We need to talk about rape culture

There are moments in the career of a young activist when it’s time to put away the cat videos, stop checking your privilege at five-minute intervals and talk about something that matters. For me, Wholefoods Young Activist of the Year 2007, this is my time to do a serious face: I want to talk about rape culture.

Rape culture is one of those key feminist concepts, like intersectionality, objectification and Caitlin Moran, that seems to annoy the hell out of the dick-swinging apologists for PATRIARCHY and CAPITALISM. These schmuck-muppets, when they’re not puking their misogyny on to the Daily Telegraph comments page or direct-messaging me pictures of their manhood (they’re not big, and they’re not clever), get so wound up by such concepts that they try to mock them. AS IF INTERSECTIONALITY IS A LAUGHING MATTER! But professional activists don’t rise to the bait; they dismiss it with a disdainful wave and continue on their way upstream, swimming against the prevailing PATRIARCHAL current. So no @ShrewsburyDave, rape culture is not the same thing as ‘a culture of rapists’, complete ‘with rapist rituals, rapist customs and rapist forms of greeting’ - you seem to be thinking of a University Rugby Club, Dave. Nor is rape culture, as @jargon_watch hilariously (NOT!) suggests, ‘a made-up word for a non-existent phenomenon’.

No, rape culture exists all right. It is ubiquitous. It is on Page 3 of the Sun, it’s gyrating its lycra-clad crotch on MTV, and, at a court of law near you, it’s excusing the perpetrators of sexual violence and blaming the victims. Rape culture, you see, is nothing less than the complete normalisation of rape, be it the smirking acceptance of ‘rapey’ jokes or the continued existence of John Leslie in the Edinburgh area. I am talking about the PATRIARCHAL system of norms and values through which the masses both acknowledge the existence of rape while denying its prevalence and impact. That’s why rape is everywhere - five out of every four young women I have interviewed say that they have been raped. And it’s also why it simultaneously appears to be nowhere - five out of every four Daily Heil readers, I imagine, think rape SURVIVORS are just making it up. (Why? For shits and giggles? Sometimes I just want to strangle PATRIARCHY, CAPITALISM AND RICHARD DESMOND so much, it hurts.)

But things are changing. Thanks to the police investigation into the 1970s, Operation Yewtree, the revelation that Woody Allen is a rapist AND a paedophile, and the work of BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN like myself (and the pretty one from Everyday Sexism) we are increasingly seeing the norms and values of contemporary society for what they are: a glowing, RUPERT MURDOCH-shined endorsement of sexual violence. It’s difficult. Of course it is. It’s a shock to the system to discover that men you thought were normal, men you’ve effectively grown up with, like Ken Barlow off of Emmerdale, are rapists. It’s even more disturbing when someone whose work is so important, so culturally valuable, is revealed as a rapist AND a paedophile. ‘Wanna be in my gang?’ NOT ANYMORE, GARY.

In the case of Woody Allen, it is even more upsetting. I loved Cheers and White Men Can’t Jump as much as the next CIS-gendered person. But now it’s been PROVED on Twitter (but sadly not in a PATRIARCHAL court of law) that he is a rapist AND a paedophile, it forces you to ask whether those things you have loved and laughed at are tainted in some way - was Natural Born Killers as light-hearted as I remember? More importantly it forces you to confront the truth revealed by the concept of rape culture. That sexual violence is not just a bad thing committed by bad people; rather, it is so endemic to contemporary society that even the admired and respected are potentially culpable and can be found guilty by BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN columnists like myself. In rape culture, no one is without complicity and no one is above suspicion. Friends, family and people from the 1970s - they are all capable of perpetrating the sexual violence endorsed by rape culture. We just need to open our eyes, or better still, report our suspicions to the relevant authorities.

There are people who question my vision of a society in which rape and sexual abuse is routine. I speak to a lot of young women, for instance, who often say to me, ‘Sis, you do realise that your glib, jargon-heavy vision of a society in which child abuse is common, and rape normalised is fucking miserable, not to mention blatantly untrue, don’t you? You do realise that encouraging people to suspect the worst of others destroys the most intimate of relationships, between partners and, yes, sis, between family members? And you do realise that, thanks to your endless chuntering about how common rape and child abuse is, mum and dad have been blackballed by the local rotary club? You do realise this, don’t you, sis?’ To which I always shout so everyone can hear: ‘RAPE APOLOGIST!’ That always shuts them up.

Lauren Kookmeister is the author of Rape Culture and Manarchy, published by PublishAnythingEditNothing.

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