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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape Culture

Patterns of bias.

August 17, 2014

The comments on last week's post got a little weird. I'm not going to respond to the speculation about my "baggage" except to cite the impressive body of research demonstrating that men who visit women's blogs to take anonymous pot shots based on personal information a writer has shared to illustrate a point, rather than addressing the point itself, are likely to have plagiarized their dissertations and to be compensating for underendowment.*

I do want, however, to respond to Balsam's comment that it would be helpful to define rape culture, rather than just throwing the term around and assuming we are all on the same page. (Balsam was more tactful than that, but point taken.) Here is an article that could be a good starting point.

Others have suggested that the term itself is unnecessarily incendiary, when what I mean is "sexism."

But that's not what I mean. Sexism describes a pattern of discrimination against women. Rape culture is about violence. The two are linked, but not identical. The institutions that deny tenure to women in STEM fields may be the same ones that enable sexual assaults to go unpunished, but they are acting in different ways and possibly for different motivations.

It is possible for a decent, loving person to honestly believe that women are less stable, less competent in certain fields, etc, and even to be unaware that s/he believes these things. There is the famous example of the way the gender balance in orchestras started shifting when auditioners were hidden behind a curtain. These are damaging prejudices, but they aren't necessarily based in hatred or even ill will.

Rape culture is also not the same thing as drunken hookup culture. Raping someone, standing by cheering while someone is raped, and videotaping a sexual assault and sharing it on social media to slut-shame the victim, are not "poor sexual decisions." They are not mutual. They are acts of violence and aggression.

When a person or institution makes the decision that the suffering of one segment of the population is less important than the comfort, momentary fun or long term career chances of another segment, or than the positive PR of the institution itself, we are moving into the area of rape culture.

As I was pondering how to write this post, my son came across this. He was shocked, which I take as a sign of progress. But these strips apparently raised no eyebrows when they were published. The suffering of one segment of the population being a source of fun for the dominant segment is nothing new. And maybe it won't go away until we start calling it what it is.

I hope that makes things clearer. This is complicated, hot button stuff, and sometimes I don't communicate as well as I think I'm doing. Thanks to all of the commenters who have borne with me and offered thoughtful, constructive criticism.

(And gbpeters, I'm not done with the problem of substance abuse; just trying to discuss the strands separately insofar as that is possible.)

* Joke. But seriously, guys, cut it out.


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