For the Shamed
September 22, 2011 9:50 PM
Recently, Graham Templeton of The Peak newspaper (Simon Fraser University) wrote an opinion piece stating that he was offended by the very notion of a western rape culture, calling the premise sexist.
Nothing in recent memory has set my blood boiling quite as effectively as his little piece of journalistic gold.
Simply addressing his erroneous generalizations about what “feminists believe,” or his whitewashed definition of rape culture would fill a page, without even getting to the meat of the issue.
His arguments lack insight or a nuanced understanding of the issues he disagrees with. They are offensive and detrimental to the efforts of those who are fighting to end sexual harassment and assault.
I think it’s important to define rape culture, because I don’t think Templeton understands it, or took the time to investigate the meaning.
He argues: “[...] we’re told that it’s not that rape is overtly condoned, but that there is a bubbling subtext just below the surface of every facet of our society which supports and normalizes misogyny and forgiveness for violence against women. It is the statement that male sexuality is, by definition, violent and predatory. ”
Let’s talk numbers.
Templeton makes the argument that murder is a problem, much like sexual assault, but we don’t use the term “murder-culture”.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 610 homicides in Canada in 2009.
University of Toronto professor Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, the author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, told the Toronto Star, “your chances of getting killed by a stranger [in Toronto] are about one in 220,000”.
Victimization data collected by Statistics Canada suggests between one in three and one in four women in Canada will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Only 10 per cent of these incidents come to the attention of police.
This is evidence of a rape culture.
I (and most feminists) do not believe that the “basal psychology of males” is responsible for rape.
Rape culture is, to me, a culture that devalues women and victims, does not understand consent, belittles rape allegations, and pushes aside the importance of mutually enjoyable sex, consent and pleasure.
I separate “man” from “masculinity” and “woman” from “femininity”. Men are taught masculinity. Masculinity is a set of cultural characteristics, values, and behaviors that contribute to a culture where using sexual force over women is permissible and often expected.
According to traditional heterosexual scripts, sex begins when a penis becomes erect and ends when male ejaculation occurs. Female pleasure is often secondary, less important, and rarely discussed.
In Yes means Yes!: visions of female sexual power & a world without rape, Thomas MacCauley Miller argues that women are often framed as guardians over their own sexuality and men strive for access to this “commodity”.
In other words, men “get some” women “give it away”.
MacCauley Miller readily admits that there are problems with this model (it is phallocentric and heteronormative), but it does open up discussion.
However, it is clear that power differences in sexual contexts and conventional sexual scripts nurture a culture that excuses rape.
There are the extreme examples: “The Game” and other strategies of dating that reduce women to prey and dating to crude, exploitative hunting.
But the double standard of slut/stud, or even the notion that men initiate sex more than women, reinforces the concept that women must guard their sexuality, while men can’t be helped.
Templeton is eager to provide his own example of a double standard.
“Young boys are deluged with education designed to keep them from becoming rapists, because the rapist is assumed to be the basal psychology of the male. There are, strangely, no information sessions teaching young girls how not to exploit sexuality for their own ends. If the latter of these ideas offends you, then think very carefully about just how similar it is to the former. To call someone a rapist is infinitely more serious than to call them a slut, unless our rape-culture activists have completely devalued the term.”
Where is the deluge of education for boys? Since when is it easy for men to talk about healthy sexuality? Navigating the world of sexuality and gender is not easy for young men, but the strategy taken is most often to shrug events off and say “boys will be boys”.
On the other hand, there are countless sources that teach girls that sluts are bad people. TV, and popular magazines being notable examples.
The news media is far from innocent. The New York Times has been widely criticized for their coverage of an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped by 18 young men.
The article did not focus on the young victim at all, but instead on on how the boys will have to live with the event for the rest of their lives. Other quotes focus on what the victim was wearing, that she was in a bad part of town, and the fact she was wearing makeup.
Is this not victim blaming?
Slut-shaming comes in many forms. The New York Times is capable of it, and I would argue that Templeton wants to throw his hat into their ring.
The existance of the word slut is evidence of a rape culture because it aims to take away power from a woman who engages in sex. It robs her of agency, shames her, and makes her dirty and culpable for her own rape.
Templeton uses the word slut to allude to women who “exploit their sexuality”. Is this not taking power away from women who do have a strong sense of their own sexuality? To debase those women who take (just a little too much) joy in sex? Women who subvert the gender norms and expectations that ensure men’s dominance? Once women discover that not only does no mean no but yes means yes, do they become sluts? Once the focus is placed on something other than male pleasure, and women take control of their own sexual pleasure, do they become sluts?
Calling a woman a slut is a desperate attempt to elongate the male stranglehold on gender norms.
Sluts don’t fit into that paradigm, they subvert it, and labeling them and debasing them helps men (and women) hold on to the status quo.
Men benefit from our rape culture. Whether or not they commit rape, they benefit because it maintains their social position. Much like all white people benefit from racism, whether or not they hold racist views.
Templeton is simply contributing to the silence and shame surrounding sexual violence of any kind, thereby reinforcing patriarchal norms.
Addressing rape culture is not easy; it is deeply rooted in how we interact with each other. It is much easier to tell women to not walk alone, stay away from certain areas, watch their drinks, to not wear certain clothes, to not “lead men on” etc. All of this good-intentioned advice is simply another form of victim blaming. Albeit, a form that most women contend with every day.
Events like Take Back the Night, which Templeton so easily dismisses are critical events that allow us to address the culture of rape. These events celebrate women, survivors of sexual assault and healthy relationships.
Often, men walk in these events, invited by women as an acknowledgment that we cannot overcome our culture of rape without the help of our partners.
Though there are pockets of people who think as Templeton does, there are rich, vibrant communities of people across the country who want to empower women, who acknowledge that sex and pleasure matter, and who want to include men in their efforts. That I can count many such individuals as friends is a pleasure I’ll indulge in all I want, thank you very much.