[personal profile] womanwarrior
The other day I ordered the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. Two years ago I was puzzled and highly skeptical whenever I heard the phrase "rape culture". Today I am a firm believer.

Things I was taught as a young girl about rape:


  • Rape is the worst thing that can happen to me.

  • Rape happens if you aren't careful enough, like if you are in a room alone with a boy, or if you wore clothing that was too revealing, or if you walked alone down a dark street at night.

  • I won't be able to prevent rape, but I can avoid it. If someone wants to rape me, they will almost certainly succeed whether or not I fight.

  • Rape is an crime of violence and is not sexual. But you can reduce your risk of rape by reducing how sexy you appear, and increase your risk of rape by being more sexual.

  • Rapists are strangers who attack you out of nowhere.

  • If you are raped, you are ruined forever and you will never recover.

  • Suicide is a reasonable response to being raped.

  • If someone wants to rape you, you shouldn't fight. You should just give in, because otherwise you might lose your life and being raped is preferable to being killed.



I learned these lessons from health class and teachers, but also from movies, music, the news, and the attitudes of children and adults around me. As a young teen I decided that I would fight as hard as I could if I was raped, but then kill myself if I didn't succeed (and I didn't expect to succeed). I couldn't imagine recovering from rape; I read too many narratives which dwelled on the awfulness of the experience, and saw too many stories where women killed themselves after being raped.

I was taught over and over the strategies I should use to avoid rape, under the guise of teaching myself how to "protect myself" from rape. Strategies like not wearing revealing clothing, avoiding unlit areas at night, walking around in groups, or being alone with a man I didn't know well. These were not strategies to protect myself from rape. These were strategies for attempting to avoid rape. Real strategies to protect myself from rape would have included things like how to win a fight against someone bigger and stronger than me, or how to recognize when someone doesn't respect my boundaries and how to enforce them anyway, and how to deal with sexual harassment, and ....

In truth, I don't even know what real strategies to protect myself from rape would look like, because the only culture I've lived in so strongly believes that it's a woman's responsibility to manage mens' desires that I have trouble imagining a world where it isn't. You might think that telling me that I can control whether I am raped or not should be empowering, but it's only empowering if it's true. It's not. And because it's not, it tells us instead that it's our fault if we get raped, rather than the rapists' faults. There's a list circulating around, called "Sexual Assault Tips Guaranteed To Work". I think it highlights exactly what I mean when I say that our culture places the focus of rape on actions of the victim, rather than the actions of the rapist.

Perhaps the book I ordered will help me figure out what a less misogynistic cultural narrative of rape could look like.

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womanwarrior

November 2009

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