On Rape Culture and What You Can Do About It

Last week, I linked to a post I really loved from [Witty Title Here], and I promised I’d have more to say on that later. The thing is, I really do love that post. I love the conversation it starts, and (almost) everything she has to say about feminism. The problem is, I’ve been struggling to write this post for a while now. I don’t know how to say what I need to without the anger I feel about it shining through.

rape culture

This conversation is one that’s been had before. I’ve been a part of it more times than I can count, having been raised by a mother and father who constantly reminded me how important my rights are and how important I am.

When I started preparing to take the SATs four years ago, I looked at more colleges than I can count. I probably couldn’t even tell you all of the ones I applied to because since my parents had never gone to college themselves, they insisted I apply everywhere. We drove all over Pennsylvania looking at potential schools before eventually deciding on one that had never been on my radar (that’s not to say I’m not happy here. I absolutely love this school, and in fact plan on staying in this town after I graduate this weekend. It just wasn’t my plan).

One of the biggest factors in my choosing this school over one my mom really wanted me to go to was safety. That other school just did not feel safe, even with a hundred cops all over the place (or maybe because of that). This one though? This one felt perfect. And for three years, I was never scared here. I would walk home from work at 2AM alone if none of the bouncers were able to leave for 20 minutes; and maybe that was naive, but it’s a testament to how safe I felt here – not just on campus, but in this town. On nights I couldn’t sleep or when a big test had me stressed, I would head down to a playground right off campus and sit on the swings.

This year though, that changed. This year, if you know my school, you know there have been problems. I can’t even count how many assaults I’ve received e-mails and texts about, and it got so bad my little town made it onto the 6o’clock news one night. My campus is covered in “TIMELY WARNING”s, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing them. I’m sick of reading about how not safe the women on this campus are (because while I realize sexual assault is a gender neutral issue, the ones being reported on a weekly basis at my campus are strictly female victims). I’m sick of hearing that the men they knew and trusted did this to them.

I lose my ability to communicate effectively when I hear someone say that she had any part in what happened. I can’t think straight enough to formulate a response when someone says “well, she was drinking. And girls these days…their skirts are just a bit shorter than I should think is appropriate.” You know what? That has nothing to do with it. And that simple fact seems like basic common sense to me, because if you can acknowledge that the men and women who do these things are mentally ill, then you surely can’t believe that the outfit she was wearing had anything to do with it.

It frankly doesn’t matter if she was topless because we are not animals incapable of thought. We do not have a rape instinct that kicks in at the mere sight of skin. We are human beings who need to be taught “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped.”

The only thing that makes her skirt or her blood alcohol content relevant is us. We make these things important because by pointing them out, we tell the predators exactly who they should go after. We tell them that if they pick a woman who’s had a few drinks, or who is wearing a lot of make-up, or who is walking home alone it might be only sort of their fault. We tell them that these are the victims they should choose, because a jury might say she was asking for it; might suggest she said yes and regretted it in the morning.

As a society we need to stop excusing this behavior. Even if you don’t think you are, even “well I’m just pointing out that certain behaviors can attract unwanted attention,” you are still perpetuating rape culture. Because in the end, you’re absolutely right: a short skirt does attract unwanted attention.  But not because they wouldn’t do the same thing to a woman in baggy jeans and an old t-shirt. They wouldThey picked that woman, because we told them they should, and we need to stop telling criminals which victims are the most vulnerable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08452136535427124920 Alicia | Jaybird: Home in Motion

    Can we just get this printed on a card to kindly offer to everyone who says idiotic victim-blaming things? “It frankly doesn’t matter if she was topless, because we are not animals incapable of thought.” Aaaah-yup. We all have agency and self-control. It’s insulting to men to imply that they are incapable of exercising self-control, and it’s unbelievably damaging for victims and society to perpetuate that myth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13920094316606620616 New Wave Domesticity

    This is so beautifully written. It makes me so sad that colleges have become such a hotbox of victim blaming and sexism, but I also feel hopeful that feminism exists and will take root and inspire other girls to support each other.

    PS – I found you from Whispering Sweet Nothings and I am really glad I did!

  • http://thewinestain.com/ thewinestain.com

    Yes Yes Yes Yes. I teach college English and I once had a class session where I brought up a recently published comic that was portraying rape in the school newspaper. No one in my class thought it was rape, but they were eventually convinced once we went through the definition of rape. (It was quite the scandal at Purdue). It saddened me that a lot of males in my class had a really narrow view of rape. This stuff needs to be talked about. We shouldn’t be victim blaming but raising better men.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12659553783615220768 Kiersten

      Exactly! I feel like we completely avoid talking about what rape is and how to take no for an answer, but we’re constantly being bombarded with “carry pepper spray. travel in groups. don’t drink too much.” etc etc. I understand the good intentions behind telling women and men how to defend themselves, but do people not see how flawed that is as a strategy?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10765023786410264588 Jessica Marie

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been afraid of sharing things just because I try to forget about it… but I remember after everything happened, how much I was blamed for what happened… especially by females. “Well, you shouldn’t have been drinking! What happened to the way you were in high school when you were totally against drinking?” “You’re so naive to just trust someone! You need to be paranoid about everything” to “Well, you deserved what happened to you because the guy you got into a fight with was going to jail and that guy who did that to you capitalized on your weakness from that fight” or “you deserved what happened to you because you are such an idiot!” The few friends I had left here, it fell apart. It makes me sad and mad to think about it. No one deserves to be assaulted or raped. I still have nightmares from time to time though I don’t remember most of what happened that night. We need to teach both men and women not to be perpetrators and I think that could possibly be done by explaining what exactly consent is.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12659553783615220768 Kiersten

      I know I’ve said it before, but I’m so sorry about what happened to you. And especially about the way your friends responded. I can’t imagine that helped at all. I hope though that you do understand you had nothing to do with what happened to you – nothing you could have done would have caused it. I agree though, that we need to discuss what NOT to do, rather than how to avoid having it done to you.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10765023786410264588 Jessica Marie

      ::hug:: I’m glad I had some understanding coworkers and my friends in the Midwest were awesome (they still check in on me and they’re going to be checking in when I move too). My mom actually blamed me for everything as well and she still brings up things. My dad is a deputy and I think for him he was caught between being a dad and then being in law enforcement (he works for Montgomery County and things happened in Chester). I know when I move I’m going to look into counseling… I think when I take my trip next week I’m going to look into city services and see if anyone offers something on a sliding scale.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09683044614329189495 Andrew-L’autre

    Great post. Victim-blaming/shaming is distressingly prevalent in today’s society, regardless of who the victim is.

    To respond to two particular points:

    “We do not have a rape instinct that kicks in at the mere sight of skin.” – Indeed, and as I’ve said before to Jessica – who has posted above – people who are intoxicated (i.e. too drunk to give consent) do not give off a “rape pheromone” that causes other people to rape them. The onus is on others to not rape.

    “We are human beings who need to be taught ‘don’t rape’ rather than ‘don’t get raped.'” – Certainly. I think that both this and consent need to be taught to men and women. I don’t agree with people who say that they should be taught solely to men or solely to women: everyone needs to learn that it’s okay to say no and that when someone says no, that should be respected rather than ignored or laughed at.