Posted in Blog

Rape Culture is Not A Myth

IMG_8755It’s about that time again, friends, where I write a strongly-worded rebuttal to something stupid I’ve found on the internet. Once again, it is related to women’s issues, but I promise soon I’ll write on another subject. In fact, I’ve got a whole queue of blog drafts waiting to get worked on, and only like half of them are about women’s issues. But anyways. This is a response to the Time Magazine editorial “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria”.

First, let’s get some terms straight. Rape culture is defined as culture wherein the dominate attitudes towards rape facilitates and excuses the rapist while placing the blame (you shouldn’t have gotten drunk/you shouldn’t have worn that outfit) and the onus of rape prevention (well just dress less like a slut and you won’t get raped!) onto the victim. Rape culture is more than just directly unacceptable responses to rape (see Laci Green’s discussion of the Steubenville case from last year), however. Rape culture also covers behaviors normalizing violence against women and attitudes reducing women’s agency, or their ability to control their own romantic and sexual choices (i.e. consent).

One great example of a not-necessarily-rape symptom of rape culture is the pickup artist community. This community, which almost exclusively caters to heterosexual men, emphasizes some very problematic “tricks” to getting women into bed. These include not interpreting the word “no” as “no,” but rather as “try again later;” labeling women as “targets” in their literature; and getting a woman into a situation where she doesn’t realize she’s been “picked up” until she can no longer easily say no. That’s not romantic, and that’s certainly not mutual- that’s manipulation. If you have to trick a woman into sleeping with you, can that really count as consent?

Now let’s get back to that editorial about how rape culture is “hysteria” and needs to stop.

Recently, rape-culture theory has migrated from the lonely corners of the feminist blogosphere into the mainstream. In January, the White House asserted that we need to combat campus rape by “[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist.” (TIME)

I love how contemptuous this writer is of the “blogosphere.” Like it’s a cult. (it is)

Tolerance for rape? Rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. (TIME)

Stuebenville. Vanderbilt. Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. You tell me that frequency isn’t a cultural norm.

I think it’s important at this juncture to point out that, for the rest of this heinous article, the definition of “rape” is severely misunderstood. Rape is not just when you’re walking home alone at night in an alleyway and a stranger with a knife forces himself upon you. Rape is anytime you say no and someone still has sex with you, anytime you don’t (especially when you can’t) say no and someone still has sex with you, and anytime you don’t explicitly say yes and someone touches you sexually. This includes oral sex, fondling, fingering, etc etc etc. ANY SEXUAL CONTACT THAT YOU DO NOT SAY YES TO IS RAPE. Even if you’ve had sex with the person before. Even if you said yes earlier then changed your mind. Even if you’re married. The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault has a great response to this article (which you should read in addition to mine), and below is a quote I think perfectly summarizes my point here.

Society use adjectives like “legitimate,” “forced,” and “violent” to talk about rape. We parse it out and qualify it, as if all rape isn’t legitimate, forced and violent. We don’t agree on what rape is, and we hold victims responsible through the “risk reduction” messages of “do this/don’t do that.” … The problem is that most offenders don’t look like monsters — instead, they often seem trustworthy, charming, caring, and respectable. These individuals are the opposite of “despised,” they are too often lauded as “nice guys” and community leaders who could never commit this horrific crime. That is RAPE CULTURE. (CCASA)

Misunderstanding rape and not acknowledging that every type of rape on the spectrum is “legitimate” rape is actively holding society back, so stop it. Moving on.

“While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” (TIME)

This article uses this quote from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, as justification for why rape culture is fake or not as big of a deal as everyone is making it out to be. However, what the article ignores is the operative “it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem.” It is helpful. All I take from this quotation as a whole is that we can’t let the “anti rape culture campaign” turn into a “change your Facebook profile picture into an equals sign instead of actually doing anything.” And I’ll give them that- a lot of people decrying rape culture use the term and the concept to justify not doing all that much to actually help change the culture, and that’s a problem. Rape culture shouldn’t be an excuse, and it shouldn’t be reductive to the problem, but rather, it should be motivation.

By the time men reach college, RAINN explains, “most students have been exposed to 18 years of prevention messages, in one form or another.” The vast majority of men absorb these messages and view rape as the horrific crime that it is. So efforts to address rape need to focus on the very small portion of the population that “has proven itself immune to years of prevention messages.” They should not vilify the average guy. (TIME)

Here’s where it starts getting fishy again. I don’t mean to disagree with an organization that does a lot of good for victims of the culture I’m talking about, but as a public school graduate in America, I can tell you that at absolutely no time in my education was I taught about consent. At no time were my classmates and I exposed to the concept that only “yes” means “yes.” Obviously it was mentioned to us at some point that you shouldn’t force someone to have sex with you (see: my discussion of the alleyway knife rape), but the word “force” was never exactly expanded upon. Like I said earlier, rape is a lot less black and white than a lot of people try to claim. Did you know that out of a survey of high school students, 56% of the girls and 76% of the boys believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances? These circumstances usually included the boy spending a lot of money on the girl, or if the girl has had sex with people before. THAT IS A PROBLEM, one that expands beyond just that small minority of back alley rapists.

The trend of focusing on rape culture “has the paradoxical effect of making it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates personal responsibility for his or her own actions.” (RAINN)

Fair enough. I’m definitely not advocating for placing culture, not rapists, at fault for rape. If the community of the “feminist bloggosphere” is doing that, they should definitely stop. However, I do think that there are a lot more symptoms of rape culture than just rape, and I also think that it is important to understand that, once again, rape is not so cut and dry as a lot of people like to assume, and victims of the “less obvious” types of rape and sexual assault aren’t being heard within the current culture. The reason there are so many either unreported or unsolved rape cases is because of this culture protecting or excusing them.

Final thoughts: this article boils down a complex issue of normalizing and excusing sexual violence against women to a semantics debate. YES, rape is awful,  YES, some people use the idea of “rape culture” to not do as much to actually solve it, and YES, we should never stop focusing on the individuals at fault. But there is more than one way to come at a problem, and addressing the cultural factors is one of those ways. Women deserve respect, and our current culture is not providing that.

Further reading/watching:

Laci Green on the topic of consent:

You should just go through all of her videos, because Laci Green is great.

Rape Culture 101

RAINN Statistics

Huffington Post

Amy Poehler and Friends on Rape Culture

The Nation

Jezebel: How To Make A Rape Joke

One thought on “Rape Culture is Not A Myth

  1. There is a ton of literature about rape and violence being culturally prominent, and influenced by ‘hegemonic masculinity’, so to say it is not prevalent is idiotic. It is ignorance and privilege that influences these kind of articles. Many men fear a change in status quo by which they would no longer be able to have as much domination over women’s bodies. Thanks for sharing.

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