The reason for this outpouring of hateful online posting is that this courageous rape survivor spoke on Fox’s Hannity program and said preventing rape is about “telling men not to rape women,” not telling women to get guns, or indeed giving women advice at all. She argued, “If firearms were the answer, then the military would be the safest place for women, and it’s not.”
Maxwell is right. Far from being safe from rape, women in the military are subject to an “epidemic of sexual assault and rape” and these rapists in the military often get away with it.
The simple truth Maxwell told is that if you want to prevent rape, “train men not to grow up to become rapists.”
The disgusting, threatening response to Maxwell’s call to focus on men to end rape is a blatant attempt to intimidate and silence her. It is exactly the climate of fear that rape creates and illustrates what Susan Brownmiller wrote in her ground-breaking book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” namely that “[r]ape is a conscious process of intimidation.”
Maxwell also made the point that unlike the stereotype of the masked stranger, many rapists are known to their victims. That is why, in fact, Sean Hannity’s generalization that “evil exists in the world” does not help us understand the specifics of rape. This is not a nameless ‘stranger danger,’ but a disturbing aspect of the power dynamics of women’s relationships with men.
The way to end rape, in fact, is not to focus narrowly on an abstract concept of “evil” in the human condition, but to get serious about what is broken in the power relationships between women and men. What Maxwell is suggesting, in my view, is that it will be productive to understand the practical dynamics of human goodness and how it is specifically cultivated and expanded.
I teach a class called “Good and Evil,” and every year I have taught it, the “good” part of the class gets longer. That’s not because “evil” has become so comprehensible, but because the dynamics of goodness are so many and so profound.
In my class, I use Phillip Hallie’s book, “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.” This is a richly insightful account of how Protestant villagers in France saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis. These villagers had experience in saving refugees, so that had practiced helping others, and they supported one another in standing against violence when many in France were helping the Nazis deport the Jews.
We need to know that goodness can be learned, and that can be practiced even in the face of cultural supports for perpetrating violence. From the experience of Le Chambon, there are several key lessons about how to teach men to end violence against women. Men need to consciously model behavior of respect for women to boys and other men, and they need to directly challenge the culture of acceptance of violence against women by speaking out publicly against it.