Rape Culture

26 May


Rape Culture.  It is a term with which I have been familiar since college, and that was over 20 years ago.  It is not a new term, but apparently is as explosive today as it was when coined in the 70’s.  It reared its ugly head this week, when a friend posted the following on Facebook:

“I am furious right now. My youngest daughter is a fifth grader…. Today is field day. We got email reminders and memos warning that they can’t wear short shorts. Jane doesn’t like short shorts anyway, so we picked out a pair of gym shorts that she wears to play volleyball and other sports that are the “proper length.” Five minutes after I dropped her off at school she calls me and says she needs me to bring a different pair of shorts because the ones she is wearing have an elastic waistband. I have to find a pair of her blue jeans and cut them off at the knee. I return to the school, and much to my delight the Principal happened to be standing in the office. So I asked him, ‘Would you mind telling me what’s wrong with my daughter’s shorts?’ He says, ‘Well elastic waistbands are iffy because boys like to pull them down.’ I couldn’t believe he actually said that! So I said, ‘Don’t you think you should be teaching little boys how not to be little pigs?’ He laughed and said, ‘Well, it’s not just one boy, it’s like 20 of them when they get together.’ I could not believe my ears!! I said, ‘So what you’re teaching these little boys, is that if there is gang of them together, it’s ok to attack a little girl and undress her?’ He started to look uncomfortable and said, ‘Boys are just like that at this at this age.’ I said, ‘It sounds like you have a problem at this school.’ He reluctantly nodded his head and laughed again. So I asked him what he planned on doing about it. He just stared at me. I said, ‘That’s what I thought.’ I changed Jane into uncomfortable blue jean shorts that she won’t be able to be athletic in because we are teaching boys how to be rapists.”

The post attracted many posts. The posters were uniform in their support of her opinion, until one of them accused the school of fostering a “rape culture.”  The reaction of posters to the comment is a reminder that framing the argument matters more than it should in public discourse. “Rape culture” is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. The term applies to society’s normalizing sexualized violence, and consists of “…a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression… In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.. . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”

No one condones rape. But one friend posting on my friend’s Facebook site was greatly incensed at the use of the term “rape culture.” He argued that subscribing to such an idea is “liberal babble.” If the term evokes too much emotion, or is associated with a “liberal” agenda, perhaps it should be changed. The issues are so important and they should be apolitical.

The physical maturing of a young woman is obvious. Of course boys notice developing breasts. Their attention is expected. However, society accepts that boys publicly ridicule girls, joke about them or make physical contact like “popping” a bra strap, explaining this conduct as “boys will be boys.” All of these actions are intended to bring attention to a girl’s maturing body. They are unacceptable. Young girls should not be subjected to this behavior, and certainly should not be exposed to the potential of the “gang” attack described above. In fact, what we must eradicate, in the mind of young boys, is the very idea that it is acceptable to touch girls in such a manner. The notion that “boys will be boys” is not applicable. “Boys will be boys” should apply to snake hunting, bike riding, wrestling and/or whatever behavior one might define as “boyish.” In 2015, it should never apply to sexual harassment. Society doesn’t help us much. Children see sexual objectification everywhere they look. They see it in magazines. They watch it on television. They hear it in music. That is why it is incumbent upon adults to understand the dangers of such behavior and how to stop it in its tracks. There is no room for political offense resulting from the use of a term that’s been established for 40 years. There is no room for the notion that women who invoke the term are “extreme” feminists. There is nothing extreme about working to protect young girls and prevent rape, to the extent that it can be prevented, by changing cultural ideas that foment it. Further, it is certainly not extreme to make sure that young boys understand prohibitive behavior now!

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