Reflections on Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture

30 03 2009

I was at “Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture One Word at a Time: Using Accuracy to Undermine Dangerous Attitudes and Injustice,” one of the last WAM! sessions that featured Cara Kulwicki of The Curvature, Ashley Burczak of SAFER, Marcella Chester of Abyss2Hope, and Ashwini Hardikar, a SAFER trainer/mentor.  Jill at feministe live-blogged the session.

Just a few things that I really took away and wanted to highlight:

1. Cara spoke about how the language we use to talk about sex, especially the language the mainstream media uses to talk about sex, are deeply problematic.  The media often mis-uses words when covering rape cases.  One example she used is how in one story of a rape case, an article said “The defendant had sex with the victim.”  This assumes innocence of the defendant, erases the victim’s side of the story, and falsely implies that the “sex” is a given, a fact.  

Here is a more recent case of rape where the media mistakenly calls a “toddler sex case”.  Obviously the victim was too young to consent.  As a reminder,


2. Ashwini mentioned how in both Hollywood and Bollywood movies, consensual sex scenes are given higher ratings (R or NC-17) than scenes containing violent sexual acts.  In the movie, Boys Don’t Cry, the director had to omit a scene that showed consensual oral sex scene between Hilary Swank’s character (who was transgender) and Chloe Sevigny’s character.  Meanwhile, thee MPAA ratings were completely okay with violent gang rape and murder scenes.  This speaks volumes about how normalized violence is in our society, and how the pervasiveness of violence in the media reflects structural and interpersonal violence that occurs in our day-to-day lives.  Furthermore, what are the implications of this for young people who grow up watching violent sex scenes, or violence in general, and therefore internalize these violent cultural norms?

3.  Marcella defined rape culture as the cumulative effect of toxic personal attitudes and toxic systems related to sex, consent and sexual violence.  Rape culture is designed for those who feel entitled.  Rapists need positive motives to justify and rationalize their egregious acts.  They screw with reality and tell themselves that women ask for it, or that women want to be forced into having sex.  This feeds into rape apologism, and that’s how a rapist, a “nice guy”, can justify committing such an atrocious act of violence.

Rape culture is rooted in the personal and therefore its power and transmission varies.  Because rape culture is rooted in the personal, we all have the power to challenge and change it.  We all have the power to pull the plug without getting burnt.      

4. Ashley, who was just at Tufts for the SAFER Teach-In, talked a lot about dominant rape culture narratives.  These narratives are constantly repeated over and over and indoctrinate all of us into rape culture.  Such narratives include victim-blaming ideologies that put all the emphasis on the survivor and ask what the survivor did wrong, not what the perpetrator did wrong.    

We need to create and spread a counter-narrative to rape culture.  A good counter-narrative would place greater emphasis on the behavior of the perpetrator and by-stander training instead of the behavior of the survivor.  It would break down all forms of oppression and expose the interconnections among them. 

How do we disseminate these counter-narratives though?  Powerholders won’t change out of the goodness of their hearts.  Instead, power structures change because they are forced to.  How do we force them to change?  It’s important to focus on a specific and concrete goal(s) that challenges rape culture.  The goal must be specific and have tangible results.  So it can be something like getting the MPAA to label films that depict sexual violence.  Then from there, find who it is that can give you want you want and go from there.   

Often when we talk or write about rape culture it can get very depressing and upsetting.  However, the Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture session was a very uplifting and inspiring experience – perhaps it was the vibe and energy you got from sitting in a room full of people who were just as concerned and passionate about ending rape.  It was wonderful to hear about the work that other people in the room were doing to end rape culture.  There was also the constant emphasis on and reiteration of how we have the power to end rape culture. 

My only critique of the session is that there was not a strong enough male presence in the room.  Men are important allies in the fight to end sexual violence and it’s important to have them on board from the start.



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