By Attiya Karodia
Put down your coffee ladies and gentleman, and prep yourselves for yet another rant dripping with feminist buzzwords that would on most publications result in a comment-war between meninists and normal people who believe in equality and justice. Fear not, for I won’t be citing article on article and believe me when I say that I will try my utmost to keep myself from blaming patriarchal systems and traditions (although I’m tempted to, even now).
Let me start with a question for my readers, how many times a week do you see a headline about or related to a woman being raped?
For myself, I generally see at least 3 or 4 articles a week relating to rape, so let’s try a follow up question.
What difference has there been in your reaction from the first time you understood, heard about or read about rape and when you see a rape related headline today?
These two questions are all you need to prove both the existence and the rise of Rape Culture on a personal level, a theoretical concept in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.
There are many elements that define and affect Rape Culture ranging from a society’s level of desensitization to rape and sexual abuse to the stereotypes that these events and the public’s general reaction create and strengthen. If you are a nay-sayer of Rape Culture (read: one of the people who claims that rape numbers are not increasing, that the objectification and degradation of women within media and the home plays no role in the statistics and that rape related issues are not tied to workplace and societal inequality), I can do no more than urge you to do some role playing and self-questioning.
The objectification of women in an African and Third World context is one that has been shaped largely by cultural traditions which have cemented the concept of gender roles and restrictions, resulting in the false dilemma that perpetrators use whereby if a woman does not dress or conduct herself the way tradition insists, all her rights and dignities fall away, thus allowing the act to take place. Boys are taught early on that a woman has a very specific role in either being a mother, a sister or a wife. All of which are there to cater to your every need, so that any role reversal or change is not just strange but places women in a light that blurs whether the same respect you pay to your mother should be paid to an non-conformist.
In a more urban and ‘developed’ setting, the concept of Rape Culture and its effects on us are evident by the way we conduct ourselves in public. You wouldn’t wear a skimpy outfit if you knew you were walking to your destination for fear that something might happen, and if you pass by a man who is staring at you, you more often than not, try to avert your gaze and walk a bit faster so that you don’t come across as being interested. The way we act is a symptom of our condition of acceptance of rape and violation as something which is bound to happen (because boys will be boys), to the point that we take it upon ourselves to ensure that we don’t ‘put ourselves in an unsafe situation’.
Unfortunately, mainstream rhetoric and trend setting has left us in a dilemma, where freedom of expression results in further objectification and also a confused glorification of the non-consent/reluctance based sexual preferences and fetishes found in genres like BDSM. While educated individuals who delve into these genres and experiences may be well prepared for what is and isn’t ‘allowed’, for the vast majority the popular content screams “no means yes” and opens up a new range of encounters that women have to ‘deal’ with.
Whether we examine slut-shaming in the workplace for the women who sleep their way to the top, or how the amount of women who lie about rape is increasing (a complete and utter myth), the sad truth is that while we may be all for chanting our support in 140 characters, we’re still assuming that a loose woman is lying about her rape or that being violated in a dodgy area while dressed skimpily was not justified, but understandable.
We’re being less and less vocal about rape because we see so much of it through mainstream media, thus being a driving force behind the normalized reactions that Rape Culture promotes.
We’ve become our own worst enemies, holding progression back through our surplus of social media ranting and lack of significant action, but what does it really take to reverse the rise of Rape Culture?