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The Steubenville Rapists & How Rape Culture is Not Rape

March 18, 2013

Okay, on this blog I try and take what most people think is innocent, light-hearted pop culture and turn it all serious. But this time I’m taking a serious issue and making it uhhh…serious-er.

Because this is my blog. And fuck rape culture.

As many of you have heard, two Steubenville football players have been found guilty in juvenile court of rape. Hence they are convicted rapists. But as some of you have also heard, they have not been treated like convicted rapists by most of the media. Instead, what CNN, ABC, and other news outlets have focused on is the “promising future” of these two young men that have been ruined by the verdict. Reporters like Candy Crawley and Poppy Harlow reported on how the two boys, after serving time in juvenile detention centers, will be “haunted” by their sex offender status since they will need to register as such (because they are in fact, rapists).

In response to this, the website Upworthy has been amazingly awesome at bringing to light just how horrible these rape-apologists have been (see here).  They even came up with the following image which they posted on Facebook.

But even this image is seriously flawed. Sorry Upworthy, but rape culture is not rape. Rape culture is made up of all of the little messages that men receive on a daily, if not hourly, basis that lets them know that it is their manly right, nay duty, to take what they want when they want it. And the little messages that women get on a constant basis that if we receive any unwanted sexual attention it is completely our fault since men are animals and can’t help themselves. You want a definitive guide to rape culture? Here we go.

1. Men….take what’s yours.

The best example of the rape culture messages for men came in my coverage of this year’s SuperBowl ads. I’ll refresh your memory. In the Audi commercial that made the cut a young boy gets to borrow his father’s Audi and drives it solo to the prom where he proceeds to walk up to, and without warning, plant a kiss on the hot girl. The young boy walks out with a black eye we assume is from the boyfriend of the hot girl who is not happy about what just happened. The message is that what a woman wants to happen sexually isn’t important…the young boy is allowed to take it when he feels like he’s finally a man, and the boyfriend has to defend the sexuality of his girlfriend. Maybe she wanted it, maybe she didn’t. We’ll never know because it doesn’t really matter.

How about we teach young men how to tell when a young woman is interested? How much better sex is when she’s into it? How about we teach EVERYONE that sex can be fun for women too?

2. Man Up!

Rape culture isn’t only in the little narratives we see in 30 second ads. It’s also in our language. Think about the following phrases: Man up! Grow some balls! Don’t be a pussy! Be a man!

The ultimate manly trait is to be as agentic as possible. That means to be the one in control and making things happen; don’t let the world happen to you. (And women are not allowed to be agentic…duh.) In our culture this means that men are always expected to make the move on women and whenever possible make sex happen. I’m not saying all men act like this. But this is definitely what is meant by “being a man.” See #1.

How about we all follow Betty White’s advice and start calling people vaginas when they’re tough? Because those things can take a pounding.

3. She asked for it

Rape culture defines not only men’s behavior, but how interactions between men and women “should” go. Women should sit around like beautiful, non-sexual flowers to be “picked” by agentic men (Twilight anyone?). Anything else, and she’s asking to get raped. If you think about that last sentence logically, it actually contains no logic. But this is not only after the fact when people bring up over and over and over and over (ad nauseum) that the 16-year-old Jane Doe made the decision to drink as much as she did on the night that she was sexually penetrated while she was unconscious. This is when a woman wears a skirt to work and has to endure catcalls on the street (“She must want it if she’s dressing like that right?”). This is when a woman takes a free drink from a guy and is called a “bitch” when he asks to get her phone number or to have sex with her and she says no (“Why ELSE would I buy her a drink?”).  This is when men assume that a woman who comes over to his apartment definitely want to have the same sexual experience as he does (“What do you mean you only want to make out? Why are you here then?”).

How about we teach men that what women want most is not sexual attention but respect. Aretha Franklin blaring Clockwork Orange style maybe? And how about teaching women that even when HE’S interested that doesn’t mean she has to be. She has agency too.

This is a short list but it’s a good start. When we see rape culture let’s at least do our part and call it out. Rape culture is NOT rape. Rape culture is in any way whatsoever making men think rape is only a problem if you get caught and that women were likely asking for it or deserved it for not following the set gender rules.

If we get our act together maybe one day Jane Doe won’t be seen as a hero for the simple act of speaking up for herself against something that is morally and legally wrong. Because fuck rape culture.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 19, 2013 2:07 am

    Interesting article. I must admit, though, I didn’t follow the case, so I can’t really comment on the coverage. However, it’s sad “don’t get raped” is more stressed than “don’t rape.”

    While reading your list, I had to keep reminding myself you were describing “race culture” and not paleoconservatism or American culture in general.

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