Patriarchal Social Systems and Their Impact on Rape Culture
This paper examines how patriarchal social systems impact rape and rape culture from a feminist perspective. It explores how the Feminist Movement has combated patriarchal sexual violence-perpetuating ideals in its fight against: gender socialization, rape culture, victim-blaming, rape laws, and awareness. Feminist author Amy Silvestro reports in her essay “Rape Law Reform” (2012) that: “Feminists have struggled to align rape law with the twenty-first century. However, the penal system continues to be confounded by the almost religious adherence to the belief that a woman’s word is inherently unreliable.” (p.520) This paper looks into the role of power in the rape culture epidemic.
Patriarchal Social Systems and Their Impact on Rape Culture
According to “Violence Against Women” (2012), the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that eighty-four percent of rapes go unreported; additionally, the sixteen percent of reported rapes account for a staggering 876,064 cases against women annually in the United States alone (p.494). The Feminist Movement brings rape and sexual violence into the limelight through its exposure of western culture’s sexual violence-perpetuating ideals. Feminists fight to gain sexual liberation and their safety from men against the threat of sexual violence. This fight stresses cultural snafus in regards to rape such as gender socialization, prevalence of rape culture, victim blaming, and unjust laws. Rape does not discriminate—its victims span across every age, race, class, and creed. Vastly more men commit rape than women due to misogyny’s power being one of the crime’s most commanding driving forces. Patriarchal social systems perpetuate rape by promoting male dominance and the submission of women, giving power to men in virtually every facet of society; therefore, rape will continue until women are valued and equality neutralizes power between the sexes.
Differences within gender socialization in patriarchal societies between girls and boys reinforce rape. Girls are taught to fear the threat of rape from a young age; they’re taught to stay off the city streets and out of alleyways at night, to carry pepper spray, to dress conservatively, and to stay with friends when traveling and going out. Susan Griffin, author of “Rape: The All-American Crime,” states one general misconception is that “rape is a natural behavior, and that not to rape must be learned,” revealing how deeply rooted rape culture is in American societies (p.513). Americans teach their girls the fundamentals of how to not get raped instead of teaching their boys not to commit rape in large part due to society’s patriarchal standards, which hold women in a subordinate position.
For most of us, rape culture is simply another part of our daily lives transcending through the lyrics of a new pop song, cat callers hollering at a female passerby, and casual rape jokes being told at a frat party. Rape culture is also allusive, appearing in places we hold in high regards. Authors Ellen Bravo and Linda Meric describe rape culture in the military in their essay “Sexual Harassment.” The essay reports that three out of four female American soldiers never reported their attempted or completed military rapes because “it was ‘to be expected’ in the military” (p.202). The idea that rape is to be expected stresses the marginalization of sexual violence within American culture. Women are taught submissiveness and passivity throughout their formative years, subsequently teaching women to be polite even during sexual harassment or violence.
Women often remain silent because of their justifiable notion that reporting an incident of sexual assault could potentially lead to general dismissal, humiliation, or victim blaming. Women are told they are supposed to remain pure by holding on to their virginity until marriage; if this isn’t the case, women are often referred to by derogatory names like ‘slut’ and ‘whore,’ even in cases of forced sexual contact. When a sex crime is committed, it immediately turns into the blame-game: “What were you wearing?” “How much did you have to drink?” “Were you or have you flirted with them before?” The blame-game eve continues through courtroom proceedings. Bringing up a woman’s sexual history prior to the rape, during the trial, has been common practice until recent years. “Violence Against Women” (2012) notes, “Feminist activism has resulted in the enactment of ‘rape shield laws,’ state statute that prohibits defense attorneys from bringing the victim’s sexual history into court proceedings, but many state laws include exceptions that allow evidence of sexual relations between the victim and the accused to be presented in court” (p.495). This is merely one example of how the law exemplifies the sexual objectification of women in the patriarchal system that structures American culture.
Throughout history women have long been seen as sexual objects belonging to men to do with what they please; moreover, this train of thought led to the creation of rape exemption laws. Men were legally able to rape their wives as recently as the 1980’s in the United States (O’Keefe & Snykus, p. 216). Although the legality of marital rape has shifted thanks to the feminist movement, states are still able to write individual stipulations. Amy Silvestro reports in her essay “Rape Law Reform” (2012) that:
Feminists have struggled to align rape law with the twenty-first century. However, the penal system continues to be confounded by the almost religious adherence to the belief that a woman’s word is inherently unreliable. Such prejudice is manifested in the chameleon-like definition of consent in rape law. As a result, 30 years of rape law reform have not deterred the commission of rape nor increased its prosecution or conviction rates (p.520).
Discriminatory misogynistic laws are not an issue solely in the United States. For example, in these four countries, “Ethiopia, Lebanon, Guatemala, and Uruguay men are exempt from penalty for rape—if they subsequently marry their victims” (Neuwirth, p. 221). Patriarchal system mentality creates such laws from the mentality that if you break it, you buy it. In these countries, raped women are traditionally viewed as tarnished and dirty, making them damaged goods to another man.
Rape culture stems from deeply rooted patriarchal power and is therefore non-exclusive. Rape crimes spans ages, races, creeds, countries, and environmental contexts from the earliest documented points in history. Throughout the 1700’s during legal slavery, white men regularly raped female slaves, evoking their patriarchal power over them and treating them as sexual property. In Latin culture, males are praised for machoism and masculinity. Women are taught their virginity equates to morality, and exploring their sexuality means being labeled puta, a derogatory term paralleling the English word ‘slut.’ Among college campuses around the United States, men are regularly encouraged and praised by peers to engage in sexual activity with various partners. Author Peggy Sanday reports psychologist Mary Koss’s findings: “When asked whether they [men] would force a female to do something sexual she really did not want to do, 60 percent of males indicated in a third college study that they might, ‘given the right circumstances.’” (p.533) These findings further support rape culture’s prioritization of men’s sexual appetite over that of a woman’s overall safety and well-being, no matter the circumstances.
Many people are aware that rape occurs across races, nations, religions, on college campuses, and even in the military; however, the general population is blissfully unaware of sexual violence’s pervasiveness. Rape and sexual violence is an epidemic and has seen little combative reform, progress, or change over the last three decades. This is part of the problem: the blissfully unaware. In her poem “With No Immediate Cause,” Ntozake Shange speaks to the harsh reality of violence against women:
Every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
Every five minutes a
Woman is raped/every ten minutes
A lil girl is molested (p.512)
These crimes typically happen behind closed doors—unseen and unheard—creating victims that are out of sight and out of mind. Acts of rape and sexual violence characteristically have no witnesses, only fueling the ‘he-said, she-said’ victim blame game. Rape crimes’ grossly underreported numbers hides the true size of the rape epidemic; according to the National Woman’s Study (1998), “nearly 70 percent of rape victims say they’re afraid to discuss the crime for fear they will be blamed.” (p.532) The police force is predominantly male, making it common place for victims to be asked degrading questions surrounding her actions surrounding the event, which shifts the blame from the criminal to the victim. The Feminist Movement is working towards gaining equality in male dominated career fields, which will subsequently help to offer rape victims mutuality and support.
Change Forced by the Feminist Movement
In the 21st century women all over the world continue the fight for power, equality, and the right to have the control of their body; however, men remain in control of politics and law enforcement because they still hold the bulk of the power within a patriarchal based system, hindering the fight against sexual violence and rape. Until rape laws catch up to the times, little can change. A majority of rapes will continue to go unreported due to a lack of conviction rates and victim shaming. Until we teach boys not to rape versus teaching our girls not to get raped, boys will grow up into men who believe they are entitled to a woman’s body—especially if they know they won’t get caught. Until women gain equal power and men join the 21st century Feminist Movement, rape will continue.
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Neuwirth, J. (2012). Unequal: A Global Perspective on Women Under The Law. In K. Suzanna, G. Parameswaran, & N. Schniedewind, Women: Images and Realites, a Multicultural Anthology (5th ed., p. 221). New York. Retrieved Janurary 2018
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Violene Against Women. (2012). In S. Kelly, G. Parameswaran, & N. Schniedewind, Women: Images and Realities, a Multicultral Anthology (5th ed., p. 494). New York. Retrieved Janurary 2018
*Photo credit to: http://affinitymagazine.us/2017/12/09/satire-a-modest-proposal-about-rape-culture/