I recently asked a male relative of mine if he would send his nephews to a rape defense class. This was part of a larger discussion on rape culture, misogyny, and the general state of affairs in our society that have been brought into sharp focus due to the recent events in California. My relative replied to my question by stating that he would hope his nephews “would respect women.”
Now ignoring the fact that he dodged my very direct question almost completely, what he said was still somewhat interesting to me. In the next few days, I saw similar comments from other men I knew along the same lines. More often than not, I see them offered up as part of a thinly veiled “Not All Men” defense. “I was raised to respect women,” the argument goes, “so clearly I am not part of this ‘rape culture’ you speak of.”
This defense is not only irrelevant and distracting, it’s also inherently flawed…and it proves exactly what it is trying to deny.
To say that you respect someone is to say that you hold them in high esteem, generally due to their status or position. I have a problem in general with people who make blanket statements about respecting groups of people, because it elevates individuals based not on what they actually do, but on a widely held assumption of their organizational group as a whole. We are told that we should “respect our elders,” which essentially means that we should defer to someone based on no single facet of their existence other than the fact that they happened to be born before we were. It doesn’t matter what that person has achieved in their life, what they did for a living, what they say or what they do…We should honor them because they have managed not to die.
Seems kind of flimsy, doesn’t it?
We, as men, are told the same thing about women. We should respect them. Not because of what they do, or what they say. Not because of who they are as a person. Not because of their accomplishments or their ethics or anything about them other than the fact that they happened to be born with different plumbing than us. Our fellow men, though? They have to EARN our respect.
Do you begin to see the problem with this?
It implies that a woman cannot, and should not, be granted status based upon her actions. It implies that the accomplishments of women will always be lesser than those of men because men have to work for their respect, but women just have respect given to them carte blanche.
For that matter, what does “respect” even mean in relation to rape culture? Are you saying that, as a man, in order for you not to rape someone you have to respect them? If that is the case, if a woman was somehow deemed not to be worthy of your respect, would it be ok to do so?
And then there is the “nice guy” factor in all of this.
See, there’s a lot of men I have encountered in my life who think they deserve to be rewarded because they are a “gentleman.” They talk about respecting women, or chivalry, or whatever it is that you want to call it, but there’s an underlying current that says they do these things because they believe that behaving in this manner will help them find a partner. That they somehow should be elevated above the rest of their fellow men because they choose NOT to behave in a manner more in line with their primitive man-needs. I’ve also noticed that their generalized “I respect women” tends to fall apart when the women in question don’t conform to the proper standards. The farther that women tend to stray from “ladylike” behavior the less likely it is that these “gentlemen” actually show anything remotely related to respect to them. Sure, they treat their Mother well…but it’s ok to make lewd comments about Kim Kardashian because she’s just so TRASHY.
My point in all of this is that it is not enough for a man to say he “respects women” to remove himself from any culpability he has in perpetuating rape culture. There are things we as men do that contribute to the problem, even if we find the act of rape and the damage it causes to be abhorrent. Admitting that you have behaviors that need to at the very least be evaluated does not mean you’re admitting to being a rapist, and by fighting so hard to defend your innocence from crimes you aren’t being accused of committing you’re making it more difficult to actually have the discussions that need to happen.