I signed a petition today supporting a woman named Zerlina Maxwell. I encourage you to look her up on Facebook and support her too. Ms. Maxwell was a guest on a Fox News show and made the statement “I think we should be telling men not to rape women.” Her point in the context of the overall conversation is that we shouldn’t be fighting over whether or not women should or shouldn’t have access to concealed weapons in order to prevent rape. We should be addressing the problem of rape at its roots – the idea that some men have that they have a right to a woman’s body. We should be fighting the belief in our society that women are not people but objects to be used to satisfy whatever desire (meaning control, rage, violence in addition to lust, since rape is not usually about sex but instead about power) a man happens to have. Her comments have provoked intense negative reactions, including threats of death and rape made on her Facebook page. I have to admit I am really confused by the extreme negative reactions her statement has garnered. Why is stating “let’s teach people how to behave!” a terrible thing to say? Why doesn’t she have the right to an opinion? Many journalists have pointed out that as a victim of rape she absolutely has a right to comment – but don’t all of us have both a right and a responsibility to speak up on this important cultural problem?
The belief that women are objects is not inevitable. The belief that urges have to be satisfied instantly is not the normal outcome of human development. It’s the product of how (some) men are taught. To say that rape is a natural act is insane. Yes, all human beings have self centered, aggressive feelings, but we learn how to control them. In making that argument that men can’t be taught not to rape you are starting a line of logic whose natural conclusion is that stealing, murder, and physical aggression are natural and not preventable. In doing so you are throwing out thousands of years of civilization, every moral code in existence, and every parenting manual I’ve ever read. Because you know what? We teach people not to kill, steal, hit, or bite all the time.
It’s called parenting a toddler. There’s a reason why as parents we work really hard to teach our toddler not to hit, not to bite, not to grab, be kind to animals. That’s why we stress sharing and saying please and waiting your turn. We don’t have to work on “don’t murder” because thankfully murder is not within a toddler’s physical capacity. But we have to work on all the impulses and behaviors that could someday work up to murder without the patient teaching and building of emotional and social control. We are teaching these small human beings what it means to be civilized so that they can successfully function as members of our social group. We are teaching them to control their impulses and behave in pro-social ways.
That line of argument, besides being ignorant of human history and psychology, is also incredibly demeaning towards men. If I as a woman said “oh, I can’t help robbing jewelry stores and clothing stores, I’m just irresistibly attracted to all that shiny stuff!” society (and a judge) would rightfully laugh me all the way into a jail cell. I am expected to be able to control my acquisitive desires and not steal. Why on earth would we not expect men to have the same ability to control their desires? Men, is that what you want said about you? Really? Women, is that what you want to say about your fathers, brothers, sons and husbands? Really?
As a woman and a mother of a precious little girl I don’t want to live in a world where my daughter and I have to carry guns to keep ourselves safe. As a Christian, I don’t think that violence is ever the cure or the prevention for violence. As a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a colleague I have more respect for the men in my life than to believe they have no ability to control their impulses. I think that teaching men not to rape is not only desirable but possible. I think that teaching ourselves, as a society, to see other people as people and to control our impulses is absolutely something we can do. And I believe that it will benefit not only women but men as well.