Tell Me There's No Rape Culture

As women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
10/13/2016 12:41 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2016
Peter Muller via Getty Images

They tell me there’s no such thing as rape culture ― not here, not in the United States.

__________

There’s a bar in my town that I frequent. I know most of the staff and generally feel safe there, but the restroom is a little funky ― one windowless room, consisting of a toilet and a sink, and every time I open the door, it is pitch black inside. For some reason, I am always stricken by the instinct that it is the kind of place I should enter with caution, in case someone is lurking in the dark. I always reach my hand in, turn on the lights, then enter when I see it is empty.

They tell me I’m being paranoid.

A woman walks to her car one night after leaving a friend’s house in an undesirable part of the city. A man she’s never seen before grabs her, drags her into the bushes, and rapes her. She reports the crime. “What was she doing walking alone at night in that part of town, for heaven’s sake?” people wonder.

They tell her she should have been more careful.

__________

Like many women I know, I hesitate to call Uber if I need a ride, especially if it’s late, because being in an isolated, enclosed space with a man I don’t know doesn’t seem particularly safe to me. A lot of guys take great offense to this. “Not all men are bad,” they rally, as though I have not realized this. “You’re being sexist.”

They tell me I’m unfairly judging men.

A study is published on the alarming incidence of sexual assault in the military. In response, Donald Trump tweets, “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” As though a woman in a crowd of men should anticipate no less.

They tell us men will inevitably rape.

__________

I’m at a party, and a man I don’t know keeps hovering around me, too close for comfort. I try giving him basic social cues that I am not interested, but he is having none of it. I try flat-out ignoring him; that doesn’t work, either. When I feel his hand brush against my backside, I spin around and yell at him, loudly and forcefully, to get the hell away from me. He acts shocked ― wounded, even ― by my audacity. People nearby roll their eyes and whisper to each other about how I completely overreacted.

They tell me I’m being confrontational.

A woman visits the home of a man she’s just begun dating for an after-dinner cup of coffee. They start kissing, and he attempts to take things to the next level. Uncomfortable, she asks him to stop, but he gets angry and begins to threaten her. He holds her down and forces her to have sex with him. She doesn’t fight it because she is afraid he will hurt her. When she presses charges, the police find no evidence of a struggle. Because the two had been dating and there are no marks on her body, the sex is deemed consensual and the attacker walks free.

They tell her she didn’t fight hard enough.

__________

A woman is walking down the sidewalk, on her way to dinner with her family. She passes a man leaning against a wall; the man calls out, “Hey baby, why don’t you smile for me?” She ignores him and walks faster. Angry at being spurned, the man yells, “You’re an ugly bitch anyway!” as she retreats. Over dinner, she recounts the incident to her family members, who ask her why she didn’t just comply with the man’s request and smile at him in order to avoid conflict.

They tell her she wasn’t being friendly enough.

A woman is raped by a longtime friend. When she discloses the information to their mutual friends, she is told she’s been acting flirtatious toward him for the last year and it’s no wonder he misinterpreted her feelings.

They tell her she was being too friendly.

__________

During a discussion with friends, I make a comment about how unsettling it is when women are treated as objects rather than people. One of my male companions gets upset, explaining to me that in this day and age, women have it so much better than we used to, so I shouldn’t complain.

They tell me the objectification of women is not at all common anymore.

A recording surfaces in which presidential candidate Donald Trump boasts about being able to “grab women by the pussy” because he is famous and gets to do whatever he wants. Scrambling to come to his defense, men across the country insist that this is normal “locker room” banter, as though that somehow justifies it.

They tell us the objectification of women is actually still very common - and expect us to accept that it’s no big deal.

__________

A woman is raped at a party after having too much to drink. They point to the fact that she was intoxicated.

You brought this on yourself.

A woman is raped while wearing a miniskirt and a crop top. They point to her clothing.

You brought this on yourself.

A woman is raped by her abusive partner. They point to the fact that she chose to remain in an abusive situation.

You brought this on yourself.

__________

. . . Are we seeing a pattern here?

As women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We grow up receiving these conflicting messages from all angles.

Be nice ― but not too nice, or your intentions might be misinterpreted and you could get raped by someone who assumes you were flirting.

Defend yourself against rape, fight as hard as you can ― but not preemptively, because that just makes you a bitch.

Don’t put yourself in situations that test a man’s alleged animal instinct to rape ― but don’t fear the poor innocent Uber driver, because not every man is a rapist, you oversensitive, judgmental misandrist.

Don’t be paranoid, relax, rapists aren’t hiding around every corner ― but always be aware of your surroundings, because rape happens when you’re careless, and you could be next.

Don’t assume that men are saying creepy, vulgar things about you ― but understand that they actually are saying creepy, vulgar things about you, and it is in fact so common that you don’t even get to be upset about it, because it’s just the way things are.

Most of us figure out from a very young age that we are walking a fine line, balancing a tightrope of accountability and blame. No matter what we do, no matter how we act or what we say, we face the very real threat of sexual assault ― and the fact of the matter is that there are very few situations in which we will be considered 100 percent victim, as opposed to part victim, part conniving temptress who had it coming.

So, go ahead ― tell me there’s no such thing as rape culture. Tell me so from the same mouth you use to tell me all the reasons in which my rape is my fault.

Tell me there’s no such thing as rape culture, all the while failing to understand that rape culture is not a mob of rapey-looking scallawags, screaming about how rape is awesome and everyone should rape more. Go ahead and tell me rape culture doesn’t exist in America ― why let the fact that you don’t even know what it is stop you?

Tell me there’s no such thing as rape culture in America because women in other countries are even more likely than I am to be raped. Try to convince me that their very real struggles somehow negate my own, as though that’s something that even makes logical sense.

The irony of the situation is, the vast majority of the victims of rape culture are women... and the vast majority of people who tell me rape culture doesn’t exist are ― you guessed it ― men. Men who somehow believe they are qualified to make that call - to wave away the persistent threat of sexual violence that we women live with every single day of our lives, that is ingrained in us from the time we are very small.

Go ahead ― wave it away. Minimize it; pretend it’s not there.

Because, to you ― as someone who’s never had to deal with it ― it’s not there.

And apparently, that’s all you need to know.

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