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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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A Letter to My Brother: On Rape Culture, the Patriarchy, and Him

A Letter to My Brother: On Rape Culture, the Patriarchy, and Him

My brother is a feminist and a feminist ally. When an item popped up in his newsfeed instructing mothers and fathers not to let their daughters wear skirts to the park because it might be too tempting to some men, he was understandably perturbed. He sent me a screenprint from his Facebook timeline and then texted me to talk about it.

Y’all, we talk about this stuff a lot. We have complementary ideologies in that we both want to see rape culture end, and we can both learn new perspectives from each other in that we were socially conditioned somewhat differently, being that I identify and present as a woman, and he identifies and presents as a man. Typing on a little touchscreen phone sucks, and I pretty much don’t like to do things that suck, so I e-mailed Adam, my baby brosky, to carry on the conversation. I’m going to put that e-mail here today and share it with you so that if something like this happens in your social circle and you want to address it or understand it a bit better, you might find this helpful. When he told me he was frustrated with what his friend was saying, and that he couldn’t exactly put his finger on the ‘why’ of exactly how it was so frustrating, and how he should approach his friend if that’s what he chose to do, this is what I said to my brother, my best friend, a person I love and trust:

SUP, BRAH! Typing on my phone is not as awesome as typing on a keyboard.

So you and I have talked about rape culture and misogyny before, right? If not, let me know and I will give you a run down of what those are in short form. What your friend is doing is perpetuating rape culture and expressing internalized misogyny. This is totally understandable and not uncommon, being that our cultural narrative teaches and impresses upon us that women are responsible for the actions of men, and men cannot control their sexual urges. This mythology hurts both men and women, and that’s why it’s important that we push back against it in both subtle and overt ways (you have to pick your battles and when to speak up and how. This is life.)

One of the important points that your friend is missing here is that the clothing a person wears is not indicative of whether or not they will be assaulted or raped. You can cover up whatever you want, but that doesn’t really deter a rapist, because clothes are just garments, not weapons or protective barriers. Furthermore, most rape and sexual assault doesn’t happen at the hands of strangers, and people are more often than not actually victimized by somebody they love, know, trust and care about, like a partner, caregiver, or other trusted family member or friend. Stranger rape and assault is definitely a real thing, but it’s managed to remain the dominant fear while actually being a lesser issue, in large part due to cultural myths about rape and media portrayal of rape victims and rapists. Your friend is helping to perpetuate that stereotype. She probably doesn’t know that it’s a stereotype, ya know?

Another thing is that the women and girls should not have to alter their dress in an attempt to control the behaviors of boys and men. Instead of teaching that women are in control of what men do, the reality is that only men are in control of what they do. Not only that, but by intimating that a girl is more likely to be assaulted or raped if she’s in a skirt, she’s contributing to a culture that insists that only women dressed or acting a certain way are rape-able because they are ‘asking for it’ or are ‘a tease’ or ‘a temptress.’ The reality is that no clothing choice can keep a person safe. Some women are raped in their homes, in their own bedrooms, by a friend or family member. The idea that had they been wearing something different they could have prevented it is absurd. This is a statistic I have no data on, but that I’m sure is true: ‘Every day in America, a pants-wearing woman is raped.’

I’m fancy. You can quote me on that.

So what your friend is saying is frustrating, troublesome and problematic for sure. Beyond that, it’s actually harmful. Rape culture, gender stereotypes, and the patriarchy are all damaging to men and women, boys and girls. It hurts everyone. The portrait she’s painting is one wherein women and girls are responsible for the sexual violence inflicted upon them and a world wherein women and girls can control whether or not a man is sexually violent based on what they choose to wear. This is demonstrably false. Her ideology also hurts men, because it perpetuates the myth of men as sex-driven imbeciles who are a slave to their urges and lacking the mental acuity, empathy, and common sense to respect the body and boundaries of a woman in a skirt. She is implying that the legs or bottom half of a girl or woman in a skirt are so seductive to a man that he would not be able to resist raping. That’s pretty fucked up, right? And that’s one reason why men need to be good ally’s and on board with overturning rape culture. This shit affects them negatively, too. It’s patriarchy that says men are an imbecilic monolith, base and unchanging, incompetent, puerile and animalistic. Feminism says men can do better, men are better, the standard is higher, and we have faith in you.

The really important thing here is that she probably doesn’t know that she’s putting violence out into the world, and likely hasn’t considered this perspective before. Do you remember when you first started seeing this side of things? I don’t remember exactly when I did, but I remember that it was LIFE CHANGING! such an ‘a-ha!!!’ moment that went against everything I had been taught up until that point. Every message we got from our schools, our media, our parents, our church and our peer group contradicted this new knowledge. I was not always in favor of marriage equality, pro-choice, or understood that rape culture was real. In fact, with some of these issues, I had years of moderate leaning before liberal, and was conservative before that.

So sometimes things that seem really obvious to you or me won’t be obvious to other people, because just like this was once new to us, it’s new to them. If you weren’t raised thinking this way and this is new information or a new perspective to you, it can seem confusing or overwhelming at first. We are essentially asking people to look at the world around them, the messages they receive and the lessons they have been taught and to call bullshit on what they think is true and right and think about it differently. That’s gonna be really hard for a lot of people, and it takes time. A good approach is to be kind, patient, empathetic, and come from a place of sharing a teaching moment and a new perspective rather than a combative, condescending, or angry place. Because even though the tone of an argument shouldn’t distract from the content, it often does. And ultimately, if you want somebody to hear you, we often have to be kind.

And that’s not always possible, and I know. Sometimes I get really angry and I get frustrated and I show it. That will probably never stop. Reading, writing and talking about rape culture every day can be incredibly harrowing, traumatizing, and overwhelming. With that can come a fatigue that makes continued patience and understanding impossible sometimes, and I’m not always as considerate as I could be. Never has being a jerk to somebody helped them understand my point of view or to respect what I had to say. As soon as I’m mean, defenses go up and they stop listening and now we’ve all wasted our time, know what I mean?

So I think that you have an opportunity, if you’re comfortable with it, to share with somebody a new idea or concept they haven’t heard before and to have an open and lively discourse with them. It could go horribly, it could go really well, or maybe nothing at all will come of it. Maybe somebody will overhear or see it and it will change their mind, or spark an idea for change or a kinder world, and that’s good, right? I think so!

I love you, Adam!

Now Adam has a daughter and he is Dadam. We both want the world to be a kinder place for her, and everybody. 

Do you and your friends and family talk about rape culture, or how to approach problematic things? Are you working to affect change? Meet me in the comments, and let’s talk about it.

Written by Sara Luckey
You can tweet with her here, talk beauty with her here, or engage in a conversation about current events as viewed through a sociopolitical, feminist lens here.

  • Sarahphina

    This should be read by the entire internet. Well done.

  • Cheyenne Connors

    Beautiful! I have let all of my friends (male and otherwise) know to message/tag me if they need to debate rape culture and basically any other social issue and don’t know how/what to say what they need to say. We’re all in this together, after all!

    • Sara Luckey

      Absolutely! And that’s such a great, cooperative attitude, which I really dig. It’s always easier to have somebody to share a burden than to shoulder it alone.

  • haleycue


    I wish I could get my brother to listen to me, but he is 19 and our age gap has drawn a massive rift between us. He thinks I’m “too sensitive” about everything, so he is quick to dismiss and make fun of anything that comes out of my mouth about feminism, racism, rape culture, or body politics.

    For instance, I’ve tried my best to get him to understand that wearing blackface on Halloween (he went as Rick Ross one year…in full blackface…) is NOT allowed – and he refuses to hold himself accountable, or admit that what he’s doing is wrong. So frustrating. But then again, he is a super-privileged mega-jock white boy with a football scholarship, so I suppose he’s not really used to people telling him he’s wrong.

    • Sara Luckey

      He’s like the total opposite of you! Ya know, he’s 19 and he’s making mistakes and not taking things very seriously now. But he’s lucky to have you in his life as such an awesome role model and positive example. My wager is that in a few years, as he matures, he will start to hear the things you say. Hopefully, along the way, somebody else calls him out for the racism, because that is suuuuper uncool.
      And girl, Ily2!

    • Steve Smith

      Heaven forbid a non black person dresses up as a black person for Halloween! I guess no breaking from racial roles is allowed. But I guess its easy to blame his so called privilege.

      • Vivid Sammy

        I understand your point of view, and if we lived in an ideal world
        I’m sure that would be ok, but we don’t. There is such an awful history
        attached to black face. It will be funny to some people but at the same
        time very hurtful to others (for very legit reasons) I personally don’t
        think its cool to ignore such feelings. Dress as your favourite person,
        super cool, but maybe do it without painting your face, people will
        still get it.

        • Steve Smith

          Why should we run a world on feelings and that feelings of others? People need a thicker skin really.

          • Jessica

            So people should just ignore the history behind blackface and everything that went along with it? We should just forget about racism, slavery, segregation, lynch mobs, the KKK, everything that happened during the Civil Rights Movement, and everything else? We should forget about it all, pretend it never happened, and pretend that we aren’t still feeling the damage all of that did, all because you and people like you don’t want to deal with other people’s feelings? That’s ridiculous. There are far more than just feelings involved in this. You need a much larger world view and some serious education about how such things hurt everyone including yourself. Just because you want to pretend something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it suddenly disappears. You just end up looking foolish and incredibly selfish.

  • nyssa23

    Dadam! I love it. Looks like your brother is almost as awesome as you, Sara!

    I wish I could have that kind of discussion with my family, or anyone really. I have such a hard time speaking up when fucked-up shit like this is said.

    • Sara Luckey

      My brother is such an all-around cool dude! Nyssa, I will always be here to have these conversations, whenever you want. It is really hard to speak up sometimes, and it also sucks not to have somebody to talk to about these messed up situations, or to flesh them out and get an idea. For sure.

  • Tinab81

    Ugh, you’re the best.

    Also your niecelet and bro! so cute! I die from cute!

    • Sara Luckey

      Her mama, his partner, is suuuuper gorgeous and cool and amazing and smart and funny and nice. They made the most amazing niece/daughter/amazing human of all time, and I am smitten by my little nieceling! Let’s all die from cute together!

  • Steve Smith

    I wonder when feminist tell women not to rape, like they do with men.

    • Lauren Slavin
      • Steve Smith

        How is linking to stats telling women not to rape?

    • Rain Stickland

      Feminists do not believe rape should happen to anyone. No true feminist would ever want a man to be raped. Feminism is nothing more than the belief that women are equal. Nobody should ever have their choice taken away. It’s wrong. I’ve known men who were raped and/or molested. It’s just as damaging for men as it is for women, and there is less support for them. They tend to hide it even more than women do. They feel shame, just as women do. Rape is a perversion of power being inflicted on another human being, and it makes no difference what gender perpetrates it and what gender has it inflicted upon them.

      • Steve Smith

        Yet feminist do nothing regarding male victims.

        • NA

          [citation needed]

          Rape is rape, and it’s awful no matter who the victim is. I think it’s awful that male rape victims aren’t accorded the same empathy female rape victims are. At its core, feminism is about respecting every human’s agency, autonomy, and right to their body. Rape is a violation of all of those, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.

          And I see a lot of feminists “doing something” about that.

          Perhaps what you’re seeing is that women are statistically more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men, and men more likely to be perpetrators than women. Them’s the facts. Doesn’t make male victims less deserving of empathy and doesn’t make female perpetrators less deserving of contempt. But it does shape the way we talk about the issue.

          • Steve Smith

            Pretty easy to say women are rape more when there has been next to no studies or that research done on women rapists. Them’s the facts.

  • KR

    Women miss the point on this time and again. No one is saying women are responsible for the sexual harm inflicted upon them and no one is trying to justify rapists. The fact remains that convicted rapists have confessed (it is commonly known) that a man out with the intention to find and rape a victim will more often than not choose based on how easily layers of clothing can be removed, or how accessible they are. Like it or not, this means that the girl with the short skirt is more likely to be victimized; it is a matter of practicality to the rapist. This is fact.
    Of course she isnt responsible, it’s absurd to claim the fault lies on anyone other than the degenerate that is the rapist. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopia and rapists exist. Women shouldn’t stop wearing certain clothes to avoid being victimized, but it’ something to have in mind regardless.

    • Rain Stickland

      I have studied rapists and serial killers for a very long time. They statistically attack women who look vulnerable. By vulnerable I do not refer to clothing. I refer to the way she holds herself. If she looks like she knows where she’s going, if she looks confident, etc. Those are the women who are statistically less likely to be attacked in any form. If a woman looks like she’s easy prey, a rapist is much more likely to go after her, even if she’s wearing pants, than he is to go after a woman wearing a skirt who looks like she’s going to put up a fuss. They want a woman who is easily subdued. Shy, tentative women, and women who look like they’re already scared. Or even women that are listening to music and not paying attention to their surroundings, because they can be surprised.

      If it is ‘commonly known’ as you suggest, you should provide statistical references for it, seeing as every single study I’ve ever read on serial killers and rapists has never used that as a point of reference. Never, and I’ve read dozens of clinical studies, as well as various text books besides. They all unfailingly state that the attacker went after a women they thought they would be most likely to subdue. If there is such a study that documents what you say, I would be very much interested in reading it. For one thing, I be very interested to know where and how they got their data. Not all studies are conducted equally, by non-biased organizations.

      The only mention I’ve seen regarding what a woman wears, and a rapist’s reference to it, is when they are trying to excuse their actions after the fact – both to themselves and as their legal defense. “She was dressed like a whore, so she deserved it.”

      The only cure for this epidemic is to change society’s way of thinking, and that means ending rape culture.

  • Crystal

    That was beautiful.

  • Coriolanus

    I often find it very difficult to relate to others and have discussions on such things as rape culture, much of which has to do with my former occupation. I have considered myself socially aware of the implicit cultural assumptions that surround us on a daily basis for years now, and rape culture is one of the most obvious and readily observable social phenomenons out there.

    However, a sentiment I have seen expressed time and again by many that consider themselves feminists is the idea that warfare is, and always has been and will be, an extension of rape culture and never justified. I am not just talking about the aspect of war as a penetrative and dehumanizing act, but have been told on many occasions that the US military has institutionalized rape as a means of subjugating foreign peoples. Being a combat veteran with two deployments to Afghanistan, you can understand why I might consider such a perspective frustrating. Time and again I have essentially been told that no matter my motivations for having gone to war, the reasons for that war, or my conduct during it I am no different than a rapist. Keep in mind I also try to not let people know about my past in this sense, so I often get the unadulterated truth in regards to how many people genuinely feel about the entire military being filled with (in their eyes) nothing more than patriarchal sociopaths.

    In essence, I find it difficult to relate to people who share my views on feminism when they view my former job, which I am immensely proud of, to have been as nothing more than a murderer or worse.

    • Sara Luckey

      Is this in reply to something I wrote in the piece, or are you just using the piece as a jumping off point to have this discussion? If it’s the former, I’d like to assure you that I don’t think everybody in the military is a rapist. If the latter, I would say that I think equating anything other than rape to rape is a horrible linguistic tactic by some people and they should knock that shit off.

      • Coriolanus

        This was purely a jumping off point for me, giving my perspective as both a male and a veteran highly interested in feminism and the concept of rape culture. It seems many people, even those who consider themselves socially aware, make a great deal of implicit assumptions that can lead to misunderstanding or even mistrust from myself, and more importantly people like me. It becomes difficult to convince other men I know of the value of feminism when so many people have an enormous amount of misconceptions of what feminism is, and how it affects their lives (this goes for both men and women in regards to their ideas of what feminism is).

  • brookstyle

    You are correct on the circumstances usually surrounding rape. But by focusing on clothing you segue way into the idea that no matter what a woman does, rape is sort of this random act that can get a woman in any situation, ie dressed anyway, anywhere. How about alcohol? It’s involved in rape about as much as it is in car accidents.

    Then you say “feminism thinks men can do better.” but you call it a “rape culture.” “Culture” usually implies that a preponderance of people accept it, implying that it’s truly saturated our lives. So NOW, if I’m a male bystander watching 2 drunks flirt at a bar, “rape culture” is what keeps me from intervening since there is a probability that she “is too drunk to consent.” I would never entertain the idea of rape or taking advantage of ANYONE, but now I’m perpetuating a “culture” by playing my small role and doing nothing. “Rape culture” is the latest bogey grenade lobbed at men by women who claim they are fighting sexism. Instead of being an individual, criminal matter perpetuated by a handful of sick people, it’s now a dark cloud that infects seemingly, innocuous behavior. Now they can claim anything that smacks of sex as “rape culture” if it offends their sensibilities. If there is a rape culture, it is simply the tip of an “easy sex culture” that reverses thousands of years of taboos and prohibitions on sexual behavior and leaves no consequences for women, including unwanted preganancy, std’s or being “slut shamed.” It leaves all the consequences for men ie accusations of rape, assault, etc. if/ when she feels confused or funny about the cheap hookup the night before, where both were drunk.