Why I did not Understand the term Rape Culture for a Long Time

By George Gĩthĩnji Last updated on
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Why I did not Understand the term Rape Culture for a Long Time

By Ssemakula Mukiibi

For a long while, I was unable to understand the term rape culture. My assumptions were that this was a word made up to dehumanize male behaviour. I was unable to understand the cultural and societal concepts that institutionalized rape culture. I did not make or laugh at rape jokes. However, I realized that my actions and assumptions helped to further this rape culture.

To me, sex has never been a taboo or something of a big deal. Either it happens or it does not. I never got the sex talk from my parents. However, the society did its part in educating me about sex, its implications, and its perception.

For a long while, I hated homosexuality. I thought that sex was simply about the missionary position. I thought it was about women giving in, with some struggle, to the male desires that they could not feel. Sex to me was a male thing, a male right, and a male privilege. In my adolescence, I could not imagine that women too could have sexual needs.

My first sexual experience served to ingrain this “ideal” within me. Here were two randy boys and a willing girl who thought it was her duty to “service” these randy boys. At the end of it all my question was, “Is that it?” It took me some time to try again as I kept wondering why I even tried the first time.

Fast forward, several years later and a few “conquests” later I was in a different frame of mind. I had finally learned that homosexuals were men who preferred men to women. They were not buggers, boogiemen, or devils waiting to devour the unwary passersby. I spent a few months wondering why I hated them. I also wondered why the society I lived in found them vile and evil.

In the process, I discovered there were women who preferred women. That idea shocked me more than the idea of men preferring men. I believed that sex had only to do with penetration. Not only was this concept incomprehensible but it also meant that there were women who actually liked sex! Now that was a bombshell.

Could it be, I wondered, that some of the women I had been with could actually have enjoyed it? Could I have been the prey rather than the hunter? Did some of my partners who had protested actually not have wanted sex? That was my introduction to the rape culture.

Like most humans, I have a rather exaggerated opinion of my likability and desirability. The idea that someone who smiled at me could not actually like me was strange. The idea that someone who “submitted” to me could have done it out of a sense of helplessness was also strange. Even the idea that someone could have viewed me as simply a tool for her pleasure was shocking.

Over the years, I have had many partners with different approaches to sex. I have been lucky that most of my partners knew what they wanted. They were able to say what they wanted, or did not want, without having to resort to subterfuge and hokum. However not of all of them was that way. A couple believed that as much as they wanted to have sex they must resist until I overpowered them. They believed that a decent girl does not just give in, but must make the man fight until he got what he wanted.

The first time it happened, I misread her intentions and backed off. When she came back later and the same thing happened I thought she did not want me and I gave up. To my amazement, she started complaining to her friends that I had led her on but did not “do anything”. She claimed that I had “used” her. There was even speculation that I must be a homosexual. There and then, I learned the truthfulness of the phrase that says, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

How could I take a girl to my room, almost get there, and do nothing when she showed she was willing? Apparently, this resistance was just a way of showing that she was willing and I should proceed. I lost that one but I learned from it. Sure enough, the opportunity came again, with a different person this time, and I was successful.

I thought this whole thing was strange to me. If that were how people do sex, then I would play along. I maintained the same script during the period of that affair. That is, struggle, overcome, and reward.

I thought it strange. If people have sex that way, then I would play along. For the whole period of that affair, that was the script (struggle, overcome and reward). Later, after the affair ended, I asked her why she preferred it that way. She said that she would feel guilty if I had not struggled for it. If I had not overpowered her, she would feel cheap. To her, a decent girl should not be easy.

Again, I asked her, “What if you did not want?”

Her reply was, “A real man would know when a woman doesn’t want.”

For a while, I thought this was the norm with some women. I never really discovered, or maybe perhaps I just never knew, when a woman did not want. I presumed that some women were that way and that is the norm with man/woman relations. Personally, I am probably guilty of rape because the society and maybe the victims thought it was the norm for women to be overpowered. I never really found out until this one time. Many males I talked to seem to think this is the norm, and quite a number of women think this is how things should be.

One of those periods when I was suffering from blue balls (it is a state of mind, not a physical thing) I was eying this woman. She was a pretty, nice, decent, extremely religious, and submissive. She responded to my first overtures with a mixture of resistance and giving in. I held her with her permission, and then she pushed me away. She let me put my lips on hers, and then she let me give her a French kiss. She then pushed me way. Again, she put her arms around me, and then pushed me away.

In my naivety, I presumed this was the same old story of a woman having to show resistance even when she is willing. A few trials later, a smile or two, and a suggestive pose, I found myself in a position where I thought I must have been scoring today. We went through the whole resistance, overcoming thing almost to ground zero. Then I noticed something strange. She was holding back her tears.

She behaved as if she was going to submit not because she wanted to, but because I was overpowering her. At this point, I backed off and tried to apologize. I knew I probably lost her trust then, and probably her respect (if there was any). Most of all, I lost respect for myself. I realized that I had let the societal narrative of rape culture overcome my own feeling of how wrong this was. I had let my male privilege overcome the obvious pain and distress I was causing. More so, I had become inured and oblivious to the objectification of a woman.

I consider myself liberal. I am also a proponent of choice. Yet, I found myself in the position of the oppressor. I found that I was about to rape. What makes it worse is that I cannot even make amends for the attempt. Nothing I do will take that away. Nothing can make her, and me, feel any better.

Rape is a strange thing. We all know the usual “appear with a knife, or gun, and force her”. We all know they beat her to the point of submission then rape her. However, most of us do not know the institutionalized rape culture. This rape culture is the kind that tells the man he is entitled to the sex he can wrest out of a woman. The kind tells the woman that if a man overpowers her she should give in. This is the kind where the society will ask, “So if you didn’t want it what where you doing in his room?”

This rape culture is the kind where we say, but I bought her drinks, or that expensive dress, or even that house and car, so I am entitled to her. The kind that says I made her what she is, gave her that job, or helped her in a difficult period, so now I am entitled to a reward from her body. It tells her to respect my position, my power, or my age, so I am entitled to her. It says “But you kissed him, so what did you expect?”

Institutionalized rape culture leaves a woman without a choice and without a will. The kind that you and me learn is not the only kind of rape.

There is still a lot we need to do to empower men and women, and all human beings. We should start by looking at the assumption the society gives us about how we should behave towards each other. We should look at the privileges that we deny others. All this starts by saying “The change begins with me.”

(This is an edited note that first appeared on Ssemakula Mukiibi’s Facebook page).

George Gĩthĩnji is a political and social commentator. Twitter @EpikKenyan
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