OPINION: Our Rape Culture Responsibility

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Have you heard the term “rape culture” before? If you have, great, let’s end that.

If not, listen up.

Rape culture is the idea that our society – meaning, our media, our history, our peer-to-peer interaction, our politicians and our police – make it ok to be blasé, if not totally amenable, to rape and sexual assault.

Young people everywhere should be standing up for victims – not shaming them – and making this the women’s issue of the new millennium. This must be the feminist fight of the 21st century, and we need to work harder, spread the word, and stop allowing rape culture to permeate our lives.

We are the first generation that has “on-paper” gender equality. Women graduate from college in higher numbers than men do, we have higher starting salaries and are more likely than our male counterparts to get a job. I was raised by a single mother who used to wear shirts that said things like “A Woman’s Place is in the House – And the Senate,” and I thank her generation every day for making it possible for me to be a successful, strong young woman who has (luckily) faced no obstacles in professional life.

Listen, I know we still have a ways to go for complete equality in the workplace (especially in the tech sectors and at the C-level), but that fight is covered. As under-30s who are one day going to be running those companies, the House and the Senate, we have to start now on the new fight.

It is up to this generation to move the issues forward. It is our responsibility to continue our mothers’ battle and the next issue on the agenda is rape culture.

Rape Culture?

It came to my attention when the Slut Walks took off last year. From Canada to Australia to India, women were taking a stand against this new term, rape culture, a large part of which is victim shaming.

The Slut Walks became a world-wide phenomenon when a cop in Toronto said women should refrain from dressing like sluts to avoid getting raped. That is rape culture. It is never a woman’s fault for being raped. It is the rapist’s fault. Always. Every time. No exceptions.

But our institutions, from the police to campus administrations do very little to shift the blame from the raped to the rapist.

Recently, a Boston University hockey player was arrested on rape charges (the second to face sexual assault charges in 10 weeks, according to the Boston Globe), and while the school is certainly embarrassed, the administration has done very little to take rapes on campus more seriously, including even giving students the option of a hotline or crisis center to report assaults to.

A friend of mine recently performed an experiment in which she attempted to find out how to report a rape to BU, but was sent in circles of unhelpful operators and touch-tone menus. No one wanted to take responsibility for taking a statement or directing her in the right direction. It was sickening to read the transcript of her conversation with BU offices, and the school’s attempt to distance itself from the rapes by focusing solely on the hockey team, as opposed to the system it operates. That is rape culture.

Then a Joke Freaked out a Whole City

This was in Boston, of course, a place that has recently been embroiled in a city-wide month-long conversation about rape culture that has permeated almost all aspects of life – from the BU hockey incident to Occupy Boston, which dealt with a series of problems arising from a sex offender proposal, to TNGG’s content partner The Boston Globe, which published a particularly incendiary editorial (written by a woman), to my circles of friends and acquaintances, like DJ and music critic Liz Pelly at the Boston Phoenix, who has written a couple excellent blog posts on the topic there.

It seems like everyone’s talking about rape culture, and mostly it’s positive. The first part of the fight against this kind of societal ill is awareness. Still, there are some people standing up and shouting women against rape culture and our allies down.

He probably didn’t mean to, when he published “if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to get raped,” on his bro-centric website Barstool Sports, but Dave Portnoy became Boston’s poster boy for promoting rape culture.

Portnoy’s commenters thought it was funny and even attacked a Boston Occupier (who privately messaged Portnoy about it to complain) when screen shots of their conversation were posted on Barstool. Then, to make matters even worse, Portnoy ridiculed women holding a speak-out at a rally a couple weeks later at House of Blues, where he was throwing a party.

Knockout Barstool, the protest group that hosted the rally, was supported by some and derided by many, including Joanna Weiss, who wrote the Boston Globe opinion piece, vindicating Portnoy.

Weiss equated a joke about rape to a joke about race and wrote, “When culture evolves, humor does, too – there are certain straightforwardly racist jokes you could have made in polite company 50 years ago, but not today, and that’s a good thing…If Chris Rock makes a subversive, knowing joke about race, and some racist finds it funny for the wrong reason, who’s to blame?”

Sorry Joanna, but that’s simply ridiculous and here’s why.

I recently read this blog post (read it, it’s really important), which made an excellent point for saying something when you hear something about rape: More than 1 in 20 men will admit to sexually assaulting a woman. More than 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted by the time they graduate college.

This means, more than likely, anyone making a joke about rape has come into contact with a number of rapists and would-be rapists, and significantly more women who have been assaulted. So, before you make that joke, “Ask yourself, who is more likely to be made to feel comfortable around me based on whatever I’m about to say/do? Rape survivors? Or rapists?”

It’s not the same as Chris Rock (who is part of a racially oppressed group, btw) making a joke about race. Every time you say it’s ok to make a joke about rape, you’re saying it’s ok to make over 20% of women uncomfortable.

Why it Needs to Stop

The thing is, Joanna Weiss is a woman. She’s still writing this stuff and refuses to apologize or print a retraction (see screen shot, left). There are plenty of other women, mostly of older generations (like my grandmother) who will never able to comprehend that it is not a woman’s fault for getting raped. These are like the women who looked down at the other women who left the home and went into the workplace in the 50’s and 60’s, but worse. There are such people as female rape apologists, and they make both conscious and subconscious actions.

Consciously rape culture-perpetuating females come by the way of girls who said the joke was funny, or used the old “freedom of speech” line, making it ok for Portnoy and guys like him. Like these “Betches,” for example, who wrote, “Let the comedians have their freedom of speech, no one said you had to laugh. We propose that while boys may joke about raping us, we may be allowed to joke about taking all their money and then sucking the life out of them.” Again – not the same.

But there’s a bigger problem with rape culture, and this is the larger reason we need to work to eliminate this mindset from our society. It’s the subconsciously perpetuating females. They are why it’s so difficult and so important to make eliminating rape culture a priority.

Last night, a female friend told me she had to move out of the room she was sharing in a cooperative house because the guy she was sharing the room with had tried to assault her in the middle of the night. She said to me, telling this story, “I guess it was kind of my fault, though,” without even realizing she had just blamed herself for being the victim of assault. No one even had to do it for her – she did it to herself. But you know what? It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault!

That, my friends, is why we need to end rape culture in this country, and young people need to band together to make it happen.

What do you think of rape culture in our society? Tell me in the comments – let’s talk about it! 

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