Women at a SlutWalk protest in Berlin. The walk was held in response to a Toronto police officer who said women shouldn't dress like "sluts" if they want to avoid being raped. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Rape culture exists because we don't believe it does. From tacit acceptance of misogyny in everything from casual conversations with our peers to the media we consume, we accept the degradation of women and posit uncontrollable hyper-sexuality of men as the norm. But rape is endemic to our culture because there's no widely accepted cultural definition of what it actually is. As Nation contributor and co-editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes Jessica Valenti explains, “Rape is a standard result of a culture mired in misogyny, but for whatever reason—denial, self-preservation, sexism—Americans bend over backwards to make excuses for male violence.” But recent headline-grabbing instances of sexual assault, from Steubenville, Ohio, to Delhi, India, are prodding Americans to become self-aware about the role we play in propagating a culture that not only allows but justifies sexual violence against women. Activists Eesha Pandit, Jaclyn Friedman, filmmaker Nuala Cabral and The Nation’s Valenti believe that we can end rape culture. They’ve suggested the following "Ten Things" to end our collective tolerance for violence against women and create an environment that empowers both men and women to change the status quo.
1. Name the real problems: Violent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation. Learn 50 key facts about domestic violence. Here’s one: the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases 270% once a gun is present in the home Remember, a violent act is not a tragic event done by an individual or a group of crazies. Violence functions in society as" a means of asserting and securing power."
2. Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity: Once we name violent masculinity as a root cause of violence against women, we have to ask: Is masculinity inherently violent? How can you be a man/masculine without being violent? Understand that rape is not a normal or natural masculine urge. Join organizations working to redefine masculinity and participate in the national conversations on the topic.
3. Get enthusiastic about enthusiastic consent. Rape culture relies on our collective inclination to blame the victim and find excuses for the rapist. Enthusiastic consent — the idea that we're all responsible to make sure that our partners are actively into whatever's going down between us sexually — takes a lot of those excuses away. Rather than looking for a “no,” make sure there’s an active “yes.” If you adopt enthusiastic consent yourself, and then teach it to those around you, it can soon become a community value. Then, if someone is raped, the question won't be, well, what was she doing there, or did she really say no clearly enough? It will be: what did you do to make sure she was really into it? Check out this Tumblr page on enthusiastic consent.