A few weeks ago, millions of women on social media have been trending the phrase “Me Too”, to bring awareness to rape culture in light of the scandals behind Harvey Weinstein and the infamous “casting couch”. Since then, at least 23 other men (as of 11/14/17) who are public figures have been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault, most by several women, and some by men. These accusations and the self-disclosure of people on social media exposes a quiet epidemic of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse in our society, and I am grateful that public discourse is taking place. I am also grateful for the many men who are not only speaking up in support of women, but also to let us know that this affects men who do not meet the definition of “masculine” in our society. Just as women are socialized to compete with each other for the attention of men through jealousy, and are taunted by media and marketing that continually promote low self-esteem, men are socialized to be more masculine through bullying that calls them a sissy or a girl, and through violence, and even through sexual assault. It is no less traumatic, and every man experiences some level of this in their childhood as a form of gender-policing.
It’s important to emphasize here that men (regardless of sexual orientation) and transgender (across the gender spectrum) people suffer from rape culture as well. Sexism drives how we shape our cultural notions of masculinity, which is based on belittling men and boys by comparing them to women and girls in an effort to get them to conform to masculine ideals. Men have a higher rate of rape by both men and women than most people realize (around 9% reported, actual numbers are more difficult to estimate because of the stigma attached to reporting rape). Transgender people have an the highest rate of sexual assault across the gender spectrum at a whopping 50%. It’s also important to recognize that women can be equally abusive toward both men and women with behaviors that are included in the definition of, and stem from, rape culture. However, this article is relatively hetero-normative because rape culture stems from the concept that gender is a binary construct and that heterosexuality is the prevailing norm in our culture. Future articles will be posted that address these issues as they specifically and respectively affect men and transgender individuals, and the LGBTQ community.
Rape culture is not solely about sexual assault; it is about a myriad of concepts, behaviors, traditions, and idioms in our culture that promote misogyny and the subjugation and objectification of women. Its very definition is the pervasive normalization of the above-listed behaviors that minimize and excuse sexual harassment and assault. The phenomena isn’t new to sociologists. Multiple studies have exposed several layers to rape culture. The first, and most universal piece is the account, or the social script… which is a story that a person will give to re-frame their behavior to remove guilt by using either an excuse (reason why), or a justification (circumstance) to avoid stigma, shame, and culpability for their behavior. Both recognize the behavior as wrong, but deflect responsibility for the behavior. The second, and equally universal piece, is the Neutralization technique. These are a type of justification that a person gives for their behavior to assuage their guilt. Criminologists Gresham Sykes and David Matza found 5 neutralization techniques to be common across various criminal and ethically questionable acts, and they are pervasive in rape culture.
- The first is Denial of Responsibility, where the perpetrator claims to be a victim of either situations beyond their control or circumstance.
- The second is Denial of Injury, where the perpetrator believes that their actions did not actually cause any harm to the victim.
- The third is Denial of the Victim, where the perpetrator believes that their victim deserved what happened to them.
- The fourth is Condemnation of the Condemners, where the perpetrator minimizes the response of those who condemn the act in an effort to shift the blame and focus from themselves to those who are condemning the act.
- The last is Appeal to Higher Loyalties, where the perpetrator holds some belief (often religious or moral in nature) that their actions are justified as part of a scriptural or other “moral” prerogative.
Another study of Convicted Rapists Vocabulary of Motive by sociologists Diana Scully and Joseph Marolla found a common theme of 5 neutralization techniques to construct rape as acceptable in the rapist mind. Not surprisingly, these techniques are perpetuated in everyday life: in the court-room from defense attorneys, in hushed conversations about what she was drinking or wearing, in trainings offered to girls and women to prevent themselves from being raped or assaulted (and the lack of training for boys and men on how to not harass or assault women), in the porn industry, and even in women’s fashion magazines.
These five techniques are:
- Framing Women as “Seductresses”- Her fault, slut shaming, how she dresses or behaves. Essentially, this frames the rapist as being helpless to control his urges and a victim of the woman’s seductive powers.
- “No Means Yes”- She didn’t really mean no… women are the gatekeepers of their virtue, they are supposed to say no to save face, but they don’t really mean it. This is rooted in the idea that a woman is supposed to be sexually coy and a man sexually aggressive.
- “Most Women Relax and Enjoy It”- Sound familiar? Recently touted by top government officials in talks about laws regarding women’s health issues. This idea continues to prevail despite the long-term physiological and psychological effects of rape, including injury, future sexual dysfunction, PTSD, depression, and stigma.
- “Nice Girls Don’t get Raped”- Another form of slut shaming. Often used against sex workers, minority or otherwise disenfranchised or marginalized women such as single mothers, women who have been part of an extra-marital affair, women who have had several sex partners, women who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of rape, and women who are dressed provocatively. Yet another way of deflecting responsibility for the actions of the perpetrator.
- “Only a Minor Wrongdoing”- Rape isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s just sex. It’s ok for men to be aggressive.
These were the justifications used by rapists when interviewed extensively, and these patterns are pervasive in our society. We see and hear these daily, in terms that are summarized nicely on the Only With Consent website, which includes a list of beliefs and actions that we see and hear every day, and often dismiss as benign. The current exposure of perpetrators in the public eye is just the tip of the iceberg, and a very important one. It is helping victims of sexual harassment and assault speak their truth and find solidarity with others in their community, many of whom were not open about this shared experience.
Even more importantly, men are beginning to step up and ask us to define the elements of sexual harassment, consent, assault, abuse. Some are asking about ways to communicate with their partners, families, and friends about their experiences. Men are realizing their culpability and stepping up and admitting that they have been a part of this phenomenon. Men are opening up about how they feel, often stating that they feel that they are walking on eggshells around women for fear of saying or doing something that could be construed as harassment or unwanted touch. Men are also stepping up and admitting their own experiences with being sexually harassed or assaulted. This is a good sign. We need more of this. A great blog addressing men’s relationship to how we perpetuate and can begin to change rape culture can be found here.
In short, men have many ways to stop participating in rape culture. Stop engaging in jokes that demean women. Think about the language we use regarding women… is it demeaning? Dehumanizing? Objectifying? Learn about enthusiastic consent. Don’t assume consent… communicate with your partner. Pay attention to examples of how media, music, and marketing perpetuate rape culture. Call out other men when you see or hear them engaging in these behaviors. Check your beliefs about gender roles, sexuality, and violence. Admit when you realize that you have engaged in these behaviors. Call out sexism the way you would call out racism. Go a step further and study power dynamics and privilege in society.
Rape Culture isn’t going away. It is another shameful part of our culture and history that we need to address, and it takes all of us to find our voice, to learn and speak up about it.
#metoo = #we’reallinthistogether