I’ll guess we’ll mark this one down on the long list of lady things that dudes hate, right after menstrual blood and paper doilies. Rape culture is one of the things I hear a lot of pushback against as I’m tottering through my feminist life – and the resistance I hear isn’t necessarily coming from anti-feminists. In fact, it never is, because I’m lucky enough to have a core group of supportive friends who are excellent allies.
But the rape culture thing – well, it has a hard time gelling, and I think part of that is related to the fact that there are some misconceptions about what rape culture actually is. I rather like Wikipedia’s definition, which states that rape culture:
… is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women.
Taken alone, I doubt anyone would take much issue with this definition, especially given the fact that rape has kind of been all over the news in the past few months, what with legislators pushing abortion bills with no exceptions for rape, the Julian Assange media frenzy, and now the Strauss-Kahn debacle, and in past months there have been a couple of gruesome assault cases in Texas that especially highlight the problem our culture has with victim-blaming.
One of these instances sparked an uproar in March, when the New York Times reported on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by 18 men and boys in Cleveland, Texas. From the article:
The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?
“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
Notice the framing of the issue here. If it’s not blaming the victim, it is certainly suggesting that those who perpetrated the act were not responsible for what they did. The article asks how they were “drawn into” raping that child, implying that the rapists were, in fact, the ones being victimized. Furthermore, Sheila Harrison as quoted expresses her concern for the welfare of the 18 men – EIGHTEEN! – and completely ignores the fact that a child was abducted and brutally raped over and over again.
Later in the article:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”
Here is a prime example of victim-blaming behavior. The mere mention that this child was hanging out in a dangerous place, was dressing older than her age, and was fraternizing with teenage boys suggests that by engaging in these behaviors, this girl was at least somewhat responsible for what happened to her – and as a reminder, this was an 11-year-old child who was gang raped by 18 men. Harrison, the same woman quoted above, also suggests that the girl’s mother might be to blame.
This is an argument used all the time – and I’m really not sure if people really and truly understand how fucked up it is. So many of us might look at a situation like that and think, this is something that could have been prevented. If only she’d been more careful; if only her mother had been paying more attention. I’ve seen the analogy made that if a guy doesn’t want his wallet stolen, he shouldn’t walk through a shitty neighborhood fanning himself with his cash. This does not change the fact that mugging someone is illegal – it’s just as illegal if someone steals your cash while you’re waving it around as it would be if you were clutching it for dear life. Rape is rape, regardless of where the victim is hanging out, what zie is wearing, and with whom zie associates.
Let’s reiterate what we just read, shall we? This was an article from the New York Times reporting on the gang rape of an 11-year-old child. It is suggested by the author of the piece – not by the woman quoted – that the perpetrators were “drawn into” raping this girl, and that the victim was behaving in a way that essentially tells us that she was asking for it – or at least that we shouldn’t be surprised or horrified that something like this happened. This was not a simple case of a reporter telling it like it is – if this were truly an unbiased article, these sentiments would have come with an attribution. So either this was a case of seriously sloppy reporting, or a journalist – who is supposed to be unbiased – inserted his own insidious opinion that, somehow, this child brought what happened to her upon herself.
And the sad thing about that is that I doubt he even realized what he was doing.
In another case (highlighted today on Sociological Images), a cheerleader raped by football player in Silsbee, Texas had her entire town turning against her, even though the evidence couldn’t have been more clear that she was raped. And yet, she was ostracized, and kicked off her cheerleading squad when she refused to cheer for her rapist. The article on Sociological Images highlights another example of biased media coverage of rape cases:
The local paper, The Silsbee Bee, favorably covered the accused, even publishing an article titled, “Sexual Assault Prosecutions Cost County Nearly $20,000.” It was hard to miss the implication that this was money ill spent.
To anyone who doubts the rape culture, this is what it is. It’s not some militant feminist theory that seeks to turn men into second-class citizens. It’s the real, documented culture in which we don’t even think twice about making excuses for rapists, or blaming a victim for what happened to hir, or coming up with any excuse whatsoever to not hold a rapist accountable for hir crime.