For my AP Language and Composition class, we were supposed to write an essay on a controversial topic. I chose Rape Culture.
An important line that seems to be blurred when it comes to sexual advances and the act of sex itself is the idea of "when does no mean no". If a woman is blackout drunk yet still asks for sex, even though she might not remember it in the morning, surely it isn't against her will? Or if a girlfriend says no, maybe she's just playing hard to get, right? Wrong. No matter the innuendos and no matter the situation, 'no' does in fact mean 'no'. Regardless of how drunk the person is or what they are wearing, there is never an excuse for rape or an 'invitation' for sexual assault. But the question is where did this mindset begin and why is it acted upon so often and without reproof?
The catalyst and the enabler of rape is much more complex than just a man's lust: the crux of the issue lies in the idea of "Rape Culture". Rape culture is a society in which people of all ages are exposed to images, language, laws, and other everyday incidents that validate and perpetuate sexual assault and harassment. This includes jokes, music lyrics, television shows, movies and advertising, as well as even the laws and legal jargon themselves, that make violence against women seem so normal that people, even the victims themselves, believe that rape is inevitable. Now, some would argue that the media has nothing to do with rape, saying that rape has been around for centuries and that some men simply can't control themselves. They think that these predators are the type one would find on the fringes of society, the type of men who lie in wait under the shadows of a dark alley. However, according to a recent anonymous poll conducted by professor and author Margo Maine, 8% of college men have either attempted rape or successfully raped, 30% admit that they would rape if they thought they could get away with it, and the percent shot up to 58 when 'rape' was changed to 'force a woman to have sex'. In addition, 83.5% of college men believed that "some women just look like they are asking to be raped". I once overheard a young man saying that if a woman isn't wearing underwear, then it's an invitation for sexual assault. So by his logic, if he were not wearing a cup, I would have the right to kick him in the groin, because he was "clearly unprotected and therefore asking for it". He might counter by saying that the situations are completely different, but are they really? Both involve pain and the violation of privacy, and both lack the consent of the victim. However, only in one situation is the victim emotionally and physically traumatized for the rest of their life and blamed for their suffering.
So what makes young men think that harassment is okay? The answer is also more complex than simply one reason, and it is true that some men are more prone to thoughts of rape than others, though the likeliest answer spirals back, once again, to rape culture and the subsequent victim blaming that goes along with it. Every summer, I teach at a safety camp for children between the ages of four and six, and one day, I see a young girl named Tabby walk up to one of the counsellors and complain about a little boy pinching her and shoving her a lot. The counsellor's response was, "boys will be boys, honey. Sometimes they're just rough". Through these simple words and his failure to scold the little boy, an authority figure has created a victim-blaming situation between two children as young as four years old, an allusion to an all-too-likely occurrence that could happen in the future. In the boy, it has begun to perpetuate that girls are just objects to be pawed about, that he can get away with this kind of behavior, and in the girl's mind, she is left feeling helpless: that this situation was her fault instead of his. She has gotten the first taste of rape culture, and not her last either, for it comes in the form of seemingly harmless excuses: "he's only being mean to you because he likes you", "he's just a guy: that's what guys do", "he only did it because he loves you". Throughout the rest of the week, I watched little Tabby interact with the boy: at first, she kept reproving his pestering, pushing him away and showing her frustration, but after several days, I saw her slowly give up and stand by limply as he bullied her. When I tried to intervene, I was told by the counsellors that they were just playing and that, since they weren't in my cluster of children, they weren't my responsibility. Perhaps this could have been a classic childhood conflict that both children would soon forget, but more than likely, it was a precursor for later excused abuse, whether it be rape, harassment, coercion or an abusive relationship.
The trivializing of sexual assault is also a large factor of rape culture, and one can find it almost anywhere, like our very judicial system. To this day, rapists can still sue for the custody rights of a child conceived during rape, and more often than not, the rapists aren't caught. In fact, as high as 70% of these assaults aren't even reported, and if they are and the predator is caught, there's only about a16% chance of them going to prison. However, the most prevalent and unlikely place this trivialization is found is in politics. The political world is rife with male congressman and senators and representatives scrambling to put in plain words what is and isn't rape, including the deluded ramblings of Missouri Representative Todd Akin that if it's a "legitimate rape", then the female body has ways to "shut that whole thing down". In the inspiring words of Tina Fey, "If I have to listen to one more grey-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I'm going to lose my mind".
All things considered, rape is no longer the crime of the individual: it is now the crime of a society. In turn, it is society that must fix this problem, starting out with something as simple as teaching our children that 'no' means 'no'.
Listening to: Autumn Leaves - Ed Sheeran
Reading: The Guernsey and Potatoe Peel Pie Literary Society