Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Rape Culture

(originally posted 05/08 at wordpress)




by Katie Johncock




“Rape culture” is a scary phrase. At least I think so. The first time I heard it I was taking the basic advocacy training at Portland Women’s Crisis Hotline and I remember thinking: “Whoa, that sounds really intense…does our culture really support rape?” What I found out was that rape culture is so normalized that it’s easy to miss it. What exactly is rape culture?

Indeed, rape culture is very difficult to define in a few phrases. Hollis Rendleman from Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA), a grassroots activism organization in Seattle, wrote this about rape culture:

“We know that rape culture lives within our capitalistic, oppressive society. Each and every oppression plays a role in supporting rape culture through isolating, stereotyping (often sexualized) and being violent towards each oppressed group. We know that all of our institutions play into rape culture: government, educational systems, organized religion, families, media.”


Even though it can be difficult to define, examples of rape culture can be easy to spot when we are engaged. This short clip is from the Challenging Media’s Hijacking Catastrophe movie. It talks about how fear was used to justify preemptive, illegal military force in Iraq. The part that I feel exemplified rape culture most clearly is toward the end of this video. It shows a news clip describing the flood of patents to use the catch phrase “Shock and Awe,” the name of the 2003 operation in Iraq. One patent called for “shock and awe” condoms. I am not sure what is more disturbing to me: The fact that the invasion of Iraq was marketed the same way the super bowl is or that someone in this world thought that associating a contraceptive with the illegal military strike against Baghdad would sell more condoms. Because you know, nothing gets me hotter than greed and senseless military annihilation!

Yet I must go beyond joking about this ridiculous idea for a patent. This video illustrates how institutions in our society perpetuate unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality. This video left me with a lot of questions: Why are we as a society able to make a connection between sex (in terms of contraceptives) and invasion and have an understanding that sometimes these are one and the same? Why is a major media company covering this story about “shock and awe” merchandise with scenes of Baghdad’s destruction in the back ground?

For more information about rape culture visit:

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