What Is Rape Culture?

People consistently misunderstand the phrase “rape culture”. They might think that it is a culture where rape is applauded and not persecuted, and thus something that does not exist in modern America. Yet, rape culture is far from this overly simplified misconception. It is an environment in which rape is prevalent and is excused by societal influences such as the media. In America, studies have shown that 1 in 6 women had experienced an attempted or completed rape, definitively fulfilling the “prevalent” criteria of rape culture.

However, rape culture does not start out with the act itself: it is built on the foundation of a society that normalizes violence against women. This includes even the seemingly innocuous, such as saying a girl “friend-zoned” someone, or trivializing violent behavior on the basis of gender by saying things such as “Boys will be boys!” Common phrases such as these normalize any violent behavior of men and attack women on their right to say no in sexual or romantic situations. When turning to popular culture, depictions of sexual harassment are all too common and are often spun as a sort of joke despite the seriousness of the situation. This is known as a “rape joke”, or a joke that uses rape as its punch line. By refusing to take rape seriously, society creates a standard in which rape is normalized.

Perhaps most importantly, the victim in a rape case is often blamed for the crime, instead of the perpetrator. Often, a rape victim is asked things such as “What were you wearing?” or “Were you drunk?” as though a “wrong” answer to one of these questions would excuse the rape. These ideas find fault in the victim where the perpetrator deserved blame. A more minor but no less important version of this is “slut-shaming”: shaming a girl because of how she dresses or her sexual history. This is a clear opposite from society’s view of male sexual behavior. While men are encouraged to “score” and are called “players” for doing so, women are degraded for the exact same behavior. Thus, calling a girl a “slut” or any derivative thereof is a clearly sexist act that is attacking a girl from a basis founded upon her gender. As a result of this, rape is essentially excused. Thus, many people are unable to report being raped due to their feeling ashamed of the assault, even though it was through no fault of theirs.

Even the assumption that men do not get raped is a fundamental part of rape culture. By defining femininity as something shameful, submissive, and passive while simultaneously defining masculinity as something dominant and aggressive, men and women are both placed into gender roles that are extremely harmful for both. Since rape is seen as an act primarily committed by men against women, rape allegations by a woman against a man are seen as less important, or simply false. Since men are encouraged to “score” as well, sexual assaults against men are excused with the idea that they enjoy any sexual act regardless of it being forced or not. This is evidenced by the fact that the FBI changed their definition of rape to include men as victims only a few years ago, in 2012. Men are not allowed to show weakness, while women are forced into a weaker position: the hallmark of the patriarchy that clearly continues to exist today.

Together, these things help make rape culture not only exist, but thrive in modern day America. Yet there is a simple and easy way to thwart the prevalence of it within our society: instead of teaching women how to avoid getting raped, teach men not to rape.

By Victoria, Grade 11