How Do You Solve a Problem like Rape Culture?


How do you solve a problem like rape culture?

How do you explain the concept and pin it down?

How do you find a word that means not giving a damn?

Is it feminazi? Or just man-hating lesbian?

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell them

Many a things they ought to understand

But how do you make them stay

And listen to all you say

How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Oh, how do you solve a problem like rape culture?   (Sing to the tune of “Maria” from The Sound of Music.)

Why does the term rape culture upset some people?  It is accurate.  We live in a society where sexual violence is considered the norm and almost unavoidable.  We teach daughters how to avoid being roofied instead of teaching sons how not to drink until they blackout and how to persuade other men they know to stop objectifying, stalking, or harassing women.  I know there are many men who care about the world that their daughters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, and sisters traverse.  They simply don’t know what to do to bring about change.  However, there are also many people with closed minds who refuse to acknowledge or consider the viewpoint of victims of our culture.

Since statistically far more women are stalked, harassed, and raped, I will focus on female survivors.  Rape isn’t exclusively committed by men. Women aren’t the only victims .  Men rape men and women rape men, but the clear majority of victims are female.

Rape culture makes life harder for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.  For instance, when a young woman is “lucky” enough to be able to press charges against her stalker because he goes to the same university and ultimately have the young man expelled, we don’t talk enough about how she suffers from depression afterwards, how she second guesses her friendly nature, and how she might take more online classes, change colleges, or even drop out of college.  We don’t talk enough about how her future relationships are changed by the trauma this man caused in her life. We don’t consider how traumatizing it is for the many women who do not get to press charges and live with the knowledge that their stalker or rapist walks around in society harming other women.

In her memoir, Lucky, Alice Sebold recounts the police telling her that she is “lucky” to be alive after surviving rape because another woman was murdered in the same location where she was raped.  Sebold was also “lucky” that she was a virgin, wearing baggy clothes, and that she fought hard against her rapist and had visible cuts and bruises on her body.  She was “lucky” that she hadn’t been drinking to excess, that she was a citizen and not illegal, and that she is white while her rapist was not white.  These factors made it easier (but not easy) to get a conviction and sentence for her rapist.

So, imagine if one of these factors in Sebold’s case had been different?  This means that our culture and justice system doesn’t care as much about young women who drink or who react to trauma by freezing and disconnecting.  If the rapist is white and a college student, then part of society feels sympathy for the young man.   His crime is likely to be labeled “a drunken mistake” by many instead of a violent crime deserving of an appropriate prison sentence.

If you watch Fox News, you’ll probably think that rape culture is a bunch of man-hating women banding together and lying about men to get false rape convictions. It is easier to focus on the small percentage of women who lie about rape instead of the very large percentage of women who never report rape or never get a conviction for their rapist even after making a report.  People also lie about murder and other crimes, but we don’t make life easier for murderers, do we?

Oh, rape culture, there is so much I could say about you.  I could talk about pornography or various work cultures.  I could talk about how Billy Bush lost his job and how the average man should stand up to men who brag about assaulting women and getting away with it because of their money or power. They might lose their jobs if they don’t.  I could try to explain how bragging about assault is not locker room talk and if it is then those men should not be given power over others.  They are not good leaders.

I could talk about how exhausted I am by the men whose first reaction is “not me,” instead of how can I help?  Obviously, there are plenty of men who are telling the truth when they say, “Not me.”   One sexual predator can molest hundreds of kids in his lifetime.  One stalker might stalk hundreds of women in his lifetime.  One rapist might rape dozens of women in his lifetime.  Every man is not a predator, stalker, or rapist, but every man and every woman can care about stopping predators and creating a culture that does not allow predators to hide out in families, churches, schools, and other institutions.  Maybe we also need more men to say, “I was asleep and not aware of the harm I caused in people’s lives.  I’ve woken up, and I do not harass women now.”

I can’t make anyone who doesn’t care suddenly care about rape culture. I can list statistics all day long, and that won’t make much of a difference to those who don’t care.  One person will write a blog post, editorial, or article saying the average national statistics about rape are exaggerated, and those who don’t want to care about this issue will believe that one blog or article.

Obviously, rape is problem and under-reported.  I can tell my own sad story and that matters some.  I can’t solve the problem of rape culture in this country or in other countries, but I can refuse to be quiet and never give up.  There will be a shift.  There will be a change, but I do often wonder how long this change will take.

Many years ago, I met a shaman who predicted that women’s power in society would increase.  He reminded us that women should not make the same mistakes as men when they gain greater power.  I agree that they shouldn’t.

Women shouldn’t bully and abuse men in the same ways that they have been bullied and abused.  Women shouldn’t rape 1 out of 6 of men, mostly between the ages twelve to thirty-four.  Women shouldn’t then blame the male teenager or the young man for wearing sexy clothes or having a drink with them.   When men come forward to report rape or sexual harassment, women’s knee jerk reaction should not be, “Liars, liars.  They only want to get money or bring this powerful woman down” because that would sound like women are systematically traumatizing men to assert their control.  They should sentence women to appropriate prison sentences when they rape men.

Women shouldn’t deny men positions of power, awards, or financial security simply because they are men, and then claim that men probably couldn’t handle the stress of jobs at the top or that they don’t want these positions.

Women shouldn’t introduce young men they have hired in their companies and institutions as, “Welcome this new guy to our company.  Doesn’t he look great in that suit?”  Then, when they introduce a woman, only comment on her credentials, experience, and personality.

Women in advertising shouldn’t cater advertisements to make men feel insecure about their bodies.  Women shouldn’t have a huge majority of the directing control in Hollywood and make most male actors show their penises in most movies.  Women shouldn’t chart and discuss every penis enlargement that many male actors feel pressured into getting.

Women shouldn’t bring birthday parties of ten-year-old girls to a restaurant called Hawt Dogs which features only male waiters in speedos serving the patrons a hot dog or banana split. Women shouldn’t ask the young girls which male server they think is cutest, making sure that young girls learn early that it is o.k. to objectify and purchase good looking men.  Mothers shouldn’t bring their daughters to these restaurants and make them watch as they flirt with the waiters and then say, “Don’t tell your father.”

Women shouldn’t give teenage girls their first taste of sexuality with a male prostitute.  Women shouldn’t claim that these men had a choice to work anywhere else when they build, market, and patronize these places frequently.  They shouldn’t claim men have a choice when their governments overlook the high number of human trafficked sex workers in each of their cities.  Within the industry of pornography, they shouldn’t make the common theme of subordination of men arousing.

And, when these young girls grow up to be porn-addled, narcissistic, materialistic, entitled players without emotional depth, their mothers and fathers shouldn’t blow off their behavior and say, “Well, girls will be girls.”

The truth probably sounds hateful to those who hate the truth.   However, all that I want is a safer society for young women and men, and I don’t think there should be any argument with my desire.  Sometimes, common sense and reason needs to reign.

Perhaps, we should create a respect culture instead of a rape culture.

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Tricia Barker

Tricia Barker experienced a profound near-death experience during her senior year of college, and this experience guided her to teach overseas, in public schools, and at the college level. National Geographic and A&E’s I Survived: Beyond and Back covered Tricia’s story. Currently, Tricia teaches English and Creative Writing at a beautiful community college in Fort Worth, Texas. Tricia’s memoir in-progress, Healed, chronicles the moment of her accident, her near-death experience, and other moments of trauma that affect many women. The book focuses on being of service to the world as one way to heal from trauma. Tricia’s poetry has been featured in The Binnacle, The Paterson Literary Review, and The Midwest Quarterly.

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