Empowered Women Get Raped Less… Eventually.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. Shankar Vedantam at NPR says this much more elegantly, citing a wide range of studies. (No kidding – if you’ve been waiting your whole life for a comparative analysis of Norwegian, Japanese, and North American pornography, this story is for you.)

When women stand up for themselves, or, in today’s catchphrase, “lean in,” they advance powerful social changes that lead to reduced violence against women. 

But there is a second conclusion, less obvious and also less pretty: When women first achieve greater power, a certain subset of men gets angry. In the short term, that backlash causes all of us to suffer:

One analysis of 109 U.S. cities over three decades found that “the short-term effect of gender equality is an increased rape rate via increased threats to the status quo; whereas the long-term effect of gender equality is reduced rape via an improved climate toward women.

Or, in plain language, it gets worse before it gets better.

One phenomenon Vedantam doesn’t touch on is the tendency of some women to join in the backlash. By distancing themselves from “feminists” and even attacking them, women protect themselves as individuals. It’s a lot like the reaction of kids on a playground when someone finally stands up to a bully. Even if a majority is suffering, it usually stands by and lets the bully take out all his or her rage on the one kid who dared to confront the issue. 

There is no easy way out of this moral trap. If the research is correct, those of us who choose to stand up for women’s rights put everyone at greater risk. It’s no wonder some women get angry at us and wish we would just honor the status quo. Some of them will suffer for a cause they did not want to get involved in. Of course that is unjust.

But what is more unjust is to condemn our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters to discrimination and sexual violence. It doesn’t take much. You don’t have to share your rape story, run around topless, or even support abortion to be a feminist. All you have to do is stand up for yourself — and support other women when they do the same.