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More Rape Culture

Every morning I commute to work on a bus going to a hospital, and this morning, I was reading when I tuned in to a couple of the guys sitting in the back. They looked like they might be students. I didn't quite get the whole conversation, but I did hear a couple of lines. One of the guys was asking the other two guys in a sort of joking way about how he could ask out a girl he liked. There was context here - it sounded like the woman in question was a fellow student, because the guy made references to exams once or twice. These guys were wearing what looked like doctor's coats, so I assumed they were medical students of some sort. If this woman was a classmate of theirs, she was probably a medical or dental student, too. The guy was asking a lot of questions - he wanted to ask this girl out and was afraid of doing so.

One of the other guys had some decent advice about waiting until the exam was over, and then asking if she wanted to grab coffee or a drink to celebrate being done with the semester. Sounded fair to me. The guy asking what to do looked relieved - he now had a plan of action he could follow. Nice - go young love! And on a bus, no less.

And then my morning was soured with a daily dose of rape culture. The third guy, who had thrown out a couple of ideas too, said something along the lines of: "yeah, once you guys get to a bar or something, roofie her drink! Then you can have a good time!"

The three of them did that laugh people do on the bus, where you laugh but not too loudly because other people will hear you. The other advice giver responded "nah, he would never do that. He's a nice guy." And then we were at our stop, and we all got off.

One of the regularly reoccurring things we try to tackle here is the idea of rape culture and how insidious it is. So many people have already written such awesome things about this topic, I'll send you to them for a basic intro if you don't already have one.

I don't think any of those guys was a rapist. Certainly, the guy who was asking questions was nervous about asking this woman out, which would indicate that he cared at least to a small extent what she thinks of him. I'm not trying to peg any of the three of them as perpetrators, but what they SAID and what a perpetrator would DO are not so different.

This is what rape culture looks like - a guy who did intend to roofie his date's drink could have been in this conversation, and not been kicked out of it. He probably would have scared everyone else a little bit, but not so much that his classmates reject him socially.

We've had a couple of posts at this point about fighting rape culture, but this fight is going to take place on a ton of different levels. To really reveal rape culture and make it as obvious as it needs to be for us to finally get rid of it, we need to work on a high, macro-level; at a community level; and within our own mental and emotional space.

On the really high macro-level fight, we need to push policies and legislation that don't treat women and gender-non-conforming folks as afterthoughts and second-class citizens. Until we start seeing laws that treat the LGBT population and women as equals to men, we will continue to see, enshrined in our legal code, the belief that these populations are not human and therefore not protected under the laws the same way people (i.e., men) are.

Laws do sometimes lead society, or at least meet up with its more progressive vanguard, and can seriously change public perception about what people are. This work requires electing progressive officials, and then also holding them accountable and mobilizing for better legislation. One political candidate pushing for reform is a nice idea, that same candidate pushing for reform with a chorus of voices behind him or her is a force of action.

On a community level, we need to push away messages that conflate irritating things with rape. I get wary about telling people to moderate their language because I don't want to confused as pro-censorship, but I think Dane Cook has a good point (never thought I would cite him here):

I think the word we need to remove from our everyday vernacular is the word "raped."

I think the word raped gets thrown around far too casually. You ever listen to a bunch of guys playing video games with each other online? It's like, "Ah man you shot me in the back dude. You raped me dude!"

I'm pretty sure if I talked to a woman who's been through that horrific situation and I said, "What was it like, you know being raped?" She's not gonna look at me and go, "Have you ever played Halo?"

Obviously, getting guys to stop talking about videogames with stupid language isn't going to stop rape on its own, but like I've said before, it makes behavior that mistakes violence for sex more obvious. It makes it way easier to tell the difference between the guy on the bus, who said something stupid because that's one of the few ways society allows guys to joke with each other, from the guy who's actually going to hurt someone.

More examples: don't buy crap like this. While our local version of Holla Back is unfortunately suspended, take that spirit while walking through our streets to help make catcalling intolerable in our neighborhoods. Push back against companies that use women's bodies to sell things. The less acceptable we make rape culture at the community level, the more it gets pushed away.

And of course, we all need to do some serious work trying to deprogram the social messages we've gotten about sexuality, gender, and our roles in the world that are intensely problematic. This work is hard. A tremendous amount of the way I dress, carry myself, and speak were informed by what I thought men were supposed to be, and I'm only now starting to look at those things critically. I still don't wear any pink clothing because I'm partially afraid it feminizes me (although I'll pretend it's because it makes me look washed out).

We have all received some seriously damaging messages about sex and sexuality and gender. Make no mistake here - as a cis-man, I've been pretty well trained by society to hate women. I've been trained that anything that sounds like or resembles traditional femininity is weak and deserves to be violated, harmed, or degraded. It's a fight to push back against those messages, but with time, I'm starting to learn how to do it. I'll write a post on this eventually.

I try to draw my inspiration from a lot of different places to continue fighting for gender justice. While Andrea Dworkin is not my typical source for this, sometimes I find her writing has a power I cannot find elsewhere. With the BARCC Walk for Change coming up this Sunday (register to walk!) I feel some strident words are in order to help me remember why I volunteer with BARCC:

I want to see this men's movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don't make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can't be self-indulgent.”

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Posted by Dave

Dave has volunteered with BARCC since 2007 and works in higher education administration. He also facilitates a men's pro-feminist group, is a STARZ member of Socializing for Justice, a Yelp Elite '10 member, and sits on the advisory council of the Boston Medical Center's domestic violence prevention board. He got involved with BARCC to further his understanding of feminism and gender justice, and also to get the chance to show his speaking skills far and wide. He lives in Allston, where the music is.


  1. Good point Rowan, yes, I did mess up that language. Until we have laws that treat the LGBT population as equivalently VIRTUOUS as STRAIGHT men (and really, straight WHITE men), we're going to have problems.

  2. "Until we start seeing laws that treat the LGBT population and women as equals to men," ... could we say equals to heterosexual men? :-p There are a few LGBT folks who are men.

  3. Don't forget one of the more immediate reasons to convince everyday people to face rape culture's lies: juries are comprised of those people.

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