WHAT IS RAPE CULTURE?

In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”

This is what it means when people say that sexism and violence against women are “naturalized.” It means that people in our current society believe these attitudes and actions always have been, and always will be. For more about how rape is engrained in our consciousness, read Lynn Higgins and Brenda Silver’s important collection of essays, entitled Rape and Representation. For a quick reference, read Wikipedia's article on the definition of rape culture.

What does it mean to perpetuate rape and rape culture?
Media imagery perpetuates rape by excusing it, validating myths about rape, and/or sexualizing rape. The Stanger Rape myth, for example, is frequently reinforced through Lifetime movies like She Fought Alone, or most episodes of Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit. This kind of media perpetuates rape, because it continues the shame and silence that surrounds the majority of survivors who were raped by friends or family; and it allows perpetrators to avoid dealing with their problems, since they do not match the profile of rapists “As Seen On TV.”

Our very laws and lawmakers also contribute to perpetuating the Stranger Rape myth, such as in the controversial “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” that Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced in early 2011. Smith wanted to define rape, for the purposes of their anti-abortion bill, as “forcible rape,” therefore excluding non-consensual sex and statutory rape. See Nick Bauman’s article for more details of the controversy surrounding this bill. The problem here is the continued emphasis on the actions of victims- in this case, dissecting whether they resisted enough- rather than putting energy into preventing rape by changing the behaviors of perpetrators.

What is the alternative?
FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is an arts-based project. We believe that art and culture have the power to make a real difference! Against all of the media adding to the problem, we are inspired by media that fights against the culture of rape! Here are a few links to projects that are critiquing the culture of rape and creating a culture of consent:

“Your Friends Are Not Your Audience,” by Linda Holmes

Walking Home, and experimental video by Nuala Cabral

“Teaching Good Sex,” New York Times article by Laurie Abram

The Line, a campaign organized around the film by Nancy Shwartzmen

Slutwalk, an international effort to end slut-shaming and victim blaming, which began in Toront

 

The Monument Quilt

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