"Barring polygamy, you will break up with every person you date minus one." - Yellow
Question #78979 posted on 09/10/2014 12:12 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm trying to phrase this question without sounding insensitive or ignorant. Let me just start out by saying this, rape is a horrific crime and is never condoned, no matter what the circumstance. That being said, I really don't understand one of the big protests of "rape culture" that I have seen on the news, the internet and heard people talking about. This year more than ever I have heard more and more people talk about how it doesn't matter what someone is wearing, that doesn't justify them getting raped. I'm not trying to be insensitive but whenever I hear that I want to say "Thank you for STATING THE OBVIOUS." I have lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, here in Utah and not once have I ever heard someone say "Did you hear about that girl that got raped, yeah, she was dressed pretty skimpy. You know she was asking for it". People are always horrified at what has happened and blame the rapist as they should. I even served my mission in one of the most dangerous (and most machista) parts of Latin America, where rape was not unheard of, and still I never once heard the victim be blamed for what had happened to her. So this being said, is there really somewhere in the world where people think that based on a woman's appearance or behavior, she is at fault for someone else doing something so terrible to her? Have I just been living in a bubble, or is this a real issue, or maybe is it just to scratch the surface on something deeper? Please help me understand this better. I just think there are much better ways we could bring awareness to the horrors or rape and trying to prevent it than stating something we all no to be true, it is never the victims fault. Thank you for explaining this to me,


-Confused

A:

Dear Confused,

Thank you for asking this question. I understand why you find yourself confused about this subject. Rape culture is an insidious part of the culture we live in every day and we fail to realize the affects it has on our everyday lives and actions. It is, in fact, a problem, and one that needs to be fixed. To help you better understand rape culture, I will define it as well as provide some examples and commentary about it.

The book, Transforming a Rape Culture, defines rape culture in the following way:

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

The main thing to remember from this definition, I think, is the idea that we consider rape culture to be a fact of life. Rape (and sexual violence) happen; they always have happened; they always will happen in spite of actions taken against them. In reality, sexual violence is not as inevitable as death and taxes, and by allowing the subtle influences all around to convince us otherwise, we are preserving this culture.

You brought up the example of immodesty, and the idea that a woman’s choice in immodest clothing might somehow be a reason for her getting raped. While you and I and all of our friends know that it is the rapist’s choices that cause rape and not the victim’s clothing, studies have found that these conscious attitudes we think we have are not as prevalent in real world situations. A study in 1999 that examined date rape, victim dress, and perceived blame showed that rape victims who were dressed in a more provocative styles were blamed more for their rape than those who weren't. While this study is a little old, more recent studies have have similar findings. Even though we may not consciously think “she is looking for sex by dressing that way,” people still adhere to this paradigm when it comes to victim blaming.

Modesty aside, sexual violence is rife with victim blaming in our culture. Concorde’s experience below is not an uncommon one. Women who walk around alone at night are thought to be careless, and should be expecting an assault. If a woman goes out on her own she ought to be carrying pepper spray or a Taser with her. By not doing so, women are allowing men to attack them. While these ideas may not be explicitly stated in people’s minds, I still have to take my Taser with me when I go running at night to make sure I am safe. Society teaches women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape. For example, we tell young girls to be modest (particularly in Mormon culture) so as not to arouse young men; women are expected to learn self-defense and carry protective equipment just in case a man "can't control himself." Most men are not told they need to respect women and their bodies. Boys are not taught to keep their minds clean of dirty thoughts despite a girl’s dress. Too often in our culture we take the “boys will be boys attitude,” and allow behavior that is unacceptable. And when those boys become men they have been inundated with the idea that men are dominant, coupled with the notion they should be having sex all the time or they are failing in their manhood. Conversely, women are taught to be passive and to accept this behavior from men. Then when a woman does participate in sexual activities, whether she consented or not, she is judged as promiscuous.

Here are as these articles show (some of whose examples I have listed below) rape culture is in our everyday lives .

  1. Pop music that tells women “you know you want it” because of the “blurred lines” of consent
  2. Rape jokes
  3. Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  4. Movies and books that depict women saying no to the advances of men, but eventually deciding that this is what she wanted all along
  5. Objectifying women in advertising and media as creatures of beauty and pleasure rather than human beings
  6. Pornography
  7. Calling college students who have the courage to report their rapes liars
  8. Companies, like this Texas business, that create decals of women bound and gagged to promote their products
  9. Photo memes like this

Some of you reading this may find what I have said to be a little extreme or you may not believe me. You are wrong. Rape culture is a real thing, and it is something that needs to change. We need to change how we view sexual violence and how it is dealt with in our society, and it starts by becoming aware of the subtle influences that submerse us; it starts by having conversations with our friends and family; it starts by treating other people with genuine love and respect. Change the culture, change the world.

Sincerely,
The Soulful Ginger

A:

Dear Confused,

I wasn't going to answer this question until an experience I had last night that reminded me of this question:

I was just leaving a friend's house and my car was parked on the street, right below a street light near a stop sign. It was only 9:30 and my phone battery was getting kind of low, so I was searching my car briefly in the trunk for my car charger. I was leaning over when I noticed that someone was on the other side of the intersection, waiting at the stop sign and flashing their brights at me. I ignored it, because I wasn't doing anything wrong and also it was dark and I didn't want to encourage any bad behavior by giving attention to the flashers.

That didn't stop them. Moments later, the car crossed the intersection and pulled up really close to my car. So close that I was cut off from the driver's side of my car and the occupants of the car were within arms reach of me. It was a topless Jeep crammed full of guys who were clearly inebriated or amped up on something. The second I looked up at them, they exploded with jeers and catcalls. I backed away from my trunk, looking for an escape or someone to call out to as they started threatening my physical safety, saying absolutely disgusting things about what they were going to do to me.

You know, I'd always thought that in situations like these, I would be able to handle myself better or react more quickly than others, but it's so terrifying in that moment that you can't predict your actions and I froze for a few moments before I backed up into the curb and tripped into the grassy divider between the road and the sidewalk. At that point, two of the guys in the Jeep started to climb out to go after me. 

I just left my trunk wide open and scrambled up and sprinted down the sidewalk. I don't even know where I was going to go or what I was going to do, but luckily for me as soon as I started running the guys got back in the car and squealed off. When I managed to get away to a safe place and report the incident I was only told that I shouldn't be out by myself late at night, or bending over into the trunk, because guys can't help but see my butt and that apparently drives guys to do things they normally wouldn't. I was also told that it's "just in guys' natures to catcall. It's not that big of a deal." 

It wasn't even ten PM, the street was well lit and I was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and yet I was effectively told that it was my fault that a bunch of strangers decided to block my way into my car, tell me how they were going to hurt me, and then get out of their car to go after me? My own mother told me off for being out "late at night by myself" as if I was wandering the red-light district of Detroit instead of walking from an apartment door, ten feet to my car to go home at a perfectly reasonable hour.

I had been so scared and I was (and still am) absolutely livid that the reaction was "it's your fault for encouraging bad behavior" not the fact that catcalling and sexual harassment and potential assault are completely wrong, no matter what. We need to teach people not to rape, or to harass, or to catcall and intimidate, instead of teaching that you need to live your life in fear by going home before dark every night, or how to hide the fact that you've got certain attributes because it might keep others from being able to control themselves. 

So yes, rape culture does exist and I envy you that you have not yet had to experience it. 

-Concorde