The Twenty-First Century Did Not Create Rape Culture (#Longread)

“Always reasoning,” he said. “I tell you, child, you cannot, you shall not reason. Repine in secret as much as you please, but no reasonings.”

 

“I will refer to females as ‘targets.’ They aren't actual people like us men. Consequently, giving them a certain name or distinction is pointless.”

 

The first quote is from an eighteenth century novel called Secresy: Or, the Ruin on the Rock by Frances Burney, in which the character Sibella’s uncle is telling her that her purpose is not to think because she is female. The second is from a 21st century frat email termed the “gullet report” circulated within the Kappa Sigma chapter at the University of Southern California, talking about women as the targets of sexual conquests and nothing more.

 

The time difference? A few hundred years. The ideological difference? Not much.

 

Although it sounds like a dated concept, the idea that women are inferior to men on the basis of their gender is not new. Evidence of gender inequality roots back to the Bible, and has been present in patriarchal societies since then. Like any novels, the conventions of British literature from the eighteenth century clearly demonstrate the societal climate in which they were written. And, terrifyingly enough, some of the modern conversation about rape culture doesn’t sound all that different from the obsession with women’s virtue that dominates many of these novels. (No pun intended, of course.)

What is Rape Culture?

Women Against Violence Against Women cites several definitions of rape culture that boil down to a societal climate that sexualizes violence, and normalizes rape in all different kinds of media, from TV and music to jokes and legal jargon. Normalizing rape makes it seem, to both men and women, as if it’s more of an inevitable part of life than a crime.

 

Marshall University lists examples of rape culture including: blaming the victim, trivializing assault by sayings like ”boys will be boys,” refusing to take rape accusations seriously, and reinforcing stereotypes that men must “score” and women shouldn’t appear “cold.” These examples don’t sound unfamiliar, because they’re not. How often have you heard a mother of a young child excusing any type of bad behavior with, “Well, boys will be boys!” If it starts when they’re children, what happens when they’re young men?

 

According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. It’s an especially prevalent issue on college campuses. Women who are 18-24 years old, or within college-age, are three times more likely than women in general to suffer from sexual violence. And sexual violence does not only affect women. One in 33 men has experienced a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Male college students are 78% more likely than nonstudents to deal with sexual violence.

 

If rape was a disease, by any measurement, this would be an outbreak. And it would be especially contagious on college campuses.

Modern Climate

If culture is determined by popular media, there are plenty of modern representations that glorify violence against women. The popular novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, also now a major motion picture, depicts a sexual relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. The catch? Grey is interested in BDSM, an abbreviation for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism. Anastasia is interested in Christian, but isn’t necessarily interested in this culture—but goes along with it anyway. At various points in the work, Ana doesn’t want to give consent, but does because she’s afraid of losing him or is too afraid to speak her mind. BDSM can be practiced safely by consenting, mature adults; but the work doesn’t describe BDSM, it describes violence. It portrays BDSM poorly and romanticizes rape. After Christian emotionally abuses Anastasia, they end up married with a child. And now you can get a copy of the movie on DVD.

 

In 2013, Robin Thicke released the song “Blurred Lines” featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams. Critics think that Thicke went way over the line, and it wasn’t so blurry. An article from The Society Pages compared lyrics from “Blurred Lines” to things that rape survivors had been told by their rapists. The results are shocking. Lines like “you know you want it” and “you’re a good girl” were quoted by multiple victims and show up in several refrains of the song. “You know you want it” assumes that the perpetrator knows better than to listen to the words coming out of a victim’s mouth.

 

This is what we’re reading, watching, and listening to. Is it any surprise that rape seems inevitable when it’s everywhere?

 

Expectations for sexual activity on college campuses are partially to blame for how rampant rape culture has become. To preface: not every frat boy is guilty of terrible, stereotypical behavior. In California, UCLA frat boys have been making a little girl with cancer incredibly happy by visiting her regularly and putting her name in lights on their house’s roof. It’s beyond adorable. Not everyone is guilty. But, on the whole, fraternities seem to have some of the most egregious, misogynist examples of rape culture.

 

The opening quote is from the “gullet report” at University of Southern California, circulated by the Kappa Sigma fraternity. The report goes on to detail women as targets to acquire, and encourages members to judge women on their appearance and sexual prowess alone. With both racist and sexist overtones, there aren’t many people that the e-mail wouldn’t offend in some capacity.

 

Meanwhile, in other areas of the country: at Yale in 2011, the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity walked around freshman women’s dorms at night, chanting “no means yes, and yes means anal.” A second chant was, "My name is Jack, I'm a necrophiliac, I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen." The fraternity was banned from Yale for five years. In 2014, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity displayed a banner reading “no means yes, yes means anal.” That chapter was also suspended.

 

Fraternities do not provide the only college examples, despite being a hotbed for these issues. In 2012, a flyer was found circulating in men’s dorm bathrooms at Miami University in Ohio entitled “Top Ten Ways to Get Away With Rape.” The flyer was reported to local authorities.

 

Given the societal standards for gender norms and behaviors and a pack mentality, is it any surprise that things like this keep happening?

 

In a qualitative study by Kristen N. Jozkowski, women said no to sex based on trying to preserve their reputations. In 2014, college women reported refusing “vaginal-penile sex” during a hookup because they didn’t want to be perceived badly. The study also found that women who wanted to be sexually active but avoid a poor reputation were willing to stay in romantic relationships that they didn’t want to be in.

 

            Those fraternity brothers at Yale certainly believe that women don’t have the right to say no, because it only means yes when they do. Jozkowski argues that women themselves don’t always feel like they have the right to say yes when they want to. If women can’t say yes, and they can’t say no, what sort of jurisdiction do they have over themselves and their bodies?

Examples in History

Many people blame the digital revolution, the Internet, the texting age or even hook-up culture for these advances. Some of those arguments may have merit, but rape culture is not new to the 21st century.

 

            Way back in the era that the Bible was written, there were strict codes of hospitality. If someone showed up at your home, you were to let them in and treat them as your own. In Judges 19:22-26, a man has a visitor staying with him, and the men of the city ask the master of the house if they can take the visitor outside to rape him. Naturally, this is against the code of hospitality. (It’s not generally good manners to let your guests get raped.) Instead, the master of the house offers his daughter and the man’s concubine instead. Depending on the edition, sometimes it is the daughter who ends up being thrown outside, sometimes the concubine. In some of those editions, after being tortured all night, the woman reaches her fingertips over the stoop of the house, and dies there.

 

            Because the father has control over his daughter, and the man has jurisdiction over his concubine, they assert the authority to control what happens to the bodies of these women. And this happens what is most likely the oldest and most widely circulated text in the world.

 

Eighteenth century British works kept up the tradition. According to eighteenth century tradition and protocol, a woman was legally under her father’s control until she was relinquished to her husband. The only way that a woman had any legal standing unto herself was if she was widowed. A societal requirement for women, whether or not they actually were virgins, was that they had to appear as such.

 

In Love in Excess; or, the Fatal Enquiry, women’s virtue determines their fate throughout the novel. For some reason, at least six women throw themselves at Count D’Elmont, who for all intents and purposes is a total jerk. However, their approaches and attitudes about virtue ends up determining their fate in the work.

           

One of these women is Amena. She is in love with Count D’Elmont, and they begin to court each other at the beginning of the novel. Her father forbids the courting to continue without a proposal of marriage, because men and women were forbidden to interact before they are officially betrothed. D’Elmont and Amena sneak around and are seen. Although no intercourse occurs and Amena’s virtue is not compromised, she is seen sneaking around with a man, and her reputation follows that she may as well no longer be a virgin. She’s sent off to a convent.

 

Ciamara, another character in the novel, also loves D’Elmont. She takes a different approach, first posing as another character, Camilla, in order to try to seduce D’Elmont, begging him to be physical with her. D’Elmont is repulsed by her immoral behavior, and Haywood writes, “this sort of treatment made him lose all the esteem, and great part of the pity he had conceived for her” (224). In a last desperate attempt, she eventually opens her robes in front of him. He’s still upset by her immorality, but can’t help but be attracted. He had been told by a friend that he was “the most excellent of his kind, yet, he was still a man!” (225). By the end of the novel, Ciamara is dead.

 

Melliora, whose name literally means “better” in Latin, loves D’Elmont, just like everyone else, but continually turns him away in the name of her chastity. Although, in the name of his passionate love, D’Elmont almost ends up raping her, she remains celibate until the end of the novel, and they end up getting married. Happily ever after, the end.

 

The happiness of the women’s fates directly correlates to their virtue, and what the novel determines that they deserve. What message was the work trying to send to the contemporaries? The lusty one is killed, the one who is seemingly immoral ends up in a convent, and only the chaste ends up alive and happy. Maintain your virtue, be chaste, be “better,” and you’ll end up married and happy in the end.

 

In The Duchess, a film depicting eighteenth century life starring Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire, also depicts some problematic elements present in the culture. It’s based on the true story of the Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and her husband the Duke, who she married for convenience and status and ultimately, with the goal of bearing him an heir. He has an affair with her friend Bess, and Georgiana can neither convince her to stop nor convince him to kick her out of the house. She, however, has been in love with Mr. Charles Grey since the very first scene of the movie. When she asks the Duke if she can have an affair with Charles, he chases her through the house, pins her on her bed, and rapes her, over her protesting, screaming, and crying. Not only is this a double standard, because he’s having an affair but won’t allow her to, but he uses sex as a vehicle to assert his power. After he’s done, he stands up and reminds her that her purpose is to give him a son.

 

Back across the pond, marital rape has only been illegal in all 50 states since 1993.

What’s Changed?

            Many people say that we’ve achieved equality in the United States. Women can vote, and it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender.

 

            But have we really improved that much? Love in Excess’s Amena was sent to a convent for appearing less than chaste, even though she was; girls now are still afraid to say yes to something that they might desire, for fear of their reputation. Somehow, society’s opinion of a girl’s worth, whether for the purposes of marriage or interpretation of her morality, is still contingent on what she is or is not doing in the bedroom.

 

            The novel’s portrayal of Ciamara as immodest because she undresses for D’Elmont is not dissimilar from how the media talks about women on the red carpet who are perceived as dressing immodestly. It’s not dissimilar from girls who are too forward are called desperate.

 

 

I’ve seen women who try to argue with this culture and the patriarchal system be dismissed with the classic stereotype that women are hysterical. The idea of women’s hysteria roots back to the Greek root “hyster” meaning womb. The removal of the uterus is called a hysterectomy, derived from that root. Hysteria, defined as an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, or even a psychoneurotic disorder defined by emotional outbreaks, also developed from this Greek root, implying that hysteria is a women’s thing. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, this was caused by and continues to create the stereotype that women are overly emotional and crazy by nature, and therefore incapable of logic. This etymological development of the word happened over several centuries—many blamed the events of the Salem Witch Trials on hysteria.

 

Although it seems antiquated, this perception is not entirely gone. I’ve seen this in conversation on campus, in chat rooms, and in the media. Certain groups will argue that it seems that the ladies are upset about nonsense once again.  Return of Kings, a website that claims to be for heterosexual, masculine men, recently published an article advising that men never date a woman who claims to have been the victim of a rape.

 

This is just another example that the rabid “feminazis” are finding something else to whine about. The louder the opposition to present structures, the more perpetrators can dismiss it as violent hysteria. And around and around we go. This is the clearest example of exactly what the women are fighting against, but because of it, arguments will fall on deaf ears.  Those who need training on consent, or education about systematic societal oppression, most will probably be the ones who dismiss it most. In the words of Stuart Chase, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”

So What’s to be Done?

            Rape is not a women’s issue. Men can be raped, too. And it’s not up to the victim to prevent assault.

 

            The first step is awareness. What does sexual assault constitute? What does consent mean?

 

            Fraternities at many schools, like Muhlenberg College, have started to take the #ItsOnUs pledge to combat the stereotypical idea of the frat boy and take on the onus to be part of the solution. Many celebrities have taken up the cause, campaigning for everyone to intervene where necessary and create environments where sexual assault doesn’t happen.

 

            But it’s not just on them. It’s on all of us.

 

            It’s on sex ed programs to teach about consent, not just how to put a condom on a banana.

 

It’s on parents to teach their sons not to rape, not their daughters not to get raped.

 

It’s on men not to rape.

             

It’s on women not to rape (because yes, that can happen, too).

 

It’s on everyone to understand what consent means, and make sure that both parties give it before engaging in sexual activity.

 

It’s on everyone to not be a bystander: call people out on making rape jokes, and if you see something, say something about it.

 

The prevalence of rape is steeped in centuries of attitudes that permit it. If a large enough contingency stops permitting it, maybe it will become less prevalent. Maybe, someday, we’ll be able to say that these patriarchal attitudes are in the past, back in a time when anyone perpetuating rape culture was just on the wrong side of history.

 

 

TL;DR: Rape culture is rooted in centuries of patriarchal ideas that still impact how we see gender relations now. It’s everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge the perceptions that exist and try to enact change, no matter how small a scale it’s on.

Despite marketing, attendance at women's NU sports lags

 

On Nov. 17, Cabot Center was shaking. The roar of the crowd drowned out squeaking sneakers as the players pivoted and ran toward the basket, swishing in easy lay-ups. Northeastern University’s student section was packed, leaving standing room near the entrance.

 

On Nov. 19, the student section at Cabot Center was empty. Shoes squeaked audibly on the glossy floor. There were plenty of seats, and Husky baskets were received with only scattered applause.

 

Both games were home openers for Northeastern’s NCAA Division I basketball teams held at the Cabot Center. The difference? On Tuesday, the players’ names included David and Zachary, while on Thursday they were Samantha and Jessica. Despite efforts by Northeastern’s marketing department, attendance at women’s sports is still lower than at their male counterparts.

 

“There’s stigma that women’s sports are less important, which is silly, but you have to acknowledge it because that’s what people think,” said Rebecca Rosenblum, third-year Northeastern University cheerleader.

 

She said that the women’s team is more appreciative of the cheerleaders’ support, but cheering for the smaller crowds at women’s games is more difficult. “It’s hard to cheer for nobody,” Rosenblum said.

 

In 1972, Title IX was passed, banning discrimination in education based on sex. The regulation created many athletic programs for women, but attention on them still lags.

 

Both men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments were covered by ESPN starting in 2003. In 2010, the coverage spent three hours on the men’s tournament, compared to six and a half minutes on the women’s tournament, according to sociologists Cheryl Cooky and Michael Messner.

 

“The difference between men’s sports and women’s sports: I don’t think it’s any different than at X university. I think you deal with it everywhere,” said Darren Costa, the Assistant Director for Marketing and Promotions in the Athletic Department. “It’s a challenge at every school. It’s a challenge at Northeastern, where we have trouble getting students out to men’s games.”

 

Costa, himself a Northeastern grad, lists other factors that he’s found impact attendance at games, including who the opponent is, day and time of the game, the weather, and the team’s record.

 

“If they’re not winning, no one’s gonna care, whether it’s men’s or women’s,” Costa said. Attendance also depends on promotions, like giveaways or themed nights.

 

But regardless of other factors, women’s sports get less fans overall. According to Athletic Department data, this fall, NU men’s soccer got an average of 430 total fans per game, compared to women’s soccer’s 270 fans per game.

 

Over the past few years, average student attendance at men’s hockey is between 800-900 students per game, compared to the women’s hockey average of about 40 students. Men’s basketball receives an average of 300-700 students per game, depending on the year, where on average women’s basketball receives 50-70 students per game.

 

“Women’s [hockey] is lucky to get 15 people up here. If we ever had 15 people up here, I would cry,” said Mike Davis about Matthews Arena. Davis is the leader of the Doghouse, Northeastern’s student fan section for hockey.

 

He says that women’s hockey is more predicated on overall team speed, precision, and skill. Men’s hockey still has those aspects, but because men can hit, it’s also more physical and more about fighting.

 

“People who are not as into or attentive to the finer skill-based aspects of women’s hockey get turned off by it because of the lack of physicality,” Davis said. “That’s the stigma; it’s less fun for the casual fan, because there’s nobody getting hit.”

 

He says that the core members of the Doghouse also attend women’s games. “We may not have the banner, but the people who are invested in the team are hockey fans, not men’s hockey fans or women’s hockey fans,” he said.

 

At the Dec. 5 men’s game against Boston College, several students who were not part of the Doghouse said that they had never been to a women’s hockey game before. None of them could give a reason why.

 

Onia Webb, fourth-year women’s basketball player, says that the administration does a good job of putting effort in to support both sports equally, but said she still sees a huge difference in the attendance.

 

 “People are not that into women’s sports,” she said. “Men are able to dunk, and they’re faster, but honestly, it’s the same sport.”

 

Costa also acknowledged that women’s basketball is a “purer” sport for die-hard basketball fans, because there’s no dunking and more three-point shooting.

 

Die-hard fans will come to whichever sports, and then it comes down to promotions, said Dr. Charles Bame-Aldred, the announcer for volleyball and both men’s and women’s hockey and basketball. He said that Northeastern marketing does a good job about bringing community members in to games, holding barbeques, and offering free t-shirts, but said that wasn’t always enough.

 

“It’s not what’s on TV,” he said. “So for the casual fan, they’re not going to go and see it, because it’s not what’s on TV.”

Made it!

I got the results of my Challenge #2 story and while I didn't do as well as the first story, it was still enough to send me to the next round! This past weekend, I had to write my third story for the contest. The field is narrowed now- only 8 groups of 30 people! My prompt was: Ghost story in a forest somehow involving a saw.

Did anyone else just think Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Because that's where my brain went, initially at least. I went a little more classic with my ghost story, but definitely still tried to be creative.

Now to wait a month for more results. Sigh.

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge #1

On a total fluke, I found this Flash Fiction contest through NYC Midnight. The competition is split into four rounds. During each round, you get a prompt at 11:59 on Friday night and your 1000 words max story is due on Sunday night at 11:59. (Hence the "Midnight.") Prompts include the genre, primary setting, and an object that has to be included in the story. If you place in the top 5 out of your group (mine is 29 people) after the first two rounds, you move onto the third. Top 15 stories get scores, with 1st place receiving 15 points. For the first round, which was back in August, I was lucky enough to get 15 points for this story, "Cyanosis." The second round was in September, and I find out next week how my Round 2 story did, and whether or not I'll move on to Round 3! (Send me your good thoughts!)

(The prompt for Round 1 was an action/adventure story, in a sewer, with a canteen.)

 

Cyanosis

Aggravation, rehabilitation, aggravation, this is how you play

 

Humming the nursery rhyme drowned out the yelling voices of the officers somewhere behind me. The catchy rhythm also made the squish of my feet sound more like intentional sound effects than something I wanted to ignore. I didn’t want to think about what had washed up from the festering river of sewer water next to me onto the stone bank I was running on.

This was not the glamorous escape I had been hoping for.

 

Aggravation, rehabilitation, aggravation, this is how you play

 

I liked Mrs. Allen’s second grade class at Lincoln Elementary because she had the box of 128 crayons, not just the 24 pack that my first grade teacher had. When I was using it during craft time and little Peter McLaughlin ambled up and broke the crayons one by one, Mrs. Allen threatened to send him across the street. “Do you know where they put bad little boys and girls?” she asked, pointing out the window to the nearby juvenile detention center. Looking back, this was not a punishable offense, and neither were the other things she told us would send us to juvie, although her threats made us behave. Then again, any building that needs to be encased by barbed wire probably shouldn’t be across the street from an elementary school.

But I have a lot of commentary for someone trying to unstick a sneaker from a particularly rancid pile of god-knows-what on the stones of the sewer.

“She went this way!” An officer yelled, and I prayed he had the wrong tunnel. I kept running—maybe continuing to follow the flow of the water would lead to a way out.

 

Aggravation, acute asphyxiation, aggravation, oops those aren’t the words

 

I remember when Mrs. Allen invited the two park rangers in during safety week, the day before the firefighters taught us to stop, drop and roll. They looked like zookeepers in head-to-toe khaki, canteens hanging off their belts like guns in holsters. They shared with us pictures of poison ivy, in case we were ever in the woods, and warned us not to touch it. They taught us how important it was to hydrate properly if we were out in the sun. They also tried to teach us about choking, even though Mrs. Allen was grimacing over at her desk. “Your veins start popping out of your neck,” they warned. “And your face turns blue!”

“Can you die?” Peter asked.

“Yes, you can,” the ranger said, and Mrs. Allen glared at him. They quickly switched to talking about whatever maneuver you’re supposed to use to stop someone from choking, but I zoned out wondering how blue someone’s face could really turn.

 

Now you take a pillowcase, wrap it ‘round your sister’s face,

She goes to bed, she wakes up dead, ooh-ooh-ooh

 

It wasn’t that very night that I crept into my little sister’s bedroom, armed with my pillowcase, but it must have been within a week. It was past midnight and the house was silent except for the whistling of the wind through the chimney.

I opened her door and wrapped the pillowcase around her neck, her peaceful face not even twitching. I wrapped it around her neck because I wanted to see if her face would turn blue, although the moonlight streaming in already tinted the room. By the time she opened her eyes, they were already bulging out of her head.

She swung her arms wildly like she was trying to swim to the top of a pool she couldn’t see. I tried to hold her down but she knocked the lamp off her nightstand, and Mom burst into the room.

 

Aggravation, incarceration, rehabilitation, if such a thing exists

 

So I’ve had plenty of time to alter the lyrics in my years across the street from Mrs. Allen’s second grade classroom. I imagine that she’s pointing at my cell in particular when she threatens her students while they fight over who’s standing at the front of the line on the way to lunch. By now, I’ve read every book in the library, especially the ones about Alcatraz and notorious prison escapes. In case you’re wondering, nobody digs through their cell walls with a spoon anymore. I think that’s a conspiracy propagated by the media to keep us from coming up with any better ideas. But nobody thought a sixteen-year-old would notice the sewer cap on the road inside the barbed wire walls right next to where she was planting flowers.

“Put your hands up!” That was Officer Mitchell, who I used to take seriously before I noticed how much food he got stuck in his beard. He snuck new books in for me to read sometimes, once he saw that I was on my second round of everything in the library. He had been my friend, although he didn’t sound like my friend now.

He was chasing me and I was still running, my cheap, formerly white shoes sliding. His feet thundered behind me and I thought they were echoing until I turned and saw that there were three sets of footsteps, three guards chasing me and I tried to run faster and I turned to look where I was going and I slipped hard, like I was diving into a base like they do on those MLB programs that are sometimes on in the mess hall.

And Officer Mitchell’s hand was on my back and I knew well enough to know that he was reaching for handcuffs so I rolled and I kicked my leg up in the air and it connected with his usually food-covered chin. I silently thanked my mother for forcing me into karate lessons, the only thing she had ever voluntarily given me besides a prison sentence.

Before he could stand up, the other officers still too far away to help, I made up my mind. I closed my eyes and rolled into the vile river. I held my breath.

Hi there!

Welcome to my website! I'm excited to get on here and start talking about what I'm writing--and try not to just write to procrastinate actually writing.

First up: my friend Kayla, editor of 308 press, and I were so inspired by our home state and all its, ahem, quirks, that we wrote a series of little tiny New Jersey related thrillers. Check out Garden State Gothic here.