Rape Culture: Why Terms Like “Rape Apologist” Don’t Help


As I mentioned in a previous post, I reposted an article which was asking the question of how we draw the line between bad behavior and rape. The question feels important to me as we try to create change and educate people about expectations. For context, the article was written by a woman discussing her personal experiences.

One of the immediate responses was that the author is a “known rape apologist.” I hadn’t heard the term before but the meaning seems pretty clear. I took it to mean, and later confirmed, that it refers to someone that tries to excuse or justify rape. It isn’t that I don’t believe those people exist. I know there are people that do that, often in very extreme ways. I had the almost unbelievable experience joining a Facebook group with an interesting title only to find out that it was a strident men’s rights group that seemed to mostly post about how horrible women are. I was shocked by the posts I saw justifying rape.

I also don’t know if Cathy Young is a rape apologist or not. That’s not what I’m discussing here. What I want to talk about is how labelling people in a shaming, inflammatory label shuts down productive conversation, learning, and change. And that is clearly what this type of label is – an attempt to frame someone as bad and shameful.

I followed up by asking the person that made the comment if they felt the examples and points made in the article had any merit. I was told no. So here is where the difficulty lies. If I disagree and want to discuss the points, I am now being framed as being on the side of the rape apologist just for wanting to have the conversation. For someone that identifies as anything but that, it is a very uncomfortable and, from my perspective, inaccurate label.

The result is I am immediately put on the defensive. Instead of discussing the content of the article, I am put in the position of having to defend why I am not a bad person. At best it leaves me confused why instead of using the opportunity to educate me about the situations discussed, the response is to criticize someone for even wanting to discuss it.

The unfortunate thing is that we do this at the societal level down to the individual level. When our immediate response to something is to put the other person on the defensive and shame them, it seldom accomplishes much. Invitations to discuss, to learn, and to see new perspective are what creates change. And more often than not, there are things to be learned by both sides of the issue.

Writing these recent posts have been an uncomfortable experience. I feel like suddenly I am writing from the side that I don’t agree with. All because I suggested there are some issues worth discussing. I didn’t even take a position on them, I simply said I thought there was some merit to considering them.Yet in just a few comments I was framed as someone that is the antitheses of what I work to be. It had more impact because it was done by people that I know and believe to be intelligent, kind and thoughtful. Instead of inviting me to understand why they don’t agree with the article and maybe move me closer to their view, it created difficult feelings, disconnection, and no opportunity for change.

Consider that the next time you want to shift an opinion or viewpoint. It doesn’t matter if it is with an individual, a group, or all of society. Shame is not the answer. When you start by putting the other side on the defensive, feeling criticized or wronged, it is much more difficult getting to an end result that is productive. Instead try inviting the other side to see your perspective and to feel their perspective is heard, too. Help them see where they may want to shift their views or actions. Who knows, you might learn something, too.


photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)


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