Posts by other blog members including ihavemythings and aliasmitch (as well as campus headlines about the harassment of Alpha Phi sorority members) have inspired me to write a little about sexual violence, and more specifically rape culture at JMU. Rape culture is a term used in women’s studies and by feminists to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women is prevalent and attitudes/media/social institutions/norms both normalize and excuse sexual violence. Examples of this range from excusing rape because a woman has “placed herself in a dangerous situation” such as a party or walking alone at night to the sexualization of violence through pornography/video games/movies/etc. by intertwining and pairing violence with sexual imagery.
Women’s studies has contributed a number of insights to the study of sexual violence in our culture, so I’d like to give you a small introductory info session on sexual violence.
Lesson One of our introductory course: sexual violence exists on a spectrum, though the actions on this spectrum vary in degree they are still forms of sexual violence. Sexual violence ranges from street harassment or unwanted attention in public places and intensifies to rape/sexual violence.
Lesson Two: sexual violence is about power and access. I mean to say a few things in this statement. Firstly, sexual violence is a signifier that a class of people (men) feel entitled to access and control women’s bodies through wanted/unwanted sexual attention (this can also be extended more largely to include controlling women’s reproductive freedom). Secondly, in doing so they reinforce their dominance and are able to police women’s behavior. (Policing women’s behavior can be exemplified by justifications of rape because a woman chooses to dress a certain way, be in public at a certain time of day, etc.)
Lesson Three: sexual violence is overwhelmingly a violation perpetrated by somebody a woman knows. Yes, that was important enough to have it’s own lesson bullet, because it dismisses the notion that rapes are committed by deranged men in allies against loose women in skirts that stayed out past their bedtime.
Lesson Four: sexual violence is tied to larger social trends and institutions and should not be understood as a collection of independent actions. Sexual violence is the intersection of many social problems discussed in women’s studies and by feminists. These include sexualized violence, power, controlling women’s reproductive lives, controlling women’s actions, etc.
If we are to eliminate sexual violence we must address the complexity of its origin. This is not a one-dimensional problem and will not have a one-dimensional solution. The first steps of awareness have been taken, but I advocate for a deeper level of understanding and action. We need to address the fundamental inequalities that foster a rape culture on campus and at large.
Leave comments on how you think we can take preventing rape to the next level. I personally think that as feminists the best way to do this is to continue correcting an unjust system.
Until next time,