Rape Culture and Its Incredible Prevalence: A Strangely Optimistic Analysis

When I first read the news at Feministe that a full one-quarter of people surveyed in England and Wales said that a woman is fully or partly to blame for a rape if she wore sexy clothing, my first response was, as it should have been, complete and total dismay.  It wasn’t surprise — no, I got over that a long time ago — but still, sadness, and the feeling that also always shows up, which says that maybe we really never will overcome this kind of victim-blaming.

But then I saw the actual chart, reproduced below, which shows the responses for each individual scenario given, and I changed my mind.  I suddenly got optimistic.

(click image to enlarge)

Now, I need to be entirely clear that I’m not optimistic because I think this is good news.  It’s not.  It’s horrible news, and we should be furious about it.  I want you to get angry, and get angry right now, if you somehow aren’t already.  In fact, if you somehow end this post not pissed off at the findings, I’ve done something terribly wrong.  That so many people still blame rape victims for the behavior of their rapists is utterly appalling, unforgivable, and needs to be changed immediately.

But the reason I’m optimistic is because looking at that chart, I believe that those minds can indeed be changed.

Allow me to explain.  I don’t know if it’s just my brain, or the way that the human brain is wired in general, but when I see a chart, my mind is instantly drawn to the highest numbers.  The highest numbers are, thankfully, housed in the “Should never be held responsible” column.  The numbers are 72 and 84.  And they represent “if she is out in public wearing sexy or revealing clothing” and “If she is out walking alone at night,” respectively.  These same questions also have the very lowest values in the “Should be held responsible” column.

And something struck me about this immediately.  It hit me that these two specific examples given are the two that have been most widely debunked in the media.  And they’re the two that the feminist movement, individual feminists, and other social justice/anti-violence/gender equality-minded people have seemed to focus on first, and hammered home hardest since their movements began.  It strikes me that we, and those before us, have worked so desperately on these two.

When reaching for an example to use to satirize rape apologists, what do we pull out?  The short skirt, and walking in “that part of town.”  We pull them out because they’re the most recognizable.  And they’re the most recognizable because they’ve been worked on so ardently.

Take a look at the next highest number on the chart.  It’s 62, in the “Should never be held responsible” column, and corresponds to “If she is drunk.”  Now, that number, like the rest, is way too low.  Way, way too low.  But for the amount of times that I hear this rape apologist excuse made day in and day out, that drunk women really wanted it, and shouldn’t have been so drunk, and really said yes but are now using their drunkenness as a way to get out of a bad decision . . . it’s also a remarkable achievement.  And you know what else?  It seems to me to be the point most commonly hammered home by feminists today.

What I’m sayings is that for all of the anti-feminist backlash, and for all of the very real problems and horrific attitudes that still promote rape culture and are still much too prevalent, our movement is working.  Think about which feminist arguments are made most commonly against rape apologism in the media.  And look at the chart.  There’s a real and clear correlation there.  And while of course, correlation does not necessarily imply causation, I have a really hard time believing it to be a coincidence.

What if we apply the same fervor that has been applied to the movement to not blame rape victims who were out alone at night, or dressed in revealing clothing, or drinking, and apply it also to the more “controversial” areas where we still see the most blame — and work on convincing people similarly that prostitutes are not to blame for their own rapes, either?  Or that a lack of a “clear no” is not the same as a clear yes, and that enthusiastic consent needs to be the model?

I know that it won’t help rape victims right now.  I know that at this moment, it especially doesn’t help those victims, like sex workers and others who are deemed unrapeable and most to blame just based on who they are, the color of their skin, their gender identity, or their sexual orientation.  Right now, it likely doesn’t ease the pain or stigma of what those women who didn’t say no, or didn’t say no forcefully “enough” for some rape apologist out there, are feeling.  Saying that if we work hard enough, we can make sure that future women who are victims of sexual violence have less stigma and blame attached to them might not mean a whole lot to some of those women.  As one of those women, in fact, who falls into a category where most people apparently still think that I am to blame, I fully understand how it can be cold comfort that at least other rape victims who were wearing revealing clothing get a very slightly easier time.  And I certainly don’t want to minimize what these results mean for women as we speak.

But still, I think that all of this counts for something.  That at least some women are seen by fewer people as to blame for what was not their fault?  That we can likely do the same for more women, and even more for the previous group?  That hell, maybe we could even prevent more sexual violence in the process?  That matters.

And I’m not saying that no one is doing the work I outlined above already.  Organizations like SWOP and many others fight for sex worker rights every day, including the right to be free of violence and not blamed for it when it occurs.  Feminists write about these things too.  And I see feminists all the time arguing for models of enthusiastic consent — I do it here several times a week — and a new anthology (which yes, I am in) is entirely dedicated to the concept.  We’re working on it, certainly.

We need to keep working.  We need to work harder.  Melissa at Shakesville says:

Sometimes it really feels like there aren’t enough teaspoons in the world for this shit.

But there are. We’ve just got to get people to pick ’em up.

She’s right.  Maybe I’m in a pie in the sky kind of mood, unlikely though it may be.  I don’t know.  But I see the chart, and after feeling hopeless all I can do is believe that yes, we can do this.  We just have to keep picking up the spoons, and get new people to pick up the spoons, and get ourselves bigger spoons.  And far too slowly but still surely, we’ll see the numbers change.

0 thoughts on “Rape Culture and Its Incredible Prevalence: A Strangely Optimistic Analysis

  1. Renee

    I tend to agree with you that while even once person who blames the victim for their rape is terribly problematic that fact that the highest numbers don’t hold women accountable is reason to be hopeful. Yes we still live in a patriarchal, misogynistic society, but hopefully our continued efforts can make a change in the lives of women. It was not that long ago that marital rape was not deemed possible. Yes, we need to acknowledge the steps we have taken.

  2. Ashley

    One of my mentors always talked about how men used to have duels a lot, and all these guys died over stupid crap because of it… It was this accepted part of rich dude masculinity, and no one thought it would ever change.

    She also talked about how back in the 70s, everyone drove drunk. Comedians could make a whole routine out of drunk driving jokes, and everyone would laugh.

    And about a century ago, there were people seriously (seriously!) arguing that if women were allowed to get a higher education, it would make them grow beards and become infertile.

  3. Sonya

    You are absolutely correct. I believe it’s always best to look at the glass as half full. Thank you for brightening my day, I saw this on Faux News this morning and my heart just sank. Sometimes I feel like a rat on a wheel – I run and run and run and then as soon as I stop, I’m slammed with another piece of patriarchy’s little game right upside the head. I always try to remember that is how they succeed by wearing us down. Don’t let them wear you down.

  4. Therese

    a woman should be able to walk in the dark, drunk and naked and NOT be raped! (ok, maybe she could be a public nuisance) rape is never ever ok, no matter who it happens to and under whatever circumstances.

  5. Tokidoki

    You are so right. This cheered me up a lot, I’ve been having a horrible day.

    Also, not to be a downer, but am I the only one who noticed there was no category for “they were friends,” “they previously had sex,” or “they were in an intimate relationship”? I just know those were all the reasons I was blamed and suspect the numbers on those would be way higher. It seems like most of those there would address stranger rape rather than partner or acquaintance rape.

  6. Lyndsay

    In being optimistic, I’d note that 4 out of 7 of the values in the “should be held responsible column” are 10% or below. Now we should definitely work on pushing more people into the right column but there are probably lots of explanations for why people might fall into the middle column. People are relunctant to think in black and white for many situations, people don’t want to feel like women have no control over what happens to them, and maybe if asked to what extent each person should be held responsible they would say more the man than the woman.
    After saying that, I will say the “be held responsible” wording kinda disturbs me. In what way? Even if someone for whatever reason knowingly put themself in a dangerous situation and got assaulted, they wouldn’t be “held” responsible. Maybe I’m thinking of this too much in the legal sense whereas people who answered the question are more just buying into the myths of when rape happens than truly blaming the woman. One can hope…

  7. Jenn

    This might be a pretty insensitive comment, but as those that were raised before the height of the feminist rape-awareness movement age and die, I expect the statistics to look better and better. Generational attitudes probably have a lot to do with some of the really regressive attitudes. Of course, we really need to be concerned if the younger generation starts to backslide into the arms of Rape Culture via the proliferation of pornography and the celebration of violent entertainment. Here’s to hoping that the Backlash is short and pitiful!

  8. Paul

    Sadly as with all polls of this type, the numbers have to be taken with a grain – the amount of people holding bigoted, misogynistic views is probably much higher in reality – people, often out of shame at their own prejudice, will often lie to pollsters in these cases.

  9. hexy

    You’re right, I know you’re right…

    … but I just can’t stop looking at that 52% who DON’T think sex workers are to blame for being raped and thinking “For fuck’s sake, is that it?”

  10. Annie

    ^ I know, me too. 😦 How horrific is it that only 52% of people believe that sex workers should be entitled to basic human rights?

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  12. Ryan

    This is such good news. The part I enjoy most about this blog is how rape myths are confronted directly, logically, and coherently. I think that these myths have a lot of pursuassive power, but also that they have much much less power when they are addressed directly with solid arguments.

  13. Jason

    I originally saw a blog on this report elsewhere (my name links to the blog entry) and I looked into the actual report. I shall copy and paste the comment I made there here, with a few edits.

    “How acceptable or not do you think it is for a man to hit or slap his wife or girlfriend in response to her nagging or constantly moaning at him?”
    85% of men said it was never acceptable; 80% of women. So an extra 5% of men think it’s never acceptable to hit his partner. Hmm.

    And, interestingly, MORE people thought it was unacceptable for a man to strike his partner for having an affair, than thought it was unacceptable for him to hit her for ANY OTHER REASON, including flirting with others, nagging, and dressing revealingly.
    …Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d expect anyone to be more upset that their partner had an affair, than dressed revealingly. Not that hitting a woman is ever okay, but seriously? People thought that an affair was the least “punishable” offense?
    I’d leave my partner for that. I wouldn’t for anything else polled, but the chances of my staying if s/he slept with someone else would be VERY low. And yet, the most upsetting occurrence is the one which people think should result in the least violence? When the violence occurs, most often, due to heightened emotions?

    …Seriously? Does that seem off to anyone else?

    Of all the people who said they would not get involved in a domestic violence situation with someone they know, not ONE of them said they don’t think it’s wrong. Yet earlier, certain percentages said it was okay or “sometimes okay” for a man to strike his partner for various reasons.

    Another interesting thing- with the “should a woman be held responsible for rape when ….” questions. When it comes to a woman being held entirely responsible, the gender percentages are pretty even- but in total, women are harsher on women than men.
    …Uh. What?

    Not only that, but further down, it shows percentage answers- and how many people gave those answers. And the amount of people are a lower number than the percentages!

    All in all, I have to say the report seems- well, it seems inconsistant, and like there were too few people taking part. I mean, 915 people is not enough, given that there’s a huge amount of people living in Britain- approximately 60mil. We have a huge amount of cultures here, in fact each city tends to have it’s own “vibe” and subtly different ways of thinking. 915 people can NOT be used as an honest representation of over 60 million people. That’s about 0.0015%.

    All in all, I’m unsurprised a certain amount of people think rape victims should sometimes hold responsibility, although I still think this entire report needed more participants. I’m trans, and I was raped as a woman when I was much younger, in my family home. A few years later, I finally told my mother.
    She told me it was my own fault, for not crying out for help, or fighting him.
    So at least these people even treat rape victims they’re SUPPOSED to love like it’s their own fault. Equal false blame for everyone.

    Still- can we really use this as a measure of the overall mindset of people, given the contradictions, and the 0.001% of the population polled?

  14. Pingback: 13: Rape and Sex Work : The Curvature

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