Rape culture. Wikipedia defines it as, “a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.”
It’s funny because I had never given the idea of the CULTURE of rape a second thought until recently.
There are few times that I have been as disappointed in and saddened by our society in my adult life as when the idea of “rape culture” was really brought to my attention. I recently began researching and perusing the Internet about it, since the Steubenville case and others like it have gotten so much national media attention. How do we begin to identify rape culture? When does identifying rape culture turn into a witch hunt of sorts? Are we overreacting in some cases?
All of these questions blazed colliding trails through my mind as I scrolled down activist/political pundit, Zerlina Maxwell’s Twitter timeline last week. Ms. Maxwell retweeted this photograph of an alcohol ad and added “This is what rape culture looks like”:
I took a look and besides the menacing look of the man in the picture, just like many who were asking Ms. Maxwell on Twitter, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly made for “rape culture” within the ad. I posted the photo on Facebook and asked friends if the ad was acceptable, why or why not? Most were immediately disgusted with it and said that it alluded to the idea that order to “get with” a woman, all a man had to do was get her drunk.
My original interpretation of it was “If you want the woman to take you seriously, offer her our brand of alcohol.” I related the ad to a promise of winning a woman’s interest because she has been offered quality alcohol and not the cheap/gross stuff.
After conversing with friends about it, I realized how easy it would have been for me to visually ingest the message of the ad without giving it much thought, all the while being fed the backwards message that we, women, are not totally in control of our bodies–a free drink is. I also thought about advertising agencies. I could now see exactly why the ad is deemed “rapey,” but I also saw how the ambiguity of the ad left just enough space through which to escape without any major legal problems for the company/agency. My eyes were opening to this “culture” and I was sick about it and my dismissal of it for so long. It’s ALL around us. Maybe, having been a silent survivor of sexual assault, I hadn’t been prepared to really SEE the day-to-day endorsements of it that enable so many attackers to feel guiltless.
As with all controversial issues, there will always be those who cannot intelligently and open-minded-ly discuss the issue, as was evidenced by the barrage of threatening, racist and violent tweets sent to Maxwell because of her outspokenness on Fox News about the issue. But I admire and applaud a woman like Zerlina Maxwell who is actively tugging the wool back from the eyes of America and calling rape and its entire culture out for what it is – subtle or not and masterfully shutting down ignorance and threats against her life. Though the subject evokes much combative discourse from men (and surprisingly, some women), I appreciate the conversation-starters who shed light on rape culture from personal perspectives seeking to enlighten and catalyze change.
But the point isn’t to make people feel good about broaching the issue. The point is to uncover what is really going on. The point is to be so unapologetic about calling it out that change has to happen. It is not overreaction to ask that the bodies of women be respected regardless of how many martinis they’ve had, no matter how short their skirts are, no matter how “into you” they may seem. To insist upon a dramatic shift in the message being broadcast to society instead of insisting women take boxing classes or carry pens and whistles. How about we call a rapist a rapist and follow Zerlina Maxwell’s lead in tearing down the hidden (and not-so-hidden) messages creating a way of life that teaches women to live in fear and defeat, and men to feel no guilt for taking advantage of somebody’s mother, sister, daughter?
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter.
La Truly’s writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change among young women through her writing. Check her out on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and AboutMe http://www.about.me/latruly.