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Roxane Gay: Men need to read these dispatches from rape culture

Recent polling shows that almost half of American women say they’ve been sexually assaulted.

With that startling statistic in mind, KUOW presents this talk with author Roxane Gay, who compiled a collection of personal essays called, “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.” It addresses a misogynistic culture in which victims of violence are often discredited, mocked or shamed for their assault.

Gay is snappy and funny and thoughtful and an all-around great listen. But if you don’t have time, here are some of the highlights from the event.

Please note: The recording and quotes contain unedited language of an adult nature. You can find a full version of this event at the bottom.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Interview Highlights", "style": "wide"}]]On reactions after an assault has happened

Never does it occur to people to suggest going to the authorities and having actual consequences for these people who commit these crimes. I think that’s in many ways more horrifying than the prevalence of sexual assault – is the way we respond to it as a culture.

On why men need to read this book

I hope more men read this book – and women too. But mostly it’s men who need to read it. Women know what’s up. I feel like we’re good.

I think it’s time for men to do some homework and some soul searching.

A lot of men will say – and they often say this to me – “I would never hurt a woman. I’ve never done anything like this.”

I think, “I’m sure you haven’t, but if your partner has ever said no and you’ve cajoled and wheedled her into having sex by persistence, you’re part of the problem. And if your friends have bragged about their sexual exploits and diminished and degraded women, and you were silent, you are part of the problem.

No one’s telling you not to be a man, but we are telling you to not be an asshole.

On having hope

I don’t feel hopeful. No, I’m not going to lie to you. But I think things have the potential to change.

You already hear people talking about fatigue and backlash and worrying this over and “Oh, it’s gone too far.” No. Rape is going too far.

Talking about it and talking about the repercussions and naming the criminals who commit these crimes, that’s not going too far.

So we just have to sustain this moment.

On why sexual assault is looked at differently than other violent crimes

People treat women like second-class citizens, so anything that happens to women is “not as bad” as something that happens to men. So we just intrinsically diminish sexual violence against women.

I also think so many people have the “blurred lines” mentality – that it’s not really rape, it’s regret.

But mostly it’s just about women. And misogyny.

On reporting and sharing stories of sexual violence

The details don’t matter. What matters is that woman was violated. And what matters is she has been profoundly affected for many years. And I wish there was more focus on that instead of the what and the when and the why.

On what the justice system should do

Fewer than 10 percent of rapists are prosecuted and go to jail, which is an appalling statistic, and that has to change. But we also have to look at what we’re doing to people when we send them to prison. Because in general they just go and they learn how to become better rapists. There’s no rehabilitation.

Though I tend to reserve my empathy for the victims, I do still believe that we need a justice system that is focused more on rehabilitation than just on incarceration.

On what women who say “#metoo, but it was only sexual harassment”

You have to forgive them. That’s problematic, but that’s misogyny at work. You have to have empathy for a woman who says that. It’s not their fault, because they’re told every single day to “walk it off,” to “suck it up.”

So when a woman says “I was only sexually harassed,” she is a victim of this culture that tells her, “You were just sexually harassed, what are you crying about?” So they’re not actually the problem at all, they are just in a system.

Feel some tenderness to them and say, “Why are you diminishing your own pain?”

That’s what I try to do, because when you ask that question, a lot of times they’ll say, “Yeah, actually, that’s a good question. Why am I doing that?”

Gay's current reading recommendations

“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward

“Bad Blood,” by John Carreyrou

“Age of Innocence,” by Edith Wharton

..but not “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Roxane Gay is the author of the bestsellers “Bad Feminist” and “Hunger.” She spoke with Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur at the University Temple United Methodist Church on June 21. The event was presented by University Book Store and recorded by KUOW’s Sonya Harris.

Listen to the full version below: