Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Example #2394802834: We Live in a Rape Culture

We received this article from a regular PWCL blogger in our e-mail today, coming via Feministing.com. A young woman was sexually assaulted on her campus, and after fighting back using so-called lifesaving self-defense skills, she was attacked again by a group of young men because she fought back in the first place.

What's interesting about this story is how it highlights a few scary things that take place in our rape culture:

  1. When survivors fight back, it often doesn't work or backfires. Yet we are continually taught that self-defense is one of the key elements to ending sexual violence.
  2. Mob mentality. If you've seen Dreamworlds 3, you know what I'm talking about. It highlights the idea that some men participate in the mob mentality around rape culture and sexual violence. In this case, they did not stick up for the survivor but rather participated in the violence being perpetrated against her.
  3. The normalcy of rape in our culture, and even more on college campuses. See the "rape trail" in this story. Ugh.
What's really upsetting to me is that this story isn't on national news. Why? Because, sadly, these sorts of instances of sexual violence happen to people, and moreover women-identified people far too often. I was physically assaulted by a group of teenage boys last year, outside of a PETCO no less, and it reminded me of all the times I experienced similar violence when I was in high school and my early college years. It was normal to me back then, and only when we start talking about stories like the one featured above on feministing.com do we realize what an epidemic physical and sexual violence is against all sorts of oppressed groups, and in this case, women.

4 comments:

Abigail said...

You are so right, Kelsey. It is normalized because we don't talk about it. And why don't we talk about it? Because it's normalized! Where did this vicious cycle begin? I don't know, but I for one am dedicated now more than ever to breaking the silence.

Thank you for sharing this.

fawnapril said...

Thanks for sharing this post. I agree and appreciate your assessment generally, but question this idea: "When survivors fight back, it often doesn't work or backfires." That does not match-up with the research I have read, though I don' think there is much research on this subject.

I was under the impression that although nothing works all the time, actively resisting an attempted assault using more than one strategy greatly increased our chances of getting away from an assault. (I always say we have to decide what the right thing is to do in each situation, so I am not saying fighting back is always the right thing, but I hope you get the idea.)


I was just curious on what basis you were making that statement?

While I agree that to truly end sexual violence, we must focus on changing the rape culture and prevention (on the perpetrator side), I think self-defense can be an important part of helping to change the rape culture. Thoughts? Thanks!

Kelsey said...

I think I can clarify a little more... sorry about not really having anything to back up my statement.

I full heartedly believe in self-defense as a way for women to feel empowered in the world we live in. My first true experience of feminism was in a women's self-defense course, so I know how powerful it can be in terms of educating women about the power that we all have, and even to learn ways in which other people have been able to effectively get out of a physically or sexually violent situation.

Where I run into issues with the self-defense mentality is when we are taught that self-defense is a surefire way, if we're being "good girls" in this world, to prevent becoming a victim. Although, as a survivor I know that self-defense has both worked in my favor and also against me. Self-defense has been proven to be helpful, but the socialization of women and girls who are taught it is often that we are responsible for our safe keeping. I feel, in reality, our only responsibility should be to feel empowered and that we have the right to take up space in this world. The responsibility lies upon the perpetrators and those who socialize them to teach them to live in a world where violence against women and any other oppressed group is completely unacceptable.

My point is really that I don't feel like self-defense should be used as a main tool in the work to end domestic and sexual violence. I think it can be used as a tool to teach folks how to physically protect themselves with their bodies or their voices, if it is not accompanied by curriculum that discusses patriarchy, rape culture, and empowerment then it can be just as damaging to survivors as anything else. It can be a great empowerment tool, but also can turn into a tool to be used to victim blame when it doesn't turn out the way it "should".

Lauren said...

I'm glad you clarified the statement as well kelsey...i agree with you that self-defense can be victim-blaming if not accompanied with the right framework and context, but i generally recommend it to all the teens i work with as an empowerment and safety tool, all while reminding them that it isn't fair that we have to seek out ways to be safe/the onus is on survivors, women especially, to know how to protect themselves. i think self-defense should always be accompanied with the message that "this isn't our responsibility" and "this isn't fair", and of course that "sexual violence is not our fault". i know that womenstrength is great about sending out that message, and they're the organization i always recommend to teens i work with.