A few weeks ago at UMass it was WAAR (Week of Action Against Rape Culture). For me, this was the first time hearing the term “Rape Culture.” From then onward, I pondered in my head what rape culture actually implied. And now I’m thinking that if I’ve never understood what rape culture was until only recently, maybe a lot of people–young and old, men and women–still don’t understand the full ground that rape culture covers, as well.
Even up until only a few years ago–my first year of college–did I even start to understand that rape was a social ill that needed a social remedy. With the help from my studies, I began to make the link of connecting rape to the other injustices towards woman occurring globally. The social construction of the housewife, the witch hunts, body politics, and the denial of voting rights are all oppressive forces that strike to the core of patriarchy: to kill the mind of women while controlling their bodies; and then build a power-structure that feeds off of this oppression and cripples any chance for change.
My gender consciousness was expanding and I was starting to see rape as not just a singular act of violence, but one that held a broader significance in an old world order. In the same way the witch hunts oppressed women from exercising their full intellectual capacities, rape has become just another modern manifestation of a male-dominated culture. Its purpose: to silence the women of the world and secure male dominance.
And then there are the high-profile rape cases that have been receiving a lot of media attention worldwide. When you see these cases in the news, accountability is given with ambivalence, and so you’re not really sure which side your sympathy should be guided towards. You see a mainstream perspective that doesn’t give true justice to the victims, or even adequately address criminal accountability towards the rapists.
With the Steubenville case, we witness two High School football players being charged guilty of rape and who could potentially be imprisoned until turning 21. We see news media outlets like CNN–media sources we trust--broadcasting pictures of the two teens crying and begging for forgiveness. When you read these articles, more often than not, you see a story that says something like “Rape Victim Hopes to One Day Forgive Rapists.” Through only a few words, they are able to redirect all of our sympathy towards the two young men who committed the crime, focusing on their emotions and with little coverage on the trauma of the real victim, the victim who was actually abused.
And then I remembered, back in 2008, the spring-season following the rape charges towards the Duke Lacrosse players and how sports-media outlets nationwide had stories about how the team would overcome adversity and be able to have a successful season in the wake of such a scandal. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I see now how backwards this way of thinking was.
As men, these images of victimizing the rapist have given us no sense of accountability for rape. We don’t make bigger connections of rape-culture being a product of society. We see it as only an individual problem–like stealing–that deserves individual punishments. When we do this, we are only able to look at rape cases by shaking our heads and saying to ourselves, “What a tragedy. Too bad we couldn’t do anything to prevent it.”
But what if we could have? When a rape occurred, what if we had been proactive and had at least handled the situation a little better in order to prevent future acts of violence against women from occurring?
It is in these moments when the seeds of rape culture are planted. Violent acts against women happen every day around the world and they go unnoticed by the spotlight. But when they are noticed, when the world is watching, it becomes a golden opportunity to really address the ills of a male-dominated culture where women are continually objectified and society’s “acceptance of women as ‘things’ to be used and disposed” is–if not overtly–subtly stated between the lines.
It was because of only seeing these one-sided perspectives that I–even after I had began to see rape as a product of patriarchy–still hadn’t fully understood how damaging rape could be for a woman.
And then, last October, I read an article by a student from Amherst College. Through her narration of being raped, and the belittlement she experienced from peers and college administration who made her feel she was to blame, I saw the real damages that rape culture causes. It is not just the act of rape that is damaging, but how society prevents women from properly healing through victimizing the victim and not bringing true justice upon the rapists. Society’s unhealthy actions not only hinder the victims from getting better, they make the situations worse.
A few weeks later, a friend of mine was also monitoring a rape-case on her own campus. Hearing her tell me the story of how this girl was raped–how her friends peer-pressured her to be alone with another male “in order to make the gender ratio even,”–again awakened me to how alienating it must feel to be a victim of rape.
What is more important, though, is that we understand how our roles –as well as our actions, words, and our complicity towards others’ actions–perpetuates the culture of rape. In another blog, May Lample writes:
“Rape culture is not so obvious as to be a message that says, ‘oh hey, rape is great!’ Rather the message is much more subvert, insidious and unrelenting. It’s small messages like women want to be chased, that they are looking for men to be proactive during romantic pursuits.”
My fellow men need to understand that rape-culture extends beyond the notion of believing violence against women is okay. Whenever we use–or allow others to use–the word “rape” in a positive connotation (I totally raped that exam, or that team was raped) we are not only being complicit with a culture of rape, but we are creating one. When we preach the need for women to put clothes on to avoid being attacked, we are unconsciously perpetuating the idea that women who are raped deserve it and the only real solution is in their hands–the hands of the victim. It’s a one-sided argument that offers no real solutions, but rather only takes the responsibility and burden off of those who cultivate a culture of rape–usually men.
Like so many others, I grew up thinking these ideas were okay. I didn’t understand how rape could be so troubling for an individual. It took these close encounters with others who were raped to understand the full implications of rape and how we–as a society–carry its legacy through our actions, as well as our inaction.
Myself, and so many others, needed something concrete–a first hand account–to give us a firm stance against rape. But if so many people can only be against such a culture when they hear stories that allow them to empathize, what does that say about our society? It says that the only way to be for a cause is if it directly impacts us. It’s individualistic, and it’s wrong.
It should be common sense for everyone–including men–to be against a terrorist culture like rape. We shouldn’t have to witness a rape or a retelling of one in order to inspire us to change.
At the root of it all, rape-culture exposes more than male-domination, it shows a narrow-minded society where everyone is out for themselves. It is a culture where individuals are only passionate about the issues that directly effect their lives, everything else–like rape–takes the back seat.
We need to understand that we are accountable for the perpetuation of this culture. We have to take this into our own hands and realize that we can control a society that dismisses violent acts against women as being worthy of attention.
We have to internalize these beliefs into our actions, our words, and our thoughts. We have to raise awareness, stand up against ignorance, and understand how easy it is for us to create this culture so we can understand how to bring it it down.
“We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it.” (The Nation)