If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. Recent social media campaigns like #YesAllWomen and #AllMenCan have stimulated conversation about the solutions in place to create safer environments for women.
Although both men and women are victims of rape, men are the main perpetrators of the crime. Male feminist, Zaron Burnett proposed that men, perpetuators of rape culture, have the responsibility to change it. Read his article here: A gentleman’s guide to rape culture.
After talking to some students on Wits University campus to hear their take on rape culture, this is what they had to say:
Rophiwa Madzena’s fears as a woman hold her back from enjoying life. “I don’t like to go out in the evenings because I’m afraid a guy is going to grab me. A rape is a really, it’s a scary thing and it’s instilled a lot of fears in women to the extent that you can’t live a normal life because at the back of your mind you’re always just thinking something bad could happen to me, even if it’s just paranoia”.
Some of her vulnerabilities in the presence of a man stem from not being able to assert herself in a culture where masculinity is valued. “As a woman; you’re supposed to know your place. That makes you more vulnerable to a rape situation”.
She said that because men have a stigma of violence attached to them, it is difficult for them to do anything to make women feel safe. In their presence, “You get comfortable, but you don’t get too comfortable”.
She believes the responsibility to keep women safe is shared by both men and women.
This opinion is shared by Phoebe Mabelane, who believes there is nothing men can do to change female perceptions about rape. “These fears are within me regardless of whatever anyone says; or how they (men) present themselves”.
She said, “I don’t think it’s their (men) responsibility to make me feel safe. That’s my responsibility, I have to do it on my own; I can’t rely on men”.
Her fears are, besides potentially being a victim of rape, but knowing someone who is a victim and not being able to help them in any way.
Mabelane wants to take self-defence classes to better prepare herself in unwanted situations of violence. She also relies on prayer and does not think much about finding herself in situations where she might be threatened.
Amongst her peers, she said, “with girls I feel safe because I know they won’t do anything to me. With guys I feel safe because I know they will protect me from offences by outsiders.”
For men to change female perceptions of rape, she believes people should not down-play little incidents. “We won’t speak out about bigger incidents if people do not show support and understanding about the little incidents.”
I am the weaker sex, not as strong as a man, if a man were to rape me, I’m not sure I could defend myself.
Siphelele Ncube is also interested in using martial arts to protect herself. Her fears as a woman are related to the fact that men are stronger than women. “I am the weaker sex, not as strong as a man, if a man were to rape me, I’m not sure I could defend myself.”
To counter her fears on a daily basis, she avoids “uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations”.
As for feeling unsafe around men, she said, “How much you know about a person puts you at ease, you always hold back until you know a person well enough to be comfortable with them”.
Kirsty Sanders believes that in order to change perceptions that men are the main perpetrators of rape; more emphasis should be placed on cases where women are perpetrators. “In majority cases of rape, men are the perpetrators, and the cases where women are the perpetrators are not publicized”.
Sanders believes rape is not a problem in isolation, but rather part of a bigger crime problem, “Every woman is scared she will be raped. But I would not say I’m particularly fearful of being raped. In South Africa, there’s a high crime rate. So you are careful of where you go and who you with”.
Steps she takes to protect herself in vulnerable situations include, “taking crime prevention measures… evaluate your options to get out of an unsafe situation”.
Like Mabelane and Madzena she believes responsibility for safety falls on both men and women, “It’s a shared responsibility. We need to develop a society where women feel safe. It’s a combination of women taking realistic precautionary means, and men taking means to protect women and feel safe.”
From a man’s perspective, to make a woman feel safe Oupa Sibeko said, “It’s not about how you touch a woman but how you interact with her. It depends on how men approach women. We should change how we interact. Our opinions should not inflict violence or demean the other person”.
He said most men influence each-others behaviour. “You’re always trying to prove a point that you man enough”.
“It is hard to tell if a woman fears you”, but their behaviour around you (a man) says a lot. “Sometimes women do show us they fear us, but then we (men) use that to take advantage (of them).”
When interacting with women he said, “It all starts with respect for the self. I respect myself, so when I’m around a woman, I’m around a human, so I treat them as such.”
Men have always had this problem of having to feel superior
Luntu Quntana echoes his sentiments, “men have always had this problem of having to feel superior. Due to this pressure society puts on men, they become violent”.
Pride and the fear of being ostracized prevents men from speaking out against rape. He said to solve the problem, “Men should be more proactive in speaking to young men, encouraging them”.
“The biggest issue is self-confidence in young men. We can eradicate this problem by mentorship. Tell young men it’s okay to have emotions and to be weak at times.” When men stand up against rape, they are labelled as gay or weak, according to Quntana.
He can tell if a woman fears him, “you can see if a woman is afraid, you can tell by her body language. Talking to them, they are more distant, hesitant when speaking. And they seem very caged up.”
To make women feel less vulnerable he is conscious of his signals to make women feel safe. “Be honest with them. I allow myself to be weak around them, to show them that I’m not trying to put up some image”.
Maria Wanyane an advisor from the Sexual Harassment Office at Wits said there are programmes in place to educate both men and women on campus about sexual harassment.
“We do partner with a number of organisations and units on campus to work together because we do realise that violence against men and women is not something that can be dealt with by one institution, it requires a collective collaboration” she said.
The office deals with all matters relating to sexual harassment and is responsible for the management of those cases. Students and staff contact the office directly or are referred to the Sexual Harassment Office by sister organisations on campus.
“In terms of how we manage the case depends on the choice of the complainant. We have a sexual harassment policy. You can choose any of the options, counselling, formal processes where we conduct an investigation about what happened and based on available information take a decision about appropriate intervention. We also refer matters to the police.”
“You can report sexual harassment to almost anyone on campus and they will make sure that you are okay by referring you to us,” she added.
With the roles of men and women constantly changing, there is still room to raise awareness of rape culture and to educate men and women to take a stand against it.