Welcome to the first Feministocracy! This is a new feature that will decode feminist issues, giving you more insight and enough understanding to confidently speak about certain topics. If you have anything, you’d like to see us cover, comment at the end of this post or email hello [at] feather – mag [dot] com.
As we dive into the issues facing women today, you’re going to see the term “rape culture” a lot. It’s something we’ll keep coming back to when covering feminist issues, so we need to address what it means and how people are contributing to the culture before we can move on to understanding the arguments surrounding it.
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is a social system that puts the blame on the victims of sexual assaults by assuming they are responsible for failing to prevent their assault. It relies on myths about rape to rally supporters around the perpetrator, rather than the victim. A person perpetuating rape culture might say “boys will be boys” as a justification for a male assailant’s actions, thereby asserting girls should make concessions in their lives or expect to be victimized by men.
This doesn’t just hold true in incidents involving sexual violence. A lot of women are also blamed when they’re targeted by catcallers or sexually harassed in the workplace.
Here are some things that are keeping rape culture alive:
Long-standing myths about rape
The media has perpetuated this idea that a rape is always straight out of a scene from Law & Order: SVU. That scenario isn’t false, but most women are not sexually assaulted by some masked man who pulls them into an alley. Sexual assaults are most likely to be committed by someone the victim knows and trusts. If a woman does not consent to a sexual act, it is sexual assault. (Rape fits under the umbrella of sexual assault.)
Rape is caused by rapists
As writer Anne K. Ream once said, “No one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt.” Feeding rape culture is a Puritanical belief that a woman’s value, especially in the perspective of males, is wrapped up in the length of her skirt. Girls who wear short skirts around some men are just “asking for it,” right? Wrong. The only thing that causes rape is rapists.
If a woman at a party wearing a short skirt gets drunk, that is not an invitation or implied consent. In Steubenville, Ohio three years ago, a teenage girl became intoxicated during a night of partying, at some point passing out, and was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two football players. Instead of stepping in or calling police, students recorded the event on their phones and shared videos of her being raped on social media. Several of the students, fueled by what rape culture teaches them, thought she deserved to be treated that way because she was drunk. The harmful and completely false idea is that a woman forfeits her right to safety and respect when she has too much to drink.
What she deserved was for a friend to take her home before she was sexually assaulted, not for two boys to take advantage of her when she had no possible way of consenting.
Making excuses for rapists
When a woman is raped or sexually assaulted, people make excuses. Sometimes, it’s the (commonly male) attacker’s youth or the way he was raised that people try to bring up as a way to justify his actions. When Josh Duggar, of 19 Kids & Counting fame, admitted to molesting several underage girls (including some of his sisters) as a teen and public records backed up this story, people still leapt to his defense. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee immediately made excuses for Josh, trying to prevent anyone from holding the reality star responsible for his actions. No one, including Josh’s (and several of his victims’) parents, really spared any public concern for the children he molested.
Yes, some sexual assault perpetrators do receive backlash when their horrible acts are made public, but focusing on them takes focus away from all victims of sexual assault and their ongoing trials. Many of them lose their safety, feel uncomfortable engaging in consensual sexual acts (some never do again) and suffer from numerous emotional issues related to the assault. Remember who’s really suffering here.
Trying to discredit rape survivors
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent statistics, only 2 percent of rapes are unfounded. Some more current research estimates the number is somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent. Keep in mind that researchers use the word “unfounded” instead of “false” to denote that just because they couldn’t find enough evidence to prove something happened that doesn’t mean victims weren’t telling the truth. Especially in cases of accusations against celebrities, rape survivors aren’t always believed and are oftentimes harassed for coming out with their stories.
In Norman, OK, three girls were bullied out of school after another teen allegedly sexually assaulted them. These girls were taunted in the halls and sent negative messages by classmates. Even changing schools didn’t help them get away from the torment. A feminist knitting circle in town brought their story to light, inspiring students to get involved by staging a school walkout, which probably lead to the arrest of the sexual assault suspect.
Unfortunately, most women who share with others that they’re rape survivors don’t receive such an outpouring of support.
How do we eradicate rape culture?
The only thing Bill Cosby did to cover up his rapes was assume no one would believe his victims. Because they were women. And he was right.
— Lucas Neff (@RealLucasNeff) July 19, 2015
We need to acknowledge we have a role in perpetuating it and adjust our own behavior. Then, we need to focus on educating people who are unaware that their words are creating an unsafe culture for women and girls. When you have children, these are lessons you should teach them, so they can be the first generation to grow up in a world without rape culture.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like for us to cover in Feministocracy, comment below or email us at hello [at] feather – mag [dot] com.