Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Start saying "no": Why rape culture isn't just about rape



Dear society,

This rant is not addressed to men. It is not addressed to "frat dudes," the guys sitting in bars making remarks about women who enter, or to the pervert who raped a girl on my college campus last night. It is not to the ignorant people who sit around and say girls deserved to be raped because of things they did, and it is certainly not just to the men who rape girls and boys.

This is to all of you, myself included:

No means no.

It means no more sitting around and talking about how awful rape culture is without doing something about it. I don't mean running a 5k to support survivors, or making a donation, or changing your facebook status in solidarity. I mean stepping back for just one minute to think about how all of us (yes, you included) have created "rape culture." Including those of us who feel like we have the right to condemn it.

When people talk about rape culture they talk about how we treat victims and how we treat perpetrators, but I want to talk about how we treat people and how we treat each other on a day to day basis as co-existing human beings because that's where I think the problem starts.

Rape culture is human culture. It is the nasty, relentless logical extreme that we have created as a collective, and it is something I believe we must address as individuals first, because we are all responsible for it. We live in a hyper-sexualized world, and in many ways that's okay, but we also have to hold ourselves accountable for the effects of that. While very many girls and boys and men and women will never be raped or sexually assaulted, we all feel the pressures of rape culture in our daily lives. If you don't know what it's like to be sexually assaulted, think about what you do know. Think about what you have experienced.

If you have ever made fun of a boy for not being able to "get it in" or for being too lame to "close" with a girl or guy, you are responsible for rape culture. Rape culture exists in the form of a teenage boy's insecurity over being a nineteen year old virgin, or for wanting to wait for the right girl to have sex. It exists in the way boys are told that their sexual abilities make them more of a man. Rape culture doesn't just affect the boys who are out double fisting beers in hopes of finding the strength to be vulnerable enough for some girl to love them for just one night. It affects the boy who is at home wondering if he'll ever be good enough because a girl's never told him his chest is sexy. It affects the boy who feels ashamed when his friends tell him he doesn't have any game

If you have ever found yourself looking at your scantily clad reflection in the mirror and wondering if you're showing just the right amount of cleavage, you are responsible for rape culture. We all know society is screaming at you that you need to look hot tonight. But no means no. No, you don't have to be the willing consumer of that message. No, you don't have to be the medium that spreads that message to other girls. Look at yourself and look beyond your midriff. Look behind your reflected image at the medals and certificates hanging in your childhood bedroom, and at the way it's amazing your body can contain the unlimited possibilities of your thought. Rape culture doesn't just affect girls who are raped. It affects girls who go out dressed like cats in lingerie on Halloween because they feel more loved when they're being ogled. It affects girls who stay in because they don't feel like they deserve to be ogled.

If you have ever told someone to loosen up, to have a little more fun, to relax, to calm down, or to chill when they were uncomfortable doing something (ANYTHING),  then you are responsible for rape culture. If you have made someone feel like what they want doesn't matter, or if you have let someone make you feel that way unquestioningly, you are also responsible for rape culture. As a society we have put what other people want for us and think of us above what we want for ourselves. But consent is important in every context, and no always means no. It means you don't have to go out if you don't want to, you don't have to smoke, you don't have to drink, you don't have to work a job that makes your parents happy, live a life you don't like, or be a person who doesn't love him/herself at the end of the night. Rape culture doesn't just affect rape victims. If affects every person who has ever felt that their consent was less important than what somebody else wanted for them.

Rape culture may end in rape, but it doesn't start there. It starts with respect for people as people. As intellectuals, athletes, musicians, dancers, artists, teachers, students, and humans. To everyone who has ever been affected by rape culture (yes, that still includes you), you are worth more than your sex life, your body, or your willingness to push aside your comfort for someone else's. You are important because of your wisdom, your experiences, and the love you are capable of sharing.

No means no, and it is time that we all start saying no. Before today ends, ask yourself what you have done to promote rape culture: to promote a culture that values pleasing others, looking sexy, and being sexually active over being happy with ourselves for our intrinsic uniqueness. Ask yourself when you let rape culture hurt you, and how you have used it to hurt others.


For me, rape culture is when I was twelve and pinching my thighs in a mirror because I thought that if I wasn't skinny then I wasn't beautiful, and if I wasn't beautiful I wasn't loveable. It is when my friends turned to me and said that it was OK because curves are sexy anyways. Maybe they were right, curves are sexy. But they were also wrong. That's not why it's okay. Because maybe I am sexy, but maybe I'm more than that too. I'm a good student, a dedicated debater, a loyal friend, and a kick-ass chef. I am a monster at the gym every day, I'm funny on occasion, and I am an advocate for myself.

Rape culture is when I judge other girls for the size of their bodies instead of the passion in their hearts. It is when I tell myself that I don't deserve to eat because I'm not worthy if I am not sexy. It is when I look at sexy girls and think that sexy is all they are.

No, girls are not just sexy, and no I am not just worth what my body looks like. My body is important because it can climb mountains, carry heavy objects, and carry children, but most importantly because it is the vessel that holds the opinions, beliefs, experiences, and values that make me who I am. No, I will not let myself or anyone else make me feel bad because of what I look like, and I will not reduce others to what they look like or who they are sleeping with.

I cannot heal the pain that rape victims are living through, and I cannot change the fact that there will be girls who get raped tonight on my own. But I can look at myself and say no. No, I am not my sexuality, I am not the object of men's sexuality, and men are not their own sexuality. I am no less valuable in turtleneck than I am a cocktail dress, and I am no more or less of a human if I have had sex than if I haven't.

I have never been raped and I cannot imagine what it is like. But I can imagine what it feels like to be the girl who thought she had to reveal different parts of her body to be appreciated, the girl who partied every night because she wanted to be cool, the boy who crossed a line when he thought being sexual made him a man, and the boy who sat around, frustrated, saying a girl deserved it because if he was angry and insecure about his own sexuality.

We talk a lot about blame and who deserves it: I think we all do. 

No means no, and it's time we all start saying no, with compassion for others, and without hesitation or fear of being the minority voice.

You are valuable because of your journey and your beliefs. Respect yourself and respect others, and never stop saying no to someone who tries to tell you that you or anyone is worth any less than that.

Stay strong,
Kristen

"Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners." -- Laurence Sterne

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