Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ending Rape Culture

About a month ago I received a comment on a blog post, "Are Jewish People a Race" that read:

"get raped you stupid chink cunt"

[Aside: I apologize for the racist, sexist language--or rather, for reprinting the racist, sexist language, but I also think it's important to know when people use this language and for what purpose.  I didn't "publish" it, but I did want to address this comment in a blog post.  Also, I re-read the post, and I don't think that the comment was trying to specifically address anything in the post that ruminates on anti-semitism but rather seemed to be a general note on the dissatisfaction that the commenter "an ah" felt about the blog/me in general.]

There's obviously a lot that could be upsetting about reading this comment.  But what I want to focus on isn't the obvious racism and sexism but the order that begins this comment:

"get raped"

There's so much about our society that is immersed in rape culture.  And what I mean by rape culture is the idea that women (and it's largely women although men are targets of rape and victims of rape) need to be regulated, and one way in which to control women is through forcible sex.

For this commenter, "an ah" (and yes, I did report him, and yes I believe it is a "him" although it might just be a woman--lets not forget that women can be violent towards other women, especially when you add the toxic blend of racism), my existence as an Asian American woman who speaks out about issues of racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, and other social justice issues is troubling/problematic to him, and so his idea of voicing his dissent is to tell me his desire that I be socially regulated through coerced and violent sexual violation.

I'm parsing all this out because it's important to always remember that at the heart of rape and rape culture is the idea of power.  Of people, largely men, who feel disempowered--who want to take control--who are threatened by changes in society--who feel vulnerable and don't know how to appropriately process these feelings of vulnerability.  Rape isn't about sexual desire--as the comment above should make clear, there's nothing about it that suggests real desire or lust--the commenter wants my rape to happen not necessarily at his hands but by someone anyone who can put me in my place, show me that I'm wrong, make me feel small--ostensibly because the commenter feels small himself.

I think it may be nearly impossible to get into the head of "an ah" or any other person who actively and openly endorses rape culture (although it is telling that "an ah" is a pseudonym--I did report him to Blogger & Google).  Often people hide behind anonymous comments or pseudonyms in their endorsement of rape culture--but it's there--you only need to read the comment thread of any controversial (or even non-controversial) topic to see it in action.

I've been thinking a lot about rape culture because there is an active conversation going on at Southern University in light of recent allegations and a federal complaint filed by Southern U students and a former assistant dean of students (whom I know--figure I should put that out there for the record) about the ways in which Southern U does not support students (largely women--the four students listed are all women) who have been sexually assaulted.

And here's what I know about rape.

When I entered UCSB as a freshman I didn't know anyone who had been raped.  When I left UCSB I knew several people (some of them close friends), who had been sexually assaulted.  In certain cases my friends and acquaintances did not know their attackers (but believed they were fellow UCSB students).  In some cases my friends and acquaintances were very familiar with their attacker since they were current or former boyfriends, men they were dating, men they went to a party with, friends of friends.

Since the time I have been at Southern U, nearly ever semester I hear a story about a student who has been sexually assaulted.  Either one of my students tells me a story about his/her friend, roommate, best friend, sorority sister, classmate who has been raped or I hear directly from the student about her sexually violation and why she is having problems concentrating in class, turning in assignments, coming to class at all.

The stories I hear from my Southern U students echo the stories I remember as an undergraduate at UCSB.  Twenty years have elapsed but very little has changed in terms of the lack of support that universities provide to students or, more important and more tellingly, a change in rape culture--a change in the attitudes about rape--about why men rape.  There has not been a cultural shift, not a significant cultural shift, that grants more respect to women, that doesn't sexualize them to the point of abjection and objectification, that offers the strongest condemnation and vilification for men who make jokes about rape or who in any way suggest that forcible sex and sexual violence is OK.

I'm tired.  As much as talking about racism wears me down, having to have THIS conversation twenty years later makes me sad, angry, and frustrated.  I'm, of course, not trying to pit racism against sexism--there's a fair amount of intersecting overlap between the two.  But in the ways in which I can point to progress on the institutional racism front (even though we have A LONG way to go) hearing about the potential cover-ups and the clear lack of support and the overwhelming evidence that rape culture is still alive and well makes me want to beat my head against my laptop and scream.

I don't have a solution.  But I know we need to change.  We need allies--we especially need MALE allies.  We need men to speak out against sexual violence in the US (and I haven't even touched on this issue internationally--as anyone who has been following the news in India the last month knows, this is a problem not just in the US but the world over).   We need to end rape culture.  Now.

1 comment:

Dianne said...

Very sad and very scary. I'm sorry you had to experience this kind of attack, virtual or not. The thing with oppressors is that they are motivated to make others feel less than: less powerful, less worthy, less safe; that is how they make themselves feel better and to justify their ignorance and hatred.

It really does get exhausting. I feel that, too. I've been going through my own exploration of whether or not I think my blog makes a difference and if I want to continue talking about my experiences to strangers.

Know, however, that there are others out there who think like you do and who believe, as you do, that we can make progressive change. We fight for equality and a safer world for everyone, not just the few.


Here's what I wrote about rape and women's rights back in August 2012: