Rape Culture Defined
Rape culture means that tendency to gloss over or outright ignore behavior that is sexually demeaning, degrading, humiliating, or damaging to - usually - women. But it can also happen to men.
Rape Culture Reality Check
In fact, I would wager it happens more often to men, but our society expects men to suck it up and pretend it never happened when it does. Or worse, tells them they should be grateful it happened to them at all. Yes, rape culture affects both men and women. But only women get taken seriously when they cry out about it. Just as domestic violence can happen to both men and women, but only women get taken seriously when they report it.
Rape Culture Take 1: Denying it permits it to continue.
My experience with rape culture started with my stepfather. My mother outright ignored the fact that he taught me how to french kiss at the age of 5, and demonstrated it in front of her. She didn't take action when that behavior escalated and I reported to her that he was having me perform oral sex on him at age 7. She didn't act on the information until I reported it for a second time at the age of 9.
My mother knew the behavior wasn't right. She got angry, she confronted him, but she just refused to accept that this was happening. And that's the problem. The refusal to accept the reality of it is what creates the possibility for it to continue happening.
Rape Culture Take 2: Both genders are guilty.
I'm in sixth grade, standing in the hall in line with the rest of the sixth grade class. I'm wearing a knee length denim skirt. A girl gets angry with me and flips my skirt up, exposing me to the boys in the classroom in order to humiliate me. Girls are perfectly fine with using rape culture to their advantage when they want to attack another girl but don't want to get their hands dirty doing it.
Rape culture isn't just boys attacking girls. Rape culture isn't just girls attacking boys. Rape culture is using sex as a means to an end - whether that end happens to be self-gratification or keeping someone else in their "place".
Rape Culture Take 3: Offenders don't get it.
I'm in 7th grade. This time it happens to be a boy who decides he wants a look under my skirt. He flips it up as I pass by. I had a crush on this boy. I thought we were friends. That action totally and completely killed any feelings I had for him. I slap him across the face just as publicly as he flipped my skirt up and tell him that he might as well have raped me. He looks stunned. He doesn't see the connection. To him, it's just a skirt. To me, it's a violation of my body, my personal integrity, and my dignity. I've been humiliated and degraded and exposed all at the same time.
Should he have understood that behavior was going to be unacceptable? Absolutely. Was it inexcusable? Absolutely. But this is the reality with almost every offender. They don't get why it's wrong, and that's the problem. We've created a culture that excuses, diminishes, and discards the damage that's done as "no big deal". But it is a big deal. And it should be a big deal.
Rape Culture Take 4: Privilege fuels it.
I'm in 8th grade. It's homecoming. I'm with a friend and we arrive to cheer on the team. I don't care about football at all, but I decide to be a good sport and go anyway. It promised to be fun. We take our seats on the cold bleachers. I am not paying attention to the people around me. I'm just there to have fun.
Five of the popular crowd spot me and like sharks circling around prey they make their way down the bleachers and have me and my friend surrounded. A boy I have heard of but do not know sits down beside me, uninvited. Tries to put his arm around me. Uninvited. His friends are giggling and laughing. I elbow him in the gut to let him know his attentions are unwanted and unwarranted.
I am told I am being cold hearted and mean.
"He just wants to let you know how much he likes you."
They tell me.
"If he likes me so much, he'll keep his hands to himself!" is my answer.
The boy's name is Jeff Hook. His parents run an education center in town. They have power, privilege, and prestige on their side. This is how Jeff became part of the popular crowd. He is not used to hearing "no". I'm fairly certain his parents do not use the word with him. He is certainly not used to hearing no from the likes of me. I'm neither popular nor rich, but I'm also not impressed with him.
My "no" leads him to become more aggressive, as if needing to prove to his friends that he's still in control and daring me to stop him. He puts his hand on my bare knee while I'm distracted with his friends. His reward is an elbow deliberately aimed toward his crotch. I want to be sure he gets the message this time loud and clear.
I then stand up and Sheelpa and I leave the area. The fun is gone. I feel angry. I know the reality. This was not about Jeff "liking" me. This was about rich kids using their perceived power and privilege to get away with doing things they would not do to one of their own.
How We Create Rape Culture
When sex is used as a weapon or a tool to get things, we create rape culture. When the human body is treated as an object for our use or gratification, we create rape culture. When we detach ourselves from the responsibility for the consequences of our decisions, we create rape culture. When we tell ourselves that money, power, or privilege make us superior to another human being, we create rape culture.
When we refuse to see the wrong things that are going on right in front of our faces and when we refuse to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves, we create rape culture.When sex is seen as something a person is "owed" or "has a right to", we create rape culture.
The Cure for Rape Culture
Put an end to pornography and prostitution. Those encourage rape culture by getting people treating each other like objects to be bought and sold rather than people to be honored and dignified. Put an end to birth control and abortion that leave us feeling entitled to consequence free living - because no action we take is ever truly consequence free.
Stop elevating money, education, and power as the end all be all of human accomplishment and start teaching kids that the most important thing they can do is to love others, to be is a person who loves others, and to have is deep, abiding friendships with others based on love, trust, and respect for one another's dignity. And start encouraging people to stand up and speak out when they see people doing what shouldn't be done rather than turning their head or acting like they didn't see what they did see.
Nobody has a right to sex. Nobody is entitled to sex. Sex is a privilege, and it is time to start treating it as such.