If I were to use the term “rape culture,” how many people do you believe would know exactly what I am talking about? I often express my feelings about this phenomenon to peers and adults and more often than not, people are not too familiar with the term. In the 1970s, rape culture was coined to describe the environment in which sexual assault is normalized and accepted. In your everyday life, you may encounter so many logos, songs, symbols, phrases, jokes, TV shows, movies, and so much more that are blatantly offensive and disrespectful. Once you listen to the lyrics you’ll realize songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Rick Ross’ verse on Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O,” and Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” are all examples of this. Or middle school students making jokes about rape, because this is normal and comedic to them. But speaking up means you can’t take a joke. Calling people out on it means you are too sensitive. Getting upset about it is a cry for attention.
So here is MY “cry for attention.”
As women, from the time we can talk we are taught to behave for men and satisfy their wants and needs. We go to school and we are told no skirt should be more than three inches above the knee, no shirt should reveal your shoulder blade, our midriff should be concealed, and leggings are against the dress code. But it gets worse. Not only are there unreasonable dress codes with each adult having a different reason to justify them, but they are not even completely enforced. There’s always a grey area. Not every single girl that comes into school with leggings is dress coded, the violations are based on a teacher’s opinion of the outfit. The teacher feels my leggings are more unprofessional than the next girls’, so I am dress-coded. Why? Because the curvier the body the more of a supposed distraction and god forbid our clothes distract a boy from his education. Boys are not forced to adapt to their environment; we are forced to adapt the environment for them.
“Sexual Assault is oftentimes normalized in today’s society when there is nothing normal about it,” says Tyra Jones, 16. “In school, I’m often told that I can’t wear certain things because of the way my body is shaped. Other girls are able to wear the same things without any type of violation.”
Instead of learning to respect women, boys are being taught that our sole goal is to make them comfortable, to do whatever we have to for their peace of mind. This sense of entitlement is not only shown in schools but everywhere else.
“Rape culture is a major aspect of our society,” says Jomaro Djau, 16. “95% of males are a part of it and do not even realize it.”
It is as simple as a man getting offended when he catcalls a woman but she does not respond. It is women giving strangers their number despite not wanting to because it’s easier and safer that way. It is the former President of the United States of America, the supposed role model for any young boy, not only being caught on recording discussing his acts of abuse but then brushing it off as “locker room talk.” It is the newly elected president and dozens of other government officials having several allegations of sexual assault against them, only to see the issue of sexual assault not being legitimately discussed but turned into a political argument of the left vs. the right.
Rape culture in the media goes even deeper as the constant objectification of our bodies portrays an idea that we are mere objects to be looked at, not to be seen or heard. I am sure you have heard the phrase “sex sells,” leading people to believe the only way to get attention or notoriety is to reveal their bodies. Or, that nobody cares about what you have to say, they just care about what you have to show. But the second a woman in the media embraces her body and uses it as a means of expression, a stigma is placed on her. Then she is a “hoe,” “crying for male attention” and has “no respect for herself.” Society’s go-to is “How can a girl avoid sexual abuse?” or “What did you do to put yourself in this situation?” When the only thing that should matter is how can we stop breeding abusers?
“I was on a cruise last year and we stopped in Mexico,” says India Ingram, 17. “I was in a little gift shop with my mother, but I went to go look at rings. There were these men that asked me if I needed help and I said no thank you but they insisted. One of them got extremely close to me and put his arm on my back asking me how old I was. I walked away to the front of the store and waited in line for my mom. There was another guy making bracelets and he started recording me. That was just one time. There have been countless times where men, especially at work have made me feel uncomfortable.”
Why should I be continuously taught my whole life to avoid walking at night without a man to protect me and to not put my drink down unattended at a party but this is not a simple care to ever cross a man’s mind? Why am I told that the sports bra I wear at dance practice is unacceptable but the shirtless basketball players in the gym are just hot and need some air?
Traditionally, the United States is a patriarchal society, meaning a man is the head of a family. Because of this, many women have long been told what to do rather than asked what they want to be done. Although women have come a long way, we are still fighting for equality, and a lot of our country still doesn’t realize when they are disregarding a woman’s concerns.
“I don’t think that there is a rape culture in the US,” says Darryl Cooper, 17. “Because rape is considered inherently bad across America. For example, even a rape allegation (not a conviction) is enough to ruin someone’s career (rightfully so, depending on the innocence or guiltiness of that person).”
A lot of men will probably tell you they do not see rape culture in this country, because they themselves have not witnessed it and because they have been universally taught that “rape is bad.” But a society that appropriates rape culture is not going to outright accept rapists. Rape culture is subconsciously accepting ideas that can blame the victim and normalize a rapist’s actions rather than trying to change the atmosphere that allowed their actions to persist.
Sure rape is universally seen as a negative thing but when subliminal messages are saying “change what you are doing to not be raped,” the fact that people say it is bad does not matter. Like many say, actions speak louder than words. Not only does society cause victims to be scared to report their cases of sexual assault but they are also scrutinized when they finally come forward with their stories. When a woman is sexually abused, many are asked “What were you wearing?” among other questions, seeming as though the victim is on trial rather than the perpetrator. This happens in the courtroom, school, the workplace, and even with friends and family.
In a country where every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, yet only five out of every 1,000 of those perpetrators are sent to prison, there is clearly an issue. The clothes worn are not the issue, the woman’s actions are not the issue. The perpetrator is the issue. Our country’s failure to realize this is damaging to everyone. In this kind of environment, young boys think it’s okay to grab a girl’s butt as a joke, young girls are forced to cover up the second a guest comes into their home, and a victim of sexual assault is scrutinized because of her choice of clothing.
“I am a young entrepreneur who makes many trips to the post office to ship out orders,” says Alana Cason, 17. “It is right up the street from my house, but when no one at home can give me a ride there, I walk by myself instead. I dread it because every time I walk, at least eight older men approach me with inappropriate remarks. Most of the time they come off aggressive.”
She continues, “There’s never a time where I don’t feel uncomfortable in public because of men that are like this. ‘If you don’t like it then cover up more. Put on some more clothes then maybe you won’t have men looking at you or touching you like that’… I’ve been told something of that sort by many boys that have no clue that the clothes a woman has on shouldn’t validate whether or not a strange man can touch her. Whether I am fully clothed head-to-toe or showing a little skin, men still approach me with perverted remarks or make me uncomfortable in any way possible. I have been followed home, touched inappropriately, sexually harassed, disrespected, etc. yet society still finds a way to blame the WOMAN. “
Rape culture’s plague to society must end. This can not happen until it is recognized and internalized for what it is. Society should not be a battle of men vs. women or the world vs. victims. It should be everyone vs. the rapists. You may have unknowingly benefitted or been a product of this culture once, twice, or even one thousand times in your life but that does not make you a bad person, it makes you a product of this society. Realize that not everything you say is a harmless joke and not everything you do has no effect on others. End rape culture.