The Internet and the Culture of Rape

by shewastheyoungamerican

I read news about women and women’s issues. I read blogs and journals by women and for women. I also read the rest of our media. I watch primetime news networks and major network television and see why women write about the things they write about. Sometimes I avoid the comment sections of any news or entertainment source because it’s almost guaranteed that there will be something deeply sexist, racist, homophobic, or violent about the content or its author — Something that will make me despair about the world in which I live. I was involved in such an exchange recently on Facebook. Rather than allowing the conversation to spiral towards “You’re a bitch, fatty!” I decided to do what I know how to do best: write about it.

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There’s and infuriating complex in these sorts of exchanges: knowing how involved you want to get. How much further should the conversation go? It’s a tricky question. On one hand, I felt “I’m angry and I need to express why these comments are so hurtful and dangerous towards myself and other women.” And the other hand I felt, “Well, this clearly isn’t getting anywhere, and this guy is just digging his own grave.” But then I thought, “Good, let all of this get out there, let people see the seeds of hate and violence towards women and minorities.”

Facebook is a platform for more than just birthday parties and your band’s next gig. It’s an online universe in which we all exist and are therefore responsible to one another. It’s a space where people exchange ideas. Recently a friend of mine posted another article about street harassment (it’s a trend, people). The thread was an exchange between women who openly shared their disgust for such treatment and their support to one another. My friend offered information about how women can better protect themselves and stand up against harassment. It might not be a rally in the middle of City Hall, but it’s a start. We live in a digital age and using digital mediums to open up the conversation about these issues is important. When the news stops reporting about Joyti Singh , the conversation the Internet at least keeps going.

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So, the previous comment of “lol culture of rape” got me to thinking about how many people have no idea what “culture of rape” even means. It’s not in our lexicon, our collective social vocabulary. It’s too often cornered away into feminist books and blogs. It’s an understanding about the world that women (mostly) have to seek out in order to feel more connected or even validated in their feelings. Force: Upsetting Rape Culture defines it as such: “In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are.’”

I’d like to focus here on the notion of normalcy – this idea that street harassment, verbal abuse, physical abuse and rape are “just how the world is.” Here are a few phrases pulled out of the Facebook exchange which exemplify this phenomena:

“Women are different, they will get treated differently.”

If you were to replace the word “women” with any other minority, this phrase would sound just as hideous to the members of that group. This sort of mentality permeates to so many corners of our society. And these thoughts aren’t being hidden away in some dark scary diary. It’s being posted on Facebook.

“The sort of people who shout “get your tits out love” are the same people who hurl abuse at blokes and start fights in pubs.”

This sort of defense is saying “it’s just this kind of person who does it.” And therefore that somehow makes it okay? Also, it’s not just the guys who start fights at bars. It’s teachers, police officers, neighbors, and even family members. There is no “face” of harassment.

“People don’t take it seriously because a lot of women moan about everything from sexist jokes to comments on their appearance (which are harmless) to being groped etc.

As I stated in my own response, these jokes and comments are NOT harmless and we are NOT moaning. This person’s flippant attitude towards harassment is the sort of attitude that stops someone from telling their friend that those jokes aren’t funny, or seeing someone being harassed in a bar and doing nothing to stop it. Also, we shouldn’t be moaning about it. We should be SCREAMING about it.

“it is a problem, but it’s far from a plague”

Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted (women and men) And that’s just in the United States.

“Unwanted attention can still be civilized.”

I’m fairly certain that the phrase “unwanted attention” means it can’t be deemed civilized. Just me? Nope, didn’t think so.

“I think regardless of the opening line the bus stop should really be off limits for any kind of amorous attention. A cafe, a club, a gig, a festival, fair game, but some places like a bus stop, a library, doctors surgery, funeral… Some places should be off limits in a civilized society, even if the opening line is positively Shakespearian.”

Some places? SOME places? This harkens back to my high school and college sexual health classes where women were educated on how to spot rapists and the sort of places we need to be more careful. Sure, bars and frat houses might seem like more likely places, but they happen everywhere. And just because a woman goes to a bar or a party doesn’t mean she should “expect” unwanted attention.

And finally, the most enraging comment about rape culture:

“Rape is not complex, it is not cultural, it is simple: man want sex, man big and strong, little lady wearing little clothes, man bash lady good, sling lady over shoulder and take to ditch for fun.”

I…just…can’t.

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The second overwhelming theme that came through these comments was the notion of entitlement — The idea that somehow there is something “natural” about this sort of behavior or that it’s a “right” of sorts to “have” women (or any person that is the object of another’s sexual desire) in any sort of way.

“If a girl is dressed up all nice and a guy checks her out (in a not doing up the shoelace invasive kind of a way) he shouldn’t be vilified because the girl has no interest in him or has not given him permission to check her out.

This comment starts off with a very common trend in victim blaming: a woman is dressed a certain way and therefore deserves or should expect X,Y, and Z.

“Guys eyeing girls up, or trying to chat them up in a bar or a club, should not be trumpeted as harassment because it’s actually sexist against the man for following his genetic mandate in the civilized world.”

GENETIC MANDATE IN THE CIVILIZED WORLD? Just because you have a penis does not mean that I owe you anything in a bar or club…or library, or street, or anywhere. You are not owed sex, nor are you owed a conversation. This was recently also brought to head in a YouTube video called “Women of LA” where a nerdy guy complains about how women in LA are too shallow to sleep with him. Because, you know, all women are here to do is service men. I guess that’s our “genetic mandate,” right? Wrong. Erin Gibson of the Huffington Post analyzes this trend in the video here.

If you scroll down to the comments section you’ll see plenty of people saying that she has no sense of humor and takes it too seriously – which simply permeates these attitudes towards women and makes harassment “normal.” Watch the video of the video’s creators response and weep for humanity. At least I did.

“certainly no man has the right to make a woman feel uncomfortable, but, (there it is, the ever harbinger, the but) no woman has the right to make a man feel uncomfortable either for paying her amorous attention in a civilized manner. A woman should expect that in some environments (read; not a bus stop, tube station, etcetera, but rather a pub, party, etcetera) there is going to be the attention of men driven by the need for a mate. It may be unwanted, but it isn’t unwarranted (it’s simply nature).”

“By in turn, a man doesn’t forfeit his rights to be treated with respect the moment he tries to chat up a girl (unless of course, the opening line is ‘nice ass’ etcetera)

Here again is a use of “but” or “unless” meaning there are holes in what deems “harassment.” Sometimes we just want to sit at a bar and talk to our friends. Our aim for going out isn’t fornication.

“mating driven behaviour”

Perhaps the most proper way I’ve ever heard for the excuse of “I’m a man and I want to stick my penis in things.”

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The fact of the matter is, rape culture is very real. The Internet has become a place where anyone and everyone can say almost anything – but what are the consequences? How seriously does Facebook and other social networking sites take hate speech? (I reported the comments, we’ll see what happens there). The harassment doesn’t just go towards women – it’s people of color, religions, people of the LGBTQ community, political beliefs, the poor, the uneducated…the list goes on.

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“but on a serious note if you want to “teach our sons better” get rid of muslim schools and preferably mosques whilst your at it, cos they teach that rape is a crime by women but they wont do that, because the world is full of a bunch of leftist liberal morons with no backbone.”

Most people probably see these sorts of comments and threads every day and think “I’m not getting involved, it’s not worth it.” Or “It’s just Facebook.” But, what are the limits? What is going to put the cycle to halt? Well, I for one am not staying quiet about it. I’m angry, in fact.

And a question that popped up in the thread:

“How would I feel if I was standing next to my mother, my sister, my girlfriend, or my best friend and someone did this to them?” Instead why not ask- How do you think it feels to the human being receiving the harassment? Because women aren’t just valued because of their relationship to a man. Women are HUMAN BEINGS who deserve dignity and respect and life.

**Author’s note: The very act of writing about this is a privilege women around the world would never have access to. Use it.**

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