Rape culture is a phrase that causes defensiveness in many people from across a wide spectrum of society, particularly Western society. No person or group wants to be identified as condoning or endorsing rape. Yet, if a society has a history or habit of
- blaming victims,
- failing to prosecute perpetrators,
- prosecuting sex workers instead of johns,
- sex negativity about assertive behavior in a specific gender or sexual expression,
- commodification of bodies (especially particular kinds of bodies) for the purposes of selling anything and everything,
- trivializing rape, trivializing self-control of one's own body, and/or
- failure to societally reject sexual predators...
the presence of any or all of these indicates rape culture. Whether it is part of a national culture, a school, a social organization, a religious group, a housing situation, or any other social setting, this kind of behavior is unacceptable.
For non-Christians or non-believers, this kind of behavior ought to be understood as a basic failure to create a moral and supportive foundation for a safe and just society. For those who claim to follow Christ or to be People of the Book, this kind of behavior represents a complete rejection of the understanding that God is the creator of all life and thus it is to be respected, valued, and cherished. The bodies that we see in front of us are tangible signs of the kingdom of heaven at hand and we are called to treat them as such- since therein is contained the very presence of Christ.
I have come to realize there is one aspect of rape culture that is not usually discussed.
In the past couple of years, sex-positive teachers, clergy persons, and community workers have been making an effort to communicate the fact that CONSENT is required and on-going consent is part of a healthy sexual encounter. A person who cannot consent either because of temporary or permanent disability, power differential, or bodily or mental incapacity is not a suitable sex partner. A living being that is always unable to consent is not a suitable sex partner.
Children cannot consent.
Animals cannot consent.
Persons who are drunk/high/comatose/heavily medicated cannot consent.
Subordinates in almost all job settings cannot consent.
Persons over whom one may have spiritual, emotional, or physical power cannot consent.
Consent is more than recognizing that "no means no". It is also means paying attention to the yeses one is receiving. Are they enthusiastic? Is affection being reciprocated? Are the yeses being communicated verbally and non-verbally with either eye contact, positive tone of voice, and/or affirmative body language?
I was recently at a public hearing about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Anchorage's non-discrimination clause. (I support this.) There were a number of people who spoke, as Christians, claiming to be concerned that allowing this would lead to permitting behaviors like sex with children or animals. This "slippery slope" argument is a sign of rape culture. It reveals a kind of thinking that promotes sex generally from a cis-gendered, straight, vanilla point of view.
Bestiality and pedophilia are against the law because those laws protect parties who CANNOT consent to any type of sexual encounter. Period.
Changing a non-discrimination clauses does not change the law. Consenting adults, gay, straight, or otherwise, are still permitted under law to engage in non-procreative sex. Changing the non-discrimination clause means you cannot refuse housing to someone or reject their business in a public accommodation or fire someone because of who the person in question chooses to have non-procreative sex with on a regular (or irregular basis). In the case of gender identity, that's not about who one is having sex with, but about having one's inner and outer selves be in sync with one another. (This doesn't actually need consent from anyone else because, contrary to popular belief, it's not a sexual expression.)
We must learn to embed a clear understanding of consent in our thought process, cultural conversation, and lessons to our children. There are times when you don't have to share, you don't have to be nice, and you don't have be patient while someone else takes his or her turn. When it comes to your body, these things do not apply. If you do not like what's happening, say something. If someone says "no" or "I'm not sure" or even "maybe"- there is NO consent.
Regardless of where we are in various "culture wars", we can all agree to take a stand against rape culture and an active, enthusiastic stand for consent.
In a conversation with another person, I once mentioned that I would like people to make a clear statement against rape, incest, and abuse before they launch into discussions of abortion. My conversation partner replied, "Well, that goes without saying."
No, it doesn't.
Rejection of rape culture, promotion of consent, and clear, truthful representation of the law NEVER go without saying. Ever.