Zerlina Maxwell Braves Online Attacks and Abuse to Speak Out About Rape Culture


Zerlina Maxwell appeared on The Sean Hannity Show last week to push back on the prevailing and ludicrous right-wing narrative that stockpiling weapons is the best way for women to prevent rape. While she expected a somewhat hostile response, she did not foresee, however, the vitriolic backlash that followed. 

What Zerlina said is not controversial: She spoke out in favor of changing the conversation about rape and criticized the sort of victim-blaming inherent in the notion that men don’t rape people, women without guns are raped by people: 

“Well, I think that I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want women, I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Because it’s still putting it on me to prevent the rape.” (Video clip and transcript, below.)

Both Hannity and Gayle Trotter (the other guest on the show) kept insisting that guns are the solution. “Every year there are 2.5 million defensive uses of guns,” Trotter proclaims. “Every year!” 

But that statistic is meaningless: For one thing, it has been roundly criticized as “mythical.”  And even if the number is accurate, those 2.5 million defensive uses are not necessarily women shooting would-be rapists.

For his part, Hannity kept trying to re-frame the debate as “women using guns to stop rapes-in-progress” as if Zerlina was suggesting that women politely ask men to stop raping them as opposed to what she was actually suggesting, which is that we focus on educating men about respect for women’s bodily autonomy and teaching men what rape is. Either by design, or, as is more likely, crippling ignorance, Hannity refused to grasp the simplicity of Zerlina’s point. “Criminals will not listen,” Hannity argued.  

This sort of unthinking analysis is par for the course for the likes of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Anyone not interested in purposeful obfuscation knows full well that Zerlina did not argue, as The Blaze claims, that “women don’t need guns for self-defense; just tell men not to rape women.”  

That this debate about arming potential rape victims is even a thing is patently absurd. First, the claim that women need to be armed to prevent rape is a symptom of a broader problem: The argument by anti gun-reform proponents that guns are *the* answer to violence co-exists with a willingness to then verbally assault anyone who disagrees. For example, some proponents of the idea that guns will make women safer from rape have also engaged in public harassment and mocking of Maxwell, a rape survivor who dares suggest that maybe we should change the conversation surrounding sexual assault and stop victim-blaming. These attacks are another form of violence and abuse.

Second, the claim that women should have the choice to be armed is beside the point. In the reality-based world, two-thirds of women are raped by someone they know, and if women start shooting every man who might rape them or who they think might rape them (because remember, your right to self-defense hinges on whether you think your life is in danger) then, let’s just say, there will be many more shooting deaths in this country. Moreover, what happens when the rapist attacks you when you aren’t around your gun?

But, of course, those who watch Fox News or who read The Blaze would rather attack the messenger. And attack they did. They attacked on Twitter. (Zerlina was alerted by her mother of all people to the infamous tweet by Michael Shapiro aka @michael_ny_usa (which I will not post here because it is that ugly, but which you can view in Josh Marshall’s post at Talking Points Memo). They also attacked on Facebook, where a photo of a smiling Zerlina with the word “IDIOT” emblazoned on it has been shared on Facebook almost 25,000 times and “liked” almost 96,000 times.  

In an interview with RH Reality Check, Zerlina says, “I made a strategic choice to go into a hostile environment to talk about this issue knowing that I was going to get push back.” “What I didn’t anticipate,” she says “is the level of vitriol as a result.” 

The vitriol left her taken aback and feeling somewhat alone, until Friday evening, when Jessica Luther of Flyover Feminism rallied supporters around the #TYZerlina hashtag, which, Zerlina says, has helped her cope with the level of nastiness that this particular appearance on Hannity’s show engendered. She recognizes that she’s out on a ledge by appearing on Hannity as frequently as she does. “I get tweets calling me stupid or an idiot every single time I go on,” she says. “I get hate tweets every single time.” 

But this was different.“This was particularly painful,” Zerlina says, “because I know I wasn’t speaking for myself.” When asked why she chose to go on Hannity and speak about rape culture, she responds, “I’ve been fed up.” Her litany of grievances is familiar:

“Particularly after the election what we went through with ‘legitimate rape,’ ‘honest rape,’ ‘another form of conception’ rape. You can’t have the morning after pill; you can’t get an abortion; Paul Ryan being on the ticket at all; we’re going to de-fund Planned Parenthood; we’re going to do a transvaginal ultrasound against your will. I’m really just fed up.”

For Zerlina, exploiting rape survivors in order to support the NRA’s crusade against gun control was simply a bridge too far.

Her efforts have paid off, however.  She has received supportive messages from conservative Twitter rape survivors who tell her how much they disagree with her on every other issue except this one. By putting herself out there, Zerlina has been able to reach out to women across the aisle. The importance of this cannot be understated because, as Zerlina points out, “Rape isn’t a partisan issue. There are Republican survivors, too.”

***You can find a link to Zerlina’s appearance on The Ed Show last night here.

***You can find a complete video of Zerlina’s appearance on the Sean Hannity Show at Feministing here, and a transcript of her appearance (courtesy of Natalia Hacerola) here.

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Follow Imani Gandy on twitter: @AngryBlackLady

  • http://www.facebook.com/rim.free Rim Free

    If she’s so “brave” Ms. I. Gandy, why doesn’t she brave challenging the whorenography industry and “Ghettogaggers?” B/females always let the non-Black powers that be portray and treat them any-kind-of-way, then when their own kind (which is common nature, those closest to you will…) do the same, they go public with stop this treatment of us upstanding, pure, clean, honest females. What about the teachers raping little boys in schools? If she’s not some CIA op (like Josephine Baker was, and who knows who else) propped-up to further denigrate Blackmales, I want to see her challenge HO*llywood and the whorenography’s portrayal of Halle “Bare-ry” and the like. And mothers don’t just need to teach boys not to rape, but females that become teachers not to rape boys; and girls how to be ladies ALL their lives. Not just when they’re at home. “Massa” and Willie Lynch allowed every white man under the son to penetrate (but Not Reparate) B/females at their will. Maybe today’s era is just repeating itself? Oh, and don’t forget, get the “projects” and “low-income” females to live like Queens and not queAns, and rapes may also diminish.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      Uh, I’ve never heard such bigotry, racism, sexism and pure bullshit come from such an asshole, before. Black men still benefit from being men. White men simply benefit from being BOTH white and male. Yet YOU’RE blaming BLACK WOMEN for being raped?

      Like I said to the morons above, rape is not about sex, but power. Blaming the VICTIM does not make rape go away, ASSHOLE. Telling a woman to act like a ‘lady’ (MORE misogyny) or telling her she can’t be naked or that she should live like a Queen or that she can’t go out with white men (because a black man just MIGHT not be able to get his ‘little woman’) because, otherwise, she’ll get raped IS victim-blaming and misogyny. NEITHER does it make rape diminish. Dickhead.

      Why can’t FATHERS teach their sons not to rape, moron? Why do you ASSume that it’s always the WOMAN’S responsibility to stop rape? And, WHY is it that this doesn’t lead you to something that SHOULD be such a SIMPLE thought process: that maybe THIS is why men need to teach OTHER MEN not to rape, because men blame women for being raped, while they blame WOMEN for raping boys, just like YOU are doing, you little piece of EXCREMENT.

  • http://www.facebook.com/blake.cash Kb Cash

    If “If it saves only one life” is justification for gun control, why is “if it only prevents one rape” at least an equal argument? Only in this case, the numbers are 100 lives a year lost to assault rifles, and 2.5 million defenses, of which statistically about 200,000 were rapes that were prevented.

    I agree that THIS woman shouldn’t have a gun, as she thinks it’s justification to use deadly force against anyone who could possibly be a potential rapist, rather than limiting herself to just rapes in progress.

    Maybe she should stop exploiting her experience to disarm the hundreds of thousands of other women who may one day defend themselves, rather than complaining about the hundreds of women who have successfully defended themselves are somehow being exploited. Maybe that would eliminate what she appears to accept as a “rape culture”.

    • Frederick Weaver

      Good point.

      Growing numbers of women are tweeting why they are now gun owners. Among the top reasons it surviving rape and not wanting to be a victim ever again:

      http://twitchy.com/2013/01/30/empowerment-women-speak-out-against-gun-control-a-real-war-on-women-i-was-unarmed-and-raped/

      So, I am baffled why there are people who view this form of empowerment as a bad thing. A woman buying a gun to defend herself against rapists is as rational as a Black man like my grandfather buying a gun to protect himself and his family from Jim Crow-era White racists.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

        Rape is not about sex, moron. It’s about power. Putting guns into the hands of women to defend themselves only has the potential to put more power into the hands of the person that is raping them. Rather than blaming women for not protecting themselves well enough, which is NOT empowerment, why don’t we blame the men for actually raping them? Kthxbai.

        • http://www.facebook.com/blake.cash Kb Cash

          Name calling is not a reasonable argument.

          No one is suggesting that the rapists (men or women) are not to be blamed. What we’re reflecting on is the adage “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away”. Is the lifetime of damage caused by a physical assault better than exercising the power to stop the assault? Is the possibility of actually killing the rapist, and therefore saving any future victims, such a horrible thing?

          Empowering women means trusting them. Trusting them to carry a weapon, trusting them to use the proper judgement and defend themselves rather than just shooting up the neighborhood. Trusting them to be more intelligent than…you.

          • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

            Tone arguments are not reasonable arguments.

            Do you like proving yourself wrong all the time?

            Of course, I shouldn’t have expected otherwise, when my point goes RIGHT OVER YOUR HEAD. The fact is, you are making my point FOR ME. The fact IS, is that you are encouraging the idea of ‘REAL RAPE’ and that it only occurs when the women have a weapon in their hands in order to prevent the rape. If they don’t have a weapon, you are turning it on the victim, blaming them, by proxy, for the rape, because it would have been better if they had been able to exercise the power to stop the assault and thereby save any future victims. Because, really, the only way rape can be eliminated is if the victims of rape culture defend themselves by using the violent tools that are a symbol of the violent patriarchy that CREATED that rape culture, and, you know what, women should TOTALLY be thinking of how heroic they can be while in the process of being assaulted.

            Funny how you and your kind never seem to apply that last to MEN. Oh, wait, no, it’s not, because this ISN’T about empowering or trusting women, after all. Why do I always hold out hope that Gun Nuts will ever be able to think critically?

            Empowering women means trusting them, yes. But you aren’t trusting or empowering women with anything. You’re just using another method to blame and punish women for being raped. What is TRULY empowering to and trusting women, is trusting them and using every effort to prosecute and punish the criminals, NOT teaching women what the ‘proper’ way is to not get raped or defend themselves.

            After all, as points go over your head so easily, it seems I must clarify, for you, AGAIN, the point of the article was NOT that women can’t use guns to defend themselves from rape, but the FACT that Sean Hannity and his ilk (including you, apparently) was not only using his conversation with Miss Maxwell as a forum to launch his anti-gun restrictions vitriol against her and the Obama administration but also underscore the very tenets of rape culture, that being, AS ZERLINA SAID, teaching women how to defend themselves, rather than teaching men not to rape (or TRULY trusting and empowering women).

            WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPS!

          • http://www.facebook.com/blake.cash Kb Cash

            How terribly sad your life must be. I am sorry you were blamed for being raped. It was not your fault. Nor was it the fault of every other person on the planet. It was just the man that raped you, no one else. That doesn’t make him any less special, he destroyed your life and your ability to relate to the rest of your species, in my view a much worse attack than murder, as you relive your pain every day, becoming more and more bitter towards the ones who are not responsible, because you cannot punish the one who is responsible.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      Are you a complete idiot? Your ‘justification’ could be turned around to say that this is an equal argument, “If owning a gun aids and abets in even one woman’s rape,”….. Of course logic completely bypasses people like you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/blake.cash Kb Cash

        Carla, your response fails to make any point, other than you don’t know what you’re talking about. I can see that you’ve responded all over this thread, a month after it was current. Did it take you that long to formulate such incomplete thoughts?

        • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

          Gee, if my comment failed to make a point, I fail to see why you said nothing to the comment above, in which the person made the argument that I was referring to. And about wondering why it took me so long to comment, if you thought it was such an unreasonable time frame in which to reply, why are YOU replying to ME? Hmm…? Does anything you ever do, EVER make sense, Kb Cash? And, of course, I notice it never came to your attention that maybe I’m not online as often as others? That’s some intelligence you have there. Sad to see.

  • http://twitter.com/DataSnake DataSnake

    Another point: how is the woman supposed to prove the guy she shot was really attempting to rape her? There’s no evidence because he didn’t get the chance to do anything, so are the police just supposed to take her word for it? Given how much scrutiny rape survivors get now, I don’t imagine such a case going in the woman’s favor.

    • Frederick Weaver

      The likely scenario is a woman pulls a gun on the would-be rapist, who promptly runs for it. Hence, the attempted rape would never go to trial since there is no dead rapist.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

        OR the guy grabs the gun and kills the woman. Has a get out jail free card, and goes on to rape other women. WHOOPS.

  • Frederick Weaver

    In related news, liberal blogger Gina McCauley points out that anti-rape Zerlina Maxwell once leaped to the defense of Genarlow Wilson, who was convicted of raping an underage girl. Read more in the following post:

    Zerlina Maxwell and Ebony Magazine’s Hypocrisy on Steubenville Rape Case- Will Tom
    Joyner Give Steubenville Rapist Ma’Lik Richmond a Free Morehouse Education?

    http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com/waod/2013/3/18/zerlina-maxwell-and-ebony-magazines-hypocrisy-on-steubenvill.html

    This news adds ammo to those who are skeptical of Maxwell’s anti-rape feminist rep. It also gives credence to rape survivors who now choose to be armed.

  • RickInAriz

    “…your right to self-defense hinges on whether you think your life is in danger…” Really? Nonsense! If you think someone is about to hurt you, you also have the right (even the obligation) to defend yourself. Attacking people simply because they choose to defend themselves makes no sense. Of course, choosing to avoid defending one’s self is another choice, but the argument for that may be left to others to make rather than the deceased victim of violence. What should be remembered is that the Supreme Court has ruled that police departments are under no legal obligation to protect you. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/28scotus.html?_r=0

    Choose to be a victim if you want to, but don’t blame those of us who chose to take steps to ensure that others don’t harm us.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      How is she choosing to be a victim? Oh, that’s right, by proving my point to Frederick above, about how not protecting yourself well enough, means you are to blame for the rape. Fucking SICK.