******Trigger WARNING ***********
There are several videos in this post, so click here to see them; also included is image from Dolce & Gabana that I had planned to talk about last week).
Some Notes On Rape Culture
I happened to catch a tweet from Karnythia yesterday that turned my blood cold.
#rapeculture hurts everyone. The same rhetoric VSB spouted is used in court to make sure less than 20% of all rapists do time.
Turns out, Damon (a.k.a. The Champ) decided to create a really flip response to Zerlina Maxwell’s Ebony.com piece “Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped.” Despite Maxwell writing lines like these:
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so.
Damon still decided to write his piece, essentially asking this question:
But, why can’t both genders be educated on how to act responsibility around each other? What’s stopping us from steadfastly instilling “No always means no!” in the minds of all men and boys and educating women how not to put themselves in certain situations? Of course men shouldn’t attempt to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to say no, but what’s wrong with reminding women that if you’re 5’1 and 110 pounds, it’s probably not the best idea to take eight shots of Patron while on the first, second, or thirteenth date? Yes, sober women definitely get raped too, but being sober and aware does decrease the likelihood that harm may come your way, and that’s true for each gender.
It seems as if the considerable push back again victim-blaming has pushed all the way past prudence and levelheadedness, making anyone who suggests that “women can actually be taught how to behave too” insensitive or a “rape enabler.” And, while the sentiment in Maxwell’s article suggests that victim-blaming is dangerous, I think it’s even more dangerous to neglect to remind young women that, while it’s never their fault if they happen to get sexually assaulted, they shouldn’t thumb their noses to common sense either.
Damon’s already (somewhat) apologized and been raked over the coals by folks on his site, Twitter, and Tumblr.
So my goal in writing this piece isn’t to hold him accountable–that’s already gone on. My goal in writing this is to answer his question. And since I recently gave a talk at Swarthmore on rape culture, I just so happen to have a bunch of examples and facts right at my fingertips.
First, the primary premise is flawed.
Damon seems to think that reinforcing to men that circumstances and consent are different things means that we are also letting women off the hook for reckless behavior. However, most men aren’t privy to all the rape prevention tactics women employ everyday, as a matter of course. (For the purposes of this discussion, the framing will be around cisgender, heterosexual men and women, though we are not the only people impacted by this type of thinking and this type of violence.)
I could share stories about being told from the time I started going out to always cover your drink with a napkin, never be alone after dark, always have your keys out in case of an attack, to never be alone with a guy you don’t know. I was also told not to open the door for boys I didn’t know, but in my case, it was the boy you kind of know that gets you. But I digress.
We could tell our stories all day, but where’s the data? When I presented at Swathmore, I ran a little experiment based on a question I had. How do men talk about rape? So I took it to the newsstands.
Cosmopolitan Magazine is best known for it’s unrelenting focus on sex tips, meeting men, and the ubiquitous “75 new ways to make him pop!” feature. However, in each issue, Cosmo always has something on rape prevention. Since they are the most popular magazine sold on college campuses, they just rolled out an initiative on stopping campus rape, encouraging their readers to lobby their schools and Congress for changes. If you search the content on the Cosmo website, a search for rape pulls up 24 action oriented articles–however, that is misleading as the majority of Cosmo’s content in magazine exclusive, so a lot of their monthly features aren’t in there. I’ve been reading Cosmo since I was 17–if they run one article on rape prevention each month (and sometimes, they run two), I will have consumed 132 of them. And that’s just Cosmo. Other major women’s magazines, like Essence, Marie Claire, and Glamour also cover rape, but not with the same frequency as Cosmo.
So how do Men’s Magazines stack up?
Interestingly, most men’s magazines don’t do “How Not to Rape” articles. They don’t really do “How Not to Get Raped Articles.” A further reading into what these articles were about revealed that most of the articles listed on men’s mags weren’t about rape at all–many were jokes about prison rape (or reviews of Oz) or contained the specific phrase “against abortion except in cases of rape of incest.” With one huge exception from Esquire‘s Tom Chiarella, the majority of men’s articles that mention rape aren’t actually dealing with the subject.
In my talk, before I got into the rape-culture nitty gritty, I asked students to consider a scenario:
[A] spends a late night drinking heavily at a bar. After going a few rounds [A] meets a group of people that includes [B]. [A] continues to hang out with the group for a while, drinking more and more. Later, [A] ends up with [B] alone. [A and B] are both dating other people. Something went down – but [A] was so drunk [A] doesn’t remember exactly what happened. Neither does [B].
I asked who was at fault. There are no easy answers. If I say A is female, a lot of people responding to Champ’s post might have said that she needed to take responsibility for drinking so much. But what if I say A is male and B is female?
This is the rape story in Details, about a guy named Kevin Driscoll who was brought up on rape charges. He’s the person I condensed into the A story.
As he was packing the car, Driscoll got a call on his cell phone. “I don’t know if you know who this is or not,” the caller said, “but, um, this is the girl from the other night.” He remembered her as the pale brunette with the big smile he’d picked up two nights earlier at the Tumble Inn, a dive bar a couple of miles from his home in Redmond. They talked for a few minutes. The woman said she was in a relationship and was freaked out about contracting an STD. Driscoll assured her that he was clean but promised he’d get tested again. “Like, why didn’t you just stop, like, when I was trying to tell you no?” she casually added. “Well, you didn’t say no,” he responded. Soon the woman wished Driscoll a good day, and he hung up, perplexed. He got everyone in the car and started to drive, but he didn’t get far—a police car pulled him over a few blocks away, in front of Pappy’s Pizzeria. Moments later, four more squad cars appeared. The officers, their hands on their guns, ordered Driscoll and Dunn out of the car. One took Driscoll aside and told him he’d have to come down to the station. Driscoll asked for a minute to talk to Dunn, who was getting visibly upset. “That cop told me you beat some girl to death and raped her,” Driscoll recalls her screaming as he walked toward her. “What the fuck is going on?!”
And so began Kevin Driscoll’s nightmare. Charges of first-degree rape—three counts. A very public humiliation. Two trials. And the loss of just about everything he valued in life. After two years, Driscoll was acquitted of all charges—when the not-guilty verdict was handed down, each of the jurors shook his hand—but to him that’s no more than a footnote to the fact that he will forever live under a cloud of accusation, a pariah. Last Halloween he ran into two friends who hadn’t spoken with him since he was taken into custody. “I heard everything worked out for you,” one had said. “Yep, that’s what I heard too,” Driscoll said.
“You didn’t say no” is not a “yes.” And somehow I doubt that people tsk-tsked Driscoll about taking responsibility for how much he was drinking and going home with people he didn’t know. That’s almost exclusively reserved for women. Ultimately, a jury decided to clear Driscoll of the charges–but reading that story as a feminist, I wonder what kind of messages Driscoll received about rape and consent. (Not to mention fidelity.)
Moving on from Driscoll, the crux of my talk was that pop culture helps to normalize rape culture by painting problematic behavior as okay, and even laudable or romantic. Case in point: The Twilight Series. There’s a lot of questionable content in there, that has been discussed for years and years at this point. But it is fascinating to contrast a scene that made it into the movie and the book.
(Notice that undercurrent of violence right there amongst all the sweet talk? Rape culture harshes my squee, son. They’re making it hard to be Team SuckaAssJacob.)
You know what’s so bad about that scene? Besides the fact that you have a man literally forcing himself on a woman (just not with his penis)? The one in the book is actually worse!
Why is she using the type of tactics that rape survivors describe to escape from the situation to talk about this kiss?
But Jacob is still one of two heroes, and he and Bella go on to share a consensual kiss later in the series.
Films and books aren’t the only places where rape culture is normalized.
(Relevant part of the clip starts at 6:05 with Beverly Guy-Sheftall and runs to the end.)
Sut Jhally takes a multi-genre look at how rape culture is encoded in our society, with seemingly innocuous choices in music videos. While Jhally makes powerful points by just stripping away the sound, but he really drives the point home at 4:12, where he contrasts the images of women being assaulted in Central Park with popular music video tropes.
Here’s what he concludes:
Rape culture is why we have to treat random men on the street like Schrodinger’s Rapist. Because we don’t know. And we can’t know.
To expand on an earlier point, here’s the full Limp Bizkit video:
What Durst fantasizes about in the video has been conveyed to me by men on the street time and time again. Reject me, there will be violence. Accept me, and there will be love (edged with a violent threat). This video isn’t just exploring the pornographic imagination, as Jhally says–at this point, we’ve entered the psychopathic imagination. In this world, a woman will acquiesce to a man’s demands through a combination of pretty words and violence. Durst’s created world is disturbing–a kidnapped and terrified woman will eventually come around to love? Are you fucking kidding me?
At this point, people who haven’t spent a lot of time thinking through rape culture will be screaming. “All men aren’t like that!” Yeah, most of us are aware of that. But it only takes one to change how you approach other interactions forever. It only takes one to destroy your trust in the inherent goodness of other people. And it only takes one to fuck up your life.
The men reading this probably aren’t that one guy. (Then again, you could be…to someone else.)
But most of us have already met him.
Women are told, over and over again, that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe. And in the event that you fail, rape culture will ensure that people will blame you for dropping your vigilance, while directing little, if any attention to the person who actually acted without consent. And this is why we started shifting the conversation to speak to men directly.
Because all the words aimed at us still aren’t keeping us safe.