(TW for Rape Apologism, Slut Shaming, mention of rape threats, mockery of such, etc.)
Like most, I haven’t cared about George Will for over twenty years. He belongs to the Old Guard conservatism, the Martini Republicans like George H W Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor. When the fireball cons like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and George W Bush became the face of the American conservative movement, most of us forgot about Will and his bow-ties and boring baseball analogies. So color me shocked that he wrote such an inflammatory piece defending Rape Culture. I’m not surprised, though, that he would defend Rape Culture and mock survivors or say that most claims of rape are faked in order to “elevate the status” of college women – just that he would go all out in 2014. Because whether or not we’re aware of it, Rape Culture is alive and well in not just conservatism but even the most progressive of spaces.
Rape Culture is not just a specific action or thought, it is the elements and the whole of what surrounds us that implicitly and explicitly normalizes, excuses, defends, supports, or condones acts of sexual violence and those who rape. It is what allows at least 1 out of every 6 women to have been raped sometime in their lives while only prosecuting a minuscule percentage of rapists. An aspect of Rape Culture is the teaching that bodies do not belong to the individuals – and specifically that women’s bodies do not belong to women, but to men. This attitude is also big on blaming sexual violence victim, and on talking about the assailant as if he (usually a he but not always) is a victim himself. This culture also says that “boys will be boys” and thus frees them from responsibility while holding females accountable for actions that males take upon the bodies and persons of females. This is but a brief overview of an outdated mindset, but we can see that George Will and his kind are just the tip of the iceberg.
Also to be held as an example of the prevalence of Rape Culture is the formerly-esteemed Washington Post. They published and promoted this awful piece of unscientific, anti-journalism trash. They could have made the decision to pull the article. It’s filled with rhetoric that endangers rape survivors and those who’d be willing to report. Considering that 97% of rapists do not spend a day in jail and 60% of rapes are never reported, articles like George Will’s are dangerous in their own light. The fact that this was sanctioned and published by a mainstream news publication rather than by Rush Limbaugh makes it all the worse. WaPo gave George Will and his horrible article legitimacy and helped to normalize a dastardly Rape Culture narrative.
Another indication of Rape Culture is in the normalcy of online and in-person rape threats targeting women. A few weeks back, I wrote an article about the conservative movement to derail Trigger Warnings. For my troubles, in this very space I was called some misogynistic and anti-homosexual terms and slurs. The thing about this is, this rarely happens to me as a heterosexual male. If I were a woman, let alone a black woman, I know I’d be regularly receiving not just slurs but death and rape threats. Obviously, some threats are from unhinged ultra-conservatives who write for Breitbart, etc. But what kind of noise and how progressive media talks about women who get rape threats via Twitter can be despicable. If someone calls me a “P*ssy” on the internet, yes, I can be offended and all. But that’s not a threat. And threats are meant to be lived out. Women on the internet get real live threats to their bodies, to their well-being, to their families, to their homes. Sometimes those threats are carried out and considering the history of rape as a means of warfare and dominance and population control, why wouldn’t anybody be concerned about these threats?
Sarah Kendzior is no light-weight. In addition to taking on anti-union bosses on a regular basis at Al-Jazeera, she’s also gotten death threats from dictators. She also receives rape threats regularly because, well, she’s a woman on the internet. While she rarely talks about them, they do happen. She talked about it once, in conversation with a fellow leftist/activist. And it was a left-wing/progressive website that decided to mock her for it (Kendzior’s version is here and a version with links here. Another side of the story can be seen here, though.) Kendzior made it explicit that she felt her safety and well-being were being belittled and mocked and yet several writers and editors felt it necessary to defend what they were doing rather than retract and then clarify. That is an aspect of Rape Culture.
Recently, progressive media outlets like Think Progress have taken more notice on how women’s and girl’s bodies are being policed through such things as school dress codes and how they are being shamed for not strictly adhering to male-dominated rules. Notice that school dress codes for men are usually relegated toward professionalism – tucking in shirts and the like. But the dress codes for females are based on how they distract or attract males. These codes are not necessary for preparing children and teens to the adult workforce, and they really have little to do with education. School dress codes are largely obligatory and are designed for the benefit of the school administrators. When students find these rules to be restrictive and prohibitive of their own selves and bodies, they should be allowed to protest. After all, this is the role of education according to progressive ed leaders like John Dewey and Paulo Freire – to cultivate thinking citizens.
But to hear some grown men tell it, Think Progress and these students were just whining. “Students are supposed to abide by the dress code and if boys were showing their bra straps, they’d be sent home too.” Sure. The point is that girls wearing clothing they felt was comfortable were reminded by the staff that their bodies do not belong to them and they are responsible for how teen boys act and think around them. The point is that girls have special rules for the clothing they wear and are given special excuses to send them home for the way they wear the clothes because they give boys that funny feeling. Because the boys can’t stop staring. Because they are led to believe that they own girls’ bodies.
Another objection I saw from progressive adult men was that the opinions of 15 year old girls shouldn’t matter on what and how 15 year old girls should be treated. But yet, a grown ass man’s opinions should be? This tells us who is important in this scenario, who is listened to, and who’s lived-in experiences are ignored for the gut reactions of adults who get to ignore teens when they were never even in their shoes.
I was never a teenaged girl, but I can tell you I would not like to be blamed for the thoughts and actions of others when I don’t directly cause them. Nor would I want to be held responsible for others’ reactions to the very presence and appearance of my body. This is the underpinning logic of Rape Culture: that men cannot control themselves and that women and their bodies need to be controlled so that men don’t just go all willy-nilly sexually assaulting.
It should not have a space in our society. Let alone in progressive circles.