The term rape culture is inherently emotive. It points the finger and holds dark implications. It makes society squirm. It causes men to feel complicit. It drowns women in discomfort.
The term rape culture applied to such an innocent act as say, catcalling, seems too dramatic. It feels an ill-fitting word to apply to the age-old practise of telling a woman she’s pretty, as she walks past your building site. You wouldn’t accuse a man of rape when all he did was shout that your arse looked good, as he drove his white van past you at night, when there’s no-one around and the darkness is full of shadows. Especially as he had his son in the car with him. Of course, he would never do something so evil with his child in the car.
I agree, it is a strong word. Such a profoundly provocative word, that implies monstrous connotations. But the thing is, rape is not always committed by brutish, frightening strangers down back alleys, reminiscent of Jack the Ripper.
Shouting at a woman in the street is no atrocious act. But what about the younger men, the children, who see these individuals treating a woman like she is nothing more than something to be drooled over, to throw words at, to say whatever they like to? They grow up seeing women being objectified, on telly, in the workplace, in the street. They might begin to act with entitlement. Not in an evil, malicious way. But in a way that is so subtle, no-one, not even the women, realises it’s happening.
‘Come on, baby,’ he whispers to a girl in his bed, ‘you know you want to.’
‘I’m too drunk, I want to go to sleep,’ she replies.
‘Oh, come on, we’ve done it before, you enjoyed it,’ he tells her, pushing a hand onto her leg.
This continues, until she relents and has sex with him. He hasn’t raped her, oh no, she said yes, and they had sex.
I’m not trying to be facetious. This is a true experience for most women I know.
As well as these small acts of coercion, are absolute, aggressive rapes. Usually committed by someone the victim knows. And there are millions of experiences in between. A lot of coercion, a lot of women too drunk to make a choice, a lot of manipulation and advantage taking. A lot of men don’t even know they’ve raped someone, because they were brought up in a world where it is okay to objectify women and their bodies.
I can tell you, from personal experience, it takes years, years, to get over a rape. Eight years to be exact. I’m sure it is different for other victims. Years of therapy, and mistrust, and alcohol abuse, and anxiety, and anti-depressants, and deeply honest chats with the people who love you the most. The trauma is something you can’t imagine, until you have to, because it inevitably happens to you. And perhaps myself, and millions of other women (and men), wouldn’t have had to have endure what we did, had it not been for a culture that allows women to be up for grabs.
Rape culture. Does it make you uncomfortable? Does the term make you feel squirmy and culpable? Do you think it feels as uncomfortable as it does to be a woman who has lived through sexual trauma? Is it as uncomfortable as someone violating your body? Are you as scared by that word as a woman who has to walk past men who might be a threat, and endure their invasive comments?
The term rape culture does get my back up. It makes me think that people won’t take it seriously, because it is such a dogmatic term. But sometimes we have to be uncomfortable for real change to happen. Perhaps to be made to feel complicit in something you aren’t aware of, is to evoke change, to be shocked into understanding. And if it isn’t, then I stand for myself and with all the women who have been through sexual trauma and their choice to use whatever the hell word they like, for something that will have a tremendously detrimental effect on the rest of their lives.