Rape Culture is Universal*

*Trigger warning: rape, rape culture, violence against women, glamorization of rape culture

Rape Culture. It’s everywhere. It’s in the way we speak, the way we walk. The ways we expect things of one another and excuse one another. It’s in how we look at the world, how we assign order to chaos, how we explain away inexcusable things.

The prevalence of rape culture is disturbing, it’s also nothing new. Nor are glamorized representations of assault in the media and in movies. None of it is okay, and yet (sadly) I’m rarely surprised when I stumble across victim-blaming, perpetrator-excusing specimens in our “modern” everyday lives. I’m always outraged, but these days “surprised” is not at the top of my platter of emotions.

Two things shook that up for me this week.

nhs rape posterThe first is a poster from the UK’s National Health Service. This victim-blaming poster was initially published in 2006. It reads “One in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking.” Hmm. Not very consistent with the NHS’s (actually helpful and appropriate) guidelines regarding support for survivors of sexual assault: “If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.” This last bit is spot on, but the poster, which ran as a part of the NHS’s 2005-2007 “Know Your Limits” campaign, plops blame squarely on the survivor’s shoulders. Not cool, NHS. A change.org petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures, but the government insists that it will not apologize. Thankfully, a blogger fixed the poster to a much more useful message:

rape poster fixed

Well done blogger friend, well done.

The second appalling slice of rape culture that came to my attention this week was a photo shoot done by Indian fashion photographer Raj Shetye. The shoot glamorizes a woman being leered at and assaulted by several men on a bus. That’s right, on a bus. 

rape_photoshoot_in_2998114bIn 2012 a female student was brutally gang raped after being lured onto a bus by several men. She died 13 days later in the hospital from her injuries. The incident caused a deserving uproar throughout India and the world and more and more attention has been focused on the status of women in India. Apparently Mr. Shetye thought that a bus assault would make for some cool symbolism, saying that “The aim is purely to create art that will garner public opinion about issues that concern women” and that the fashion designers were not credited because the shoot was not for commercial gain.

Personally, I’m with Nirmala Samant, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, who told Agence France-Presse: “Any person with common sense will understand this is nothing but glorifying of violence.” If Mr. Shetye’s aim truly was to lend a voice to women through the medium he “knows best,” then perhaps a photo essay with consenting survivors would be more meaningful. Or perhaps lending his talents to domestic violence shelters. Or even offering to partner with local and regional governments to create rape prevention posters. I’ve seen the power of photography through my work with #GIRLWITHABOOK, and I wish that Mr. Shetye had chosen to use his talents in a way that moved the conversation forward towards preventing assault and supporting survivors.

That’s rape culture for you. It’s everywhere, regardless of your nationality, religion, or age, rape culture is pervasive. It’s so pervasive, that there are nearly always opportunities to fight it. Pay attention to your speech. Pay attention to what your family and coworkers say about violence. Pay attention to what children hear and teach them consent from an early age. Consent knows no gender, and respect is fundamental. These are powerful ways to change the conversation, which changes attitudes, which changes behavior.

After all, the only way to prevent rape is for people to choose not to rape other people.

 

(Woman on Woman) Crime Compromises Us All

A militant attack in Southwest Pakistan claimed the lives of at least 25 last Saturday, mostly students and nurses, at Sardar Bahadur Khan University, Baluchistan’s only all-female university. A suicide bomber hid on a bus at the end of the day that was to transport students back to a mostly Shi’a Hazara neighborhood before detonating and killing 14 and injuring many many more. Victims were taken to the university’s nearby hospital, where militants stormed the emergency room and a second suicide bomber detonated killing an additional 11 people while the militants indiscriminately opened-fire.

via tribune.com.pk

via tribune.com.pk

This is a disturbing view of the violence and anti-girl fervor that too many female students face around the world. After all, how often do we hear about all-male schools getting shut down, receiving bomb-threats, or getting blown-up because the school serves male students? That’s right. We don’t.

That’s because male education (while important, of course– ALL children have a right to an education and should be able to access it safely) is not threatening to the status quo. Patriarchy reproduces patriarchy, and increasingly, educated, thinking, breathing women showing some spark and life-blood are seen as absolutely terrifying to male-dominated extremist groups trying to maintain their power.

What’s particularly disturbing about the attack in Quetta, on top of the already heinous carnage and loss of life, promising young female lives I might add, is that the attack on the bus was carried out by a female suicide bomber.

Yes. A woman boarded a bus full of other female students, and then detonated on behalf of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangri terrorist group.

Now. Women who commit acts of violence are an interesting topic, and one that is frequently exploited by the media to sensationalize and objectify women, neglecting to acknowledge the agency of these women as they make decisions and commit to courses of action. Violent women are often sexualized, identified as angry mothers/wives seeking revenge for their husband’s and/or sons’ deaths, or classified as monsters, mentally unstable or insane women who cannot be held responsible for their actions. Or some combination of the above list. (If you want to read more on the topic of violent women, I highly recommend Mothers, Monsters, Whores by Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry).

We’re not going to do that here. We’re not going to sexualize this woman. We’re not going to talk about any men who may be in her life. We’re not going to assume that she was coerced into this action. We’re not going to diagnose her as insane. Because women can and do make decisions and act upon them. After all, women are people.

What we will say is that we are disgusted over the attack, and greatly saddened by it as yet another component in an ever-growing web of resistent women face as they try to access an education. Further saddening is that it was a woman who attacked other women. There is too much difficulty in the world for women without women compromising each others’ future. We don’t need to think or act alike. We shouldn’t be clones of each other or claim that there is only one way to be a woman, a feminist. But I think we can agree that supporting each other to make decisions about our own lives, and being able to access the tools to make those decisions (i.e. education) is something we should all strive to do.