How sad that Generation: Handmaid’s fiftieth post is about rape. I was originally going to write about women’s issues overseas, but I could not ignore this any longer.
I know that I, personally, have seem the phrase “rape culture” tossed around articles and forum discussions online more often than not. Rape culture, it seems, began its sickening life as a buzzword and/or thesis topic and came to a head with the Steubenville rape case – two of the town’s high school football players convicted of kidnapping and gang raping an unconscious sixteen-year-old girl have an enormous amount of evidence stacked against them. While, tragically, this is most likely not the first time such an event has taken place – simply the first time it has received scrutiny thanks to the online hacktavist group Anonymous – the trial very quickly became a very pivotal case in defining the culture of rape our country (and perhaps the world) is drowning in. Rather than solidarity and sympathy, the victim has received a great deal of bullying, taunting, and even online death threats from her surrounding community. Schoolmates and the like have posted angry and threatening tweets about her, calling her a slut, and generally perpetuating rape culture. Furthermore, the news coverage surround this case has been largely sympathetic not to the victim, but to the rapists, expressing remorse at their tears and regret at their lives “being ruined by the sex offender label.”
It breaks my heart to continue, but it doesn’t end there, not when I’ve encountered news such as this in recent weeks:
Victim bullied after rape allegations against Torrington football players
How is this happening? Why do people think this way? Let’s break it down point by point:
1. What is rape culture?
A very good definition of rape culture can be found on this amazing blog; “rape culture is used to describe a culture in which rape is often dismissed, excused, or even condoned. This is caused by the attitudes of society in addition to cultural norms and the media which may normalize rape. Behaviours that are associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.” For those of you who don’t believe that this could possibly be accurate, I will have you know an acquaintance of mine firmly believes that men “cannot control themselves” when it comes to being sexually attracted to, say, an intoxicated female, and by that logic a woman should automatically assume any responsibility for having been attacked or raped while drunk or even roofied. This sort of mindset is prevalent, and it is extremely, EXTREMELY toxic.
2. What causes rape culture?
Simply put, patriarchy. Rape culture exists because we don’t believe it does. The Feminist Critics blog suggest that “Male-on-female rape benefits more than the individual rapist and it damages more than his specific victim. It inculcates fear and timidity amongst women and renders them psychologically incapable of achieving the status and power they might otherwise attain. Thus men are advantaged by rape and men have an interest in seeing that it continue.” They also suggested that men may not be entirely aware of this state of mind. While I don’t think it is entirely fair to make this assumption about all individual men, I believe that in the “group think” mentality, this may be a subconscious factor in some areas, such as the Steubenville rapists. A lack of solidarity may also be playing a role – “rape culture is objectively bad, but as a man it isn’t my battle to fight, so I will remain idle.”
I also came across an interesting idea the other night – when children are reared, young boys who pull girl’s hair, grab their arms and push them down are thought to secretly like the girl in question and girls are consequently told that this makes the actions acceptable. When boys are around 11-12 years old, similar behavior is written off as “boys being boys.” Therefore, when they are 18 and up, they may without realizing believe that such behavior towards women is still acceptable and they still may see women as decorative playthings that they can physically manipulate at their will.
3. What is “slut shaming”?
Slut shaming is, according to Feminism 101, “when a person “publicly or privately [insults] a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women.” However, under the ugly umbrella of rape culture, it essentially becomes blaming a victim of rape for her own attack by saying she was asking for it and/or calling her a slut, thus becoming victim-blaming. Slut-shaming takes on a whole new form in the Steubenville case, where Jane Doe has become a pariah.
4. How do we solve this problem?
The quick and obvious method is to ask the Wizard to give you a heart.
However, since we as a society cannot seem to grasp this concept, I recommend reading this article which gives a complete and direct process that will seemingly make a difference. The steps that stood out to me were re-examining masculinity as a concept and as a perpetrator, don’t laugh at rape jokes (however innocent they may be), communicate clearly your intent and your consent, and don’t be afraid to tell your story. I have noticed that rape apologists and the like tend to fall silent once they realize someone they know has been a victim.
As a woman within this rape culture, there are times when I am genuinely scared. There are times when I feel I could strangle someone. But most of the time I feel overwhelmingly sad, as I feel that my own story will never be addressed. I will never have an opportunity to get back the dignity that was taken from me by my own perpetrator. And I cannot shake the feeling that I will not never have sympathy as most people will not believe me. Our attitude towards rape today means that my story, and the stories of those of my friends who have also been victims, are meaningless. It means I had it coming to me and that I deserved it. It means I may not allow myself the luxury of feeling anything about it. One in four women you know have been or most likely will be the victim of rape and the majority of her country will tell her that she did it to herself. That is the reality of rape culture.
I implore you, please do not allow this to continue. Women, please do not leave your sisters to suffer in silence. Men, find within your hearts the humanity to end this ugly culture. Rape culture is not a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue. And, unlike global warming or famine, this is something that our own actions can immediately solve.
More information on the Steubenville rape case can be found here.
“Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison.
Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us.
She did. She did. She did.
Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?
Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.”
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale