I had parked farther away than I normally do and was walking across the dimly lit parking lot. The clicking of my boot heels on the concrete echoed loudly off the building walls, emphasizing my presence to others. I noticed glances and stares in my direction as I attempted to soften and speed up my stride simultaneously. This unwanted attention sparked my anxiety as my heartrate rose; my palms started to sweat as I held my keys firmly in between my knuckles. I swiftly closed my distance to my destination, as the panic slowly began to melt away…
For any woman walking alone at night, this description is all too familiar as to what it feels like to live in a society that supports rape culture. We live by a “rape schedule” –due to the constant, immobilizing fear of rape, we attempt to protect ourselves by implementing routines, behaviors, and actions throughout our day.11 While these precautions can make us feel better and occasionally “safe,” they are in no way effective at protecting women from a volatile society. While this election year has illuminated various issues such as, racism, sexism, and xenophobia, the most prominent has been rape culture. As blatant as the current political climate has taken advantage of sexism and other various feminist issues, it has become increasingly clear that: definitions have become tangled, sexual assault and women’s experiences have been reduced to a matter of opinion, the backlash against women has become increasingly hostile, and the acceptance and enabling of violence against women has become normalized.
In the last century, as feminism has gained a foothold in the political sphere, a common tactic utilized by Conservatives and Anti-Feminists is to warp and contort the defining terms we implement to emphasize oppression. Somehow the term rape culture incites fear in the hearts of many Conservatives and feminists end up being blamed for supposedly policing the behavior of men. Rush Limbaugh stated in early November: “The left will promote and understand and tolerate anything as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent…If the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police.”4 It seems ridiculous that we need to have this conversation but what the talk show host described is the exact definition of sexual assault which involves forcible sexual contact or behavior with no consent.7 Rape culture can be defined by the many means in which society reproaches sexual assault victims and normalizes sexual violence.14 “Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable.”14 Our society and institutions were built upon not only racism but sexism and misogyny as well. Rather than regarding these realities as the problem, within a rape culture society these issues are perceived as fixed, unchangeable, and considered the norm. Violence against women should never be considered normal, but here we are in 2016 still needing to define and explain why sex without consent is in fact sexual assault and purely wrong in any circumstance.
Every woman has a story –we have all experienced or witnessed some type of sexual harassment or assault in our lives. Yet, why don’t we talk about it? On the afternoon of Friday, October 7th, a 2005 Access Hollywood tape was leaked to the media which depicts Donald Trump bragging crudely about touching women inappropriately without their consent.3 In the following hours, critics took to social media creating a trending topic using the hashtag, #NotOkay.12 In the midst of this social media firestorm, Kelly Oxford, a Canadian author, shared her first sexual assault experience and encouraged other women to share as well: “Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”6 In response, she received more than a million replies from women sharing their hostile experiences for roughly 14 hours straight.12 In the days and weeks ahead several women came forward to share their personal accounts of Trump’s unacceptable sexual behavior. As of October 24th, NPR updated a living article to reflect the 19 accusations against Trump for non-consensual sexual conduct.5 This should have been the end of the Presidential campaign –the final nail in the coffin, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the last needle in the pin cushion. Instead, a flurry of supporters came to the President-elect’s defense: “Surrogates on national news platforms rushed to defend Trump’s comments as just ‘locker room talk,’ something ‘all men do, at least all normal men,’ as Carl Paladino put it. Other defenders have gone a step further, arguing that the GOP nominee was simply trying to be manly –his son Eric Trump characterized Trump as acting like an ‘alpha,’ while TV pastor Pat Robertson said Trump was just trying to seem ‘macho.’”8 Trump is the embodiment of toxic masculinity that sustains and nourishes rape culture and male sexual entitlement. Remarks such as “locker room talk” and “all men do it,” are an attempt to normalize sexual assault as being a part of masculinity and to silence the victims that come forward. “Because from pornography to comedy, men learn that one thing will always be theirs for the taking: women.”10 Apparently, in order to be a “real man,” it is societally expected for men to exert their dominance over women –and this dominance is frequently exploited through sexual harassment and assault regardless if women are willing.13 Women’s experiences of rape culture were completely overshadowed and disregarded by the medias’ consistent replaying of Trump’s absurd defense team. This could have been a moment for shared experiences, support, and learning from one another. This could have been the first steps toward “fixing” or “solving” rape culture; however, toxic masculinity shouted louder and the normalization of sexual assault seeped into the minds of young people, further solidifying the vicious cycle of misogyny.
And then in the dark, early morning of Wednesday, November 9th, it came to be that Americans elected an alleged sexual predator as the next President of the United States. If that fact does not scream rape culture, I do not know what else will. The acceptance and support of his violent and hateful rhetoric became more upsetting than Trump himself. Even though statistics show that sexual assaulters are a very small percentage of the population, it is still the larger whole of society that accepts, enables, and condones their actions. “When Billy Bush eggs on Trump’s disgusting behavior, or Trump’s supporters argue that he was not describing sexual assault, they help support a culture that permits sexual violence and makes it easier for perpetrators to walk free. Or, run for president.”2 What’s even more astonishing is that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump.1 Unfortunately, for feminists, this story is all too familiar and a consistent pattern within women’s history in which white women align themselves with powerful white men for passive self-empowerment. Within a rape culture, it tends to be privileged women that internalize misogyny and racism to help stabilize the unequal and toxic social structure of a society. “This is apparent in Elle magazine interviews with a handful of female Trump supporters after the election, who claim that they are ‘absolutely not racist’ and they really just care about the ‘economy’ and ‘get[ting] a good job.’ These women’s myopic worldview and unrepentantly American sense of individualism is not feminism, nor can they claim that they are not racists if they are willing to overlook the bigotry that fueled Trump’s campaign.”1 It seems that history continues to repeat itself. While there can be many explanations as to why a misogynist racist won the White House –everything from sexism theory, to blaming eligible voters for not voting, or third party candidates –what stands out in my mind is that within a rape culture, both men and women are accustomed to violent, cruel, and sadistic language. “The reason why this year’s election has caused a heightened and exacerbated sense of anxiety among many people is because Trump’s language is not your typical political rhetoric. In fact, the language he employs comes straight out of the handbook of toxic masculinity. He uses toxic tactics of emotional abuse –especially emotional abuse aimed at women –in order to put other people down. The tactics are powerful, emotionally violent, and often disarming against their victims.”9 Our society has become habituated to violence, hatred, and abuse. And how could we not? Toxic masculinity is the root and foundation of rape culture. It sets up women and men to fail: it enables victim blaming and to value a man’s career and future over a woman’s; it ensures that men suppress their emotions and suffer in silence; it validates turning a blind eye to women’s shared hostile experiences and automatically mistrusts any victim that comes forward; it permits homophobia and struggles to put sexuality into rigid, neat boxes; it attempts to regulate women’s sexuality and autonomy and deems uncontrolled women as sluts and whores; and it paralyzes half of the population into fear and thus, inaction, submissiveness, and passivity. There are many of us that knowingly or not, even in diminutive, passive ways, have come to accept, enable, and validate this abusive cycle of society. When the personification of toxic masculinity squawks countless lies, denies truth and facts, shifts blame, manipulates, humiliates, projects, exaggerates, generalizes, shames, and induces fear, it becomes wearing and increasingly difficult for those not familiar with the tactics of abuse to rise above the cycle of emotional exploitation. If we have nothing to fall back on, we internalize and project the very hatred we were trying to combat in the first place. And perhaps those that supported him have learned to fill themselves up with faux values, morals, and ethics from those that they see screaming the loudest because they were never taught to probe and question those in power.
Women in our society live by a “rape schedule” –we implement daily safeguards to protect ourselves from the fearful, unfamiliar stranger; when in reality, it is the familiar structure of society that permits the normalization of violence and misogyny that we should be more concerned about. Rape culture encompasses the many ways in which society chastises sexual assault victims and standardizes sexual violence and dominance over women. It is why today we still need to explain and defend the definition of rape and consent; why victims are dismissed and women’s shared experiences are reduced to a matter of opinion. And most of all, it is the very acceptance, enabling, and validation of emotionally abusive tactics of toxic masculinity that secure and sustain the societal sphere that paralyzes the population into submission, and punishes those that have the courage to question and act. Feminism over the last century has moved two steps forward and three steps back and when it seems like we have made remarkable progress, another mountain is set before us. We are constantly in an uphill battle for equality, bodily autonomy, and the never-ending struggle for basic human respect. We need to take into account that while both women and men are our allies, they can also be our opponents as well. We need to share our experiences and listen to one another and make each other feel safe –to accept our struggles, privileges, similarities and especially our differences –only then will we be able to rise again collectively.
1Bianco, M. (2016, November 14). White women voted for Trump in 2016 because they still believe white men are their saviors. Quartz. Retrieved from http://qz.com/835567/election-2016-white-women-voted-for-donald-trump-in-2016-because-they-still-believe-white-men-are-their-saviors
2Dirks, D. (2016, October 13). Progress would be accepting that Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ illustrates ‘rape culture.’ The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/10/13/what-did-donald-trump-reveal-about-progress-for-women/progress-would-be-accepting-that-trumps-locker-room-talk-illustrates-rape-culture
3Fahrenthold, D. (2016, October 8). Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html
4Hesse, M. (2016, October 13). It’s come to this: 2016 is the rape election. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/its-come-to-this-2016-is-the-rape-election/2016/10/13/d2a2e326-90bc-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html
5Kurtzleben, D. (2016, October 20). 1 more woman accuses Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct. Here’s the full list. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497799354/a-list-of-donald-trumps-accusers-of-inappropriate-sexual-conduct
6Oxford, K. [@KellyOxford]. (2016, October 7). Description of post content: women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city busy grabs my “pussy” and smiles at me, I’m 12. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/kellyoxford/status/784541062119456769
7Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). (2016). Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault
8Raymond, L. (2016, October 13). Trump’s campaign embraces rape culture. Think Progress. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/donald-trumps-campaign-is-the-embodiment-of-rape-culture-and-toxic-masculinity-cce0e91fba5c#.6rrtawijb
9Sztokman, E. (2016, September 27). 10 emotional abuse tactics that Trump blatantly used in the first debate. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/09/trump-emotional-abuse-tactics/
10Tatum, E. (2015, May 20). 4 things we need to stop teaching boys to avoid nurturing their sexual entitlement. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/boys-sexual-entitlement/
11Valenti, J. (2007). Full frontal feminism. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.
12Wang, A. (2016, October 8). This is rape culture: after Trump video, thousands of women share sexual assault stores. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/08/this-is-rape-culture-after-trump-video-thousands-of-women-share-sexual-assault-stories/
13Weiss, S. (2016, February 23). 6 harmful effects of toxic masculinity. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/143644-6-harmful-effects-of-toxic-masculinity
14Women against violence against women (WAVAW) rape crisis centre. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/