Clarify This: Rape Culture

Let’s take a quick moment to look back and see that we have indeed come a long way since the first wave of the feminist movement, where women and allied activists were fighting for the vote, and generally for women to be seen as people and not property/baby machines/servants (which not incidentally had a lot of crossover with the abolitionist movement; both had the same underlying principle: people are people).

A lot of people, enjoying the freedoms that our forebears fought for so valiantly will say that the future is now and we need to chill out and focus on other things since women are very nearly equal and all. These are in all likelihood pretty decent people who are usually horrified by whatever act of violence against women is in the news, but see it as an isolated incident rather than a piece in a larger puzzle.

If they’re the less decent sort, they might be the sort of person who says things like, ‘Well she was hardly and angel’ or, ‘Of course it’s his fault, BUT…’. (NB. you should probably stop talking to those people).  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we do still sadly live in a culture (in a world) where rape culture is endemic.

So what is rape culture?

It sounds like an aggressive term, an in-your-face buzzword. It needs to be. Rape culture is essentially all the ways in which our society tells us that violence against women (bodies, minds, and souls) is a-okay: normal, expected, even sometimes encouraged.

This is the culture that tells us that fundamentally all men are rapists and all women are victims – that these are somehow built-in, irrevocable, biological truths. The culture that tells us rape, and its attendant lesser evils like sexual harassment, #lads shouting at you from cars, and creeps who talk to your chest, are inevitable (and therefore we can’t do anything to change it).

This is of course not true, and total bullshit.

But we’re hand fed this crap every day in a thousand small ways – the best way to fight against it, culturally and personally (because these ideas seep into the way we see ourselves and others), is to be able to see it and call it out. If we write these off as singular incidents and not part of a system, we lose the chance to change the culture that incubates the behaviour.

You and I know that #notallmen (eyeroll for the defensive dudebros) are rapists, but let’s see a show of hands from the women who have never been harassed (cat-called, groped, assaulted, raped)…

Anyone? No? Of course not.


And why is that? It’s because we’re surrounded by thousands of small, quiet messages (and plenty of  huge ones) that communicate to all of us that women are objects. That our bodies are essentially public property.  This is the mindset that tells men we’re just hanging about in order to get grabbed, fucked, or impregnated, and that tells us we’re not worth much if we don’t attract sexual attention from men (and by extension make babies).

These are also the messages that tell men they’re not sufficiently manly unless they can beat people up and fuck a lot of women without particularly caring about them as individuals. Messages that tell men that when they’re really really cross with a woman, the acceptably masculine response is violent, that on some level, she’s asking for it, and therefore she made them do it. (I just threw up in my mouth a little. You?)

Here’s a selection of a few recent incidents that are part of the ugly evidence of rape culture.


Indisputable video evidence of Janay being beaten unconscious by Ray Rice in an elevator, prior to their marriage, has been making the rounds. The NFL, the media, and a lot of douchebags in the peanut gallery have reacted shamefully.

Our society’s attitude towards domestic violence is shit. There are a lot of reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, but the point is that those are irrelevant because what we’re talking about is person A beating up person B.  Rape Culture makes it okay to suggest that somehow Janay, or anyone in her situation, was/is responsible for preventing assault. This means they think that her mere presence is a tacit invitation for her to be beaten up.


The NFL dragged its heels suspending him from the league, despite having quite strict policies towards other crimes, and spent a lot of time covering their ass instead of being decent and taking swift action.

Domestic violence is often treated like an exception to other kinds of violence. As if being acquainted with the person who beats you up somehow makes it understandable or acceptable. With spousal abuse (of the man on woman variety), this plays into the idea that the woman is on some level owned by the man, and therefore it’s not really the responsibility of law enforcement to intervene. EVEN THOUGH if the battery had happened to a stranger in the street, the attacked could serve something like 25 years in jail for felony assault (in the US).


Date-rape drug detecting nail polish. Aside from the bad science (hot tip, your manicure can’t ID roofies), this is yet another instance of the world telling us ladies that it is our job to stay vigilant and protect ourselves, rather than the responsibility of potential rapists not to commit a  crime on our person in the first place.

Do I need to walk around in a suit of armour to be considered sufficiently pro-active in defending my body (my ‘honour’) from would-be assailants? Why is it my job to stop some other douchebag from committing a crime?

Hot tip: if you wouldn’t tell dudes the same thing? Chances are you’re being a sexist asshat when you’re instructing ladies in how to live.

This is the same class of thinking that tells women to ‘take responsibility’ for themselves when they’re out having a good time – by not drinking too much, doing drugs, or wearing anything ‘too provocative’ (in case an otherwise mild-mannered passerby becomes hypnotised by your shoes or scarf or whatever and suddenly decides that rather than saying, ‘Hey, I like your shoes, wanna hang out?’ they need to have sex with you immediately, regardless of your inclination at the time).

This is stupid. You know what stops rape? Telling people what rape is, (if s/he/they CAN’T say or HAVE NOT said, ‘Yes please do me now!’ it just might be, so you best check), making it clear that rape is bad  (i.e. shunning the dipshits who make rape jokes – this includes people who use the term ‘frape’ for facebook hackery), and getting on top of law enforcement.

Notice who is not in this prevention equation? The lady who is out having a Saturday night. Rapists are responsible for their crimes. Rape goes down when awareness goes up. Not when hemlines go down. So Stephen Trachtenberg (the one-time president of my now-embarrassing alma mater) you need to shut. the fuck. up.


Blaming the celebs whose nude pics were hacked, or the women who have been subject to ‘revenge’ posts, where shit-stain exes decide to get even for being dumped by putting their sexytime photos on the internet for every basement-dwelling troll to see, for the photos even existing in the first place. I can’t even.

This absurd, ridiculous, offensive attitude assumes that women’s expression of sexuality makes them ‘up for grabs’, and that any public airing of their private sexual expression or activity is their ‘just desserts’ for daring to be sexual in the first place.


Rape culture tells us that women’s bodies are fundamentally for public consumption, that they are not ours. This is not true, and if Rape Culture/the Patriarchy were embodied, I would absolutely punch it in the face right now.

Your body is yours, and what you do with it, assuming you aren’t hurting anyone (without their enthusiastic consent 😉 ) is only and exclusively your own damn business.  Nobody is entitled to police your sexuality, nor get an eyeful without your express permission. It’s morally wrong, and also there’s the small matter of it being a crime.

Anyone you know who has looked at those pictures? Yeah, don’t be friends with them.


 Films, TV shows, and books. There’s so much to choose from, I’ll just mention a couple of my personal bête-noirs.

First, where persistence in the face of repeated requests to go away is shown as endearing and ultimately successful rather than the creepy stalkery shit it is. CF that little kid in The 40-year-old Virgin. Oh, he obsesses about his babysitter, he keeps on throwing his prepubescent feels at her even when she tells him he’s making her uncomfortable and she wants him to stop. That’s a pretty solid no. And what happens? He continues anyway and it’s implied that he’ll get the girl in the end. And he got a boob pic, which, just, no.

britney what

That “sweet”, harmless guy who just won’t take no for an answer, because it’s LOVE man, love always finds a way? That guy is telling all the people who watch said episode/film that it is okay to not take ‘No’ for an answer.  Also, this is actually a good and successful wooing technique.

Secondly, when women are presented as plot devices so that male characters can evolve/have epiphanies. Manic pixie dream girls are a mere subset of this.  The hugely popular novel and film ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls is a classic example. (Spoiler alert). The women DIES so that the dude can realise that he’s a shit and become a better person. She has absolutely ZERO character evolution. She is just there to serve the narrative function of loving the dude, so he can suffer from the loss of something he never appreciated in time. OH THE HUMANITY. David Nicholls. TWENTY FUCKING YEARS and the woman couldn’t change anything besides her hairstyle and job title?


You can see how this circles back around to the ‘women are up for grabs’ idea, yes? Where ‘no’ means ‘keep talking, smoothie’, and rejection/bad treatment/shitty ‘friendship’ doesn’t stop a woman from loving you.  This also has the added patronising factor that suggests that women just don’t know a) what’s good for them or b) what they want.


Remember that repugnant bloke who went on a shooting rampage in California because he wasn’t getting whatever female attention he deemed necessary? Dude has sprung from the well of rape culture. He’s textbook.

I know someone (male. Of course) who has openly dismissed this as solely ‘mental illness’ issue. Actively ignoring the dude’s ‘MRA’ diatribes and online activity, and frankly ignoring the obvious:

Why was he angry (angry enough to fucking shoot a bunch of innocent people)? Because he feels like something is being withheld from him. Some THING to which he is entitled.

Why does he react with violence? Because he feels like that is the way MEN respond. Because he feels emasculated by the lack of women, and violence is hyper-masculine, so he tries to cancel the one out with the other.  He punishes women (any women, we’re not individuals, we’re a single, amorphous mass) for denying him the pussy, love, and affection to which he is entitled by being a living, breathing, person-with-a-dick.

It’s like rape-culture bingo.

Firstly, saying, ‘Oh well he’s crazy’ tars all people with mental-illness with the same brush and contributes to the massive stigma towards mental illness.  Mental illness is very common, in all kinds of manifestations. What percentage of them actively decide to hurt or kill people? Probably about the same (possibly less), that the ‘mentally balanced’ people who decide to do the same.

People with mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrators, so my acquaintance is looking at the same information I am, but focusing on the wrong elements.  Being a white dude, even a ‘feminist’ one, means it’s a lot easier to be blind to rape culture. He, like a lot of people who responded to that event, got the wrong end of the stick as he tried to get his mind around something so horriblem: because it’s easier to digest the idea that it’s a terrible but individual incident, like a landslide or a lightening strike, rather than a manifestation of a culture that seeps into every aspect of our lives.

Sorry, dude. Even if this was some chemical imbalance or Freudian chicanery, it would have manifested differently in a culture that didn’t equate masculinity with violence and mastery over women’s bodies.


Rape culture is some bullshit, ladies.

And if we, and more importantly our allied not-rapey friends, neighbours and (hopefully) legislators, law-enforcers, and media producers (because this is a big thing to carry alone) start not just noticing this, but calling it out, complaining, and making it clear that it’s not something we will stand for? This is how change happens.  Making some noise is how our foremothers got the vote, how the great civil rights battles were won (and of course that war isn’t over yet, either). We don’t have to scream, but we can consistently and with confidence point to these things and say this is wrong. Because it’s important. And it should STOP.