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Rape culture in life and theory

  • 26 October 2012

About two weeks ago, the internet exploded with new information about the most famous kiss in history. In an interview, the woman in the image revealed that the photo captured her being accosted by an intoxicated sailor. 'It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!' The image became a talking point about 'rape culture' and our selective blindness to sexual violence.

And then, a column appeared in the The Vine criticising the misappropriation of the words 'rape culture'. Author Luke Ryan wrote that 'everyone who is using the phrase rape culture needs to stop ... To my mind, it's a bland and egregious cheapening of the rhetorical playing field that does as much damage to the cause of anti-rape politics as do the jokes and articles and images that cause these writers so much angst in the first place.'

What he's talking about is the utility of language, and that we ought to think carefully before we bandy about words as loaded as 'rape'. If everything is rape then nothing is rape, the logic goes. I understand how this could be seen to endanger a volatile topic. But the terminology is deliberately confronting. The reality of living in such a culture is a daily confrontation to girls and women. It is real, and we are naming it for what it is.

The only time I have decisively called out a man for touching me inappropriately, he reacted aggressively, shouting at me as if I had done something inexcusable. This was not a random bloke on the street, but a peer of mine: ostensibly educated, and employed by a reputable media company. This naming of sexual harassment was taboo, it was all a bit embarrassing.

There are many reasons why women don't call out this behaviour more often: fear of injury by the perpetrator, or of being forced into an unwanted legal proceeding, or the unrelenting thought that maybe they didn't mean it like that. The burden should not be on the victim to redress injustice.

If this particular man's sense of entitlement was so unshakable, even when I confronted it directly, I don't feel optimistic about these cultures changing any time soon.

Language is a powerful weapon, and calling a rose