Letter to the editor

In response to “‘Rape culture’ or just ‘culture’?”

In light of the increase in reported sexual misconduct in Greek Life here at Case Western Reserve University, it’s time that sexual assault and rape be thoroughly and rigorously discussed within the CWRU community. A conversation that should have been ongoing between CWRU Administration and Greek Life is just now beginning. It was only after the anonymous social network Yik Yak posted about the Office of Greek Life asking all sororities and fraternities to cancel their parties for the semester’s last week that our President herself, Barbara Snyder, was made aware of the increase.

However, it’s not just the administration trying to deflect the realities and effects of rape and rape culture on our campus. The student body, too, seems to be evading the subject. The article “‘Rape culture’ or just ‘culture’” in the last edition of The Observer struck me as an attempt to argue that sexual misconduct is not a result of any sort of rape culture, but a result of people not following the “Golden Rule”—to treat other people as they want to be treated. While rapists are probably not considering the Golden Rule before committing such an act of violence, the problem of rape culture extends far beyond a populace that forgot they probably shouldn’t take someone’s favorite toy away from them.

I’m going to break down my discussion of “‘Rape culture’ or just ‘culture’” into five different categories, which are erroneous misrepresentations of the legitimate problem at hand:

1.) The Title

Being placed underneath another article challenging the CWRU community to face the problem of sexual assault head on, I expected to read an article potentially discussing the cultural normativity of rape. It is, after all, such a common occurrence that apparent sexism is often treated as a cultural norm instead of a horrifying reality for all people that don’t identify as male (or for people who identify as male who once identified as anything else).

Instead, I found an article that didn’t even hint at rape until the eighth paragraph, the first seven paragraphs’ sole purpose being to describe the author’s experience with underage drinking, which he less-than-subtly labels as “partying.” In fact, he mentions the words “party,” “partying” and “partier” 18 times, while he only mentions the words “rape,” “rape culture,” “sexual misconduct” and “taken advantage of” six times total. (He does not use any other references to sexual assault.)

2.) The definition of “rape culture”

The author’s definition of rape culture is the idea that “young coeds are being taken advantage of sexually during and after [college] parties due to immoderate drinking.” This particular definition is problematic for a few reasons. Not only does this define rape culture as something only seen at college parties, but it also identifies it as something that is solely the product of immoderate drinking within said parties. This definition severely and blatantly ignores the idea that women anywhere but at a college party can get raped. Alcohol is not the cause of rape: Rapists are the cause of rape. Alcohol should not be used as a blame mechanism for those that are raped, and alcohol should not be used as an excuse mechanism for those that rape. The organization Women Against Violence Against Women defines rape culture on its website as a “culture in which women perceive a continuum to threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.” I would like to note that men can be raped and are raped, but the subject matter of the initial article was focused on—or was supposed to be focused on—the rape of women, and that is where I will focus my remarks as well. This is the definition our discussions should be based on.

3.)“Rape culture” vs. the terms “slut,” “whore” and “bitch”

The fact that rape culture was put into quotes while the author casually uses the words “slut,” “whore” and “bitch” without quotations might be considered grammatically correct, but it is blatantly sending a message to readers of The Observer: The term rape culture does not deserve legitimacy. Using such maledictive words as “bitch” and “slut” and not identifying these words as sexist slurs is to define women as “wrong” for their right to choose whether or not to have sex.

Through their basis in shaming women for whether or not they choose to have sex, these slurs also normalize the idea that it should be only her partner’s idea to choose. A few people might argue that the term “bitch” isn’t necessarily used in such a context, but in my personal experience, the term is applied to women most often when they are refusing the sexual advances of someone else, and I don’t doubt that many other women experience the same thing. When the terms described above are not put into quotes and the term “rape culture” is, he is essentially normalizing the sexist slurs and alienating the theme of “rape culture” as a legitimate issue.

4.) “Culture of Overall Mistreatment”

The article attempts to identify sexual misconduct as “a small manifestation of cultural degradation in colleges” and rape culture as “just a culture of overall mistreatment.” Rape is not a “small manifestation” of anything. The White House report on sexual assault from Apr. 29, 2014 states that “one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there.” To put this into perspective, in a casual and randomized game of “Russian Roulette” there’s a one in six chance that a player in the game will be shot.

5) Finally, young men aren’t prone to rape.

The author states after the end of the article that “he likes to think all young men aren’t prone to rape.” Although the statement leaves quite a bit of room for ambiguity, I’m going to give the author the benefit of doubt and assume he means that he likes to think most young men will not rape. I too like to think that most men are not rapists. However, that particular statement seems reminiscent of the twitter trend “#notallmen,” which men use to rebuke generalized statements regarding them (often about rape and other acts of sexual misconduct).

As Time Magazine author Jess Zimmerman stated in her article, “Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument,” #notallmen is “[an argument] where a male interlocutor redirects a discussion about sexism, misogyny, rape culture or women’s rights to instead be about how none of that is his fault.” While it might not be entirely the fault of the “interlocutor” that sexism, rape and misogyny are themes that exist in almost every culture, by saying he’s not to blame, he is redirecting the issue by blaming the source of said issues elsewhere instead of trying to be part of the solution and encouraging other men not to rape. By not being a part of the solution, he is part of the problem. As The Observer’s editorial stated in the issue released on Jan. 23, 2015, “This solution should include all of us. After all, ending sexual misconduct is everyone’s responsibility.”

Ultimately, I’m writing this article to ask everyone to encourage the discussion of the horrors of rape and sexual assault. Question the acceptance of sexism and rape culture around you. Refute the idea that rape is a “small manifestation of cultural degradation in colleges.” Recognize rape as a massive worldwide epidemic that represents a global culture in which the sexual oppression of women is either accepted as a reality, or not discussed at all. Whatever you do, don’t remain silent. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Sophomore Mara Grigg is a person with a one out of five chance of being raped within her time at college, just like every other woman around her.