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Rape culture is a term that first appeared in the text of Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women, published in 1974. It is one of the first works to discuss women's perspectives on rape. The film Rape Culture, released in January of 1975, drew attention to how mainstream media and popular culture engender false ideas about rape. The term has been used to denote the ways in which every society trivializes, rationalizes, or even condones rape and other acts of sexual violence. Rape culture references a variety of issues, including the way rape victims are treated by police, the way rape is portrayed in fiction and by the media, and cultural indifference to rape in state institutions, prisons and the military.
Modern rape culture is associated with institutionalized misogyny, having at its core cultural features of modern societies that define, politicize, and ultimately control women's bodies. However, it also applies to male victims of rape (who are frequently not even acknowledged). Rape culture, like all other aspects of culture, informs individual behaviors on many levels — often in ways the individual isn't even aware of.
- 1 Aspects of rape culture
- 2 Addressing the "not all men" defense
- 3 In practice in the US
- 4 Worldwide
- 5 Continuing fights against rape culture
- 6 Criticism of the term and its use
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
Aspects of rape culture
In North America
Rape culture, at least in North America, informs our entire legal system, from legislating offenses, to criminal investigations, to trial and punishment.
Victims are defined and unofficially classified based on how well they conform to a (narrow and sexist) specific set of standards—which are almost always based on assumptions about women's value in general. A white virgin who has been beaten is a more proper victim than a Latina co-ed who has a boyfriend. Being raped by a stranger, vaginally, is taken more seriously than being a male victim. How "real" a rape is considered to be largely informs how the investigators and litigators will deal with the case.
Because of the overall sexism in rape culture, men do not get raped. Of course they do get raped, but because of the way rape victims are seen by society, men who are raped are either ignored or labeled as sissy, or gay, or simply weak. In the same vein, women can't rape men. Men, society teaches, are always horny, always seeking the next conquest and always ready for sex. So how could they be raped? Because of these very attitudes, society is extremely slow to address, much less change, the way male rape victims are treated. The FBI did not even classify male rape as such before 2012. Women are also perceived as being incapable of raping other women, often because sex between two women is portrayed as 'not real sex' (which is odd, because a lot of men will pay to see that sort of porn). Woman on woman rape is also often not illegal, most notably in places where the definition of rape necessitates penetration by a penis. This is still true throughout most of the world, and, until recently, the US as well.
Rape culture fosters the misconception that incidents of false or politically motivated rape accusations are commonplace, in order to create a cloud of doubt on all potential rapes. While there will always be some scumbags and/or people with mental health issues who make intentionally false accusations of any kind of crime, one gets the impression that false rape accusations get so much attention in order to preemptively shame into silence victims who do not have ironclad cases. This can create a chilling effect on rape victims who don't want to be accused of lying and/or be subject to the media circus afterwards.
In rape culture society, rapists are still seen as men with potential parental rights to children they conceived through raping a woman. As of 2012, 31 states still allow a convicted rapist to sue for custody of any children. In an environment like the USA, where rape is being questioned as a legitimate reason for abortion, this issue becomes even more chilling.
Effect on views of the victim and perpetrator
Victim-blaming is a notable feature of a rape culture. If the victim can be shown to be "out of line" at any point, society turns on them, often demanding they voice some sense of remorse for those behaviors that allegedly led to the rape. Were they dressed "like a slut?" Did they lead the guy on? Had they been out partying? Had they been drinking? Are they pretty? Were they "friendly" (wink-wink, nudge nudge) with the boys? If so, then shouldn't they have at least expected the likelihood of being raped? Even if a rape victim actually does meet the maximum standards for sympathy, the implication is that the victim's transgression against traditional values and polite society was more important than the actual act of violence done to the victim.[Note 1]
While substance evidence does say the perpetrator drinking has some prediction of sexual assault occurring (and to a much lesser extent the victim drinking) social attitudes by the perpetrator about masculinity and rape are a much strong predictor of sexual assault, and changes in views are a powerful predictor in changes in sexual assault rates.
If male, the victim will be usually labeled as "gay" (thus overlapping with homophobia) regardless of actual sexual preference when raped by a man. If raped by a woman (assuming this is acknowledged) it will generally be perceived as something they must have wanted (even if underage), because of a social expectation that males always desire sex with any woman, no matter what. Threats or jokes in regards to prison rape are still acceptable for many (often being used on TV shows or movies), being frequently portrayed as criminals' comeuppance or a danger used to gain cooperation with the authorities.
Rape culture frequently whitewashes the perpetrator, especially if the victim is less "victim-y" or the rapist is a cultural hero of some kind. In recent years, we've watched as society attempted to give passes to football players, pop music and rap icons, and even the occasional wiki host (Julian Assange). Whitewashing takes many forms, including excuses ("He's a man, she was leading him on, he couldn't help it" or "The victim was clearly trying to attract sexual attention"[Note 2][Note 3]) and sympathy directed at the perpetrators, especially when they are young.[Note 4] If the rapist is a celebrity, you will rarely hear him referred to as a rapist, and in fact, many people invoke the celebrity's work as some kind of justification to lessen or drop charges.
Impact on discussions of sex and rape
Rape culture often uses threats of rape (real or just voiced) as a way to intimidate people, often women, into submission. This is especially prevalent on the internet.[Note 5]
An important aspect of rape culture is eroticization and romanticization of rape in popular culture, without showing the negative side effects or at least imploring a heavy degree of due diligence from the audience. This isn't to say that people shouldn't be allowed to have any form of entertainment and fantasy they want as long as it doesn't involve a real-world crime. However, the lackadaisical or ambiguous messages sent by a rape-happy heteronormative pop culture often ends up creating an environment in which actual rape can be pushed into the aforementioned grey area.
Rape culture flourishes because of the urban legend that women don't want sex, and must be "encouraged" to have sex. This is played out in the old joke "No! Don't! Stop! No, don't stop!"
Rape culture flourishes in societies where teens are not taught how to talk about sex and about what they each want. Paired with the above, this leads to instances where neither party is quite sure what the other wants and can lead directly to rape. Contrast this with an ideal situation where people are taught from a young age that it is okay to say no or yes, but that anything less than a strong yes from a partner is not sufficient to make it right to have sex.
Rape culture both informs and is informed by a society's mixed messages about sex in the media and on TV. Women and girls should be pure and somehow above sex, and yet everything is sold to them through sex.
Forms of sexual violence
Rape culture involves sexual exploitation, harassment and other forms of sexual violence. Instances of sexual harassment are often seen as a personal issue between a victim and their aggressor, even in a work environment. Sexual harassment is often portrayed as a hassle a company must deal with, to protect itself legally, rather than a real moral or ethical transgression. Rape culture further plays down causal factors to rape such as but not limited to a generalized culture of violence, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.
“”Okay, well, I'm not gonna take no for an answer, because I just refuse to do that, because I'm a winner and winners, we don't listen to words like “no” or “don’t” or “stop!!” Those words are just not in our vocabulary. I know what you need.
|—Dennis Reynolds, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia|
Rape culture often uses rape as a subject of jokes, in ways seen with similar crimes like murder. For example, memes such as "surprise sex!" attempt to minimize rape, while at other times, rape apologia such as "if they orgasmed, it wasn't rape" are thrown around as 'jokes', where the fact that the speaker "obviously didn't mean it" (which the reader must simply assume) are the only reason not to take the statement at face value; however, actual rapists may interpret these statements as signs that others agree with them, or even encourage them to commit the act. That being said, jokes often involve stating things ironically or figuratively (e.g. "she raped him badly" in a video game context), so there may only be a tenuous link between rape jokes and incitement to rape. One possibility is that actual rapists may use these jokes to communicate what they consider acceptable behaviour, rather than the jokes themselves encouraging people to commit the act.
Jokes and other humor about rape are generally viewed as problematic as they try to bring levity to the horror of sexual assault. In particular, jokes that marginalize victims by framing rape as a forgivable and just retribution for some other action (usually grossly disproportionate to the punishment e.g. "leading a man on" or "heckling a comedian") propagates rape culture. This includes jokes with male victims and especially prison rape, which feminists are just as much against as ones about male-on-female abuse (common in cop shows, even treating rape as part of the criminal's punishment which they deserve).
Addressing the "not all men" defense
Rape culture, like all other aspects of culture, can impact people on a subconscious level long before it becomes part of their conscious choices. Rape culture is the result of thousands of years of human history which has defined women and their place in society. And it needs to be understood that way. Unfortunately, discussions about rape culture can make men feel cornered, attacked or defensive.
Rape culture is not a conscious conspiracy by men to keep women "in their place". It is not something that men are generally even aware they can participate in. In fact, when specific behaviors that reinforce rape culture are pointed out, most men will try to change them. In fact it's an issue not limited solely to men, as women can also, unintentionally, perpetuate the culture they have been taught is 'normal'.
Discussing or admitting that rape culture exists does not mean anyone believes men think rape is somehow a good or valued thing. Nor does it mean that someone is accusing you of being a rapist. Discussing the fact that in America, 27.2% of women have been sexually harassed and 18.3% have been raped, and 11.7% of men have been sexually harassed and 1.4% raped at least once in their lives does not mean anyone thinks that specifically men are more to blame. But it does mean a culture exists which makes it hard for victims to come forward, to talk, or to heal. And, the very fact that a culture informs the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of a society does mean that it's disturbingly easy to unknowingly participate in rape culture.
Or in other words, we know that not all men are rapists but some are, and far too many. Saying "not all men" just shuts down conversation into meaningless pointing out the obvious and wastes time when we could be discussing a serious issue. Worse, it often works as a way to sidetrack the issue and is sometimes used as a means to shut down discussion of the subject.
The key to this here is that there's a distinction between fault and responsibility. If you're a decent, non-rapey guy facing a situation where rape culture is being discussed aggressively, you're probably not being targeted personally. Notwithstanding there have been a few dumbasses with an axe to grind who've said ridiculous things, discussions about this are really about responsibility. Feminists aren't saying you're to blame for what's going on, but as a part of the group that is more likely to commit rape, and has more power on average than the other, you have a responsibility to help mitigate rape culture and ideally, contribute to ending it. Try to keep that in mind if you're feeling like you've been put on the spot.
In practice in the US
In the US, rape culture has some very specific and disturbing manifestations.
Victims and definitions
Rape kits, used to collect evidence of rape, have been frequently charged back to the victim. Alaska under Sarah Palin is perhaps the most well known example, but at the time, over 20 states were doing the exact same thing. Victims (or their families) of muggings, theft or murder are not charged with the cost of collecting evidence.
When rape kits are collected, they have frequently not been tested.
A prison industry where more than 10% of the men will be raped at some point in their incarceration. Because it is "expected" and they are "just criminals" little to nothing is done about this epidemic, though the late Andrea Dworkin took this problem seriously.
Debates in the US House attempting to articulate what a "legitimate" rape is, vs... well, we aren't sure vs. what. The specific language they were debating was "forcible rape", which is the only type of rape that would be covered by US aid from the Violence Against Women Act, would be used for FBI and CDC statistics about the commonality of rape and pregnancy and diseases born from those rapes, and would of course be the defining example for any exception to abortion law, or access to federal funds for abortion.
In the media
In the US at least, it is becoming more and more common for rape victims to find their pictures in the media, specifically on the internet, an incredibly disturbing thing to do to the victim of any crime, and a demonstration of complete lack of empathy for the victim by people who do this and the societies that allow this kind of nonsense to happen.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media are often outlets for images of rape victims and/or support for rapists, especially when so-called "popular" students are involved. Steubenville is the most recognized incident. In this small football-obsessed town, two star football players brutally raped a girl at a party, bragged about it on social media, and were left unscathed by local law enforcement. It took a social media outrage and intervention from the state's attorney general for them to be prosecuted, and even then they got off pretty light, with just one year in prison.
The Twitter campaign #YesAllWomen arose as response to a misogynist act of domestic terrorism aimed at punishing women for not being sexually available. Story after story came out about what women go through, each and every day. The fear, the desire to hide or dress down, the sense of having to be on guard from men who want to hit on them during a bus ride home, the checking in with friends because every day this very rape culture breeds a world where women do not feel safe. In many anecdotes men are accustomed to touching women as if it is their right, and seemingly get offended when told to stop. Men catcall the pretty women they see, push them into conversations they do not want to be in, and of course frequently do not take no for an answer - at least not easily: "Can I sit here?" -Shrug and return to reading. "What's your name?" -mumble and continue reading. "Would you like to go out with me?" -No, I don't want to go out. "Why, do you have a boyfriend?" -No, I am just not interested. "Why? Are you a lesbian?" -No, I just don't like your type. "How can you know that if you haven't tried me?" The game is endless, and as the hashtag showed, the sense of fear that this person simply won't stop with verbal harassment is in every woman's mind.
“”Don’t cry. This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life.
|—a judge to a child bride|
Child marriage happens in fundamentalist Christian, fundamentalist Muslim and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Child marriage is legal in the US with parental consent. These are not isolated cases; over 200,000 children were married between 2000 and 2010 in the US. This is a systematic problem.
Republicans such as Chris Christie are blocking bills that would ban child marriage as they don't want children to be born out of wedlock and from an ostensible desire to protect religious freedom. Those are bullshit reasons to block a bill that bans child brides. Other conservatives think the GOP is absolutely wrong as child brides are a bad thing: duh.
The 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey on young Australians had some worrying findings. Most Australian men understand that forcing sexual intercourse to occur is violent and that violence against women is a serious issue.
Most of the invalidating attitudes are the trivialisation and excusing of rape instead of outright approval of rape. About 1 in 10 Australians believe that "Women who are sexually harassed should sort it out themselves". 46% of young Australian men believe "A lot of times women who say they were raped led the man on and later had regrets" and 46% of young Australian men believe that false rape accusations are not rare.
Indian activists have accused the caste system of promoting rape, with over 67% of "untouchables" having experienced sexual violence. They go on to say that high class individuals are protected by the justice system. Demonstrating the disconnect between culture and legality, sweeping laws have been enacted, but their effectiveness is debated. Some argue that, while there has been "some progress," police and politicians still don't take rape cases as seriously as they should, and the laws are not changing men's attitudes or preventing sexual violence.
In Pakistan, rape victims are thought to be dishonest "architects of their own distress," and thus forced into silence. According to the Human Rights Commission, a rape occurs every 2 hours, and a gang rape every 4 to 8 days. Illiteracy, "sexual frustration," and tribal judges have been implicated in this problem. Tribal judges often execute women who are raped, while the male rapist is released without punishment. Sadly, it is common in the Muslim world for rape victims to be punished (along with or instead of their rapist) due to common interpretations of Sharia law. Rape victims are also frequently murdered in honor killings or kill themselves due to stigma. Proof of rape is nearly impossible for victims to obtain under Sharia law, while evidence required for punishing them can be easily. DNA tests, having not existed at the time this was codified, are inadmissible.
A 2009 policy brief of the Medical Research Council says that in South Africa: "Many forms of sexual violence, particularly sexual harassment and forms of sexual coercion that do not involve physical force are widely viewed as normal male behaviour" and also that "With most men perceiving that women should submit to control by men, physical and sexual violence are used against women to demonstrate male power, and thus teach women ‘their place’, and to enforce it through punishment."
Continuing fights against rape culture
Rape shield laws and victim confidentiality laws are specific attempts by various governments to fight rape culture. The former is to fight various victim blaming tactics often used by defense lawyers (most commonly invasive questions about sexual history that is not directly relevant to the case) while the latter is to prevent harassment and discrimination of victims.
In 2013, after sustained pressure from women's groups, both Twitter and Facebook reviewed their policies around incidents of rape, threats of rape, and jokes about rape. Facebook agreed to view any images of rape, or humor specifically supporting rape or violence against women as hate speech and agreed to remove those types of images. Twitter, a medium that is a haven for threats of rape against outspoken women, agreed in early August, 2013 that it would provide a better way to report such threats.
Criticism of the term and its use
While few rational people deny some of the ideas surrounding the concept of rape culture (including some legal problems involving rape cases), some of these same people and entities question whether rape culture is truly prevalent in the United States, as well as criticize the way some who are... enthusiastic about social justice use the term more as a snarl word. Like so many other issues, debates and conversations about rape culture often include people working from different ideas of what it is.
In their recommendations to the White House regarding campus rapes, the rape prevention group RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) had the following to say about rape culture:
In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming "rape culture" for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.
Furthermore, an argument can be made that insisting that rape culture is prevalent in a situation can actually take responsibility away from those committing the crime and instead try to indict the broader (and subjective) culture. To some, rape culture suggests that young people are being ill-informed about what rape is, or even worse, are being taught that it's not a serious crime, when that is simply not (or no longer) the case. You wouldn't blame a child for throwing rocks at cars when he's never been taught better, and society ignores and/or apologizes for the rock throwing. More thoughts from RAINN:
By the time they reach college, most students have been exposed to 18 years of prevention messages, in one form or another. Thanks to repeated messages from parents, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, the media and, yes, the culture at large, the overwhelming majority of these young adults have learned right from wrong, and enter college knowing that rape falls squarely in the latter category.
- This is What Rape Culture Looks Like, Jaclyn Friedman, Yes Means Yes
- India's Caste Culture is a Rape Culture, The Daily Beast
- Despite Tougher Laws, India Can't Shape Rape Culture, USA Today
- Rape in Pakistan, the How and the Why, The Express Tribune
- Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women VicHealth
- The blog Yes Means Yes refers to this stereotyping as the social script of stranger rape.
- This may however be a result of high-profile cases where the accused was clearly not guilty of rape, but vilified nonetheless.
- The Jimmy Savile foundation comes to mind.
- Consider, in the media coverage of the Steubenville case, it was not uncommon to hear how "his life has been changed forever", or to see written pontifications of how spending time in jail will ruin his scholarship potential but almost nothing suggesting the young victim's life has been irrevocably changed.
- Some factions of the GamerGate phenomenon have been accused of rape threats as an attempt to silence other factions of GamerGate. Ironically, the anti-GamerGate crowd has also been guilty of rape threats.
- According to a study that had "some" flaws.
- A particularly ugly example of this.
- An example where rape victims are taken less seriously based on gender
- "Frequently Asked Questions about the Change in the UCR Definition of Rape". December 11, 2014.
- Esther Zuckerman, 31 States Allow Rapists Custody and Visitation Rights. The Atlantic, 23 August 2012.
- What Counts as Rape: The Effect of Offense Prototypes, Victim Stereotypes, and Participant Gender on How the Complainant and Defendant are Perceived
- Five Thirty Eight: Science Says Toxic Masculinity — More Than Alcohol — Leads To Sexual Assault, a review article covering the research on the subject
- Why Are Colleges So Terrible at Following Up on Rape Accusations Against Football Players?
- Woody Allen's Defenders and Rape Culture
- Over 100 In Film Community Sign Polanski Petition
- Why Daniel Tosh’s ‘Rape Joke’ at the Laugh Factory Wasn’t Funny
- A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar
- Why Your Justin Bieber Prison Jokes Perpetuate Rape Culture
- Wikipedia Steubenville article
- 11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida The New York Times
- Laws to End Child Marriage Unchained at Last
- Christie rejects ban on marriage for N.J. teens under 18 nj
- N.H. House kills bill that would raise minimum marriage age to 18 Concord Moniter
- House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act Huffington Post
- Chris Christie’s bad reasons for blocking underage marriage ban Conservative Review
- PDF file of a summary of the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey.
- Jewkes, R; Abraham, N; Mathews, S (November 2009). "Preventing Rape and Violence in South Africa: Call for Leadership in a New Agenda for Action". Medical Research Council.
- Yolanda Mufweba, "'Corrective rape makes you an African woman'", Saturday Star, 2003-11-07
- Baghdadi 2013, https://www.academia.edu/9634350/Corrective_Rape_of_black_lesbian_women_in_Post-Apartheid_South_Africa_investigating_the_symbolic_violence_and_resulting_misappropriation_of_symbolic_power_that_ensues_within_a_nexus_of_social_imaginaries.
- "Men are also 'corrective rape' victims | Health | Health | M&G". Mg.co.za. 2014-04-11. Retrieved 2016-02-06.