Sunday, 22 December 2013

How Do We As Society Deal With Rape Culture?

After Graeme Swann's rather flippant comment about being 'arse raped' a few days ago, I decided to take a look at the way society deals with the subject of rape through media outlets.

'Swann apologises for 'appalling' rape comment'

"Rather have been there than being arse raped in Perth!" - England spinner Graeme Swann said in the Facebook post, responding to Alec's statement that he had been to see the band Shed Seven in concert.

"We are appalled that Graeme Swann equates a cricket match with the devastatingly serious crime of rape. It is the duty of a people in the public eye to make sure that their own distorted views are kept to themselves and not shared with the general public. These comments lack compassion and intelligence and he should apologise to anyone who has suffered from this heinous crime." - Yvonne Traynor, the chief executive of Rape Crisis.

Graeme Swann ‏@Swannyg66 19 Dec
Sorry to anyone who was offended by my comments in the papers today. Crass and thoughtless of me in the extreme.
"Graeme Swann should be sacked. No doubt about that. You can't keep playing Swann, his wickets are costing 90. All the right-handers have got the wood over him. You've got to give Monty (Panesar) a go." - England legend Bob Willis sticks the knife in further.

But are we only now beginning to realise through clumsy comments made by modern day celebrities that the issue of rape has historically been recognised as acceptable. Take for example Dean Martin and Doris Day singing 'Baby It's Cold Outside'. 

No Christmas in a department store is complete without having to listen to Dean Martin croon this tune at least four times an hour. It features the kind of saucy banter your parents think is awesome and has probably made your mum hot after a few egg nogs every year since back in the day.

Closer inspection of the lyrics however,  reveal that in Dean's extended efforts to keep his lady friend from leaving him for the night, they slip in the somewhat off putting line in which it's implied that Dean has laced her drink with roofies. Because really, if the weather won't keep her in the house, date rape drugs are the next best step.

Her: but maybe just a half a drink more
Him: (put some records on while I pour)
Her: the neighbours might faint
Him: (baby it's bad out there)
Her: say what's in this drink
Him: (no cabs to be had out there)

If we look at this objectively, Deano might just be doping her with rum - although that's no more honourable considering the entire debate is about whether she should drive home. Perhaps best of all is when she wises up and asks what's in the drink and he glosses over it like it; pointing out that there are no cabs available. So the best case scenario for this holiday gem is essentially: Dean Martin forces himself on a woman with the threat of a DUI and potentially vehicular manslaughter.

Today we call it 'rape culture', and you don't have to look far to see examples of it these days.

Whether it's advertising, movies, music videos or social media - images, words, concepts - it's all out there illustrating men dominating women.

"Everywhere you turn there's condoning, trivializing, and eroticizing rape, and collectively it sets a tone that says this is no big deal or this is what women deserve," said Lynn Phillips, a Lecturer with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Communication Department.

The language of rape culture exists in everyday conversation.

"I raped that test," is a phrase that has become commonplace, connoting a sense of accomplishment.

"You might 'rape' somebody you're playing against which means you won really easily against them."

To be "Fraped" is to have your Facebook account hacked into, usually by someone you know, where they post a comment pretending to be you.

There are countless websites eroticizing rape, wife-swapping (against their will), forced 'swinging' and encouraging males to believe that women "enjoy it really."

And, there is an endless amount of "joking" about rape occurring in cyberspace.

Trending social media topics such as "the rape sloth" continues to generate a type of editorial cartoon known as memes, which display comments about rape in a comedic form.

"Wanna smell my new cologne? It's called chloroform," quoted one of the statements.

Other meme "jokes" include "Oh you don't want sex? Challenge accepted," and even "I've got a dick and a knife, at least one of them is going inside of you tonight."

Memes can be generated by anyone on the Internet, which only makes it easier for others to continue the trend.

Popular movies are strewn with plots of men with the sole purpose of having sex. In the movie "American Pie," the entire plot of the film revolves around teenage boys wanting to throw a party so they can get girls drunk and have sex with them. This has become more popular through comedies in the past few years and is a trend that does not seem to be slowing down. Movies that have similar plots are "Euro Trip" and "Superbad."

Defining Rape Culture

Becky Lockwood, associate director of the Centre for Women and Community in Amherst, Mass., says popular culture has helped create a mind-set where sex is less about intimacy and more about possession. "We've objectified sex. It's almost a commodity now, and its really unattached from any sort of intimacy or emotional experience, and if it's a commodity, people feel okay with doing whatever they can to get it," she said.

Phillips helped produce the documentary, Flirting With Danger, which looks at power, choice, and consent in heterosexual relationships. She focuses much of her research on gender issues in sexuality, and while some struggle when asked to define exactly what "rape culture" is, Phillips' definition is fairly comprehensive.

"Rape culture is a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their own abuse," Phillips said.

College students, however, struggle when trying to define "rape culture" and often ending up defining rape, but rape culture is more insidious, in that it goes to issues beyond the crime itself.

"Rape culture is anything that supports a culture where people think that it is okay to use sexual violence to get what they want," Lockwood said. "And, it's usually not about sex. ... It's usually about power."

Angie Epifano, a former Amherst College student who went public with a published account of her own rape last fall, said the culture also creates a silence amongst survivors seeking help.

"It's a culture where survivors don't feel safe to speak out," Epifano said. "When you look at it, sexual assault and rape are basically the only violent crimes that when you talk about it, people close off."

"If you were mugged in New York City people would be horrified," Epifano added. "No one is going to sit there and say 'Are you sure you were mugged?' With sexual assault there is always this question of 'Are you sure? What were you wearing?'"

Rape Culture and Politics

Not only have the concepts behind rape culture been trivialised in social media and everyday word of mouth, but into the political sphere as well.

During Republican Todd Akin's 2012 campaign for the Missouri Senate race, he made an argument against abortion saying that women's bodies shut down during rape, and "legitimate rapes" will not result in pregnancies.

There is no scientific evidence for his claims, and to label rapes as "legitimate" or not only furthers the stigmas surrounding alleged rape and victim-blaming. Akin received a lot of heat for this statement, but also received some support for it.

During a Senate debate last October for the open seat in Indiana, candidate Richard Mourdock discussed his stance on abortion, "I think even when life results in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," he said.

Murdock corrected himself after the debate, but even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney came out days after the debate supporting Mourdock as a candidate.

Ending Rape Culture

Boys will be boys...?

The idea that males are rowdy - always have been, and always will be - allows us as a society to think that males have less responsibility to act respectfully.

For example, in October 2011, a Yale University fraternity came under fire when members from Delta Kappa Epsilon chanted across campus "No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal." Yale quickly announced that they do not by any means support sexual assault and a public summary of the disciplinary actions was released.

"This was considered kind of a funny sort of thing that a large group of fraternity men were doing, and collectively this sets a tone that says 'this is no big deal' or 'this is what women deserve,'" Phillips said.

Doing away with the "boys will be boys" attitude and in turn holding men responsible for how they speak, act, and feel towards women can seem like a large task.

Lockwood suggests education on healthy relationships starting in elementary school. Education around bullying in schools could also have a significant part to play in stopping this cycle as well.

"So boys who are bullied often are boys who don't fit what is seen as the traditional masculine script," Phillips said. "Girls who get bullied, it's often because they had sex when somebody thinks they shouldn't have, or in a way somebody thinks they shouldn't have, too much, too easily, or whatever the norms are in her particular school. Basically, she's a slut, he's a wuss. It's very gendered."

Obviously I would like to add that men get raped also, and this is as unacceptable and there should be more awareness around this issue also. Rape is a subject close to my heart and has unfortunately been since I was a child. It was brought up again recently by someone I least expected to be involved in an awful situation of rape and abuse that they had inflicted on their girlfriend. It's not something that happens to someone else, it's something that could happen to you, to someone you know or an act that someone you know could commit. It's a subject that should be talked about, and as we approach 2014, a subject that should no longer be 'taboo'.


  1. I went on one of those anonymous image boards, no not /b/ I'm not crazy enough to do that, but someone said some really sick crap about how rape is an art, real stuff you'd expect to hear from a horror film villain. I was told it was fantasy so okay, cause it wasn't targeting anyone. So now I've finally soothed my nerves about it with chocolate, and I'm trying to understand am I really that sheltered? Is this just the new normal among kids these days, and as an old person I just don't get it?

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for your comment! I think unfortunately these days rape is seen as a game, used as a weapon or made to seem normal. I don't believe as a society we should allow rape to become a 'non-issue' where it is seen as ok, where people who have been raped are made to feel like it's 'just something that happens'. It affects you for the rest of your life, it's something that can affect your relationships, both with partners and people in general - especially surrounding trust issues. I recently discovered that someone I held in high regard had been manipulating his long term girlfriend into forced sexual relationships with other people for his own gratification - and justify it. It made me question things that had occurred in my past, which is why I wrote this. I don't think it's ok, I don't think you're sheltered - I think it's a question of knowing whether it is happening, I had no idea and this had been going on for five years. I do think it can be a question of your surrounding culture, the society you grow up in, places you live etc, but I also don't think it's normal, and I don't want it to become normal. It really is a dark world, but with education and commitment, I think it could be improved.