Reflections on Rape Culture: We’re All Responsible

For the last installment of my reflections on the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference I want to talk about something a bit uncomfortable. I want to talk about how we all contribute to rape culture. I know, you don’t want to believe that you contribute to rape culture. No one wants to believe that they contribute to a system of oppression, but we all contribute. This is just as true of rape culture as it is the patriarchy. We all consciously and unconsciously feed in to systems of oppression. 

The key to dismantling those systems of oppression is becoming aware of how we contribute to them and changing our own behavior. This is an uncomfortable process. It requires you to be really honest with yourself and accept responsibility for your behavior. This is especially hard when we live in a culture that isn’t too fond of taking responsibility. It’s much easier to blame an “other” for systems of oppression and focus our work on making the “other” change. But before we can ask anyone else to change we should be willing to change ourselves. 

So in what seemingly small ways do we all participate in and perpetuate rape culture? The biggest example is by consuming media that glorifies rape. As I mentioned in an earlier post rape has become an all too common plot device on television and in movies. These representations do not bring awareness to rape culture or the devastation of rape, they simply make rape more commonplace in our culture. If you want to fully commit to ending your contribution to rape culture stop watching shows that have rape scenes and don’t patronize movies that feature rape scenes. Since I don’t plan to stop watching Game of Thrones I should provide the alternative option of talking about the problematic depictions of rape with family, friends, and the community. I’m not trying to take away your entertainment, I’m just saying be aware of the implications and discuss them widely. 

We also contribute to rape culture through telling and laughing at jokes or stories that involve rape or sexual violence. I have to admit that I’m very guilty of this, mostly in my cool girl phase (side note: one of the workshops also had an interesting bit about how the “cool girl” is a product of rape culture). I didn’t want to alienate my male friends so I laughed at very misogynistic jokes or stories that involved sexual violence or rape. I’m not proud of it. Moving forward I’m committed to speaking up when this kind of conversation goes on in my presence. I was always scared of not being liked if I spoke my mind, but I’m more interested in minimizing my contribution to rape culture than being liked. So tell someone their talk is inappropriate when it is. 

Another common contribution we make to rape culture is blurring the lines of consent. Active consent from both parties means that they are both enthusiastic about proceeding with sexual activity. No, it does not mean you need to sign forms or stop what you’re doing to explicitly ask if your partner wants to have sex. It does mean that you are responsible for watching your partner’s body language for cues as to whether they’re in to it and truly listening to what they’re saying. Don’t proceed if they seem detached or passive. Certainly don’t attempt to proceed if they say they’re not feeling it, even if the sex has already started. Never in any circumstance try to persuade them to have sex with you if they don’t want to. This is probably the most common form of denying active consent. Everyone has a right to make their own decisions about their body without coercion. I also want to make it clear that women do this just as often as men. Both situations equally contribute to rape culture. Be super aware of how you initiate sex with your partner and always be sure active consent has been given. 

I have been guilty of everything on this list and I’m sure you have too. I’m not trying to shame anyone for their behavior. Systems of oppression function by normalizing behavior that supports them. Systems of oppression thrive by getting all of us to participate in them without our knowledge. It’s time to wake up, to be more aware of our contributions. Take responsibility and change your behaviors. I know I will. 


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