"TRIGGER WARNING: Includes discussion of victim-blaming ideologies, mentions of rape and sexual molestation, references to rape jokes made in complete seriousness, depressing statistics about rape, and probably more that I’m not even remembering to warn for here.
I will start this essay by saying that if your behavior resembles any of my remarks, my purpose is not to shame, guilt-trip, or blame you. Shame, guilt, and blame merely continue cycles of abuse. Instead, the purpose of this essay is to bring positive change by offering concrete courses of action and attempting to explain why I think they’re important. But this may be a tough essay for some of you, and you have to read to the end of this essay to get to the part where I offer suggestions for change. *
I’ve been involved in fandom and various creative communities online for many years now. It’s been a lifesaver for me, and has provided me with community and validation when I felt terribly lonely and was unable to validate myself. But such communities are also a breeding ground for problematic ideas and behaviors about which I feel more and more disturbed as time passes. I have been involved with adult fanfiction, erotica, and erotic art communities. And one of the trends prevalent in all these is the omnipresence of depictions of nonconsent.
I am also involved with the BDSM community in real life, and from my time there I am plenty familiar with the concept of rape fantasies and the desire to find safe, consensual ways to express them and share them with others. I believe that rape fantasies are very common, and that there’s nothing inherently wrong, bad, or shameful about having rape fantasies, no matter whether you have them from the viewpoint of the victim, the attacker, or an onlooker. I also believe that finding ways to express these feelings is natural and healthy. But HOW we do this is critical.
We live in a rape culture. What does that mean? It means that rape and nonconsent are viewed as the norm rather than the exception. If you disagree that ours is a rape culture, let me cite a few commonly-held beliefs which support rape culture and are symptoms of living in one: - wearing ‘slutty’ clothing implies consent to whatever happens to you while wearing that clothing - a sexual interaction in which consent is unclear or absent it isn’t rape unless it’s violent and causes clear physical damage - you can’t rape your partner/spouse - arousal or climax during rape indicate consent The simple fact that these ideas are common enough to spring immediately to mind (and have been used on me or my friends) show that we live in a rape culture.
Rape culture isn’t created or maintained by The Man, some theoretical entity whose existence is ineffable and distant and unable to influenced by us. Rape culture is founded upon the billions of single tiny actions made on a daily basis by people like me and you. We are all responsible for our contribution to rape culture, because WE are the ones who produce and reinforce it. I do not say this to cause shame or guilt: I say this because it means that if we have the ability to contribute to rape culture, we also have the power to create a culture in which rape is viewed as unacceptable.
Rape culture is founded upon systems of privilege and oppression. Rapists have the privilege of a society which defends and sympathizes with them rather than their victims. This means that not only are victims allowed to be violated, but the society they live in subsequently dismisses their feelings as invalid and their experiences as unreal. This propagates and reinforces rape culture. Examples: - “You were drunk, but it’s not like he RAPED you. You didn’t even say no.” - “He’s such a nice guy, I can’t believe he’d do anything like that! I think you’re just exaggerating what happened because you had bad sex.” - “All he did was fuck you without a condom. You would have said yes if he’d put on the condom like you asked, so it’s hardly rape.” - “It was only a blowjob, it’s not like he raped you. All he did was push your head down when you told him not to.” - “You can’t be raped by your boyfriend, he loves you!” - "Men always want sex, so you must have wanted it." - "Women can't rape men." - “You had a huge crush on him, so I don’t believe you didn’t want him to fuck you.” - “He only groped your ass, it’s not like he did anything worth being upset about.” - “You chose him. You made your bed, now sleep in it. You knew what he was like.” After being physically violated, victims then experience further mental violation when they are stripped of their right to their feelings of anger and pain and are not allowed to label their own experiences.
One of the saddest parts of rape culture is that survivors who have experienced first-hand the effect of rape culture often become just as emotionally invested in believing that what was done to them was acceptable and okay. On the surface, this would seem to make no sense; why would a victim believe something that disempowers and hurts them? Because they’re just trying to survive the best they know how. Living in a rape culture as a survivor means that owning your experience and expressing your anger and hurt are viewed as so unacceptable that doing so can (and often does) result in social alienation and further emotional pain. In order to survive in such a culture, survivors are taught to deny the severity of what happened and distance themselves from their feelings. This can even include encouraging other survivors to shut off their feelings or accept rape as normal. Dealing with someone else’ pain and fear and hurt and rage becomes threatening because it would necessitate acknowledging one’s own experience in a society which makes this unsafe to do. Many of us have done this. I would even venture to say most. I know I have.
Again, I am not trying to inspire shame, guilt, and blame by writing this. I don’t like some of my past behavior, hence why I am writing this piece. If you don’t like yours, please keep reading. There are things you can do other than self-hate.
One of the prime ways rape culture is maintained is that when people actually manage to voice their discomfort or distress, they are dismissed as “too sensitive.” There is no such thing as being too sensitive when it comes to nonconsent. Calling someone “too sensitive” is a tactic used EXCLUSIVELY to invalidate people when they are found threatening. People invalidate others because if the “sensitive” person’s feelings were treated as valid, the accuser would have to give up some privilege they enjoy. And if there’s one truth about privilege, it’s that people will hold onto it tooth and nail.
One such privilege is the ability to be cavalier about rape and nonconsent, finding it funny, being untroubled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of sexual violence, not having triggers, and not finding depictions of rape upsetting. The ability to be cavalier about/amused by discussions of rape is one privilege about which people (men especially) get really nasty when threatened.
I am assuming that everyone reading this knows the difference between fantasy and reality enough to understand that situations which are safe and erotic in fantasy are not safe or erotic in real life. Example: someone who finds images of a secretary being raped by her boss erotic would not be envious when they heard that a friend was raped by her boss in real life. They would be grief-stricken or outraged.
But even those who CAN tell the difference between fantasy and reality often live with several fantastic beliefs about the world we inhabit. One such fantasy goes like this: “I know what rape is, and I would never rape someone, so that means I don’t contribute to rape culture.” Another such fantasy is “I don’t know anyone who has been affected by rape, so it’s safe to say or do things I would never say or do in front of someone who has been hurt by rape.” A third fantasy is “If I was offending someone, they would tell me and I’d stop my behavior without a problem.”
These are lovely thoughts, but they are fantasies, not reality. Why? Most people do NOT know what consent is, not really. Most people DO contribute to rape culture. Out of ignorance, willful or not, they present nonconsent in ways that romanticize it, encourage sympathy for the perpetrator, or ridicule the feelings of the victim. Victims are taught not to listen to or speak up about their feelings, so it’s likely that even if your behavior WAS upsetting someone, they would not tell you. Further, even if they did, you might well dismiss them as unreasonable because you have been socialized by rape culture to do so. And finally, believing that whatever group you are involved with is unaffected by rape is the biggest fantasy of all.
In order to be empowered to create change, you must believe that change starts with you.
I do not know exact statistics, but I do know this: nearly every woman or female-assigned person you meet and a significant percentage of men have been sexually touched without their permission, solicited for sex in situations where there was an unbalanced power dynamic not in their favor, pressured into having sex they didn’t want, or have actually had sex which they did not want, were scared to refuse, fought against, were coerced into having, or otherwise did not consent to have. Everyone reading this knows someone who was sexually abused as a child. EVERYONE. If you’re now telling yourself “Except me, I don’t know anyone!” I know this is difficult information to deal with, but I guarantee you do and they just haven’t told you. Everyone reading this also knows someone who was raped as an adult, probably more than once. EVERYONE. And MOST of the people reading this have been molested or abused in some way, often sexually, often more than once.
Hence why I say that our behavior does not take place in a vacuum where it will not affect survivors or encourage perpetrators.
So how does all this relate to fandom and creative communities online? Lemme talk about that, finally.
Fandom and online creative communities like DevArt, YGallery, Hentai Foundry, FurAffinity, LiveJournal, and so on are so rife with rape jokes that we’ve even coined a cutesy joking term for nonconsent: RAEP. If rape is so serious, why do we laugh about it? Because laughter is a tool people use to lessen the discomfort we feel about uncomfortable topics. If something is funny, it can’t hurt us, right? Perhaps we are trying to take the power away from rapists by laughing at what they do. But what we often end up doing instead is taking power away from victims by turning something deadly serious into a joke. And I believe that if we lived in a culture which truly valued the feelings and experiences of victims, rape would never be funny.
But beyond just rape jokes, there are also a lot of rape fantasies disseminated in lots of formats: art, fiction, fanart, fanfic. (I will reiterate: whether you fantasize about being the attacker or the victim or an onlooker does not matter. There’s no shame in having rape fantasies. It’s what you do with them that counts.)
Nonconsent often comes up in fandom and creative communities, especially those centering around erotic work. One of the ways rape culture shows itself in such communities is that while fictional depictions of pedophilia (even in the furry community, where there are no human children represented!) are usually tagged, filtered, or not allowed in adult galleries, rape and depictions of nonconsent are so prevalent that often they are unmarked, mislabeled as “dubious consent,” or assumed to be just as acceptable and desirable as depictions of consensual sex. The fact that depictions of rape are THAT prevalent and aren't even filtered says something about the beliefs of our creative communities and our ideas about sex and consent.
If you’re going to portray nonconsent and wish not to contribute to rape culture, here’s some specific, concrete suggestions you can use to help value the feelings of victims and take cultural power away from perpetrators.
1. WARN FOR NONCONSENSUAL CONTENT if you are an artist/writer whose work includes nonconsent. If you do not warn appropriately about the content of your work, your audience cannot consent to viewing it. INFORMED CONSENT RELIES ON HAVING THE RELEVANT INFORMATION. Warning can be as simple as including [NONCON] in the title of the piece wherever you post it. If it’s a comic, have a little note in a panel, or before the comic begins. If it’s a fanfic, remember to include warnings before the story. This includes not giving in to the fandom trend of labeling what would be rape in real life “dubious consent” in your fiction because the victim gets off on it, has a crush on their attacker, is dating their attacker, is in a D/s relationship with their attacker, has experienced Stockholm Syndrome with their attacker, or any other reason. In fact, warn especially for these things, because these may be the most triggering to your audience. (Remember that rape is most often perpetrated not by strangers but by people the victim knows.) There are certainly situations in real life in which consent may seem confusing (someone decides afterward that they didn’t want to have the sex they had, someone says yes or initiates sex out of fear, etc) but what is mostly labeled “dub-con” in fandom would be rape in real life. ANY SITUATION IN WHICH ONE CHARACTER IS UNABLE TO REFUSE RENDERS CONSENT MEANINGLESS, REGARDLESS OF HOW MUCH THEY ENJOY IT. Kinky desires do not grant automatic consent in real life, and they don’t in fiction, either.
2. WARN OR INCLUDE DISCLAIMERS ESPECIALLY IF YOUR PIECE IS MEANT TO MAKE THE VIEWER SYMPATHIZE WITH THE ATTACKER OR DISMISS THE FEELINGS OF THE VICTIM. One of the most insidious places this happens is with humor. I’ve seen comedic work about rape. As an example, this happened in the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. [as discussed here: http://www.gametaco.net/?p=1905 ] The authors caused major upset among fans when they not only joked about rape in the comic but then mocked everyone offended by rape jokes and made money off the incident by selling rape-joke T-shirts. I’ve seen lots of comedic work about rape, and I too laughed without thinking. (I’ve even made a few such pieces in the past!) And then later I felt extremely uncomfortable, because the whole point of the jokes was to ridicule and dismiss the feelings of the victims or make you sympathize with the attacker. Finding rape jokes funny or images of rape erotic is a privilege not shared by all.
3. TAKE IT SERIOUSLY WHEN SOMEONE ASKS YOU TO ADD WARNINGS OR TELLS YOU THAT YOU ARE BEING INSENSITIVE TO SURVIVORS. Remember how I said there’s no such thing as being too sensitive about rape? Let’s say that theoretically there IS such a thing as being too sensitive, and someone who is too sensitive asks you include warnings or accuses you of being insensitive. What happens if you take that person seriously? You add a small warning/disclaimer to your piece, spend half a moment apologizing, and can feel proud of yourself for handling that well. The worst that happens because of this is someone else might think you’re being too cautious with your warnings. But the best that can happen is that you may have just made someone’s day a lot better by allowing them to avoid content which would have triggered and upset them. You lose nothing by this, but can improve someone else’s quality of life a lot.
4. MODERATE FORUMS YOU CONTROL TO PREVENT THEM FROM BECOMING UNSAFE SPACES. If you have control over a forum, moderate the comments to make sure that that statements like “He totally deserved getting fucked in the ass like that” and “How could you NOT rape her? Just look at her” or even “Fuck yes, rape that bitch” are confronted. If you allow these kinds of comments in spaces you control, you are implying that you are okay with them and the beliefs they display. Many people who enjoy fictional depictions of nonconsent still feel unsafe and/or upset when real people start making rape-positive comments. You need not remove all the comments if that feels like censorship to you, but make a point to tell your commenters that you disagree with their language and find their words upsetting or offensive.
5. CONFRONT PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR BEHAVIOR/LANGUAGE WHEN YOU CAN, INCLUDING ASKING FOR WARNINGS TO BE CHANGED OR APPLIED. If you’re a frequent commenter in forums but are not an artist/writer yourself, this is one way you can open discussions and change the consciousness in online communities. But try not to guilt-trip or shame yourself if you do not have the energy, self-confidence, or know-how to confront (or convince) every person about their behavior. Blaming yourself for being unable to face down the entire world is just another form of victim-blaming, in which you punish yourself for the misbehavior of others. Even if no one listens to you, you will probably help someone else to feel better by mentioning your concerns, because chances are they’re shared. People will probably get defensive sometimes when you call them on their language (and they may then use derailing tactics like those listed here: http://derailingfordummies.com/ ) but that's okay. You don't have to win every fight to make a change by speaking up. There’s lots of good information available online about how to confront people without inspiring undue drama. (like here, about confronting racism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc )
By doing these five things, you allow for informed consent, create safe spaces for sexual expression, and help create social trends which support survivors and discourage perpetrators. Be the change you want to see in the world!"
TL;DR - JUST BECAUSE I DRESS SLUTTY DOESNT MEAN I AM SLUTTY and YES MEANS YES, NO MEANS NO, SILENCE MEANS NO U CAN'T I DIDNT SAY YES :| For vaginas, boners, buttholes n brains alike!
One thing I do want to add, I did not write the preceding post, I am sharing it with my followers here.
I have experienced rape myself (more specifically I was gang raped), and how rape victims are treated (my case happened in a dance club and rufies), and I will share this essay and stand behind those who have been raped to give them support. As an aspiring writer/author, I have put my characters Ainoko, Nystra and Horatio into situations that do involve consensual and non-consensual rape (only Nystra does the actual deed with Ainoko because Ainoko trusts him explicitly) I do write the rape scenes to help me get over my rape. Being a male, I have heard and been told by authorities, that men can NEVER be raped.