What does the term ‘Rape Culture’ mean?
The phrase is off-putting and in some ways misleading [to someone who doesn’t understand what it means at any rate].
Tell a guy he is a part of the existing rape culture and he is most likely to react strongly against that:
“How dare you suggest I’m a rapist? Or put me in the same grouping as rapists as if I could be one of them.”
Well, sometimes that thing you think you’re against is not really the thing you’re against.
WELL, WHAT DOES IT MEAN THEN?
Let me be really clear here – I am not an expert on this and so I am sharing what I [and others I am reading] understand the term to mean. I believe that being able to wrap our minds [yes guys, this is especially important to us, and if we can turn off our reaction responses for a few minutes and simply try read to understand, that will really be helpful] around this is so very important if we are going to ever have any chance of seeing any kind of change take place. And we REALLY need to see a whole lot of change taking place.
So let’s see what some others have to say:
Rape culture is a concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape. [wikipedia]
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. [Women’s Center, Marshall University]
In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.” [from the article ‘Upsetting Rape Culture’ on Force]
Rape culture: a society where men take and women surrender and that’s the relatively unchallenged status quo [Leanne Meihuizen]
Rape Culture is about desensitization, says Lee Lakeman, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
MY THOUGHTS ON WHY THIS IS SUCH A BIG DEAL
A lot of people have dismissed this as “a feminist thing” which is dismissed based largely on the loaded perception many people have with regards to the term ‘feminist’.
A lot of men have dismissed this conversation saying that “it is out to paint all men as rapists” or that “it is an unfair generalisation that is aimed at making all men look bad”.
I really think both of those views and others which simply dismiss without really taking time to simply listen and learn are unfair and detrimental. The message of ‘I am discounting what you are saying’ and ‘Your experiences and feelings in this regard are not valid or worth paying serious attention to’ actually end up adding proof or backing to what an increasing number of women across the world are trying to say.
My own personal journey into understanding the concept of ‘rape culture’ or at least that it even was a concept, began a few years ago when i read a number of articles and heard some different opinions being expressed about it. But recently when first the #YesAllWomen and later #EachEveryWoman tags became a growing phenomenon on Twitter i took some time reading a lot of the messages that were being shared and my heart broke again and again reading about some of the experiences and stories that were being shared.
My first response was to write this piece which is not definitive by any means, but was me, as a man, feeling that i needed to say something and add another male voice to the conversation:
About a week later, while sitting outside our apartment, just letting my thoughts roam, i put this more poetic piece together which was also a response to #YesAllWomen, or more accurately, a lament:
I’m not exactly sure of the specifics of this story but i later heard [many times] that they had to change #YesAllWomen to #EachEveryWomen because the two women who started the original tag were being harrassed and threatened [as in receiving death threats].
HELP ME UNDERSTAND
I imagine that if you’re a woman, you already get this and so this whole piece is simply a lot of head nodding and ‘I wish [fill in name] would get this’. What you can do is be encouraged to keep sharing about this with your male friends. Help them to really see that you are not trying to paint them all as rapists and that this is not some ‘those people’ thing on the internet, but that this affects most if not all women across the planet each and every day. What you can do is normalise it in terms of the language you use, the stories you share, help avoid any kind of emotive shut-down response a guy might have when he comes across an article and just walk him through it.
If you’re a guy, the biggest help for me in this [and it was NOT fun!] was to read through the #YesAllWomen tags on Twitter. If you don’t have an account, you know someone who does. Spend ten minutes and read through them – there are some troll comments of course – but if you spend any amount of time there, not judging or trying to excuse or figure out – just listening – just reading – then you will start to understand what is really going on out there. Then take a minute [I would not recommend longer] and read through some comments on the #YesAllMen tag and find out just how messed up some men [and some women] can be – part parody, part aggressive, part complete hate speech – this tag that was set up as a response to the #YesAllWomen tag really made me angry, sad and disgusted. Then there is also #YesAllPeople which was very likely a well-intentioned middle-ground type piece, suggesting that this is something that affects everyone and because guys can be on the receiving end of sexual abuse and rape that we should rather look at it more holistically. Which does have some merit, but also, when the difference is between ‘some men’ and ‘almost all women’ it actually removes focus from where the focus needs to be. So while a man may be a victim of similiar experiences, a guy generally doesn’t have the same kind of fear walking down a street when a woman he doesn’t know is walking closely behind him, or when he steps into an elevator with only one other person in it and it’s a woman. Much of the idea of ‘rape culture’ is the fear many women have of men because of their experience of life so far.
Another thing you can do as a guy, especially if you are somehow still finding this hard to believe, is talk to ten of your female friends and ask them if they have any fear towards men [for example if they are walking down the street and a man is behind them] and listen to their stories.
Or read this article – Are Mass Media creating a culture of rape? – [which contains some disturbing content, but sometimes we need to be disturbed when the culture we are part of starts to look like this.] When people make jokes about rape, when rape has become a term we use to speak of sports matches or exams that went badly, or facebook statuses that were hijacked, when advertisers use imagery suggesting rape to sell their products then Edmund Burke’s well-known quote starts to become chillingly true:
Here are some more Examples of Rape Culture:
- Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
- Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
- Sexually explicit jokes
- Tolerance of sexual harassment
- Inflating false rape report statistics
- Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
- Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
- Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
- Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
- Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
- Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
- Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
- Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
And from the same source:
How can men and women combat Rape Culture?
- Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women
- Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
- If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive
- Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence
- Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations
- Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
- Define your own manhood or womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
- Get involved! Join a student or community group working to end violence against women.
I also found this list of 25 every day examples of rape culture of which here are just four examples:
3. A judge who sentenced only 30 days in jail to a 50-year-old man who raped a 14-year-old girl (who later committed suicide), and defended that the girl was “older than her chronological age.”
9. Journalists who substitute the word “sex” for “rape” – as if they’re the same thing.
14. Rape jokes – and people who defend them.
22. Only 3% of rapists ever serving a day in jail.
- Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
- FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
- National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999
- Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
- Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
And so what can we do to make any difference to something that is so deeply embedded in our global culture?
- Start by being educated – realise this thing is a thing – stop being defensive about it and missing it altogether – take time and be uncomfortable while doing so but push through
- Listen – if you’re a guy, then give some space for your female friends to share their thoughts and experiences on this and really just listen without defending/reacting/explaining away/saying things like “yes but not every man is like that” which is true but doesn’t validate their experience and story – just listen and try and really hear
- Make a stand – every time someone uses the word ‘rape’ to mean something that is not rape, i challenge them on it. Usually quietly in their inbox or in a conversation, but it is not cool when people do that. Ever. When someone tells a rape joke in front of you, you don’t have to make a big scene but just tell them strongly that that is not okay. When you see an advertisement using aggressively sexualised imagery, boycott the product, write to the company and let them know it’s not okay.
What else? I firmly believe that this is a conversation and movement that women need to be leading and being the chief voices of… but in what is still largely a male-dominated society, that might not always be the thing that happens naturally and so as a man I can create space for them to speak [as @micahmurray did on his blog where he invited a number of women to share their stories] or at least shush the man crowd a little, so that their voices can be heard.
This also needs to be more than a one week Kony2010 video that we share and get excited about and deeply passionate towards and a week later we have completely forgotten and moved on to the next thing. This needs to be a lifestyle change and an ongoing conversation and battle. We need to be a louder, stronger and more hands-on involved part of the culture that we have chosen to live in.