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The Distortion that is Rape Culture

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 30 June 2010

This joke is an example of rape culture.

In my last post, I said I was going to get around to talking about rape culture, and indeed, this isn’t the first time it was brought up.  Rape culture is no simple matter; it’s complicated to the point where I cannot easily discuss it without devoting an entire post to it.  Thus it is time that I addressed it.

Finally Feminism 101 has a post regarding rape culture.  The definition they provide, which comes from the book Transformation a Rape Culture, is as follows:

“A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”

As you should be able to gather from this definition, “rape culture” encompasses far more than just rape.  It is, simply put, a culture which makes violence against women appear normal.  This normalization of violence against women consequently leads to a myriad of things whereby the violence against women becomes accepted, even encouraged, and people therefore have the tendency to blame the victim of the violence (the woman) before they blame the perpetrator of the violence (the man).  In short, this all fosters an environment for which rape, the worst act of violence against women (with the possible exception of murder), can occur.*

Unlike murder, however, rape is something targeted almost solely against women; or at least this is so under the framework of rape culture.  Rape more than anything else is thus regarded as an attack against women, something which terrorizes women and instills fear into women simply on the basis of her being a woman, with the ultimate result of women submitting themselves to men through this fear.  For this reason feminists give it more attention than something like the murder of women, and indeed, this gendered dynamic shouldn’t be overlooked; after all, as I’ve stated before, it defines the power dynamics involved between male and female in regards to violence and rape.  As a result of this, the rape of a man by a woman would not be considered equal to the rape of a woman by a man, where feminists will generally regard the rape of a woman far worse if they follow this framework correctly.

Rape culture is perhaps one of the most controversial concepts in feminism, and not surprisingly, one of the most misunderstood.  In the way it is framed, along with the conclusion that the rape of men is regarded as not as bad as the rape of women, it presents a clear dichotomy: that of the female victim and male oppressor.  It paints men as a gender in a very negative light, seemingly vilifying them for their privileged status in this culture of rape.


* I feel it important to also point out that Finally Feminism 101 notes that rape culture also refers to notions of heteronormativity – the framing of all sexual or romantic relationships as only between a man and woman, excluding those between two men or two women.  This would be justified on the basis that same-sex relationships threaten to undermine the order of gender relations that submit women to men in a rape culture.  Thus to make something heteronormative is to pretend it does not exist (delegitimizing it) for the sake of the maintenance of the order of gender relations.  The prejudice against homosexuals, bisexuals, and anybody queer is also a manifestation of rape culture as well.  Note too that this muddles up the dichotomy I spoke of: that of the female victim and male oppressor.

While I’m not going to address homosexuality in this post, please bear this in mind.  It will be important to remember later.


Some take issue with that framing, the False Rape Society in particular.  Include myself on that list as well.  Rape culture, as a framework, does indeed make sense and is consistent.  However, it only makes sense when certain conditions apply and under a certain interpretation.  In order to accept rape culture, one must accept that women are encouraged to submit to men in today’s society, that men routinely encourage this through certain actions and attitudes, and that violence is used to terrorize women into this submission – rape in particular.  One must interpret a myriad of things to fit into this framework.  In short, rape culture is one of many worldviews, and in order for this worldview to dominate, it must assert itself above all others.  Since the recognition of rape culture is believed by feminists to be vital to understanding and fighting rape, the failure to accept rape culture is thus an indication of one’s acceptance of rape.

I have never been a fan of “you are either with me or against me” attitudes like that as, which you’d know if you’ve ever read my about me page, I tend to think that it’s almost always an inaccurate characterization.  Indeed, few things are so absolute.  Do the people who believe that rape culture is a one-sided framing of the issue of rape actually accept rape?  I’d contend that no, they do not.

I think of the attitudes in regards to the rape of women in today’s society and I have to wonder who exactly does not condemn rape (against women)?  Sure, you can argue that things like rape jokes demeans the notion of “rape” itself, but I do not believe it does – I could make rape jokes all day but that hardly demeans my sense of how awful the crime is.  In my experience this appears to be more or less the same for most individuals out there – they’re able to make the distinction between what is merely a joke and what is reality.  You could call the humor poor taste all you’d like, but it doesn’t change the point.  Shock humor, which is what that is, is not funny because the idea of rape itself is funny; rather, it’s closer to black comedy, even sarcasm, in the sense that it’s amusing because it goes against common wisdom – ridiculousness in itself in amusing, hence why so many laugh at people who say stupid things.

An example of a n00b in Halo getting "raped" as they say.

The same as far as that distinction is concerned goes for using the word “rape” to exaggerate as well, as in “I completely raped that n00b in Modern Warfare 2” – I have not met a single person who would not recognize the distinction between that and actual rape itself.  Context is absolutely vital for language.  You may argue that it desensitizes them to the idea of rape by having it thrown around so freely, but again, people generally make the distinction.  In short, none of these create an environment which fosters rape in any convincing way.

I have seen nothing but the condemnation of men who abuse their girlfriends / wives.  It seems the one thing feminists and the patriarchy agrees on is that men should never hit a woman (as well as vise versa, though both don’t give it nearly the same emphasis).  Ask any guy what he was taught in regards to hitting girls as a kid and I guarantee you that he will almost always tell you that guys should never hit girls under any circumstance, and if pressed to do so (such as an extreme attack from her on him), that he should do no more than restrain her.  Do this for men of all ages – from as young as 14 to as old as 84.  And this is good, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing (though I do wish more emphasis was made to simply never hit anyone at all regardless of your or their gender); but you would think a patriarchy, an all encompassing system of social stratification in men’s favor which would clearly include rape culture and its submission of women, would not vilify male rapists and male-on-female violence so harshly.  Or even if you don’t buy into the notion of a patriarchy, which I generally don’t in the way it is framed, this simple fact alone seems to me to contradict rape culture, certainly at least in part.

Indeed, what a number of feminists call a manifestation of rape culture are things one hardly ever sees commonplace in American society, as this quote taken from Finally Feminism 101’s article on rape culture I linked to earlier in the post:

“Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-fucking in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.”

Honestly, is this serious?  Maybe I don’t speak for all people, but if it were as common as this would suggest, you’d think I would have heard rape being used as an accusation somewhere for women.  I have seen it be used as a compliment or put in a positive light, but for men.  In fact, it strikes me just how much of this stuff can be said to be true for men.  You never see anybody say that rape against women is justified under any circumstance, but you do when it’s against men.  Is it just me or does it appear as if the narrative of gender dynamics is only able to mirror each other when it supports an agenda that casts women in a perpetually victimized light?

You do see some victim blaming of female rape victims from men, but they much more rarely go as far as to say they deserve it; typically they’d tell the rape victim that had she made “better” choices, she would not have wound up raped.  Argue whether that’s fine or not all you’d like, but it’s a far cry from saying she deserved it, moreover I believe them to be sincere in saying it; I’d argue that it’s exactly what they would apply to themselves.  I wouldn’t agree with it necessarily, but it is something to take note of as it does significantly alter how we would have that conversation.

I hate feeling as if I’m fostering divisions between the genders.  I feel it important to bear in mind that for as bad as men may have it, women do in fact wind up raped more often.  This is significant; the rape of anybody, male, female, or other is utterly horrible and I cannot emphasize that enough, despite any differences the connotations may bring.  I just have to insist on the fact that men do not have it so peachy; rape culture is not all that it’s cracked up to be by feminists.


2 Responses to “The Distortion that is Rape Culture”

  1. […] Curt, the Distortion That Is Rape Culture […]

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