Sexual violence. It's not usually the sort of thing that makes the lead of the nightly network news shows. But for those of us who cast our news gathering nets just a bit wider it's been on the radar quite a bit lately. There's been talk of the culture of sexual violence in the military against female soldiers, and of increasing incidents of rape on college campuses to name just two of the most recent.
Such news, is to any compassionate person, always disturbing. And the natural and understandable impulse when faced with such news is to place most, if not all of our focus on the very obvious and visible victims of sexual violence. To find ways to keep them "safe". But all too often we do not take the time to step back and consider the larger systemic problems that need addressed if we are ever to have any real hope of creating a meaningful and lasting diminishment in the incidents of sexual violence.
While there are a great many factors that go into creating a person who engages in sexual violence against another, I believe there is one factor that is primary, and in fact facilitates any others.
To be honest I believe that a certain amount of objectification in the course of our interactions with others is normal. Some of it comes about because our contact with another person is fleeting and distant. For example you are walking down a busy sidewalk and a jogger passes you. As he is running past and the back of him enters into your view, you may notice his legs, or his butt, (if you're into guys) but you probably aren't wondering what his stance on free trade versus fair trade is. This is normal, and not to my mind unhealthy.
It is when one is unable to move past such thinking when dealing with someone in a more direct manner, that there is a possibility that one may have problems that require professional help to deal with. This is even more true when one cannot view people one interacts with regularly as people, and not merely as objects placed in one's path to be utilized in one fashion or another.
To consider that a person could objectify another to the degree needed to be able to assault them sexually is horrifying indeed.
But for the perpetrator of such a crime, the person they've assaulted is not the only victim, even though they may are the most obvious, their victimization the easiest to understand and accept.
Rather the perpetrator themselves is their own earliest victim, of a kind of self-inflicted assault.
Much of this I believe is societal in nature.
While it is certainly true that not all perpetrators of sexual violence are men, and not all victims are women, the greater numbers of each group are indeed divided along those gender lines.
And the culture that surrounds and overwhelms men is a culture that teaches self objectification.
Almost from birth men are taught to view themselves almost the way one would view a machine. It is reinforced by sports culture, and military culture. Sub cultures which celebrate a kind of resiliency that goes beyond the heroic into the pathological. Slogans range from, "No pain, no gain" to "Pain is just weakness leaving the body". Almost all aspects of male culture encourages, nay demands, that a "real" man ignore any thing that may stop them from taking, not getting, not earning, but taking what they want.
Then to make matters even worse is the pathological attitude that is indoctrinated in men towards sex. If women are socialized to not seek sex for its own sake, then the socialization of men is a dark twisted mirror of that message. Men are encouraged by popular culture, by the media, and by their own peers to do exactly what women are "forbidden" from doing. They are pushed to view every woman they see as a potential conquest. And to consider their masculinity in terms of how many women they've fucked.
Even worse still is that the whole of our society is almost incapable of dealing with nuance and complexity when it comes to talking about much of anything, and this is true tenfold where sex is concerned.
Sexual impulses are a conflicting swamp of desires and drives. The violent and aggressive, co-existing with the tender and compassionate. But all too often even the most forward thinking of people fail to find the will to grapple with this complexity, so they fall back on the oldest of stereotypes.
The result is that even the best men are left in an untenable situation. Some simply go along with the unbridled current of male culture. They buy into the myths of what a "real man" is supposed to be, and any impulses they might have that run contrary to those myths are buried.
Then there are those who attempt to figure things out for themselves, try to find their own way of being a man in the world today.
While there is more support for this now than there was thirty some years ago, it is still not an easy road. Far too often one is treated as if one is somehow defective for not viewing things as every other male does. Ironically enough this thinking is often just as prevalent in females as in other males. The stereotype of the woman who has one disastrous relationship after another with men who are dismissive of her as a person, and even abusive, all the while leaning on her "nice guy" friend for support, never considering that perhaps that is the type of man she should be with, is not completely without basis in fact.
The simple truth is that both males and females are so deeply indoctrinated as to what a "man" is supposed to be, that neither party is really engaging in the kind of questioning of gender assumptions that needs to take place before any kind of real change can start to happen.
There are bright spots, many more now than even a couple of decades ago. Men and women in greater and greater numbers are beginning to realize that until everyone, male and female are free to be their truest selves without being bound by arbitrary restrictions, then no one is free.
It is my hope that part of this awakening will include a desire to help heal all the victims of sexual violence, both the obvious ones, and the hidden ones.
Keep The Faith My Brothers And Sisters!