What's the Deal with Rape Culture?

  A person at a demonstration holds a sign reading “End rape culture.” Source:   Chase Carter

A person at a demonstration holds a sign reading “End rape culture.” Source: Chase Carter

According to Wikipedia, rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.

Some of the behaviours included in that are victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these things.

The term itself came about in the 70s and was meant to show the ways in which society blamed the victims of sexual assault and normalized sexual violence. Again according to the wiki, at the time most Americans assumed that rape, incest, and spousal abuse were rare. The concept of rape culture made the claim that rape was actually common in American culture and that it was one of the ways that societal misogyny and sexism were revealed.

Two main books came out at the time that discussed the topic Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson wrote Rape: the first sourcebook for women and Susan Brownmiller wrote  Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. These books included a number of first hand accounts of women who were raped and had the intent to show that rape was far more common than was generally believed.

There was also a film in 1975 titled Rape Culture that discussed rape of men as well as women, contained interviews with victim and rapists and examined the medias impact on societal attitudes towards rape.

So, rape culture is essentially a culture in which rape is excused in a number of ways. Victim blaming, focusing on false accusations, accusing all women of making false accusations, and calling rape “rough sex” are all examples of how rape culture excuses the act of rape. Victim blaming can also take a variety of forms including calling attention to the victim’s past promiscuity, pointing out what the victim was wearing, claiming that the victim didn’t fight back enough,  or claiming that the victim shouldn’t have drank so much. There’s also the tendency for some people to just call women who come forward liars or some people just claim that they deserve it for some reason.

Susan Brownmiller brought up 3 ideas in her book Against Our Will that helped bring awareness to some of the myths about rape. First, she pointed out that any woman can be a victim of rape. Victims aren’t tied to any specific age, size, ethnicity, or status. They are not bad or misbehaved women. There is no personal characteristic that leads women to be more likely targeted for rape.
Second, she pointed out that any man can be a rapist. Not just evil men or the mentally ill, which feels ableist just saying it. Men of many different stripes are rapists and as much as the crime of rape is evil they can be just another normal dude who feels entitled to women’s bodies. They can even be supreme court justices.
And third, rape can occur in many different ways and doesn’t always fit the violent forceful rape in a back alley type model that we were kind of taught about for much of the past. We can now say that this can include things like date rape, or situations where someone is too inebriated to consent, or situations where things start off with consent given but change and consent is revoked. They can also include spousal or partner rape which is something that at one time was considered not actually rape.

One of the ways that rape culture is perpetuated is by various acts of sexism which reinforce norms that may foster disrespect for women or disregard for their well being. This can include things like sexist jokes aimed at making all women seem dumb or sexually promiscuous, or it can include slogans of fraternity like “bros before hos” that place the status of one’s male friends above the dignity and well being of women.

There are different takes on what causes rape culture with some claiming that it is about power and dominance while some others disagree and claim that there is no single cause but that it can be rooted in other social aspect of culture. This idea wasn’t fleshed out entirely in my reading, but it may tie to the previously mentioned acts of sexism in which some men consider themselves entitled to women’s bodies or they have such a denigrated view of women that they barely consider them to be people with autonomy. This seems to be something I’ve seen in something called bimbo culture in which women are considered to be nothing more than sex dolls with no personality or autonomy of their own separate from the men they are meant to give pleasure to.

Rape culture is considered always changing and adapting so that it will be considered legitimate. Currently much of rape culture is filtered through lenses of gender roles and heteronormativity but that could change if it suits those who commit rapes and are in positions of influence over culture. An example might be when someone like Donald Trump who has pretty massive influence says that he doesn’t believe someone who has come forward as a victim of sexual assault then a lot of people will start talking about not believing victims of sexual assault.

­That’s all I have for now but I think that’s enough