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Rape Culture: A Case Study

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November 19, 2012

Rape culture. Even if you’re not familiar with the fancy new wave feminist lingo, you’ve probably witnessed at least example of it somewhere in day-to-day life. Simply, rape culture is an environment where sexual violence is taken lightly and seen as the norm. When rape culture is present, we may be told that assault is an inevitability or given, or even–get ready, here’s the real kicker–that someone may be “asking” to be raped just by dressing a certain way.

Marshall University’s Women’s Center offers the following, super concise definition:

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.

Think of the last time you heard someone make a rape joke, be it a peer or Daniel Tosh. That would be an example of rape culture. Todd Akin’s delusional statements about “legitimate rape”? Rape culture! Someone whistling a catcall your way as you walk home from work? Rape culture!

I’m a pop culture junkie. When I’m not thoughtlessly tossing back reruns of Will & Grace like Mentos or babbling about how sex-positive Christina Aguilera is, I often notice just how pervasive rape culture is in television, film, and even our mainstream magazines. Take this recent Cosmo article for example, which enumerates the ways women can prevent being raped:

The problem here is that the magazine is targeting the wrong audience: Cosmo shouldn’t be telling women how to avoid rape while simultaneously shaming those who have survived assault. Instead, Cosmo should be telling rapist to, um, not rape. It’s that simple. No annotated list needed. Just. Don’t. Rape.

I’ve learned to expect this from most self-described women’s magazines. What I wasn’t fully prepared for, however, was picking up a copy of my university paper, The George-Anne and realizing that it was being plagued by the same rape culture phenomenon.

It all began October 16. One of the opinions writers had pinned a piece entitled “Girly songs guys can listen to shamelessly.” At first, I became excited. “Heck yes,” I thought. “The gender binary is so 1950.” After all: The less restrictive our gender roles, the more elbow room for reproductive freedom.

But then I began reading:

Thanks to Carly Rae [Jepson], guys are now able to walk up to any belligerently drunk girl at the bar and say, “Call me maybe” and know it is an easy ticket. I think every guy should bow down and thank Carly Rae for making your night just a little easier.

Instead of being a list of awesome pop songs that anyone should be able to enjoy, the piece quickly muddled into a list of songs that will help a guy get into some beyond drunk girl’s pants. It was problematic. It was disturbing. It was rape culture at its finest.

By the next issue, someone had responded to the article with a letter to the editor entitled “Column demeaning toward women”:

The thesis of this article seems to be that guys should appreciate “girly” songs because it makes it easier to prey on all those drunk, partying “sluts.” [The writer] engages in an astonishing amount of “slut shaming” which means shaming women for being in control of their bodies, lives and choices. Some examples in this piece include: “belligerently drunk girl,” “easy ticket,” and “how the girls are down here in Statesboro.” [The writer] assumes that 1) all women who enjoy going out for a dance and a drink are sluts and 2) that sluts are worthy of shame. Using the kind of language that Gutknecht uses silences and demeans women — all women.

I was relieved that someone else had shared my sentiments and responded in an eloquent and effective manner that was not the, “You are so offensive; please never write anything again” which was playing on loop in my mind as I read the initial piece. However, this has been a firm reminder that rape culture is so pervasive that anyone–including journalists–can get swept up in it if they aren’t careful.

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