Dear David Hookstead,
I am writing you this letter regarding your letter in The Badger Herald, “Rape culture does not exist.” This letter is an attempt to initiate dialogue about rape culture.
Your misguided quest to disprove the existence of rape culture actually confirms the reality of rape culture by perpetuating five primary rape culture myths, namely that rape is committed by “evil people,” that rape culture is a fiction created by feminists to demonize men, that blame for rape must be placed on victims, that women make false rape accusations and that rape is natural, inevitable and immutable. Your letter is a prime example of rape culture, and a glaring reminder of how we, as a society, fail to educate young men about rape.
In addition, your letter evinces a fundamentally flawed understanding of what constitutes rape and rape culture. I will begin by defining rape and rape culture to clear up your misunderstandings. I will then move on to debunking the rape culture myths that your essay supports.
Here is the definition of rape from the excellent campus organization, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, adapted from the legal definition of rape: “Rape is vaginal, anal and/or oral penetration without consent. Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent. Consent is a free and clearly given yes, not the absence of a no, and cannot be received when a person is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.” Here are some statistics that highlight the gruesome reality of rape culture in the United States: According to the Department of Justice, every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. One in four girls, one in six boys, and almost half of transgender youth, are sexually assaulted before age 18, according to a study by David Finkelhor. One out of six college women have been raped or have been the victim of an attempted rape during the past year, according to the Department of Justice.
Here is a basic definition of rape culture from Wikipedia: “Rape culture is a concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification and trivializing rape.”
Here are the five common rape culture myths that your essay perpetuates:
1. Sexual assaults are committed by anonymous, amorphous “evil people.” In reality, 60-80 percent of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and typically trusts (i.e. a relative, friend, neighbor or acquaintance). The people, mostly men, who commit rape are our colleagues, acquaintances, friends and family. Indeed, one out of 15 male students raped or attempted to rape a woman during the past year, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. Describing rapists and rape as “evil” individualizes a social problem, effectively transforming the societal pandemic of sexual violence into a narrative of individual pathology. Essentialist statements about “evil” and “bad people” efface the cultural context in which rape takes place. Your evasive resignation of rape as an act of “evil” and “bad people,” is not only intellectually irresponsible and politically deleterious, it also profoundly disservices men by implying that they are all “naturally” predatory, rapacious beasts. This leads me to the next myth.
2. Rape culture demonizes men. You write, “This term [rape culture] aggressively paints men as dangerous and as the root of evil.” In actuality, refuting the reality of rape culture demonizes men. When you argue that rape is a natural, albeit “evil” act, rather than a product of rape culture, you are essentially arguing that men, who do most of the raping in this country, are natural predators and latent rapists. You are arguing that they are inherently “evil” and “bad” (your own words) people who cannot control their natural inclination to rape. Contrary to popular belief, feminists believe men are better than that. We believe that men have the capacity for empathy and transformation.
3. Blame for rape must be placed on victims. Minimal cultural examination reveals that victim-blaming is the blatant and unabashed status quo in our culture! The archetypal cultural response to rape in the U.S. is to protect rapists. The “accused” shame and blame the victims, the “accusers,” and vilify the people, especially feminists, who challenge rape culture. The questions we typically ask women survivors following their rape exposes our cultural penchant for victim-blaming. We ask women, “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Why did you go back to his house?” etc., as if the victim’s clothing or behavior had any bearing on whether a rapist decided to rape her. The only determinant of whether someone will experience rape is the presence of a rapist. Our culture continues to place the onus rape prevention on women, instead of the people doing the raping, typically men. We tell women, “Don’t get raped!” and “Be careful!” instead of telling men, “Don’t rape!” and “Always ask for consent!” We give women inane sexual assault “prevention tips,” when the only prevention tip that could ever prevent rape is, “Don’t assault people!” Even the language we use to discuss rape embodies rape culture. When we describe victims as “accusers” and rapists as the “accused,” we insinuate that the victim wronged the rapist by “accusing” him, while the rapist, the “accused,” is the real victim.
4. Women make “false rape accusations.” In reality, fewer than 5 percent of reported sexual assaults are false accusations. The myth that women lie about rape silences and stigmatizes survivors. Indeed, only 5 percent of undergraduate women report their sexual assault out of fear that people will blame them for their own rape or accuse them of making “false accusations,” according to a study by Schwartz and Leggett in “Violence Against Women.”
5. Rape is inevitable. Your essay implies, if not outright argues, that rape is inevitable, anti-rape education is futile and that we should accept rape as a natural part of our cultural landscape. You flippantly dismiss anti-rape education with your statement, “You’ll often hear very uneducated people make statements like, ‘If people taught their sons not to rape women then we wouldn’t have a problem.’” This is not only an offensive, myopic and intellectually bankrupt response to the pandemic of sexual violence in this country, but this line of reasoning also demonstrates a stunning incapacity for empathy with survivors and potential victims of sexual violence. The article essentially tells women, and other folks who have or will suffer sexual violence, that rape is something they must endure. I refuse to accept this.
Moreover, the entire premise of your essay, that, “rape culture does not exist,” is a myth that even the most cursory cultural examination debunks. We live in a culture where the number one song in the country, for months, was “Blurred Lines,” a song rightly described by critics as “rapey.” A popular 2013 Audi Super Bowl commercial depicted a man sexually assaulting a woman. After the recent Steubenville verdict, news reporters empathized with the rapists rather than the victims. The New York Times stipulated that an 11-year-old girl’s make-up and revealing clothing were to blame for her gang-rape, rather than the 18 men who gang-raped her. If you need more empirical evidence that rape culture exists, you need only consult your own Twitter feed and Facebook page, “UW-Madison Confessions.” Both are replete with examples of rape culture. On August third you tweeted, “Worst/Funniest pick up line I’ve ever heard: ‘How do I know we’re having sex later tonight? I’m stronger than you.’” UW-Madison Confessions frequently posts statuses such as, “Some hot chick sat next to me … swung her legs on me and covered us with a blanket … I’m safely going to assume you want a one-way ticket to pleasure town.”
This, David Hookstead, is what rape culture looks like.
Before you respond to this letter, I ask that you take time to self-reflect and self-educate on these issues. As a former TA for an introductory women’s studies class, I am accustomed to dealing with men who are hostile and resistant to feminism, if not downright antifeminist or misogynistic, but I am also familiar with the transformative potential that education, critical self-reflection and an understanding of privilege can have on these men. I hope you take my words to heart, because I believe in your capacity for empathy and transformation. After all, I am a feminist.
I look forward to reading your reply.
Kelly Fox ([email protected]) is a UW graduate.