I hadn’t planned to post another Feminist Friday blog this soon, but so many recent articles focusing on college campus rape seemed to necessitate some form of comment.
Sexual assault is often used interchangeably with the term rape, although rape is specific to any form of penetration to any orifice of the body by any object. Semantics aside, statistics show that one out of four females will be the victim of rape. Many more are the victims of the more broadly defined act of sexual assault. Sexual assault and rape continue to be societal issues simply because the concept of an American rape culture, first detailed by Susan Brownmiller in Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, is still a very real thing. A rape culture condones assumptions about women and sexuality. A rape culture promotes oppressive, and often misogynistic attitudes toward females. A rape culture allows for justifiable, horrific physical and sexual acts by males toward females in our society. America’s rape culture is also often associated with the same acts perpetrated toward gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.
Women’s organizations and feminist groups actively continue to educate and advocate for change. They continue to work with college campus organizations to provide organized programs, typically designed for incoming freshman in the first week on campus which are often led by student peer facilitators. These programs often have mixed success, and male participants interviewed after the completion of the program do not always show defined growth or change in their attitudes regarding the concepts of sexual assault and rape.
Why is it that our student populations just don’t seem to be getting that females in our society have an absolute right to determine what takes place in, on, and around their bodies? Do we place responsibility on the students who may, or may not, attend college programs, many of which are deemed to be mandatory? Do we place responsibility on college administration, advisors, and security? Does some sort of fault lie within the programs themselves? I asked these questions during my senior capstone research just prior to completion of my Sociology degree. Research involving rape culture attitudes, educational intervention and prevention programs, and even the place of feminism as influential to rape in our society returned mixed points of view and often inconclusive results.
On any given day newspapers in cities around the country run stories of sexual assaults, of rapes occurring both on and off campuses, of violence toward women perpetrated by men. Those stories run alongside the neighboring articles focused on sexual violence and rape toward women within the military. Caroline Chen, writing for Bloomberg News, currently reports that 19% of American women are raped (News Tribune, 2014). Those are reported rapes. The reality that I encountered during my research is that the real number of women being raped is nearly double that at 34%.
In my opinion America’s rape culture is linked directly to our patriarchal social system. Patriarchy is defined as the social system whereby a male is the authoritative figure, rather that be within a familial structure, or any of our other common social structures. Feminists have come to associate patriarchy with a social system that places the male in a position of control over women. In this system a female is subordinate, often for no other reason than the fact that she was born a female. Gender constructs of masculinity and femininity reinforce patriarchal control and further remove female agency and autonomy.
The concept that a woman living in our society is less, is somehow undefined as a person unless spoken of in terms of her male counterpart, is succinctly noted by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex as the labeling of women merely in terms of The Other.
Until the time that women are seen as fully standing alongside men in our society rather than behind or below them, until the time that women are fully defined in their own right as humans rather than possessions or property, until the systems put in place by patriarchal social processes are altered, females will continue to be assaulted and raped. The numbers of rapes may fluctuate, the places that rape occurs may wax and wane, education and prevention programs may even reach and influence some members of society and facilitate a modicum of change.
Ultimately however, rape will remain a tool of power and domination and control with women as the majority victim and men believing that they somehow have a right to rape.
*This essay was inspired by an article carried in my local newspaper (The News Tribune) on Monday September 8, 2014. The article, written by Juliet Linderman for the Associated Press can be accessed here.
Information not directly cited below is my own, compiled during research for my Sociology Capstone February-May 2014.
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women, and rape. Fawcett.
Chen, C. (2014). The News Tribune. CDC Study. Retrieved September 8, 2014.
De Beauvoir, S. (1989). The second sex. Vintage.