I would like to remove the concept of rape culture from the realm of the abstract, because it is inseparable from the things we do every day, and if we understand that, we may better combat misogyny and prevent rape. The culture of rape and the degradation of women are perpetuated in everyday moments that do not seem particularly harmful. For example, let’s say you are with your friend or friends and someone says something or makes a joke that hinges on the word rape or slang that degrades women Some people might laugh, and that laughter is reinforcement, approval of the word and all it signifies, which is misogyny (among other things). Almost all of us have been in that situation, but I for one have been unsure what to say in response. I wanted to speak up and I didn’t know how.
It’s difficult and intimidating to do so, to stand apart from—really, against—your friends, especially if you are in a big group. I think these things might come easier if it is just you and one other friend, because there won’t be that social pressure to conform coming from other men there. If it’s a joke and people are laughing, I know I don’t want to be a buzz-kill. And I hate self-righteousness, and I don’t think anyone wants to appear like they think they are morally superior to their friends. Viewed next to the problem of rape culture, to which words like rape and slut contribute, the concern of thwarting someone’s joke seems minor. Still, these concerns prevent people, and I mean me but I don’t think I’m alone, from speaking up in the moment.
But those concerns—whatever makes you silence yourself or hesitate until the moment is lost—those concerns constrain you and must be overcome for anything to change. Because make no mistake, rape culture constrains men as it does women. That social pressure to conform, to laugh along, is rape culture constraining our behavior. I will try to show as best I can how that social pressure marginalizes all versions of masculinity except one, so that ultimately, men are conditioned to disrespect women.
Men construct masculinity in groups, for each other, as a sort of performance (the same is true for femininity). Everything we do is part of this performance, from the clothes we pick, to what machines we use if and when we go to the gym, to how much meat we eat, to the things we talk about with our friends. So when someone says, “I raped Tim in FIFA,” or whatever, and no one challenges that statement, the masculinity that’s being performed and constructed is one that shrugs off misogynist statements—and if it shrugs off statements, that makes it easier to shrug off more serious offenses. And because these statements are made every day, by, at the very least, hundreds of people at Villanova, and these statements are so rarely challenged, that shrugging masculinity becomes the normal version of masculinity, the default, and all other varieties—like one willing to speak out against misogyny—are marginalized and devalued.
So let’s say you’re convinced and don’t want to be constrained to this default masculinity anymore. This brings me back to my original question: how do you combat it in these common, everyday moments? I have a few ways, and I encourage you all to think of more on your own, because there is a good chance your ways will be better, or they just might suit you better.
If it’s just you and a friend, you could always respond with silence. For a while that was my preferred method. Silence might be misinterpreted as tacit approval, though, so it’d be better to say something. Whatever you say, I don’t think it should be combative or judgmental, because that’s likely to antagonize your friend, and he will get defensive. Something simple like, “That word makes me uncomfortable,” could work. If that turns into a conversation about why it makes you uncomfortable, be honest. For me, that reason would be: these words contribute in very small ways to a culture that permits the objectification and assault of half of its members, just as individual snowflakes contribute to a blizzard, and I don’t want to remain complicit in that process.
In larger groups we will likely face more opposition or scorn. The strategy doesn’t change much; it just takes more fortitude to carry it out. If you need reassurance in moments of doubt, just remember how many have used their strength to harm their fellow human beings, and remember that your strength can help to stop it.
By Marciano Lopez ’13