[reposted from an April 2013 blog post]
I want to talk about something disturbing, and I hope you’ll bear with me. If you’re under 14, please skip reading this post unless your parent/guardian okays it. If what you read troubles you, please find someone mature who you trust to talk to about it. I’m not an expert on what I’m talking about here. I am a woman and a parent and am speaking from my own observations.
On Saturday, I joined a conversation on twitter about rape culture and wanted to continue that conversation here. All of us know rape=bad. All of us know someone(s) who have been raped (even if we’re not aware of it) and/or been raped ourselves. It’s horrifyingly common. But until reading about the events in Steubenville, Saratoga, Penn State, Nova Scotia, and Torrington, I hadn’t realized just how wide spread rape culture is in our communities. (and I realize, it’s far, far worse in many other parts of the world)
Rape culture is an environment that is conducive to rape.
Most potential criminals will not commit a crime unless they believe they can get away with it. This is just natural. People have a strong sense of self preservation. We are children sometimes—we want what we want and we want it now. But as we get older we’ve been conditioned by society to withstand impulses that we know are going to get us into serious trouble. Some microcosms of society are more lenient to particular crimes than others.
Let’s look at the American South in much of the last century. Lynching was obviously against the law, and yet in that post-slavery and pre-civil rights era, terrible acts of racism were committed because the perpetrators believed (rightly in most cases) that they could get away with it. People of color were murdered in front of witnesses who never testified. Criminals bragged about their acts, but they were never arrested. Or if they were, the all male/all white jury didn’t convict.
Racism still exists, but how common are lynchings today? That culture has been squashed through education, changes in generations, and a more fearless justice system. Though there may be people just as hateful toward others as there were then, they no longer believe they can get away with lynchings (and rightly so), and so they no longer commit those crimes.
What we have broadly in America (and much much more severely in other parts of the world) is a rape culture. Rapists believe (often rightly) that in certain circumstances they can get away with sexually assaulting someone.
When a well-dressed, employed, non-prostitute, non-drug addict, non-immigrant woman gets violently raped by a stranger in a dark alley and immediately gets medical attention, there’s no question it’s rape. Everyone thinks it’s horrible. It’s not her fault. The law and society are on her side. It may be hard to catch the rapist, the trial could be a nightmare, the woman will fight just to survive in the aftermath, but no one questions the word “rape.”
But change the details of the victim and the rapist, and rape culture allows a horrible act some leniency. Here’s some of the points from the twitter conversation:
Rape culture asserts that when a guy is cute and popular he couldn’t possibly be a rapist because any girl he chooses is lucky to be chosen.
Rape culture asserts that accused rapists are innocent till proven guilty (as they should be) but sometimes denies rape accusers the same courtesy. A rape accuser is commonly called a “slut” and “whore.” This happens even if the rape occurred in front of witnesses, while she was unconscious, when she repeatedly said no. Recently two rape accusers committed suicide after being bullied for speaking up.
Rape culture thrives in places where it’s forbidden to talk about sex. This is a big, big topic and one I want to tackle in its own post. I hope you’ll join me back for that discussion and that we can keep it respectful and open-minded.
Rape culture is encouraged by the idea that males are characters of choice and action and females are present to please the males. While boys and men are frequently the victims of rape, the vast majority of those targeted are women and girls, so I think it’s important to look at how we allow girls and women to be portrayed in stories and media, and ways our culture is encouraging that attitude. The attitude that when a girl is passed out a party, a group of boys would see no problem taking advantage of her any way they want. Her purpose is to please them. She is not a human being to them. The idea that it’s somehow the girl’s fault, that if a girl is passed out it’s only natural for boys to undress and assault her, is so grotesque and not to mention untrue and unfair to the majority of wonderful, sane, respectful men and boys in the world.
Rape culture says, “but how could it be rape if she was married to him?” Again, that idea that a woman has no free will of her own. She belongs to her husband or boyfriend or any man who wants to use her as he will. So strange that anyone can still think that way! And yet many do.
Rape culture praises a woman’s appearance and sexual attractiveness above any other quality.
Rape culture thrives in communities where protecting the public image is more important than anyone’s life.
Rape culture insists males can’t be rape victims because of course males always want sex under any circumstance.
Rape culture is most effective when people believe there’s no such thing as rape culture. When it’s invisible, when we think “that’s just how things are” instead of realizing that we’ve helped create these artifical rules.
Rape is not a woman’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem. And as the news has shown us, the villains in rape aren’t just the male rapists. The problem is created by everyone who stands by and doesn’t speak, who lets things occur. Who doesn’t try to stop a rape, as in the Penn State atrocities, and then go immediately to the police (real police, not just campus police). Who aren’t willing to testify as a witness. Who forward photos and videos of a rape to other students instead of showing them to the police and NO ONE ELSE. Who make jokes about rape. Who whisper about a rape accuser, call her a slut, victimize her all over again on social media. Who help create the kind of culture where potential rapists feel safe doing whatever they want. Because they know they can get away with it.
It’s up to all of us to make sure they don’t. And the very first step we need to take is simply to talk about it. So let’s talk.