Challenging rape culture

In my Gender Studies class this week, we’ve been talking about “rape culture.”  It’s a term that’s bandied about somewhat cavalierly on college campuses, and is probably much less familiar out in the ordinary workaday world.

Well, wake up world.  Rape culture is here.  And it doesn’t need the ironic scare quotes.  It’s real, and it’s not funny at all.

You know you’re living in a rape culture when women’s bodies are suggestively displayed, commodified, in sexually enticing poses obviously intended for the male gaze.

In the culture of rape, “no” means “try harder” and it’s always the woman’s fault if she doesn’t like what’s going on.  Stupid bitch, if she didn’t want it, she shouldn’t have worn those heels/had that drink/come to the party.

Rape culture sanctions violence when necessary to overcome resistance.  She was asking for it, anyway.

Rape culture oppresses dissenting men, too.  Men who fail to conform to the code of dominant masculinity are “faggots,” and being called out as anything akin to feminine–pussy, for example–is the worst insult you can throw at a guy.

Lately I’ve been realizing that rape culture extends a lot further than women’s bodies.  It’s also responsible for the prevailing attitudes towards our environment–our Mother Earth.

Not for nothing are both Mother Earth and Mother Nature gendered female.

Some patriarchal cultures manage to respect Mother Nature while still maintaining a stranglehold on her female children.  For instance, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I’m re-reading now for another class, the all-powerful Oracle of the Hills, a goddess, is interpreted by a priestess whose pronouncements no men dare question.  This doesn’t stop the protagonist, Okonkwo, from beating up his wives on a regular basis.

In Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures, the patriarchy dispenses with goddesses.  Or at least, goddesses of the truly powerful, fearsome kind.

In Euramerican cultures, we have sex goddesses, who exist to pleasure their men.  Islamic cultures shroud their women in veils, but towards the same end: women exist to please their men.

The explosive growth of the international pornography industry, in which it is still rare for women’s pleasure to be of any interest at all, bears testimony to the extent to which rape culture rules.

In 2006, the pornography industry had larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined–and it’s only grown in the past five years.

Porn is a vast unregulated jungle.  It’s not all bad.  But some of it is really terrible.  Some of it is sexualized violence–rape–thinly veiled as entertainment.

Yes, the girls get paid.  But many studies have shown that female porn stars often come from sexually abusive childhoods, or are teen runaways, or are lured into the trade through drug addiction and prostitution.

In Euramerican porn, women exist to give men pleasure.  Doesn’t matter if they get fucked over in the process.  Doesn’t matter if all that’s left in the end is a hollow shell.  There’s always another slut waiting in line.

Yeah.  It hurts me to talk like this, but I want to convey the mind-set of this industry.

And then I want you to think about how this mind-set translates to the Euramerican assault on the environment, our Mother Earth.

Or the sub-prime loan scandal (it’s Occupy Foreclosures Day, after all).  Fuck’em over, make a profit and move on.  All that matters is the bottom line, baby.

Sometimes it seems as though the more powerful actual women become in real life–ie, successful at playing the formerly all-male games of education and career–the more frantically obsessive men’s consumption of pornography becomes.  The power they miss in real life, they can find acted out for them in porn fantasies.

But the environment is another story.  Mother Earth is not going to play men’s games–that is, she doesn’t care to beat them at their own game.  When she starts to resist, the game will be over.

In porn, women go along with the game for a variety of reasons.  Generally speaking, women do it to survive.

Likewise, women collude with the patriarchy in the rape of the Earth because it’s just easier to go along than to resist.  And the lifestyle has been pretty comfortable over the last 50 years, hasn’t it.

I would like to see a frank discussion of the connections between rape culture as played out in porn and rape culture as played out between humans and the environment.

We need to acknowledge that there is a serious problem in both the private and the public realms (along these lines, we are just beginning to see confessions of “sex addiction” hit the media.  How about “fossil fuel addiction”?).

The problem is a symptom of much deeper ills in human social relations, which transgress the usual boundaries of race, class, gender & nation.

Why are porn and energy extraction biggest, the fastest growing industries in the world?

What does it mean to live in a rape culture?  Who benefits, and who loses?

Most importantly, how can a rape culture be transformed?  And what is our alternative vision?

My vision is this:

The one-sided model of domination and extraction (“getting some”) needs to shift to a dialogic model of sustainable mutual pleasure.

Human beings should serve in a steward relation to our Mother Earth, tending and enriching her in exchange for the nourishment and pleasure she can afford us.

Likewise, sex should not be about domination and debasement, but about mutual pleasure and uplift.

In these transition times, such a transformative shift should be possible, if each of us begins with our own selves, our own backyards, and lets the ripples of range move outward.

Let it be so.

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Jennifer,

    As I mentioned before, we are striving (imperfectly) for the in-our-backyard option for transitioning our family to reduced energy consumption, as well as raising gender-politically aware teen daughters.

    Right now I am just so disheartened that our neighbours have chosen to plaster a huge sticker across the windscreen of their oversized car – bedecked with spotlights and roo-bar for shooting/hunting expeditions and driven stupidly fast along our little service road. The sticker reads NATURE RAPING 4X4!

    I could cry for the feeling of helplessness; what hope for the world my/all girls are growing up in? These neigbours are cognitvely bereft and angry. They’re really scarey. They hate “greenies” like us.

    So I was really gratified to read this post. When the scared people who want to shoot the climate-change/peak oil/feminist messengers are right on your doorstep, writing like yours is heartening.


    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  December 9, 2011

      Hang in there Angie! Maybe you should get your own dueling bumper sticker!
      On the other hand, these people sound really scary…maybe venting on line is the best approach–

  2. Sam

     /  December 9, 2011

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  3. Tom Major

     /  December 13, 2011

    Rape Is Definitely Bad!

    We live in a corporate world where sex sells! That is why the scantily clad women and buck naked women in pornos are accessible to every home in America through the corporate internet! Moms and dads must love and teach their children well and keep them away from the filth. It’s either that or move to a non-corporate country, because the corporate rule here isn’t going anywhere anytime in the near or distant future!


  4. Varlam S.

     /  December 14, 2011

    The following has no basis in reality, you cannot substantiate it:
    “Sometimes it seems as though the more powerful actual women become in real life–ie, successful at playing the formerly all-male games of education and career–the more frantically obsessive men’s consumption of pornography becomes.”

    What’s more, as women become more powerful one can readily point to more examples of women who are abusive, shamelessly hubristic criminals, etc.
    Martha Coakley in 2001 successfully lobbied Acting Gov. Jane Swift to deny clemency to Gerald Amirault. Mr. Amirault was convicted of crimes which in fact never occurred (‘recovered memory therapy’ testimony of obscene child abuse at the day care center run by his family). Mr. Amirault had been imprisoned and RAPED by other inmates some 30 times when Coakley decided he should do another 3 years purely as part of her ill-conceived political calculations. Prior to Coakley’s involvement in the case, clemency for Amirault had been recommended unanimously by the Massachusetts Parole Board, and his co-accused mother and sister had already been released from custody. Today Coakley is still MA Attny. Gen.

    Let’s not forget that the person who perpetrated the fraud that is ‘recovered memory therapy’ was a woman, Mrs. Cornelia Wilbur.

    Meg Whitman’s campaign for CA governor tanked in part over allegations – which HP paid $200,000 to settle and silence – that she assaulted a subordinate. Do you think Whitman is not a corporatist sociopath?

    Sarah Palin is, by all accounts coming out of AK, one of the most venal, petty and vindictive persons around. That’s why she used her political office to get her sister’s ex-husband fired from his job as a state trooper. Now the ex might not be fit for law enforcement, but if that’s the case he should be fired for cause and not b/c Sarah wants revenge over her relative’s messy divorce.

    Condi Rice didn’t have any misgivings about ‘extraordinary rendition’ of prisoners to be tortured in Yemeni jail cells or waterboarded at Gitmo. (Any decent individual would have resigned from the administration.)

    Hillary Clinton scolds the entire world over violence perpetrated on peaceful protests while the tear gas used for it is made in the USA, and while local police in the states brutalize people on a routine basis, protest or no protest. (USC 1983 suit? Good luck with that, qualified immunity is a heck of a thing.) Hypocrisy knows no gender.

    Spend a little time with the Google Search and you’ll find morally bankrupt administrators at universities across the nation – many of whom happen to be women – and they are no different from their male colleagues.

    Women are not any better or worse than men, women have simply been denied the opportunity to wield power. When they do, it is every bit as ugly as when the men do it.

  5. Please check

    Trafficking is paid rape!


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