Rape culture does exist

By Bailey Bryant

Rape culture: We often hear the phrase, but how many of us know what it means? 

I know David Hookstead, a junior political science major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, doesn’t. 

On Monday, UW Madison’s student newspaper, The Badger Herald, published Hookstead’s letter to the editor, which contained his opinion about rape culture: that it doesn’t exist. 

In his letter, appropriately titled “‘Rape culture’ does not exist,” Hookstead attempts to support his argument with examples that discredit the existence of a rape culture. But in reality, all the examples he cites confirm his misunderstanding of the phrase. 

Many of them don’t even touch on rape culture. 

Hookstead’s letter goes something like this: Rape culture doesn’t exist because the world is full of people committing all sorts of crimes — not just sexual assault. Rape culture doesn’t exist because music promotes all types of illegal activity. It doesn’t exist because often times, people have gendered stereotypes about sexual assault. And it doesn’t exist because he says that women sometimes lie about being sexually assaulted. 

While many have taken offense to Hookstead’s words, I’ve taken pity on them. If I was the one who had published a letter containing an unsound argument against something I seemingly know little about, I’d be pretty embarrassed. 

So instead of attacking Hookstead, I want to educate him. 

And with the help of Molly McLay, assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center and a social worker who has been working with survivors of sexual assault for more than three years, I think I can. 

As McLay explained, rape culture is hard to define. She described it broadly as a culture where strict gender norms combine with myths, resulting in widely held false attitudes and ideas about sexual assault. 

In this culture, sexual assault is normalized and prevalent. It is perpetuated by rape jokes, seemingly glamorous sexual violence and the objectification of women’s bodies.  

McLay said that, in a rape culture, it’s common to blame victims of sexual assault for their fate because of the way they dress or act. Rape jokes are customary, and sexual assault in media is frequent. 

Additionally, it’s assumed that men aren’t sexually assaulted, and if they are, they’re weak or strange; those in the culture assume men are always willing sexual participants. 

Dissecting the term even further, according to Merriam-Webster the word culture means “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.” This implies that not everyone is engaged in rape culture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a rape culture doesn’t exist. 

By this definition, to say rape culture does not exist is to say that no group blames sexual assault victims for their fate. But we know that’s untrue. 

Look at the Steubenville, Ohio case, in which two football players sexually assaulted an unconscious 16-year-old girl at a party, later posting photos of the event on social networking sites. Many people “slut shamed” the girl, expressing sentiments that the victim was at fault for the assault because she was under the influence of alcohol. 

One of those people was pro-tennis player Serena Williams, who called her “lucky” and said “she shouldn’t have put herself in that position.”

Furthermore, to say rape culture doesn’t exist is to say that no one makes rape jokes — something, again, that we know is untrue. 

I often hear people say things like, “That test raped me.” Just last year, comedian Daniel Tosh faced criticism after making light of the serious topic at one of his shows. 

In reference to a woman in the audience, Tosh said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now … like right now?”

Finally, to say rape culture doesn’t exist is to say that no one holds the misconception that sexual assault is gender specific. But as Hookstead points out in his letter — which he seems to be very distraught about — many people do, categorizing all men as rapists and all women as victims.   

So if logic serves, by definition, rape culture exists. And because it does, the first step in eliminating this culture is to educate people about it — especially those who hold similar assumptions as Hookstead.

Bailey is a junior in Media. She can be reached [email protected]