The month of April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to “rise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.” It is also a great time to open up a dialogue about the culture we live in and how it perpetuates violence against women.
While it may seem obvious that women in America appear to be respected than women in other parts of the world, we must acknowledge that we still live in a culture that perpetuates and tolerates violence against women, or rape culture. Rape Culture is defined as being a culture where rape and violence against women are common and in which attitudes, norms, practices and the media condone, normalize, excuse or tolerate sexual violence against women. There have been several examples of how rape culture shows up in our media, from the Ben Roethlisberger rape case, to Lara Logan’s sexual assault and the subsequent victim-blaming that occurred, and the despicable Kappa Sigma fraternity letter that explicitly stated things like “[Females] aren’t actual people like us men” and “non-consent and rape are two different things”. These are some of the more publicized examples that have occurred and it should be acknowledged that certain media forums made a point to criticize this type of thinking. For example, Jezebel and the Huffington Post, two fairly prominent blogs, called out the Kappa Sigma letter for it’s blatant sexism and misogyny.
However, the main challenge with rape culture is that it is often invisible in its pervasiveness. We recently published an article on this blog about the alarming language used in the Twilight book series, which perpetuated stereotypes about women and seems to approve of violence and domination against women. This is a perfect example of how rape culture is perpetuated. Rather than being criticized for perpetuating the rape culture that we live in, these books and the relationships in them were glorified.
When rape culture exists and it is not recognized and fought against, societal problems like racism, sexism continue to exist and lead to sexual assault and domestic violence. As long as there is a general attitude in society that sexism, misogyny and violence against women are acceptable, we will never be able to eliminate sexual violence and domestic violence. Luckily, we are seeing a shift in our society where people will no longer accept blatant misogyny and sexism without questioning the effect that it has on our culture.
A great example of this happened last November on the UNC Campus. At UNC-Chapel Hill, there are large cubes which are painted to advertise clubs and events that are coming up. At one point, the UNC Club Ice Hockey team painted their cube with a woman with very large breasts and the tagline: “Come watch us score”. According the hockey team, the intention of the ad was to draw attention and raise awareness about the team and their upcoming tournament. However, the student group Feminist Students United responded by painting their own advertisement with large arrows pointing to the ad with the words “This is what Rape Culture looks like” written inside. The hockey team quickly painted over their own advertisement after the controversy broke and sent an apology email to the leaders of Feminist Students United.
The leaders of the hockey team who were responsible for the ad said that the ad was only supposed to draw attention but they did not intend to offend anyone. This is believable, because since rape cultre is so ingrained, it is often not recognized. I don’t think that the hockey team did recognize that their ad was sexist, they were simply going along with a trend of showing sexualized women’s bodies for the sake of drawing attention. However, it is a good sign that instead of simply ignoring it, the Feminist Students United chose to acknowledge it and point out why images like that are harmful.
In acknowledgment of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to continue this dialogue about rape culture and how we can combat sexism in our society that perpetuates a rape culture. This is the only way that we can ever hope to eliminate sexual and domestic violence. What can you do?