Note: This article I wrote was first published by The Oppidan Press on August 6 2014. You can find their website here.
The presence of the Silent Protest at Rhodes provided a number of people with the chance to share their emotional stories and experiences with the world. It gave the rest of us a chance to draw critical attention to the high prevalence of sexual assault in our country.
When people think of rape, we often think of something far-removed from our everyday lives. The popular perception of rape is one of women being assaulted far away from anyone else. We never imagine that rape – and the culture that encourages it – is actually all around us.
Popular culture is awash with stories and images that all promote the same message: rape is okay.
It may not be as overt as that. In fact, the people sending the message may not even know that that is what they are communicating to their audience. Rape culture is everywhere – in our books, in our films, and our advertisements – and it has become so ingrained that it now goes unnoticed.
If you want an example, look no further than the controversy surrounding the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. On the surface, the song seems to be just another forgettable party track. It has a good beat, a catchy riff – something you could easily imagine yourself playing at your next party.
But listen critically to the lyrics and an entirely different song emerges. In the song, Thicke describes his attempt to woo a “good girl” he has just met into sleeping with him. He claims that he wants to “liberate” her while also saying that he “knows she wants it”. In other words, she is clearly “asking for it”. This dangerous assumption is easily recognisable as a common excuse among rapists, who often claim that their victims desired their violent sexual advances.
We are bombarded every day with the message that women are objects designed solely for pleasure. How many times have you watched a romantic comedy where the plot revolves around a man’s many desperate attempts to chase a woman while ignoring her every plea to leave her alone?
How many advertisements have you seen that use women (or rather, women’s body parts) in order to sell items completely unrelated to the human body? How many times have you seen a woman included in a movie or television show for the sole purpose of falling in love with the male protagonist?
Those scenarios make up the main cultural narrative: one that places women in a subservient role to men. In every case, women are treated as a reward, no different from a paycheck or a complimentary toaster.
In every movie, every television show, we know that at the end of the day the hero will “get the girl”. Even when the female character is shown to think about whether or not she wants to be with the protagonist, we as the audience already know what her choice will be.
And this is the problem: whether or not we want to admit it, we all see ourselves as the hero of our own story. While this is not worrisome in itself, it becomes a problem when you take into account the fact that men are taught from an early age that, at some point, they will be rewarded with a beautiful woman if they are able to accomplish certain tasks.
Throw in the prevalence of hyper-masculine stereotypes in pop culture and what you’re left with is a generation of men with a toxic mix of entitlement and insecurity. Granted, this isn’t the only reason why men act violently towards women, but we can’t deny that it plays a large role in shaping their attitudes.
Sadly, this problem is too big to be properly covered in such a small space. This article is an enormous oversimplification of a problem that is nearly as old as modern society itself.
However, part of combating rape culture is acknowledging the dangerous messages we as a society are sending to our men and once we do, we can take steps to actively combat it.
(Also, sorry for missing last week. Chalk it up to a heavy work-load and a bad case of flu.)