On The Myth of: “Real Men Don’t Rape”

As a young Nigerian feminist whose activism starts online, the year 2018 remains a pivotal year for me. It was the year that saw me co-found my first safe space for women. It was the year that saw me write more often and build my online feminist presence.

Most importantly, it was the year that saw me go for my first anti-rape protest. 

Organised by Tamilore Braithwaite, Ebele Molua and members of the We Will Not Be Silent group, the march saw over three hundred youth march in Lagos protesting the molestation and rape of young women in Lagos secondary schools.

This march was shortly after a major call out of abusers on Twitter a week before. The abusers were those who had molested women when they were in secondary school thereby debunking the myth that rape had a look or level of education.

I remember when the call outs were happening two seemingly progressive statements kept being uttered on the timeline. The first: Real men don’t rape. That is for animals. The second was more of praise and it went: To the men who don’t abuse women and who practise consent we are thankful and grateful.

It is super sad that women are so used to disrespect that a man simply not abusing is something seen as worthy of celebration. Even more, why is it that the men who are called “good men” are just men who are not abusive to women. Ask a man who a “good woman” is and no part of it will be a woman who doesn’t abuse physically. Instead it will most likely be a woman who sacrifices herself and needs to keep others warm.

But I digress.

Let’s get to the first statement. Is it really true that “real men do not rape”? I think not. In my history as a feminist, I have observed men being called out for rape and I have done my fair share of calling men out. One thing is clear and it is that there is no face to a rapist. There is no demarcation of rapists because abusers can be seen in any sphere of society.

There are men who are poor who are rapists. There are rich men who abuse. There are men who give sermons and give to charities and rape. There are boys not yet eighteen who rape. There are men above fifty who rape. There are men with only daughters who rape. There are men with sisters who rape even their sisters.

Is this to say that rape is okay or normal? No it isn’t. Is this also to say that being a rapist is a normal personality trait? Again no it isn’t. It however is to say that contrary to popular opinion, rapists are not aliens or “beasts” who are unknown. They are people who live very normal lives and have people who love them.

However, because men live in a society where the highest form of manhood is attained by seeing women as properties and seeing women’s bodies as first belonging to men to do with as they please, they have no fear in raping women because in order to see themselves as truly superior, they must violate the woman’s body and affirm to her that she and her kind are below him.

The problem with saying “real men don’t rape”, is that it is very much a lie. As earlier stated, men who rape are everywhere and in every town and city. Saying real men don’t rape is a form of distancing because if every rapist were to be outcasted, lots of businesses, friendships and families will suffer. It is a denial tactic to avoid facing the truth that your husband or brother who you have the best memories with may be another woman’s worst nightmare.

It is also a lie because in an actual patriarchal setup, it is infact men who abuse women and affirm the superiority of men on women’s bodies that are considered real.

Speaking with Buhle, a Zimbabwean blogger and mother, she tells me that the statement intends to conceal reality. 

In her words: “It’s a statement that seeks to make it look like only a certain type of man is a rapist. It falls in the #NotAllMen mantra. It is simply not true. Any man can be a rapist. We have seen men rape their daughters, step daughters, nieces, cousins, and neighbours. So, any man is capable of rape. Some are rapists, but they are not arrested because families negotiate with rapists (here in Zimbabwe). So, a family can negotiate with the rapist for him to either marry their daughter or for him to pay something so that they don’t report him to the police. These stories only come out if the man doesn’t meet his end of the bargain. So, how many do actually meet their end of the bargain and are therefore not exposed?”

She went on to add: “Also, in some cases, “respectable men” (pastors, community leaders) rape girls and women, and the cases are swept under the carpet. So, how do we know who is a rapist and who is not? I understand what the statement is trying to say, but it is harmful. It plays right into that patriarchal narrative that there are “good men.” We know these men benefit from the male privilege accorded by patriarchy. So, if we say “real men don’t rape,” how do we define a real man? A man of God? A man with lots of money? A political leader? Because once we try and define this man, we can see it’s nonsense, really. We have heard of cases of men raping even their biological daughters. 

Then the girl is traumatised because we keep saying, “But would John do that?” Even other women are asked this question. Rape is the only crime where, even if a rapist is convicted, we are still on your case as the victim: What were you wearing? Did you not seduce him, maybe?” 

She concluded by saying: “Men understand this and they take advantage. There was a case in Zimbabwe a few years ago where a politician was accused of rape. His friends posted a picture of a woman they thought was accusing him (turned out to be same names), and asked, “Dear men, who would rape a woman like this?” 

This shows that there’s a lot of misconceptions about rape: that only a certain type of woman is “rape-able.” That a man has to be attracted to a woman in order to rape her. That only a particular type of man is capable of rape. As far as I am concerned, every man is a potential rapist…”.

For Foye, a ceramicist, she is of the opinion that it is a myth due to her experience. 

To quote her: “Real men? What are real men? I personally believe 6 in 10 men especially those currently between ages of 30 and above and even the upcoming generations have probably raped one lady or the other.  Growing up it was a norm for men to get away with frolicking. I remember the first Sex Ed I (could have) had was: ‘Don’t go there again, do you want him to put stick in your bum or something?’. I was barely 5 I think. I remember my age by considering what nursery  class I was in.”

She ended by saying: “Nearly every man I knew growing up who were matured and were to cater to me molested me. Except for my immediate family.

Uncles, cousins, friends, random strangers, boys at school, male bullies, neighbours etc. 

It’s been no joke looking into the future and embracing it given the experiences I’ve had dealing with supposed real men growing up. Sigh.”

The honest truth is that rapists are people we know and love and said earlier. If we do not familiarise ourselves with the fact that every man including the “good one” is a potential abuser, true justice and progress would be much harder to secure.

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