There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week about the “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria” article that ran on Time. And from what I’ve seen, most of it has been good, albeit heated, discussion.
I’ll be honest with you. If you asked me what “rape culture” was a year ago, I’d probably have said a culture that condones rape. Like, that’s the norm and it’s acceptable if not encouraged. That’s without reading any articles or talking to anyone. It’s the obvious definition.
Fortunately, that’s not what I think it means today. I had a discussion about it with a friend and we both arrived (prior to the discussion) at a pretty solid definition of what it means. Speaking for myself here, I understand rape culture to be practices and attitudes that excuse and tolerate sexual assault of women. The biggest difference in my thinking now is that I don’t see the phrase simply as a reference to the most physical act. It includes all types of violence toward women, including mental and emotional. It also includes jokes and comments that trivialize assault, reckless song lyrics (I’m looking at you Rawse), and cartoons or other nonsense that suggest rapey or, at the minimum, sexually-oriented disrespect of women.
If you haven’t read the Time article, you should know that it’s written by a white woman — a potential topic of discussion in itself — that takes the view that “Rape Culture” isn’t responsible for the unsavory occurrences. It’s the small number of individuals with incredibly compromised moral compasses that commit the crimes. She also argues that teaching men not to rape isn’t the answer, and that it implies the average Joe may have a propensity to commit the crime. She even cornerstones her opinion piece with a quote from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) that came about in their recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault:
“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campus. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
Yep. I too was surprised to see this come from a forefront organization on this topic. What’s not so surprising — to me at least — is that I agree, but only at the most basic level. The men that are consciously and deliberately committing rape is a small group of extremely misguided souls. However, when we look at the more inclusive version of “Rape Culture” and rape (including general sexual assault as I described earlier) in general, that small number of men becomes a bigger group. There are men out there who may have committed sexual assault and they ain’t even know it. Only because they think of it in the most literal sense. But what about those blurred line guys? Especially young men that are more concerned with the +1, looking cool amongst their friends, and doing what they think is acceptable.
There are men that think women expect them to “work for it,” similar to what happens with courting. Of course I can’t directly compare the two. But it’s as close as I can get. The men in these situations think they need to “work a little harder,” spit a little more game, or be a little more aggressive. And that’s when it becomes a problem. In most cases, they may get the picture once slapped or it’s clear she’s not playing a game. But at that point, the assault has already began.
There are men that know a woman is intoxicated and see it as loosened inhibitions. Because she’s still appears lucid, they assume she’s in control and potentially doing things she wanted to do already. This thinking, while wrong, isn’t without merits. How many movies or stories have you seen where consensual sex happens under the influence of alcohol? We can even look at the cliché joke of waking up to someone you wish you hadn’t. The men in these situations aren’t thinking about taking away her power (though they should be). They’re only thinking about the story they’ll tell their friends.
There are also the men who get involved with train or group sex situations. And I’m not talking about the ones that involved passed out women. They are the unfortunate situations where the woman involved likes one of the guys so much that she’s willing to do whatever he says. And there are times where the other fellas get involved. And within that, there may be the guy who normally wouldn’t participate but he wants to save face with the homies and goes along with it…against his better judgment.
Now these may not be the majority of situations, but they happen. And when we get into conversations about whether or not it’s a good idea to teach men not to rape as a means to mitigate “Rape Culture,” I get the feeling that a lot of people aren’t thinking about these guys. And this is the group of men that I’m concerned about the most.
We’re having a lot of conversations about this, but I have to wonder if they’re the right ones. I don’t even know that we’re on the same page about what rape is. Well, I think we are in the most literal definition. But what about everything else?