I am writing an article on combating rape anxiety, because I feel empowered by the recent #metoo movement that’s gripped social media and Western society. This is a bandwagon worth jumping on – Hey I said it. There seems to be a growing consensus that it’s not OK to expect women to put up with bullshit and stay quiet, because of their gender. And that’s fucking awesome.
I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if we took this one step further and told men how to actively lower our rape anxiety?” If all those awesome guys who refuse to objectify us, could get some indicators about how to channel their masculinity in a positive way, that would be kind of revolutionary. So I came up with this.
What is Rape Anxiety?
Rape anxiety is not rape trauma. I have never been raped. Or sexually assaulted at a high level (I have taught myself to deal with low level catcalling, occasional unwanted touches etc.) And I count myself lucky. But rape anxiety is an ongoing fear experienced by me and many many women out there, because we don’t want to experience this kind of stuff.
It is the silent fear I have when I walk alone in the dark. It’s a major reason why I don’t get too drunk on nights out or leave my drink uncovered. It’s the voice telling me to be alert when men catcall in the street or if they move too close into my personal space and I don’t know them. It’s why I keep glancing over my shoulder when I’m alone in quiet alleys and quicken my pace towards the main road. Rape anxiety is my fear of being raped.
Yes, I, a confident woman who dates lots of guys in different countries have rape anxiety too. For me, it’s a small daily fear that I deal with. But it’s always there.
Most of my male friends are not afraid of walking alone at night. Some told me that they were scared of getting mugged, or encountering racists. Well, take that fear and add getting degraded, raped, painfully mutilated and psychotically killed into the mix. Now you can kind of see how I feel.
What can you do to lower women’s rape anxiety?
1. Call out the catcallers
You know never to catcall, leer, make sexist or lewd comments or be an asshole. That is a given – Thanks for not doing it. You can take this one step further though; if you see anyone else doing the above dickhead things, then tell them it’s NOT OK. Tell them it’s sexist and inappropriate and not ‘manly’. Tell them that their kind of behaviour is a contributing factor to people thinking it’s OK to rape or sexually assault women; to victims keeping silent; to the blaming of victims. Tell them that it contributes to sexism in the workplace, the gender pay gap and sexism in general. Use your male privilege to help us speak out and tell them it needs to stop.
2. Listen and understand
Don’t think of rape anxiety as a phobia that we can learn to control or simply brush it off as attention-seeking. Women get raped all the time. I just don’t want it to be me. So, if a woman tells you about it, listen. We know that 95% of you are ‘good guys’, but there’s no way of telling who’s a sexual predator, so always act with our rape anxiety in mind. Once, David Schwimmer was being interviewed in a cafe. Because the cafe was very noisy, he invited the female interviewer to his hotel. He made sure that a third person would be present in the room while she was there. Be like Ross and always make sure we’re comfortable with the situation.
3. Make sure we know you’re not a creeper
Please be aware of our rape anxiety when you are walking behind us on a quiet road, during the day or night. Slow down if we glance over our shoulders anxiously – we’re assessing you as a potential threat. When we’re waiting at a quiet bus stop or train station and it’s getting dark, be mindful and don’t come into our personal space.
If you think we’re cute and want to talk to us, that great! Just try and be as non-threatening as possible. So rather than saying “Hey, where are you going?” maybe a “Hey, I’m not a stalker, but here’s my number if you’d be interested in a coffee” will work better – we’ll appreciate the balls it took to be this confident, get straight to the point and leave the ball in our court. Go ahead and leave a comment on what you think of this approach…
4. Know when to intervene
You can get into a sticky situation when another guy is actively hitting on a woman and she may not be into it. Should you intervene and tell him to stop? What if it starts a fight? What if she actually likes him? I would say this: Intervene if you’re asked to help or if there is a risk of immediate physical harm. If you need to, then first call security or the police. The point is to extract her from the situation, not to make the situation worse or take away her agency in deciding who she gets with.
Those are some ways you can help to lower our rape anxiety in daily life. Small actions from you can make a big difference to us.
What if you’re on a date though? You need to flirt if you’re interested in her, sure. It’s different, because you’re both potentially interested in each other. But there are still boundaries that need to be respected, to ensure you’re not pressurizing her.
What can you do on a date to lower a woman’s rape anxiety?
1. Message respectfully
Even whilst you’re on your dating app of choice, there are things you can do that implicitly lower our rape anxiety and say “It’s OK, I’m not a threat”. Give out your number, rather than ask for hers; that way, you’re putting the ball in her court; showing your interest without exerting pressure. Don’t ask to meet in the second message. First we need to establish that you’re not an axe-murderer. 10-12 messages is a safe margin to stick to and gives you time to flirt.
Being overtly sexual in messages before meeting is not a good idea. Asking a woman if she has gag reflex will not only kill chemistry (you don’t even know each-other!!!), it’s also way too much pressure. Even if it’s just a hook-up there’s protocol. Find out more tinder messaging tips here.
2. Respect physical boundaries
As soon as you meet, what do you do? A small hug is OK for me. But this varies – if confused, just go for a handshake. Physical contact after greetings is also a subject of great debate. For me, you can touch my hand or arm – but only well into a date. I will touch yours first to signal that it’s OK for you to do the same. It should be a light touch and never on my leg or somewhere more sexual. If we kiss, then holding hands/ linking arms after is fine. But I am just one woman. How do you know with the rest?
One of my male friends has a great way of bringing it up; he talks about his worst dates as a fun way to break the ice, then mentions that he sucks at reading signals. Boom. His dates are then happy to reel off a list of their signals and boundaries without entering into a long conversation about consent.
3. Don’t combine flattery with pressure
Flattery is awesome. Every time a guy tells me I have a nice smile, I give him 10 brownie points. But you need to know when to draw the line. Your flattery should not be overtly sexual when you first meet, e.g. “you have a great body”, unless she specifically brings it up, say by talking about fitness, otherwise we feel pressurized to bang you. Stick to the smile.
Never allude to you having sex with your date if you haven’t. Saying stuff like “Oh you have tattoos? Maybe I’ll see them later…” makes us feel pressured and uncomfortable – it’s what Mr Zero-To-One Hundred said to me on this date. Wait until it’s OK to clearly ask her home, or wait until she asks you.
4. Know when to kiss
Do I kiss on the first date? An age-old question. Some people do, some people don’t. I would say your safest bet is to wait until one of these scenarios develops:
A. She asks you to kiss her, or she goes for it first. Once I dated a French guy in Bali and he said that he always waited until a woman made the first move, because he only wanted to date women 100% into him. I think that was smart and actually, it really made me want to kiss him. Read about that kiss and why it worked here.
B. You ask her if it’s OK to kiss and she says yes. A lot of guys think this is awkward and a ‘game-killer’ – they think it’s OK to kiss a woman who would be uncertain or say ‘no’ if asked outright. For me, it shows maturity and confidence. Why would you want to kiss someone not completely sure about you anyway? Saying “I find you really attractive and want to know if I can kiss you” is smooth AF.
C. You are 100% certain that the vibes are as strong as boiling water. Then sure, lean in – but make sure it’s mutual for both parties.
Sure, you can kiss before all of this. But do you really want to be the guy who we regret kissing?
5. Know how to kiss
When you do kiss for the first time, go slow. Don’t immediately pressurize her to go home with you. Don’t get all gropey and shit on her boobs and butt. Here’s more handy tips on how NOT to kiss.
When we are on a date, we tend to have mentally screen-checked you beforehand enough to think it’s OK to go out with you. We kind of know you won’t rape us (hopefully). But lifting pressure off of us on dates is definitely a way to combat rape anxiety, because it contributes to fighting the stereotype that all men have one-track minds and nothing is more important to you than sex. So help us out.
What women can do to help men lower our rape anxiety:
It does indeed take two to tango – we need to help you guys too. How?
- We can be more assertive. Long gone are the days of the damsel in distress. Ask that guy out, initiate physical contact if you’re feeling it and ask him to kiss you.
- Joke about your worst dates and what they did to turn you off, so your date knows not to do the same. Communication is key.
This is one for everybody: Tell your male friends about rape anxiety and refer them to this article. Spread the word.