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Feminspire | April 19, 2014

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Understanding Rape Culture and Its Impact on All Women

Understanding Rape Culture and Its Impact on All Women

“Rape culture isn’t even real.”

These words came from the mouth of a woman who spent half an hour lecturing me on the role of women in their rape.

“You can’t wear a mini skirt, show cleavage, and be all over someone then expect him not to rape you. It’s like dangling a piece of meat in front of a hungry dog.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-off incident. Comments such as these have been made to me countless times by people of different genders, backgrounds and ages.

Now you might be asking, what is “rape culture”? Essentially, it is an environment, a way of life, a system of judgement and a media in which rape victims, mainly women (male rape victims are far less likely to also be victims of rape culture) are vilified and blamed for their rape. They and society are made to believe that what they were wearing, their behavior or the number of people they have slept with during their lifetime had an effect on their rape. They are convinced that it was their fault and their responsibility for letting themselves be attacked.

This vilification creates issues not only for rape victims but for the entire female population.

Rape culture is a direct infringement on the rights of women. It is an attack on our right to say yes and our right to say no. It is an attack on our right to wear what we like, our right to change our mind and our right to be free human beings.

A woman who says yes too many times or to the wrong person is branded a slut, and so rape culture dictates that men can simply assume that her answer will always be yes. A woman who says yes can’t just decide that there is a person she doesn’t want to sleep with. She’s said yes before, and that has given her a reputation. Rape culture has led to a belief in some men that when a woman who says yes instead says no, he need not take her seriously.

Rape culture also dictates that a woman who said no must have done something wrong. She must have laughed, or giggled, or continued to act flirtatiously, or maybe she didn’t really mean no at all. Maybe she was a “tease” or “leading the guy on.” If she really didn’t want to sleep with him, she would have fought him off. She wouldn’t have let it happen. Right?

Rape culture says that a woman who wears a mini skirt, a tight dress or a shirt with a low neckline is misleading men. Her clothes are an indication of her consent. Why would she wear such clothes, at a bar or club no less, if she wasn’t intent on going home with someone? She shouldn’t be surprised if she’s raped. She must have been asking for it.

One of the most dangerous and contested elements of rape culture is that a woman can’t change her mind. Once you’ve slept with someone, you can’t just decide you wouldn’t like to anymore. If you’ve slept with someone once, they can assume that from then on, consent is an unspoken given. If you’re married or in a relationship with someone, there is no need to give consent for sexual activities. These are ideas that are perpetuated in a rape culture.

Women aren’t allowed genuine freedom within a rape culture. A rape culture means women must constantly consider their steps and decisions so that if they do become the victims of rape, they can’t be blamed for it.

A person who is the victim of constant vilification, a person whose rights are constantly infringed, is not a free person.

Rape culture, however, does more than this. Rape culture excuses, forgives and victimises rapists. Rape culture insists that rape is part of a man’s nature. Rape culture means that rapists have a place to hide, that they are awarded sympathy and forgiveness. Their actions are viewed as callous rather than malicious, while their victims are put to shame for their assumed seduction or invitation of the rape.

It is time to end rape culture and allow women to be truly free. It is time to educate and practice the truth – that rapists are the perpetrators and the victims are in fact that – victims. Not the other way around. It is time to stop the vilification of women in general and female rape victims in particular and start focusing on the real issue – rapists and the forgiving environment they are afforded in our society.

This is a brief overview on rape culture, but you can read more about it on the thisisrapeculture Tumblr blog or in Nicole Del Casale’s article Rape Culture 101. Feel free to share additional resources in the comments below.

Written by Ophir Shemer