Coined by feminists in the 1970′s, “rape culture” is a term used to refer to the concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which existing attitudes normalise, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. Rape culture is the naturalisation of rape and sexual violence wherein rather than being taught not to rape, people are taught how not to get raped.
Rape culture has also led to this concept of a rape legacy. That although not every woman gets raped, rape affects every woman. With the rape of one woman comes degradation, terror and limitation to all women. It strips women of their freedom and instils a life lived out of fear and precaution. Men, in general, do not fear rape and that’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which women are held in a subordinate position to men and that is largely why the cycle continues.
So, what are the main attributions of rape culture?
- Rape as preventative and the victims fault - many arguments around rape focus on preventative behaviour, like telling women what not to do or wear. The issue with this is that it doesn’t place any responsibility on the rapists. Rather, it asks women to be responsible for preventing their own rape (logic!?) Rape culture tells women to be careful about what you wear and how you wear it, where you walk and when you walk, what you drink and how much you drink, etcetera, etcetera. That you should always pay attention, always be aware of your surroundings, always watch your back and never let your guard down lest you be sexually assaulted. And if you are and weren’t following the rules, it’s your fault. Not the perpetrators.
- Sexualisation and objectification of women in the media – (queue Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ music video) With the undeniable and ever-present dehumanisation and marginalization of women in the media, men are led to see women as something they can just acquire. Perceiving women as possessions takes away their voice, rights and emotions. Rather, women become seen as something to be used and disposed of at a man’s convenience.
- Rape Jokes - slang, phrases and euphemisms desensitise the inexcusable nature of rape and sexual violence. The website Force: Upsetting Rape Culture explains how jokes, slang and the like perpetuate and validate rape as they make “violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing rape as a problem to be changed, people… think about about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are’”.
- Slut shaming – slut shaming attacks women for their right to say ‘yes’. It is the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviours or desires that defy traditional gender ‘norms’ and expectations. To ‘slut shame’ a woman is to suggest that she is behaving in a socially unacceptable way. Society then labels that woman as easy, cheap, trashy, tarnished, and even immoral. But, when a man has the same sexual behaviours it is okay, it is acceptable, it is ‘normal’? Emphasising the degradation of a woman’s promiscuity over a man’s makes it seem as though yet again, it is the woman who is wrong, who by having sex is asking to be called a slut and shamed for it.
- Loosely understood and subjective definitions of “consent” – the idea of the “chase” is overly romanticised and well on its way out. To be chased is to be pursued against your will. Rather than pursue someone who expresses disinterest, acknowledge their decision and respect their personal space. As Jessica Valenti writes in The Nation, “lose the ‘no’-means-no model for understanding sexual assault and only focus on the “only ‘yes’ means yes” instead”.
Now that rape culture has been defined and its leading attributors established the question remains, how can we make a difference, if at all?
It’s simple. Help the cause by doing your bit to raise awareness. It’s not to say you can stop rape from happening or to put a complete end to it, but if it’s something you want to help change, raise your voice.
Almost every day, there is a new video or article that shows up on my Facebook or Tumblr feed that addresses rape culture in some way. If it’s not a group of young and inspiring poets,
it’s a celebrity campaign,
or a short film that shows one instance of how rape can occur, and how you can step in.
All it takes is the click of a button. When you see something similar, like it, share it, tell your teacher about it, tell me about it, whatever! Like the page it came from and sign up to an organisation to help put the cause higher on the public agenda.
To raise awareness is to address the core issues and break down old ways of thinking about rape. It is to challenge the “it’s her fault” mindset and to force responsibility and punishment on those who are actually at fault.
Jessica, a University of Auckland student thinks to raise awareness is to “help people feel less isolated. If it [rape] happened to them, it will help them speak up and feel less victimised.” The more rape victims who share their stories and report them to authorities, the more incarceration is imposed on the criminals that rapists are.
Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture sums it up nicely by saying that “in a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable… However, much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”
If you’re still not sure you want to help make a difference towards a better world, here are some harrowing statistics I pulled from RAINN.org which show the extent of rape culture in the United States. Let’s change some stats and work towards building a society that respects women’s rights to get drunk without being taken advantage of, to go walking at night without being cat-called, to have sex however she chooses and not be slut-shamed for it, and to wear whatever she wants without being objectified and demoralised!