We have all grown unpleasantly accustomed to hearing that virtually all rape victims deserve to be raped. They deserve to be raped because they get drunk. They deserve to be raped because they wear skirts. They deserve to be raped because they go outside at night. They deserve to be raped because they are not virgins. (The only imaginable exceptions to this rule might be made for pre-pubescent girls - but then again, even 11-year-olds will not necessarily be exonerated.) The brutal truth - we are told over and over again, in a variety of voices, and a variety of not-terribly-creative ways that all amount to the same thing - is that men are like hungry cats: you simply can't blame them for grabbing some food wherever they can get it. The onus is therefore on the meat to make itself unavailable.
But I am having trouble squaring this view with another bit of wisdom we heard this week from that fount of wisdom, Pat Robertson, who said that it is a wife's duty to look good for her husband, lest he stray from the marriage bed. If he loses interest in having sex with her, it's probably because she disgusts him with her lack of perfection. The dissonance between this message and the messages we get about rape have set me to wondering: Which is it? Are men monsters with insatiable appetites, who can't help but rape any and every vulnerable body that happens to come into view; or are they finicky partners who couldn't possibly get excited about having sex with a woman they've known for years, even when she is lying right in their own bed, if she neglected to buy fancy lingerie or dared to get wrinkles? (And by the way, for an excellent Christian critique of Pat Robertson's world view about keeping passion alive, see Julie Hanlon Rubio's piece here.)
What seems clear is that, in either of these man-centered scenarios, women are always the problem. When men can't help but have sex with women - even in gangs, even if they have to drug them first, even to the point of death - it is women's fault for being attractive to men. It is not a man's responsibility to grow up and keep his own urges in check, whether those urges are violent, sexual, or both. But when men can't stand to have sex with women, it is also women's fault, this time for being unattractive to men. It is not a man's responsibility to grow up, keep his promises, and cherish his partner for exactly who she is, baby weight, hairy legs, and all.
So I'd like to ask Pat Robertson, Asaram Bapu, and other men, what IS men's responsibility when it comes to sex with women? As men yourselves, do you feel disenfranchised by the idea that your circumstances wholly determine your behavior? Do you live in constant fear that you might suddenly and unintentionally rape someone, or that your marriage might fall apart through no fault of your own?
I, for one, believe men are much better than this. I look forward to the day when men who foolishly denigrate their entire sex will be called to account for the devastating consequences of their views.