Rape Culture: Two Authors Help Readers Understand

The same rape culture that teaches boys to terrorize girls at parties now stands to enshrine Brett Kavanaugh into a lifetime position of authority, in which women’s civil rights and bodily autonomy will be in his hands and at his mercy. These are not two different stories; they are two different illustrations of the same fundamental disregard for women’s sovereignty over their own bodies and lives. Sady Doyle, Elle, 9/17/18

Well before the alleged attempted rape that’s part of the Brett Kavanaugh controversy, at least two recent and respected books took on rape culture, Kate Harding‘s Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do About It and Roxane Gays anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.

I. Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do About It (2015) by Kate Harding

From the book: “Rape culture manifests in a myriad ways…but its most devilish trick is to make the average, noncriminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime. Rape culture encourages us to scrutinize victims’ stories for any evidence that they brought the violence onto themselves – and always to imagine ourselves in the terrifying role of Good Man, Falsely Accused, before we ‘rush to judgment’.”

Quotes from an interview Harding gave Lauren Kelly, Rolling Stone:

It’s a culture where we always identify with the person who’s accused of rape instead of identifying with the victim. When someone reports a rape, we immediately start investigating that person – the presumption is that the person is probably lying – before we even think to investigate the person being accused.

Don’t talk about rape in terms of your mother, wife, or sister. Talk about it in terms of yourself. Imagine you’re the one who’s raped, and you go to report it to the police, and they treat you like maybe you’re the criminal. And that does happen to male victims too…

So when I say that every American boy is at risk of growing up to become a rapist, I mean that we don’t know which young boy is absorbing this message of entitlement. People like to think, “My child would never…” or, “I’m such a good parent.” But when you see things like campus rape stories – your typical rapist is someone who knows their victim, someone who the victim trusts at least a little bit – that is the child of someone who thought their child would never do that.

II. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (2018) by Roxane Gay 

“According to Roxane Gay, editor of the essay collection Not That Bad, the term refers to ‘a culture where it often seems like it is a question of when, not if, a woman will encounter some kind of sexual violence'” (Nina Power, The Guardian).

Seija Rankin, ew.com: “[Gay] noted that when she thought about what had caused her to minimize her own experiences with sexual violence, she realized that she — and many of the women she knows — had often been told: ‘It’s not that bad’.”

Zosia Bielski, Globe and Mail:

[Gay’s contributors] are a diverse group of women and men: famous and never published before, young and old, straight, queer and transgender. Among them are an army wife, a biochemist, an exterminator, a lawyer, a cartoonist, an eighties film icon and an author researching mental illness in the suburbs. Their stories make clear that the reverberations of sexual predation live on inside all kinds of people.

Not That Bad peers into the psychology of victimhood, mining elements of sexual violence we don’t understand very well yet. There are the creeping tentacles of post-traumatic stress disorder; the way trauma chops holes out of memory; the tendency of victims to keep secrets from themselves as a coping mechanism, or to internalize the abuse and self-destruct.

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