Rape culture: what people mean
I know too many people who keep quiet about politics and social justice because they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing and offend somebody. I bet you know people like that too.
And I’m not an expert on this stuff. I don’t always have the right language to dive into the tough topics that dominate my news feed. But I do have Google, and the determination to find reliable and diverse voices who are already writing about issues that the rest of us need to understand so badly.
Rape culture is a system that everyone, men and women, unconsciously participate in. It’s a system that promotes the normalization and trivialization of rape. It’s a system that encourages the idea that male sexual aggression is the norm, and that violence and aggression are themselves sexy.
Three questions that frequently come up are:
1. Does rape culture really exist?
2. How can rape culture exist when penalties for rape are so heavy?
3. How can it exist when people clearly think that rape is such a heinous crime?
First of all, obviously, as stated above, I do believe that rape culture exists. And yes, I understand that there are harsh penalties for rape — some of the stiffest sentences in North America are given to rapists. However, the problem lies in how we talk about rape, and how we perceive it. The problem lies in the fact that many things that should be seen as rape are celebrated as being romantic or sexy or even just normal. Yes, some of the harshest sentences are given to rapists, but often cases are thrown out because the justice system doesn’t view them as “legitimate rape” (to borrow a phrase), or because the victim is pressured into dropping the charges. On top of that, many victims don’t report the fact that they’ve been raped (for a variety of reasons), or else are too afraid to press charges or testify.
- Rape culture is when women who come forward are questioned about what they were wearing.
- Rape culture is when survivors who come forward are asked, “Were you drinking?”
- Rape culture is when people say, “she was asking for it.”
- Rape culture is when we teach women how to not get raped, instead of teaching men not to rape.
- Rape culture is when the lyrics of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ mirror the words of actual rapists and is still the number one song in the country.
- Rape culture is when the mainstream media mourns the end of the convicted Steubenville rapists’ football careers and does not mention the young girl who was victimized.
- Rape culture is when cyberbullies take pictures of sexual assaults and harass their victims online after the fact, which in the cases of Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons tragically ended in their suicides.
- Rape culture is when, in 31 states, rapists can legally sue for child custody if the rape results in pregnancy.
- Rape culture is when college campus advisers tasked with supporting the student body, shame survivors who report their rapes. (Annie Clark, a campus activist, says an administrator at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill told her when she reported her rape, “Well… Rape is like football, if you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback, Annie… is there anything you would have done differently?”)
- Rape culture is when colleges are more concerned with getting sued by assailants than in supporting survivors. (Or at Occidental College, where students and administrators who advocated for survivors were terrorized for speaking out against the school’s insufficient reporting procedures.)
Go watch more: Unboxing with Dylan Marron
As women, especially Black women, from a young age, our bodies are seen as hypersexual objects that must be monitored in very specific ways. Moreover, young Black girls learn at a very young age, what rape is, and what they should do to try and make sure that they are not victims. And these lessons go beyond just telling these girls to be aware of “strangers” , it is very specifically lessons in making sure that you do not welcome the unwanted attention. This kind of rhetoric places the blame on victims, before they even become victims.
This is the same mentality that says that Black women should tailor what they choose to wear, so as to prevent being heckled by men. But wait, aren’t we missing something here? Shouldn’t we be teaching our men that this kind of behavior is unacceptable? Shouldn’t the conversation be focused on telling our young boys that they are not entitled to women?
Go read it all: Explaining Rape as a Culture, Not Just a Singular Act by Zakkiyya Anderson
Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can’t easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is.
That’s hardly everything. It’s merely the tip of an unfathomable iceberg.
Go read it all: Rape Culture 101 by Melissa McEwan
So go read all of these! And let me know what has helped you understand rape culture (links and powerful quotes also appreciated).
For more roundups, check out my main list of stories. And if you found this helpful, I’d appreciate a clap!