We Live In A Rape Culture

Originally published at the Feminist Wire

Many people object to the phrase “rape culture.” They don’t understand how a culture as civilized as ours can be defined by a force as destructive as rape. They deem it an overstatement, an “over-analysis” by angry bra-burning feminists. Some even consider it an oxymoron. And others quite simply don’t understand the term.

Rape culture is the condoning and normalizing of physical, emotional and sexual terrorism against women and girls and marginalized subjects. It is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable.

Society operates formally and informally based on attitudes, beliefs, customs and rituals that members agree are acceptable and normal. Rape is embedded in our culture through our collective beliefs and this has rendered sexual violence acceptable and normal. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem that needs changing, people in a rape culture consider its persistence as “just the way things are.”

We’ve accepted rape as part of our society and allocated gender roles only aid in exasperating this.

How do we normalize rape? Professor Lynn Phillips answers this question very well: “Everywhere you turn there’s condoning, trivializing, and eroticizing rape, and collectively it sets a tone that says this is no big deal, or this is what women deserve.” A common misconception is that we have to agree with rape in order to be a part of a rape culture. This is not true. We do not need to give consent to be a part of a rape culture. We already live in one. Rape culture is not necessarily about you accommodating or agreeing to an actual rape. It’s about participating in a culture that says “rape is no big deal” via various communicative mediums such as media, advertising, law, jokes, TV, film, etc., and not calling it out and resisting it.

This is most easily revealed in the ways that the language of rape culture exists in everyday conversation; trending social media topics like “the rape sloth;” meme “jokes” like “Oh you don’t want sex? Challenge Accepted,” and even “I’ve got a dick and a knife, at least one of them is going inside of you tonight;” popular phrases like “I raped that test;” and movies where entire plots revolve around teenage boys wanting to throw a party so they can get girls drunk and have sex with them (i.e. American Pie).

Hip Hop artist Rick Ross recently rapped a verse on the Rocko song U.O.E.N.O that not only condoned rape but encouraged listeners to engage in date rape. He boasted,

Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it. I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.

The line preceding Ross’s line, “she ain’t even know it,” explicitly engages slipping a well known date rape drug, MDMA, also known as “Molly,” into a girls’ champagne glass. In this song, regardless of apology or intention, Ross is advocating date rape through drugging women. There is no consent here, and no consent = rape. Such examples have a universal impact on how we view rape and sexual violence.

The synthesis between rape and culture is created through social customs and relations, politics, religion, advertising, entertainment, media, etc., which too often sexualizes violence, blames victims, and propagates myths about race, gender, class and sexual assault. In rape culture, we often take responsibility away from rapists by saying things like “maybe she could have taken precautions to ensure the sexual assault didn’t happen?” or teaching that because a woman wasn’t modestly dressed or drunk, she deserved the rape a little bit more than others. This is wrong.

Rape prevention must focus on eliminating the conditions in society that make women easy targets for it. Victim control or rapist control alone are not effective. Victim control teaches women that they are rape-able and that it’s their job to avoid rape. However, this is not only sexist, it doesn’t reduce the threat of rape. Furthermore, rape cannot always be avoided, no matter what precautions the woman takes. Social training and gender constructs exasperate the rape culture that we live in. Men are taught to be powerful and macho and women are taught to be victims–who need saving.

Rape can be viewed as a means of control over women. A strategy for eliminating women’s vulnerability to rape involves altering the power relationship between women and men. This would require eliminating the erroneous gender constructs that facilitate this imbalance. Some women are reluctant to challenge men’s offensive behavior because of their social conditioning (i.e. it’s not proper to “make a scene”). And frequently, women psychologically distance themselves from the issue of rape and from each other by adopting the attitude that “It can’t happen to me,” or that “Only immoral women are raped.

So, what can we do to help change this?

  1. Interrupt jokes that are sexist/misogynistic and make rape an issue. Laughing or saying nothing when someone tells one of these jokes normalizes rape and sexual violence against women.
  2. Write a letter to the editor or producer if media coverage of sexual assault is disrespectful, objectifying, or victim-blaming.
  3. E-mail complaints and concerns to advertising agencies, magazines, broadcasting companies, and newspapers who participate in the production of images that degrade minorities or glorify violence.
  4. E-mail compliments to artists and public personalities who publicly take a stance against rape.
  5. Refuse to buy products whose advertisements promote the notion that women should or do get sexual pleasure from being dominated against in any way–without consent.
  6. Engage male allies. Explain that rape is not simply a woman’s issue, and that men play a key role in stopping rape.
  7. Help dispel some commonly held rape myths.
  8. Make rape culture known to everyone around you–friends, family and colleagues. The more people that know about it, the more chances we have to rid our society of its destructive force.
  9. Continue to educate yourself about rape culture by reading books, such as Transforming a Rape Culture by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth or by watching documentaries such as Rape Culture.
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Terry Bequette says:

    Very good entry. This topic needs this kind of attention, exposure, and discussion. Changing the culture of rape is challenging and may seem hopeless to those most impacted by it on personal levels (does not include this old white guy), but your nine action items are good for everybody to follow. Thank you for writing this.

  2. deeley1 says:

    Whilst rape culture is perhaps a thing, why is it (rape that is) fetishised (by certain feminists) to be this special crime which is glamourised by the media and the zeitgeist as a whole? It’s made out to be this one crime where culture glamourises it, encourages it, sanitises it and makes jokes about it. Do we not live in a culture where all crimes are glamourised or have jokes made about them? There are murder jokes, jokes about theft, jokes about abuse, divorce, torture, war, and so forth (I am perfectly aware that this does not justify jokes about rape before you respond with such a comment). Surely it’s better to view this holistically and part of a wider problem which has always been prevalent in society: a crime culture – where the suffering of individuals is either glamourised, made into a joke or sanitised by our culture. To truly understand ‘rape culture’ we can’t just look at it as a separate issue but instead an issue which is connected to society, culture and the human condition as a whole. Unfortunately, the suffering of individuals has always been subject for humour: comedy and tragedy are inherently interlinked, perhaps even, the same.

    My other gripe with the concept of rape culture seems to be this notion of hypodermic needle theory. Hypodermic needle theory is a media theory suggesting that as soon as someone consumes media they are instantaneously affected by it: their personality and behaviour changes. This theory was brought about during the early stages of media-science and research and has proven to be substantially false – and thus whilst I sympathise with your arguments, you don’t seem to recognise that a large majority of audiences question everything they see on their screens or in print-media. Another element of this is ethics. The concept of ‘rape culture’ takes away the responsibility from the rapist immediately: the rapist was made to rape by society, was made to rape by the media, was made to rape by rape jokes, was made to believe that rape was okay by culture…This whole notion completely takes away the responsibility of the rapist away and suggests that its not the rapist fault that he/she (yes rape is not strictly limited to men) raped an individual, but instead it is society’s fault.

    How can we get rid of rape is the ultimate question? Well logic dictates that it’s obvious to get rid of any crime – murder cannot be got rid of. But we can limit it, you’re right. As a lefty, I’m deeply concerned by our ‘side’ and the way we have attempted to observe rape. We say that we can stop rape by censoring or policing language? This is ludicrous. Of course, another dimension to this is the fact that rape jokes are harmful to rape victims, and I do understand this – but we cannot go about by the unethical approach of censoring speech. To quote Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. Free speech works both ways. Never tell someone to not make a rape joke, the best approach would be to make a joke back. Make a joke criticising their joke. In a joking situation, you cannot use serious speech (i.e. moralising) to convince people to your argument, they will view you as a prude or as someone who is overreacting. You have to play tactical. In a jokey situation where people are making offensive jokes about rape you have to conform to this and use humour to satirise their jokes, and use humour to make a point. Free speech works both ways, you have the right to speak as do they, but the most important aspect of free speech isn’t just the fact that you can use words to criticise, but how you use words to criticise.

  3. deeley1 says:

    You also forget that rape has several meanings. You state the phrase “I raped that test”. Rape does not just mean unconsented sex – it also is slang for violence, and to destroy (“The Rape of Nanking” was an infamous massacre for example).

    But taking the view that the word ‘rape’ only has one meaning and you disagree with said word being used in a wrong context (“I raped that test”). Would you also disagree with other words: “I stole that test” or “I murdered that test” or “I’m killing for a drink”. These are phrases that are used and if you are to disagree with the phrase “I raped that test” on the basis that it contains a word concerning a barbaric crime, then you would logically have to disagree with other phrases as well which sanitise the crime of murder.

  4. the_mouse_ says:

    You cite American culture, but you don’t mention that crime statistics show rape is and has been on the decline for at least the last three decades. Rape is punished by many years in prison, people’s careers and reputations are ruined or jeopardized by a mere accusation of rape, and a huge number of colleges provide mandatory rape-awareness lectures.

    As to your “victim blaming” criticism, would you call telling someone not to walk through bad neighborhoods at night while flashing 100 dollar bills “victim blaming”? Sounds like you don’t actually care about preventing rape, but rather use it as justification for your ideology.

    As to your example of rape culture, you fail to mention that molly/MDMA causes neither sedation nor amnesia. It doesn’t make people lose their inhibitions either, though some women claim it increases their libido; not exactly implication of rape.

    So where is this “rape culture”?

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