“Bad Sex” and Rape Culture

I was reading posts on Facebook yesterday, as I do daily, when I came across a friend’s link to an article about a recent incident with a celebrity and her thoughts about it.  The overall sentiment of the article, with which my friend and most of her commenters agreed, was that women need to learn to communicate better with men, and that many claims of sexual assault are not really rape, they are just women who didn’t speak up in the moment later complaining about bad sex.  Non-verbal cues, it seems, are not enough.  But in this case, her verbal declarations were not enough, either.  This celeb continued to push her after she said she didn’t want to have sex with him.  He intimidated her.  He seemingly backed down only to physically violate her again.  Repeatedly.  To make matters worse, the celebrity claims that not only could he not read this woman’s mind, but that she was just publicity-seeking.  The male celebrity says he has been publicly humiliated without cause.  He is the victim.

Folks, there is no more blatant example of the elements of rape culture than this case.  It’s a freaking blueprint.  Whether you believe her or not, whether she’s telling the truth or not, is completely beside the point.  The point is that her story has been discredited in the court of public opinion merely because the male celebrity blamed her for it.  That’s it.  All he had to do was say, essentially, ‘yeah, but she was sending mixed signals,’ while maintaining that he couldn’t read her non-verbal cues.  Never mind that he ignored her very explicit verbal statements about not wanting to have sex with him on that evening.  He pushed her anyhow.  She complied.  It was him who sent the mixed messages, and she was confused and intimidated by them.  At the end of it all, she was blamed for not having stopped him by saying ‘no’ even more explicitly and forcefully than she did.  She was not assertive enough.  She was just attention-seeking.  This is EXACTLY what rape culture looks like.  This is how it plays out.  We all participate in it.  We accept it.  We perpetuate it.

The ultimate message here is that women cause their own rapes, that they cause perpetrators to act by what they do or don’t do.  By this logic, men are helplessly compelled to rape women; men are the victims.  We are taught by college campuses and police departments that women must protect themselves against rape by changing how rape culturethey dress, by not walking alone in the dark, by not going to clubs and parties alone, by locking their doors, by being aware of their surroundings at all times, by being assertive, and by responding physically when being assaulted.  All of the responsibility to prevent and defend against rape is place on the victim.  This is victim-blaming.  It is so deeply embedded in our culture that most women blame women, too.  At a minimum, women in our society have all accepted that it is their responsibility to guard against rape; the perpetrators will likely not be held responsible for their violent acts.  Today, 400,000 or more rape kits go untested around the country, even after the viral, celebrity-endorsed #MeToo social media campaign of late.  This allows perpetrators to confidently go about their lives without consequences, perhaps raping again.  It is estimated that only one in three rapes is actually reported, so that 400,000 represents just a small fraction of the millions of rape survivors whose crimes will likely never be investigated or adjudicated.

The nuances of rape culture and victim-blaming are so deeply embedded in our western culture – indeed, in global culture – that we often don’t recognize them.  The talk and walk of even the most liberated and self-aware among us may be incongruent because we literally cannot see the misogynist forest in which we stand because of the feminist trees obstructing our view.  Surely, we think, women are not oppressed in North America today.  I mean, they are equal to men in all ways now, or at least on the sexual liberation front, right?  All that gender discrimination stuff is a thing of the past, isn’t it?

Oh, how I wish that were true.  The workplace alone provides ample evidence that misogyny is alive and well in the U.S., as well as many other places globally.  The feminist viewpoint does indeed espouse that women protect themselves and each other as suggested by our institutions, but only because of the existing cultural views that so clearly perpetuate this victim-blaming.  Women must defend themselves because no one else will.  What feminism really says about rape is that it is a violent act, not a sexual one, and treating it differently than, say, a stabbing or a gunshot or beatdown helps to perpetuate its occurrence.  The targeting of sex organs in the commission of these violent acts blurs the lines in many people’s minds.  Because our bodies sometimes respond in machine-like fashion to these violations, with victims experiencing orgasm, the line between sex and violence is further blurred.  The fact that many survivors are raped without the customary outward signs of violence being inflicted – bruising, cuts, black eyes, torn clothing – or that they delay reporting the crime, further diminishes the status of rape as an act of violence in the public consciousness.  Finally, endorsement by our institutions and government of the idea that women cause their own rapes, wherein women are taught to be hyper-vigilant, solidifies the false belief that men are somehow victims of women and are induced to rape by women.

Rape is not sex, it’s not even “bad sex.”  Rape is about dominance, control, and violence. Rape is also about sex, but only insofar as the targeting of sex organs in the commission of rape is an effective means of domination, shame, and humiliation.  In this way, rape is a political and social tool to maintain control of those that the powerful wish to subjugate, as so eloquently and timelessly presented by Susan Brownmiller in her 1970’s Against_Our_Will_(1975_edition)tome “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”  Though a plethora of male psychologists, authors, and others have tried to discredit Brownmiller’s work as merely political and lacking scientific bases, research continues to evolve in support her hypotheses.  Though she may have lacked insight into the dynamic of race in rape culture, her view of its impact on women and the motives for men’s domination of them remains largely unchallenged.  I present all of that simply to make these points:  Governments do not rape women, of course; they are entities, not individuals.  But governments do successfully pave the way for men to rape without consequence, and they routinely offer men encouragement through their unequal gender policies.  Rape kit forensic backlogs help, too.

It is not easy to be self-aware and to question our own beliefs and understandings.  Yet, a high degree of self-awareness is exactly what we must each have if we are going to stop blaming the victims of the crime of rape.  And we must stop blaming the victim. Men must be held accountable for their violent actions.

It’s not bad sex, it’s rape.

 

Author’s note:  Though there are men who are raped by men and by women, and women who are raped by women, these are currently less than 5% of the total reported crimes. Were all sexual assaults reported, the statistics would look somewhat different.  We know, for instance, that the rate of sexual assault of transgender women of color is alarmingly high, and that the LGBTQ community in general has high rates of sexual assault according to surveys.  Herein I have focused on the reported 95% of rapes which are perpetrated by men against women.  Ultimately, the victims of the prevailing rape culture are anyone who is vulnerable, which is usually those who are less physically and mentally able to defend themselves against a perpetrator. 

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