Violence Against Women is not a new topic, nor is rape a new phenomenon. According to SexualAssault.ca, one in four North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, fifty percent of sexual assaults occur on dates, and sixty percent of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of seventeen. These statistics are nauseating, but not overly shocking. What is surprising is that only one to two percent of “date rape” cases and, on average, only six of every hundred incidents of sexual assault are reported to the authorities. There are literally hundreds of campaigns and organizations dedicated to raising awareness and stopping rape or sexual assault in our society, such as the Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) organization, so why all the secrecy? The perpetuation of stereotypical ideals of masculinity and the rape culture in which we live are huge contributors to the problem of sexual assault.
From the time they are in diapers, children are being bombarded with gendered notions of how to behave, what to wear, how to talk/act/be according to their sex. From the color of their room to the toys they are given, children are taught they need to fit a specific mold based on femininity and masculinity. For young boys, they need to be strong, unemotional, independent, and sexually aggressive. Hegemonic American masculinity, or as some call it hypermasculinity, contributes to an understanding of male sexuality that idealizes sexualized violence against women. Rape is a product of a society that glorifies and sexualizes male power and dominance, while doing the same for female submission and subservience.
When people in power refuse to take women’s rape charges seriously, it means there are no consequences for rapists, which makes them more free to rape… When authorities use their power to deliberately silence rape victims instead of helping them find justice, it not only leaves rapists free but intimidates other victims from coming forward… When our media won’t talk about rape, people think it doesn’t happen, and the rapists face no consequences. That emboldens rapists… When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that women who accuse men of rape are lying or did something to deserve it, the cycle continues… That’s rape culture.
It is groups like MCSR who are fighting to change the way our society endorses sexual assault, by redefining masculinity, strength, and confidence. One participant says, “I am a strong man because I am trying to change myself and society and the way we perceive masculinity.” With a mission to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, the group is one of the “most innovative prevention programs” in the US. Groups and campaigns such as these are a much-needed response to the hypersexualization and objectification of women, combined with the fetishization of violence, in the media. If we want to see the rates of sexual assault drop, we first need to change our notion of normativity and stop supporting or partaking in a rape culture.
I just recently thought of something else to add to this post... Slam Poet Andrea Gibson does an indescribable performance of a poem called "Blue Blanket" that I feel exemplifies rape culture in our society. She is brilliant, powerful, thought-provoking in her work, and this video resonates well with what I've discussed in the article. Her lyrics are also available to read.