From a piece by Christin P. Bowman, MS, MA (Doctoral student in Critical Social-Personality Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York))
To begin, rape is caused by rape culture.
Rape culture is a phenomenon that is made up of many different ingredients – and so, like a recipe, when they are combined together it can be difficult to identify each individual flavor. Rape culture is so entrenched in our society that it is hard for people to even recognize, much less prevent. It is important to educate yourself and others to change this culture and combat its effects.
#1 Power, Anger, and Hyper-Masculinity
While it may be true that men perform the vast majority of raping in society, they did not become rapists through a vacuum.
Our society values men who conform to the revered idea of hyper-masculinity: men should be powerful, dominant, and emotionless – except for when it comes to anger. Research shows that most rapes are an outcome of a need for power or outlet for anger. Hyper-masculinity also suggests that men are always, no matter what, hungry for sex. Our society’s rhetoric and history depicts the idea that a man’s sex drive is so uncontrollable and all-consuming, a woman somehow owes it to him to allow him to release those desires. We’ve all heard the phrase “she was asking for it” and “leading on”, suggesting that if a woman were to allegedly engage in these behaviors then she is not allowed to change her mind, and rape is justifiable.
It has been said that rape is “human nature” – which is still used as a justification for it today. But men are not all rapists by nature. Men are socialized by a rape culture which promotes that hyper-masculinity we’re talking about. Simply blaming men is unfair and sells them short – we must acknowledge the culture that makes (some) of them that way.
#2 Sexual Objectification
Our society’s obsession with a woman’s body intensifies rape culture. Girls are taught from a young age that their most important feature is the way they look, and boys are taught to value that feature above all else. This focus on women’s appearance to see their own selves as sexual objects, or self-objectification. This can lead to body shame, low self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction. This objectification of women dehumanizes them- or makes them seem more like an object: something that doesn’t have thoughts or feelings, which you can do what you want with. To this end, it is much easier to commit violence against a woman that you don’t respect, or don’t even view as human.
#3 Systemic and Institutional Support
When classifying a problem as “systemic”, it means that the issue spreads throughout the whole system (or society). When something is “institutional”, it means there are structures and mechanisms in place to maintain it. Rape culture is both.
When a rape victim comes forward, they are subjected to essentially an interrogation that is oftentimes invasive, offensive, and derogatory. They often are made to feel the need to defend themselves or the circumstances of the rape, because of the common rhetoric implying that the situation is somehow her fault. Furthermore, there are thousands of cases in which a rape kit was never even analyzed. These things are not the fault of one individual – they are embedded in our very social order.
Perhaps the most significant (and damaging) case made against rape is that women lie about it. They are painted as emotional nutcases who pull the “rape card” when something doesn’t go their way. They “overreact” or “blow it out of proportion” just like all women supposedly do. Due to the nature of the crime and the role consent plays, rape crimes are notoriously some of the hardest to prove. This has created a society that instantly questions the victim’s believability before they even approach the subject of whose fault it was.
These discrepancies have created a conversation wherein rape can be “illegitimate”, or “a mistake”, or even “an accident.” Many politicians defend rapists by claiming that the “blurred line” was too blurry to be held responsible for, as if restraining oneself from having sex is never an acceptable alternative. The issue of sex crimes is not viewed as black and white. Gray means go, when it should mean no.
This systemic rhetoric’s damage is already done. Women are ridiculed, belittled, and ignored when they actually do have the courage to come forward, and research shows that thousands go unreported every year.
The following is directly from Christin P. Bowman’s article:
How to Fight Back
Preventing rape means changing an entire culture. Here’s how to get started:
Encourage boys and men to express emotions and unravel hyper-masculinity: William Pollack’s work is a great place to start, and look out for a documentary on the topic coming soon.
Push back against sexual objectification: Evidence-based activists at the girl-fueled organization, SPARK, provide a great model and the Miss Representation documentary is a must.
Rape prevention courses: Foubert, Godin, and Tatum found that men can take a rape prevention class in college that affects them for years. The course teaches empathy and then how to intervene in dangerous situations, support a rape survivor, and even confront others who tell jokes about rape. Another study by Klaw and colleagues found similar results. Get involved here.
Engage bystanders: Cases like the Steubenville rapes remind us there are often times when people see something bad happening, and don’t know how to stop it. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides tons of research and information about how to reverse this trend.
Change public perception of what’s acceptable: Several successful anti-rape campaigns all around the globe are working to dismantle rape culture. Check out the “Don’t be that guy” campaign in Canada that has cut sexual assaults in Vancouver by 10%. A campaign in the UK takes a similar approach. Feminist organizations like Take Back the Night and V-Day have long histories of pushing back against sexual violence. And remember that women have many male allies committed to tearing down rape culture (including President Obama).”