RAPE IN THE NEWS
In Roxanne Gay’s article, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” the author writes about how news media often blames victims for their rape, such as in the case of the Cleveland, TX gang rape in 2011. An 11-year-old girl was raped by a group of 18 men, and yet, the author of an article in the New York Times felt the need to question the girl’s choice in clothing. “Residents in the neighborhood…. 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.” This is rape culture: a world in which the New York Times publishes a statement insinuating that the gang rape of a child was due to that child’s behavior, and not due to the behavior of the rapists in question. Although it seems obvious to me, we need to repeat the following statement again and again: victims and survivors of rape DO NOT cause rape through their actions, their clothing, or their choice in words. Rapists cause rape. Instead of discussing this 11-year-old’s outfit, we need to focus on how perpetrators learn ideas about sex and gender that lead them to rape. The recent Slutwalks and this article in Elle magazine are wonderful backlashes to media coverage that blame survivors of rape and sexual assault rather than encouraging people to respect boundaries, practice consent, and view their sexual partners as PARTNERS, rather than objects.
Another example of a problematic response to rape is Dan Rottenburg’s “What Should Women Do?” in the Broad Street Review last June. Dan’s premise is that, because Lara Logan has worn shirts that reveal her cleavage in the past, she did not take the proper precautions against getting raped while she was reporting overseas. He goes on to discuss the ramifications of wearing sexy clothing and being a sexual person: “Earth to liberated women: When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid.” This idea that a woman who is sexual is asking for rape, or that a woman who enjoys her sexuality wants to be raped, is maddeningly pervasive.
As a result of an intense and overwhelming backlash against this article, Dan wrote an apology about his misguided assumptions. You can read his response as well as other writer’s critiques of this piece by visiting the original website.
How Pop Culture creates Rape Culture: 2 Case Studies
For visual examples of rape culture, you can watch this video montage, an introduction to Hannah Brancato’s short documentary “Something Funny About Rape”. Below are two additional examples of how pop culture impacts rape culture.
#1 30 Rock Season 5 Premiere
Although the joke is written with the intention of making the character Pete Hornberger appear repulsive to the audience, this scene validates the idea that married couples have unrestricted access to one another’s bodies, and that consent is not required once you say, “I do.” Following this logic, a woman is still the property of her husband. This attitude about property and consent doesn’t only affect married couples- it affects the way that we think of all sexual relationships. It allows people to logically think, “If I slept with them once, I must have license to penetrate them whenever I want.”
By including this rape joke on 30 Rock, a program watched by millions of people, the show's writers/actors/producers condoned rape and made light of the multitude of people who do not feel safe in their own bed.
Perhaps Tina Fey believes that our culture has moved beyond this ridiculous and backwards mentality. Unfortunately, comments on some of the blogs that covered this controversial joke prove that our culture has not moved beyond the sentiments expressed in this episode. Here is an article by Michelle Dean on Bitch Media that further articulates why this rape joke perpetuates rape culture.
#2 Victoria’s Secret PINK line
According the Wikipedia, “Founded in 2004 and marketed toward late-teen and college-age women, sub-brand PINK sells age-appropriate underwear... with the intent to transition buyers into more adult product lines... The PINK brand is marketed to be fun, playful, and flirtatious.” Victoria’s Secret recently released a series of underwear with slogans such as, “NO peeking,” printed across the front and back of underwear. This particular slogan is equivalent to stating that no really means yes. The playful, casual aesthetic of this underwear, with its bright colors and vibrant graphics, sharply contrasts with that ominous message. The aesthetic obscures the fact that this slogan degrades the wearer’s ability to say no, and mean it.
Another PINK slogan of note: “Give a Little, Get a Lot.” This print loudly and clearly communicates the already prevalent idea that sex and orgasm are for men, and that a woman’s role is to please her male partner. This slogan places women in the position of servant rather than partner in sexual relationships, encouraging women to think of themselves as objects or tools for their male partner’s satisfaction.
The PINK line is training young women to equate feeling sexy with looking cute to male spectators- just like Victoria’s Secret advertising campaigns in general, PINK underwear and ads are primarily for men to look at and enjoy. My critique here is not against young women being flirtatious- it is about how Victoria’s Secret is capitalizing on young women’s desire to be sexual and free, while simultaneously reinforcing stereotypes that create rape culture in the first place. Ironically, these “flirtatious” designs prevent most women from accessing real sexual liberation by re-enforcing their role as servants, and de-legitimizing their use of the word “no.” The design, branding, and marketing of PINK products are about money. This underwear, and Victoria’s Secret in general, is perpetuating rape culture; and even worse, the PINK brand is masking rape culture with carefree, sexual liberation.
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