Some Notes On Rape Culture (Participation)

******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).







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.

Say what?

Turns out, Damon (a.k.a. The Champ) decided to create a really flip response to Zerlina Maxwell’s 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.

It also occurs in music videos. In the talk, I illustrate these points with clips from Byron Hurt’s Beyond Beats and Rhymes, and from Sut Jhally’s Dreamworlds 3. (Some images NSFW.)

(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.


7 thoughts on “Some Notes On Rape Culture (Participation)

  1. I think that the fact the women are seen as sexual objects in our society is something that is never going to stop. The thing that confuses me is that women are portrayed this way and then people act so surprised by all of the sexual assaults and rapes that happen every day. I’m obviously not trying to make up excuses for the people that commit these crimes, but it is ironic to me that people don’t realize that there could be a correlation between the two. Maybe if women were portrayed differently then sexual assaults would not happen so much.

  2. It seems that in this discussion on rape and rape culture the issue apparent is a social and cultural one and it is historically embedded in men’s minds that they should not take all the blame for rape cases. However, this belief is wrong for one main reason, unresponsiveness. As is shown in the variance in the amount of rape awareness and prevention related articles between female intended magazines like, Cosmopolitan and lack of rape prevention or awareness related articles in male intended magazines. Men for some reason in modern institutions, whether it is for a fear of losing masculinity or just is an overall ignorance in the male culture, do not bring social awareness to other males. These ideas throughout male’s head further their ignorance to the fact men are still the sole ones responsible when rape does actually occurs. Further, men’s apparent ignorance on the matter of rape helps to explain their qualifying idea of women bringing it upon themselves. Do young girls bring it upon themselves when playing at a park or walking through a mall or at a movie theater? Drinking is a problem for both sexes and it is true it worsens the problem and likelihood of rape and rape related incidents however, it is not the woman’s fault that because of certain evil people she cannot drink alcohol without having to worry about those people taking advantage. The question which remains now is how can all men come to a better realization to the facts of rape and its undoing’s?

    Ian Cook

  3. Adds like those promote a culture where women should be dominated by men. They all look oiled up and vey sexual, the way the one women is laying also makes her look like a victim with all the men around her. While most of these adds are suppose to be aimed as towards women, the way that they are photographed makes them appeal more to men. As long as society keeps portraying these images it is going to be hard to break this mold as women as sex objects and men being more dominate.

  4. Women are portrayed as sexual objects in almost all forms of advertisement. Men are considered successful the more women that they are surrounded with on a daily basis. In most music videos, women are extremely sexualized, wearing next to nothing and dancing in a sexual way. With this mentality of women so advertised, males become desensitized to how easily “getting lucky” at a party can very quickly lead to rape. However, I believe that most rape cases need to be interpreted in a “case by case” manner. In the example stated where the man that hooked up with a girl at a party, and it ruined his life due to the misunderstanding and the label of “rape.” I believe that it really becomes the responsibility of the friends of both male and female when it comes to making sure that both parties don’t get into a situation in which either the male or the female will do something that they would later regret.

  5. Rape culture is something that has existed for a very long time because men have historically dominated over women. The fact that rape culture has become so commonly accepted by society, whether it be in music, movies, advertising, or by the media has made a lot of women feel like it’s acceptable to act this way, which leads to more sexual assault. It’s a vicious cycle really. Women who dance in videos or are involved in prostitution are more promoted to our society than women who are more conservative. This makes people (young girls especially) think that this is what women are supposed to be like, and it causes the males of that generation to think it’s acceptable to engage in rape culture. It is a never ending cycle that won’t ever just disappear. In reality it may get worse, because of the impact the media has on modern society. I feel like there is almost a negative feeling towards feminists in society today because people are afraid of change, men are afraid of being over-ridden because of all these portrayals of how men need to be “manly men”, and the government is continuing to regulate society and the economical aspect of keeping certain cities in a poverty ridden state.

  6. In my view, at present, the status of women is still lower than men in the society. In the place with poor law and order, the rape happen very often. In addition, rape is usually happen after the party because women wearing sexy and people drink a lot. Rape happen all over the world because women and men exist around the world. At last, I think I still need to know more information about the rape culture.

  7. Men’s domination over women is a constant theme in society today. Movies, pictures, and advertisements all showcase that women are sexual objects and should be dominated by men. These images have embedded themselves in society and have helped the continuation of rape culture. Rape stories are mostly shared in women magazines pointing that it was the women’s fault and that we are suppose to be aware and avoid such situation where rape could occur. Society ignores the fact that men are the cause of most rape, so these stories should really be put in men magazines. Mentality on rape culture is slow to change because the ignorance to how women are depicted in societal context that makes rape seem okay.

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