What is Rape Culture? You may have heard the term thrown around, but what does it mean? According to Vox, rape culture is a “culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their assaults”. Although it refers directly to rape in the name, it also includes attitudes, behaviours and actions that normalise a culture of sexual violence. But how does this work? And why is it important?
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture uses misogynistic language, objectifies women’s bodies, and glamorises sexual violence, creating a society that does not respect women’s rights and safety.
How does rape culture work?
The negative effects of rape culture mean that girls and young women feel it is their responsibility to avoid being sexually assaulted and behave in a certain way that limits their humanity. This also means abusive people are not similarly held accountable for their actions. South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world, yet the number of people charged with rape does not reflect that.
To understand rape culture, we must know that rape is about power – to inflict harm on others through violence. So when we encourage a culture that makes it okay to make sexist jokes or to see women as objects, it only strengthens rape culture in our society. Women are not things owned by men, nor do women owe men sex. Men who make these jokes do not all become rapists, but it enables other men to do so. It’s like when you’re with a group of friends, and someone makes comments like:
“She has such a sexy body, it’s a shame she’s so shy – maybe she just needs to lighten up and stop being a b*tch.”
“Thandi is such an easy lay. If you tried to sleep with her, I bet she’d say yes.”
“If a girl is wearing a short dress that shows off her figure, she’s basically begging for it.”
“I have a right as a man to do what I want with women! We are the naturally superior sex anyway.”
You may think these types of jokes are harmless fun, and people are overreacting to link them to rape culture. But these comments make it okay to see women as objects, as things that men own, and who owe men sex.
Other sexist attitudes include having a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, where boys and men are not held accountable for their harmful actions. This also includes catcalling or rape jokes.
Normalising rape culture sets the basis of degradation, where because of these views, someone feels entitled to make others feel as if they have no value through certain viewpoints or actions. This includes victim blaming, flashing private parts in public, or taking photos/videos without someone’s permission (e.g. revenge porn). For example, ex-Springbok rugby player Elton Jantjies was the one who cheated on his wife, yet the public hate was directed at the “side chick” Zeenat Simjee. Solely blaming the woman for her behaviour makes it seem like she deserves hate and violence against her.
These behaviours don’t only create harmful ideas about the role of men and women in society but also pressure men to feel like they need to be dominating and hypermasculine, where softness is viewed as bad. So men do not benefit from the harmful stereotypes within rape culture either.
Challenging rape culture in society can be difficult, because these attitudes have become so normalised. But rape culture tells us about society’s mindset when trying to understand how Gender-Based Violence happens in our country. Sexual assault, which includes rape, drugging, molestation, coercion or groping are things that happen as a result of normalisation and degradation over time, where people believe that women’s bodies are for others, without any care or value.
An example of normalisation and degradation is the practice of Ukuthwala: when a young girl or woman is abducted for marriage without her consent. Because it is a cultural practice, challenging something part of someone’s identity is very difficult, as what happens within the practice is normalised. Furthermore, the entitlement to take someone without their consent or to inflict violence against them (coercive rape, violence) degrades the victims, who have no say in their value as human beings capable of making their own choices for their life. This sets a precedent for actual rape without people giving a second thought to why it is wrong.
We deserve to live in a society where we do not have to experience rape culture and can be free to be our full selves without worrying about how society views and treats us. Dismantling rape culture should be something we are all invested in erasing from within our friend groups, communities, society and country.
Tell us: are you brave enough to call someone out if they make a joke that normalises the degradation of women?
Read more here on “Don’t blame the victim.”