(Trigger warning for discussions of rape culture, assault and violence)
What’s in a name, we might argue. And get all semantic and argumentative and a bit heated in debate. However, the funny thing is, we agree in all principles debated perhaps, but we might not necessarily agree on the accepted conventions and where these conventions have taken us.
And I am not an academic. I am not someone with “top down authority”, someone who cascades knowledge down to those “beneath” her in the social ladder. I am a pop culture writer who, sometimes with more, sometimes less success looks at the world around her and sometimes strings a few words to try and explain what she sees. So, I do not get to “name” phenomenons or cultural landscapes or sociological situations. Instead, like the vast majority of people (in fact, almost everyone else), I get to live with the names that someone else, someone with this “top down authority” has chosen, given and assigned for those phenomenons that affect me.
Now, of course, I always have the option of individual rebellion. I can, in fact, refuse to use this name that was chosen on my behalf. I can, indeed, express my disagreement with this name and never use it. However, in this refusal, I also place myself in the periphery. If I decide that a name doesn’t represent me and I will no longer use it, then I will also have to remove myself from the discussions pertaining that name. Which situates me outside, even more so than I was before, the positions of “top down authority”. I get to be the outsider, sure; but I also get to not participate in the discussions that define the words I resist.
Probably that’s why I love bell hooks so much (incidentally, the very first feminist author with whom I identified and whom I felt “spoke” to me about the issues I understood; and one day I shall write the book about how her theories affect and could enrich other fields). She resists and she still names. She looks from the periphery into the center and still gets to defy the naming conventions, challenging “top down authorities” and taking them to task when their naming is inappropriate.
And she, of course, in Seduced by Violence no More, gave us stuff like this:
We live in a culture that condones and celebrates rape. Within a phallocentric, patriarchal state the rape of women by men is a ritual that daily perpetuates and maintains sexist oppression and exploitation. We cannot hope to transform “rape culture” without committing ourselves fully to resisting and eradicating patriarchy.
Boom! I understood. But I also started to think about “rape culture” and its implications. Where did the naming come from? How did it cascade from the “top down authorities” into “feminist pop culture” (oh yes, we do have a feminist pop culture). How did we come to the current definition of rape culture? And more importantly, what have been the implications of this naming? And it has become such a central tenet of our discourse, such a basis for our entire position within the bigger picture of social analysis that we have accepted the definition almost uncritically, without looking at its effects.
And this is where I situate myself in the periphery looking in. Not because I dispute the existence of rape culture or because I question it (the evidence is overwhelming and unquestionable) but because I ask myself what this definition has done to me, as a woman (and by transitive property to many other women). And then I place the naming, the “rape culture” within the context of victim blaming, slut shaming, the body that is violated, the consent that is removed, the violence that is perpetrated.
The naming has situated the subject to whom these things are done at the center. The subject that actually has nothing to do with the act itself, the subject whose subjectivity (pardon the apparent redundancy) doesn’t even count on the act itself, whose subjectivity is indeed removed.
And mass media, in a rhetoric pirouette that proved to be quite effective, allowed this paradigm to enter and be spread. And here is where my rebellion takes place yet again: mass media, which is instrumental to the spread of patriarchal and kyriarchical rape culture, allowed the term to flourish unquestioned because it allows for all the victim blaming, for all the slut shaming and for all the deflection from the perpetrators. The phallocentric nature of rape culture marches on, undisputed, “the raped ones” be damned, better let all the attention be on them.
Why “rape culture” and not “rapists’ culture”? Oh yes, I am being obnoxiously semantic here, but bear with me. Because a “rapists’ culture” would effectively shift the attention on those who are responsible for the act(s). And because I take issue on defining a culture through an act instead of through a subject that is responsible for such act. In a culture of actions, there are no subjects to be held accountable. The actions, apparently taking place in a vacuum, the “actions enact themselves”.
And when do we start to name a phenomenon that places the blame centrally on the perpetrator? When do we shift the blame from the victim (her choice of clothing, her personal life, her history, etc) and into the people who actually act on the violence? What is the name for this? Why don’t we have one yet? And more importantly, how do we define it? How do we recenter the phallocentric nature of this culture right where it belongs? How do we refocus the discourse so that the oppressor is right in the middle, not to manage the discourse and manipulate it but so that we can dissect it and disarm it? When do we move from a culture of actions to one of personal responsibility and perpetrator blaming?