What Is Rape Culture? How Do Our Everyday Actions Uphold its Pillars?

By: Jana Bassem

You’ve been invited to a friend’s 19th birthday party at a nightclub. Finally getting a chance to do so, you bring out the new top you’ve been meaning to wear and pair it with a tight skirt. After getting dressed, you tell your parents you’re returning at 4 am — when the party will be over. You then get into your Uber alone and head out to have a much needed night of letting loose. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Leaving your house alone, late at night and dressed however you like without the consistent fear of getting sexually assaulted for unapologetically existing in the world. Unfortunately for those of us who want to experience life and not cower in fear, we’ve been brought into a world with a prevalent rape culture.

   Rape culture was first introduced by second wave feminists in the 1970s as a sociological concept that describes societies in which sexual assault and violence is encouraged through direct and indirect means and wherein people “assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable”. What that means, in simpler terms, is that rape culture is a term used to portray that our communities, whether they know it or not, accept rape and sexual assault as the norm rather than a detrimental issue that we all need to put an end to.

 All of us contribute to rape culture in different ways and to different extents, but to completely rule ourselves out of the equation and pretend that we’re perfect feminists rallying against this outrageous culture at all times is simply unrealistic. One of the most common ways we (unknowingly) support rape culture is through our language and reactions to the examples of sexual assault that those around us experience. If you’ve ever excused a male friend of yours for calling a female acquaintance of his a slut or a “sharmoota” for wearing something revealing or even having a lot of male friends, congrats! You’ve contributed to a culture that prevents women (and men) from existing in a world free of the constraints that accompany our fear of rape! Similarly, if you’ve ever complained about getting “friendzoned”, you’ve also contributed to rape culture as you’re perpetuating the fact that women somehow “owe” romantic/sexual relationships to those who are friendly to them.

 Another major example of an action that upholds rape culture is victim-blaming as it convinces people that victims of sexual violence are the ones at fault – maybe for dressing provocatively or not saying no ‘well enough’ – which simultaneously undermines how big of a problem sexual assault is and dismisses the rapist completely.

 These actions are only a handful of the many ways rape culture is sustained. And the fact that they seem mundane is enough proof of the damage that they’re doing. The normalization of these acts directly leads to sexual assault in its many forms.

Fortunately, we can dismantle this culture by avoiding doing actions that promote it and calling out those in our life who do!

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