Weinstein’s lawyer is not alone in thinking like that. The National Community Attitudes Survey conducted by ANROWS shows a staggering one-third of Australians believe rape results from “men not being able to control their need for sex”. The sample size was 17,500 Australians over 16. More than one in four Australians agree that “when a man is very sexually aroused, he may not even realise that the woman doesn’t want to have sex”.
As if men are so penis-led that they can’t possible function as humans. Michael Flood, associate professor in the law faculty at Queensland University of Technology, says research reveals some men and women still subscribe to the idea that male sexuality is an uncontrollable or barely controllable force. The weird flaw with this argument is that the majority of men are not rapists. They understand the word no. Hell, they’ve even used it themselves, so I hear. Then why do we dehumanise men in this way?
It’s certainly a way of shifting the responsibility from men, poor hapless water buffalo, to women, classic victim-blaming, an expression first used by William Ryan in his book Blaming the Victim, where he writes, it’s a way of “justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality”. And that’s just the way it is for Rotunno and others who think like her. Those women, they’ve made poor choices. Men are so helpless.
Here’s how Rotunno continues: “We walk out at night and we look around and make sure we have our phones, some people take mace. We take precautions. And all I’m saying is, is that women should take precautions.”
Women should take precautions because men are dangerous. There is no question that this view, which blames women for sexual assault, is anti-male and constructs men as hopeless dolts who are led by desire.
Those terrifying figures in the ANROWS survey show a decline in the numbers of those who think men can’t control themselves (yes, that percentage was 43 per cent just a few years ago). But that concept of uncontrollable men makes women take all the responsibility for getting men to behave well.
As Kathryn Ryan writes in Rape Mythology and Victim Blaming, “Stereotypes operate at every stage of the legal process: victims’ decisions to report, the police response, lawyers’ decisions to prosecute, how defence attorneys defend the case, jury decision making, and judges’ behaviour.”
If you’ve read any of the material coming from the Weinstein trial, you will see exactly how women are being painted by Rotunno and her team. I wish this only happened in the US. It’s hard to get women to testify and the Weinstein trial reminds us how hard it is for women to have to recount the details of their assaults and then to have lawyers attack their credibility. No wonder some women refused to testify.
But those stereotypes hurt women and they hurt men. Flood says there’s this idea that “women should be the gatekeepers and guardians of sexual safety, with responsibility for both their own and men’s sexual behaviour”, what author Anne Summers described as God’s Police.
That’s been used to “deny, downplay or defend men’s sexual violence against women, and to place the burden of responsibility for rape with women. It is up to women not to ‘provoke’ men, to ‘lead them on’, as men cannot be held responsible for their actions,” says Flood.
Women have spent the last 50 years fighting for agency over their lives, not to be considered as objects or less worthy, wanting more. But now maybe we need to fight for all men to be considered as sexually responsible, as kind and vulnerable, and that means they will need to behave that way.
Rotunno’s solution is that men and women should sign a consent form before having sex. Quite the idea: contract law as foreplay, where it’s safer to whip out the pen than the penis.
Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.
Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.