If somebody ever tells you they don’t know what rape culture is, point them to this meme. This meme is the archetype of rape culture; it represents everything that is wrong with how our society responds to sexual violence. Shame on the person who made this meme, and shame on anybody who passes it along.
But perhaps you’re still confused about what this hideous aspect of human society is all about. Maybe I can explain using an imaginary Q&A session.
Q1: What is rape culture?
A1: In the words of Shannon Ridgway, writing in Everyday Feminism, rape culture is any situation in which sexual violence is “ignored, trivialized, normalized, or made into jokes”. If you ignore a person who has been the victim of sexual violence; if you tell a woman that she was “asking for it” because she dressed immodestly; if you make jokes at the expense of a rape victim, you are participating in and perpetuating rape culture. You are sending the message that maybe rape isn’t such a big deal, and rape victims should really stop whining and take responsibility for their own lives.
Q2: Isn’t rape culture just a term made up by feminists to shame men for wanting to have sex?
A2: The concept of rape culture was invented by feminists, but not for the purpose of shaming men. The intent of the phrase is to draw attention to our attitudes regarding sexual violence.
Q3: If America (or any other nation) is a rape culture, why are there laws against rape?
A3: Rape culture does not mean that rape is legal, or openly encouraged. The problem in a rape culture is that rape isn’t discouraged strongly enough. Sure, we have laws against rape, but how are they being enforced by the justice system? What about the judge in Texas who gave a confessed rapist 45 days in jail on the grounds that the victim was sexually promiscuous and the attacker did not fit the profile of a sex offender? Or maybe you heard about the London detective who landed in hot water after shelving dozens of rape investigations, effectively letting the rapists go without a trial. Then there was the judge in Montana who sentenced an offender to just a month in jail, saying that his 14-year-old victim “seemed older than her chronological age”.
Many will remember the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case that began in July 2003 when the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard allegedly raped a 19-year-old hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado. The criminal case was eventually dismissed because the accuser refused to testify, perhaps because of the barrage of hate mail and death threats she received from people who were convinced she was out to wreck Bryant’s career.
Rape culture is all about making excuses for rapists, and holding the victims accountable for the crimes that befell them.
Q4: But some convicted rapists spend years in prison. In fact, a 1995 study by the US Department of Justice showed that convicted rapists served 56% of their sentences, a higher percentage than murderers, kidnappers, and other villains. Doesn’t that mean that rape culture is a myth, and the few rapists that seemingly get away with it are the exception rather than the rule?
A4: Not quite. Rape sentencing is part of rape culture, but there’s more to it. Rape culture extends beyond the justice system. Remember Representative Todd Akin, whose attempts to distinguish “legitimate rape” led to a social media firestorm? Akin was a proponent of rape culture, because he implied that some rape was more “legitimate” than others. He failed to understand the severity of rape.
On a more local level, rape culture causes women to feel less safe than men when walking alone at night. If we could learn not to excuse, ignore, or joke about rape, perhaps the people who perpetrate these terrible crimes would be less inclined to do so, and that fearful gap would narrow.
Q5: But doesn’t the idea of rape culture treat all men like potential rapists? And don’t men get raped too?
A5: Men do get raped too, which is why rape culture is a problem for everyone, not just women. Men and women should strive to end rape culture by not participating in it.
The concept of rape culture does not assume that all men are rapists; it only acknowledges that some people are rapists, and that their actions are not being properly addressed by society. To end rape culture, we must change the way we view these rapists. We should change the system that implicitly tells them that rape is okay.
Q6: What can I do to end rape culture?
- Stop giving money to “artists” who glorify rape culture in their “music“
- Stand up in protest when an admitted rapist escapes justice with a token sentence.
- Do not ever suggest that a rape victim “was asking for it” or “deserved it” because of their attire, their decision to drink, or the party they chose to attend.
- Do not encourage rape jokes and do not pass them along.
- Acknowledge that men have as much responsibility for preventing rape as women do.
- Do not make excuses for rapists, even if they happen to be celebrities.
- If somebody tells you he or she was raped, take that person seriously. Do not assume that the person is lying or mistaken.
- Be aware that any form of sexual contact that happens without both parties’ consent is rape. That includes having sex with a person who is unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Tell your friends that absence of refusal is not the same as consent.
- Do not presume that most people who report a rape are lying, and finally…
- Do not make or share memes like this one.
I’m probably missing a few things, but that’s a good start. It’ll take all of us working together to bring rape culture to an end. Don’t be the douchebag who holds back progress.