What does it mean to let someone off too easily? What does it mean to hold someone accountable for their actions? Whenever I try to explore the societal causes for something terrible without expressing judgement, people always tell me I’m letting the perpetrators off too easily. King, you’re not the only person to say I’m too soft on rapists after reading my article What Drives Men to Rape.
Look, we can burn all rapists at the fucking stake for all I care. There are people for whom I view a silent death too generous, who I think deserve to fucking suffer for a good long time before they die. I rarely express the full extend of my full hatred on my blog (I’m still not, frankly) at the advice of my friends. A few times, I have expressed just how much I hate I carry to those I’m close to, and they always say “you cannot tell anyone this, Emma.”
So, I don’t.
I meditate. I cry. I deal with my hate in my own time, in my own space, and I know what lies at the bottom of it.
After telling one of my best friends just how deep my hatred ran, and watching her sit there shocked, I tried to explain. “I will never be safe,” I said.
I will never be safe. I will never, ever ever ever be safe. I will always have to watch myself. I will always be afraid. And, this is why I will always hate. In the space of safety, I am able to access forgiveness but where this is no safety there is no forgiveness. When there is no safety, all you can hope for is vengeance, and yeah, I’d take some fucking vengeance sometimes.
But, I’m also practical. The most important thing, the most important thing is to stop this happening to women as soon as possible. It is not important that I get my need for vengeance met. It is not important that we “hold men accountable” whatever the fuck that means. Punishing men is less important than helping women.
Let me repeat that: punishing men is less important than helping women.
Do you think it doesn’t cost me something, after my sexual assault because of male entitlement to my emotional labor, to devote more hours of my emotional labor to exposing the underlying emotional motivations of my own assaulter? Do you not think the fact that I’m the type of person who could write an article like that in the first place is intimately connected to the fact I was sexually assaulted?
Don’t you think it hurts to be constantly peering into the souls of men who don’t even believe I have a soul? Who don’t even treat me like a human?
Of course it hurts. Of course it fucking hurts.
But, I think we can move beyond this. I really do. If men start becoming more emotionally aware, and more emotionally responsible, we can move society. We really can.
However, punishing men does not move us toward this goal. In fact, in many ways it moves us further from it because as we villainize men who are far enough gone to actually commit crimes, we let off the hook those who contribute in smaller ways. My point was not to let rapists “off lightly” — it was to implicate all men. Or, nearly all men. Most men in American society profit from unpaid emotional labor from women. Until this is recognized, these sexual abuses of women will keep arising. And, as long as men keep seeing “the rapists” as a completely different beast from themselves, they will continue not to improve their own behavior.
We can’t burn everyone at the stake.
Don’t waste your time suggesting rapists should kill themselves. No one’s going to do that, and such suggestions don’t help. Most rapists don’t even see themselves as rapists. Understand yourself, understand your emotions, and help other men understand theirs. That, ultimately, is how we’re going to fix this mess.