“There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that – “
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
Exchange between Granny Weatherwax and the Quite Reverend Oates, Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett
I love the Discworld series of books- I have done for years and if I had to pick a favourite character, it would be probably be Granny Weatherwax. Sometimes I muse that if any character were most like the author Terry Pratchett, I would like to think it was Granny. She’s not at all cuddly or conventionally lovable, but she’s tough and smart and has a far bigger heart than probably most of her community realise. And whilst she has carefully cultivated a reputation that keeps people respectful (and slightly nervous of her), she’s a true servant to them. She heals, cares for, and watches carefully over Lancre, the true extent of what she does so often hidden behind peoples assumptions and wild imaginations. She’s practical, doesn’t suffer fools at all (let alone gladly) – and she knows and understands people. And whilst she would probably have little time for my faith (The Omnian religion in the Discworld series is a mirror of the Christian church in it’s medieval fire-and-brimstone-and-now-trying-to-be-more-liberal-Anglican form), I have a sneaky respect for her ‘headology’.
And Granny Weatherwax is bang on the money about sin – it starts when you treat people as things.
The fight to dismantle rape culture is a fight to dismantle the patriarchal power structures which, on the one hand, men created so that men had the power and privilege to shape, grow and rule over much of society – and when they abuse that power, to coddle, excuse, justify and rationalise that abuse in whatever form it has taken. When a man has beaten his partner or wife, raped, molested or abused a woman or child, we are as a society very able (and very well trained) in providing those excuses so that, often, even the man who has abused rarely has to lift a finger to provide them himself. It’s a Pavlovian response.
A woman is killed and the man has been ‘driven’ to it by something she supposedly said or did; a child is molested and abused, but that child had ‘presented as sexually mature’, or wore the wrong clothes, or hung out with the wrong people, or had a ‘record of bad behaviour’. A woman is raped, but she had been out drinking so energy and times is expended arguing about consent because of that somehow means it was ‘too hard’ for the man to know if consent had been given.
The victim becomes both recipient of the violence, the rape, the killing – and the person responsible for it. The man does not need to take responsibility – occasionally, rarely, he might see the inside of a prison but mostly society hands him some rationalisation and offers hope for him to rebuild his life, often with sentiments along the lines of ‘he’s not usually that kind of man’.
The excuses we give the abusers and murderers, the rapists, and the molesters are legion. But the truth is, they made a choice. They chose to rape, molest, kill, abuse, take advantage of, and inflict trauma. They chose it over any number of other choices that could have been made at that time: society has afforded them power – and that is how they have chosen to use that power in that moment. When people are merely things to the person with the power, it is a too-easy choice to abuse that power. And with every rape, every murder of another and trans and cis woman, a choice has been made.
Anything – anything at all – other than a full frontal recognition of rape, abuse and violence against women and children as the choice of the rapist, is simply another excuse that he can use. I have said this before: and I am about to say it again – rape (and sexualised violence and abuse) are abuses of power. They are choices, made by the men who perpetrate them. They are choices made as conscious decisions.
Yes, it is a terrifying truth and one I had to face too, and I recognise the desire which we as women have trained into us: to provide the understanding about why it happened, specifically why the man who raped and abused us, did it. Patriarchy demands that we as women provide the ‘understanding’ because that is part of the toxic nature of our relationship with misogyny. It is part of that Pavlovian response drilled in to us – men do stuff and its our ‘job’ as women to ‘understand’ why they do that stuff. And every time we say, in anyway shape or form, men rape because they have a penis, we do so because we have been conditioned to understand and excuse men’s behaviour.
But we don’t have to understand anymore; it is not our responsibility as women to understand the choices men make, because down that pathway excuses and justifications await. We have to fight the conditioning that says we are supposed to ‘understand’. Yes, when the man has used his penis to rape with, it is a hard truth: but genitals have absolutely nothing at all to do with the choice to rape. Penises don’t make the choice to rape. MEN do. Penises don’t have brains – MEN DO.
My rapist made a choice. He was not at the whim of ‘uncontrollable’ desires. He didn’t do it because he couldn’t control his penis. He did it because he made a choice. And that’s HIS responsibility to bear not mine.
And not yours either.
I don’t say this for my sake, or to anger people. I know how unpopular my opinion is. But there are women who are victims of rape and abuse – Trans women and trans women of colour – who are the victims of the patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia and racism that abuses, rapes and kills them. Their voices are ignored and their right to healing safe spaces made harder because we think in the very terms that patriarchy trains us to think. (And that includes refusing to see or accept them as women). And it means that not only is the fight to end rape and the culture which perpetuates it made harder, but that some women are shut out by other women.
I want gendered violence to end: women and children are dying because of it and I want life in all its fullness for all women. But until we accept that saying men rape because they have a penis is handing men who rape just another excuses, not only we will continue to fail in any efforts to stop rape: we will let down, abandon and isolate whole groups of women and perpetuate victim blaming in to the bargain.
Sin starts when you treat people as things. We have to stop treating people as things.