(And yes, some of this does go against things I've said previously on this blog, particularly pre-2009 or so. But then, a lot of the older posts aren't entirely in line with what I currently believe. I've been over a lot of ground while writing this blog and I never intended it to be a single coherent manifesto.)
It was while reading Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti's Yes Means Yes that I finally understood what the phrase "rape culture" really means. And that yes, we live in a rape culture.
What Rape Culture Is Not
It does not mean that our culture explicitly approves of rape. It does not mean that rape is a universal experience--the majority of people will never be raped and a larger majority of people will never rape. And it isn't a concept pertaining only to rape itself. Rape is the purest expression of rape culture, but far from the only one.
When I name something as part of rape culture, I don't mean that the thing itself is a form of rape. Rape is the act of engaging in physical sexual activity with someone without their consent, and to call other things "rape" cheapens and muddies the issue. So abstinence-only education is part of rape culture, but it's not some kind of goofy "educational rape."
I'm also not saying that every aspect of rape culture "causes" rape. While I believe abstinence-only education contributes to rape, I'm not trying to posit some kind of direct "video games cause violence!"-type causation here. Abstinence-only education is one facet, a phenomenon that is both effect and partial cause, of a big complicated paradigm which, taken in total, enables and tolerates rape.
Also: none of this is calling you a rapist. (Or a rape survivor, for that matter.) But that doesn't mean it's not about you. Learning how you're contributing to rape culture--and, later in this series, both philosophical and practical ways to work against it--is still a way of fighting rape and exploitation. If you say "well, I didn't rape anyone today," I'm not going to disagree. I'm going to ask if you did or said or thought something that enabled someone who enabled someone who raped. If you didn't, you can stop reading now and apply for sainthood. Bye.
Now that it's just us sinners here, let's get started.
What Rape Culture Is
Rape culture is the collection of beliefs and behaviors that enable rape.
With very few exceptions, rape is not a random act of violence. Hitting someone with a spaghetti squash while dressed as Eddie Munster is a random act of violence. Forcing someone culturally considered different and lesser to engage in an act culturally considered taboo and mystical and ego-defining is an extremely specific act of violence. Rapists are not "just evil people," they're people being evil in a way that rape culture encourages, enables, and tolerates.
(Rape is biological? Bullshit. Pissing is biological. Pissing in a toilet while wanting privacy and cleaning yourself with paper is cultural. Sex and aggression may be innate, but the ways we express them are as culturally defined as rock'n'roll.)
The effects of rape culture include rape. They also include other forms of violence, such as many murders and assaults, and other forms of sexual exploitation, such as forced prostitution and exploitative porn. They include completely nonviolent forms of sexism and homophobia. They include plain old bad sex and relationships. None of these things would go away if rape culture was eliminated, but they'd be much less common and much more clearly recognized as wrong when they did occur. Rape wouldn't be gone forever, but it would no longer be an integrated part of our world.
I'll get into detail about what the beliefs and behaviors of rape culture are in the next post. But I think the most fundamental ones are:
1. "There are two clearly defined and opposite genders."
2. "Women are the other one."
3. "Sex and the sexual body are taboo."
4. "Sex and love are magical and mysterious."
5."The sex you have defines your entire self."
6. "Sex is an object, not an activity."
7. "A person's sexuality can be separated from their self."
Obviously, your average Joe Rapist would not articulate most of these thoughts, but he believes them, on a certain knee-jerk level. To believe that sex can be taken from a person, that it's worth taking, and that you need to take it is to buy into those beliefs.
And rape culture is when people who mostly aren't rapists continuously believe and reinforce these things.
My Day In Rape Culture
This is not any sort of "composite." All of these things literally happened yesterday.
00:00 - I sit down at the ER secretary desk and read through the list of patients. Two (out of about twenty) are women who were assaulted by their male partners that night, and another one is a psychiatric patient with PTSD from a rape.
01:00 - Coworkers at the ER discuss a sexual assault patient from that other shift. She was drunk, you know, and awfully naive. I'm sure they won't prosecute, I mean, what kind of case do they have? Can't be responsible for people who can't even take the simplest steps to protect themselves. Sure the guy was scum, but it wasn't really super rapey rape, and what did she think would happen?
02:00 - Two male coworkers read from a "wacky sex facts" phone app loudly at my desk. At first I laugh along--and I am amused, even though I know they're being kind of inappropriate. I stifle the urge to contribute any personal knowledge, because it would be socially alienating or even job-risking to reveal my sexuality. I also note that the sex facts are almost all "woman facts," skewing heavily to description of the female anatomy and of how to please a woman.
04:00 - The psychologist who evaluates psychiatric patients to see if they need to be admitted comes by my desk muttering about how the PTSD patient barely speaks goddamn English and they shouldn't let them into this country to use up all our resources. (She is a legal resident.) The order for her to be discharged pops up on my computer shortly after.
07:00 - I leave work. The song that comes up on my car radio is about following a woman around until she loves the male singer, no matter how long that takes.
09:00 - I stop at the craft store to pick up some jewelry-making supplies. Every person there is a woman. This is a little because women are more likely to have time bored alone at home, and a lot because a guy stitching a sampler or stringing a necklace would be so gaaaay.
10:00 - I get home. I keep the curtains to my bedroom shut unless I'm awake and in the room, because I have a ground-floor bedroom that faces a public space. When I'm away, I close them to hide my computer and TV and stuff. When I'm sleeping, I close them to hide myself.
10:30 - To fall asleep, I masturbate. I think about having rough, painful, and specifically forced sex and it gets me off. This may just be my personal tendency to masochism, or it may be the absorbed idea that this would be the most intense and passionate sex of all. It's a fuzzy distinction, and one that's hard to face head-on philosophically when it's only in your head and you're about twenty seconds from orgasm. I sort of try to tell myself "oh, she had a safeword, she totally just decided not to use it."
(12:00 - I wake up and can't fall back asleep. This isn't rapey, it's just really really annoying.)
13:00 - I look at the Pervocracy comment moderation queue. There's a lot of stuff in there that I feel weird about prior-restraining, but can't bring myself to take the action of publishing them either, so they just sit in the queue rotting and making me frowny every time I update my comments.
I know women will never take personal responsibility for their own actions(Getting drunk,thinking it's ok to ruin a man because he didn't return a call etc) but i felt the need to defend men because of this outrageous blog. Now I don't even care when women cry rape because I'll be honest i think they 99% of them are liars.
I'm aware that this is probably a troll. That doesn't negate the fact that they decided I should be trolled and I should be trolled in this way.
14:00 - I flip through Cosmopolitan briefly.
15:30 - I take a shower. I wear a bathrobe to go from my bedroom to the bathroom, even though it's like three feet away, in case my roommate sees me. I'm not afraid of him, but there's still a rule he shouldn't see me naked.
16:00 - I get dressed to go out. Nothing too revealing--I've gotten shit before for looking too slutty. Nothing too slouchy--I've gotten shit before for looking too gay or too unsexy.
17:00 - I get ready to meet a male friend for dinner and take him home to fool around. I've had him over before and I know him to be an entirely gentle and respectful person, and one who's well aware of gender and sexuality issues. Of course I don't think he's going to rape me; I don't think he's even going to be impolite to me! Yet even then there's a certain nervousness I can't quash. A certain feeling that once I open my door to him I'm committing to something, if not intercourse, something beyond what I might really desire.
(18:00 on - Everything goes great and when I'm too tired to do more than a little fooling, he doesn't push me and just cuddles and is sweet. You did not rape-culture me, friend!)
Obviously these things cover the gamut from "holy crap that's horrible" to "wow, that's a stretch, the craft store is rape culture?" (It is! I'll stand by that! But it's a rather tangential expression of the more abstract parts. I don't think that getting men into beading is an anti-rape Priority One task.) But that's one random day.
Coming up: "The Beliefs and Behaviors of Rape Culture," and then the fun parts: "Kink Versus Rape Culture," "Feminism Versus Rape Culture," "Queerness Versus Rape Culture," "Joy Versus Rape Culture"! Or something like that. TBD.