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A culture of objectification, not rape

We must be more accurate with our definitions of the threats that women face if we are to tackle misogynistic behaviour in public and in private

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In a recent article, Catherine argues that the 2014 United States Department of Justice study — which reveals that, on average, one in 164 college women aged 18-24 reported experiencing rape or sexual assault between 1995 and 2013 — does not cast substantial doubt on the view that we live in a rape culture.

Unfortunately, when challenged on their assertion that we live in a rape culture, many of today’s feminists reply that their challengers base their arguments on “misunderstandings” with regards to, firstly, consent, and secondly, rape culture.

Firstly, on the notion of consent. My definition on the nature of consent is synonymous to the definition provided by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Centre which states that “consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says “yes” to sexual activity with other persons. Consent is always freely given and all people in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say “yes” or “no” or stop the sexual activity at any point”. Therefore, if someone’s removal of consent is ignored or they have been incapable of giving consent — through black out intoxication for example — then this is rape. This is something that both Snow and I echo.

However, though the following argument is not explicitly found in Snow’s article, there is room for disagreement when consent is taken away after the sexual act. I struggle to find how the word consent can apply to the past unless one uses the past tense: consented. Therefore, if you consented to something, does the removal of consent later outweigh the fact that one had previously consented to an act in the past?

Furthermore, the Mary Koss study I referenced in my previous article showed that 40 per cent of women who said they were raped consented to sexual intercourse with their rapist at another time. Both Catherine and I agree that a woman’s choice to have sex with her rapist is a consented act. However, the willingness to have sexual intercourse with someone who has previously violated them  is questionable.

The second alleged “misunderstanding” is that of what constitutes rape culture. The word rape is quite brutally clear, whereas culture is a far softer term: the attitudes and behaviour characteristics of a particular social group. Therefore, a ‘rape culture’ must be a culture in which non-consented sexual penetration is a prevailing attitude and behavioural characteristic of this particular social group.

The definition of rape culture that Snow abides by is used to argue that rape culture is “embodied every time someone shouts a lewd remark to a woman walking down the street,” and, amongst other things, exemplified by “memes bearing the slogan “it’s not rape if…”.”

Arguing that rape being the subject of jokes is evidence for a culture of rape is logically equivalent to arguing if someone jokes about how they could murder someone does that mean we live in a murder culture?

Furthermore, to debunk another example cited by Snow, idiotic misogynistic males shouting at women on the street and “slut shaming” of women is not evidence of a culture that normalises rape but, rather, a culture of sexual objectification. Sex is not only a fascinating subject but everyone is a sexual object to someone. The behaviour of some men on the street and in the home is disgraceful, but this behaviour is an example of our culture of sexual objectification.

It is clear that a disclaimer is necessary. This is not a dismissal that rape occurs and this is not a condoning of the disgraceful behaviour of which that Snow and many other women have been victims. It is not accurate to say that this disgusting side of our sexual objectifying culture is evidence of a culture that sees rape as permissible and in an epidemic. Thus, I agree with Catherine that there “is an insidious thread securely woven into the fabric of our society”, but this thread takes the form of a culture of sexual objectification, not rape.

Of course, Catherine’s story of being sexually approached by two men by which — I am disgraced as a man as well as a 21st Century western adult — is an anecdotal and severely regrettable example of a culture of sexual objectification, not rape.

Therefore, I was not denying the existence of misogynistic attitudes that stem from this cultural objectification, and I agree with Catherine that there is a need to tackle this for change. I am no more “peddling a misogynistic agenda” as Catherine Snow is peddling anti-male agenda. Both claims are equally as absurd. What I often find in these arguments is that we agree on a surprising number of issues and work towards the same goals, but words do matter here.

In order to seriously fight rape and the misogynistic elements of our culture of objectivity, we must make an honest outline of what actually is rape and what is not. This is a distinction that, once made, will be our greatest weapon in fighting rape on our streets and in our homes. A fight that both myself, Snow and all good willing civilians are devoted to.

  • JB

    Well written and well argued.

  • cosmopolite

    Women need to be very careful about where they go for social life, esp. in the evening. And very careful of their male associations. Of who they date, and how. Men and women who do not already know each other well should meet mainly in restaurants, in public view. Talk of rape culture does not help women defend themselves from real dangers.
    Women are indeed often objectified. By whom? Very often, by women themselves. Women are quite capable of enjoying lewd talk and behaviour, esp. once bawdy behaviour is unhitched from snobbish talk of “vulgarity”. So many everyday women have used digicams, broadband and the internet to upload explicit images of themselves that I have become convinced that many women are thrilled by their own lewdness. A surprising number of these women do nothing to conceal their faces. Women too can be thrilled by the taboo, the crossing the line. Better that than the illegal white powders, I say. The notion that only males are capable of lechery is laughably quaint.