April is observed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month, it is important to raise awareness about sexual assault happening with millions of girls and women worldwide. But what enables sexual assault? Why does sexual assault take place?
The answer is Rape Culture.
Rape Culture is a social setting, an environment in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to unhealthy societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Rape is the fourth most common crime in India. In 2021, India lodged an average of 86 rape cases daily, with 49 offenses against women per hour. Rajasthan was on top of the list, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. Over 96% of rapes in India are committed by men known to the victim. In 2022, Delhi recorded six registered rape cases and seven molestation cases per day.
I feel horrified whenever I read news related to violence against women. It makes me question the existence of humanity. There are monsters impersonating humans everywhere. The lurking hate and anger don’t go away.
The term “Rape Culture” was first coined in the 1970s in the United States by second-wave feminists and applied to contemporary American culture. Second-wave feminists spread awareness about rape. Rape also started to be re-examined through the victim’s perspective and not the perpetrator's. Rape was re-defined as a violent crime rather than a sex crime, and its motive was redefined from desire for sexual pleasure to male domination and control over gender norms.
When we talk about Rape Culture, it does not only include rape but almost every form of violence against women. It would be a blunder to think that every woman or girl reports violence. People mistake this for a lack of courage. How will she gather the courage to report violence if the people around her do not support her? Victim blaming is prevalent, and it adversely affects women and girls of all ages. It plays a huge role in upholding Rape Culture. Victim blaming, blackmailing for nudes, sexual harassment, cyber sexual harassment, molestation, groping, flashing, domestic violence, and sex trafficking are some of the commonly known crimes against women, and they play a huge role in creating a culture of insecurity.
It would be a blunder to think that every woman or girl reports violence. People mistake this for a lack of courage. How will she gather the courage to report violence if the people around her do not support her?
Men commit these crimes because there is a deep-rooted belief that everything a woman does is for male attention; makeup, short clothes, laughing, drinking, smiling, going out with male friends, having a boyfriend, and whatnot! People don’t support their daughters and sisters for filing a complaint when a man assaults them. But society will enable and encourage abusive behaviors among men by not holding them accountable. “Men will be men,” “Boys will be boys,” “But what was she wearing?”, “Why did she drink?”, “Why did she go out at night?” are not the right kind of questions to ask a victim, as they imply that her being subjected to violence is her fault. Such questions or statements show how deeply misogynistic our society has been. Crimes against women are the only kinds of crimes in which the victim is the culprit. Is it because violence against women is not perceived as a crime but as a punishment for being born as a woman?
This pyramid, by the 11th Principle: Consent, aptly explains Rape Culture.
“The attitudes and actions on the bottom tiers reinforce and excuse those on the upper.” How powerful and accurate is this!
Crimes against women are the only kinds of crimes in which the victim is the culprit. Is it because violence against women is not perceived as a crime but as a punishment for being born as a woman?
The discourse around consent often involves assumptions of men being unaware of consent. But is that really the case? If someone touches a man’s private parts and makes him uncomfortable, if someone leaks his nudes, secretly records private moments, and makes it viral, he will understand how it feels, right? Men do understand the concept of consent. What they don’t understand is that consent can be exercised by women. What they find hard to accept is that women can say ‘No’ because they don’t own women and that women don’t owe anything to them.
Can we do something to prevent or stop it from happening?
Rape Culture manifests in our languages as well as attitudes. Some people think that it is not a big deal if we use women-centric abuses or sing and dance to Bollywood item songs that sexualize women. “We are used to it,” “It is just for fun,” “It is entertainment,” and “We use such words to express our anger” are just excuses to avoid self-reflecting and changing problematic attitudes towards women. If you use women-centric abuses in day-to-day life, do you really think you respect women? Do you understand what it means? Why do you want to tell someone that they rape their mother or sister and think that it is friendly? You say that all crimes against women are horrifying and people need to change their attitudes. Then why do you participate in activities and develop habits that enable such crimes? Verbal abuses aren’t just words. The way you speak depicts your mindset and your attitude. The words we choose define our thinking. Language depicts the culture of a society. Words like “bitch”, “slut”, and “hoe” are not compliments. They are used to shame and silence women who do not conform to societal standards. They are insults. Why isn’t there a male equivalent of such slurs? To actively participate in ending Rape Culture, stop using women-centric abuses, and refrain from promoting misogynistic songs and movies.
Verbal abuses aren’t just words. The way you speak depicts your mindset and your attitude. The words we choose define our thinking. Language depicts the culture of a society. Words like “bitch”, “slut”, and “hoe” are not compliments. They are used to shame and silence women who do not conform to societal standards.
Sexist attitudes include gender roles and stereotypes. So, they come under Rape Culture as well. Making girls and women work in the kitchen while the boys play outside or study hard is not a sign of a healthy upbringing. The husband comes home from work and lies down till his wife keeps a plate of hot food in front of him every day, which is sexist. Household chores are everyone’s job. A husband doesn’t “help” his wife when he cooks or cleans. He just does his job. And so should you. To end sexist stereotypes, stop participating in them by doing all the work that matters.
Will you stop driving because of road accidents? Will you stop earning money because of thefts? Will you stop posting your photos online or making online purchases because of data breaches or credit card details? If your answer is no, then you know that the same applies to women. To make this world a safer place for women, stop blaming their clothes or makeup and start holding men accountable.
If you are friends with an abusive man despite knowing what he has done, you are a part of Rape Culture. You are choosing to ignore a crime, therefore being an accomplice. He will know that he won’t lose people no matter what he does. You are indirectly encouraging him to continue with his behavior. Please stop that by breaking ties with him.
Women are not sex objects that can be touched, groped, beaten, bought, sold, and thrown. Women don’t exist to please your eyes. Women don’t owe you anything. If you are distracted by seeing women’s clothes or their existence, that is your problem and not theirs. Don’t step outside if you can’t keep your hands to yourself.
Rape culture exists all over the world. It is not just about statistics but the mindset. This April, challenge yourself to think about your attitude towards women and your behavior with women. This world doesn’t change because everyone expects someone else to magically change everything. But the truth is, you are a part of the society you complain about. If you did not change yourself, how would you change the world?
Encourage others to make this world a safer place for women.
Start with yourself.
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