Rape Culture Is Real (And You’re Probably A Feminist)

by ejkendall

Ah, the Great Facebook Debacle of February 2014. Thirty-six hours of sweat, tears and phone-calls to check that friendships remained intact. The subject? “Why are feminists called feminists and not just equalists?” and “Why I’m anti-feminist but pro-equality.” As anyone who’s read my blog before – or, indeed, been in my presence for more than a sum total of around ten minutes, probably – will know, these are issues very close to my heart. And I’m sure the same people could vouch for the fact that I just can’t resist a good bit of controversy. So here’s a more considered, researched response to some of the arguments made against feminism. Let the games begin!

Intro) Why should I be a FEMinist if I want equal rights?
“Feminists are fighting for equal rights for women, why? Why specify that much? Why not fight for everyone’s rights in one hit?”
“Feminism is called feminism because it’s all about raising the rights of females. If it was called equalism it would be about raising the rights of everybody, however feminists aren’t interested in men’s rights. Nothing to do with equality.”
“Is it feminism if I want more rights for men so we’re all equal?”

Firstly, it’s feminism simply because it’s concerned with gender inequality. This doesn’t mean we don’t care about anyone else; personally, as a feminist concerned with intersectionality, I am also aware of and passionate about fighting for equal rights regarding sexuality, race, disability etc. but it’s not always possible to do all of these things at once. ‘Feminist’ is the word I use for the part of my identity that specifically fights for equal rights for all women. It’s important to remember that we’re not just talking about women in the United Kingdom, living in a first-world and liberal country. We’re talking about all women, and worldwide, women’s rights are far behind men’s. This remains pretty undisputed; therefore, true gender quality requires a worldwide fight for women’s rights. I am, at the time of writing, unaware of any rights which men would have to obtain in order to have a completely equal society.

Also feminism is about dismantling the patriarchy, not attacking men. There’s distinct difference, because both men and women can be victims of the patriarchy – which is simply the system of perceived gender roles that inspired the term “feminism” and what it stands for. In a simplified nutshell, the patriarchy is based around gender roles that go back through time, which see men as ‘strong clever money makers,’ and women as ‘gentle emotional baby makers.’ This is a system which typically favours men, as the qualities that have been assigned to their gender are often seen as beneficial in the Western world. Society’s perception of them gives them a stronger starting point. Examples of how feminism plays into dismantling the patriarchy regarding women’s rights would be by campaigning for things such as: equal pay, fair representation in the media, equal rights worldwide, and just generally being seen as social equals.  Regarding men’s rights, an example would be letting them show qualities that might be seen as “weak” such as vulnerability, irrationality, strong emotions, fear, and self-consciousness. (Qualities typically seen as “feminine,” you may notice. Interesting.) In a real-world context, this plays into incidents such as men being able to speak up about sexual assault cases. Feminism also fights for equality for those who do not identify as cis-sexual; an extremely marginalised group, and for intersectional rights for minorities such as LGBTQ or ethnic minority communities, examining the way that different types of oppressions play into one another. These issues will not be covered in this particular post, for brevity’s sake, but probably subsequently  on this blog.

In conclusion, everybody on the gender spectrum can benefit from feminism, but it is important to remember that it is women who are typically seen as lesser or are made to be unequal, hence the focus on women’s rights and liberation within the movement.

One) Stop bringing up rape! It’s not a gender-related issue.
“That’s rape. That’s a crime! That’s not about females being equal in the world.”
“What the fuck are you talking about rape for? That’s madness and not even a point. Men aren’t all rapists just like women aren’t all fat bitches.”
“You can’t bring up rape in an argument about feminism. The reason you hear about rape is because it is abnormal. It is horrid and to say women are treated worse because some women get raped is quite frankly insulting to anyone involved in rape. And insulting to the male gender.”
“The fact that men get raped too and women only seem to shout about women getting raped I feel is not treating men equally. Is it worse for a woman to get raped than a man to get raped?”

Rape is indeed a horrible thing, and yes, it affects both genders, but in unequal amounts. It affects women more than men, which makes it, by definition, a gendered issue. And unfortunately, the amount that it happens makes it not ‘abnormal’ but actually something that is frighteningly widespread.

In 2013, for the first time, the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Office for National Statistics combined their data to provide a statistical overview of sexual offences. There were an estimated 78,000 victims of rape or “the most serious sexual offences”, of which approximately 69,000 were female and 8,000 were male.[1] The Ministry of Justice statistics bulletin clearly states that “gender is a key factor related to the risk of sexual offence victimisation, with the majority of victims being female.” It is estimated that in 2012-13 alone, between 366,000 and 442,000 females were victims of sexual offence, compared to between 54,000 and 90,000 males. Furthermore, 19.6% of females had been a victim of sexual offence since the age of 16, compared with 2.7% of males. Since 2006, the number of police-recorded sexual assault offences on a female has consistently been approximately ten times more than on a male.[2]

It’s worse elsewhere. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault were female.[3] In countries such as the Republic of Congo, rape and gender violence against women is used as a weapon of war, with statistics suggesting that four women are raped every five minutes.[4]  Meanwhile, the Medical Research Council shows that in South Africa, more than 25% of men admit to having raped a woman. Nearly half of that percentage had raped more than one woman or girl.[5]

I’m not in any way saying that it’s worse for a female to get raped than a man, just that it’s a lot more likely. As a feminist, that worries me, and strikes me as an unacceptable inequality.

Two) Unreported rape…?! Plus, rape culture isn’t real.
Come at me with all these figures and statistics but really? What about unreported stuff? That’s not included in your statistics as it is unreported! I’m not talking officially unreported I mean when someone does not tell anyone? How can you put that into a statistic? Also, compared to percentage of rapists who walk free? What a load of bollocks. That means you personally have read stories and believe the man is guilty. Not that they necessarily are!”
“Surely saying that rape culture and patriarchy exist is man hating?”
“Patriarchy and rape culture”? Not actually a world I recognise from any time in Western history”

Perhaps “unreported” was the wrong word for me to use, and I should have used “unprosecuted” or “unconvicted” – if so, that was my mistake. A survey by the Home Office [6] in 2,000 suggested that although 45% of all rapes surveyed were committed by a current partner, only 15% of them were reported to the police. Even in the 8% of rapes committed by a stranger, only 36% were reported. Though this is a higher number, it’s still little more than a third. Reasons not to report the rape included distrust of the legal process, fear of blame and judgement, fear of disbelief and fear of further attack or intimidation. Reasons for cases being lost at police stage can be as simple as the 13% of cases lost in which the offender simply could not be identified, whilst 50% of victims who withdrew cited reasons of either not wanting to go through the court process, wanting  to move on, or pressure from others to withdraw.[7]  Surely there is a failing in our criminal justice system if victims of rape feel that convicting their assaulter and moving on from the crime are mutually exclusive concepts. Only approximately one ninth of cases of rape of a male were recorded to the police between 2009-11[8]. These statistics have all been found by national government surveys and suggest that the legal system is seriously failing victims of rape and sexual assault. If you skipped all of the numbers, there’s a nice infographic constructed from the same data here.

Recent campaigns from colleges and universities also prove the existence of a worrying phenomenon that has been termed as ‘Campus Rape.’ – the high levels of rape and/or sexual assault of women at college, with their co-students as perpetrators, with little to no support systems in place to deal with the assualts. If you’ve heard of the Steubenville Incident, you’ll probably be aware of this; Law and Order SVU also did a fantastic episode called “Girl Dishonored” which also recapped the case. How did CNN cover Steubenville? They lamented that the “promising lives” of the assaulters had been ruined. Backlash spread worldwide about the fact that the girl had been drinking at the party, ignoring that the girl had been transported, undressed, photographed and assaulted, with quotes from videos posted on social media including “They peed on her. That’s how you know she dead, because someone pissed on her.” Doesn’t sound like a grey area to me.

The National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics have produced a study, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women”[9] with the purpose of surmounting the limitations of existing research by taking a bigger sample group, assessing a range of sexual victimisations and acquiring detailed information on each incident. The results were chilling. Over the course of a college career, “the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.” At the very lowest of the confidence boundary, one in thirty-six college women still experience a completed or attempted rape in an academic year. Fewer than 5 percent of these completed and attempted rapes were reported to law enforcement officials.

54.3% of female college students had had general sexist remarks made in front of them. 48.2% had been cat-called, whistled about their looks, or been the victim of noises with sexual overtones. Over 1% of women had been photograhed, videotaped or audiotaped having sex in a nude or seminude state, and over 1% had played these videos to others without consent. 1% might not sound like a lot but that’s still 1 in 100. That’s still 3 people in my course, on my year. If the same were true at the University of Nottingham, that’d still be over 120 students. That’s horrifyingly widespread and all too easily taken as a joke.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that rape culture exists. If you’re bristling at the thought, I suggest that before you continue reading, you take this quiz and see if you can distinguish between quotations from a lads’ mag and a rapist. If that’s not enough to turn your stomach, you could have a look at the lyrics of Blurred Lines being recreated from the mouths of rapists. Or this victim-blaming ad. Or this university chant condoning rape and underage sex. Or, oh, hello. Or this so-called joke in a pamphlet given out by Exeter University. The examples go on….

Rape culture, by normalising male sexual dominance (and I am talking purely in a non-consensual context here) also makes it hard for male victims of sexual abuse to speak up, for fear of being mocked or perceived as ‘weak,’ showing how feminism also plays into helping the minority if victims who are male. besides, you’re not arguing that the widespread extent of rape in today’s society is a product of culture and social conditioning, what are you arguing? That it’s simply in a man’s nature and cannot be controlled? Feminists believe that men have the ability to overcome negative messages and social conditioning and treat them as human beings capable of making moral decisions. That’s not man-hating. That’s feminism.

Three) Catcalling and wolfwhistling is a compliment, anyway.
“Women don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to cat-calling.”
“Just a downside of being hot I’m afraid.”
“Is it really that bad that a woman gets wolf whistled? Gets called hot?”

Context is important to what you say. This applies to all speech. For example, you probably wouldn’t speak to your grandmother using the same rhetoric you’d use to speak to teenage friends. It’s natural to adjust our messages and tone depending to whom we are talking, and it’s really no different with compliments. Your sexual partner might also be your co-worker but I’m betting you can tell in which situation it’s appropriate to compliment their arse, and in which its not.

It’s very simple, and it’s really no different with strangers. Is what you’re saying really appropriate? Is your compliment really a compliment, or is it an assertion of dominance and objectification? I’ve been told all my life – with good reason – that I need to be careful when walking alone because if I relax and/or become vulnerable around strange and/or predatory men then I’m ‘asking’ to be raped or harassed and yet I’m supposed to take these unsolicited, often humiliatingly sexual comments as a compliment? It’s expressed well here

 Gee, why would women not appreciate men confronting them in a public place in order to declare how fuckable they are in an unsolicited manner?

Why, in a culture that tells women that if they let their guard down around strange men that they will be raped and it will be their fault if they are, would women not appreciate strange men commenting on their bodies in a public place, often while they are walking alone?

Why, in a society where 1/4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, would women not appreciate being told they have “nice tits!” on the street by men who are often much larger and physically stronger than they are?

Why, in a media landscape that habitually reduces women’s bodies into advertisements for beer and cars and judges women primarily by absurd and unattainable beauty standards, would a woman not appreciate being complimented solely for having a “nice ass” by a total stranger?

I wonder.

“It’s just a compliment,” people argue, “It’s harmless.” It’s not, though. I stopped running last summer because I couldn’t get peace in the warm weather. I’m uncomfortable with my body being objectified by groups of men that make me think twice, or even three times, about what I can wear out or not, sweating my arse off in summer or in hot clubs and pubs because it’s just not worth the harassment to wear shorts without tights or leggings. And every single one of these incidents makes me feel afraid and/or uncomfortable, whether it’s midday or midnight. It’s also not just a “downside of being hot” – there’s probably not very many things more demeaning than the sarcastic wolf-whistle or beep as you trudge back from the gym, as though a complete stranger has the right to make you feel like shit about your sweaty hair and make-up-less face, as though you owe it to them to look attractive. No.

I have never, ever had the feeling that any of these so-called “compliments” were an actual, genuine attempt to make contact or initiate a relationship. Men complain about being “shot down” and “unable to approach a girl without being labelled a misogynist” – to which, I would ask, have you ever seen the tactic of cat-calling work? If not – and I would be happy to wager that you haven’t – then consider, what exactly is the point of it? Just to reduce a woman to the part of her that pleases you, whether it’s a skirt you deem tight enough, or a top you deem low-cut enough, or a face you deem made-up enough? Yeah, that’s objectifcation of women, plain and simple. (There’s enough of that out there; let’s not start contributing to it.) That’s a feminist issue.

Four) But girls go out “dressed like a slut” these days.
“When I dress in hoodies and trackies (what I feel most comfortable in) I have no problems. When I dress like a slut I get attention! Do the maths.”
“It’s stating a fact. When I dress like a slut would. Is the phrase ‘dress like a princess’ misogynistic? No – because it’s nice.”

I have a massive, massive issue with the phrase “dress like a slut” and I whole-heartedly believe that it’s a misogynistic double-standard which, again, doesn’t allow women to win. Perceived promiscuity is definitely a gendered issue; it’s desirable in boys and despicable in girls. I’m not saying that having many sexual partners or engaging in casual sex is the best idea for everybody, I just feel that people of all genders should be able to make and explore choices for themselves without subsequently holding the weight of judgement based on their gender.

The phrase “dress like a slut” is sexist in three main ways; it makes assumptions that you can tell whether women engage in casual sex by the way that they dress (making assumptions based on appearance in a way that does not happen to men in the same widespread way), that the concepts of having casual sex and dressing a certain way are intrinsically linked by lack of respect by the demeaning tone of such remarks, and, often, that women who dress in this way ‘deserve’ the harassment that they receive. Having already outlined the problems associated with rape culture, it’s not much of a leap to understand how remarks like this play into a very real and very harmful problem that pervades our society.

The word “slut” in itself also makes me cringe. How would one define it? A woman who has a lot of sex? Or sex with a lot of partners? Or engages in submissive sexual acts? Or expresses their sexual feelings and desires? Or are just perceived to ‘sleep around’? The umbrella link between all of these definitions is that they’re aspects of sex which do not fit into a historical, patriarchal, virginity-obsessed traditional view of female sexuality. It’s extremely derogatory, especially when the male equivalent is probably “stud” – a word which doesn’t carry any of the same semantic judgement. Language is so telling when it comes to societal perceptions, so it’s interesting that there are 220 words for a sexually promiscuous woman but only 20 for a sexually promiscuous man.[10] ‘Slut’ may appear to be simply a word, but it represents just another standard by which we can judge and blame women for their actions and choices, implicitly supporting a patriarchal culture of victim-blaming and ‘slut’-shaming.

Five) Accusations of harassment work on double standards.
“…dress provocatively and especially when they’re going out, wear next to nothing. Why? To get attention from men, but men they like.”
“So you’re saying it’s ok for a woman to dress in such a way and dance like she’s having sex with the air, grind up against men, but if that man touches her it’s harassment? That doesn’t sound very equal to me.”
“If they don’t like the man it’s harassment and abuse, if they think the man is fit its absolutely fucking lovely. Quite honestly it doesn’t work both ways.”

I really can’t stand this point claiming that it’s a “double standard” to only want attention from men you find attractive. Because it’s not actually about attractiveness; it’s about consent. It’s about the difference between reciprocated and unwanted attention. It’s about men respecting the fact that women don’t have an obligation to find them attractive or respond to their approaches. If the woman is “grinding up” against the man, it’s probably a consensual situation, so it seems unlikely that they’re going to call harassment on the incident. But if the man spots her from across the club, whatever she wears, however she dances, she has absolutely no responsibility to endure unwanted attention. To quote a good friend

GOD women being allowed to be themselves and expecting not allowing men to harass them is SO UNFAIR!?!?! (I’ve rarely seen women who are getting harassed against their will “grind up against men” either let’s be honest here).

WOMEN ARE TOLD THEY WANT A BAD BOY BECAUSE THEY’RE TOLD IT’S OKAY IF A MAN’S A DICK TO YOU BECAUSE WHO CARES AT LEAST YOU’RE HOT ENOUGH HE’S SHINING HIS GLORIOUS LIGHT OF ATTENTION ON YOU RIGHT?!? IT DOESN’T STOP BEING HARASSMENT JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T FIND HIM ATTRACTIVE. IT DOESN’T STOP BEING HARASSMENT JUST BECAUSE YOU /DO/ FIND HIM ATTRACTIVE. NOT SAYING NO IS NOT CONSENT. “LYING THERE AND TAKING IT” IS NOT CONSENT. THE FACT THAT WOMEN FEEL THEY /HAVE/ TO LIE THERE AND TAKE IT OR THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THEM IS EXACTLY 100% ONE OF THE REASONS FOR THE CONTINUED EXISTENCE OF FEMINISM.

I can’t top that, really.

Six) “I’ve got a boyfriend” works better than “Please don’t” because…
“The “I’ve got a boyfriend” brush-off, and the fact it works, is entirely to do with FEAR of other men, not respect.”

I’m not disputing that this is true, simply asking you to consider why it seems necessary to introduce the element of fear into something so simple as asking somebody to back off. Doesn’t it speak to a lack of ‘respect’ if fear needs to be present to combat unwanted attention….? I think that’s all that needs to be said on this one, really.

Six) Men are victims when they go out, too.
“I’d be interested to know how many of the men have felt threatened by other men. It’s not sexual harassment for men but the wanker drunks make us all feel uncomfortable.”
“Also, it’s pretty horrendous for men when women look them up and down and laugh, grimace, or bitch to their mates.”
“Why is there no masculists movement?”

Ah, yes, the men. What I have been forgetting. The men. Perhaps I forgot to talk about the problems of men for a full half-hour. Clearly this negates my false claims of caring about gender equality. I hereby renounce my feminism. I am a terrible person. Ignore this entire post. Ignore all the rational points I have made. Good day.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/11/male-female-rape-statistics-graphic#data

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214970/sexual-offending-overview-jan-2013.pdf

[3] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF

[4] http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/conflicts/profile/democratic-republic-of-congo#numbers

[5]http://www.mrc.ac.za/gender/interfaceofrape&hivsarpt.pdf

[6] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aq-F_PNMlmEHdGRkNVBBbmpldGpCYUtsdHFEdGM3TEE#gid=2 See also source content at http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/without-consent-20061231.pdf

[7] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aq-F_PNMlmEHdGRkNVBBbmpldGpCYUtsdHFEdGM3TEE#gid=3

[8] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aq-F_PNMlmEHdGRkNVBBbmpldGpCYUtsdHFEdGM3TEE#gid=17

[9] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf

[10] https://ebooks.cambridge.org/ebook.jsf?bid=CBO9780511551185