What is Rape Culture?
Rape culture comes from movies, television shows, advertisements, jokes, images, social media, language, and much more. It’s all around us. These everyday discourses disseminate and validate the act of rape and sexual assault as commonplace. By being exposed daily to these messages, society treats rape as an innocuous and flippant phenomenon, often resulting in victim blaming and slut shaming. Victim blaming is when the victim of a rape or sexual assault is blamed because of their actions, behaviours, style of dress, or personal life decisions. Slut shaming is when women who dress provocatively, have multiple partners, or who have a reputation of being a “slut” are shamed for these said behaviours and are said to have unwanted sexual acts coming to them. Both of these phenomena perpetuate sexist and misogynist ideals surrounding women’s sexuality deeply rooted in patriarchal traditions.
Feeling unsafe and perpetually precautious is so mundane and routine for women today we barely take notice. Jessica Valenti discusses the idea of a ‘rape schedule’ and says, “When I was in college, a teacher once said that all women live by a ‘rape schedule.’ I was baffled by the term, but as she went on to explain, I got really freaked out. Because I realized that I knew exactly what she was talking about. And you do too. Because of their constant fear of rape (conscious or not), women do things throughout the day to protect themselves. Whether it’s carrying our keys in our hands as we walk home, locking our car doors as soon as we get in, or not walking down certain streets, we take precautions. While taking precautions is certainly not a bad idea, the fact that certain things women do are so ingrained into our daily routines is truly disturbing. It’s essentially like living in a prison - all the time. We can’t assume that we’re safe anywhere: not on the streets, not in our homes. And we’re so used to feeling unsafe that we don’t even see that there’s something seriously fucked up about it.”
Feminist grassroots efforts have birthed some wonderful proactive public demonstrations to protest rape and sexual assault. Take Back the Night has been around for decades and continues to go strong to this day. This is a rally/march where members of the community gather to reclaim the night’s street as a safe place for women. A rather recent movement conceived in Toronto in 2011, SlutWalk was a response to a police officer’s comment suggesting women should not dress like “sluts” if they would like to avoid rape. While I struggle with the effectiveness of reclaiming the word “slut” and the persona associated with it, I recognize the importance of its overarching message regarding victim blaming and slut shaming.
The pervasiveness of rape culture in North American society is a disturbing reality that affects all aspects of our daily lives. While it is seemingly inescapable, there are actions and tactics one can do to take a stand against rape culture. When you hear someone making a rape joke, either make it known that those types of jokes are completely inappropriate, disrespectful, and just not funny. Don’t engage with companies and products that circulate, reinforce, and perpetuate sexist and misogynistic ideals – especially when advertisements depict violence and dehumanization towards women. Lastly, be proactive and get involved! Support and participate in local and international feminist activism efforts. Apathetic sentiments towards issues so embedded and normalized in our society are just as dangerous as blatantly supporting them.
SMASH THE PATRIARCHY!