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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Column: We live in a rape culture

Sexual assault is a serious problem made more serious by the fact that most people do not recognize how it is reinforced by our society. Yes, you are taught at work and at school, and maybe at your place of spiritual worship, that it is reprehensible and punishable by law.

But it seems we have a paradox on our hands, because in this same culture, people blame women if they are assaulted while inebriated or wearing revealing clothing; Whoopi Goldberg can somehow downplay Roman Polanski’s sexual assault by saying it’s not “rape-rape”; “Purity Balls,” gatherings in which religious fathers get their daughters to promise to remain “pure” until marriage, are not deemed universally creepy.

Although we have established laws about consent, although we recognize that “no means no” and although we understand that virginity is a fake idea developed by the patriarchal establishment to control women (I recommend reading The Purity Myth, by Jessica Valenti) – the reality is this: you and I live in a rape culture.

When I first heard the term floating around on the feminist interwebs, I wanted to find a concrete definition. Luckily for me, Melissa McEwan, a blogger at Shakesville, wrote a comprehensive piece that broke down the concept of rape culture that listed its symptoms as well.

Quoting from a book called Transforming a Rape Culture, by Emilie Buchwald, Martha Roth and Pamela R. Fletcher, McEwan described rape culture as, “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.”

Rape culture affects the emotional and physical well being of men as well as women. In our culture, it is acceptable to joke about men raping other men in prison. The prison-industrial complex aside, men deserve to be safe from sexual assault as well as women.

That women deserve sexual assault, or that it’s funny when it happens to men, reinforces this sick mindset. It can be difficult to shift out of it, to recognize that rape is not normal, expected or deserved. Before becoming a feminist, I would probably not have thought twice about conservatives who compare Obama’s health care reform with being raped – ever seen that bumper sticker that says, “Bend over, here comes the change?”

Yeah. Because losing your majority in the senate is equivalent to violent sexual assault.

Part of rape culture is reducing sexual assault from the violation it is, and it has been done effectively in popular culture, politics and the legal system.

I want to do what I can to dismantle a system as violent and misogynistic as this. The first step: changing our attitudes about sexual assault. It means no more slut-shaming, not laughing at rape jokes and, most importantly, targeting the sexual criminals – and not their victims. As a society, we should be spending more time preventing assault, and less time blaming the victims.

HALEY DAVIS says to check out Jezebel, Feministing, Shakesville, Racialious and The Sexist for more feminist info. She can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.


  1. Let’s take off our rose colored glasses and stop waving the American flag for a second.
    According the US Department of Justice, rape is one of the most underrated crimes committed. It’s not that rape isn’t tolerated. It’s that rape isn’t talked about.
    They also said that 1 in 5 college females is projected to be rapped sometime during her college career.
    There’s obviously something wrong with our society if so many women are being put through this horrible and heinous crime. And chances are *you* most likely know someone who was rapped.
    What the writer in this article is doing is actually important. She’s pointing out the weak spots in our culture to help improve it. We need more articles like this in the Aggie.


  2. In regards to “rape culture” I think you will find the US among the most enlightened in-so-far as recognition of this kind of crime. Rape was never tolerated by my grandparents or parents generation and nor is it today. Even in the state and federal penitentiaries rapists are frequently targeted for some very sadistic forms of “punishment”, this includes rape, dolled out by fellow inmates. This is the very same society that hands out 10-20 year sentences for rape and continues to track sex offenders even after they serve their jail sentence. Even murderers do not receive this treatment…..


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