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Let’s look at the phallus

(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?


  1. uhuhshesaid wrote:

    It may sound sort of ridiculous, but I had a little mini-revelation when I read “rapist culture”. This needs to be the word from now on. Because words do matter and they change life and how society can view a problem. I’m doing what I can to make ‘rapist culture’ a thing. And with your permission I’m going to spread it about as far as the internets will let me.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  2. Oh, you certainly do not need my permission, I do not own these ideas, and I sincerely do not even know if they are applicable or not. It’s just my (clumsy) attempt to contribute to stopping victim blaming and placing the responsibility right where it belongs: with the perpetrators.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  3. gidget commando wrote:

    I just got chills.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  4. Alden wrote:

    I am with you, 100%. The dominant culture has made words that blame the perpetrators to become ‘unspoken’, unsayable. So let’s just say it: we are surrounded by rapists, and enablers of rapists. Because, as much as they’d like to have you believe otherwise, you can’t have a rape without a rapist.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  5. Heather wrote:

    I agree with you on “rapist culture.” It’s like the difference between, “She was raped” and “A man raped her.” The former erases the actor and only focuses on the subject of the act. The latter brings the perpetrator to the front.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  6. j0lt wrote:

    Ditto all the above. Definitely a lightbulb piece here. Thank you.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  7. Julian Morrison wrote:

    Rapist culture is wrong too, because it puts the focus on the few who pass over the dividing line of a formal “no”, and it ignores both the larger number whose predatory behavior toes right up to the line, and the majority with too much empathy to personally do that, but who share the same beliefs and reward or tolerate the predators.

    “Rapist enabler culture” is what I’d describe it as, but that’s a badly packaged meme – it’s too long.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  8. intransigentia wrote:

    I totally had a lightbulb moment when you said Rapist’s Culture too. Hot damn. I, too, will be changing my usage.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  9. Yes.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  10. Em wrote:

    I’m confused why you’re using “phallocentric”. What’s the reason you used that word instead of misogynistic?

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  11. EM, two reasons:

    1) because of the quote by bell hooks that I centered the piece on.

    2) and even more so, in the Derridian sense of privileging of the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning.

    I believe this principle is the way “rape culture” is currently used. Not the way the theorists that originally coined the term intended to, but in a way that privileges the de-centering of male responsibility in the act of raping. And in a way that places the responsibility and attention on the victim.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  12. JfC wrote:

    I agree with Julian. A large part (arguable the biggest part) of rape culture comes not just from rapists themselves, but from those who tolerate and shield them.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  13. Hayley B wrote:

    just another convert. will try to spread “rapist’s culture” although i see julian morrison’s point–there are a lot of non-rapists or yet-to-be-rapists, even, who are still perpetuating rape culture. but this is a start, and a really valid place to begin the shift from victim-blaming to focusing on the criminal.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Just a clarification: I do not disagree with those who say that “rapist culture” does not define the issue well. That is precisely why I close with a question, hoping the discussion would trigger a different look and maybe some brainstorming.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  15. I agree with the people who brought up the problems with “rapist culture”, but I also think you are never going to perfectly encapsulate all of the issues that contribute to our culture in a two word phrase.

    I was at the Toronto SlutWalk last weekend, and both the impetus of the event and the victim-blaming backlash against it are reminders of why it’s so important to centre the perpetrators of rape in the discussion. “Rapist culture” does a different kind of work than “rape culture” does. It may not be 100% accurate, but it’s still a better description of how things work.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  16. Becca wrote:

    I agree with all the other commenters here. I don’t know that there is a “perfect” term for what we’re talking about, but “rapist culture” is definitely a step in the right direction. Excellent piece.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  17. Em wrote:

    Thanks for the explanation. I haven’t read Derrida but at least I get the idea now.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  18. dihutenosa wrote:

    I’ve been thinking about similar problems recently w/r/t the terminology we use for trans people. I’ve not made an solid decisions yet but I think that using ‘cam woman’ (cam=coercively assigned male) makes an improvement the way my oppression is perceived, because trans focuses on ‘transition’ and ‘cam’ focuses on the coercion that makes ‘transition’ necessary. (i’m also not a huge fan of transition, it’s like legitimising my gender in the yese of others. but in a practical sense it works, because that is one effect of my taking hormones). there’s also no term for the practice of resolving somatic and social dysphoria (i also think we need a different term for each of these; the conflation of the two has got to stop if for no other reason than to let me think straight. and there’s the point that one can ).

    i’ve been hitting two big problems while doing this. The first is that it’s really damn hard to name all the concepts i want to name, and when I do i have a sinking feeling that they are incomplete.

    the second is that, even when you’ve got a concept nailed down, you need a strong meme for it, and that’s really damn hard to come up with when you try to combine several words together that are the only way to describe a concept that we have now. and using old words, while tempting, is both a problem for people who use those words in ways i don’t want to for semantics’s sake, whose narratives i don’t want to disrupt, and because using the old words leads me down quirky logical paths because i keep confusing their meaning.

    anyway, i just want to say this piece tickled me pink, seeing somebody frustrated with the language we use in a similar way to me and coining new terms. i’ll be using ‘rapist culture’ or ‘rapist’s culture’ (need to decide if there’s any difference in implication between the two…). if nothing else it’ll catalyse more conversation around why i am using such weird language.

    oh, my favourite thing about linguistics is *so* the sapir-whorf hypothesis~

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  19. dihutenosa wrote:

    * there’s the point that one can only be resolved by the way other people act and the other can never.)
    woops. i also realise i’m just pretty far off topic here. mostly wanted to convey the sentiment that yeah, i totally agree that our language is limiting us in tons of ways.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  20. Irised wrote:

    Yes, yes, yes. This was sitting right there staring us in the face! Great post and I believe that I too will be saying ‘rapist culture’.

    Not to mention, I feel like the term ‘rapist culture’ has a connotation – to me at least – not just focusing on rapists themselves but also of implying a general culture where rapists thrive. (Rapist’s Culture?)

    I’m also keen on the fact that I figure I should be able to just start saying ‘rapist culture’ without explanation and people will get the drift of what I mean. So of course I can explain, which is important, but in other contexts I can easily also just use it casually without having to worry too much about explaining it at times when I don’t have energy.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  21. Irised wrote:

    Well, aside from situations where people won’t know what the hell rape culture is anyway 😐 which is most of the time. Oh well. It was a nice thought…

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  22. glittertrash wrote:

    I agree with this:

    “Not to mention, I feel like the term ‘rapist culture’ has a connotation – to me at least – not just focusing on rapists themselves but also of implying a general culture where rapists thrive. (Rapist’s Culture?) ”

    In the same way that ‘rape culture’ means a great deal more than simply culture where rape occurs- it means culture where rape is tolerated and the preconditions of rape are ever-present- ‘rapist culture’ quite naturally extends itself to mean a culture that tolerates, encourages and fosters rapists. A culture where rapists thrive and their toxic, violent ideas and actions are celebrated. That is still situating the entire culture as the problem, not just the individual rapists.

    I think that those three little letters- a mere ‘-ist’- do a great deal to improve the way this phrase operates. This will spread because it’s meaningful, legible, and a mere extra syllable on an already-utilized phrase. Great feminist meme-ing in action.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  23. Patrick M. wrote:

    Thinking about Julian’s point…
    Taking the blame off rape victims is obviously good, while focusing on “rapists” inadvertently takes the blame off of a lot of other people who deserve a share.
    It seems that the problem is that the violence doesn’t end with the rape. Terms like “rape culture” or “rapists culture” only describe a symptom of a violent culture and I think that it’s violence and hierarchy that we’re trying to oppose regardless of the specific forms it takes. I always assumed that the value of the term “rape culture” came from its shock value; “rape” is a blunt anathema of a word whereas people are numbed to other aspects of patriarchy. “Rape/rapist culture” describes an archipelago of iceberg-tips. When diving down to describe the full extent of patriarchy seems daunting, there are the sexual violence statistics, undeniably ugly, staring EVERYONE in the face. From the undeniably ugly expressions of violence we can work backwards to explain the systematic failings of our culture.
    I think that any term serving as an iceberg-tip is going to be lacking exactly because it’s going to be describing an apex of violence not violence in its entirety, and I think that using “rapist” instead of “rape” is a great step towards defining that tippy-top point of evil.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  24. shallowwater wrote:

    Delicious food for thought. I think everyone above has covered any thoughts I had. Thank you.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  25. thatlush wrote:

    It seems you’ve successfully consciousness-raised – good job!

    On a related topic, I also often see that passive voice used in news articles about incidents of dating or domestic violence: “Her face was smashed against a wall.” By whom, I wonder…?

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  26. Em wrote:

    I think that using ‘cam woman’ (cam=coercively assigned male)

    Except that still positions the assigned sex as somehow valid, when it’s not what sex was assigned, but the assignation itself. Not to be a wet blanket. Trans terminology is just a minefield.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink
  27. Em wrote:

    Also, the juxtaposition of male and woman allows the “coerceively assigned” part to be conveniently ignored by bigots.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  28. Semantics wrote:

    Agree with Julian and JFC. Not a “rapists’ culture,” because too many non-rapists contribute to “rape culture” for “rape culture” to be so specifically attributed to rapists. Would prefer “rape-enabling culture,” if anything was to change, but that would almost certainly end up being abbreviated to “rape culture” in the long run anyway.

    “Where did the naming come from?”
    — From feminists. According to Wikipedia: “[Rape culture] was first used as a title of a 1975 documentary film, ‘Rape Culture’ produced and directed by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich for Cambridge Documentary Films, depicting mass media normalization of violence against women. In a 1992 paper in the Journal of Social Issues entitled ‘A Feminist Redefinition of Rape and Sexual Assault: Historical Foundations and Change,’ Patricia Donat and John D’Emilio suggested that the term originated as ‘rape-supportive culture’ in Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”
    — Here is Margaret Lazarus’s site:
    — Here is the paper: (Your library may have free access to this article; Wiley, unfortunately, charges for the privilege of reading it.)

    And now to be all obnoxiously semantic:

    1) If academic = “top-down authority,” and bell hooks is an academic, then ipso facto bell hooks is a “top-down authority.”

    2) “The naming has situated the subject to whom these things are done at the center.”
    — Strongly disagree. “Rape culture” = “culture-of-rape.” Here, “rape” is a noun being used as an adjective. The noun means “the act of X having non-consensual sex with Y.” Therefore, the act is at the center, and both the subject and the object of the action are logically implied.

    3) “The actions, apparently taking place in a vacuum, the ‘actions enact themselves’.”
    — Disagree. The only way to use the verb “to rape” without a subject is to use it in a passive construction, e.g., “X was raped.” (That would translate to “culture-of-the-raped,” not “rape culture.”) Besides, the subject is still implied to exist: “by whom?” logically follows. “To rape” isn’t a verb that can be used without a definite subject. It’s not like “to rain,” where you can say, “It’s raining.” As a sentence, “It’s raping,” just doesn’t make any sense.

    Also, consider:
    A) “The phallocentric nature of rape culture marches on, undisputed…”
    —Hyperbole much? Consider the forum…
    — I was under the impression that “rape culture” was a term describing the phallocentric nature of society. It’s redundant to describe “rape culture” as being phallocentric when “rape culture” exists to denote phallocentrism. (Although, it’s possible that I am mistaken and simply need to do more reading.)

    B) “How do we recenter the phallocentric nature of this culture right where it belongs?”
    — Was it centered before? When? Where? And where does the phallocentric nature of this culture belong? I’m not sure what you mean here.

    C) “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.” VERSUS “In a culture of actions, there are no subjects to be held accountable.”
    — You use “subject” to describe both rapists and rape victims/survivors. It would destroy your pun, but—since you’re getting all semantic about things—you might want to use “object of the action.” Also, I’m curious if you’re referencing anything when you use “subjectivity,” as I have never seen that word used that way before. (I’m not saying you’re using it wrong; I really do want to know.)

    You have some really interesting ideas, but I think you might do well to have someone proof-read for you. I don’t want that to come across as harsh; I mean that some minor adjustments to your writing might make your ideas more accessible. For instance: “The actions, apparently taking place in a vacuum, the ‘actions enact themselves’.” I think you meant: “The actions appear to take place in a vacuum; ‘the actions enact themselves.'” Grammatically, the first sentence just does not work. “The actions” is used twice, and one of them must go. Similarly, “blame” cannot be shifted “into” anyone, and “pertain is intransitive, which means that you have to write “pertaining to.”

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 1:45 am | Permalink
  29. I might be wrong here but I think I’ve just been mansplained.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink
  30. SMadin wrote:

    Personally, I find that if you’re typing out a comment and you end up producing the phrase “And now to be all obnoxiously semantic,” that’s a really good time to hit the backspace key a whole bunch.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  31. a.b. wrote:

    Someone bag that comment and and label it as a perfect specimen of Mansplainia Phallcentricus.

    Flavia, you really hit something there and somehow it made me happy. An article about rapist culture made me happy. Because when there is no word to properly describe something, you feel a void and don’t know how to change it. This is a big step.

    I think ‘rapist culture’ works and includes not only rapists but those who aid and abet them through actions, word, advertisement, inaction. All of these things just help rapists, make their plans move more smoothly. I am not saying that cat-callers are rapists, but they are contributing to the well-being of rapists and a toxic atmosphere.

    Uh.. happy Friday?

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  32. Sigrid wrote:

    Hi Flavia! First off, I wanted to say I’m really enjoying your work on Tiger Beatdown so far. The piece about the WPS was totally enlightening – I had no idea that specific work was being done, and your point about the othering, slanted coverage in a tale of two sexisms was very well taken. (I’m catching up on my Tiger Beatdown and thought it would be weird to post a comment on an older post soooo I’ve been waiting for you to post again so I could say so!) I appreciate your careful and interesting analysis of language you do and how it contributes to oppression. I hope to read more from you on TB in the future!

    That said, I regret to say I disagree with this piece. I agree that the way we talk about rape needs to center victims, but I don’t think adding the “ist” does that so much as it seems to have the semantic effect of disappearing the rapists’ allies, the rape-jokers and slut-shamers and Michael Moores of the world, because, after all, they’re not rapists. “rapist culture” to me sounds to me like a rapists’ only clubhouse, while “rape culture” sounds to me as though it serves rapists, which it does, but isn’t formed exclusively of them. As I’m sure we agree, rape culture is as much about the perpetrators AND those who consciously or unconsciously ally themselves with perpetrators, about who’s giving rape normalcy and acceptability, as it is about rapists. Calling it “rapist culture” seems to let all those other people off the hook, even though I’m sure that’s the farthest thing from your intent, and from the comments I can tell not everyone hears it the way I do. I agree with Julian Morrison that “rape-enabling culture” would be most apt, but it’s kind of clunky.

    Thanks again for your contribution to TB, Flavia, and I’m sorry my first comment on your work is dissent-y.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  33. Sigrid wrote:

    Just wanted to add that I DO see you are asking questions at the end of your piece, and looking for a dialogue, not just saying you are right about the naming convention! At this point I don’t have a good answer to any of them really, but they are excellent questions and by saying I disagree with the piece I really should have said I disagreed with the particular call to action contained in it, not the nature of the writing itself. My apologies.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  34. Semantics wrote:

    “And now to be all obnoxiously semantic,” was written with the intent of echoing, “Oh yes, I am being obnoxiously semantic here, but bear with me,” from Flavia’s article.

    I was irritated by the combination of no research into the origin of naming and academese, so my comment ended up being somewhat snarkier than originally intended. I should have held the comment back for 24 hours before posting. I probably would have changed the tone. It’s too late now, and I apologize for having offended you.

    The comment about proof-reading really wasn’t intended as a put-down. I doubt there are any writers who are too talented to benefit from feedback. Heaven knows my writing isn’t perfect.

    If you have one, I would like to see a response to 2) and 3). I found I didn’t agree with your thesis, and those were my attempts to reason out why I disagreed. I suppose I should have prefaced everything with an “I think,” but higher education tends to beat the “I think” out of students’ writing, and I’m now used to just stating the facts as I see them. I know that I might be wrong, and I’m used to other people just responding with: “well, I disagree with you because of A, B, and C.” I will be more careful with how I state my opinions here in future. Clearly my approach was too adversarial.

    I had to google “mansplain.” That is a fantastic word. My chromosomes are XX, btw, so I don’t think I can be a mansplainer; however, after re-reading my comment, I wouldn’t argue with being called a jerk. I really didn’t intend to be that snarky.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  35. KittyWrangler wrote:

    Even though the term, “rape culture” has always bugged me I hadn’t questioned the “rape” part. It makes sense that it should be, “rapist.” Thanks so much for this article!

    “Culture” is what I disagree with, because of the connotations of “sub-culture.” So to someone unfamiliar with feminist academic terms (i.e. most people) a “rapist culture,” would be the subculture of rapists themselves, perhaps, and “rape culture,” to many means some smaller part of society that most people don’t participate in. I think “society” should replace “culture.”

    I’ll also note that the mansplainer up-thread is correct about the neutral noun-usage of “rape” in “rape culture,” but this person has overlooked the fact that this “subject-free” term is used in a misogynist society where “rape,” immediately means “culpable victim.” The purpose of the term, besides providing survivors with a way to name their experience, is to educate the public, not to satisfy feminist academia.

    These terms we use function as marketing campaigns, educating and swaying minds in a feminist direction. As much as I love brainy reading material it frustrates me that these terms are designed to function in an academic environment, while we’re fighting a constant stream of knee-jerk, easy-to-grasp misogynist terminology. Worse, the act of explaining these terms in discussions often comes across as somehow suspect and places the feminist in a defensive position.

    I suggest “rapist-enabling society.” Yeah it’s inconvenient, but less so than constantly having to explain to people, “Rape culture? Oh, that’s a society that enables rapists.”

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  36. IrishUp wrote:

    Hmm, in contrast to others here, I actually read “rapists culture” as further emphasizing that rape culture adherent behaviors actually side (general) you with Rapists, rather than somehow erasing or minimizing all the behaviors that are not rape.

    For me, “Rapists Culture” makes the issues even clearer: when you engage in $X_RAPE CULTURE MEME, you are making it easier for someone to BE A RAPIST. To me it clarifies that rape culture fosters, encourages and shields rapists.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  37. Semantics,

    First of all, you direct me to wikipedia, effectively mansplaining the origin of the term, somewhat implying that I haven’t done that myself (even though I talk about bell hooks in the post and deconstruction of meaning in the comments re:Derrida). You assumed lack of research because I use figures of speech.

    Then of course, you use the “tone argument”, although you are too elegant for such a transparent recourse and label it “hyperbole”.

    Thirdly, you suggest I get a copy editor because my post is badly written. In a blog. For which nobody gets paid to write and which is solely a platform to generate debate and create community. Could I do with a copy editor that proof reads my posts and improves them and makes them better? Sure! I’d love to have someone do that. But you know, that would cost me money and resources.

    And now, to somehow justify all of the above, you point out to your “higher education” and how your rhetoric is somewhat influenced by it, by forcing you to exclude the “I think” from the equation. I am sorry you attended a college that removed your manners. That must be unfortunate.

    Of course, after this friendly approach you insist on requiring a response to points 2 & 3, while calling my post “academese” (nice put down there, btw). There aren’t even any questions in your points 2 & 3. There are just statements. How exactly am I supposed to respond to them? They are your opinions. You are entitled to them. They are as valid as mine. That’s, to put in a nutshell, all there is to it.

    I presented a theory about a widely used term hoping to open a debate about it. You disagree with my post. I do not consider my opinion diminished or somewhat lessened by your disagreement. And I sincerely do not see anything constructive coming out in engaging in a petty dispute over the statements you made. Again, the statements you made are valid, they are part of the debate I was hoping for. I have nothing to add to them.

    But I do have something to say about your point number 1: bell hooks is not exactly a “top down authority” in the same sense that someone like Judith Butler might be. Mainly because she is a WoC. And because she came into academia from the periphery of her racial background. There is a huge difference between her discourse and the discourse that comes from White academia and how both are accepted or rejected precisely on the basis of race.

    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  38. Semantics wrote:

    Dear Flavia,

    Thank you for your response to my earlier comment and for explaining why you did not define bell hooks as a “top-down authority” in your post despite her academic stature.

    Just to clarify, by proof-reader, I meant friend-who-proof-reads, not paid-copy-editor. People who write often have friends who write, and people are clearly happy to read your work without being paid to do so.

    Again, I apologize for the tone of my first comment. I see room for small changes that would improve interesting writing on topics that should be raised more often. You mentioned the possibility of writing a book and described yourself as a “pop culture writer,” so I assume you are serious about your writing. The criticism I made was intended to be constructive, which is why it was detailed.

    If you were a bad writer, I wouldn’t have bothered reading your post. I really enjoyed some parts of your writing; for example, I particularly liked your sentence: “Oh yes, I am being obnoxiously semantic here, but bear with me.” I thought it was really funny.

    We differ on whether “rape culture, rape-enabling culture, or rapists’ culture” is a more accurate descriptor, but I think we both agree that the discussion you raised was more important than reaching agreement on terminology. I did not adequately emphasize that my earlier attempt to determine why I disagreed with you was also my first attempt to really question the “naming” of “rape culture.” I had never questioned it before, and I would like to say that I really respect your effort to open that up for debate.

    Returning to that…

    You wrote: “And because I take issue on defining a culture through an act instead of through a subject that is responsible for such act.”

    I half-agree. This is one of the reasons why I think “rape-enabling” would be a really good term; I think the cat-callers, the rape-joke-tellers, and the slut-shamers need to be included in any term we use to describe “rape culture,” because they play such a vital role in enabling the actual rapists. I would be interested in hearing your opinion on whether the descriptor should emphasize the actions of the rapists or the rape-enablers. I lean towards the latter, as the rape-enablers are so numerous and rape-enabling behaviors have so thoroughly permeated society, but that’s just my opinion.

    Also, I have yet to get access to the Wiley article, but I am definitely curious as to why Brownmiller’s “rape-supportive culture” would have been abbreviated to “rape culture.” Perhaps it was simply because English tends to encourage abbreviations, or perhaps it was a calculated change. If you (or anyone else) happens to know the answer, that would be interesting to know.


    Friday, April 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  39. Yes, I think rape enabling culture is indeed a better descriptor than just rape culture.

    I think any term that forces us to ask the most important question: who rapes (instead of the current one “Who is raped”) is a good one. The way the discussion on rape takes place these days is solely focused on the victims. I believe we desperately need to come up with a framework that shifts the focus from victim blaming and analysis of “what the victims did” to “who are the people raping”.

    Incidentally and not related to this discussion, a good friend of mine posed an interesting question to me last night: with the current discussions on de-funding Planned Parenthood in the US and effectively punishing women (removing abortion rights, access to contraception, attempting to change the definition of rape, etc.), why is nobody proposing that state funded medical care is also completely de-funded for convicted sex offenders?

    Sure, I am aware it would be a gross human rights violation, but it is interesting to note that sex offenders are never part of any of these discussions. And removing medical care from sex offenders would be an outlandish human rights violation, but so is de-funding Planned Parenthood and limiting access to reproductive healthcare. So, what gives?

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink
  40. Addy wrote:

    I think “rape culture” is perhaps a more accessible term for people who are not previously familiar with the idea. For instance, at a recent protest for labor rights, there was a guy holding a large sign that said “Stop Dolphin Rape.” I approached him and we ended up having a long conversation about rape culture and why his sign is troubling/triggering/harmful to a lot of people (some of whom had been coming up and yelling at him). I have no reason to believe that this guy had ever raped anyone, but he was certainly perpetuating rape culture by using rape as a joke.

    When I started using the term “rape culture” I got the feeling he knew what I was saying right away, and he was very open to hearing about the idea. I wonder if people in situations like this, who are perpetuating rape culture out of ignorance and not malice, are more likely to shut down if it’s suggested that they are contributing to “rapists’ culture.” I feel like an easy way to get out of that conversation is just “Well I’m not a rapist so of course I’m not part of a culture of rapists.”

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  41. KittyWrangler wrote:


    That’s a really good point. It seems like we are both thinking about what works as an “outreach” term, and it’s somethimes hard to strike that balance with what honors survivors and insiders of the rape culture discussion (feminist bloggers & readers, etc).

    BTW that took guts to approach the Dolphin Rape guy!

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  42. I too like the term “rapist culture” – when we talk about “sexist culture” we are not claiming that every single person is a through-and-through sexist, we are saying that our culture disproportionately rewards sexists and perpetuates (through the consent/silence of many non-extreme sexists and sexist-enablers) sexism, just a rapist culture enables and perpetuates rape. I think it is telling that we still have a deep gut-reaction to the word rapist, which is one reason behind victim blaming – the word rapist is even uglier than the word rape, I think, because we use it less. It’s because of those idiotic media-hype stereotypes about the baby-killing gun-weilding stranger in a ski mask jumping from behind the bushes – and if that didn’t happen, then he’s not a rapist and you “weren’t really raped.” Easy to look at that guy and say rapist, not so easy to look at your friend, brother, coworker, father, friend and think the same.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink
  43. dihutenosa wrote:

    @em no need apologise for helping me out and pointing out a bad implication; i’m all about making the phrasing better for my own sake and i drop words from my vocabulary like dimes. partly why i posted here anyways. it’s hard to think entirely outside the box on one’s own.

    so ok, leaving aside the catchy factor for now, a better phrasing would be ‘coercively misgendered woman’ (actually, that doesn’t sound too stiff).
    perks: doesn’t mention the gender coercively assigned, because it’s irrelevant really, and touchy, and comfortability is actually important here (the dysphoria issue).

    cons: the issue mentioned in this article, namely that my terminology centers the action rather than the perpetrators. i don’t see an easy way around this unless we move the word around from in front of the descriptor before the NP (“woman”). which i consider to be bad, because it would make for phrases like ‘woman of colour with disabilities who cissexists coercively misgender’ i.e. really awkward things to say, which are more awkward for some groups than for others, which is Bad.


    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  44. Maggie (yet another) wrote:

    Given the way the previous iteration of this disagreement went (that way being swiftly downhill) I want to emphasise that my comment is not trying to invalidate this discussion in any way – I think it’s always good to have more conversation around terminology and victim blaming and all that.

    However I also find myself kind of skeptical at the specific concept that “The naming has situated the subject to whom these things are done at the center. ”

    It’s just… “rape” DOES NOT equal “rape victim” any more than it equals “rape perpetrator.” It’s a verb, modified to a noun in order to describe the event created by someone enacting said verb. (and further modified, as semantics wrote, into an adjective for the phrase in question, but the verb form is the basic and therefore the relevant one).

    Well – to me, that situates no subject at all! Instead “rape culture” describes a culture in which rape, as a verb, as an action, is encouraged, excused and elided, allowed to permeate parts of the culture that may not in fact CONTAIN either a rapist or a rape victim.

    I just think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the phrase “rape culture” is placing the victims or rape into a more central category than the perpetrators. The verb being precisely what links the subject and the object, I feel like it’s actually directly in the middle, if not balanced slightly towards referring to rapists (based on the awkwardness of the passive form, although it’s not a strong effect). When you merely use the word “rape,” any subject or object cannot be anything but IMPLIED or read into the word. If you look at “rape” and assume it’s referring to victims, that is probably a function of the very phenomenon you’re talking about, the tendency for the mainstream culture to focus on said victims. It’s not in any way inherent in the word.

    (I do actually like the term “rape enabling culture” but I would not have it replace “rape culture.” The latter is a catch-phrase/idiom used as a rally point, with a meaning more than the sum of its parts, at this point, which is another reason it seems weird to read it as saying “culture full of rape victims”. Whereas “rape enabling culture” sounds more like something you’d say when you’re actually trying to describe and explain things. I’ve always used and read the phrase “rape culture” as, basically, a kind of shorthand. For various reasons I don’t see “rape-enabling culture” supplanting it, least among them being that it’s, well, less short. But it’s definitely a more accurate discriptive phrase, and one that invites thought as opposed to a kind of, I hate to use “brand name” but it’s sort of on that continuum, I think.)

    and now I have typed the word “rape” waaaay too many times in one comment for my taste, so I’m just going to leave this here.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink