TW: rape, rape apologia, rape culture
When we talk about rape culture, we are talking about the pervasive belief that women deserve to be raped by simply existing in the world. Find that too strong of a definition? The women who live in a world that upholds rape culture don’t. Rape culture doesn’t only affect women. It affects anyone who ends up being sexually assaulted in any way. If it happened to you, you must have somehow deserved it . . . right?
When we talk about rape culture, we’re talking about Rehtaeh Parsons, who attempted suicide because she was gang-raped by four young men who then distributed details of the rape on social media. Parsons fell into a coma and died three days later. Much of public opinion came down on the side of the young men, who were said to be facing ruined lives as a result of the media attention. Only a few people spoke out about the fact that Parsons, a teenage girl, lost her life as a result of what happened to her. Only a few mentioned that Parsons faced public bullying and ridicule for her rape daily; only a few mentioned the trauma that drove Parsons to suicide.
That’s rape culture.
When we talk about rape culture, we’re talking about the leaked nudes of many celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Jill Scott, which were widely publicized to places like Reddit. People all over the world looked at the photos, some openly laughing about doing so, because in our society, many feel that celebrities’ bodies are disposable and belong to all of us. Recently, Jennifer Lawrence spoke up about the mass violation, calling out everyone who looked at her nude photos as participating in a sex crime. Few seem to realize that what happened to these women, especially to Jill Scott, a woman of colour, is sexual assault. Few seem to care that private photos that were stored on a supposedly secure drive were leaked and distributed without fear of consequence. Most decry that these women deserved it, for daring to have a nude photo taken of themselves to be shared with significant others and for private use.
That’s rape culture.
When we talk about rape culture, we talk about the many women who are told that their rape happened because they were wearing provocative clothes and it’s like “putting a steak in front of a starving dog”. We talk about the fact that little girls are told how to make themselves attractive and available for men and at the same time told to stay safe, to be careful doing anything that might make a man “lose control”. We blame these same little girls who are raped later in life for being too sexy, too overconfident, too female. Of course it’s their fault that they’re raped. Rape culture assures us that women are there for men only. Men can’t be expected to control themselves.
Rape culture is investigative police evidence, such as the clothes a rape survivor wore the night of her assault, being returned to traumatized rape victims. Rape culture is being told that you deserved it because you were drunk and passed out, that you should anticipate rape if you dare to lose control. Rape culture is being told to forgive your abuser so that you both can “move on”, though you know that he spent little, if any, time in jail for his crime. Rape culture is being afraid to tell your story, because your abuser is still alive, still influential, still able to ruin your life by discrediting you as a person. Rape culture is knowing your abuser will rape another woman and feeling simultaneously guilty and triggered because though the onus shouldn’t be on you to ensure he’s prosecuted, it is on you, anyway, and it isn’t on him to stop raping.
Rape culture is women being told to avoid being raped, but men not being told to refrain from raping. Rape culture is being told that women make themselves into victims when they talk about being scared just to walk down the street. Rape culture will manifest in the people who will tell me that I am perpetuating a victim culture for discussing the realities of being a woman in this society. Rape culture is manifested in men getting angry when they are told no by women. Rape culture is men feeling entitled to take what they feel is theirs, by force if absolutely necessary. And rape culture is women being told that they are uncooperative, frigid, hysterical, or bitchy because they don’t want to give up their bodily autonomy to a man because they are told they should.
Rape culture is street harassment and catcalling. Rape culture is me being told that I deserved to be chased by an angry man into a convenience store because I was out too late and walking home in the dark. Rape culture is women being told to carry pepper spray, to hold their keys between their fingers, to take self-defence classes, to watch their drinks, and not men being told the true meaning of what consent means. No means no, and being drunk, asleep, or incapacitated doesn’t mean yes just because she can’t say no.
Rape culture is the culture we live in, like it or not. And it’s the culture that we need to change. I am a survivor of sexual assault. Rape culture is the reason I cannot tell my story.
Because when we talk about rape culture, we talk about silence. And rape culture ensures that women will remain silent, will remain property, will remain conquests for men to achieve – until we change our mindset about what sexual assault truly is and means.