Wednesday, 2 July 2014

An Explanation of Rape Culture and Why It Matters

'Rape culture'. The term has frequently popped up in social media over the last few months, from #YesAllWomen to @EverydaySexism

Robin Thicke's disastrous #AskThicke Q&A on Twitter has once again, between the trolling and abuse, raised the question of rape culture and the misogynistic treatment of women. 


There are those who say such a thing doesn't exist. 

I recently had a conversation with a guy who not only told me that there was no such thing as gender inequality in Ireland anymore (just take a look at the gender pay gap), but that my argument about how society encourages males to objectify, sexualise and degrade women is a myth. 

He's not the first person to air such a view to me and he won't be the last. 

Rape culture is real, it's big and it's everywhere. The male peers of my generation have advanced past the belief that a woman's role is solely in the home, but by no means have we reached a point where women are treated equally. 

So, what is rape culture? It's the violent depiction of sexual encounters in TV and films as the norm. It's the social acceptance of sexual assault jokes. It's the way society places the onus on women to not get raped, rather than on men to not rape. It's in our music, our advertisements, our societal beliefs and structures.

In 2013, when two men were found guilty of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, CNN lamented about how the rapists "promising" young lives were ruined, with little focus on the crime committed against the girl. 

Then there's the victim blaming. The clothes she was wearing, whether she was drunk or not, did she explicitly say the word "no" - all of these combine to create a belief that "she was asking for it". Rape culture tells us that women should protect themselves by dressing modestly, avoid walking alone, and don't put your hair in a ponytail as it makes it easier for an attacker to grab you. 

It's in our social media. Earlier this year, two images on Facebook garnered widespread attention after the company refused to remove them. One showed a woman bound and gagged on a sofa and a caption that read: "It's not rape. If she really didn't want to, she'd have said something." The second showed a condom, beneath the words "Plan A"; an emergency contraceptive pill, "Plan B"; and then "Plan C", a man pushing a woman with a bloodied face down the stairs.

The reason these images weren't removed? According to the sites community standards, "Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech."

Are we that desensitized that we think rape is funny?  

If you think that social media doesn't have an influence on our attitudes and behaviour, consider Facebook's recent experiment manipulating the mood's of thousands of people without their knowledge to research the power of emotional contagion.  

Rape culture exists because our society allows it to. It's the subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) use of entertainment, jokes, laws, language and imagery that makes violence and sexual coercion against women seem not only normal, but inevitable. It's the societal web we're immersed in that nurtures the belief that men are entitled to women's bodies.

Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem that needs to be solved, we think the persistence of rape is just how things are; the culture ranges from sexual remarks and unwanted attention, to the physical act of forcing sex on another. 

Rape culture does not mean every guy is a rapist. Nor does it say that we all think rape it okay. It's a complex set of beliefs, nurtured by the media and world around us, that nourishes sexist attitudes and behaviour. It makes sexual violence normal. It condones unwanted and unwarranted comments and actions towards women because of a belief that somehow, men are entitled to the attention and affection of women. 

It's the success of an artist whose biggest contribution to society is "Blurred Lines" and a public campaign with his new album that borders on stalking his estranged wife. 

If you still don't think that rape culture exists, or that it's being blown out of proportion, imagine yourself having a daughter. Think of all the barriers, obstacles, assumptions and threats she would have to face as a result of this culture. 

It's a virus that will continue to spread unless we acknowledge its existence, express our outrage at it's presence and collectively, day-to-day, work together banish the culture. 

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo 

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