Rape Culture Is a Thing

Today I ran across a fabulous post about what rape culture looks like by Melissa McEwan at her blog Shakesville.  As she explains, “Rape culture involves the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant.”  Or another way that rape culture is commonly articulated is that our society tends to find violence sexy, and to accept that sex is often violent.  This attitude results in lots of women and men, children and adults, being raped.

Photo by xoder.

Because I read and talk a lot about sexual violence, and the cultural brew from which it condenses, I frequently encounter people who don’t believe that rape culture exists.  So, for what it’s worth, here are some of the most obvious signs that our culture is a rape culture:

  • The constant fear of sexual assault affects the daily behaviors of most women.  Ask a woman how she chooses where and when to go for a run.  Ask what her routine is for approaching her car when she leaves work late. 
  • Women are frequently told that they are responsible for preventing rape.  They should dress modestly, not go out alone at night, not get drunk, etc.  It’s is relatively rare to hear anti-rape messages directed toward (potential) rape perpetrators or bystanders.
  • Many people consider the lack of a clearly articulated objection to sex to be equivalent to sexual consent.  It is rare to find a person who will argue the opposite:  True consent requires a free and clear (i.e, not coerced, pressured, or not fully conscious) indication in favor of having sex--every time. But, of course, that’s the best way to make sure that you really have consent.
  • It is not uncommon to find examples of victims of sexual violence being accused of either fabricating or enjoying that violence. 
  • The media is full of examples of women as sex objects, presented as a feminine ideal.  And yet, when women behave like the examples they see in the media, if they are then raped, they are blamed for the rape, exactly because of that behavior.
  • It is common for the media to label survivors of sexual assault “accusers”, while victims of other crimes are called “alleged victims”, or just “victims”.
  • We have an expression to excuse sexually violent behavior in men:  “boys will be boys”.   There is no expression for accepting sexually violent, or even risk taking (getting drunk, dressing sexy, etc.) behavior in women.  “Girls will be girls” is not a valid excuse, apparently.
  • Most men consider one of the worst insults they can receive to be about being like a girl or woman in some way.
  • Lots of folks see date rape as some lesser category of sexual violence than stranger rape.  Because, of course, it’s so much easier to deal with someone you care about and trust raping you.
  • It’s rare to have a conversation about rape, even though the odds say that we all probably know many people who have been raped.  In fact, odds are that at least one person in your immediate family has been raped.
  • Whenever you see a discussion online about a rape victim being incapable of consent because they were drunk, there will be comments about how it’s not fair to say the perpetrator is more responsible, if he were also drunk.  Apparently, many people feel that being drunk removes your responsibility for rape, even though it doesn’t remove your responsibility for killing someone, or crashing your car into them, etc.

I could go on and on.  But my point is that rape culture is a real thing.  It’s not about men being bad and women being innocent.  It’s about the messages we all get, and unthinkingly perpetuate.  We need to change this.  And the first step is to admit that there is a problem.

Have you heard arguments against rape culture?  Have you seen evidence for it?  Leave a comment to share your experience and opinions.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.