether or not a rape will happen is whether or not a rapist is present -- and that factor is not something that women can control. Individual women make choices, every day of their lives, that many of them hope will up the odds in their favor, but it's not up to YOU to judge those choices or their efficacy. Not even in a passive-aggressive "oh, I would never live in fear like that" kind of way. Certainly not in a "you are stupid to make those choices Because Statistics" kind of way. And this post is very especially for the Because Statistics group. Listen up.

2. You Do Not Get To Make Up Your Own Statistics. 

Let's be clear: Women are more likely to be raped by people known to them, yes. But let's also be equally clear: "More likely" does not mean "100% all of the time". You don't get to erase the actual, real world statistics and make up new ones as you see fit. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape. Here is a picture of four women, one of whom is a victim of rape or attempted rape:

This is what rape culture looks like. 

RAINN estimates that 73% of rapes were perpetuated by a "non-stranger". If we're going off a Stranger / Non-Stranger binary -- and it seems reasonable to me that we are, since I don't see a third option available there -- that means that 27% of rapes are perpetuated by a stranger. So, basically, a little over one-fourth. That means, statistically speaking, that if you put four victims of rape / attempted rape in the same room together, one of them will have a stranger as her victimizer. Here is a picture of four victims, one of whom was victimized by a stranger.

This is what math looks like.

When you sashay into a blog post about Schrodinger's Rapist and inform all the silly little women in the comments about how SUPER SILLY they are to be worried about strangers, you are -- statistically speaking, if there are 16+ women in the comments, and there are -- talking to women who have been sexually preyed upon by strangers. You are saying that those women, and their experiences, don't actually exist. You are invisbling them, and you are doing that in service to rape culture so that you, Asshole Extraordinaire, can indulge in delicious rage about all these mean feminists saying that as-far-as-they-know you might be a potential rapist, and so that you can continue to proclaim as loud as the day is long that you have a government-sanctioned free-speech god-given right to go up to strange women and say whatever shit you feel like saying to them.

3. You Do Not Get To Make Up What Words Mean.

73% of rapes are perpetuated by a rapist who is a "non-stranger" to the victim. That does not mean that the rapist was therefore automatically the father, stepfather, spouse, or boyfriend of the victim.

Yes, fathers-stepfathers-spouses-boyfriends are sometimes rapists who commit rape. (How good of you to notice something that many of us have actually had terrible, heart-breaking experience in.) But you, internet troll, do not get to decide that Not-A-Stranger automatically means something much more than merely Not-A-Stranger just because you are itching to school the silly wimmins about how living in fear of strangers is SO SILLY and that they should go back to living in fear of their fathers-stepfathers-spouses-boyfriends.

Not-A-Stranger means not a stranger. A person can go from Stranger to Not-A-Stranger very quickly. The stranger whom I see every day in the line at Starbucks and nods at me on my way out the door? No longer a stranger. The stranger who chatted at me on the bus that one time and who told me his name and occupation and favorite sports team? No longer a stranger. The stranger who went out with me on a blind date because we knew friends-of-friends-of-friends? No longer a stranger.

If I recognize a person in passing, if I know their name, if I willingly spend a few hours in their company, then that person is known to me. If that person then rapes me, they are going to be classified as Not-A-Stranger. Not because we shared an intimate connection of family or friendship, but because that person victimized me after gaining some small measure of trust as opposed to, you know, leaping out of the bushes at night and grabbing the first female they saw on the street.

For you to try to conflate your personal, colloquial meaning of "stranger" (Stranger: One who is not an intimate friend or relative) with the statistical, scientific meaning of "stranger" used in rape statistics (Stranger: One who is not known to the victim by sight, or by name, or by association) is blatant equivocation in service to your trolly point and you should cut that shit out. 

4. You Do Not Get To Ignore That Statistics Only Tell Us WHAT And Never Tell Us WHY

Statistics give us a picture of reality. Statistics do not tell us why that reality exists. You, Trolly McTrollperson, do not get to wave your hands and mutter incoherently and announce that you have divined the Cause And Effect that makes the statistics are what they are. Because you are not psychic, and have already demonstrated that very thoroughly to your audience.

When you helpfully inform us wimmins that we are totes more likely to be raped by people known to us than by strangers, and then imply or outright state that THEREFORE we should stop being so scared of strangers because they're not the rapists, then you are demonstrating dangerous and deliberate stupidness.

Why, pray tell, do you think women are more frequently assaulted by non-strangers than by strangers? I can only assume from your argument that you think that rapists prefer to assault their close family and friends rather than strangers, and perhaps some of them do. But isn't it just as likely -- isn't it, in fact, more likely -- that some rapists have to resort to assaulting close family and friends because of the deliberate barriers women put up to protect themselves from strangers-may-also-be-rapists?

If you are a person who interacts with other people, you have circles of interaction and trust. Almost everyone does, because almost no one completely and totally trusts everyone they meet, without reservation or healthy discrimination. The people in your lives -- from your parents to your spouse to your friends to the people sharing the bus with you -- all can be categorized into concentric trust circles that radiate out from the center:

Everyone you know can be categorized in one of these circles.

The circle closest to you is the circle reserved for the people you trust the most. These are the people who live in your home, who may be awake when you are asleep, who you literally trust with your life. They may be your parents or your spouse, but they are the people with whom you are most vulnerable and who you trust the most. The next ring out represents less trust -- people that you give a house key to, perhaps, but who don't live in your space and can't easily enter when the safety chain is on. The next ring out represents less trust still, and contains people you see in intimate settings and private gatherings, but who aren't given a free pass to come and go in your home. And so on, culminating in the people you barely know and extend only the slightest social trust to, because you only know them from the local coffee house or the daily commute on the subway. The white space beyond the final circle represents all the strangers in the world who truly are "strangers" in the strictest sense: people you don't know, people you don't recognize, people who could leap out and haul you into the bushes, were they so inclined.

We don't know why 73% of rapes are committed by people who are already in the social circles of their victim, rather than the white space beyond. We don't know that because statistics don't tell us why and we don't get to pretend to know. But my guess would be that in general it's easier to rape someone if you're in one of their social circles.

The further you are in the social circles of trust, the easier it is to rape a woman -- and the easier it is to get away with it. If a man leaps out of the bushes on my way home from work tonight and rapes me, you can bet your ass I will be calling the police, making a report, and doing everything within my power to put the bastard in prison. There's a decently good chance I will be believed, because that rape will fit the dominant social narrative of what a rape 'should' look like. Any physical evidence left behind on my person will be used in court to prosecute the stranger who raped me. On the other hand, if my husband decides tonight that he's going to rape me, the odds of my successfully prosecuting that rape are incredibly low. Physical evidence will be largely disregarded, the entire case will boil down to my word against his, friends and old lovers (both his and mine) will be dredged up to support his character and undermine mine. And all that's assuming I even decide to file a complaint in face of the tremendous social and psychological pressure to do otherwise. And all these considerations morph and change over each of the social trust circles, with one constant over time: the more a woman trusts someone, the easier it is for him to rape her.

The fact that it's harder for someone in the white space to rape-and-get-away-with-raping a woman and that this level of difficulty may well be part of the reason why stranger-rapes do not comprise the majority of rapes, isn't then a good reason to argue on behalf of making it easier for them to do so by pressuring women to trust strangers more than they already do. By taking that 27% statistic and divorcing it from Reasons and Meanings and Becauses and then arguing that women should alter their behavior and attitudes towards strangers because, hey, clearly rapists don't want to rape strangers because that's the only POSSIBLE barrier that could exist to explain the statistics as they stand, YOU ARE BEING A COMPLETE ASSHAT.

You, Trolly McTrollperson, live in a fantasy world where you don't -- for whatever reason -- take rape seriously. You think it's appropriate to waltz into a thread about rape and rape victims and lecture everyone that it's not the STRANGERS who rape women, it's the NON-STRANGERS who rape women and therefore who the fuck are we to be wary of strangers. You pretend that every non-stranger in our life didn't start out as a stranger once, and that we don't have to make choices every minute of every day to decide whether or not to allow strangers and former-strangers just a little bit further into our trust circles. You see no issue with deciding that because only 27% of rapes are perpetuated by strangers, that must be because rapists don't like to rape strangers, and not because, say, all the millions of tiny things women do to protect themselves against strangers might have some ripple effect on those numbers. And you think it's you place, your job, your right to tell women how and when and where and against whom to protect themselves because YOU HAVE READ A STATISTIC.

You think it's appropriate to shame women for the ways and means in which they protect themselves. You think it's appropriate to minimize their concerns, to invisible those who have been raped by strangers, to condescendingly tell them that they are foolishly living their lives in fear because they've bought into a social narrative that -- let's face it -- is never going to be a threat to you. Because there's not a one in four chance that you will be raped, and there's not a one in four chance that your rapist will be a stranger. In your mind, you are safe and protected in your warm security blanket, and you know what? That's great for you.

But stop fucking lecturing the rest of us how to live our lives. Condescension and lectures and patronizing and second-guessing are all part of the problem, and never the solution. If you really want to help -- and I highly doubt that you do -- you will sit down, shut up, and listen to why women are afraid. You will stop assuming that we're infantile, stupid, misled sheep and you will extend to us the respect that maybe, just maybe, we might know precisely why and what we are afraid of. You might hear our actual experiences, and those that have been shared with us by our friends, and you might learn a little bit more of the world than you ever would have from a single-sentence statistic. And you might grow as a person and stop being a fucking troll. Maybe.

5. You Do Not Get To Impose Your Own Threat Levels On Others


We each make choices and decisions and actions, every day of our lives. Those choices and decisions and actions are informed by our personalities, our outlooks, our histories, and the shared histories of the people in our lives. We each have to set our own personal threat level because we are the ones whose lives that threat level most closely impacts. We are the ones who lose out X when we choose not to do Y, and we are the ones who have to decide whether Z is worth the risks that we, personally, perceive that it carries.

You don't get to make those choices for anyone but you. Each of us has to decide what we will and won't worry about, what we can and can't tolerate, what we do and don't think we can handle. If I choose to go walking at night, but won't attend movie theaters alone, that's my choice, a choice that is informed by a million inputs that you have no access to, and a choice that affects my life, and not yours. You don't get to publicly judge and condemn that choice, to tell me that I am or am not scared enough or too much or just the right amount. You aren't Goldilocks, and my personal threat levels aren't yours to measure and cast judgment on.

Women already have enough bad stuff in their lives. More judgmental asshattery isn't something that we need more of.