People frequently puzzle over the age-old question about whether or not all men are secretly rapists. Scientists have done multiple studies, and the results have always come back inconclusive. Men can almost always be caught staring at a woman’s chest, catcalling her or telling her her scale out of 10, or even the mildest form of rape: telling her to smile.

Of course, not everybody considers these social interactions as offensive as others might, and people routinely defend them as harmless, or even complimentary. These people are men, and since we basically make the rules, the qualifications for what constitutes sexual harassment gets to be really, really fluid. If the intention isn’t to beat the shit out of her with your penis, then it’s probably okay, right?

So why are women being raped by pretty much everything that men do, and why are men being entirely oblivious to it?

Allow me, a straight, white male, to give you the answer.

The social conditioning that boys and girls go through are entirely different. I’m pretty sure most people know this. Typically, boys are conditioned to be tools (a tool as in a hammer or a screwdriver, not a tool as in a douchebag). We’re trained to go out and do shit; fight crime, solve mysteries, be astronauts, whatever. Women, on the other hand, are conditioned to be temples. They get to stand around and look pretty while men are out fighting crime and solving mysteries. I’m pretty sure most people refer to this as men being the actor and women being the acted-upon, but I’m using the tool/temple analogy because it makes more sense when I eventually get around to linking this to sex.

Society has gotten a smidgen better with its portrayal of women. Women are beginning to solve their own share of mysteries, and little girls are starting to get role models that are more than just incompetent princesses waiting around for some dude with a sword to fix all their problems with marriage. However, since most movies still fail the Bechdel test, we clearly have a long way to go.

Despite all the progress women have made in becoming tools in regards to their careers and livelihood, when it comes to sex, there is nothing. Nobody talks about it, or if they do, there is zero consensus about how women should be having it. Some think that women should be freely sexual beings, others think that sex implies patriarchal ownership, that it is degrading to women. There is a bit of a divide.

Men, we know how to have sex. We’re tools. We go out, we buy a girl a drink, and then she becomes obligated to have sex with us now that we’ve spent all of five dollars on her. Our sexual autonomy is that we go out and we do. Simple.

The temples, on the other hand, are still being acted upon. The sexual autonomy of a women is her ability to give out consent. Consent is basically a one-way street. When consent is discussed, it is almost always in the context of the female. She gets to decide whom she allows into her temple. She’s not going out to get laid, she’s going out to decide who she lets have sex with her. Her autonomy embodies the passive role, rather than the active.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Some people think that the body should be sacred, and sex should follow that logic, and that’s why I choose the temple metaphor. There could be an argument made that men should view their own sexuality in a more revered fashion, rather than just as slavering dogs.

Good or bad, this is the way it is. And so when assholes on the street catcall a girl, they are chipping away at her only form of sexual autonomy: her consent. If the only autonomy a girl has with regards to her sexuality is her ability to either allow or disallow sexual advances, and those advances are being thrust upon her, unasked, as she goes about her daily life, then it is understandable why “complimenting” a girl on her ass might piss her off. It’s basically verbally raping her, and she has no choice but to endure it because you can’t say “no” to a passing comment.

So why are men oblivious? Because we grew up as tools. Since we all know that empathy isn’t real, (or we should) then we know that men will naturally assume that women have the same outlook on sex as they do. I honestly can’t count the times I’ve been told, “well, just imagine a girl coming up to you and saying that” like it’s the same thing. It’s not, because men and women have different sexual autonomies based on our respective conditioning. But most guys don’t understand that, so they remain ignorant to the harm they are causing by something they might view as complimentary, because they imagine the reverse happening to them, without taking into consideration the conditioning towards sexuality that women go through in our society.

As easy as you might think it is to blame individual men for telling random women they’re hot, you have to remember that men aren’t being educated about the sexuality of women, either as temples or as tools, as men are exposed to even fewer female role models than women. And you can’t say, “teach men not to sexually harass women” because most men won’t understand what constitutes actual harassment based off of our own gendered biases.

So are all men rapists? Probably, but at least it’s not on purpose.

Post-script: There are a lot of generalities in here. Forgive me.

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