By Sarah Tegenfeldt
The brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in India opened the eyes of people around the world to the rape culture that still dominates many societies. What many of these people fail to realize, however, is that America remains one of those societies. While we may not be a country with legally or religiously defined gender roles, there is still clear emphasis placed on the differing roles of men and women and their relationship. We cannot say with utter certainty that we are so different from countries such as India. When high school students post videos on the Internet making a mockery of the rape of a 16-year-old girl and politicians claim there is a difference between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape, we must ask ourselves: are we fostering rape culture here in America? And if so, how do we stop?
The tragedy in India shocked both the nation and the world into quick action. Galvanizing support proved momentous and before long, Indians began marching down the streets of New Delhi demanding change. A writer from India now living in San Diego, Siddharth Katragadda, stated simply, “we’re realizing that we cannot protect our women by hiding them behind tradition and values.” This demand for a change in the way Indian culture views women is an enormous step in the right direction. Yet India is not the only country where the view of women needs to be reevaluated.
Less than a week after the death of the Indian woman, a video was leaked on the Internet in which several high-school boys cracked jokes about an alleged rape that occurred in August of 2012. In the video, one boy in particular repeatedly states that after being raped multiple times, the girl was without question dead, joking that she was “deader than Caylee Anthony.” Both the boys in the video and the video implicated in the rape were prominent players on the town’s highly ranked high school football team. The police had apparently known about the video for months, as it was originally posted the night of the rape. However, inaction on the part of the police due to the status of these football players caused a group known as the Knight Sec to leak the video to the public. Mountains of evidence began to pile up against two boys in particular as photos, videos and tweets about the rape surfaced. Only a week after the gang rape in India stunned the world, another brutal rape was already in the news.
The most appalling aspect of all was the effort the town expended to prevent the rape from getting out to the public in order to protect their prized football players. It is hard to believe that in America our youth commit such violent acts and find amusement in an issue as serious as rape. Yet, if we closely examine the culture that we are raising children in today, we gain insight into the reason behind these violent crimes against women.
According to statistics from feminist.com, 20 percent of women in America are victims of rape. According to the FBI, however, only 37 percent of these rapes are reported to authorities. Compared to the global statistic of around 33 percent of women being sexually or physically abused, we are not far behind.
In August of 2012, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri separated rape into categories of “legitimate” or “illegitimate.” He stated in an interview, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This statement implies that there are instances of “illegitimate” rape in which women are in some way responsible for the violence acts committed against them. Jackie Klein argues, in an article titled No Means No: A Lesson In Consent For All Ages, “anything from the way the victim dresses to how many sexual partners she had previously can change the entire outcome of a rape case, placing the blame on the victim instead of the rapist.” This perpetuates the idea that rape occurs to women who are in some way inviting it and that rape is dictated by something other than those choosing to rape.
This might be obviously ludicrous to most people, yet there exist much more subtle beliefs in our society that could be contributing to the propagation of a rape culture. “You have to play the game.” “Men like the chase.” “Play hard to get.” These are all given as keys to successful dating. Women have been told to say “No” even when they mean “Yes”, while men are convinced that the only women worth their time are the ones they have to work for.
“If you sleep with him tonight, he might think you’re a slut. Always leave him wanting more.”
When did “No” start to mean “Maybe”, “Maybe” start to mean “Yes,” and “Yes” start to mean you are a slut? Society has led us to believe that men have to fight for affection, spawning the idea that a person can say “Yes” even when she is actually saying “No”.
Media continues to do a great job in propagating this ideology. From blockbuster movies to bestseller novels, popular culture reinforces the ideas of violence in relationships. Take for example the phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey. The main plot-line of this series of novels involves a man trying to come to terms with his need to dominate and sometimes physically harm women. While they may be wildly entertaining, the books deliver a message that violence has a place in relationships.
Yes, the 50 Shades books are outliers on the violence scale, yet we see a similar message in even the most romantic of stories. From John Cusack’s famous 80s movie Say Anything to the beloved Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, we repeatedly see a culture where men have to go to extremes, often competing against contending suitors, in order to win a woman’s affection. Although they were made 20 years apart, both movies contain the same storyline: a woman who at first refuses eventually gives in after the most outrageous of supposed ‘romantic gestures.’ Holding a boom box over your head or hanging from a Ferris wheel are no longer ludicrous actions but necessary to win the girl. Requiring men to go to extremes in order to get that “Yes” implies that women must wait for these outrageous gestures before giving it.
Even if women want to say “Yes” in the first place, they are repeatedly told to say “No.” It is no wonder the meanings of these simple words have become diluted and muddled. Refusal has become a desirable trait that has contributed to the idealization of violence in romance. As Rachel Kay states in her article Why I Never Play Hard to Get, “by looking at love and sex as a game, a chase, a fight, we give violence our social permission, cultivate a rape culture, and throw consent out with the bathwater.”
In a world where “No” is no longer an indication to stop, we must open ourselves up to a discussion on rape prevention with an emphasis on the issue of consent. Present generations are raised to believe that despite protests, consent can be implied based on perceived actions. With so many rapes currently in the news, it has become a pertinent issue that can no longer be avoided. Including education on issues of consent and rape prevention, and attempting to change how media perceives and portrays the ideal relationship is key to stemming the tide of sexual assaults in America and around the world. In doing so “No” can once again go back to meaning just that, “No.”
Image by Franck Chicot