In the Blog

On rape culture & the importance of staying angry

February 17th, 2011     by Anastasia Szakowski     Comments

Warning: This post is a minefield of triggers and anger-inducing facts, ideas, and links.

I get told to shut up a lot. It isn’t always said with the words “shut up.” Sometimes it’s said in statements like “You’re too negative” or “You’re too passionate” or “You should just stop thinking about that.” I most often get told to shut up, in one way or another, when I’m “on about the rape culture.”

I’ve coped with this by forcing myself to do some positive thinking. A few days pass during which I feel awesome. I have these kinds of days when I encase myself in a liberal, pro-choice, activist bubble. I start getting hopeful, knowing that things are changing. Slowly, but surely.

But most days, when I step outside my bubble, I’m just angry. I’ll smile and share cute animals, sure, but I am almost always angry. Angry that we still live in rape culture and angry that it is still so misunderstood and overlooked. And in the past two weeks, very little has eased my rage. So, what’s the point in fighting what I consider to be totally justifiable anger? There’s certainly no shortage of beliefs to be angry about. Here are some examples.

Lara Logan: The hot journalist who got herself raped

While reporting in Cairo, CBS journalist Lara Logan “suffered what CBS called ‘a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.’”

Logan’s assault has resulted in all kinds of survivor-blaming, claimed causes ranging from her looks to her “liberal belief system.” Her assault has also been used to justify extremely anti-Muslim sentiments, most notably from Debbie Schlussel, who writes:

So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows. Or so we’d hope. But in the case of the media vis-a-vis Islam, that’s a hope that’s generally unanswered. This never happened to her or any other mainstream media reporter when Mubarak was allowed to treat his country of savages in the only way they can be controlled. Now that’s all gone. How fitting that Lara Logan was “liberated” by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the “liberation.” Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara! Alhamdilllullah [praise allah].

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, a reader poll was created asking if Logan is to blame for her sexual assault.

As Media Matters says, “these people ought to be ashamed of themselves.” But are they? The answer is no.

Don’t want to be raped? Well, don’t dress like a slut.

Yesterday, Excalibur, York University’s student newspaper, published a story about this appalling advice given to women by a Toronto police officer on avoiding being raped:

On Jan. 24, a campus safety information session was held at Osgoode Hall, where members from York security and two male officers from Toronto police 31 Division handed out safety tips to community members. Ronda Bessner, who attended the session, remembered being surprised by what the officer suggested to women. “One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’ He said something like, ‘I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,’ and then he uttered the words,” said Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program.

There are many problems with this blatantly misogynist “advice,” (sluts don’t exist, survivor-blaming, etc.) but what bothered me the most was the fact that the police officer knew his comments were inappropriate, but he shared them anyway. His belief that if women dress conservatively and will therefore not be raped, and refusal to be challenged on that belief, is a glaring example of living in rape culture.

Rape is funny. Get a sense of humour. You can’t take away my freedom of speech!

In August 2010, Penny Arcade posted its controversial Sixth Slave comic, which prompted a long and complicated battle over the use of rape in comedy and entertainment. During this debate (which is still ongoing), rape survivors were mocked and belittled and Penny Arcade’s fans and writers retaliated in most immature ways. Trigger warnings were mocked and avowed rape survivors were asked to “prove it.” Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan, received numerous threats from fans, resulting in this post about why rape is never funny:

It’s not good enough to say, “Lots of people can laugh at that without hurting anybody,” not when laughing along conveys approval of the rape culture, whose vales are embraced by the people who do hurt other people. They aren’t formed and they don’t exist in a void–and the only responsible position, if you’re not inclined to be their ally, is to have a zero tolerance policy on rape as entertainment. Otherwise, you’re just creating opportunities for Bad Guys to have their fucked-up values reaffirmed and for Nice Guys to communicate silent approval. There is no neutral in the rape culture.

Arthur on IGN, whom I kind of fell in love with after reading this, summed up Penny Arcade’s reponse perfectly:

I notice a distinct sense from a lot of internet dudes that they feel like things keep being taken away from them that they just took for granted, and they don’t understand it. This is related to something called entitlement which I don’t want to dig into here. What I’m saying is that the world is changing, and it can be hard to understand, and I think that causes knees to jerk. I don’t see Mike acknowledging any of that, or Jerry saying anything at all. I see immature pushback making the situation worse, and a legion of Penny-Arcade supporters that are lashing out at anyone who has the audacity to express shock, disappointment, or disgust at Mike’s actions. I see a bunch of entitled nerds refusing to understand that rape jokes can seriously fuck rape survivors up emotionally (and sometimes physically), thinking they can “take rape jokes back” when really, rape jokes were never theirs to begin with. And I don’t buy the “jokes take away rape’s power” argument. Jokes deflate serious conversations about rape and sexual violence and gender inequality and misogyny that are long overdue in western culture…

And just to bring this full circle, after I shared this article and the aforementioned post from McEwan, a man on Twitter responded with: “I’ve been following this for a while. So ridiculous! The comic was genius and people need to get a sense of humour.” Yes. A prime example of missing my point.

So what do these stories all have in common? Well, a few beliefs. Rape can only be avoided by women. Dealing with rape is up to survivors. Rape is a fact of life, something we accept as always existing and something that will go on existing. Rape culture? What’s rape culture?

What else? The fact that every time I shared these articles, at least one person asked me why I was surprised. “Why are you surprised that police tell women they won’t be raped if they don’t dress like sluts? They told us not to wear black during the G20.” “Why are you surprised that Logan’s rape resulted in survivor-blaming and racism?” “Why are you shocked that people still think rape can be funny?”

I know that most people who read Shameless will know what rape culture is and why it needs to be countered, so I won’t spend much time on that. I wrote this because I am shocked and surprised when these things happen because it is 2011. Think about that. It’s 2011 and this shit is still happening and people still believe these things.

And every time we allow people to dull the degree to which we’re offended, angered, or shocked, we accept rape culture a little bit more. Rape becomes an unfightable, common part of life. And that’s the opposite of what we want. What’s important is learning to harness that anger.

So, come be angry with me. Talk to your friends and family. Point out comments and behaviours that support rape culture and explain why those comments and behaviours aren’t acceptable. Write. Paint. Talk to your male friends about what they can do. Comment on what happens in the world. Challenge media. Whatever you do, don’t shut up.


Rape Culture 101 by Melissa McEwan

How You Guys Can Prevent Rape, from Scarleteen

No More Excuses, from go it alone (together)

10 things men can do to stop rape

Note: It was extremely difficult for me to find current resources on how men can prevent and combat rape. If you come across any organizations or relevant links, please comment!

Tags: media savvy, rape culture

« Feminist Pinups: Can You Be A Sexy Role Model?

Adrian MacNair: White Knight(mare) »