In my original piece in which I expressed my frustrations with rape culture, I failed to address its causing factors and solutions. Like any systematic oppressive cycle, this culture cannot be defined by one act. Rather, it is a series of perpetual events stemming from all realms of life.
So, let’s break it down.
SEX·U·AL·IZE /// VIC·TIM·IZE
- : To invalidate one’s being
- : To equate personal value with sexual objects
Sexualization occurs at all ages and with all genders. According to the American Psychological Association, it can manifest through cultural, external, and internal channels where it is most notably thrust upon young women. While objectification is often displayed in media and at home, it is also very commonly enforced in school settings.
Across the nation, students are being told what to wear and how to wear it. Under the implication that girls’ bodies are too distracting, especially for male peers and staff, schools risk portraying their students as mere sex objects. Targeting short skirts, cleavage, undergarments, and even shoulders, female students are made to feel inferior as they are being disproportionately singled out. With this, dress codes become gender-specific and classic patriarchal ideals are placed upon what should be a progressive environment.
As these rules are enforced, the psychological standing of a student is at risk. If suddenly punished for presence and thereby forced to either change or receive disciplinary action, one’s learning will most likely be in disarray. In fact, “studies suggest that a preoccupation with physical appearance based on sexualized norms disrupts mental capacity and cognitive function”. In other words, schools are hindering the very thing they set out to flourish.
By implementing both heteronormative and prejudicial values, students of all genders suffer. Girls are deemed distractions, boys are reduced to animals, and everyone in between is not given the space to learn and express themselves freely.
Dress codes tell students what they wear is representative of their value. If their clothing choice is not to the school’s standard, then the student is responsible for the consequences, right? Wrong. This way of thinking, no matter how PC you want to make it, is just another way of saying “you asked for it”. As if anybody would ever ask for this. And yet, this is the mindset being instilled in our youth.
We must ask ourselves what are we willing to accept. While many schools are undergoing great change in order to advocate for student rights, our society still allows problematic issues to be brushed under the rug.
LOCK·ER ROOM BAN·TER
- :Sexist humor deemed acceptable, especially in male settings
See boys will be boys; see boy’s talk; see catcalling; see verbal assault; see verbal harassment; see joke turned violent; see joke turned rape; see Donald Trump; see Brock Turner; seek help; seek respect; seek common decency; seek excuses.
The acts of catcalling, sexist humor, and verbal harassment are often paired with the concepts of ‘locker room banter’ or ‘boy’s talk’. By excusing these acts under the belief that boys will be boys, we are assuming males are innately sexist and violent. In doing so, we teach them that their words do not have consequences and subsequently, neither do their actions. We allow room for blatant disrespect as well the belittlement of women while men suffer no repercussions.
However, ‘harmless’ words may appear, it is under this very presumption that gender biases develop and preventative measures against sexual violence waver. In an attempt to underscore this gross misconduct, a 2007 study confirms that sexist humor “can lead to an increase in male self-reported proclivity and victim blame”. In other words, such humor only emboldens the incentive to attack. Those who make light of sexism tend to also be more inclined to carry out actual sexual violence.
Simply making misogynistic jokes normalizes the callous act of sexual assault. We become so accustomed to the idea through verbal presentation that when it actually does happen, the severity of the circumstance is lessened. With this, victim blaming is acclimated. By stripping survivors of the right to grieve and dismissing sexist remarks as ineffectual, we are creating a hazardous environment for both society and potential victims.
Statistically speaking, it comes as no surprise Donald Trump’s notorious “grab her by the pussy” remarks were also accompanied with a string of allegations for sexual assault. From groping women to displaying pedophiliac tendencies, he has done it all. And yet, his actions stand the test of time and media coverage. A man who has endowed endless women and girls with awkward encounters and suffering now lives in the White House. What does that say about our nation?
Many people pass his remarks off as boy’s talk, and in doing so, they contribute to this culture where men are given entitlement for both success and mediocre existence. The fact is, Trump’s new position justifies assault. His ability to remain unscathed is disheartening, but it is not shocking. This is the world we live in.
As this behavior continues to plague our country, several rape cases have been brought to light and scrutiny.
SEX·U·AL ASS·AU·LT /// RAPE
- :Any sexual act done without consent regardless of relationship status
See every 1 in 5 college women; see every 1 in 16 college men; see 2 every minutes in America
Perhaps one of the most unnerving cases thus far is Brock Turner’s story. As a Stanford student and apparently successful swimmer, Turner was convicted of rape in June 2016. His attack consisted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a fraternity party. And if that is not infuriating enough, Turner was given a six-month jail sentence and was released after serving only three months of his allotted time. His own father belittled the occurrence to “20 minutes of action” while the appointed judged feared “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him”. In saying so, Turner’s slap-on-the-wrist sentence paints a very unsettling picture of American values. As far as successful white straight cis men go, assault is acceptable and will continue to be as long as such dismissive attitudes exist.
Along with this blatant absence of victim compassion and assailant accountability is the Emma Sulkowicz case. In the summer of 2012, Sulkowicz was brutally raped by a supposed friend in her college dorm room. Despite her insistence, there simply was not enough evidence to indict her attacker through academic channels, causing her to take matters in her own hands.
In pursuit of due process, Sulkowicz reached out to the police, where she was met with disappointment. In disbelief when the survivor could not account for her attacker’s clothing on a night that occurred over a year ago, the officer states: “So you don’t remember the shoes he was wearing. Oh. Most women do”. Not only did this officer dismiss Sulkowicz’s complaint, but they also misogynistically overgeneralized the point that “most women” would remember the shoes of their assailant. Thus, inflicting rape culture on Sulkowicz through both victimization and degradation.
Despite having to ensure boundless obstacles while attempting legal defense, she was unable to receive justice. Her case, like many others, is representative of the unsympathetic treatment of victims by the legal system. In spite of her resistance to the rape itself and her determination for justice, rape culture allowed for her opposition to mistake her body, integrity, and case for something of a lighter task. Therefore, her repetitive endurance of victimization proves rape culture to be institutionalized.
With these explicit acts of violence in mind, it is crucial to understand the weight of the injustice at hand. This is a widespread issue and must be dealt with in a pervasive manner. In a humorous but informative effort to raise awareness for sexual assault on college campuses, Former Vice President Joe Biden co-starred in a Funny or Die video.
His campaign, “It’s On Us”, was short and simple: Take a pledge to implement preventative measures. By doing so, Biden created a standard in which bystanders and aggressors alike are held responsible. Rather than placing the blame on the victim, he puts the issue of accountability at the forefront, a feat within itself.
With 1 in 5 women and 1 and 16 men sexually assaulted by the time they leave college, campuses remain a petri dish for sexual misconduct. Even so, only 20% of female students report to law enforcement, leaving 80% fearful of reprisal and disbelief, among other things. As shown through Turner and Sulkowicz’s cases, justice is a fickle thing. By confronting sexual violence at its core, rape culture is subject to its own medicine.
Similarly in preventative action, California and New York have implemented an affirmative consent law in order to ensure safety among all constituents. According to the New York Times, the law’s informal name “yes means yes” is “an about-face on ‘no means no’ which suggests that sex can advance until you hear that ‘no’”.
In other words, by consistently and assuredly giving a ‘yes’, there is little room for misinterpretation. A victim’s assault is often scrutinized in painful measures, and the presence of ‘no’ tends to set the disposition of the questions to follow. Affirmative consent was created to combat victim blaming in the name of silence and indifference. Rather than asking if the victim said ‘no’, ask the assailant if they heard a ‘yes’ repetitively and without hesitation.
Admittedly this law is just scratching the surface of sexual assault. Though it does not address the intricacies of rape culture (i.e. sexualization, degradation, sexist humor, etc.), the attempt to actively search for consent no matter the circumstance is the beginning of an exhausting battle. And as we are creatures of habits, employing these deeds of respect will hopefully encourage further acts of progression.
In the wake of these tragedies, rape culture stands to be multifaceted. Be it through dress codes, normalization of sexist humor, or assault itself, it is evident this epidemic is prevalent. Having said that, it is absolutely vital to tirelessly work to combat it. With the right push from the justice system, we will be victorious in the face of tasteless vulgarity. In spite of the extensive journey to come, progression is and always will be possible.
If you or someone you know has been assaulted, please reach out to the following:
Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) : 215-985-3333
Women Helping Women: 513-977-5541 /// Crisis: 513-381-5610
RAINN : 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Safe Horizon : 212-227-3000
You are not alone.