Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rape Culture: What Is Rape Culture?

I'm hoping to make this the first of a series of posts. Only the first couple are going to be about problems. The rest are going to be solution-focused.

(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.

81 comments:

  1. 1. "There are two clearly defined and opposite genders."
    2. "Women are the other one."


    Oh, that made me shudder. You're right, though.

    Also: none of this is calling you a rapist. (Or a rape victim, for that matter.) But that doesn't mean it's not about you.

    I was actually just reading Malcolm X's autobiography, and this really reminded me of the way he would discuss white devils. He was always very clear that he wasn't referring to any specific white man, necessarily, but merely the cultural devilry perpetrated by the category of white men against the category of black men. (Men, very clearly. He actually first bonded with his ghostwriter by making misogynistic comments together.)

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  2. "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."

    My application is in the mail.

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  3. Hey man, that's cool. Questioning yourself and your assumptions (and reading the damn post) are the first steps on the path to communism.

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  4. No I did actually think about it, and I read your post. Wouldn't comment on it otherwise.

    At the end of this series I would like to see if you have a solution this problem. Honestly nothing practical comes to my mind.

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  5. I'm just thinking, does your ER/hospital have a dedicated Rape Treatment Center? Because mine did, one of the first (and still the best) and while I can believe staff could say that after their training, I can't believe they actually WOULD. I've got bad beliefs, sure, but I recognize them as such and I keep them out of the air (and more importantly) out of patient care because OMG healthcare provider FAIL. (I also have/had the situation of mainly working with male geriatric patients, so just statistically-likelihood-wise never had to be a SANE/do kits.)

    The craft store=rape culture is of course because women are more likely to feel unsafe with after-hours socializing outside the home. That one was obvious to me. As someone with a bit of investment in nightlife culture in a major city, I have a bit of a sad over that one, just because it's my antidote to grimness, and, more crassly, their safety helps me get laid.

    I kinda get that it's important to treat sex as something less than numinous but it's hard to be non-mystical about something I get to do maybe 3-4 times a year, of late.

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  6. Keith - Okay... it's just that your comment seemed to amount to "What rape culture? I didn't rape anyone today!"

    I don't have an amazing "it was the ruby slippers all along" suggestion, but I do have a lot of things people can do, which are going to be entire posts.

    Eurosabra - We do not have a rape treatment center and (for my level at least) no sexual assault training. If we did, honestly, I don't know it would make a difference to the stuff we say to each other at the nurses' station. I mean, man, that's where you can say what you're really thinking! Ugh.

    I'm sorry you aren't having as much sex as you want. But that's a "tough break, man," sorry, not an "apology" sorry.

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  7. Long time reader, first time commenter. I've got to say, I'm really glad you're doing this series. And I'm really glad you mentioned the craft store as being part of rape culture because while it's just a craft store, that is a perfect example of the gender distinction at the core of rape culture.

    I sew and craft, but you know who taught me how to do all that stuff? My husband. That's the only reason I married him :P.

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  8. I've thought about this a bit more. First while I do think that we have some cultural problems labeling the whole thing as a "Rape Culture" seems overly dramatic. Additionally if this is something you truly hope to get traction on this term is going to be very hurtful to your cause and will cause those who might support you to not do so.

    Second, I think your stretching a bit here. A craft store is part of rape culture? Certainly it's an example of how society expects men and women to be different but I am having difficulty seeing how it is related to rape.

    Lastly does having gone to a craft store to purchase Velcro for my bullet proof vest make me more or less manly?

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  9. 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.

    - this is something i will probably never understand. That a big part of what our culture considers to be romance (in books, movies, music, etc.) consists of this particular kind of behavior in a sometimes more, sometimes less creepy form. The basic idea of a intense devotion to someone as a sign of love is nice and all, but the "line" that should be the limit of this kind of thing gets sometimes so blurry in this context that one has to wonder why some people consider a particular song or book romantic and not creepy as hell.

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  10. I loved this post. Really well done, I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

    The concept of rape culture only dawned on me a few months ago-- my brother was out in town, and when he didn't get into the pub, he walked home on his own. We live in a safe enough, well-lit area, only about a mile from town...and I would never EVER even think about doing the same thing myself.

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  11. Keith - The term "rape culture" is an established one that I didn't make up.

    I considered calling it "might be a little bit rude so maybe you could change some things if that isn't a problem culture," but somehow that didn't get my cause the traction I was expecting.

    And although rape culture is not only rape and being part of rape culture does not make you a rapist or rapist sympathizer, it is about rape. The idea that women are different than men leads to the idea that men can't understand women which, combined with the idea that sex is absolutely crucial to your manhood and status, leads to the idea that sometimes rape is a man's best option.

    Lastly, "manly" is a word that doesn't mean anything, but I'm not going to even start being impressed until you go to a craft store to purchase cross-stitch thread for your kitten pillow.

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  12. I do honestly believe that when taken as a whole men and women are different. I also think that at times it can be difficult for the sexes, again as a whole, to understand each other. The "combined with the idea that sex is absolutely crucial to your manhood and status" is what really pisses me off and I wish we could be rid of.

    I think it's important to realize that people such as you and me are outliers. Not only do most people not see the world anything like we do, but they CAN'T. Be it hard wiring and/or social influence I really don't think much conversion can be done.

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  13. A few times a year sounds pretty damn good to a lot of people I know, some of whom are men.

    Anyway, you know how when you've recently broken up and all the songs on the radio are singing your broken heart or full of obnoxiously romantic happy people? Most of the time when I've been adequately romanced, I just didn't notice the radio. Now that I'm obnoxiously happy myself, I don't notice the breakup songs, but I notice how the radio is full of stalker songs.

    I also view your entire series of cosmocking as pointing out and debunking parts of rape culture.

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  14. Kieth: Taken as a whole, men and women are *just people*. The similarities between people are greater than the differences between people with different bits.

    And don't even get me started on "the sexes". There's more than two sexes, and there's more than two genders, and even when a room only contains two sexes and two genders, they don't line up the way you might expect.

    I firmly believe that thinking of the world as being fundamentally composed of two differing groups, instead of thinking of the world as being fundamentally composed of people who have all kinds of characteristics, is a major part of rape culture.

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  15. My rape culture day:

    6:00-7:30: Wake up, in pain, stiff as all hell, and get ready for work. Today's rainy and I feel sad that I can't straighten my hair and do the best that I can with my rain-frizzed waves. Put on full makeup, like I do every day. Convince myself, like I do every day, that I like wearing makeup and that I am not perpetuating woman's-body-as-public-property stuff. It's totally my choice. And not.

    8:30-5:00- At work. All but one of the lawyers are men. All of the support staff are women and have always been women. It was once discussed that a male receptionist might be a better choice (they're more forceful and respectably, you see), but male receptionists are unthinkable! Actual quote from boss.

    So far today, I've heard such discussions as "women are crazy" (from women) and heard a judge described as "that lady judge". Also, boys are easier to raise and little girls are "bitches". It's 1pm.

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  16. I agree with Keith, Rape Culture is a very dramatic label that will probably make many men and women feel uncomfortable.
    I think we should rename it Fuzzy Pink rape Bunny culture Fizzwink, so they don't freak out.

    We should spend alot of time re-branding this issue, because then we may never actually have to talk about the content. ... content makes us nervous.

    ~Lsh

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  17. Unfortunately Men and Women are not "just people" due to social conditioning and/or hard wiring. The vast majority of the population identifies with one or another of the given sexes.

    I realize that there are people who identify with sexes beyond the standard male/female. However in the larger population such people are small enough in number to not have a major impact on the culture as a whole.

    Would it be more helpful if I wrote it as "people who identify as men" and "people who identify as women"?

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  18. Keith - The vast majority of the population uses the label "man" or "woman." This does not mean that there are exactly two kinds of people on Earth. Because someone identifies as a man does not mean that they have everything in common with other men and nothing in common with any women. I got a LOT more into the theory here in this post:

    http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2011/02/gender-smorgasbord.html

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  19. Holly I have read and accept that. Unfortunately when your talking about the number of people we are, IE everyone, some generalizations have to be made. It is regrettable but necessary, otherwise you get so caught up in the details you can't form a coherent strategy.

    As far as the terminology goes call it what you will, I am honestly just trying to help.

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  20. Keith - But eliminating the "exactly two genders which are exactly opposite" idea is the strategy!

    Or a part of it. Like I said, I'm working on "ways to fix stuff" posts, which I should have done in a week or two. That's how you can help.

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  21. "It's actually pronounced 'rah-pi-ess'," said Joe wearily. He'd been explaining his surname all his life, but somehow it never got easier.

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  22. Hmmm...almost like a gender anarchist or something. This should be interesting. Your going to have to fight several thousand years of culture, not to mention some of the more baser human impulses. Also how your going to get the message to the people who need it the most will be difficult.

    I would also like to discuss rape prevention with you at some point but that can wait.

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    1. Keith, you are a counterproductive and clearly unhelpful troll. It's obvious you're not open to education or starting a real dialogue since you've just called someone a "gender anarchist," so why are you still here? Go back to the Men's Rights subreddit or your blog or AVFM or wherever you came from.
      Also, "more baser" is not grammatically a thing.

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  23. Well, you know, if you're fighting thousands of years of culture and base human impulses, you might as well just give up and go home.

    I mean, it's not like humans have managed any significant social advances in all those years. Or that any of those cultures have been meaningfully different, either, they were all monolithic.

    Also, we all know that people never overcome baser impulses... and of course none of what we might consider "base" impulses are culturally constructed in any way.

    Nope! We should just give up, because someone on the internet who doesn't understand thinks it's too hard.

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  24. Holly, I love your blog, and I love this post in particular. I want to thank you for tackling this incredibly important subject.

    I have a suggestion, or perhaps favor, to ask. Would you consider subbing in the word "survivor" for the word "victim?" It may sound like a nit-pick or a bit of trolling, but it comes from a genuine place.

    As both a rape crisis volunteer, and survivor personally, I know both populations are big on using the word survivor. It is more empowering, and at times, more sensitive. I know personally reading this post, I grimaced when I hit the word victim. It is uncomfortable to be forced into re-imaging myself in that light, time and time again. It my sound silly, but survivor is more comfortable and easier on the emotions.

    This is a good post from a rape crisis center about the distinction: http://dcrcc.tumblr.com/post/732094733/survivor-vs-victim. I have had trouble finding a more politicized explanation, which I think may appeal to your blog more, but I know they are out there.

    In any case, I love what you are doing, and don't think you are a bad person for your word choice. I just think you could possibly make this even better, and perhaps a bit more welcoming, by choosing the word survivor!

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  25. Snarksy - That's a reasonable request and I've made that change.

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  26. I just wanted to say, I really appreciated the little comment you made about how no one should be surprised if your views have changed over time! I feel like too many people waste time trying to justify and gloss over things they have changed their minds on. I've been reading quietly for a while, and of course, absorbing information from you and other feminists writing about sex and gender has influenced me, to the point where I often feel kind of embarassed about things I have said or thought in the past. I just want to say that I really appreciate the honesty involved in letting those things stay, and I think it's really cool (and rare) to be able to trace over the development and refinement of your thoughts on this topic over time. Anyways, I'm a big fan and I thought this was a great articulation of these ideas. I think that as someone who started out a little naive to navigating sex-positivity and feminism, being able to see how your opinions have evolved has helped me take the same course.

    I also never knew how involved you are in comments! I will have to start reading them more closely. Thanks!

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  27. Holly's original post: Only the first couple are going to be about problems. The rest are going to be solution-focused.
    Keith: At the end of this series I would like to see if you have a solution this problem. Honestly nothing practical comes to my mind.

    Holly's original post: The effects of rape culture include rape. They also include... completely nonviolent forms of sexism and homophobia.
    Keith: I think your stretching a bit here. A craft store is part of rape culture? Certainly it's an example of how society expects men and women to be different but I am having difficulty seeing how it is related to rape.

    Um.

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  28. Thanks for this! Culture is hard to pin down as an issue, and this post is so complex but not shy about tackling it all. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    @Keith, why does it have to be a national social revolution or nothing? Reading about this issue and just talking with my friends about sex has changed the way I think about sexuality and culture. Just making my own social circle less amenable to rape would count as a success to me. Less rape = less rape, not disappointing failure of the revolution.

    Also, as to the "several thousand years of culture" - None of our sexual mores are at all old. Take age of consent - it used to be 10 or 12 in most places. According to wikipedia, the age of consent in Delaware in 1895 was 7! And now we're freaking out about teenagers sexting each other. Raising the age of consent is a huge intervention in our society's conception of rape, and there's been a tremendous cultural resonance, too.

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  29. "I do honestly believe that when taken as a whole men and women are different. I also think that at times it can be difficult for the sexes, again as a whole, to understand each other."

    To my mind, really, who cares if they are? A feminist worldview shouldn't rely on denying all innate differences between the sexes. There are biologically based differences between lots of groups -- say, between people in their twenties and people in their thirties. The two groups' hormones, brain chemistry and personality traits will differ statistically in ways that are biologically based and not just culturally constructed. One group might have better impulse control, the other might be more willing to take risks that pay off. Still, we don't view the two groups as grand cosmic opposites or believe their membership in a category should supersede their individual personality in terms of how they should be treated. In fact, we're usually pretty happy not even knowing which group someone belongs to.

    Imperfect analogy, but you see my point. It's not the fact that some aspects of gender are "real" that's the problem, it's a culture's naturalizing of the idea that two different groups are opposites & that it "should" be hard for them to understand each other. When statistical likelihoods mysteriously turn into prescriptions for individual behavior (I "should" be shorter than my boyfriend, even though I'm 5'10"; I "should" dislike casual sex & only want relationships, because some study showed women are 12% more likely to want relationships), then people start getting anxious about any individual that breaks the rules, and trying to force them back into the status quo.

    Also, when you choose to fight sexism, you're of necessity "fighting thousands of years of culture." There's a book called "Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice," for good reason. Since most of us haven't been around for the whole whatever-thousand years, but just a few dozen (give or take), there's a good chance that we can shift the way people think within our lifetimes.

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  30. Keith - It may seem like there is a whole ocean of cultural expectations to deal with in order to eliminate rape culture and that one person doesn't stand a chance fighting against it, but there is hope. It's called teaspooning. If I attacked the ocean with my one little teaspoon, little would change. But I don't have to do it alone - if I can convince one or two people to join me, then they can convince others who will convince others and eventually a majority of people will be standing on the shore, using their teaspoons in unison to empty the ocean of rape culture. So, by blogging about this, Holly is wielding a mighty teaspoon and calling others to join her. Those people could be teachers who encourage their students to drop the gender essentialism. They could be politicians who will promote egalitarian policies. They could even just be parents who raise their children to be better about this than their own generation. Every little bit helps.

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  31. Interesting series-to-be. I look forward to the rest.
    Just one teeny tiny thing - I can't get over the whole craft store issue. While I believe that, yes, there may be some few "men" who are pressured out of a love of crafts for fear of what people might think of them (or do to them!) and vice versa for "women", I genuinely believe that people do things like crafts or any other hobby because they just plain want to. Or don't, if they don't.
    Speaking from a personal viewpoint (how else?) I don't remember ever having the urge to be artsy-craftsy in that way. I've painted, baked, done decorative knotwork, danced, sewn, knitted (a bit) and a few other things besides, as I have felt the need, but I've never spent time in a craft shop mulling over bead colours. I don't feel repressed. I don't feel like I've been excluded from some sort of club, and I'd be happy to go in if I ever needed to. How on earth does my absence, or that of people like me, tie in to Rape Culture?

    (I have a feeling that this will turn out to be The Issue That Wouldn't Die...)

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  32. Mr. Monster - You personally may not be into craft stores. But I have trouble believing that's an inherent trait of maleness. It's not so much that guys are thinking "I'd love to take up beading, but I'm terrified to," as that they've shunted that whole field of inquiry into "I'm not into girl stuff" at such an early age that a lot of them never really considered it.

    (And really, yeah, the craft store is not the biggest deal that ever bigged. It's more of a "not in my sexual utopia!" thing than a "this is directly responsible for all the violence in the world" thing.)

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  33. I just want to express appreciation and gratitude for your writing! Sometimes when I feel completely alone in my desire for a sex positive healthy culture writing like yours keeps me going!

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  34. Here I am all ready to storm the patriarcy and now you guys want to be all sensible and stuff. *puts away molotovs*

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  35. How come you can change "victim" to "survivor" for the sake of sensitivity (even though the words don't mean the same thing at all), but picking a less misleading name for "rape culture" is too much?

    I do agree with you about most of this stuff, by the way. I just hate to see the English language mistreated so.

    When you have to spend several paragraphs explaining that no, the label doesn't mean what it sounds like it means, and half the readers still don't get it, that's a very good indication you should call it something else.

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    1. If by "half" you mean "two commenters," then...your math skills need work. The term is "rape culture." you don't like it, don't use it. also, responding to an actual rape survivor's request seems different from making a couple people feel less uncomfortable by not using the accepted terminology.

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  36. The music thing?

    That one is scary. It's so very common. At one point I stared compiling

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  37. Above post was made by me, by accident was I managed to press "post comment" when trying to change profile.

    The music thing?

    That one is scary. It's so very common. At one point I started compiling a list of music that I otherwise enjoyed that was actually about being creepy/stalkerific/rapeish.

    The list was rather depressing since it basically left me with classical music (And that's probably only because there's no lyrics there) as the only thing I should listen to.

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  38. "Rape culture" is an established concept in feminism, not my naming. And even though it's not just rape, rape IS an important part of it. We're not talking about sexism or patriarchy in general but specifically sexual violence and exploitation. Renaming it "sexism culture" or some similar weaksauce isn't just unnecessary, it's imprecise.

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  39. 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?

    I love you for making feel two COMPLETELY OPPOSING feelings within one little paragraph. As a person who was raped while under the influence (of weed) that is the exact type of judgment that kept me from seeking legal action and causes a high level of shame and responsibility in me, but "it wasn't super rapey rape" made me smile so hard (even if that statement is also used in excess to make excuses). I love the way you write.

    I also have too much to respond to (damn you working third shift!), but I wanted to say

    @miette: your 1:05 comment about the sexes is made of yes and win.

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  40. Dear Holly,

    Thank you for articulating the things i wish to say. You do it so well, and so much clearer then I can. This is an issue that's been bugging me for a while now (boys do thing, girls do this) and thank you for explaining to me WHY. I always knew it was a problem, but now I can explain to others why I feel that way. (and send them here to understand better).

    <3 Dorkiewitch

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  41. Just a suggestion for names: "Sexual Violence Culture".

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    Replies
    1. You know men can get raped, too, right? Just in case that was your motivation. I'm sure you're totally down with feminism and not one of those guys, but just in case, FYI.

      Delete
    2. There's never been a cure for cancer, either. Doesn't mean that one is impossible, or that having one wouldn't be beneficial.

      Delete
  42. Oh my god, Keith.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=%22rape+culture%22

    Seriously. It's a thing. There's even a Wikipedia article. The train has left the station.

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  43. I don't understand why people feel the need to come into Holly's space and dictate the language *they* feel she should be using, rather than coming into her space, absorbing and thinking about her points, and then creating their own space to use the language they think is appropriate.

    Also, what Anonymous 12:11 and Holly and plenty of other feminists have said on the topic of the name already.

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  44. The funny part is when the anon went and made the "hey, you made a completely different language change for a different person for completely different reasons, therefore you have no excuse not to do this because you're clearly a language-changing sorta girl" argument.

    It's almost... symbolic.

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  45. The entire point of the exercise is articulating what it is about our culture that lets us see women as a sexual commodity to the point that rape has this bizarre social context completely different from any other crime where even a judge in a court of law will essentially deem that the rapist more or less had the right to the woman's body because she'd given it up somehow.

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  46. I don't really see what the big deal is about the term "rape culture." Surely if people heard someone say (for instance) "we live in a culture of violence," most of them would be able to pick up on the fact that it's intended to mean certain aspects of culture promote and normalize violence, not that everyone is violent or that every aspect of culture = literal violence.

    Surely it's the same with "rape culture." I can see how people might have trouble believing the concept itself, since rape is almost never explicitly condoned in our culture. But if you're going to accept that a "culture of sexual violence" does exist, I don't see the benefit to toning down the name. Yes, the word "rape" sounds lurid. It's a lurid & shocking reality that we're being asked to accept.

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  47. "(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.)"

    is Twisty Faster no longer fucking insane then?

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  48. Oh no, Twisty Faster is still a completely obnoxious blowhard. I've gone from agreeing with about 5% of what she says to, like, 10%. I don't expect to go much further.

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  49. Holly - point taken, and I agree many guys may not have thought as hard about taking up beading as they did about, say, football or woodwork: still, I think you may be in danger of confusing cause with effect. The craft shop is the trivial example, but in many other cases the thought process might not be, "I don't like this because it's girl's stuff," but rather, "I don't like this, nor do my male friends, but girls seem to find it fun therefore it must be girl's stuff."
    I agree, that in itself is a self-perpetuating mindset, but correlating two traits like that on gut instinct is what people do best. And, yeah, not the biggest ever bigged: I do like your style.

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  50. Anon 12:11, ha, I just made this for Keith and that other Anonymous:

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=rape+culture

    Seriously, people. Just because you've never heard of it doesn't mean Holly made it up today. If this is a new concept for you, listen and learn instead of automatically objecting and looking like an asshat. The first time I heard that term I was like, "do whah?? But, wait, I don't get..." So keep reading.

    Shakesville's series of feminism 101 stuff for dudes is good reading too. Here's the latest, which fits with what's happening here:
    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/03/feminism-101-helpful-hints-for-dudes_10.html

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  51. I find it somewhat hilarious that in a comment thread about altering ten thousand years of human culture to no longer correspond to the admittedly terrible practices of the past, the idea of altering a 35 year old phrase describing that culture is utterly taboo.

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  52. Could it be possible that we are in the natural evolution of the species? In cave man days sex was to perpetuate the species. No foreplay, no cuddling, probably no female orgasm due to the actual sex act. It wasn't rape to them, it was just animal instinct. As man has gone from a brutal survival type society to what we have today (at least in most of our societies today), more loving, caring, and emotional type relationships. We just well could be still evolving on the emotional level further away from cave man type of thinking. At the physical level man as a whole is still the dominant physically, so that is where, at least to me, the internal conflict occurs within some men.

    Will this change over time?
    Will evolution "solve" the "rape culture" issue?

    I don't have the answers, but just food for thought for everyone.

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  53. "In cave man days sex was to perpetuate the species. No foreplay, no cuddling, probably no female orgasm due to the actual sex act." Rong. Read Olivia Judson's "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation," Hannah Holmes' "The Well-Dressed Ape," or Ryan and Jetha's "Sex at Dawn" for pop-culture analyses of human biology that offer more accurate info. Geico commercials and old Playboy cartoons aren't the best source of facts on how "cavemen" behaved.

    "In a comment thread about altering ten thousand years of human culture...the idea of altering a 35 year old phrase describing that culture is utterly taboo."
    But like... the 35 years of discussion about rape culture is part of a tradition we're trying to perpetuate. You basically just said people in this thread want to "alter" the assumptions we think are harmful but not alter the ones we think are helpful. Yeah, that's pretty much the idea.

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  54. By the way, have you guys heard about that offensive New York Times article about the gang rape in Texas? Here's their half-assed apology for it, which links back to the main article: http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/gang-rape-story-lacked-balance/
    It's a classic example of "rape culture" in action, but the reader outrage is heartening to see.

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  55. anon @ 11:15

    cavemen didn't have much else to do for fun except sex so they were prob. pretty good at it, also plenty of lower animals have non-reproductive sex.

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  56. Great discussion & links - Holly, I'm looking forward to the series!

    Does one of you have a good succinct definition of "tone argument" I can give people? it seems like the crankiness around actually saying "rape culture" fits into that, but my google-fu is failing me right now.

    The analogy of male/female differences to 20-something/30-something differences: THANK YOU. I will be ganking this analogy, as it always makes me crazy when people try to generalize about The Difference Between two subsets of humankind that have *overlapping* sets of traits.

    flightless

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  57. Flightless: In fugitivus's post, look at point 6 and her response (also labeled 6).

    http://www.fugitivus.net/2009/08/25/a-few-things-to-stop-doing-when-you-find-a-feminist-blog/

    http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument

    http://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/the-tone-argument/

    I don't know if any of that is what you were looking for, but hopefully it helped?

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  58. I am amused (this is irony) by the cries to change the expression 'rape culture', considering that avoiding the word 'rape' (unless it's for the lulz!) is an essential part of rape culture.

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  59. I so love it when teh menz come onto a feminist blog to tell us gurlz that we're doing feminism wrong.

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  60. Flightless, I posted links, but I they don't seem to have gotten through:

    http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument

    http://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/the-tone-argument/

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  61. I have to ask, Holly.

    Given your definition of a rape culture, is there any culture of appreciable size (say, 10 thousand members at least) that is not a rape culture? For that matter, has there ever been a culture of appreciable size that does not check a least a few of your rape culture boxes?

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  62. I'm not an every-culture-ever-ologist.

    But the fact that something hasn't existed doesn't mean that it can't be created. Or that we can't at least get less rapey, even if we never reach utopia. Surely "less violence" is preferable to the status quo even if it's not "no violence."

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  63. No argument here. I was just wondering if you had a particular example of how this new culture would work.

    You're right, I don't think there's any way to reach utopia on this one. But it'll be interesting to read your (and other's) thoughts on how to make steps in the right direction.

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  64. Hey Holly!

    Awesome post. Rape culture is really hard thing to tackle. I think you did a really awesome job! I am really looking forward to your kink and the rape culture post, its something that I have been trying to get a handle on for a while.

    The craft store example made me think of acceptable places for women. When you see conversations like the one in the ER, you hear "well she shouldn't have been drunk/alone/at the bar/ dressed that way etc etc". Basically the idea I take out of it is- if women venture out into the public sphere, they are putting themselves at risk. They are then responsible for whatever happens when they take that risk. So women should really just stay in womanly spaces- the home, craft stores etc.

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  65. Most recent anon:

    I read somewhere (sorry, I don't remember details) that there's been at least one culture where (hetero) sex was considered a sacred/spiritual thing - a gift that a woman gave a man. And if a man took that "gift" instead of waiting for it to be given freely, the gods would be mightily pissed off and probably smite the rapist into next week.

    So that's one way a society could work. It's not perfect, since it still views sex as an object rather than an activity, but it's...something. And we can bring a bit of this attitude to our current culture by making it a huge stigma to rape people.

    As it stands, if a guy brags that he fucked a passed-out girl at a party, he'll probably get high-fived...and the girl will be blamed/laughed at/ostracized. If the reaction to the rapist was, instead, closer to: "You are pathetic. What, you can't manage to attract a woman who's awake?" that would go a long way toward changing rape culture.

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  66. I guess it might show up in the feminism/rape culture post, but I wonder, you (holly) mention "forced prostitution and exploitative porn" as some of the more serious facets of the rape culture.

    I'm wondering about your view on prostitution and porn (p&p) in general. I know that you (and a lot of other sex positive feminists) argue that p&p isn't a problem, since women has the right to decide what to do with their own bodies.

    And I'm with that argument, I'm just wondering if you don't think that p&p, the two main sources of sex being a thing, a ware that can be owned and given and taken and sold. Can you really balance accepting p&p since it's probably terrible damaging to the case against the rape society?

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  67. I assume based on my observation that rape can be concentrated in certain subcultures within a society, such as certain families, student bodies or communities. I also address the category of rape that is more about power than sexual satisfaction.

    Holly, but have you considered including disempowering of individual men and cultural beliefs that intimidation is OK as part of a rape culture? A psychologist once told me men that rape children often feel powerless and its a way of having power over someone. He treated the powerlessness as a way of reforming them. I've also had sexual assault used against me as a tool of intimidation. Another belief that I've heard to be held by rapists is that its ok to rape family members and its OK to hurt them.

    On the other hand, I wonder if I am just describing dysfunctional ideas held by individuals ....

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  68. Hershele OstropolerMarch 15, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    It took me almost a week to have a chance to really get the attention it deserves, so I have a feeling this will all be overlooked, but I can hope.

    (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.)

    I had the Twisty question too.

    Ahem. You have said -- in different posts, but all in the past year and a half -- practically nothing is hard-wired, most things are cultural and when I think the thoughts and feel the feelings you say the Patriarchy wants me to think and feel, it's an expression of my true self and not at all cultural (paraphrases, obviously), and here you seem to be moving away from the latter.

    But I'm going to try not to make this about analyzing Holly. Bearing in mind that this is the first of a series and you did specificaly say this is forthcoming, I want to know how (if) you would distinguish rape-culture-derived female submissiveness and female masochism, and the purly internal kind. And generally how you tease out (generic) your actual personality from cultural products, if that's even possible -- how can I tell the difference between not liking crafty stuff because I don't like it and not thinking I'm allowed to like it beecause I have facial hair and a dick, and is there even a difference in the first place?

    * * *

    I'm sorry you aren't having as much sex as you want. But that's a "tough break, man," sorry, not an "apology" sorry.

    I'm generally tough-break sorry when people aren't getting all the sex they want, but I think it's pretty clear Eurosabra largely brought it on himself.

    Second, I think your stretching a bit here. A craft store is part of rape culture? Certainly it's an example of how society expects men and women to be different but I am having difficulty seeing how it is related to rape.

    You're having difficulty seeing how different societal expectations of men and women is related to rape? I mean by itself perhaps, although just by itself it encourages men to think of women as other, but almost all the differences -- except child-rearing -- are that men do the real, important stuff and women do frivolous, trivial stuff, and don't really count as full people.

    Your going to have to fight several thousand years of culture, not to mention some of the more baser human impulses.
    [sic]

    Anyway, I don't think we're talking about base human impulses, at least not much. Or even thousands of years of culture -- a couple hundred, maybe. Just, the last couple of generations of culture can easily seem that way because it's what we're used to.

    I just wanted to say, I really appreciated the little comment you made about how no one should be surprised if your views have changed over time! I feel like too many people waste time trying to justify and gloss over things they have changed their minds on.

    We pick it up from politicians, There seems to be a code that if a politician says something, and then ever says anything that contradicts it -- even if the culture changes, even if the situation changes, even if new facts come to light -- he or she is unreliable and unprincipled. All sides do it and all sides get it, and it seems to have spread to political blogs and thence to all blogs.

    Certainly if Holly's allowed to use her sex blog to discuss broader issues, she's allowed to have evolving positions on those issues, and even to change positions entirely.

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  69. I know I'm late to the party on this one, but having recently gone back and read a bunch of your old posts, I'm really enjoying being able to see the ways in which your understanding of feminist issues has changed.

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  70. This post is full of win.

    I think you'll probably mention this in the Queerness and Rape Culture post when that happens, but I would really appreciate a discussion on same-sex sexual abuse.

    I am a woman who was raped/assaulted by a woman in a Ladies night at a swingers club. It was hard as hell to find any resources that are relatable, because just about everything focused on how men are socialised to rape. Which - true, but *how does that help me?* Then there was the trouble of finding stuff from a sex-positive perspective, trying to overcome the shame of "well you went to a club, you knew the risks" (which I got from my family).

    But yes. If you could talk about that that would be so helpful and appreciated.

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  71. Wow, why is anyone giving Keith the time of day at all? He is obviously derailing. Nothing he says has not been said before and I'm sure he knows that. He's just trying to waste people's time and energy by engaging in tired old arguments that are extensively refuted in hundreds of places and resources - and thereby distract attention from the key topic at hand. And he can't even recognise that doing this is him significantly participating in rape culture. Waste of time and effort, folks, he's a lost cause.

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  72. Anon - If people who are part of rape culture are a "lost cause," then rape culture cannot be changed.

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  73. While everything you mentioned is certainly sexist, and some of it definitely contributes to rape, I don't think all of it does.

    For example, the craft store thing. Though it's a bad thing that mostly women enter craft stores, I don't think it contributes to rape.

    Or in short, the point I want to make is that not everything that is sexist contributes to rape. Some things can be sexist without contributing to rape and some things can contribute to rape without being sexist.

    Also I agree rape culture is often a bad term for what you're talking about, and yes I know it's a preexisting term. It's a stupid preexisting term. It's like patriarchy; though the observation is perfectly sane and supportable the term makes it sound like conspiracy theorists and just makes it easier to dismiss the observation.

    ALSO also, the idea that there are two genders that are entirely distinct from each other is certainly not thousands of years old: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_sex_two_sex_theory

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  74. "I do honestly believe that when taken as a whole men and women are different. I also think that at times it can be difficult for the sexes, again as a whole, to understand each other." - Keith

    This, in my opinion, is the crux of the issue. Yes, there are differences between the sexes. But the problem is not that there are differences--the problem is that people cannot RESPECT those differences. That difference is seen as a weakness, rather than an important point of human variance from which the collective consciousness can be expanded and educated with.

    Yes, men and women (and every other expression of sex and gender and what-have-you) are different. But the entire BASIS for rape culture is that difference is bad. One type of expression and experience is inherently "better" than another, and therefore anyone who has that expression/experience deserves to be subjugated, or in some cases, outright abused.

    And the idea that one person is "better" or "more worthy" than another because of their expressions/experiences, goes WAY beyond the simple sex/gender binaries. It's racism. It's classism. It's nationalism. It's elitism. It's stereotyping. It's credentialism. It's just about every type of unfair judgment that one human could ever make about another.

    I am not talking about eliminating differences; this "everyone is essentially, deep-down, honestly just the same!" sort of mentality can be just as harmful. There are infinitely many experiences, outlooks, and expressions of humankind. I think it is only after we realize that the issue of Rape Culture TRANSCENDS sex and gender that we can even begin to make progress towards correcting it.

    - D.T.

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  75. OMG, srsly, thank you for this post. I just figured something out from reading all of this (including the comments): the problem I have with sexism is not "Women are just as good as/better than men!" It's that every woman is an individual, and sexism doesn't accept that--it treats them as a single unit, with the same wants/needs/desires etc. If you figure one out, you figured them all out!

    / sarcasm

    Another thing I thought of is how responsibility is placed on the victim of sexual assault. While it's argued one should take preventative measures as a safeguard, responsibility should still go to the attacker.

    If I left my window open, did that give anyone the right to enter my home and steal my computer? Nope. Likewise, if I wear "revealing clothing", I did not give anyone the right to enter my body and steal sex from me. But the law will prosecute a burglar without blaming the homeowner--why does it not prosecute the rapist for violating the body owner? B/c of these culturally-ingrained beliefs mentioned in the post. *That* is how rape culture perpetuates.

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  76. reading this post as a trip, it makes absolute sense, we live in a culture that has stoped valuing women and only cares about instant gratification.

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  77. Great post. I wasn't very sure of the concept but this (in particular the daily journal) makes it very clear

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