Eliminating Our Rape Culture


Hans Magnus Enzensberger once said, “Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass-you don’t see it, but somehow it does something.”  Indeed, there is truth in this sentiment.  How do we, as human beings, seem to innately know how to behave in certain situations, how to dress, the appropriateness of our conversation, etc.?  Our cultural influences dictate many of our mores.  We have all been conditioned and socialized in various ways to possess certain behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about the world around us.  The culture in which we have been socialized often serves as the foundational basis for these elements.

“Culture,” as described by Enzensberger, is often something intangible that has a large impact.  The elements and nuances of the culture in which one is involved are powerful; powerful enough to shape and mold pieces of a person’s identity.  Here in the United States, we often hear of various culture crises and problems with what has become known as “American culture.”  What we don’t often hear of though, is the incredibly overwhelming presence of a rape culture in the United States today.

Rape Culture is an environment in which “rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety” (www.marshall.edu).

Some examples of Rape Culture:

  • blaming the victim (saying things like “she deserved it” or “what did she think was going to happen?)
  • trivializing sexual assault (the “boys will be boys” attitude),
  • sexually explicit jokes
  • wanton sexual violence on TV and in movies
  • teaching women to avoid getting raped, instead of teaching men not to rape
  • music that glamorizes sexual violence or degrades women
  • pressuring men to “score”
  • pressuring women to be “easy”

The nature of rape culture in America today has never been clearer.  Take, for example, this year’s Oscars Awards Show.  Host Seth McFarlane, drawing on his penchant for crude and immature “comedy,” performed a song entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.”  The premise of the song was for McFarlane to count off a number of actresses and the movies in which they disrobed.  Let us not forget many of the actresses mentioned by McFarlane in his song were portraying rape victims in the films McFarlane chose to highlight.  Let us also not forget the many laughs and raucous applause McFarlane received while performing his song and after.  Certainly, there has been outcry and backlash against the song and McFarlane (and rightfully so), yet the bigger picture needs to be looked at.  First is the fact that McFarlane even dared to write the song.  Second, producers of the Oscars approved the song for performance.  Third, a whole process was put into place, involving dancers, a choir, cameramen, etc. and at no point did anyone stop to question the song or speak out against it until AFTER it was performed.  Further, even if the song didn’t contain references to rape scenes and characters who had been victims of rape, would not McFarlane’s song still have been misogynistic and indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

How’s this for another example?  In a salon.com article entitled “Can Men be Taught Not to Rape?” Zerlina Maxwell, a survivor of rape, recounts her experiences with rape culture.  She tells salon about her experiences as a television guest on Fox’s “Hannity,” where she suggested that men need to be educated on how to not be sexually aggressive.  She stated “I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there.” What followed was shocking.  Maxwell’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been inundated with threats, the use of vicious and vile names, and comments urging and promoting the idea that she deserves to be raped again.  She states, “I don’t want anybody to lecture a rape survivor about anything. And I don’t want anybody telling women that if you don’t wear a skirt or don’t drink at all you’re going to be safe. That is a lie.” Because she dared to challenge the status quo, that rape is an everyday occurrence and is not the fault of the victim (most often women), Maxwell has experienced harassment, hatred, and threats.  Is the backlash and pushback received by Maxwell indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

And finally, there’s this…a Facebook picture and PLENTY of “likes” and comments about a bottle of UV Grape-flavored vodka.  The issue is that someone has scribbled out the “G” in the word grape, thus turning the bottle into “UV Rape”-flavored vodka.  Some of the comments posted next to the picture read “It tastes like roofies,” “It tastes like lonely strippers at the bar,” and “I would like 1 Mustachatory Rape please.”  One of the comments posted was even by a business, implying that they love rape.  Indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

So, how do we combat Rape Culture in the United States?  Is this even something we can begin to fix?  The answer is yes, but it’s going to take both men and women working together to shift the social paradigm and challenge social norms.  It’s important that we analyze our own language and put an end to using terms and phrases that are offensive and derogatory to women.  We must also begin using our voices to speak up and out about jokes or comments that are made regarding rape.

We need to let others know that we aren’t going to stand idly by and allow our silence to be interpreted as complicit acceptance.  This has been done here in the F-M area.  Members of the Men’s Action Network, after reading about the backlash experienced by Zerlina Maxwell, took it upon themselves to personally contact her and let her know of their support for her stance and the comments she made while being interviewed on television.  These men have commented on how and why they feel it’s important for them to let Maxwell know that they, as men, stand with her in solidarity.  Additionally though, we also need to start thinking critically about the media we consume and the message it contains about men and women and the relationships between them.  We can start small, and move to larger steps to create a world free from domestic and sexual violence.