How To Look At Hot Girls: Wrecking Rape Culture, Reforming Creeps, and Redeeming Masculinity
By David Metcalfe
June 5, 2018
We would often listen to the radio at the recycling plant in Kingston, Ontario. One afternoon, the host mentioned that Khloe Kardashian was expecting a baby soon. This prompted one of my co-workers to provide his thoughts on the topic, saying,
“I would fuck all of the Kardashians, starting with Kourtney.”
Heads nodded in agreement, and affirmation came from the older man beside me, who said, “Yeah, Kourtney’s the hottest one, but the Mom’s not bad too.”
One Saturday afternoon, I was standing in front of a Safeway in Edmonton, Alberta with a couple of friends, and a young lady was passing us on her way to purchase groceries. My friend looked at her and said,
“I would fuck her to within an inch of her life.”
My other friend, who had, perhaps, a sliver of virtue, said, “Hey man, she can probably hear you.” To which he smiled and said, “I don’t give a fuck.”
One summer, when I was 15 years old, our soccer practice was to consist of a scrimmage against the girls team one age group above us (17-18 year old’s). During the warm up, one of my teammates joked, “Let’s play shirts and skins”. Our coach said, “Dibs being shirts!”. All the guys laughed.
Throughout the game, the comments on the bench went something like this, “holy shit, look at number 8; so fucking hot.” The primary goal of the game, for many of the guys, was to touch the girls in inappropriate ways “unintentionally”. One guy slapped the butt of a girl as he ran past her. Another guy put his hand on a girl’s chest to “protect the ball” from her. And if you got away with it, you had bragging rights to share after the game.
Understanding “Rape Culture”
I’m sure we all have stories like this. Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen more. But all of this is just “harmless fun”, right?
Well, my goal of this article is to prove that these things are not harmless fun, but actually contribute to a very harmful and serious thing known as “rape culture”. Rape culture can be characterized by three main things:
- A reduction of human beings to mere body parts for the purpose of sexual gratification
- Disregarding the need for consent in sexual activity
- Receiving social affirmation for sexual behaviors deemed unacceptable by the predominant culture
Let’s briefly consider how the first example I used fits into rape culture:
When the man states that he wants to have sex with all of the Kardashians, it is especially disturbing that he does this after the announcement on the radio was about her having a baby. If it was about a nude photo or something, the work of reducing someone to their body parts would have already been accomplished by the radio host. However, in this case, he takes a very normal, non-sexual situation and makes it into something sexual. And when he says “I would fuck”, is he suggesting that it is contingent upon her consent, or merely her presence? If Kourtney Kardashian was passed out on the ground, do we really believe that this man would not violate her based on a lacking ability to consent?
The predominant social group in Canada, of course, would not approve of his comments. A teacher at a school, a doctor at a hospital, a lawyer in court, etc. could obviously never say something like this. But a worker at a recycling plant not only gets away with it, but even gets affirmed for doing so.
Hopefully you can also see how the other two stories fulfill these criteria (as well as ones you’ve experienced and heard about).
Not That Bad
Roxane Gay isn’t one to mince words. Her recent best-selling book, “Not That Bad”, opens like this:
“When I was twelve years old, I was gang-raped in the woods behind my neighborhood by a group of boys with the dangerous intentions of bad men. It was a terrible, life-changing experience. Before that, I had been naïve, sheltered. I believed people were inherently good and that the meek should inherit. I was faithful and believed in God. And then I didn’t. I was broken. I was changed. I will never know who I would have been had I not become the girl in the woods.
As I got older, I met countless women who had endured all manner of violence, harassment, sexual assault, and rape. I heard their painful stories and started to think, What I went through was bad, but it wasn’t that bad. Most of my scars have faded. I have learned to live with my trauma. Those boys killed the girl I was, but they didn’t kill all of me. They didn’t hold a gun to my head or a blade to my throat and threaten my life. I survived. I taught myself to be grateful I survived even if survival didn’t look like much.
It was comforting, perhaps, to tell myself that what I went through “wasn’t that bad”. Allowing myself to believe that being gang-raped wasn’t “that bad” allowed me to break down my trauma into something more manageable, into something I could carry with me instead of allowing the magnitude to destroy me.
But, in the long run, diminishing my experience hurt me far more than it helped. I created an unrealistic measure for what was acceptable in how I was treated in relationships, in friendships, in random encounters with strangers. That is to say that if I even had a bar for how I deserved to be treated that bar was so low it was buried far belowground. If being gang-raped wasn’t that bad, then it wasn’t all that bad being shoved or having my arm grabbed so hard it left five bruises in the form of fingerprints or being catcalled for having large breasts or having a hand shoved down my pants or being told I should be grateful for romantic attention because I wasn’t good enough and on and on. The list of ways I allowed myself to be treated badly grew into something I could no longer carry, not at all.
Buying into this notion of not that bad made me incredibly hard on myself for not “getting over it” fast enough as the years passed and I was still carrying so much hurt, so many memories. Buying into this notion made me numb to bad experiences that weren’t as bad as the worst stories I heard. For years, I fostered wildly unrealistic expectations of the kinds of experiences worthy of suffering until very little was worthy of suffering. The surfaces of my empathy became calloused.
I don’t know when this changed, when I began realizing that all the encounters people have with sexual violence are, indeed, that bad. I didn’t have a grand epiphany. I finally reconciled my own past enough to realize that what I had endured was that bad, that what anyone has suffered is that bad. I finally met enough people, mostly women, who also believed that the terrible things they endured weren’t that bad when clearly those experiences indeed were that bad. I saw what calloused empathy looked like in people who had every right to wear their wounds openly and hated the sight of it.”
Roxane’s raw, unfiltered authenticity is representative of the silenced voices of millions of women throughout history and in our society today. And that’s exactly what “Not That Bad” accomplishes; it’s a collection of essays from women who have experienced rape culture.
It tells the story of a brilliant young law student who meets the man of her dreams. After moving in with him, he assumes that consenting to a relationship is equivalent to consenting to sex whenever he feels like it. He is sexually aggressive to her on a regular basis, even when she doesn’t want it. However, she stays with him because she loves him, and accepts her fate as an object of love, and often unwanted lust.
It tells the story of a young women being catcalled by a man on the street. He yells out to her, “You’re so beautiful!”. She informs him that it’s unwanted, and she feels scared when random men say things like that to her. He walks toward her faster, with increasingly suggestive remarks.
Story after story, it’s the same thing.
When I look up from the book, I realize that people are looking at me a little funny. I suppose it’s not every day that a 23-year-old man is crying in a bookstore. But my question is: why isn’t everyone else crying?
And that’s when I realize that Roxane Gay’s book sits on the shelf as people pass by indifferently. “Oh, some feminist book” or “Eww, rape culture, that’s gross”. They head to the business section so they can learn how to be rich. They head to the religion section so they can learn how God will make their life better. They head to the fiction section to escape the world and immerse themselves in fantasy.
Understanding rape culture will not improve your bank account, create divine blessings, or entertain you with imaginative tales.
Rape culture is gross, disturbing, depressing, and terribly challenging. Reading a book like “Not That Bad” will make your stomach churn, your eyes water, and your fist clench in anger. But whether you read it or not, these stories are still true. It’s not the words on the page creating these terrible feelings; it’s simply discovering the difficult reality of the world we live in.
The Reality of the Rape Epidemic
A group of researchers from the University of South Carolina did a massive study on rape prevalence in 2007. The results were sobering. 20 million women in America have been raped, out of a total 112 million women. That’s 18%. About 80% are forcible rape, 10% drug-facilitated rape, and 10% incapacitated rape. The Center for Disease Control estimates that around 63% of American women have been victim to some type of sexual violence, including things like groping, sexting without permission, prostitution, harassment, exposure, and others (CDC, 2010).
Of rape occurrences, just 16% were reported to police. The primary reasons for not reporting the rape included: not wanting others to know, fear of retaliation, perception of insufficient evidence, uncertainty about how to report, and uncertainty about whether a crime was committed.
For female college students who are victims of rape, 34% experience PTSD, 33% experience depression, and 40% turn to alcohol and drug abuse (Kilpatrick et al, 2007). Although not all are clinically diagnosed with a mental disorder afterwards, 100% are affected negatively, and this takes a variety of forms. Most notably, these include denial, learned helplessness, genophobia (fear of having sex), anger, self-blame, anxiety, shame, nightmares, fear, depression, flashbacks, guilt, rationalization, mood swings, numbness, promiscuity, loneliness, social anxiety, and difficulty trusting others (Fanflik, 2007).
The idea of some creepy guy in a back alley raping a woman late at night certainly does happen, but a variety of studies have shown that to be fairly rare. The most common, as pointed out in Robin Warshaw’s pivotal 1988 book “I Never Called It Rape”, is from people the victim knows personally. From a collection of academic studies and personal interviews, Robin found that approximately 84% of victims knew their attackers, and about 57% of rapes occurred on dates (Warshaw, 1988).
A very strong aspect of rape culture is the idea that one is “entitled” to sex based on certain things. Many men think that if a woman agrees to go on a date with them, and the date goes well, that he “deserves” sex. And the fact is, women often oblige. However, sometimes a date goes very well, but the woman doesn’t want to have sex after. Some men will respect that, and hope for sex another time, but others aren’t so patient. Since they “gave her a good time” by taking her to dinner, they believe she needs to return the favor.
And what are we supposed to expect in a culture that holds romantic relationships as the supreme virtue, and sex as the measure of it? In a culture where men are told they are “nothing” without a girlfriend, and their very identity is based on the hotness of the girls they have sex with? In a culture that continually jokes about rape and praises violence towards women as being “masculine”? In a culture that watches billions of videos featuring women being dominated and humiliated for sexual gratification? In a culture where a man can treat women like garbage his whole life and get elected President? (Keith, 2011).
I think it’s time to expect more. More from men. More from our culture. More from ourselves as conscious human beings capable of empathy and appealing to a better nature. We create our culture, and each day we have the power to recreate it.
Here are some ideas I have for how to do that.
Learning To Be a Man
We certainly don’t want to create a narrow, restrictive view of masculinity where the slightest aberration warrants severe social punishment. We, of course, want to allow people their liberty to pursue happiness as they see fit. Any social restrictions imposed are only to allow for the greatest freedom possible for everyone. I suppose we can take inspiration from Nelson Mandela,
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Masculinity has become toxic. The infiltration of rape culture has severely limited the freedom of women, obviously, but also the freedom of men. They feel pressured to live up to these ideas of toughness, aggression, and sexual expression. Telling a group of guys on a sports team or at a local bar that you’re a virgin is worse than telling them you’re a rapist. Men are confined by this toxic ideology, and we need to cast off these chains. But in order to do that, men will need to learn a few things.
Learn How To Speak: I’ve never heard the word “fuck” be used in an edifying way. It literally means “to have sex”, but in a grotesque way. No one “fucks” their wife. You “make love” to your wife. You “fuck” a prostitute or a random drunk girl. I wonder, do we really need to use this word so incredibly often? We retired “nigger” because it was clearly insulting towards the suffering of black people. Is it time to retire “fuck” to respect sex in a better way? Are there enough victims of sexual violence to justify more respect in our word choice around things pertaining to sexuality?
We need to stop making a joke of rape. We need to learn the phrase, “Hey, that’s not funny, man”. And yeah, saying that in the locker room as a 10th grade guy might not make you popular with the guys. But holding true to your convictions of virtue is ultimately the most highly respected thing one can do. And you definitely are not the only one who thinks that way. Most of those guys are just laughing along with whatever they think they are supposed to laugh at in order to be considered cool. Is it possible that enough young men showing courage in their convictions to respect women will eventually create solidarity for those who don’t want to adhere to toxic masculinity any longer?
Men need to speak to, and about, women in ways that are consistent with their value as human beings. Catcalling is sexual harassment, and should be considered as such. Comments about a woman’s body are never appropriate in the workplace. Flirting can, and will, obviously occur, but when it’s clearly unwanted, it needs to stop. When it comes to harassment, perseverance is not a virtue.
Perhaps, when talking about women, we can mention that we find them attractive. We can even say that we want to have sex with them. But perhaps we could move on from that. Perhaps we could recognize that sex is intimate and better kept that way. Perhaps we could recognize that, that woman is also an academic, a musician, a movie buff, an athlete, etc. Perhaps, when we do talk about a woman’s body, we can mention her smile, her eyes, her hair, I don’t know, something other than her boobs and ass…?
Learn How To Listen: This is pretty simple, and it’s rather sad that it has to be mentioned. When a girl says “No”, that means “No”. It’s not ten “Nos” equals one “No”. “No” does not mean keep trying until you get a “Yes”. Absence of an answer does not mean “Yes”. The only thing that means “Yes” is “Yes”.
Men need to actually listen to the difficulties and struggles that women go through. They need to stop complaining about losing the patriarchy and acknowledge the inherent struggles our society places on people, simply for being female.
Learn How To Love: One of the greatest lines in the history of film, in my view, comes from Forrest Gump’s offer to marry Jenny. He says, “I’m not a smart man, Jenny, but I do know what love is.”
But how could such an air-head understand something so complicated as love? Well, it’s evidenced throughout the entire film in the way he lived his life. When Jenny was abused by her father, Forrest hid and prayed with her. When men were intent on having their way with Jenny, or physically hurting her, Forrest punched them so hard their libido was lost to their throbbing face. When Jenny had an STD, no money, and had continually abandoned him, he was always there for her without fail. Forrest knows what love is.
And that’s what love ought to be: the giving of yourself to another for their benefit. When we “make love”, we ought to do the same. Sex should be an act of love, not selfish gratification. The use of it should bring people together in a deeper relationship where each is serving the other, and putting their needs before their own. When both people are doing that, it makes for better, more fulfilling sex that satisfies a variety of needs beyond just physical, including: acceptance, solidarity, intimacy, and a greater sense of connectedness.
Men and women both have unique challenges, but these challenges have been greatly exaggerated by rape culture. It comes from a toxic form of masculinity where sex by whatever means necessary is considered praiseworthy, and discourse among men is centered around the objectification of women for their own sexual gratification.
Women have suffered the worst implications of this. Rape prevalence in America is unacceptable. Sexual assault and harassment are things that women have to deal with on a far too regular basis. The social and psychological effects are devastating to millions of people.
But is there any hope for us to make things better?
Our culture is getting the hint. The “MeToo” movement has made huge waves through social media and public discourse. Educators are beginning to teach the specifics of what consent actually means. Workplaces are implementing, and following through on, anti-harassment policies. Books like “Not That Bad” are getting on the best-seller list. Our culture is talking, and we’re moving somewhere. The sentiment is a good one, but it needs guidance.
In the wake of deconstructing toxic masculinity, are men simply to stop playing sports and thinking girls are hot? Are they to stop lifting weights and start going to Zumba classes in yoga pants?
Well, perhaps if that’s what they want to do, but I think men can express themselves, and their additional levels of testosterone, in ways that don’t ruin the lives of women and turn themselves into violent, sexually aggressive animals, without losing their masculinity altogether. How that plays out practically remains to be seen, but the pulse of equality, respect, and consent is beating in the hearts of many young Americans who are not content with the culture they live in.
Men can learn to speak, listen, and love in a new way that upholds the value of themselves and the women they desire. So, how are we to look at hot girls? Simply as valuable people who deserve real love.
Center for Disease Control. (2010). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey. Retrieved from http://www.pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/women
Fanflik, P. (2007). Victim responses to sexual assault: Counterintuitive or simply adaptive? Retrieved from http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/pub_victim_responses_sexual_assault.pdf
Gay, R. (2018). Not That Bad.
Keith, T. (2011). The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men.
Kilpatrick, D., Resnick, H., Ruggiero, K., Conoscenti, L., McCauley, J. (2007). Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study. Medical University of South Carolina. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/219181.pdf
Warshaw, R. (1988). I Never Called It Rape. New York: Harper Perennial.