Reflections on Rape Culture: It Hurts Everyone

For my second blog reflecting on my experience at the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference  I want to discuss how rape culture hurts everyone, not just women. When discussing rape culture it is pretty clear how it affects women. If it’s not, please read what I wrote yesterday to get some examples. I do not want to diminish the effects of rape culture on women. They are clearly the most impacted group and the impacts are devastating. However, if we want to work to dismantle rape culture we must also understand how others are hurt. Specifically I want to talk about how rape culture hurts men, a topic not often addressed.

As a feminist I often rant about the negative programming women are raised with, but when discussing rape culture it becomes equally important to discuss the negative programming men are raised with. Men are raised to view women and sex in very specific ways, which are products of rape culture. First, men are raised to believe that they are supposed to be the pursuers of women. The implication here is that women are objects to be obtained. Then they are told that their masculinity will be judged by how many women they obtain. The way to truly obtain a woman is to have sex with her. So, men are raised to believe that they are supposed to collect women by having sex with them in order to prove their masculinity. Of course, this is an oversimplified explanation and not all men adhere to this programming. I get that. Please don’t start a #notallmen rally.

Even if not all men follow this programming the programming exists and it is perpetuated by the media. Think about how many movies you’ve seen where the male lead relentlessly pursues the woman who has shot him down until she gives in and says yes. I used to think that this was romantic; a guy who was willing to go to any lengths to impress me. However, viewed through the lens of rape culture this scenario becomes creepy. The woman has made it clear that she is not interested in the guy, but he won’t take no for an answer. I wonder how far he would go not accepting no; all the way to the bedroom? He plots with her friends about how to win her affections, he buys her things, he shows up on her lawn at night with a boom box. Again, I used to think it’d be great for John Cusack to show up on my lawn and play “In Your Eyes”, but viewed through the lens of rape culture it becomes rather stalker-ish. The movie screen idea of romance actually amounts to harassment, but this is what guys have to work with when learning how to woo a woman.

The other scary example of how to obtain women in pop culture comes from music, particularly rap or hip hop, where the frequent narrative is that women are “bitches and hoes” whose only purpose is gratifying men’s sexual needs. These women are easily obtained and just as easily discarded. Music enforces the “conquest culture” of sex where a man is expected to sleep with as many women as possible and never get suckered in to being tied down by just one woman. All vestiges of romance are removed from rap and hip hop songs, leaving the idea that women are to be used.

Lastly men are programmed with very confusing ideas around consent. They are taught to believe that their sexual needs are primary and women’s are secondary, so it follows that they should be able to do what they need to do in order to meet their sexual needs. Men are taught that women are inherently “teases” who will deprive them of sexual pleasure. Men are taught that women who tease owe them sex because they “started something”. Actually, men are taught that they are owed sex in general, which leads to many situations where consent is bullied instead of given. Men are taught that it’s perfectly acceptable to pressure a woman in to sex. They are taught to believe that an answer of “no” can be changed with enough coaxing.

Men are not taught that an enthusiastic yes after much coaxing is not the same as affirmative consent. They are not taught that a drunken yes is not affirmative consent. They are not taught that a yes that turns in to a no at any point in the sexual situation is not affirmative consent. Until recently men were not taught about affirmative consent at all. Even now, much of the framing around receiving affirmative consent points to the fact that men should get consent so they don’t get in trouble, not so that they know their partner actually wants to participate in a sexual act.

All of this programming , reinforced by the media, sets up a lose lose situation for men. They go in to the world confused about how to interact with women. They go in to the world scared that their masculinity will be threatened if they do not engage in the aggressive pursuit of women. They go in to the world scared that their masculinity will suffer if they don’t feed in to the “conquest culture” of sex. In order to obtain women and protect their masculinity men follow their programming and engage in aggressive sexual behavior toward women. This is not inherently their fault. Just like women are responding to rape culture when they say “any man could be a rapist”, men are responding to rape culture when they engage in aggressive sexual behavior.

If we want to dismantle rape culture it is crucial to address the messages society is sending men about women and sex. We have to fight against conquest culture. We have to change the way romance is portrayed in movies and on television. We have to teach men about consent. We have to normalize respectful sexual behavior rather than aggressive sexual behavior. We have to heal our men just like we have to heal our women.

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