Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Say "No" to Rape Culture

If you do a quick Google search of the term “rape culture,” chances are that you won’t be able to find a concrete, unbiased definition. This is because rape culture is a complicated and societally prevalent topic that cannot be summed up by only a few words. To put it simply, rape culture is the normalization of rape and other forms of assault through books, movies, songs, laws, ideas, sayings, and other forms of everyday life. It is the book 50 Shades of Grey; it is Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”; it is these Dolce and Gabbana ads from 2007; it is slut-shaming and victim-blaming; it is the way the media mourned the loss of the Steubenville rapists’ football careers rather than rallied around the victim; it is the fact that rapists can legally sue for child custody in 31 states; it is the idea that we teach women how to dress, how to act and how to think instead of teaching men not to rape. Rape culture promotes sexual violence and assault, and it leads to a society in which rape is normalized.

Rape has been around for thousands of years, and so has rape culture, the idea that men, as author Tara Culp-Ressler writes, “can’t control their aggressive sex drives, so...girls will inevitably become the subject of that aggression.” In the last half-century or so, rape culture started becoming a bigger and bigger issue through the introduction of readily-available television programming, movies, erotic novels, racy advertisements, and others ways of promoting rape culture. But what I believe has dug our society in this hole the furthest - and what has helped start the movement to dig us out - is social media and our lives on the Internet. With the introduction of the Internet, it has become easier to bully, victim-blame, and slut-shame, and it is harder for us to stay away from promoters of rape culture when they are literally everywhere. The most prominent promoters of rape culture are advertisements, especially the ones for high-end clothing or cosmetics. Here are some examples, taken from an Indian photoshoot that strongly resembled a 2012 gang rape and murder in New Delhi:





Images taken from Brown Girl Magazine

The Internet and the media’s representation of sexual assault has changed the way that men think they get to act around women, especially close family members and friends. In a 2010 survey funded by the CDC, only 13.8% of rapists were strangers to the female victims. This means that the majority of rapists were brothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, neighbors, friends, and boyfriends: people thought to be trustworthy who have been coerced into believing that rape culture is acceptable, when in reality it is a horrible thing.

Why don’t we defer to the facts? In the same survey as aforementioned, 18.3% of adult women reported having been raped in their lifetime. 18.3%. 18.3%? That means that almost one out of every five women has been raped. I, myself, am in the majority, having never been raped or sexually assaulted, but this fact blew me away. What is wrong with our society? The survey also showed that only 1.4% (1 in 71) of men reported having been raped. This most definitely shows that rape culture affects women more than men because of the targeting and objectifying of women through the media. Here’s another fact: 97% of rapists never spend one day in jail. What? Why? Is it that the police don’t see rape as a serious enough crime - although if rape isn’t a crime, then I don’t know what is - or is it that victims are too scared to get bullied and shamed that they do not report their assault? My bet is on the latter, as rape has become normalized and deeply ingrained in our society. Renowned sociologist Heather Hlavka recently published a study in which 100 young women, tagged as potential victims of sexual assault, were interviewed about their personal lives and sexual experiences. Most of the girls rationalized their assaults, accepting them and thinking that it was not unusual to be harassed or abused. Hlavka writes that, “objectification, abuse and harassment appear to part of the fabric of young women’s lives.” This normalization and acceptance of sexual abuse and violence is a direct effect of rape culture.

Some men or anti-feminists may argue that rape culture isn’t real, or that even if it is real, there is not enough evidence to say that rape is an issue in our society. These people call rape culture a “movement based on a foundation of dubious statistics and a distorted view of masculinity.” Really? Rape culture is everywhere. Rape culture is women being told that rape culture is not real. What evidence is there to say that rape is not an issue in our society? Yes, true rape statistics are hard to come by because of the rate of underreporting and the tendency for certain words such as “assault” to have multiple meanings. I understand. However, take a look around you. Rape culture is in books, in songs, in movies, in the news, in our sayings, in our words, in our ideas, in our actions. Rape culture bleeds into our daily lives and its hateful and misogynistic notions change the people that we are. In order to change rape culture and lower rape statistics, the opposition must realize that there is an issue. Denial will lead nowhere.

Thankfully, there are some movements going on to stop rape culture and to prevent it from influencing us. These include the many online victim-support networks and government-funded hotlines to help with sexual violence and abuse. They include the fact that the state of California has very recently passed a law that requires two affirmatives before engaging in sexual activity, which will cut down on cases of forced rape. They include the fact that an undergraduate at Columbia University is gaining national attention for carrying her mattress to class every day until her rapist is expelled. Articles and blog posts are being written, protests are happening, hashtags are trending, laws are changing. People are being encouraged to think about the role that they play in rape culture, and rape culture is slowly, but surely, dying out. Our digital lives are changing the way that we question things, that we see things, that we accept things, and this is exactly what needs to happen in order to stop rape culture. Rape is not something to be celebrated. Or desired. Or glamorized. And definitely not normalized. Women should not have to be told what to wear, how to act, and what to do. I am sick of this misogyny. We should instead be telling the media to stop promoting and glamorizing rape so that we can end rape culture. We should change our perspectives on rape, on gender roles, and on sexual consent. If we change this, then we change rape culture, and we stop the violence and abuse.

Bibliography
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Conclusion: Updated on 11 November 2014

This blog project really opened my eyes not only to the subject of rape culture, but more broadly, to the stereotypes that have been created by the media and that are now prevalent in our society. Whether these stereotypes revolve around gender, race, social status, or other topics, because of the blogging process and by reading others' blogs, I have learned to be wary of these stereotypes and to treat them with skepticism. I am very grateful for this experience, and for the chance to be introduced to more ideas, opinions, viewpoints, and alternate ways of thinking. For this project, my thesis was that rape culture promotes sexual violence and assault and leads to a society in which rape is normalized. My thesis related to digital citizenship because it showed the way that the media has influenced our lives by promoting rape culture, and it asked readers to think about the role that they might play in perpetuating rape culture. By receiving comments on my blog and by responding to those comments, I learned a lot. My thesis and stance on rape culture did not change, but the commenting process helped me to clarify my opinions on issues such as laws surrounding rape culture, gender bias in court, the root of rape culture and gender stereotypes, and the meaning of sexual consent. In order to reply to some comments, I had to think deeply, write persuasively, and do a little bit of extra research to prove my point. I am grateful to the commenting process for giving me the opportunity to expound upon my opinions through writing. All in all, the process of blogging was very fun and rewarding. I am happy that I have been given the chance to share my opinion with others and to make them aware of the topic of rape culture. I felt a certain satisfaction in blogging because it was kind of like writing an opinion essay, but it felt less restricting and more conversational and easy-going. I really enjoyed this process, and I hope to be able to continue raising awareness about rape culture in the future.

12 comments:

  1. Wow, lenoragray! This is an amazing and well-written article. It really made me think more about what is normalized in our society and how many bad things are written off as okay because they are 'normal'. What do you think is at the root of the normalization and spread of rape culture? Is it the media, is it experiences, or is it just human nature? I think that this is a topic that should be much more widespread throughout the country, because currently it is not very controversial or recognized but if people can share stories and information about this horrible crime maybe we will be able to stop some of the spread of rape culture, and educate people about why rape is NOT okay.
    Thanks so much for sharing all of this information!
    Abigail

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    1. Hi, Abigail! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and write a comment. I really appreciate it. In response to your question, I believe that rape culture in the sense of male dominance and misogyny is biological in nature, but that rape culture has been perpetuated and normalized by the media. I think it's safe to assume that early caveman raped not because of advertisements, songs, and movies glamorizing rape, but because of his sexual urges and because of the scientific and physical differences between man and woman. Rape has been around for ages, and this is because of innate behaviors and biological factors. However, rape culture, or the promotion and normalization of rape in our society, is relatively new to us. I believe that rape culture started when the world became more connected through newspapers, radio, magazines, television, and eventually, the Internet, which has many outlets through which rape culture can be promoted. This normalization of rape culture started with creating stereotypical gender roles. The way that the media plays upon a woman's femininity - her submissiveness and her emotional tendencies - and the way that the media plays upon a man's masculinity - his strength and his arrogance - has glorified these two roles and has shamed people who do not fit into these roles. When these two roles - a domineering man and a shy woman - are used in terms of sex, it promotes horrifically sexist and untrue gender roles and also, rape culture. Of course, men can rape other men, and women can rape men as well, but I believe that this is all because of the way that the media has portrayed sex and gender roles. You are correct; if we can make rape culture a more widely-acknowledged issue, then we can stop its spread and therefore, stop the violence. Here's a website that you might find interesting , which is a support group for victims of rape. Victims write about their experiences and post pictures on Tumblr, showing their strength and resilience and spreading the word about rape culture.

      Thank you once again for commenting,
      lenoregray

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  2. Great job lenoragray! Adding information on the history of rape culture over the years really showed how much it has changed! It shows us how much media can be affecting our lives and choices. What do you think will happen if nothing is done to stop this? Will rape just become something we see in all media everyday? Do you think it will just become a normal part of society; something accepted by everyone, and how much will the chances of rape due to media increase? I'm curious to hear what you think!
    Thank you for making this topic aware to us! ~Jessica97

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    1. Hi, Jessica97! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment to my blog post. I really appreciate it! In response to your question about epidemic proportions of rape, I think that rape is a big issue that needs fixing, but I do not think that there is a possibility of it becoming something seen all of the time in the media. I have too much faith in humanity for that, and I really do believe that the rape culture issue is slowly getting better. In response to your question about normalization, I think that rape is already normalized through the media - that's what rape culture is. We need to stop glamorizing rape and making it seem like something to be desired, because it isn't. Thanks again for commenting. You're awesome!

      Sincerely,
      lenoregray

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  3. Amazing lenoragray! Your use of vocabulary was quite extravagant and I really "enjoyed" reading your article. I put the quotations around the word 'enjoyed' not because it was poorly written, but because it was not a fun thing to think about. As Abigail might have mentioned above, this issue has become almost a trend. A statistic you put in there stated that men get raped a lot less than women and I can identify with that because it's not something that I think or worry about. I learned about lots of things that didn't even occur to me before, but I do have a couple of questions for you: What were the laws, say 20 years ago, surrounding rape or rape culture, and how have they evolved since then? What laws are in place now that might prohibit an artist or magazine owner from publishing something that promotes rape culture? Or is there? I hope you can get back to me on my questions, but before then, I just want to say that you did a great job!

    -Adam

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    1. Hey, Adam! Thank you for your insightful and well-thought-out comment. I really appreciate the fact that you took the time to read my blog post and to think about the topic, even though you really cannot relate to it very well and/or do not want to think about a subject as bleak and sad as rape culture. In response to your first question, laws regarding rape have not really evolved or caught up with the times. Rape is so taboo in our society and is such a subjective area in our courts that lawmakers haven't really changed anything, except for the very recent change in California. The gray area of rape is sexual consent, and the reason why laws have not changed is that only the state of California has defined what sexual consent truly is - two affirmatives. Sexual consent is an issue that can be seen in whether or not the victim was "asking for it," whether or not s/he was unconscious or intoxicated, and whether or not the victim was taken advantage of. I believe that these laws surrounding rape have not changed because of this gray area. In response to your other question, there are currently no laws in place to prohibit fashion designers or magazine companies to publish advertisements that promote rape culture. To do so would be violating the First Amendment, which protects our rights to free speech and to freedom of the press. However, the public has raised complaints about controversial media forms in the past, and most of these have been removed from the public domain due to societal pressure and the decision of the company. You can find examples of them in this article , or you can find examples simply by Google searching for rape culture in the media. I hope that helps. Thank you once again for being awesome!

      Sincerely,
      lenoregray

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    2. Excellent response, lenoregray. I just want to add that First Amendment rights also apply to those raising their voices loudly and clearly that this type of advertising is unacceptable. Freedom of speech and of the press means folks can say and publish a fairly wide variety of things, oftentimes offensive, and be protected, but average citizens also have the right to speak out in criticism and complaint when such things cross a line of what they deem appropriate for public consumption. In recent years, there have been a fair number of successful campaigns that, because of the reach of social media, have led to the withdrawal of certain ad campaigns, or even the sale of certain products. A particularly good example of such activism online is the #NotBuyingIt campaign from The Representation Project.

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  4. Great post lenoragray, I like how you included multiple statistics relating to rape of men, women, who people are raped by, etc. By being specific with your statistics you were able to narrow down the possible counter arguements. I was suprised that 97% of people accused of rape were convicted, do you think this is because 97% of them are actually innocent, or do you think they were simply let go because there "wasn't enough evidence"? If so, what do you think we should do in order to put more rapists in jail? And do you think increasing rape arrests could lead to more innocent men or women being arrested for accusations of rape? Very interesting post!

    Thanks,
    InvasiveSpecies

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    1. Hey, InvasiveSpecies! Thank you so much for your intriguing comment. In response to your questions, I think think that 97% of people accused of rape are not convicted because there is not substantial evidence against them. In rape cases, it is almost always one person's word over another's, and the court tends to agree with the side of the accused rapist, who is usually a male, and does not charge the accused with rape. Here is an article that you may find interesting. It talks about a rape case in Montana in which the rapist was not charged with rape because he purportedly thought that his victim looked older than she really was. The judge believed him and handed out an unfair sentence that was scorned by many people. This gender bias and victim-blaming in rape cases is a terrible thing, but I really have no solutions for it. If, as a society, we somehow do fix this problem and convict more rapists, I think that it will contribute to rape culture stopping and to rape statistics declining. I do not think that people will be falsely sentenced in rape cases because of the hesitation the courts have to actually sentence people with rape in our country. Thank you for reading my blog, and thank you once again for your great comment, Invasive Species!

      Sincerely,
      lenoregray

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  5. I love your blog lenoragray! Rape culture is a big topic in todays ads, you see it every where wether you realize it or not. I think we normalize it too much. The fact you brought up about how " only 13.8% of rapists were strangers to the female victims" i thought was extremely interesting! The fact that the majority of rapists to women are people they know is highly uncomforting. I think this is because we normalize it too much and raping could be considered as needing both consents before proceeding in a sexual activity. Just like the new law is california where it requires two consents. Thanks for sharing lenoragray!

    - lambsandsheeps101

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    1. Hey, lambsandsheeps101! Thank you so much for your comment; I really appreciate the feedback. It makes me feel great to know that people just like you are reading my blog and are becoming aware of the topic of rape culture. I agree with you that the fact that the majority of rapists being known to the victims shows how rape is normalized. The standard "stranger in the bushes" idea of a rapist doesn't really apply anymore, which can be seen in rape statistics such as the ones included in my blog. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, lambsandsheeps101. You rock!

      Sincerely,
      lenoregray

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  6. Great work here, lenoregray. This is a very sensitive topic, which you handled with great maturity and care. You mentioned the fashion photo shoot in India that showcased images that strongly represented a horrific crime that occurred in 2012. I thought you would like to know that there are filmmakers in India who are working to share a different message! Ms. Roberts sent this link to me, about a social awareness campaign called #VogueEmpower (Vogue India stands against rape, abuse with 'Boys don't cry' video) . Though we are talking about a different country in this case, it is a great example of the power of the media to change minds or even show a new way to look at an existing problem. Further, India is not the only country where boys hear messages like "boy's don't cry," and "stop crying like a girl." Can this short film spark the conversation and maybe change some attitudes and behaviors? I certainly hope so. Though this video is meant to empower women and promote equality between the sexes, I hope it also has the added impact of changing cultural attitudes about boys/men and their emotions.

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