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What is Rape Culture?

Last night, I posted the following on Facebook and Tumblr:

It’s not that Ken Hoinsky ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund his book, “A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women,” filled with advice for aspiring rapists, like “Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant.”

It’s that 732 people backed his project on Kickstarter. That they donated more than eight times what Hoinsky was asking for.

Think about that the next time someone belittles the idea of rape culture.

This led to a side discussion about what “rape culture” meant. The suggestion came up that the phrase is a dog whistle that prevents honest discussion and implies all men are rapists and rape-enablers.

Okay, given the seven billion people in this world, I’m sure you can find one who believes all men are rapists, but that isn’t what that phrase has meant in any conversation I can remember having. (It is what I’ve seen some “Men’s Rights” advocates try to claim it means, because it gives them a way to derail discussion.)

I use “rape culture” to describe a society in which sexual violence is common, underreported, and underprosecuted, where rape victims are blamed or even prosecuted for trying to report the crime. A society that turns its back on rape survivors, or blames them for wearing the wrong clothes, drinking the wrong things, sending the wrong signals, putting themselves in the wrong situation, and so on. A society that treats women as objects and encourages men to be sexually aggressive, to see sex as a game to be won.

Does this mean all men believe women who are raped deserve it? That’s as silly as saying “The U.S. has a strong gun culture” = “All Americans are gun owners” or “Tumblr is full of fandom culture” = “All Tumblr posts are about fandom.”

Okay, fine, the argument goes. But that doesn’t prove this so-called “rape culture” actually exists. You worked as a rape counselor and spend a lot of time talking about this. Doesn’t that give you a distorted, overblown sense of the problem?

My sense has always been that my experience has helped open my eyes to a problem most people tend to ignore or minimize. That experience has included a fair amount of time reading research and articles about rape in our world.


Back in 1995, the AMA described rape as the most underreported crime in America. It’s difficult to get exact numbers, but here’s some of the research and statistics discussing just how common rape really is.

Men as Perpetrators:

It’s true that not all rapists are men, nor are all victims women. However, the vast majority of rapists are indeed male, and women are raped at a significantly greater rate than men. Looking specifically at men as rapists…

  • A study from 1981, which is admittedly out of date, found that 35% of college men said they would commit rape under certain circumstances if they thought they could get away with it.
  • A 1991 study found that 56% of high school girls and 76% of the boys “believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances.” (White, Jacqueline W. and John A. Humphrey)
  • In this article from 2010, psychologist David Lisak found that 1 in 16 men admitted to committing rape, though few men labelled it as such.
  • Another article by Lisak and Miller looked at the research and found that between 6% and 14.9% of men admitted to committing rape.

How Our Culture Facilitates Rape:

Once again, these are just a handful of examples that illustrate our culture’s attitudes toward rape and rape victims, and the impact of those attitudes.

  • In a 2002 study of athletes, Sawyer found that “both male and female respondents, though predominately males, felt that about half of all reported rapes were invented by women. In other words, it was believed that women lied about being raped 50% of the time.” (Source)
  • Most rapes are not reported to the police. (Source) Reasons for not reporting include:
    • Shame/embarrassment
    • Fear of reprisal
    • Fear of police bias
  • A review of 37 studies found that “men displayed a significantly higher endorsement of rape myth acceptance (RMA) than women. RMA was also strongly associated with hostile attitudes and behaviors toward women.” (Source)
  • Men who have peer support for behaving in an emotionally violent manner toward women and for being physically and sexually violent toward women are 10 times more likely to commit sexual aggression toward women. (Source)

You also see these things, if you look, in our daily lives. In reporting that sympathizes with the rapists or emphasizes the victim’s looks, in rape prevention efforts that put the responsibility for stopping rape on women, in the way we conflate rape and sex, in jokes that minimize or belittle rape, in the way we expect rape to be a normal part of our fiction, in stories of police hostility to rape victims, in legal battles where the popular defense is victim-blaming, and so much more.

When I use the phrase rape culture, I’m not saying, “Hey buddy, did you know that you are personally an evil rapist and responsible for all the rape?” I’m saying we have a culture in which rape is widespread, and the reasons are many and multilayered.

When women talk about men as potential rapists, they’re not saying all men are animals who will commit rape at the slightest opportunity; they’re pointing out that because rape is so widespread, and because the perpetrators are so often “normal-looking” men, frequently friends and family, it creates an atmosphere of distrust and fear. Heck, doesn’t the fact that we focus prevention efforts almost exclusively on women essentially require women to treat all men as potential rapists?

And when men respond to these conversations by trying to reframe them as a personal attack or accusation, it takes the focus off of the problem of rape and derails the conversation.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 83 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 20th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
Applauds. Thank you.
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC)
Right. The biggest problem, and the thing most decent men don't understand is that, while they're making sexist jokes that they think are jokes about sexism (or rape, or domestic abuse) because they'd never do that themselves, there is that one guy in their friend group who is seeing it as support for his actual beliefs and behavior. Most men would never beat a woman or rape a woman, but when they say things that are precipitated by the assumption that none of the men they are saying them to would do it, either, they're in effect telling that one man who has or will rape a woman that his friends agree that it's okay.

And yep. The potential rapists thing is 100% true.

True story that happened to me recently:

I was at a bar with a male friend, whose friendship is very much a platonic one, and I assume that is the case on both sides based on our interactions. He mentioned a man whom I happen to know, and I don't think he know that this man was a mutual friend. When I expressed the fact that Mutual Friend was a pal of mine, he gave me a worried look. "He's a rapist," he told me. "He's actually raped someone. I could show you proof if you wanted. But please do me a favor and don't let yourself be alone in a room with him."

I took him at his word, because it's very rare that a man will ever call out another man on that kind of behavior.

When I told other friends about this, the first response I got, from another man, was "He probably just said that because he wants to get in your pants and is trying to eliminate the competition."

When I started talking to him about his response and why it was problematic, he admitted that his assumption when he hears accusations of rape or sexual assault is that they're false and the accuser is trying to ruin the accusee's life, not that they are true and the accuser was raped or know that the accusee raped someone.

He also told me that I should be careful, either way. Because of course women don't learn to be careful of men when we're five years old, and of course being careful to any extent short of locking ourselves in concrete boxes actually ever does anything to help prevent rape. (Men telling women to be careful actually pisses me the hell off, because most men do not know what it means to live their entire lives having to be more careful than they would like to be.)
Jun. 20th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
...Wow. And of course the unspoken assumption behind your third friend's reaction is that "not being alone in a room with him" is ruining that other guy's life. Because assuming that men have a *right* to a woman's undivided, private attention isn't creepy at all.

"Men telling women to be careful actually pisses me the hell off, because most men do not know what it means to live their entire lives having to be more careful than they would like to be."

Thank you for concisely expressing something I've been trying to explain for ages (to myself, about why I get so pissed off by that one).
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Jun. 20th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
I suspect when people accuse you of having a distorted view, Jim, what they really mean is: "I'm afraid you actually know what you're talking about, with a lot more facts and information to back up your assertions. So I'm going to try to distract the conversation and accuse you of stuff you never argued, so that I can feel superior and/or have the conversation I want instead of dealing with the serious, important topic you're trying to shine a light on so that people can maybe make better future decisions on how to behave."

Or something like that.
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:44 pm (UTC)
I think it depends. In some cases, especially for men, it's easy to simply not see the problem. Which means when you finally run into someone talking about how prevalent it really is, there's a big old cognitive dissonance reality-crack that the brain has to struggle to reconcile. I don't think it's always intentional derailment.
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Jun. 20th, 2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
I have seen a few claims that all men are rapists. The claims have come from men, who do not say "all men except me," and who are arguing that because secretly all men are rapists, we're wasting our time trying to stop or punish rape.

The last time I saw this claim, I note, it was from Scott Adams, whose usual response when called on anything he says is "ha, gotcha! I was just trying to get a reaction! My fans know better than to believe a word I say." I would like to believe that the man who thinks that "I'm just trolling you" is a defense isn't really waiting for his next chance to commit rape, and that we should somehow believe "I didn't mean it" rather than the original statement. Though "I'm not a rapist, I just like seeing people upset, and it's worth making lots of women more nervous" isn't a description of behavior, or a person, I want to be anywhere near.
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
Ugh. Scott Adams fell off of my list of folks to read a few years back for similar remarks.
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Jun. 20th, 2013 02:38 pm (UTC)
See the current news photo's of Nigella Lawson's husband choking her at a restaurant table as an illustration of a culture that is tolerant of violence towards women. No one at that restaurant - including the photographer- called the cops!
Her husband calls it a 'playful tiff'!
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this.

I learned about rape culture as I started working at a rape crisis center, when every single woman I knew, when they learned where I was volunteering, told me their story of a neighbour, or a friend, father, brother, uncle...

Every single one.

That was more shocking than the situations at the crisis center. I did not expect the out of center stories at such a staggering rate. Every single woman.
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:48 pm (UTC)
I find so often when you are in groups of women, so often all it takes is just *one* bringing up the topic, or mentioning their story... The floodgates open and other women speak up. It surrounds us and so many people are oblivious or try to ignore it.
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Yes - Kelly Jennings - Jun. 20th, 2013 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC)

Jun. 20th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
I'm bookmarking this, because I love blizzards of facts.

As an aside, as far as I've ever observed, the side arguing that all men are raping rapists who rape is the *rape culture* one - the underlying assumption of all the victim-blaming, after all, is that men are uncontrollable monsters. It's a good derail, but it has the side effect of being an argument that eats its own tail (and gives logical people headaches).
Jun. 20th, 2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
I've also heard that argument (men are uncontrollable monsters) used by a guy from Egypt I worked with, in the context of women maintaining modesty, cause otherwise "we" can't control ourselves.

I was not able to formulate a good response at that time, but if I heard that argument now I'd inform him that I had been with large groups of semi- to fully naked women and not once was I even remotely prompted to attack one of them, and neither was any of the other men there.

Just because you might be an uncontrollable monster doesn't mean all men are, thank you very much.
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Jun. 20th, 2013 03:57 pm (UTC)
Yes. Exactly.

One of the discouraging trends I'm noticing in middle school boys is an acceptance of rape culture. Now most of them are just being middle school boys and talking big, but nonetheless it's in conjunction with establishing dominance over girls, and I don't like it.
Jun. 20th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
Stretch goals for the Kickstarter included free seminars in New York and
San Francisco for supporters. Maybe we can organize pickets. I'm up for standing in front of the entrance with a sign that says "Women don't come with cheat codes", or "don't put your penis in my hand."

One possible summary of his work is the old adage, "Come on, baby. You know you want it."

Thanks for this.

Edited at 2013-06-20 04:08 pm (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
I kind of like the idea of Kickstarting a book about rape culture and how not to be a rapist in response.
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Jun. 20th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
Bravo, Jim, for being a voice of good sense.
Jun. 20th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
I don't know you, but I like you. Thanks for this.
Jun. 20th, 2013 11:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you so very, very much for this post.
Lyn Palmer
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
thank you for this
I saw your post on Facebook last night and was shocked at those that argued that "rape culture" is a myth.

Your journal entry here refutes that thought beautifully. Rape isn't about sex. It's about someone who wants to exert their will upon an unwilling victim.

I would ask those who sneered at the phrase "rape culture" if they survey the parking lot before he walks to his car at the grocery. Does he wear earphones while he's jogging even if it means someone can run up behind him without his knowledge? Do they feel the need to be aware of their surroundings at all times? If they do, congratulations. You've accessed your feminine side.

But if he's a smart man, he'll teach his daughter to be aware of her surroundings. If he's a good teacher, he'll do this in a way that keeps his daughter from fearing all men, and empower her with the ability to sense a situation that can go south.

"Rape Culture" doesn't mean that all men are rapists. But it certainly means that the act of rape is common enough for intelligent people to guard against it.
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:16 pm (UTC)
Re: thank you for this
Thanks, Lyn.

I wish I could be shocked. But from what I've seen, for a lot of men, it's easy to simply not see rape. It's not something we talk about enough, it's not something we're taught about, and if you grow up thinking of rape as this rare thing that only happens like it does in the movies, there's going to be some shock and dissonance when you come up against the facts and research and start to see just how many people are affected.
Re: thank you for this - Lyn Palmer - Jun. 21st, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:20 am (UTC)

And I thought obnoxious stereotypes were half-harmless.
Now I see that mindless cataloging strangers is more harmful than benign.
Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions.
Gotta get that cultural thinking back on track - and not take everything at face value.

Sad, sad statistics.
Makes me wanna cry and shout out 'HEY! WHERE DID WE GO WRONG WORLD?' cause women are NOT property or objects - even though we are weaker.

Women, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters - they are to be PROTECTED and glorified, not used like tools.
Men, come to your senses - those natural instincts to shelter and shield us from the horrors of this world are good things. Especially when we insist 'we're not delicate', because, we don't have the muscles or the pure strength to do the same things you can.

There is balance, between men and women.
Proper balance that is out of whack when we ignore the female's cry for help.
A balance that is destroyed when one woman cries rape, and makes a mockery of hundreds of others who did suffer/will endure in silence, because that one was 'fraud'.

Jun. 21st, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
Ugh. Protected and glorified? This is exactly what cultures who restrict women's lives claim to do. No, thank you. I just want to be treated like a person, thanks.

And I don't want people to think I'm only worthy of their respected based on my relationship with other men. I matter because I am a human being, not because I'm a mother, daughter, or sister of a man.

This complimentarian "balance" crap is regressive and ugly and damaging.
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Jim C. Hines


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