This is what we mean when we talk about “rape culture”

*Trigger warning*

A lot of men deny the existence of rape culture. Sometimes they think their jobs depend on it.

“What the fuck is ‘rape culture’?” they ask. They don’t believe that anything we can say or do (except “rape is good” and actually committing rape or sexual assault) contributes to the reality that 1 in 5 US women will be raped in their lifetime, and that 97% of rapists are never locked up. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults (60%) are not even reported. Why?

It has to do with how our ideology, and the systems that embody it, normalize sexual violence and impunity for its perpetrators despite the fact that virtually no one in our society publicly endorses rape. University administrators and the military “deal with” rape allegations internally, silencing survivors for the sake of preserving institutional prestige – as if there were anything honorable about an institution covering up rape.

Well, this is what we mean when we talk about rape culture. As Maya Dusenbery writes on the blog Feministing,

Over the course of three years, an Indiana man named David Wise regularly drugged his wife, raped her, and filmed the assaults on his phone. When confronted, he admitted to her in writing that “I was taking advantage of you in your sleep and you kept coming to me and telling me it was NOT ok.”

This raging scumbag was convicted of six felony charges. So that’s that, right? Nope. County judge Kurt Eisgruber saw fit to reduce Wise’s 20-year sentence to 8 years of home confinement, which means he won’t spend a single day in prison.

But that’s not all. Wise’s ex-wife, Mandy Boardman, revealed in an interview with the LA Times that,

While the judge was giving his opinion on the sentence, he first turned to me and told me I needed to forgive my attacker, which is unfathomable. He told me I needed to forgive my attacker and I needed to let my attacker walk. It was a punch to the gut from the justice system — or from one judge.

Unfathomable? Perhaps. Unprecedented? Hardly. The judge’s remark points to a disturbing truth of patriarchal culture: Men feel entitled to women’s bodies. So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was illegal in all 50 states (To this day, rapists can sue for paternity in 31 states).

This Friday’s mass shooting in Santa Barbara provides a horrific case in point. Elliott Rodger, who left 7 people dead and wounded 13 others, had described in his gruesome manifesto his plan to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex. They have starved me of sex for my entire youth, and gave that pleasure to other men. In doing so, they took many years of my life away.”

Deprivation. Starvation. Rodger thought he had a right to date and have sex with women the way we all have a right to food and water. But no one has a right to sex. A husband doesn’t have a right to his wife’s body, and a college student doesn’t have a right to the bodies of his peers. What each of us has a right to is agency over our own bodies.

Everyone has been sad and lonely at some point, many of us for most of our lives. But the idea that women as a gender are obliged to alleviate your suffering – and that women as a group should pay if individual women refuse – is sexist in the extreme. It sickens me. 

This expectation that men have of women is as ubiquitous as the image of women it assumes: Women are by their very nature sexual objects, not human beings with every right to find you creepy and unattractive.

We’ve all heard the lament of “friendzoned” men: “Women don’t like nice guys; they like assholes.” In truth, there is no “friendzone”, and no woman rejects a man because he’s a nice guy, asshole. This narrative persists only because men think women owe them something – sex, a date, “a chance” – simply because they’re women.

Wanting sex doesn’t entitle you to it. Neither does being bored or miserable (that’s what drugs are for). Neither does being married. A marriage license isn’t a license to rape.

When men joke about rape; when we imply that “good” women are those that submit to male desire; when we question the honesty and motives of rape survivors who come forward to demand justice; when we act as if rape and sexual assault are any more forgivable if your victim is your wife or your girlfriend – when we do any of these things, no matter how benign our intent, we deny women a subjectivity, a full personhood, that no civilized society can seriously question.  

Perhaps mainstream US society doesn’t consider women the property of men in the way it used to, but all around us are chilling reminders that, in both word and deed, the violence of patriarchy is alive and well. 

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