by Dr. T
When the first response to a woman or girl’s account of being touched, groped, or sexually bullied and demeaned, verbally or physically assaulted is to trivialize, deny or blame her for her own victimization, THAT is participating in Rape Culture. “Boys will be boys” or “I was just a joking!” or “She asked for it!” are all classic defenses, deflections and excuses for misogyny, assault and the objectification and overt harassment of women and girls, and are a part of the culture in which we live. Defending and excusing these abhorrent behaviors is so commonplace within the American cultural landscape that it is more often ignored than confronted even though most women do not reach adulthood without having had personal experience with the trauma of sexual assault and/or abuse of some kind.
We live in a culture where the objectification of women in advertising, media arts and culture is “normal.” The way a woman “looks” on television, in film and in the corridors of business, halls of justice and throughout centers of academic discourse is more indicative of her worth or validity than her level of education, intellectual prowess, ability or business acumen. The standards by which women and girls are judged and evaluated feed into a culture where they are routinely put on public display and “scored” by a physical standard created by a patriarchal system that routinely scrutinizes a woman or girl’s dress, mental state, motives and personal history. Unlike the measurement and assessment of males for their accomplishments, resume, intelligence and character. Where men’s “bad” behavior is almost celebrated, expected, applauded and even ignored, women are most often shamed for behaviors that revolve around sexuality, choice, body image or empowerment. Intelligence is equated with an air of frigidness; assertiveness and confidence are connected with dysfunction or disorder. All of this creates a culture whereby sexual harassment and assault is tolerated because maleness and masculinity are defined by sexual aggression and dominance, and femininity and womanhood are defined by submission and passivity. Gratuitous gendered violence in movies, television and music videos continue to permeate the industry and the public continues to passively accept those standards as normal and thereby valid.
We have a serious problem with how we, as a society, treat women and girls. The fact that women across the board still do not make equal pay for equal work exemplifies the value we place on the work they do. The current attack on women’s reproductive rights displays a paternalistic intrusion into the autonomy a woman has over her own body, an argument that was constitutionally settled by the Supreme Court over four decades ago. Because we are in the midst of a highly contested political season, we find ourselves in heated and passionate discourse around sexism, reproductive rights and economic “kitchen table issues” where the discussion inevitably exposes both the active and passive misogyny of people who are running for public office. As mothers, fathers, daughters, sisters and brothers, we must STOP the continuing culture of violence and humiliation of women and girls in what we think, what we say, and what we DO. It is time to STOP teaching women and girls to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape. All of us MUST begin to think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence and take responsibility instead of blame shifting, excusing and ignoring. We MUST develop a respect for other people’s physical space even in casual situations. Communication is key and it is essential in sexual situations even in partnerships, you cannot assume consent. Who we are and how we define ourselves should not come from the media marketplace or the ingrained stereotypes we are saturated with. Ultimately, we must each define our own humanity and not allow others to define it for us.