Groping to Rape: Womansplaining the Continuum in the War Against Women

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The front page of the morning’s print edition (December 8, 2017) of The New York Times stunned me. On the left- hand side, the headline Endless Rape As War Refuge Turns to Terror: Fleeing Boko Haram to Cruel Protectors.

The right-hand side headline? Franken, Vexed By Accusations, Will Quit Senate: Apparent Bid for High Ground as Charges of Harassment Swirl.

We're cautioned to beware engaging in witch hunts as we examine accusations of assaultive behavior, to be careful of knocking down those only involved with 'boys will be boys' actions. These are tough topics: Al Franken, groping, stealing kisses, slipping hands up shirts. I don't have the definitive answer on his resigning or not resigning—but I'm all too aware of where the behavior belongs.

For me, the connecting line between these two headlines hit me as has no other moment of #metoo. This is a continuum, not separate worlds. Do we excuse groping while we punish . . . punish what? when is the line crossed?

I’ve not been surprised by stories of either the rich and powerful or the poor and powerless harassing/groping/terrorizing women; I was first groped at the age of six. Swimming in Coney Island, grabbed between the legs by a sixty-something neighbor teaching me to swim, who insinuated his fingers and changed my life.

That day, with that groping, my agency over my own body disappeared. Every day since has been a reminder of him and the countless other episodes where dozens of men let me know I was up for their grabs:

* Strangers on subways showing their penises, pressing against me. * Male relatives crossing—leaping over—the line repeatedly. * Husbands of friends and family with their wet kisses and too-close hugs. *Having a man in a suit grab me between the legs while I walked down a Manhattan street.

I don't want to be thought of as a victim—I am no more a victim than any woman in this world. I simply don't want to be prey.

For most women (all?) life is a series of watching out, on guard for everything from ‘accidental’ brushes of our breasts to rape. We’re taught to carry money to escape dates-gone-evil, check the back seat of the car, ignore catcalls, carry our keys between our fingers as weapons, carry rape whistles, learn the art of gracefully escaping a man’s humping hug, while not insulting him, or letting his friends or family know he is a groping/thruster. It's a tiresome life, always being on guard. It's difficult to speak of without someone saying, "but not my . . . "

Of course, not all men. Hopefully not your son/husband/brother or mine. But one can't have so many #metoos without a heck of a lot of #hetoos.

I could go on, but women know the drill.

Men, however? Since the advent of #metoo, they are shocked. Filled with sympathy for the ‘victims', while what we need is men to police their own.

We are not victims, we are hunted. The prey of too many men who have learned to take whatever they can get. And when a man such as you, Al Franken, is punished for the deed of groping/humiliating/thrusting at a woman, you are stunned. Because hasn’t this been the lesson you’ve learned and taught? Just being funny! But you look so pretty! I only wanted a kiss! I only wanted to pat your ass!!

Groping isn't rape, but it's rape's cousin. There are differences of degree, but they are both violations of a woman's space and body.

In a NYT article entitled What Experts Know About Men Who Rape, the author reports:

"Most subjects in these studies freely acknowledge nonconsensual sex—but that does not mean they consider it real rape. Researchers encounter this contradiction again and again. Asked “if they had penetrated against their consent,” said Dr. Koss, the subject will say yes. Asked if he did “something like rape” the answer is almost always no.
Studies of incarcerated rapists—even men who admit to keeping sex slaves in conflict zones—find a similar disconnect. It’s not that they deny sexual assault happens; it’s just that the crime is committed by the monster over there. And this is not a sign that the respondents are psychopaths, said Dr. Hamby, the journal editor. It’s a sign that they are human. “No one thinks they are a bad guy,” she said.
Indeed, experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem."

Working with men who committed the crime of domestic violence, from slapping to punching to murder—taught me this: If a man won’t face or admit what they did, it is rare they will change.

Living as a woman taught me this: It’s the rarest of rareness in this world when a man doesn’t use his male privilege in some way: from shutting down a conversation, to manspreading (figuratively and reality,) to mansplaining, to copping a feel, to the extremes of rape.

Rape is a weapon of war.

Grabbing women is a weapon in the war against women. Unchecked, it keeps us in our place. When we check it, we get accused of everything from exaggerating to lying to inviting it.

Or, as we’re seeing with Al Franken supporters, being told we’re hurting the cause by telling the truth.

Can I say for sure that any or all accusations against any man is true? Who can claim that? What I will say with extreme surety is this:

Coming out against powerful men—on the left or right—leaves one open to charges against oneself. Few speak out lightly.

Coming out against men in our own orbit means the anger of family, friends, those who share the perpetrator’s politics (even as we also share them) will likely turn on you.

What we need to end the constancy of women walking the earth in fear of attacks, from ‘minor groping’ to rape jokes, to rape, is this: the courage of men honestly judging their own behavior and those of other men. Men willing to acknowledge that women hold up half the sky, to let us live with the agency of our bodies intact, and to fight for our right to equality in body, soul, and mind