The Impact of Rape Culture

By Makayla Sundquist

Trigger warning: This article discussing rape culture and violent acts, it may be troubling for survivors. 

“A rapist is always at fault.”

“When someone is raped, it is the fault of the rapist.”

 Yet, American society tends to belittle the victim with accusatory remarks, placing the blame onto the victim. This societal blame is fueled by “Rape Culture,” a term coined in the 1970’s to describe the normalization of sexualized violence in everyday life. “Rape Culture” is the belief that sexual violence is a way of life. You don’t believe me? You say, “I think that rape is bad, so I don’t fuel rape culture…”

Hold on there.  

We all do it. I am not perfect and will admit that I am guilty of participating in activities that fuel the normalization of sexualized violence. Most of this acceptance stems from language usage. When people say that a test “raped” them, they are bringing horrific violence into everyday speech. It is normal to say that, and many students do say it. However, by using a powerful word such as rape, to describe an ordinary activity, society is taking away the force of the word. It is becoming normalized, and we are becoming desensitized to it. Once there is desensitization, it can be very difficult to empathize with victims because we have turned “rape” into a mundane word.

The rape culture pyramid that depicts catcalling and rape jokes at the bottom, and rape and molestation at the top.
The pyramid depicting how rape is fueled by seemingly “innocent” behavior. Source: The 11th Principle Consent

Not only is Rape Culture present in our language, but it dominates our advertisements. Many companies and products use pictures of naked bodies, especially women’s bodies, to sell whatever they are trying to sell. Just a quick Google search elicits hundreds of advertisements using provacative women (and increasingly men) to sell merchandise. The most harmful images are images where only a part of a woman’s body is advertised. This reduces a woman to her breasts, butt, thigh–whatever piece of her is sandwiched between the product. Her face is usually not visible, illustrating that her body is more important. This objectification of women makes it easier for women to be dehumanized. Violence against another person is easier to accomplish when you make that person an object, and not a person. Other harmful advertisements include women being bound and gagged. This type of blatant violence seeps into society and tells everyone that violence is “sexy” and culturally accepted.

Rape Culture starts young.

We always excuse a boy’s rough behavior, “boys will be boys you know.” (yuck) We always tell little girls that when a boy is mean to her it means that they “like” her. This causes little girls and boys to associate abuse with romantic feelings. Boys think they need to be mean to girls, and girls think that verbal abuse is a sign of love. It needs to stop. American society needs to break the idea that boys have to be aggressive. Another stereotypical statement reads, “Oh, it’s just biology…”

Wrong.

While yes, there are hormonal differences between men and women, very little difference is noticeable until puberty. This is why most boys and girls are often similar in terms of height and weight until they reach early adolescene. Why aren’t little girls aggressive? Because, they have been socially conditioned to believe that being aggressive is not “lady like,” and that aggressive behavior is reserved for boys. Why are little boys aggressive? They have been conditioned to believe that crying is only for girls, and to “be a man” they must demonstrate aggressive traits.

This conditioning continues to fuel Rape Culture by teaching girls, “how to not get raped.” By expecting women to protect themselves, much of the blame is placed on them if they did something they “were not supposed to.” (Yes, I do know that men get raped. That is very much a problem in this society, and men deserve to feel validated. However, statistically speaking, women are predominately the victims of rape and have been told these rules of protection for much of their lives.) We all know the rules:

don’t get too drunk…

never walk alone…

 

watch your drink…

My mom has told me this my entire life, yet my brother never got the, “don’t put drugs in someone’s drink talk.” We, as a society, conditioned little girls to grow up believing that they are the ones responsible for protecting themselves from rape.

And I am not saying to never be cautious.

Of course not. I just think it is frustrating and unfortunate that women are always taught ways to prevent themselves from getting raped. I understand that it is unrealistic to say that women should never be cautious of their surroundings, but I think that society puts much of the responsibility to avoid rape on the victim, and not the actual rapist.

On a larger scale.

Politicians greatly contribute to rape culture. Most of this contribution stems from the very little knowledge politicians seem to possess about a woman’s body, or the trauma rape can give an individual. For example, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum stated that, “rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.” ( You would be surprised and disgusted about the multitude of comments such as these from politicians) Not only does this completely disrespect the victim, there is no blame placed on the rapist. Instead, the victim is expected to have the responsibility of turning their trauma into a positive situation. Hearing politicians speak such rhetoric is dangerous because many people believe politicians at face value, and, therefore, will also believe that rape is only a “bad situation.”

Many comments from republican candidates illustrating their lack of knowledge about rape
Quotes from republican candidates dismissing rape. Source Snopes fact check

Solutions.

In order to stop rape culture, every one of us needs to evaluate ourselves. Stop your friends from using derogatory language. Hold your friends accountable when someone makes a sexist comment. Try to abstain from purchasing products that objectify women, especially when the ads glorify violence.

“Stop normalizing rape.”

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