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Rape Culture

January 18, 2010

Something has been irking me since last week. Here at GAB, we read other authors’ posts and dialogue among ourselves. We share new ideas and thoughts with each other just as we (hopefully) do with those who read our blog. Last week, fellow editor Jessica wrote a piece about Rape Culture titled “Notes on Rape Prevention, Responsibility, and Culture“. The article sparked some dialogue in the comments section, and several people expressed incredulous disbelief at the accusation of a rape culture. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that ugly, brutal things exist. Sometimes it feels that admitting their existence somehow points the finger of blame directly at you. Rape culture exists. We live in a world where rape is often viewed as the victim’s fault, or a crime that can’t really happen. (S/he must have been secretly asking for it, right?)

A friend of mine is serving on jury duty right now. The jury on which she sits recently heard a rape case in which an undocumented woman was raped by the wealthy man whose home she was cleaning. (Lest this sound too Hollywood, I assure you none of this is fabricated or exaggerated in the interest of proving my point.) After hearing the tearful testimony of the witness and listening to the testimony of the doctor who examined her, the jury deliberated. The first comment came from a young man who, at first glance, seemed like a normal, responsible, caring human being. “I think the sex was voluntary. She is so well endowed… it’s only natural.”

If this statement makes you mad, good! (To quote Ani, “If you’re not angry, then you’re just stupid and you don’t care.”) Does it anger you because you’re sick of victim blaming? Does it anger you because it seems like I’m inferring that all men are to blame? The above story exemplifies the denial of rape in our society. Sure, it’s possible this man is a deranged psychopath, but I doubt it. He undoubtedly has a mother, sister, girlfriend, friend, mentor, or daughter whom he loves and respects and would die if she were raped. He absolutely knows someone who has been raped, whether that person has told him or not. He would probably feel disgust towards a convicted sex offender. He does assume, however, that the victim is lying because she has large breasts.

Many commenters argued that women were not held responsible for rape; being aware of the threat of rape is a realistic expectation for someone interested in preserving his or her own safety. Most women are vividly aware of the threat of rape and take precautions to avoid it, but are nonetheless victimized due to circumstance. That these victims are still blamed for the crime committed against them because of their cup size, or the clothes they wore, or a look they gave, or the words they spoke- this is rape culture. This story is a coda to Jessica’s piece. For a more exhaustive definition of rape culture, read this awesome post on Shakesville.

If you’re still angry, then take action.

Educate yourself.

Ask questions.

Volunteer to help victims.

Speak out against rape.

  1. Jennifer Drew permalink
    January 22, 2010 4:43 pm

    The male juror’s misogynistic comments concerning the female rape survivor are common and widely accepted. Why? Because ‘common sense’ informs us that women are in fact just ‘sex’ and not human beings. Men, however are never ‘sex’ they are always autonomous human beings.

    What do I mean by the above? Well if women are ‘sex’ this means women are not entitled to sexual autonomy, because women’s clothing, women’s physical appearance, women’s behaviour, women’s character are always subject to scrutiny and interpretation from the male-centered perspective. Would this male have made a similar comment if the rape survivor was male? Would the male juror have looked at the male rape survivor and said ‘well I think the sex was voluntary, just look at his appearance, he is so attractive .’

    Also, note the male juror said ‘I think the sex was voluntary’ so already he is disbelieving rape occurred. Because if sex was involuntary then it was not ‘sex’ but rape.

    It makes not the slightest difference if this male juror has a sister, wife, mother etc. – in his eyes all women are constantly seeking sexual contact with men and real rape only happens when it is the stereotypical male stranger with horns who attacks a pure girl or elderly assexual woman. All other women and girls are supposedly constantly ‘oozing sex’ and so rape becomes non-rape because these women and girls always ‘consent’ to sexual contact with a man. I know of cases wherein males blame their sister/wife/daughter etc. for supposedly ‘provoking the known male to rape them.’ Such men refuse to accept many men do commit rape and it is not a minority of men but many men.

    Rape continues to be defined from the male perspective and that is why the legal system is so biased towards the brave female rape survivors who courageously report to police a man/men has/have raped them.

    Such attitudes do not magically appear out of thin air – they are promoted and accepted as supposedly common sense and how convenient it is that men as boys are never taught about their sexual responsibilities. Instead it is always women, as girls who are constantly exhorted to gatekeep supposedly uncontrollable male sexuality. This in itself is illogical because our patriarchal system claims men but not women are rational and objective, yet when it concerns men choosing to ignore women’s refusals to engage in any sexual activity or even a certain sexual activity, suddenly men’s rationality disappears.


  1. Welcome to the ‘Theatre’s Rape Culture’ Series « Gender Across Borders

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