Girl Talk

This is Rape Culture

In the wake of the Steubenville rape case and the appalling reaction to the guilty verdict, both on the part of the media, who sympathized with the perpetrators, and several of the victim’s school mates who have harassed and threatened her, this seems like a good time to stop for a moment and talk about what rape culture is. The endless tweets, blog comments, and divided public reaction to Steubenville is reflective of a serious problem with how rape, and both men and women’s role in it, are perceived in this country right now.

The term “rape culture” refers to a culture in which attitudes about rape are tolerant enough to be an enabling factor in anything ranging from sexual harassment to actual rape. When a girl complains about being catcalled on the street because it made her uncomfortable, and you tell her to just take a compliment, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When a girl has one too many drinks at a party and is taken advantage of, and your reaction is that it’s her fault for not being more careful, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you say that someone was “asking for it” because their skirt was too short, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you assume that men are never victims of sexual harassment or assault, yes, you’re still perpetuating rape culture (not only because desexualizing one gender sexualizes the other by proxy, but because classifying one form of harassment or assault as valid over another is contributing to the problem).

Until the 1970s, rape wasn’t really talked about, let alone publicly. The general assumption was that it didn’t happen very often, while marital rape was legal in all 50 states, the reasoning being that by entering into a marriage, a woman was consenting to sex anytime her husband felt like it, even if she herself didn’t. In other words, a woman’s job was to be sexed by a man, and marriage was just her way of giving a specific man her timecard. The process to outlaw spousal rape began in the 1970s, but did not extend to all 50 states until 1993 — even today, politicians like Todd Akin (of “ways to shut that whole thing down” fame) are still pushing to reverse legislation and make spousal rape legal again.

If you’re not sure whether rape culture exists, just look at last summer’s political campaigns. One after another, old white men tried to argue their stance on abortion by bringing rape into the conversation. They politicized violating a woman’s body for the sake of their campaign’s agenda. Recently NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, nervous about the effect the Newton shooting may have on his position, advocated for guns as the most effective defense against rape. Why does this have rape culture written all over it? I’m so glad you asked.

The burden of rape prevention is thought to fall on women: keep your eyes on your drink, don’t have too much, don’t dress provocatively, have a defense strategy for your walk home every night. The idea that the burden of rape prevention should fall on the perpetrator and not the victim is rarely the standard reaction to sexual assault. Recently, when Zerlina Maxwell appeared on Fox News’ Hannity and suggested that men be taught not to rape instead of giving women guns to defend themselves, she was met with confused outrage. Her ideas were called “bizarre” and she began receiving a large amount of hate mail, including rape threats. Because, apparently, it’s a woman’s responsibility to maim or murder her attacker and have to deal with that experience the rest of her life, and not his responsibility to just leave her the f*ck alone.

Where can we spot rape culture today? The Violence Against Women Act, which was recently passed again, is the only thing keeping judges from being able to rule in rape cases that the victim was “asking for it,” though 97% of rapists still never spend a day in jail. Rape culture is needing a law to prevent legal victim blaming. Rape culture is this guy, who thinks that “female privilege is getting to claim a headache to avoid sex” (and resisting rape culture is the brilliant response of, “female oppression is having to claim physical illness to avoid sex because men won’t take a simple fucking “no” for an answer. Female oppression is men being so entitled that they think being denied sex is oppressive.”)

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  • Jessica Gendron Williams

    Julia thanks for you the most intelligent dialogue that I have read in response to the Steubenville case and rape culture. You’re absolutely right. Thanks for writing it down in a way that challenges everyone, but is done so with empathy, care, and a deep passion to solve the problem through understanding and conversation.

    • Lindsay Hofer

      Very well said. Agree 100%. Great work.

  • Lisa Knox

    amazingly well said. I was confused about all the hype when it was suggested we teach men not rape, rather than teach women how to avoid it. It really seemed as though a majority of people found this preposterous, which mystifies me to this day. blaming the victim seems to be the norm, and I’m especially outraged about trying to differentiate between the different types of penetration as if one is “not as bad” as another. I also felt a deep sadness that so many people witnessed what happened in Steubenville, and not only did nothing to stop it, but actually participated by taking and forwarding pictures and messages about it. What does that say about our society? I only hope that something like this will spark many conversations that will eventually lead to something good. Thanks fro sharing your opinions.

  • Sakshi Kumar

    This was one BRILLIANTLY written article. I am absolutely in awe of you and respect for whatever you have written here.
    I agree wholeheartedly. Unknowingly, unwittingly we just feed into the rape culture by our half baked ideas about women and what they should & shouldn’t do.

  • Ciara Ní Mhurchú

    The articles on Hellogiggles in regards to ‘Rape Culture’ are excellent and very informative. Thank you for putting these articles out there and explaining to people exactly what this culture is and how it needs to change.
    Here in Ireland, the sentences for rape are an insult to the survivors of rape. There have been a couple of cases here recently where the rapist had to pay their victim. This ensured a very short custodial sentence or none at all. This essentially made the survivors of this crime, feel like prostitutes.
    We CAN change this culture by bringing our kids and teens up to respect each other and to respect each others bodily integrity.

  • Ciara Ní Mhurchú

    The articles on Hellogiggles on the subject of ‘Rape Culture’ are excellent. They explain very well the issues that survivors of rape will have to overcome in order to secure a conviction for their rapist.
    Its no surprise why so few rape victims report their rape if this is what they are faced with afterwards when all they want is to get on with their lives.
    These women and men are incredibly brave and I wish them all the best in their lives.

  • Erin Mabon York

    I agree that there is still evidence of a rape culture but to discourage women from doing what they can to protect themselves is reckless advice. It is a driver’s responsibility to not run over a pedestrian. They are taught not to do it in driver’s ed. If they do run over a pedestrian they will be punished by going to jail. I, the pedestrian, should still look out for myself though! I look both ways before crossing streets, teach my son to hold hands, wear bright clothing if I’m walking at night. If a woman is raped, it is NOT her fault, but there are still things women can do to reduce their risk of becoming a victim, and they should be encouraged to do them.

    • Ramou Sarr

      I hear you, but the issue here is that this conversation is ALWAYS centered on what women can do to not become victims of violent sexual assault, and rarely to never about – Hey, men! Stop raping people! That’s the problem. No one’s saying: Don’t lock your doors! Binge drink! Stop being careful! But, rather, that not doing these things doesn’t absolve a rapist’s responsibility.

    • Karen Taylor

      Yes, but. . . . I shouldn’t have to be on the defensive all the time. I shouldn’t have to be afraid to go out alone, I shouldn’t have to assume that every man I encounter wants to violate me if I give them a chance. To use your pedestrian anology, yes I should look both ways before crossing the street, but I shouldn’t have to act as if every driver is just waiting for a chance to run me down. I’d never get up the nerve to cross the street.

    • Declan Gordon

      For this analogy to work, people would have to be on the lookout for car (and driver) related harm on sidewalks, in office buildings, at home and in the park. This is where the threat of rape, sexual harassment and harm exists for women. It’s EVERYWHERE – not just in a predesignated area like streets and roadways.

  • Leslie Dalton

    This article is so well-written and needed. Thank you a million times for writing it.

  • Karen Taylor

    Thank you for this, you state it so clearly which I could never do. It’s a very emotional and personal subject, and it’s hard to be rational when you’re crying. This should be required reading for young teens everywhere.

  • Victoria Morbidda Destiny Goulet

    Just so you know, the link above explains that what “this guy” really meant by posting about female privilege. He was making fun of MRAs who do the exact same thing, so it wasn’t serious. He’s on our side, people. Please stop attacking him, everyone.

    • Julia Gazdag

      It’s questionable how many of the people reblogging him understood that, though, and I felt it was important to call out the sentiment more than the individual behind the statement.

      • Karen Taylor

        Took me a bit to track down the original post but I finally did. I saw nothing that indicated that he was being sarcastic or mocking anybody’s opinion. There was no indication that the post was anything but a serious comment expressing his true feelings.

        I don’t approve of threats online, and I certainly don’t think his comment deserved the hatred it apparently triggered. But I have to say, if so many people didn’t get his comment the way he intended, that’s an indication that he’s doing something wrong. So often, when people don’t have the visual or auditory clues to accompany the statement they will not take something the way it was intended. That means the posting party needs to be more careful to make clear what the intention is when they make it.

  • Sadie Fulton

    This is an excellent article, though I have to take exception to the concept that “slut” is “a word for a woman who is as in touch with her sexuality as a man”. I hate the term slut just as much as anyone else, but what it refers to is a woman who enjoys having several sexual partners. You can be in touch with your sexuality no matter how often (or seldom) or how many (or few) partners you have. Likewise with men – they can be in touch with their sexuality whether or not they are having a lot of sex with many different people.

    • Richard Starr

      I’ve always considered slut as to mean someone who would have sex with pretty much anyone. Any port in a storm. And yes, there are a lot men that can rightfully considered sluts. In a way being a slut devalues their partner as they are effectively just an object for your own sexual satisfaction. Now if you happen to have a situation where both people are using each other, then they both “win” or at least no one is harmed. Unless you happen to hold the believe that having sex somewhat indiscriminately devalues your self and somehow represents low self esteem. In that case, then its more a case of being lonely and using sex to connect however limited that connection might be.

  • Maryam Rachidi

    Rape is a touchy subject, I also think that there are many grey areas attached to it regarding the perpetrator and the victim. It’s even murkier when there is little evidence, although for the life of me, why anyone would think it was a good idea to document yourself committing such a hateful crime…. is it idiocy or ignorance? I suppose one should be thankful that there was evidence otherwise it would have gone on unchecked. What I see however is that no gender is that much better than the other when it comes to using sex as a tool to control others. I think the key is in educating the next generation, making it less about what sex you are and more about respect for your fellow human. I’m half Moroccan, I grew up in the UAE and Morocco. Sure, my dad didn’t let me do half the things my brother got to do, but that wasn’t because he loved my brother more or felt he was better, he did it because he knew it was less dangerous for my brother given the way people lived and thought. At the end of the day, the society we created is the source of our grievances. Governments and laws are a byproduct of our society, in order to make a better government we have to improve the way we think and interact with each other. Women are taught that if they dress and act a certain way, they can have power over men (and even women), men are taught that all women want is men so it’s OK to take what they want (after all, it’s what they want right?). The stupid thing is, even if you shout yourself hoarse that this isn’t true, some idiot goes and proves you wrong. So then what? People suck sometimes, that’s what.

  • Ciara Ní Mhurchú
  • Mandy Arsenyk Sharp

    I honestly don’t think rape should be a touchy subject at all. You either wanted the advance or you didn’t. If you didn’t then it was rape. If it was done without your permission, while you were out cold drunk, while you were walking home, while you’re in your own home, while you’re at school or work, it honestly doesn’t matter. If someone has done something of a sexual nature to your body without you knowing or giving the okay then it is rape.
    I was told that women living in Trinidad can’t leave their homes without a male escort or they will more than likely be raped or mauled. They can’t go to the beach by themselves, they can’t go shopping, or even go for a walk outside of their homes. All of the homes there have bars on their windows and doors for protection against both robbery and rape. I was told it is because the island is “bored” more often than not and so they result to things like this. There have been areas where there is a curfew of like 9 or 10pm because they feel no ones responsible enough to be out later than that.
    It is sad that in this day and age we still have to worry about rape culture at all.
    Amazing article. Well put.

  • Madeleine Rowe

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! You are wonderful, articulate and so right-on about this!

  • Bart Blankenship

    Thanks Julia for your insight! It is indeed time for a change. Hard to understand why violence is appealing. And I think education and understanding is the answer. Keep up the good thoughts! Bart

  • Cathy Plourde

    On the money. I only would add that men are victims of rape as well as women in same-sex relationships.

  • Michela Palese

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a very long time! Thanks!

  • Maryam Syed

    Absolutely brilliant. And how hard is it to understand? Everything you wrote makes perfect sense, yet our supposedly liberal world would rather cling to the deeply entrenched ideas of viewing female sexuality negatively. I have never been able to understand why the world ‘slut’ is not gender neutral or more importantly, why does it exist at all?

  • Jocelyn Crosby

    thank you. i really dont understand what is wrong with people. you go girl.

  • Richard Starr

    There are a few points here that need to be addressed.

    First off, the comment of catcalls being akin to aiding and abetting rape
    is a bit over the top. Now it would depend on exactly the verbiage. I differentiate between a guy yelling “looking good” and someone yelling “Suck my ….” which is certainly not complimentary.

    A girl that gets drunk at a party is being less than wise. Certain situations are known to be dangerous. I would not choose to walk by myself unarmed in certain neighborhoods at certain times because odds are I would end up regretting it. Stating that a man does not need to fear bad things is just not relevant here.

    “Crowley focusing on how a 16 year old rapist’s actions will haunt him forever, instead of acknowledging that he made the choices leading to his verdict, while his victim did not get to choose.”

    Sorry, but they both made choices. His just happened to be criminal. He choose to illegally drink and ended up violating the rights of another person. Hers was to lie to her parents about where she would be, attend a party where she did not know the other people well, and illegally consume enough alcohol to knock out a normal sized man. I do no excuse or condone his actions, but we also can’t just pretend that we do not have an obligation to teach women/girls that the odds are not good when you do things like get drunk.

    And this is the reason why I do not EVER have relations with women that have been drinking, even if its someone I’ve been dating. I do not want there ever to be a question about consent.

    Regarding women and self defense. Men ARE taught not to rape just like they are taught not to rob, murder, use certain drugs, etc. The sad truth is, men and women violate laws which is why we have prisons. Women are entitled to be able to protect themselves and frankly that usually means something like a gun. And if a guy is attempt to rape a woman, her killing him is NOT murder, its self defense. Don’t allow your dislike of guns to cloud this fact. Now certainly she should learn gun safety and how to shoot it as well as understand that you never point a gun at someone unless you are willing to pull the trigger.
    And if some scum is trying to rape you, then you are protecting not only yourself but every other person that this scum would victimize.

    • Jen Smartie

      You are absolutely part of the problem and an enabler of rape culture. Shame on you!

    • Kara Pauline Cheng

      I agree with you. We live in a society where, unfortunately, rape is going to happen. We can talk about prevention, education, etc. – but the fact is it is STILL going to happen. But while this is happening, women need to wise up and make better choices to PREVENT, or reduce the chances of such horrendous events from happening to them. Does it suck that females need to always taken such precautions? Of course. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the reality of it and to ignore that reality is simply naive.

      • Aaron Chou

        Reality isn’t always peachy keen, sadly :(

      • Deirdre Zema

        Reality can and should be changed. Saying that it is a woman’s duty to live in fear, and eschewing normal activities because they make one vulnerable is living in fear, only proves we live in a rape culture. Culture can be changed. Education is the key.

        • Kara Pauline Cheng

          I’m not saying it is a woman’s duty to live in fear. I’m merely stating that it would be unwise to not take into account this world we live in: where women are targets for rape simply because they are a woman. I understand your emphasis on education- I agree with you. But, all this takes a whole lot of time, so while we’re off trying to change the mindset of society, we, as women, need to protect ourselves. And this unfortunately includes “eschewing normal activities” in some cases (or however you define “normal activities”). In the case above, it is not normal in my book for a young female teenager to be drinking underage at a party full of people she doesn’t know, or trust. Society will make it look like it’s “normal” (through media) to be drinking at a party (even if you’re underage), but that doesn’t mean it is. Putting yourself in danger, drinking alcohol and not knowing just how much your body can take is not normal- it is reckless. Just as it is reckless to be walking home at 3AM when you know that crimes are higher at that time, man or woman. Taking those extra steps of precaution will save your life a whole lot of pain later. I’m not saying don’t have fun and drink. I’m saying drink responsibly and play responsibly.

          • Megan Johndreau

            i’m with you, kara. we will likely never rid this world of terrible things like rape (or murder or many other atrocities). is it not wise to teach BOTH not to rape and how to make good choices to keep yourself out of compromising situations?

    • Sharlotte Williams

      So, I think there was so much good stuff in the arrticle that you missed the point a little. Let us stop talking about all the reasons why and how women get raped. Let’s talk about RAPE. Think simply here, one person got waaaaaaay too drunk, the other, had sex with a person that was passed out. Which one is a mistake, and which one is morally and legally wrong. Can you tell me which is which? All other examples can follow this thinking. One person walked sown the street at night, the other attacked a person and RAPED them. Come on!!!!!!!!!!

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