Acknowledging and Deconstructing Rape Culture

Photo courtesy of Richard PottsRather than see addressed the social climate that makes rape common, women are often lectured on how to avoid sexual assault.

This past year brought a plethora of unsettling realizations about the treatment of women in America. In this social climate, it’s easy to lose hope in our patriotism and view of humanity; however, perseverance and activism in the face of what torments us is a celebratory event nonetheless.  The first month of 2018 has caused a societal uproar, spotlighting controversial issues and, as a result, showcasing strength against sexist normalities. Rape culture has been kept in the dark for decades, but with the newfound urgency to speak up, 2018 could be the year that begins to end it.

The term “rape culture” was coined in the 1970s by second wave U.S. feminists to show the norm of sexual assault — that sexual violence against women was so common and “justified” that it was more often accepted by both men and women rather than punished. Rape culture promotes sexual violence as normal, as a fact of life women have to deal with and avoid if they can.

Women experience rape culture and take measures to fend it off on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s purposefully wearing headphones while walking down the street to drown out catcalling or being informed on how to prevent sexual assault rather than telling possible perpetrators not to do it in the first place. Rape culture is overwhelmingly prominent in media and entertainment, too. In advertising, television, movies and comedy, the unnecessary over-sexualization of women has been used for a good laugh or as a marketing ploy to sell everything from airfare to men’s deodorant.

The outrage concerning sexual assault in the entertainment industry has made the concept of rape culture mainstream. Beginning in October with accusations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, the era of calling out men conforming to and acting upon rape culture commenced. From Woody Allen to James Franco, a multitude of directors, producers, actors and other celebrities have been accused of abusing their power over their female coworkers and acquaintances.

In response, the women of Hollywood began a campaign titled “Times Up,” which is described as “a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere,” according to the movement’s website. It strives to eliminate sexual assault and abuse in the workplace, where the mistreatment of women has been brushed under the rug for far too long. Celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes and Eva Longoria are speaking out on behalf of this campaign, which has many initiatives, including penalizing companies that silence victims who have faced sexual violence and forming a legal fund to defend women with lack of privilege or resources to stand and testify against their attackers.

Although rape culture is being brought to light in the media, how do we as individuals approach rape culture? There are obvious ways to fight back, via donation to Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund or other organizations that promote equality in leadership and education, nationally or globally. But there are additional ways to fight rape culture in our everyday lives.

1) Acknowledge that rape culture, while focused primarily on men assaulting women, doesn’t only impact women. Accusations recently came out against James Levine, a music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, saying he had repeatedly molested a 15-year-old male orchestra member. In addition, rape culture highly affects transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

2) Also acknowledge that many women who are victims of sexual assault don’t always have the power to speak up — whether they fear being harassed or ridiculed for speaking up or lack the financial means to seek legal help. Support those who speak up as well as those who don’t.

3) Don’t support art or entertainment from artists who are perpetrators of sexual assault. Cut them out from media, belittle their platform, tell friends and family members to boycott movies from directors who take advantage of their female counterparts. Continuing to view their content and contribute to their success will only benefit the oppressor and perpetuate their actions.

Regardless of the scale, any contribution you can make against rape culture and its effects is a helpful one. Share your voice, and speak out against those who have silenced victims for decades.

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