Trigger warning May make you want to kill yourself.
We live in a society which prides itself greatly on its extraordinary development. We’ve made advancements that only 200 years ago would have been unthinkable, and 2000 years ago entirely unfathomable. It’s been 200,000 years since our ancient ancestors were simple cave-dwelling hunter gatherers, only just beginning to learn how to make tools and fire, learning the ways in which they could manipulate the environment to their advantage. Due to these changes, they began to build a culture that they could not live without. Knowledge and customs were passed down from generation to generation in a way that had never been seen before. Today, without our culture, we would be unable to survive. Because of these early strides, the world has changed into an unfamiliar place. Humans have taken over every corner of the globe. There is no land left untouched. Our social structure has morphed into an entirely new beast, one that bears many vicious heads. In the United States, our little corner of the world, we take pride in being a highly developed country, claiming freedom, equality, and justice for all. We have technologies and wealth in enormous surplus. Yet, as far as we claim to have come in the last centuries, and as advanced as we very well may be as a culture, there lies a dark aspect of it which can no longer be ignored, and that is the underlying structure of a rape culture.
The term “rape culture” is a fairly new one, but the problem has been around since perhaps the dawn of civilization. It is a term used to describe a society in which violence, especially sexual violence, against women is prevalent and structurally condoned, not explicitly, but through the media, through language, through behavior, and through beliefs. In a rape culture, men are encouraged to be violent and women are told to be careful. Violence is seen as inevitable and essentially unavoidable. The world cannot change; we must change to accommodate a darker world. However, what is this society but a collection of people who decide what they believe and what they will stand for? Change is entirely possible, but not as long as we are so accepting of this violent culture as a norm.
The statistics of violence against women in America can be quite alarming. Over a quarter of all women murdered in the United States are killed by their significant others. Regarding sexual assault, while men have a 1 in 33 chance of being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, one in six American women will be victims of an attempted or completed rape. Most often, these women are attacked by somebody that they personally know. What could compel these men to inflict harm upon the women in their lives, women that may be a friend, a partner, or even a spouse? While we seem to be speaking out against these horrendous incidents at last, we have not begun properly educating the men in our society to not rape. We recognize that sexual violence is a real and prevalent crime, enough so that women are taught to avoid the ever-present threat just as soon as they become women. But young men are not talked to about rape. In fact, rape is often seen as a dirty word, a subject to be avoided. Women are taught to feel ashamed if they have been assaulted. Many do not come forward for fear of victim blaming. A rape culture is one which shames the victim and acquits the criminal.
As far as women have come in the past decades, we still live in a highly patriarchal society – a world run by men. Men are creating what we see on TV, what we hear on the radio, what we read in our magazines, and what we see on billboards. Images of men dominating women run rampant. Women’s bodies, stripped to the skin, are plastered quite literally everywhere in our society. Breasts are used to sell everything, from cars to food to fishing lines. (Kilbourne, 2011) These images don’t just show us what it is we want; they dictate to us what we should want. Large breasts, small waists, perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect nails – a level of unobtainable beauty that women kill themselves to achieve. One in two hundred American women are thought to suffer from anorexia nervosa, and 20% of those women will die from complications due to this illness. It is the number one cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 24. (South Carolina Department of Mental Health) A rape culture is one in which women are taught to despise their bodies, to judge their worth based on their looks and desirability, especially to men, and to rather die than to live outside of the feminine ideal that they have been force fed throughout their entire lives. The feminine ideal promoted to us through television and magazines is one of passivity, submission, softness and sensuality, openness and willingness to do anything that the male mind desires. Sexuality is the only female trait granted worth by these images. Regardless of the fact that women represent half of the world’s population, essentially all forms of media cater to the pornographic, heteronormative male mindset. (Jhally, 2007) It promotes, normalizes, and even eroticizes male aggression, dominance, and control over women. Women are represented as the sum of their parts; bodies without minds. The deplorable representations of gender norms in media are a clear construction of a male-dominated rape culture.