Friday, February 26, 2021

Are all men rapists?

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It has been nearly twenty-two years that the scribe has been empowering girls and women through self-defense training. The journey started as a school teacher at Dawning English Boarding School in Babiyachaur, Myagdi. Since then, I have been doing it on an individual level without having any support from NGOs, INGOs and even from the government.

Whether anyone regards my work or not but I am quite happy to express that I have trained staffs at National Women Commission, different NGOs and INGOs, police officers, nurses as well as general public in schools, colleges and different offices. I have been telling girls and women how to present themselves when going out of home, how to notice the surrounding environment, how to defend verbally when someone abuses or misbehaves, how to make an escape plan, how to avoid drinking from an open container and so on. I also have taught them some easy fight techniques as well as legal provisions in Nepal against molestations and rape. But I never told men to avoid drugs, not to rape and sexually harass girls and women. All those years, I did not realize that it would be more effective to teach boys and men not to rape.

Not only me but most of the parents educate their children not to lie, steal, fight, or bully others but I did not see any parents teaching their kids not to rape. It will be good if parents teach their boys and girls about sexuality, about power and control, about effects of rape, about pornography, about having consent before indulging in sex, what inappropriate touching is all about. They also need to learn that a woman’s life will be forever altered by being raped.

Our society need a paradigm shift in regards to sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more ladylike and not to be promiscuous, not to drink alcohol or not to wear a short skirt. I think there is something wrong in our teaching methodology. Why burka wearing women, teetotalers and even children are being raped?

The messages that men get about masculinity from a young age are too often about violence and about exerting power and control.

We need to redefine what masculinity means. The messages that men get about masculinity from a young age are too often about violence and about exerting power and control. It is all about social conditioning. We need to challenge the definition of masculinity as inherently violent.

Before indulging in sexual intercourse, we must educate our children about the meaning of consensual sex and about the legal provision if anyone goes against it. Consent means a person can freely choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity and can stop the activity at any time during sexual contact. In addition to the basic definition, it is illegal to have sex with a minor, so one should know the age of consent in Nepal. There is a need to educate the person, no matter how old they are, that no one can give consent if they are intoxicated, asleep or mentally impaired. Stop wrongly estimating that if a woman says “No” a man is to proceed as if she said “Yes”. The word “No” should be honored, regardless of activities which preceded it. “No” means really "No''.  "Yes" means "yes". When determining if someone wants to have sex with you, look for a "Yes", not the absence of a "No".

Sexual contact without consent with someone is rape whether you intended to rape or not.  A woman who is drunk, unconscious or sleeping cannot give legal consent. It also interferes with clear communication, and thus you may not accurately read non-verbal communication or hear a person's "No" clearly when you are drunk. No one should ever pressure or talk someone into sex. It is ideal to only have sex with someone who really wants to have sex with you, and vice versa. No one is entitled to sex and nobody earn sex for being a nice guy or spending money on a date. Sex is a mutual decision that both parties make.

In a patriarchal society, we are using words which are often used to put women down, where calling a girl or woman as with choice words and sometime even loving words like “Meri Putali” are common. Such language sends a message that females are less than fully human. When we see women as inferior, it becomes easier to treat them with less respect, disregard their rights, and ignore their well-being. If your son sees you catcalling women or talking to your wife as if you owned her, what do you think that teaches him? When you say things like “I am the man and you have to listen to me” you’re teaching your children that it is fine to ignore the woman’s feelings and consents. So, parents must mind their language before uttering it in front of their children and in public places. There should be strict punishment if someone uses the swear words and misbehaves with girls and women. It will be best if we could teach our young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects for male pleasure.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we are uttering sexist jokes about women and girls. We degrade and over sexualize women and girls with such jokes which ultimately contribute to sexual violence. We must be consistent in getting society to understand how sexist jokes are connected to sexual violence.  Unwanted comments on female body or catcalls on the street are not funny. Such comments may make a person feel threatened and have been shown to lead to anxiety and body consciousness.

The recent rape and murder case from Kanchanpur, Bajhang and Baitadi districts brought huge attention to the movement to end sexual assault.

The recent rape and murder case from Kanchanpur, Bajhang and Baitadi districts brought huge attention to the movement to end sexual assault. Thousands of activists, feminists, civil society members, students, parents and journalists have joined the protest. But some of us at home may be wondering what we can do to join this movement to end sexual assault. I think it is quite easy actually, do not rape and teach your sons not to rape.

There are organizations like "Men Engaged", “Men Can Stop Rape” and Men Stopping Violence that are already doing the work to train men from a young age to understand and challenge the rape culture. If such a campaign is working successfully abroad then I think it is possible in Nepal as well. We must not forget that men are the main perpetrators of rape. Most women are raped by men.

When feminists state 'teach men not to rape' they don't literally mean all men. There is a misunderstanding about feminists that they think all men are rapists. Criminal minds are rapists. It is difficult to identify a real rapist unless he commits the rape. In such a scenario it is important to educate all boys and men not to rape. Rapists are among us who could be someone’s husbands, boyfriends, acquaintances, relatives, and friends. They rape because they are not taught to see women as full autonomous human beings.

Society doesn’t fully understand that rape is not about sex.  It’s actually about power and control as a result of hyper masculinity.  Some rapists are sociopaths with absolutely no regard for other human beings.

Thus, no education will ultimately deter such individuals from harassing or raping another person. However, some education will cause them to think before they act in a destructive manner, before they violate someone. The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish if we do not take initiation. Time has come to have another level of campaigns that could teach boys from a young age how to respect women, and ultimately themselves, and to never ever be rapists.

In addition, we should implore our men and boys to call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them. We can help reduce abuse and rape by speaking up. Let us take an initiation to stop sexual assault at individual level. By using our voice we can help spread the message that rape is unconscionable.

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Published on 16 February 2021

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