Yeshe Rabbit and the Campaign against Rape Culture
On August 23rd, 2012, Yeshe Rabbit Mathews, Local High Priestess and co-owner of the Sacred Well in Oakland, launched a campaign on her blog, Way of the Rabbit, to stand up against “rape culture” asking men for their help in the struggle. In her blog post, titled Overcoming Rape; Men, We Need Your Help, Yeshe Rabbit wrote,
Men (and I mean all who identify with the masculine here), I invite you to do something simple that will make a world of difference in this debate. It is easy, it is a good start, and it will make a powerful statement.
In the campaign men are encouraged to take a photo of themselves holding a sign that states “I stand against rape, in person and in the polls” and post this photo on social media outlets to make a statement about sexual crime. Many people participated in this call to the community immediately, including well known Pagans such as Jason Pitzl-Waters, Teo Bishop, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., David Salisbury and Devin Hunter.
As this blog request went viral and pictures were being posted on facebook and twitter, Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area spoke with Yeshe Rabbit to ask questions about her motivation and thoughts around this movement.
What inspired you to write this blog and call for this picture response regarding, what you refer to as, “rape culture”?
Rape culture is the complex of social and institutional beliefs/behaviors that normalize rape as an unavoidable, and in some cases even acceptable, part of life. It is difficult to pin down exactly what constitutes rape culture, as it involves many different facets, including but not limited to social jokes about rape, depictions of rape in music and the media as titillating or exciting, tactical military approval/encouragement of rape as an act of war, coercive legislation around what constitutes rape, stigmatization/blaming of rape survivors, and widespread silence about rape.
Have you ever been in a social conversation where someone mentions rape? Responses I have seen range from general discomfort and avoiding eye contact, to jokes, to a few trite phrases being tossed out before someone quickly changes the subject, to awkward silence, to comparison of war stories, to violent impulses being expressed, to people saying things like “She just wants attention”…and more. Try it. Say the words, “I would like to talk about rape and what it means in our society,” in as social conversation, and watch how people react. That can be the beginning of your own investigation into what I mean when I say “rape culture.”
Todd Akin’s gross misinformation about the scientific nature of pregnancy as a result of rape is one example of rape culture we have seen recently. Paul Ryan’s proposed legislation to ban federal funding for abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, is part of rape culture. Todd Smith, a GOP senatorial candidate in PA, who asks us to “put ourselves in the father’s situation” even in cases of rape, is part of rape culture. Several state-level restrictions on abortion, up to and includingVirginia’s state-sanctioned rape in the form of mandatory internal ultrasound even in cases of rape or incest, is part of rape culture. I could go on. There is so much more than this. But I think from these recent examples, you can see why I feel an increasing urgency around this topic.
According to the police reports (and the official numbers should be critically evaluated, as many, many rapes go unreported, because silence and a sense of futility are part of rape culture) the largest number of rapes in this country originate with men and are perpetrated upon women. Men are also targets of rape, as well as individuals who choose not to identify by gender, and women are also perpetrators of sexual assault in some cases. But my focus right now is on the largest demographic, which is still men raping women. Part of rape culture is that women, vulnerable individuals, are told not to get raped, instead of men being told, not to rape. I believe we really need more men to stand up and say to women, vulnerable individuals, in a public and accountable way, “I stand against rape,” and to educate each other about the need to end rape and rape culture. I don’t think I am being overly negative when I admit that, after thousands of years of rape being normalized in various cultures despite women’s fervent outcry against it, men don’t appear to really hear the message from women alone.
While I see many women stepping forward in outrage around the ways that rape culture is currently being normalized on the political playing field, I do not see as many men taking up the charge against it. I don’t think this is because all men don’t care. Some men don’t care. Some men will say, “Well, I’ve never raped anyone, so why is it my problem?” But there are a lot of men who know that they are needed in this fight. I just think that many sensitive and aware men do not know how to enter the dialogue. So, instead, they say nothing, which means they get lumped in with those who are silent because they don’t care. Silence is part of rape culture and it harms us all. I launched this campaign to invite self-identified, aware men to actually stand up and enter into the conversation about rape and rape culture in a visible way. I don’t see these photos as the be-all, end-all of the conversation. They are merely the opening of a door. And they send a big message of visibility and alliance.
Were you surprised by the response?
I have been surprised by two things:
1) How quickly men have responded to this; literally leapt to the charge. In 24 hours there were 50 photos. And every day there are more photos. It’s great to watch them roll in! They are creative. They are serious. I love to look at the men’s faces as they take their stand: they mean it. Many men have added their own statements and sentiments, such as “I am a PROUD feminist,” and “Rape jokes are NEVER funny. Ever.” I have been reposting the photos on my Facebook and Twitter, and also gathering them all onto a single page on Pinterest. You can see them here, even if you don’t have a Pinterest account: http://pinterest.com/yesherabbit/i-stand-against-rape-in-person-and-at-the-polls/ It is really inspiring to see all the photos together. One man made a youtube video, here: http://youtu.be/J5JprwrTji8
2) There are men who have said they will NOT participate because they seem to think the project won’t actually help destabilize rape culture. For my part, I know that dozens of women have written to me saying how healing it is to see these photos, to know that there are, in fact, men who are willing to be publicly vocal and accountable around this issue. There are men who have come out about their own rape stories and spoken up against the stigmatization of rape victims of all genders. There are actually men, friends of project participants, who have made rape jokes in the comments sections of some of the photos, thus revealing their own participation in rape culture, and others who have then stood up and said, “Hey, that is not OK.” To me, this visible dialogue is progress. There is less silence around this issue from the male sector of the population than there was a week ago. So, who can really say it ISN’T helping? I see it helping already. Of course there is more to be done. But why wait for another time or set of circumstances to enter the dialogue, when it is actually relevant on so many levels right now? Will silence, instead, help? Has it helped yet? I think not.
What would you like to see from the Pagan community around this particular political issue?
It’s up to so many more than me to determine how we, as pagans, will deal with the issues of rape and rape culture. I truly think that pagans, as one of the most innovative and fastest-growing spiritual demographics in the country, can be leaders in this dialogue. My wishlist for how the pagan community critiques rape culture includes:
- to see more pagan men leading by example and participating in the visual dialogue of this project
- to see pagans of all genders being vigilant in holding the line against rape in our own communities by engaging in safety practices, public conversations to raise awareness, and creating spaces of support for all who have been victimized
- to see pagans stop, immediately, saying “boys will be boys” as a means of excusing behaviors of violence in young men. That rhetoric becomes increasingly dangerous as boys get older. They are basically being told they have urges they cannot control, and that this is just part of their nature. This is untrue and damaging for all of us.
- for us to consider how rape culture has in some cases found its way into Trad and Coven Initiations, Festivals, and other places where we gather, and to keep dialogue and accountability open around that issue.
- for pagans to critically analyze the myths of deities that include rape, to investigate rape in the context of the cultures where it arises in myth, and to write about their own perspectives on the topic
- for pagans to hold politicians accountable for how they promote rape culture in public policy. It is my sense that the same people who would strip women of bodily rights would also strip all of us of our religious freedoms, if they gain enough leverage.
Crystal Blanton reporting, Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area