What is ‘Rape Culture’?

‘Rape Culture’ is a term frequently used by feminist commentators and frequently misunderstood by those they are commenting for. Rape culture refers to the aspects of society that overtly or covertly encourage and perpetuate stereotypes about rape and the victims of sexual assault.

According to Marshall University:

“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.”

It manifests itself in obvious ways, the focus the media has on what the victim was wearing or where they were or even sympathy for the rapists who are caught as the conviction will ‘ruin their lives’; all of which we saw with the infamous Steubenville case and are classic examples of rape apologism.

Similar rhetoric was thrown around in the New Delhi bus rape. The lawyer that is defending the five men who brutally raped and beat a young woman in India, can get away with saying that “respected” women don’t get raped. They beat her  with a rusty iron bar to the point where they removed some of her intestines but questions were raised about why she was out so late or with a boyfriend.

njani Trivedi/Associated Press
Anjani Trivedi/Associated Press

Rape culture can also manifest itself in ways that seem innocuous such as the idea of the ‘friend-zone’ or ‘nice guy syndrome‘. Think about this story for a moment:

Girl has best friend who’s in love with her but she can’t see it. She’s attracted to men who are bad for her not the one who really loves her. He does everything for her and gets nothing in return. Either she sees the error of her ways and changes herself for him or he abandons their friendship completely so she’s exposed as stupid, vapid or shallow and he finds someone who really loves him.

You have probably heard this or a variant of it many, many times in films, television or books.

Then things like this surface on the internet:

Lets examine this for a second please. Yes, this is a comic that tells people that it is okay to rape their female friends who don’t want to sleep with them because it’s for their own good and they’re just too stupid to see it.

This breed of misogyny acts as though women have all the power. As though men follow us around waiting to have sex with us and we’re just holding them off because we’re cruel and vindictive and shallow. This is one of the most dangerous forms of misogyny there is and nearly everyone who believes it doesn’t even realise. This is what makes it so dangerous.

Acting as though women have all the power and making men in the wronged party  can be used to justify abuse or sexual violence towards women. In fact it has been, by a US Judge.

Cherice Moralez was 14 years old when she was raped by her 49 year-old teacher. Less than three years later she killed herself. The Montana judge, Justice G. Todd Baugh, said that Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. The convicted teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, was given just 30 days in prison.

In 2011, an 11 year old girl was brutally raped by up to 18 young men in Texas. The New York Times article on the case felt it needed to include that:

“she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground”.

Two separate statements in the same article mentioned how the “community” had suffered but there was no discussion of how the victim had suffered. Questions were also raised about why had the victim’s mother not known where she was and why had she been there alone in the first place. It asks how these young men could”have been drawn into such an act?” This implies that it was somehow not their fault. The article quotes someone as saying that the rapists will “have to live with this for the rest of their lives” echoing what was heard at the Steubenville trial.

There is also the false assumption that women are raped for being sexually attractive rather than a violent act of punishment, of putting women ‘in their place’. EJ Graff discussed in her article on Prospect.org by portraying rape as a sexual act we’re putting the responsibility on women to protect their “purity” and not on the rapists themselves.

For example, according to the University of Suffolk 98% of rape cases of male-male rape the rapist is heterosexual. It’s not about sexual desire or gratification. It is about power and domination.

The lack of understanding or education on this subject can only lead to more stories like these.

Orla-Jo

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