Rape Culture

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Rape statistics by The Enliven Project

“Rape Culture” is a term that is being used more often in today’s context, but how many actually know what it means, and more importantly, what it looks like in our everyday lives? Rape culture, by definition, is a concept within feminist theory in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.

Rape culture, unlike its name seems to suggest, is by no means about our society outwardly promoting and engaging in sexual violence. Instead, it is about how our society as a whole tends to partake in a pattern of behaviour that excuses or tolerates sexual violence. Most of the time, this notion of rape culture is evident in situations where sexual assault, rape, and violence in general, are ignored, trivialised, normalised or made into jokes.

Rape culture is more prevalent than we think, and here are some examples of it in society.

  1. Prevalence of Victim Blaming in society
  • When rape victims come forward to report that they have been raped, most people would ask them: “what were you wearing?” or “were you leading him on?.” These people, when asking such questions, are implying that the rape was the victim’s fault and are putting the blame on them, rather than the rapist. Some may also comment that the victim should take the rape as a compliment to their physical beauty and that they should have just enjoyed it. In an appeal court ruling on the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl by four Palestinian boys, Israeli Judge Nissim Yeshaya said that “some girls like to be raped”.
  • Victims are often made to feel shameful and responsible for the crime that was inflicted on them, and it is exactly such reactions that prevents victims of sexual assault and abuse from speaking out and encourages rapists into thinking they can get away with it. Not only have the victims suffered, both physically and emotionally, at the hands of their attacker, they are also likely to receive backlash from their community rather than the support that they need. For example, when prosecutors announced that the 3 teenage boys who raped a 12-year-old at gun point would be charged, many started attacking the victim on social media and defending the rapists. (warning: hyperlinked article contains abusive and offensive language)
  • Another common aspect of victim blaming is society’s fixation with telling girls and women to “cover up” and not dress scantily. Society often dictates a female’s worth by the length of her clothing or the amount of skin that she exposes, and yet, men are never told that they should not expose their legs, arms or stomachs, lest they be distracting to the opposite gender. Instead of teaching girls to cover up and be ashamed of their bodies, should we not be teaching boys not to sexualise girls?

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 Ad campaign created for Terre Des Femmes, a Swiss human rights organization focusing on gender equality and feminismterre-des-femmes-womans-worth-ad-campaign-2Ad campaign created for Terre Des Femmes, a Swiss human rights organization focusing on gender equality and feminism

  1. Pop culture that trivialises and normalises rape and sexual violence
  • One recent example is the popular song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. The song sends a message that promotes rape culture because the title “Blurred Lines” and portions of the lyrics like “I know you want it” encourage the idea that “no doesn’t always mean no” and that some women who are raped are asking for it, instilling very unhealthy attitudes towards sex and consent.
  • Even worse is when sexual violence is actually romanticised, as per the apparently super swoon-worthy Mr Christian Grey, of the 50 Shades of Grey series.  Fans of the series or movie franchise confess to wanting a lover like Grey, and uphold Grey as the epitome of hunky manliness. However, the story is more sinister than it may initially seem. Beyond the obsessive romance of Christian Grey, the books tell a tale of emotional abuse and sexual violence, of a relentless stalker and a young woman who does not know how to escape a harmful relationship. These are all things that should not be romanticised, and the very popularity of the series points to the prevalence of rape culture in our society.
  1. Sexual assault prevention education programs normally focus on women being told to take measures to prevent rape instead of men being told not to rape
  • Girls are often told: “Try not to walk home alone at night, and don’t walk through dark and secluded places”, “Don’t leave your drinks alone at bars”, “Don’t get drunk at parties” and many, many more. However, boys are never told “Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks” or “Don’t take advantage of someone who is intoxicated”.
  • Newer and more innovative products are being designed to ensure a woman’s safety, such as nail polish that detects the presence of date-rape drugs in drinks. However, this still places the responsibility of rape prevention and allows for more victim-blaming when such precautions are not taken.
  1. The idea that a guy who persists after being rejected multiple times is “romantic”
  • Girls often find it attractive when they see a guy pulling a girl in for a kiss even after she has moved away, or perhaps, when a guy repeatedly shows up at the places the girls frequents with gifts and declarations of love, claiming that this shows that the guy’s feelings are sincere and true. When a guy says “I won’t take no for an answer”, many think it is passionate and romantic. However, this just pushes the idea that “no doesn’t always mean no” and erases a girl’s right to reject a guy, because he will simply say that she is “playing hard to get”.

It needs to be said that when people rape, it is not because they were too overcome by sexual urges, because we, as human beings, have enough cognitive awareness to stop ourselves from doing such things. Rather, rapists rape because they want to assert their dominance and power over their victims. To make excuses or provide justifications for a rapist’s behaviour sends the extremely misogynistic message that a woman’s body does not belong to her and that men instead have the right to dictate how a woman should dress and behave. In short, rape culture contributes to the oppression of women and is a function of the patriarchy and institutionalised sexism. It is all around us and fills our daily lives, often without our realising it. With this article, I hope that readers will have a better understanding of what “rape culture” is and will want to fight for its eradication, allowing for women in present society, and in future generations, to feel safe in their own skin and be able to live life without being objectified and sexualised.

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