Rape culture is a term used to describe the normalization of sexual assault in a society. Wikipedia describes rape culture thus: "... a culture in which rape and other sexual violence (usually against women and gender diverse peoples ) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence."
It frequently includes objectifying women or portraying social relations as a "war of the sexes", both of which lead to dehumanization . Dehumanization, in turn, leads to sexual violence against victims being condoned as they are mentally considered "objects" instead of "a fellow human" . In this way, sexism that does not explicitly deal with rape can still contribute to rape culture, especially if the sexism implies that women are primarily or exclusively valued for their desirability to heterosexual men, or that sexual relationships follow a predator/prey model.
We can as well see this from the point of view of rigidity of gender roles in a society. Whenever a society prescribes rigid gender roles, then it commits itself to disrespect for gender diverse roles. This amounts to objectification of the body and therefore any culture that prescribes rigid gender roles is a rape culture.
This same dynamic of the dehumanization of femininity contributes to defensive homophobia and violence by men against men perceived to be insufficiently masculine. By cultural definition, male victims of rape have been feminized and, just like female victims, are thus erased, ignored ,or deemed unimportant. (Male victims are sometimes brought up in an attempt to derail conversations about rape culture by people seeking to invalidate the concept. These detractors are often unaware that misogyny underlies crimes of sexual dominance against men as well as women.)
Rape Culture affects every woman. The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape. This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture.
Rape Culture in Action
This sub-section and the next have been adapted from this page (with important modifications).
- Victim blaming (“She asked for it!”)
- Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
- Sexually explicit jokes
- Tolerance of sexual harassment
- Inflating false rape report statistics
- Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
- Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
- Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
- Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
- Regarding gender diverse roles as aberration
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
- Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
- Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
- Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
- Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
- Slut shaming
- Schrödinger's Rapist
Combatting Rape Culture
Some ways in which you can help in combating rape culture are
- Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women and gender diverse people
- Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
- If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive
- Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, gender, sexual agency, relationships, and violence
- Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations
- Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
- Define your own gender or sex expression. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
- Get involved! Join a student or community group working to end violence against women and gender diverse people.
- Above all oppose objectification of women and gender diverse people in any media and support their rights.
Rape Culture and Geeks
Rape culture is seen in many parts of geek culture.
- Gaming -- violent video games, sexual assault on avatars, A Rape in Cyberspace, etc.
- Incidents of online harassment such as the Kathy Sierra incident
- Sexual assault at geek gatherings such as science fiction conventions, for example Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis, and dismissal or acceptance of such incidents by the geek community
- Geeky media often portray rape. Examples include:
- Geek media without rape: some creators/producers have committed to not portraying sexual violence in their work
Use to exclude women
Rape culture can also be used to exclude women from geek communities, by playing on their discomfort, fear, or personal trauma histories. For instance, the FLOSSPOLS survey on gender in Free/Libre/Open Source Software reports the following incident:
- “One IRC channel I used frequently made jokes about rapes. I had a huge growl with somebody about this and I was a long time member in this channel. The joker was a newcomer and I personally think I have contributed a lot more than he had. At one stage he ended up telling me, if I couldn’t “stand the heat I should get out of the kitchen” and then I said, “What would you say for example if I said that I had been raped and I took exception to be used as a subject of humour?” and he said: “that’s too bad but, you need to learn to live with it”.