If you follow current events (or our social media pages), you have probably have seen the term “rape culture” used to describe a variety of things, from campus culture to catcalling to rape itself. This term has become part of our vernacular — but what does it mean? According to Marshall University,
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
This definition, while helpful, does not fully explain what it means to live in a “rape culture.” What does it mean when we say that sexual violence is normalized and excused? Earlier this year, political analyst and speaker Zerlina Maxwell started a Twitter campaign for women to share their real-life experiences of rape culture. The hashtag #RapeCultureIsWhen blew up on Twitter, with thousands of women providing their personal stories of living in a rape culture (in 140 characters or less). These examples include:
When women who report rape are asked what they were wearing.
When people say “she was asking for it.”
When women are afraid to walk alone at night for fear of being raped.
When a woman who objects to catcalling or comments about her body is called “uptight.”
When sexual violence against women is a regular part of prime-time television shows and video games.
When survivors are asked if they were drinking.
When an 89 year old woman is raped at her nursing home and is blamed for “flirting” with her rapist.
When we teach women how to not get raped instead of teaching men to not rape.
When media coverage of the Steubenville rape trial focused on the “destroyed lives” of the convicted rapists instead of on the victim.
When people video or photograph sexual assaults and put them on the internet, and then mock the victim.
When survivors who come forward with their stories are harassed online.
These are just a few examples of what rape culture can be. There are many, many more — including the story of the young woman who was raped while attending a concert in Boston last weekend. Rather than assisting this woman, a crowd of onlookers gathered to take photographs and videos of her assault (until another woman pushed the rapist off of her). Think about the implications of this story: when confronted with a violent crime taking place right before their eyes, a group of people decided to watch and record the incident rather than intervene. Because sexual violence is normalized and excused in our culture, they allowed this woman to be sexually assaulted in public. This is rape culture.
How can you combat rape culture? If you are a man, this piece on how men take a stand is a great start. — as is taking our pledge against domestic and sexual violence. For both men and women, you can take the following steps:
• Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women.
• Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape.
• If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive.
• Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence.
• Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations.
• Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent.
• Define your own manhood or womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
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