Last updated: September 23, 2011 11:33 am
Rape culture is real
Denying its existence increases silence and shame
ANTIGONISH (CUP) ― Recently, Graham Templeton of The Peak newspaper at Simon Fraser University wrote an opinion piece stating that he was offended by the very notion of a western rape culture, calling the premise sexist.
His arguments lack insight or a nuanced understanding of the issues he disagrees with. They are offensive and detrimental to the efforts of those who are fighting to end sexual harassment and assault.
I think it’s important to define rape culture, because I don’t think Templeton understands it, or took the time to investigate the meaning. Rape culture is a culture that devalues women and victims, does not understand consent, belittles rape allegations, and pushes aside the importance of mutually enjoyable sex, consent and pleasure.
Templeton makes the argument that murder is a problem, much like sexual assault, but we don’t use the term “murder culture.”
Let's talk numbers.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 610 homicides in Canada in 2009. University of Toronto professor Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, the author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, told the Toronto Star, “Your chances of getting killed by a stranger [in Toronto] are about one in 220,000.”
Victimization data collected by Statistics Canada suggests between one in three and one in four women in Canada will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Only 10 per cent of these incidents come to the attention of police.
This is evidence of a rape culture.
Templeton argues: “... We’re told that it’s not that rape is overtly condoned, but that there is a bubbling subtext just below the surface of every facet of our society which supports and normalizes misogyny and forgiveness for violence against women. It is the statement that male sexuality is, by definition, violent and predatory.”
I do not believe that the “basal psychology of males” is responsible for rape. I separate “man” from “masculinity” and “woman” from “femininity.” Men are taught masculinity. Masculinity is a set of cultural characteristics, values, and behaviours that contribute to a culture where using sexual force over women is permissible and often expected.
According to traditional heterosexual scripts, sex begins when a penis becomes erect and ends when male ejaculation occurs. Female pleasure is often secondary, less important, and rarely discussed.
In Yes means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, Thomas MacAulay Miller argues that women are often framed as guardians over their own sexuality and men strive for access to this “commodity.”
In other words, men “get some” while women “give it away.” This nurtures a culture of rape.
There are the extreme examples like The Game and other books that reduce women to prey and dating to crude, exploitative hunting. The double standard of slut/stud, or even the notion that men initiate sex more than women, reinforces the concept that women must guard their sexuality, while men can’t be helped.
Templeton is eager to provide his own example of a double standard.
“Young boys are deluged with education designed to keep them from becoming rapists, because the rapist is assumed to be the basal psychology of the male. There are, strangely, no information sessions teaching young girls how not to exploit sexuality for their own ends," he writes. "If the latter of these ideas offends you, then think very carefully about just how similar it is to the former. To call someone a rapist is infinitely more serious than to call them a slut, unless our rape-culture activists have completely devalued the term.”
Where is the deluge of education for boys? Since when is it easy for men to talk about healthy sexuality? Navigating the world of sexuality and gender is not easy for young men, but generally people shrug events off and say “boys will be boys.”
On the other hand, TV and popular magazines teach girls that sluts are bad people.
Templeton uses the word slut to allude to women who “exploit their sexuality.” Is this not taking power away from women who do have a strong sense of their own sexuality? Does it not debase those women who take (just a little too much) joy in sex? Women who subvert the gender norms and expectations that ensure men’s dominance? Once women discover that not only does no mean no but yes means yes, do they become sluts? Once the focus is placed on something other than male pleasure, and women take control of their own sexual pleasure, do they become sluts?
Calling a woman a slut is a desperate attempt to strengthen the male stranglehold on gender norms. Templeton is simply contributing to the silence and shame surrounding sexual violence of any kind.
Addressing rape culture is not easy. It is much easier to tell women to not walk alone, to stay away from certain areas, to watch their drinks, to not wear certain clothes and to not “lead men on.” All of this well-intended advice is simply another form of victim blaming that most women contend with every day.
Though there are pockets of people who think as Templeton does, there are rich, vibrant communities of people across the country who want to empower women, who acknowledge that sex and pleasure matter and who want to include men in their efforts. That I count such individuals as friends is a pleasure I’ll indulge in all I want, thank you very much.