This was perhaps the most challenging of all the articles for me. Not challenging in the same ways that the last article, on ablism and rape was. Not challenging because the material was new territory for me, even as an experienced social justice activist. No, this article, on rape and patriarchy/sexism, was challenging because gender inequality is so deeply and inextricably connected to the preponderance of rape itself and rape culture, and because gender is the one arena of social justice in which I feel that there is constant pressure to ‘include’, read: patronize and centralize, the privileged class (men) in every way. That men are integral to rape culture as primary offenders but also as victims is an important aspect of rape awareness. But too often I find myself scouring blogs and finding the ‘what about the men’ argument dominating all discussions on rape, and maleness digging itself a groove of centrality once again. This is obviously debatable and I am also speaking from my experience of organizing against rape on an extremely conservative college campus, but nonetheless, I still contend that this centralizing of maleness is common in rape discussions across the board, from blogs to news articles to organizing caucuses. Even when writing this article, I had to fight the urge to include disclaimers and stats on men, when for every other article, I had no qualms about focusing exclusively on the oppressed group in question, and didn’t even conceive of focusing the discussion on the privileged group.
What is most difficult for me is the simultaneous recognition of rape as both a violent enforcement of compulsory heterosexuality and absolute proof of rape culture. These are discussed briefly below in the article, but I feel the need to explain a little more here. What is challenging is the recognition that rape overall is an intensely and incontrovertibly gendered issue, that it reflects patriarchy in so many ways, that the reality is that most rapists are men and most rape victims are women. This fact elicits anger from me. For women, and against men. As a social justice activist I know and understand that such anger is natural, and necessary. Yet, as leader and organizer I know that it is necessary not to alienate men, that anger alienates, and that I must keep this anger at gender injustice to myself. The problem as I see it is a balance between the gendered reality of rape and the necessity of organizing men against rape as much as we are trying to organize women against it. Both classes are necessary towards any lasting change. However, there is that small part of me that still remains indignant that we are not waging a full scale war and revolution over the rape and molestation of our sisters, daughters, mothers, cousins, friends, when this occurs daily and slides under the radar as acceptable and normal. What pains me is that a legion of women have not begun to shout and scream and chain ourselves to fences and schoolyards and military barracks and hospitals and parking lots and our homes—all sites of rape and molestation—demanding an end to our unnecessary and daily torture. So. I do not have a solution, and indeed the struggle to incorporate men into anti-rape work without perpetuating patriarchy via sexist and male-centered organizing is a complex and ongoing one. But for now, education serves as the necessary starting point. Below is an excerpt of this week’s article, on rape and patriarchy, the last of the articles for our intersectionality section.
First, what is patriarchy?
Patriarchy is institutionalized discrimination on the basis of sex. It is the systematic legal, social, and economic hierarchy in which women and femininity (characteristics associated with femaleness) are at the bottom and men and masculinity are central and privileged. Most, if not all modern societies operate as patriarchies, in which women are routinely discriminated against on the basis of their sex.
What is sexism?
Sexism is primarily used in reference to anti-female discrimination because of the preponderance of patriarchy (as opposed to matriarchy). It is the belief that women (and femininity) are inferior to men on many levels, including but not limited to: physical ability, intellect, spiritual capacity, economic productivity.
Ways in which sexism can deter women members from your group:
Domination of group leadership, discussions, and decisions by male members
Insinuation that female group members are overly emotional about rape issues when they express anger or other strong emotions in response to incidents of rape
Stereotypes of outspoken, articulate, or passionate women as ‘bossy,’ ‘bitchy’, ‘uppity’, or ‘controlling’
Patriarchy and Rape: the Facts
Rape and sexism are more overtly and intimately connected than rape is to any other form of oppression. While the causes of such connect are debatable, keep in mind that rape is about power, and in patriarchy, women are viewed as and rendered powerless. Additionally, compulsory heterosexuality (see Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence, by Adrienne Rich) is enforced through a number of mechanisms, ranging from the glorification of heterosexual romance to violently enforced heterosexuality in the form of rape. That rape is such a common reality for women and yet so calmly accepted by our society is evidence of the primacy of compulsory heterosexuality as well as ‘rape culture,’ the term used to describe a patriarchal culture in which sex is equated with violence (against women) and power, and (heterosexual) rape is considered a normal and acceptable phenomenon.
Statistics (compiled from multiple sources listed below):
90% of rape victims are female, and over 98% of rapists are male.
17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 21.6% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4% were between the ages of 12 and 17.
64% of women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked since age 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date.
The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.
The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years
Factoring in unreported rapes, about 5% – one out of twenty – of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. 19 out of 20 will walk free.
Further, sexism and patriarchy affect rape in a number of distinct ways:
Responsibility: Though over 98—99% of rapists are men and over 90% of rape victims are women, women are still expected to take responsibility for preventing rape. This takes many forms, but some examples are: women having to exercise caution when deciding what to wear for fear that they might ‘elicit’ a rape by virtue of their clothing; women taking self-defense classes or wearing whistles so they can resist their attackers; women being unable to walk alone at night for fear of being raped; women having to guard their drinks at parties or not drink in order to maintain their sexual autonomy and safety.
Blame: female victims are blamed for their rapes by society. They are humiliated, stigmatized, often characterized as ‘loose’ or ‘asking for it’. In a college setting in particular, female victims who speak out and seek justice after being raped are ostracized by their peers and have even reported this shame and hostility as being more stressful than the rape itself. Additionally, with increased awareness of rape there has also been a strong backlash: the media covers many stories on ‘false accusations,’ which in reality account for less than 2% of rape accusations.
Some facts to reiterate and keep in mind with regard to sexism, rape and university settings:
Age 12-24 is the highest risk age for female victims and as the above statistics show, during only four years, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 female students are victims of either completed or attempted rape.
Of surveyed college women, about 90% of rape and sexual assault victims knew their attack prior to the assault.
The close linkage between alcohol and drug consumption and rape, particularly for college students:
About 75% of the men and at least 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes had been drinking or taking drugs just before the attack
3% of college men report surviving rape or attempted rape as a child or adult
The following are some useful links on rape and sexism:
an incredible blog post on rape culture: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html