Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What we mean when we say rape culture

There's no such thing as rape culture. Rape is illegal, prosecutable under law, and everyone hates rapists!

Yeaaaah OK so no one who calls out, and lives under the threat of, rape culture has suggested that, universally, rape is formally, openly condoned and accepted. If we say rape is normalized, we don’t mean that society isn’t upset about it or that individual people don’t challenge or condemn it. We mean that male physical and sexual aggression feels socially inevitable because it has always happened and seems to keep happening. We worry about how to report it, how to support victims, and how to punish or deter perpetrators because the idea of it not happening again seems wholly unlikely. 

We are so used to it, we are unable to defamiliarize rape and remember that it exists within a cultural framework that sustains its continuation.

Related links:

Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker

Stanford rape case: Sex offender's dad says 6 months is too harsh for '20 minutes of action'

Because the Onion's satirization of the case is on point: 

College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed

Those who ignorantly deny the world as it is and claim that rape culture is a fabrication are usually so stupefied by the embeddedness of this culture that it’s invisible to them. The same people who deny that a culture is flawed and problematic are usually those benefitting the most from that status quo. The people who insert themselves into arguments decrying feminism and claiming sexism isn’t so bad, really, are usually the most privileged, most immune, and the least likely to become victims. Like any social ill that disproportionately affects a marginalized group that people dont care that much about anyway, society throws up its hands.

Which begs the question – where does an incessant need to argue against the existence of something a person hasn’t experienced come from? What causes some boys and men to be adamant that a phenomenon they have no lenses through which to glimpse firsthand couldn’t possibly exist. Because it doesn’t happen to them. If it doesn’t happen to them, it can’t be real. Because patriarchy.

If I say, according to my embodied experiences and knowledges as a woman in the world, that rape culture exists and is interwoven in a given society, culture or space (physical or virtual), I am not saying that everyone, or even anyone specifically, is openly, self-consciously promoting sexual assault and/or boasting about it (although, lets face it, those things actually do happen in certain instances, notably when perpetrators or bystanders have bragged about or even shared photos of women being assaulted). Its about naming and describing a larger, amorphous, invisible, systemic structure of sexism and denigration of women that guides and informs society. Its a byproduct of societies that are undeniably patriarchal and sexist.

You didn’t personally marginalize or devalue a woman on the basis of her gender or treat her with explicit, self-conscious bias? Congratulations. Sexism still exists. It’s crucial that people – especially those with male privilege – learn to see outside themselves and the bigger picture. 

Society is still sexist – that doesn’t mean I’m saying that you, Individual Man, are sexist. Be calm.

This article by Rebecca Blakey of GUTS really strikes at the heart of defining this nebulous idea that women find themselves having to explain over and over again:

“Rape culture is an environment in which rape is presumed to be inevitable and certain people are taught to fear rape and certain people are not. Rape persists because rape is related to the universal devaluing of people and behaviour deemed to be feminine. Rape persists because we ceaselessly conceive of rape as related to our conceptions of what is strange, or alien, to humanity. Rape persists because the language we ascribe to sex facilitates the weaponization of sex into rape.”

Do we live in societies in which rape is construed as a constant risk/possibility, in which women are taught they have to be safe and learn to avoid risk and protect themselves, and in which people, even people whose own child would do this, deny and downplay the trauma and seriousness of the offence? Do we grill and analyze victims/complainants and hold them accountable for something that was outside their control? Do we deny that certain coercive interactions weren’t really rape because there wasn’t a physical injury or it didn’t unfold according to a predetermined script of what constitutes legitimate assault? These realities are all symptoms of rape culture.

So no, no one is claiming that rape is openly sanctioned and permitted and that we don’t loathe rapists. But no sexist, racist, patriarchal, oppressive social structure or system acknowledges itself as such. No one admits “yes, we treat a certain group poorly and systemically marginalize them because we are indeed, racist. Racism is, indeed, the lens that guides us.” Rather, they know (read: believe) a certain group to be inferior and their lives to matter less.

If you argue that sexual assault stats “aren’t that bad” and lots of rapists do receive punishment, and you personally dislike rape and think it’s bad – you’re still operating within the ideological framework that rape is inevitable, a.k.a., you are operating within the reality of rape culture. Even if you claim to not blame victims, and not hold women as responsible for rape avoidance, you’re still accepting that rape happens and cannot be eradicated. We are so unfamiliar with the idea of world without sexual assault that having it happen less than it could or less than somewhere else feels like something to gloat about. 

Look how good we are. Look how we are raping women less than we could be.

It strikes me that the people claiming rape culture doesnt exist don’t usually argue that rape doesnt happen. Sure, the statistics and news stories and (few) arrests are there. The research to convey that sexual assaults are underreported – it’s all there. So why the resistance to acknowledging that our” society treats women, their bodies, and their sexualities in a way that blames victims for their assaults while finding insidious ways to explain and excuse male behaviour? Once again, because patriarchy. 

Rapists (especially economically privileged, white men) rape and often get away with. Because of all the systems that make it hard for victims to report, let alone pursue the unforgiving and traumatizing legal/court system, and all the systems that make it especially easy for men to bounce back. No one is more resilient against lasting repercussions than a privileged, heterosexual, cisgender, white man.

Rape culture shows us that the problem isn’t that there are a tonne of “sociopaths” running around, and that only strange, aberrant, messed up men would be so sick and misguided to commit assault. No. The problem is that otherwise normal guys do it, because they grew up and grew into their toxic masculinity, the flames fanned by rape culture, and they think they can have what they want, when they want it. 

Because if he is anything like Brock Turner, whose father evidently thinks raping an unconscious woman is a pretty minor college faux pas, he’s probably used to getting his way and feeling invincible. Because, explicitly or implicitly, he’s been taught that respecting a woman’s personal and bodily autonomy is not a priority. More of an inconvenience.

Until we begin to worry about the future of a survivor as much as the future of a convicted perpetrator, rape culture reigns.

Rape culture is felt – deeply felt – and its toxic symptoms are experienced daily by the woman identified among us. It is not the place of men to claim women are just imagining it while doing nothing to improve the world around them. Take a step back. Listen. Learn.