Othering is not new or unique. Human societies have been describing their enemy as something “other” than themselves or other than human since time in memoriam. Heathens, Nazi’s, the Taliban all have the connotation that they are incomprehensible monsters. You are absolved of having to have empathy for your enemy because they’re not human.
This is also how we conceive of rapists. The man jumping out from behind the bush in a dark street. The pathological, serial rapist who has some incomprehensible desire to rape. These are characters we don’t understand and we don’t want to have to understand.
Unfortunately, the majority of rapes are not committed by these types of characters. The majority of rapes are date rapes. This means a real live human, someone who the victim deemed was worthy to spend time with, committed the rape. Not a monster.
It does us a disservice to consider rapists monsters. It gives us a pass to stop thinking about what motivations lie behind date rape. Without having to think of a rapist as a person, we can dismiss the “monster” and consider the issue no longer. There is no reparations for a monster. There is no grey area or understanding a monster. There is no path from monster back to human again.
And this leads to the heart of the problem with othering:
I would hazard a guess that the majority of us have had sexual encounters where explicit, enthusiastic consent was not obtained. This is common and understandable, because you’ve probably only learned of the notion of explicit, enthusiastic consent somewhat recently. And this doesn’t change the fact that any of those experiences could have, in actuality, been non-consensual. And, by definition, non-consensual sex is rape. Hopefully some combination of implied consent and reading body language indicates that it was consensual, but you can’t actually know unless there was a yes. By this course of logic it is totally possible that many of us have committed rape.
(Cue the “I am not a rapist” freak out.)
Now that the freak out is out of our system, why is there a freak out about this idea? The root is exactly this “othering” that I’ve been talking about. The idea that you maybe, possibly, by-chance, or poor circumstance committed rape would logically mean that you are not human. You are a rapist. You are a monster. This goes against the foundation of identity. Our identities are founded on ourselves as human and as fundamentally similar to other humans, especially members of our family, tribe or group. We cannot accept the notion that we may be monster.
So don’t. Don’t try to understand yourself as a monster; try to understand rapists as human. If rapists are not monsters then you are not a monster. They are not “other”; they are human. It is human to make mistakes. Plenty of rapists did not maliciously harm but made an ignorant mistake (which also caused harm.) Calling it a mistake doesn’t absolve the rapist of the damage caused; it merely means that the action was comprehensible.
In order to turn our culture of rape into a culture of consent we need to understand what has not worked with the preexisting culture and where ideals of consent break down in practice. We can, and in fact we must, examine this first hand in our own actions. We and rapists hold the common ground of existing in a culture of rape. How are we contributing to rape culture? What changes can we make to our behavior to proactively prevent rape through our own actions? By discovering the answers to these questions there is hope for eradicating rape culture.
I acknowledge that this post leaves opens a delicate, sensitive area about restorative justice, behavioral reform, and forgiveness. These are things that warrant their own post (or five), but in order to not leave the topic wide open and potentially raw, suffice it to say that I believe survivors should always be safe (as defined by the survivor) from their rapists and should never be expected to forgive their assailant. In no way am I advocating the contrary in this post. I’m committed to elucidating my thoughts and improving the clarity of how all this ties together in subsequent posts. Thank you for your patience and understanding.