(This is part 2 of a series on Rape Culture, read Part 1, which gives an introduction to the topic, here.)
Warning: This post examines some of the complexities regarding how society uses sexual violence and lack of education to keep people from recognizing or fulfilling their true potential. If you’re easily upset by these kinds of conversations, read at your own discretion.
Rape: The use of physical force, coercive language, and/or drugs to gain power over another’s body, and using it in a sexual way regardless of what they have to say on the matter. Classified by the U.N. as Sexual Terrorism
Rape Culture: A societal mindset that refuses to give children and adults proper sexual education, and makes excuses for those who choose to violate another person, often blaming it on the one who was attacked and/or violated.
Purity: To abstain from partaking in things which could make the body unclean, such as certain drugs or foods. May refer to sexual purity, which is often interpreted to mean avoiding sex outside of a heterosexual marriage.
Purity Culture: Purity culture kicked off in response to two events in the mid-20th century: the sexual revolution that characterized much of “second-wave” feminism, and the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade. The return to conservatism in the 1980s saw the beginnings of a resurgence of interest in “womanly purity” and “biblical” gender roles. May be seen as identical to Rape Culture, though it does have its own norms.
Those are four definitions of interconnected ideas and ideologies that together create systemic erasure of our rights to our bodies, our voices, and our identities. When someone violates us and we are denied our right to justice, we are told we don’t matter. When we speak up and say we don’t want to wait for marriage, we’re called loose and immoral. And when we are seen as male, we’re told we can’t be violated, unless it was by another male-identified person.
My own voice was silenced by these practices. What I felt and what I needed to say were denied as either impossible or something I was mistaken about.
If you’ve been reading my blog then you know growing up I was assigned male by my doctors and parents. Any behaviors, ideas, or desires that didn’t fit their limited mold were denied me. And because of this upbringing, I was never told about what it means to say no to someone during or before a sexual encounter. The extent of my education in this matter was to be given a book when I was thirteen (I don’t even remember the title.) I never had conversations with my parents, and I never understood consent, either for myself or potential partners. Additionally, I was left with the impression that male- identified people couldn’t be raped or violated.
Now, I’m sure if I had asked my parents about this, I would have been given some answer. But you see, Purity culture doesn’t encourage these conversations, in fact it does the opposite. The books I read(such as I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Purity: The New Moral Revolution) went as far to say that the only thinking one ever needed to be doing about sex was after one was married. Masturbation was a sin, as was denying your “opposite sex” partner sex when they needed it.
The two books mentioned above include stories intended to shame one into feeling the necessity to be “pure” for Christ. I Kissed Dating Goodbye presents the story of a young man who grew up sexually promiscuous but felt “something was missing” in his life. Eventually he spoke to one of his pastors and he was told that there was no room in his heart for Jesus, because he had filled it with lust for the women and girls he had been with. The author claims that as part of his awakening he received a vision from GOD. In this vision said author enters a room stacked from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with filing cabinets. In these cabinets were sheets of paper with the names of all the women he had lusted after, and all the lives that had been ruined because of that one time he thought about what sex with his friend would be like… He sees that his name is signed to all of the pieces of paper, and he feel enormous guilt(which he probably should as he was/is participating in Rape Culture.) Then Jesus enters the vision, and blood flowing from his hands, writes his name over the author’s and wallah, the reader is supposed to feel intense guilt that Jesus would take ownership for their really bad awful not-married sex.
These are some of the ways PC feeds into RC. The lack of conversation and education create a social dynamic where people literally don’t know they can say no or what it means to pressure a person into saying yes. Beyond that I can say that lack of healthy accurate sex education basically assures people won’t know that forcing sex on someone is wrong. Because while they may know rape is wrong, they won’t know what constitutes rape.
I hesitate to blame these problems on the influence of one group over others, and in the end it is really an ideology. Religious fundamentalism plays a huuuuge part in creating PC and RC, but to say it is the sole fault of one movement is to simplify the matter.
The truth is that even liberals have contributed to the creation of these disgusting realities with well-intentioned but harmful language that, due to a lack of intersectionality based thinking, creates layers of feminist thought that exclude certain people and experiences from being considered in important discussions. I’ve recently been given concrete examples of this thanks to the behavior of some in my peer group.
I am a Transgender woman and I feel my experiences and voices are devalued, all of them, when people refuse to acknowledge that their words can hurt.
When my gender identity is denied, it is violence and it feeds into the cultural myth that I am unworthy of your respect. And if I am unworthy of your respect then the only thing I become good for is to be used in power games involving sex. When I am unworthy, the only thing I am good for is being raped.
When people refuse to use inclusive language such as “folks”, “people”, “all”, etc… when referring to mixed-gender groups of people instead of “guys”, I find my identity erased, subsumed into the cultural assumption that only the Men are worthy.
When marginalized voices speak, listen.
When someone says “Hey this language choice makes me fell excluded”, listen.
When someone says they were raped, assaulted, and/or coerced, listen.
These are the cries of the oppressed asking for your consideration, for your understanding. Liberals who refuse to listen these voices , for whatever reason, are part of the problem. It is the de-legitimization of these voices that gives legitimacy to the voices of the oppressor. Refusal to listen or understand is discursive violence. It may not be intentional, but it hurts us. When you refuse to listen to what we have to say about our oppression, it hurts you. When you refuse to alter language to be inclusive, you are perpetuating the marginalization of those who have not been included. And when our voices are not listened to it means they don’t matter. And that means we don’t matter. So why should anyone care if we are raped?
I Matter. You Matter. We Matter. And Our Voices Matter.