I've read a few things the past few days that have made me wonder what, exactly, we're talking about when we talk about "rape culture", and what things fall into that. One of the comments to the Gawker article on the guy who confessed to raping his masseuse was, "this is rape culture." At the time, I rec'ed it, but now I'm wondering, is it? Isn't it just, rape?

The rapist's thought process wasn't "all men do this", or "this is totally normal and standard". It was "this is an obvious violation of norms and boundaries, one that I could go to jail for, and that's what makes it so hot." That seems like the exact opposite of rape culture.

I normally think of rape culture as more about the attitudes and actions of bystanders than rapists, and how they will excuse rape in a variety of ways, promulgate rape myths, and fail to use whatever institutional power they have to punish rapists. Rape culture is the attitudes of those who aren't rapists, who feel some sort of compulsion to tell victims how they could change their behavior to protect themselves, and who portray rapists as just horny men who either couldn't control their lust, or were confused about signals. Rape culture is the idea that women can't be rapists, or that they almost never actually do rape, and when they do, the teenage boy they were preying on loved it. Rape culture is the idea that lesbian communities are utopias, free of sexual violence, despite the evidence suggesting that lesbian communities have similar rates of sexual violence as heterosexuals. Rape culture is the idea that black men are just more prone to being rapists than white men.


Then there's the Time article on Ending Rape Culture Hysteria, which talks about one campus getting in trouble for playing Blurred Lines. What exactly is the argument there? "This song, if interpreted in certain ways, can trigger flashbacks in some rape victims"? "This song will turn non-rapist men into rapists, because they'll get the impression that women just don't send clear signals, and will get turned on and accidentally rape someone"? "This song makes non-rapists think their friend did nothing bad"? I'm fairly confused at this point about how, exactly, Blurred Lines is an example of rape culture; it all seems rather "wharglebargle, this line is rapey!" (Regardless, can we agree that Blurred Lines is not actually the best example of rape culture, but one of the worst, and feminists looking to find something to make an example should find one of the zillions of better examples out there to pick on? Seriously, guys, present the best version of your argument, not the worst. Do not make it any easier for everyone to dismiss you out of hand than it has to be.)


In the Time article, the author makes the point that the idea of "rape culture" says that any man can be a rapist, especially when we talk about "teach our men not to rape". Kitchen's argument's way too "rape culture is over, shut up you hysterical wimminz" for me, but I do think she has a good point here. Rapists aren't raping because no one ever told them that this wasn't an ok way to treat people, but "teach our men not to rape" implies that men are just uneducated and confused, not predatory. In fact, "teach our men not to rape" seems to be totally contrary to the idea that rape is about power and control, not intense lust. When I've heard defenses of the line, it's usually something along the lines of, "well, we mean teach our bystander men to not tolerate their friends raping others" or something similar that seems more about saving feminism from ever having erred than working towards best practices.

As much as I believe rape culture exists, I'm often unsure of if it's really a useful concept for the mainstream movement to be using. It has an excessively nebulous definition that isn't easily intuited, but does lend itself to being understood by those new to the term as meaning something entirely different from what most feminists are saying. We need to either do a better job of having a clear and concise usage of the term, or find different ways to express ourselves.