I’ve recently been watching a Netflix series called Hemlock Grove, and while there are several moments in it that make me cringe and wonder if I really want to subject myself to it, one in particular stands out. The next paragraph is a spoiler, for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet.
It’s a scene in which Roman—one of the two viewpoint characters—is devastated about his best friend and cousin having sex, so he goes to find a girl who propositioned him earlier. They start to have sex, but he then insists upon tying her up. She’s been having a good time, and she goes along with that. Then he gets more aggressive, manhandling her and yelling at her to tell him he’s “ugly” (because Roman has issues). She becomes frightened and struggles to free herself, begging him to stop while he hammers into her. Then, when it’s over, he uses his psychic abilities to make her forget it ever happened.
Someone on the IMDB forum asked, “Why does everyone make such a big deal out of the rape scene?”
What’s even more disturbing than the fact somebody felt the need to ask a question like that is that the majority of those who responded didn’t get it either. They insisted that, since she’d been okay with having sex with him to start with, it couldn’t be rape! The fact that she gets frightened and begs him to stop doesn’t factor into their opinion. Apparently, once a woman gives consent, it can’t be taken back, no matter what the man does!
There were some who pointed out how absurd—and wrong—this idea is. But it seemed clear to me the majority simply didn’t believe it was “rape,” unless a person being forced to have sex against her (or his) will if she (or he) instigated the sex.
This is just one example of what we call “rape culture”—the prevalent belief that rape is “no big deal.” The belief, by both men and women in our society, that consent isn’t really important, as long as the victim isn’t seriously injured or “probably enjoyed it.” You might recall an incident in the news several years ago in which some high school students undressed an unconscious girl at a party and posted photos of them inserting objects into her vagina. Even newscasters were defending the boys, because it was just “a prank,” and they didn’t “really hurt her.” Never mind how traumatized she was when she discovered what had happened. She was making a “big deal” over nothing, people insisted. (I also feel compelled to point out, there are tons of photos online of young men being stripped by their buddies in college when they’re passed out drunk and having things done to their genitals. But this is considered even less worthy of note—except that most of us find it funny.)
It’s difficult to define sexual boundaries in a society where this behavior is considered acceptable by a large percentage of the population. It wasn’t until 1991 that a man forcing his wife to have sex with him against her will was even legally considered “rape.” Before that, the law in this country supported the idea that a wife was required to have sex with her husband, regardless of her feelings. And sadly, the idea persists among the general population. Donald Trump’s special counsel recently declared, “You cannot rape your spouse.” He was wrong, on a legal level, but the true tragedy of that statement is people still believe that.
We’re having a very hard time convincing everyone in our society that sex needs be consensual. Always. There aren’t exceptions.
Why is this so hard to fathom?
Derek Sawyer thinks he has it all—a high-salaried position, a boyfriend, a dog, even a new cabin on the lake—until a business trip with his manager and best friend, Victor, shatters his world.
One night of drunken horsing around in their hotel room leads to the most intensely personal violation Derek has ever endured. As if the humiliation of working under his attacker every day isn’t enough, Victor reports Derek for sexual harassment. Now he’s without a job, without a boyfriend, and the mortgage on the cabin is due.
Officer Russ Thomas has worked with rape victims before, and it doesn’t take him long to sort out the truth in Derek’s tale. With his support, Derek finally reports the crime, months after it happened. But restraining orders and lawyers further Victor’s anger toward him, and even though a relationship develops between Derek and the policeman, Russ can’t be there to protect him all the time.
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7 responses to “What we mean by the term “rape culture””
Great post, Jamie!
It’s so scary how much is considered acceptable and even funny. I make a point of teaching my kids that no means no, no matter WHEN it happens. If more people started teaching that instead of victim blaming or playing it down…
Anyway, thanks for writing this. I look forward to reading Violated when I can manage to buy it. 🙂
I’m always surprised when I read reactions like that. Then again, it shouldn’t. Most of us are lucky enough to have received some sex education, I for one live in a sexually liberal country, but I’ve never been taught about consent. Yet, it’s so easy.
It’s really not a difficult concept.
I think the problem is two-fold. Women are often raised to be teases (“yes, you can, no you can’t”) or are told they should play hard to get. And guys are taught that when a woman says “no” she often means “yes”.
And don’t even get me started on porn…
Anyway, your book is on my to-read pile, Jamie!
This is why a lot of women (and even more men) are reticent about reporting a rape. The First thing that is looked at is what they are wearing. Then it is how much have they had to drink/have they done drugs. It doesn’t matter what they are wearing or how much they have had to drink if they say no or are unable to say yes through drink/drugs it is rape.
Marital rape only became a crime in UK in 1997.
Sexual assault… The only crime where the victim is guilty until the perpetrator is found not innocent.
That entertainment media is rife with examples of rape for entertainment is one scary statement about our culture. It is bad enough when you see the News media bemoaning a college losing its star quarterback because he’s found guilty of Sexual assault without seeing the trope echoed in TV, Movies, and books.
I spent many years working as a forensic scientist and one telling comment was made at a conference I attended. .. Over 80% of Sexual assaults are never reported… The idea that 1 in 5 women will be raped during their life is somehow seen as normal… I sometimes wonder what it would like if 1 in 5 men were shot during their life… would that cause outrage… Yes.
But until we teach everyone that the only word that grants consent is a Yes, freely given and with no coercion, and that it can be consent can be withdrawn at any time, then we are fighting a losing battle.
Or, to put it bluntly MEN NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE AND RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT THEY DO WITH THEIR DICKS.
A side order of education for all that not all pranks are funny would help, too.
But, yes, Jamie, it is a very scary thing because Rape culture implies the natural state of the male is to be a rapist and that is accepted as the norm.
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Thank you for sharing this blog post. Rape is so terrible happening to any person on earth. I had a friend – a long time ago. She used to be a funny, humorous girl with endless energy and nobody could have a better friend than her. And then the terrible happened… She was raped. She had never talked to anyone about it – not even to me. Not until the night before she committed suicide – four years after it happened.
I’ll never forget her – and what it has done to her.
I’m so sorry to hear that.
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