Rape culture

Rape culture

Polite Ire critiques rape culture, where the use of women as objects is normalised.

Rape culture is more than a society in which the physical act of rape is evident. Rape culture is a culture in which it is a societal norm for women to be objectified, for the fear of rape to be ever present, and where it is accepted that it is not possible to conceive of a society in which rape does not exist. For a more thorough descriptive list of what a rape culture entails, this blog serves as a good guide.

The expectation and acceptance of objectification, harassment, and thus also the potential for rape, is highlighted by a study in which a high percentage of women, working in male-dominated professions, reported experiencing sexual harassment. However, rather than blame the perpetrators, the victims questioned their own sensitivity, and attributed the behaviour to just ‘men being men’ (Fine 73-75). Binary expectations of gender thus contribute to a culture of victim blaming, where it is not the responsibility of men to behave with respect but of women to overcome a perceived weakness in how they respond. For women working in a male dominated workplace failure to accept such a culture could mean losing their own position, thus the choice is either to be a perpetually harassed victim, or an unemployed victim.

The everyday acceptance of such a culture would suggest that ‘the rapist’ is not an exotic and unusual individual, but someone whose behaviour mirrors the expectation of male domination within society. Indeed empirical research has failed to find the “typical” rapist, instead evidence suggests that an environment in which men are expected to prove their manliness, that is to prove their dominance over women, results in a society in which rape is more prevalent.

In our society, men demonstrate their competence as people by being “masculine”. (p.49)

The social requirement for males to perform masculine qualities is thus indicative of a socially constructed gender binary. Where human attributes are divided in two, where men suppress the “feminine” and women suppress the “masculine”, rape becomes “the logical outcome” (Herman 52). Therefore in order for rape culture to be overcome, it is necessary for our society to be transformed into one where both sexes are equally able to access the multifaceted and contradictory human qualities that have thus far been halved.

Much socio-biological research into rape has however concluded that rape is a biological rather than social behaviour. Yet this research has been criticised for basing its conclusions upon extrapolations made from studies upon animals. A study carried out by Thornhill et al concluded that rape had an evolutionary function, serving as a way in which men could reproduce should attempts of “co-operative bonding” or “manipulative courtship” fail. While the study recognised that there are more proximate causes of rape, e.g. the desire to dominate etc, the evolutionary instinct for reproduction is claimed to be the ultimate cause. As a consequence, the conclusion, such as it is, is shown to be utterly facile when met with any degree of contrary evidence, stubbornly repeating “evolution did it”, as examples of other causes, unrelated to reproduction, continue to present themselves (Fausto-Sterling 193).

By accepting a biological cause of rape these studies accept rape as an unchangeable part of our society, and has potentially dangerous consequences when considering how rape should be dealt with, both in terms of the potential punishment of the rapist and in regard to rape-prevention – the onus is upon potential victims to avoid rape, rather than upon the perpetrators to not commit it. The responsibility thus falls upon the victim, and examples of this will not be unfamiliar. Women are told how to avoid rape by changing their own behaviour, whether that means not going out alone or not drinking as much; they are told to avoid strangers, and to avoid strange places; they are told to leave extra lights on when home alone, to drive with the doors and windows locked. To avoid being raped a woman must live as if every man she meets is a potential rapist. The message is such that the behaviour of the rapist is effectively ignored. This culture of victim blaming is evident in the 2008-9 anti-rape campaign by South Wales Police, a campaign which included a poster aimed at women that stated “Don’t be a Victim”.

Not only does this poster, and indeed all of the advice described, place responsibility of rape onto the victim, it also ignores the crucial statistics that show clearly that the vast majority of rape is perpetrated by men known to the victim (often partners or husbands) and thus the “advice” is both irrelevant and in fact actively harmful, as it creates belief that rape could be avoided if only women were more careful.

The theory of a biological cause of rape is a convenient conclusion for those who do not wish to see social change. It is a theory that allows men to continue their domination over women and for patriarchal norms to remain unchallenged, as rape is considered an innate evolutionary behaviour. The evidence however is weak, and the counter-argument, that the socialisation of gender roles create norms of masculine dominance that are learned, is far more convincing. Thus rape culture can be challenged, but it must be done on the systemic level; if we truly want to see the end of rape patriarchy cannot be allowed to survive. Rape culture thrives in our society because of the entrenchment of binary gender roles. And it creates a paradoxical situation where men who are kind, considerate, and loving can state with the best of intentions that men should protect the women in their lives, an intention derived from the gender norms that allow men to be a threat. In the words of Mary Edwards Walker:

‘You are not our protectors… If you were who would there be to protect us from?”

Sources
Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender
S. Rose, R.C. Lewontin & L.J. Kamin, Not in our Genes
Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race & Class
Diane Herman, The Rape Culture

Comments

Cusumbo
Oct 1 2012 18:38

60 minutes - poem from a victim of drug-assisted sexual assault

60 minutes
Please come back
Why are you so afraid to show your face?
Cold floor - Twisted neck
The lifting of a floral petal dress
Was it 60 minutes?
Minutes needed to penetrate my core
Rip out my soul?

60 minutes
Did I tell you no?
Did I cry for help?
Fight  you off?
No physical scares to tell the story 
Time gone with no trace
Time now my horror 
Time now your victory
Your hands and minutes
from  a dreaded clock I cannot stop 
Can I turn you back, time not mine?
Can't take back - 60 minutes not mine

60 minutes - the sun rises 
My night stolen my morning broken
60 minutes - to drive home
Blood, aching, confusion, shame
60 minutes - to decide
This secret horror will be mine

60 minutes at my desk
Countless questions
Anxiety rising with each breath
Collapse, ambulance, more questions
60 minutes with a social worker
60 minutes with a detective
60 minutes awake in the ward
The lonely early hours
Heart monitored, wires, beeps
No sign of life
Can they not hear it does not beat?

60 minutes at forensics.
Naked in a robe. Identity lost.
Rape victim. Rape survivor. 
Robe is chains. 
Swabs and plastic bags.
Legs apart. My pain exposed.
Scrape out that demon inside.
Hairs, saliva, semen, body fluid
60 minutes of scouring the corpse
Vultures hovering above remains

60 minutes to tell him
Blame me. Blame other. Blame you.
Anger. 
60 minutes of tears. 60 each day thereafter.

60 minutes with police.
60 with victim support.
60 minutes with crisis line.
60 minutes sharing with a colleague.
Time ticking as I am judged.
Seconds evaporating as rumours spread.
Not believed. Mad. 

60 mins on the clock with a lawyer.
60 for free with the doctor.
The predators game.
Predator poised ready to spring.

60 of despair in a doctors room  
Held close, safe at last
60 on the phone
Ravished, taken. 
Prescribing his poison
Pills to mask whose pain?
To hide whose shame?

60 a day
With crushing structures 
Social, political, legal
David and Goliath 
Where are the people?
Where is the voice?
Who hears the muffled screams?
Raped of all power.

60 minutes in a job interview
Not ready but no money
Structures and systems
Capitalism forces my hand

60 minutes to lose my job
Room with no window or witness
Lies and betrayal
Told I won't recover, ever
Tears fall
To dissolution , oblivion 
60 minutes to learn to hate

60 minutes it felt like
7 hours of mediation
Suicide watch - watching 
Drugged again by my illness
Patchy memory, poor recollection 
Prostituting my soul to settlements and gagging orders
Now twice to that which controls me
Raped of my ability
Society nonchalant to my needs
The pillaging of what has been conquered

60 minutes with the truth
60 of trust in a truth teller
Voice heard, story told
Memory stolen
So much taken
Voice remains but fading
Will they hear? 
Are these the dying words?
Epilogue of trauma and social struggle 

60 with a therapist
Not more, not less
Caring so fluid 
Eyes that remain
Words so guarded
Engaged in mind
Tentative heart
Subtle powerful communication
Attuned but  repressed
60 minutes - stealing hours

60 minutes
Seconds putting distance
Between forgotten minutes
and the future ahead
Time heals
Will it?
But does it ever remember?
And then will it forget?
Will 60 minutes change anything except for me?