“Dumb Questions”

There is no such thing as a “dumb question.” However, there is often a huge disconnect between those who do and don’t identify as feminists. Often those who don’t identify as feminists don’t know much about certain issues, or don’t understand a certain perspective, but don’t feel comfortable asking, for fear of being called a bigot or misogynist.

So this section is for the questions you are afraid to ask the feminists in your life. Don’t worry, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume integrity and sincere curiosity in your questions. This is a safe space! Email us at feministsatlarge@gmail.com, or comment anonymously below, to submit questions.

Victim vs. Survivor
Street Harassment
Angry Feminists
Men as Survivors

Question: Stranger rape happens and date rape happens and I find that as a young woman I have been trained since a young girl to fear these two things to a point where where I can go when is restricted by this fear of the what if. I’m not saying that it won’t happen, but how do you suggest women live in opposition of this fear without putting themselves at risk?

Answer: 

This is an excellent question and highlights a struggle many women (and other people) deal with on a regular basis. Ultimately there is no good answer in terms of how to balance feeling and being safe without simultaneously feeling trapped by those concerns. I think each person needs to find a way to negotiate these conflicting interests in the way that best suits them. This negotiation will look different for everyone, and could include:

1. Learning and taking basic safety precautions. For example, don’t leave any drink unattended at parties or bars, and if you do, stop drinking it.

2. If you feel so compelled, take a self-defense class. For some people, this gives them more confidence and leads to a greater feeling of security as they go about their life.

3. As much as you feel safe and comfortable doing so, live your life exactly as you want to. If you want to wear a short skirt and heels when you go out at night? Go for it. If some asshole street harasses you while you walk around your neighborhood? If you feel safe, call them out. If not, ignore it. If you find a concentration of street harassment on one particular street or area, choose whether or not you still feel comfortable walking there, or if you’d rather take another route. These decisions are yours, and you are the one who best knows what will work as the best compromise between safety, comfort, and living your life with the freedom you desire.

4. Most importantly, find ways to feel empowered. Challenge rape culture, and challenge the idea that it is normal for you to go about your daily life feeling unsafe, because that should not be normal. This can take on any number of forms. It could be joining a group like Take Back the Night or Stop Street Harassment, it could include writing about the subject on blogs like this one or Feministing, or it could be challenging the norms of rape culture in conversations with friends.

In my own life, I struggle with this question a lot. I often feel unsafe walking home at night and frequently question my ability to defend myself. This is frustrating and exhausting, but I’ve found the best way for me to handle it is to challenge rape culture in the settings where I feel safe. In doing so I feel more empowered and like I have more agency in my own life, which helps me deal with the uncertainty and fear I feel at other times. And finally:

5. Find a community of people, friends, family, whoever, that you feel comfortable talking about this with. Doing so can take pressure off of the constant struggle of negotiating between safety and freedom, and also creates a safe space for you to discuss this question further. It can also be a space to discuss specific instances when this has come up in your life, and ways you and others deal with the practicalities of your question.

We hope this helps, and if you have any other questions or further concerns please feel free to reply here or contact us via email (feministsatlarge@gmail.com). Also feel free to check out our resources page to look for other support.

Question: 

Not to be insensitive to male survivors…but how can men get raped? 

Answer: 

While very often sexual assault and sexual violence are presented as women’s issues, men (and anyone of any gender identity) can experience sexual assault. In fact, in the U.S. almost 10% of sexual assault survivors are men. Sexual assault encompasses a range of crimes, from unwanted touching to forcible penetration, any of which men can experience. Men can be assaulted by both men and women, and it is important to remember that erections are a physiological response, and their presence does not delegitimize an experience of sexual assault. If you know a man who has been sexually assaulted, it is important to listen and be supportive of him, and to empower him rather than pressure him into handling the situation in a specific way or taking what action you might think is right. If you would like resources on male sexual assault some can be found here from RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) as well as under the Resources tab of this blog.

Question: 

Regarding rape- what’s the difference between “victim” and “survivor?” One of my friends was offended recently by the use of the word “victim” in an article but it seems like an issue of mere semantics…

Answer: 

Victim is often preferred in legal settings, however those who work with people who have experienced sexual violence, prefer to use “survivor” as it is more empowering. Ultimately, it is the prerogative of the person who has experienced sexual violence. Whether one considers themselves a survivor, victim, or neither, their choice is valid.

Question:

I don’t get why ‘street harassment’ is a real problem. So someone cat-called you. Isn’t it a compliment? What’s the big deal?

Answer: 

Something like a wolf whistle or a “nice ass” comment might not seem like a big deal, but these casual remarks are symptoms of a larger attitude in society, and have a lot of negative consequences.

For starters, these sorts of comments, often coming from men and often (but certainly not always) directed at women, can make a woman feel unsafe. These comments are aggressive and establish male ownership over the space and the situation. Both of these can make a woman feel like she is unsafe and in an unprotected space over which she has no ownership. Beyond that, rape myths like the ‘Stranger Rape Myth’ have given women the idea that sexual assault most often happens while walking down the street alone, and is committed by aggressive men who are strangers. Experiences of street harassment can reinforce these fears.

On another note, street harassment establishes public ownership over a woman’s (or any other person’s) body and objectifies them, reducing them to simply an object designed for men’s sexual pleasure rather than a person. When someone wolf whistles at another person’s body or passes a judgment on it with a comment like, “Hey sexy,” they are saying that the person’s body is public property, on which they can freely pass judgment, or voice an opinion. Rather than being a person, a person who is street harassed is reduced to an object of sexual pleasure for the viewer (the harasser). It is a statement meant to disempower the person being street harassed. We already operate in a world where women are frequently told their bodies are not their own and exist solely for men (see: male gaze) and reinforcing this idea via street harassment is good for no one, and is very harmful for those who are harassed, as well as the world at large.

This is why street harassment matters, and this is why it is important to work against it.

Question:

I feel like feminists are angry all the time. Is it really worth it? Do you really want to get angry all the time?

Answer: 

The angry feminist stereotype is just that, a stereotype. In fact, the coordinators of this blog are some of the happiest people around town. However, those who identify as feminists often are frustrated or angry with the persistence of gender inequality. Anger is not inherently bad. Rather, anger is defined by what we do with it. A brief angry rant here and there is an excellent release, and reduces, rather than perpetuates, anger. Anger can be used as inspiration. It can be a call to action. It is often key to awareness. While feminists are about as diverse as the human population itself, anger is not central to feminism. Most people face frustration on the daily. Don’t mistake a feminist’s brief frustration for sustained anger. Rather, for many it is a mere reminder, it is reinforcing and motivating, an initial reaction, but not a life attitude.

13 Responses to ““Dumb Questions””

  1. Chris February 3, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    Regarding rape- what’s the difference between “victim” and “survivor?” One of my friends was offended recently by the use of the word “victim” in an article but it seems like an issue of mere semantics…

    • Feminists-At-Large February 3, 2013 at 1:31 am #

      Check the “Dumb Questions” page for your answer!

  2. Lizzie February 10, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Not to be insensitive to male survivors… but how can men get raped?

  3. We're rape survivors not social statistics, thanks April 4, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Please stop saying things like “The stranger rape myth”. I don’t understand why feminists love to downplay and sometimes outright deny the existence of stranger rape these days. I mean, I personally know three different people who were all sexually assaulted by strangers besides myself. Also, in addition to the people I know, when I lived in NYC four elderly Dominican women in my neighborhood were assaulted by the same stranger rapist.

    Why do you believe that the feelings of stranger rape survivors are less important than fighting “the stranger rape myth”?

    Is acknowledging our rape somehow hurting date rape survivors?

    Why does one group have to be silenced in favor of the other? After all, it’s pretty damn insulting to claim to be an “anti-rape feminist” while simultaneously saying basically _ “hey, stranger rape almost never happens! Anyone who brings it up likely just wants to deny the existence of date/acquaintance rape.”

    You can say, as I have heard other feminists say in response to my questions -“It’s about how the media portrays rape and about rape culture not about the victims” – but that is still very callous and still says to stranger rape survivors, “Acknowledging your rape is not as important as acknowledging date rape.” And by calling it the “stranger rape myth” you are implying that strangers don’t rape people.

    I just don’t understand this hateful feminist obsession with putting rape into an academic framework and then producing literature that puts rape into neat little categories that can then be judged on a scale of “importance” by race and class and other demographics. If you are anti-rape, then you should acknowledge the existence of ALL KINDS of rape instead of insulting people who were raped by strangers to build up people who are date raped.

    Think about it.

    • We're rape survivors not social statistics, thanks April 4, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

      Also, please don’t bother responding with the same old, same old tired line: The myth of the “stranger rapist in the bushes” makes it hard for people who were raped by people they know to get justice.

      Of all the people I know who were raped by strangers, NOT ONE “got justice” and all live with the horror everyday. Please stop assuming that if someone is raped by a stranger they get treated ANY BETTER than those who are raped by people they know.

      The total stranger that raped me claimed it was consensual to trigger a “he said, she said” case and to invalidate my rape kit. He had learned as a stranger rapist, that making it into a “date rape” case increased his chances of getting off the hook. And it worked great. But of course, who cares about that shit…stranger rape almost NEVER happens, amiright!

    • Jennifer Niddrie October 4, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      I completely agree with you! I can’t stand hearing people put so much emphasis on how often a certain type of rape might happen, or why it’s more important to address a certain type of rape. When you’re a young boy and your mother rapes you, the last thing you need is to grow up being told that you need to bear the burden for ending rape culture, and how you could never understand what it’s like to be raped. Rape happens to individuals, and it’s committed by individuals. Sometimes it might be a result of patriarchy or misogyny, but there are so many other causes that it cannot be pigeon-holed.

  4. womenwhothinktoomuch May 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Very good answers. Yes, men who are raped are in the minority, but as you said, they can be raped, right up the ….And they are often just boys when it happens. My dad was raped and sexually abused by close relatives, repeatedly, for years, starting when he was under six-years-old. I am the last one to ever defend men, but yes, you’re right, men can be raped.

  5. anonymous May 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Stranger rape happens and date rape happens and I find that as a young woman I have been trained since a young girl to fear these two things to a point where where I can go when is restricted by this fear of the what if. I’m not saying that it won’t happen, but how do you suggest women live in opposition of this fear without putting themselves at risk?

    • feministsatlarge May 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Check the “Dumb Questions” page for your answer!

    • Jennifer Niddrie October 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

      Part of female empowerment is that you have the choice to assess risks and make your own judgement on what is a safe thing to do. It’s not your fault that other people make the world a dangerous place but that doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in a situation that you believe is dangerous. The important thing is that nobody judges you or tells you that it’s your fault if something bad happens while you’re out on the town ‘taking risks’.

  6. sidewall October 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Do you have any tips on how to respectfully argue with a woman without devolving into “Mansplaining”?

  7. Robb January 15, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Hello
    Regarding women’s sexuality –
    From what I am aware of, feminists are against men sexualizing women, but what about women like Miley Cyrus and other female celebrities who hypersexualize themselves? The feminists I know simply responded ” A girl can do whatever she pleases with her body and men are demanded to respect it.” Isn’t this contradictory to your cause? Men can’t sexualize women, but women can sexualize themselves? These celebrities have an enormous influence on female youths, an influence is clear on Facebook
    How would the feminists on this cite address this issue? Do you support the actions of celebrities such as Miley Cyrus? How is a man expected to avoid treating women as sexual objects when so many women treat themselves as such?

    • Kelly May 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Robb, women can do as they want, and a man can do unto them the same if she wants.
      Likewise, a man can sexualise himself if he wants, and a woman can too , if he wants her too.

      Men and women are expected to treat each other with respecct for their (presumably) mutal wishes. Do unto others as you would expect others to do unto you… basic religious training that is often forgot.

      But as for how the feminists approach the issue, I can’t help you there

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