(Trigger Warning: Rape/Rape Culture)
We’ve been hearing a lot about rape culture these days. The brutal and lethal rape in India, the sheer malignance of the high school boys in Steubenville, the House of Representative’s refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
But the problem with focusing on just these stories – these awful, inexcusable stories – is that we avert our attention from the very real ways in which we contribute to a culture of rape apologia, a culture where sexual violence is largely expected and made insignificant by cultural norms.
As I’ve been reading the outrage, all righteous and important, I keep feeling that something is missing. The attention to the smaller ways in which we all participate in rape culture, and the ways in which rape culture shows up in our everyday lives in subtle ways.
The covert nature of rape culture too often goes unnoticed, unspoken.
If we want to change the status of women in our world, in our communities, we must first look beyond the overt ways in which rape apologia exists and see how it shows up in our everyday life.
Because the truth is we’re probably (unintentionally) supporting rape culture. It’s super pervasive and shows up in so many different ways that are completely normalized in our society.
So the first step is even realizing when something is a part of rape culture and the second step is to take some action to stand up against it.
Here are some ways rape culture subtly shows up in our everyday lives:
1. Ads Objectifying Women To Sell
The exposed necks of the models, the women of color in animal prints, the headless women’s bodies, all of these images contribute to rape culture.
This objectification of women reduces women to their bodies and makes their bodies available for visual consumption. It’s easy to see why so many people objectify women’s bodies when it’s so normalized in our media.
But when people transfer this objectification to real women in their lives, they are seen as objects available for their purposes, regardless of how the women feel.
This can easily lead into ignoring the agency that is required for women to consent to sex.
So when the media predominantly portrays women as vulnerable damsels in distress, or as sex crazed animals, or as objects without thoughts or voices, there is something seriously wrong.
With these sexualized images, women are shown as objects with which to masturbate, not humans with whom one could experience pleasure and joy with informed and enthusiastic consent.
The sexualization of women sends a clear message – it is a man’s role to gaze at women and it is a woman’s role to be a sexual object.
Let’s send a message right back – we will no longer buy products that rely on the sexualization and objectification of women to sell products.
If they want our business, advertisers must portray women in more ways than simply sex objects, and in a wide range that actually reflects the diversity that exists amongst women.
2. The media outlets that we read
We can’t do much to control the quality of the writing on any particular site, but we can control which websites and blogs we frequent.
If a media outlet covers rape and blames the victim or files stories about sexual violence in their Entertainment section, you can stop giving that site your page views. If it seems appropriate, you could leave a comment and explain why you won’t be back.
Supporting independent folks who work hard to deconstruct our cultural inclinationto blame the victim and excuse the crime of sexual violence is a great way to be better informed but also to amplify voices that don’t engage in the problematic nature of rape culture.
Shift the power of authority to the hands of journalists who write with sensitivity and integrity about the nature of sexual violence.
3. Consuming misogynist music
This one speaks for itself.
When we listen to misogynist music, not only do we fill our minds and souls with hateful words, we support the people who propagate that hatred.
Instead of filling the pockets of rap and country musicians who write lyrics that degrade and objectify women, let’s support feminist artists who use their work to create a more just world. The music is just as good, too!
4. Using language that degrades and hurts women
Cunt. Bitch. Whore.
These are insults that are gendered in nature. They are used almost exclusively to describe an opinionated woman.
Whether the insult is directed toward a woman or used as a means to strip a man of his masculinity, it is a gendered insult that perpetuates the idea of women or the feminine as inferior.
When we use these words - these hateful and misogynist words – we lower the value of women in our society and encourage men to believe a sense of entitlement to women.
Unfortunately, these words are so ingrained in our minds that we use them thoughtlessly. How many times have you called someone a bitch? I do it often but need to remind myself of the gendered implications, and find a better way to express my frustration.
(Some people, including some feminists, are reclaiming the word “bitch” to use them as positives word for women. We aren’t referring to those uses because they aren’t intended to degrade women. One can debate how effective it is to reclaim these words, but either way, we’re not referencing them here.)
We all need to hold ourselves and others accountable around our use of misogynist language.
5. Body shaming
It’s an easy trap to fall into – this idea that we have the right to an opinion about someone else’s body. The thing is that we don’t have the right to an opinion when it comes to someone else’s body.
The idea that we are entitled to comment on or respond to our thoughts on another person’s body is rooted in the problematic patriarchal notion that bodies are public, when really, bodies are not public.
Our bodies are our most powerful, political, and private entities.
The public shaming of another person’s body usually does not end at the verbal assault. People who feel that sense of entitlement may feel a sense of entitlement not only to speak about a body, but to access it.
No one is entitled to shame another body, just as no one is entitled access to another body. We must stop the way we view others’ bodies as public property to discuss and use however we wish, without consideration of the human who inhabits the body.
While we fight for meaningful change on a larger scale, around sports culture or criminal justice, we also need a critical mass to publicly and loudly declare that we will no longer engage with rape culture on a small scale, in our everyday lives.
We need to conduct our lives in ways that exclude and denounce all aspects of rape culture, even the seemingly small scale infractions – because those are what rape culture builds upon on to function.
What are other everyday ways rape culture shows up in your life? Please share in the comments below!
Sarah Ogden is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is focusing on clinical work with survivors of trauma, works at a domestic violence agency as a therapist intern, and volunteers as an abortion and pregnancy loss doula. Previously, she’s worked for a suicide and rape crisis hotline and as an emergency room advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Follow her on Twitter @xsogden.