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A culture that is based on a gendered hierarchy, condones gender based violence, normalises the toxic behaviour of men, even eulogising it, is rape culture. Here’s how you identify it.
In a patriarchy, many cultural practices are based on discrimination which is often gender based, and violence against women in the belief that they ‘need to stay in their place’, and in action like actual physical/ emotional/ sexual/ financial violence may be considered a ‘normal’ way to behave.
Those in a privileged position may actually not see anything wrong in this kind of behaviour.
A culture that considers this normal is rape culture. Such a culture often condones rape, by blaming the victim for it, or minimising the responsibility of the perpetrator, or if there is outrage over it, it is too superficial to cause any real social change.
There are examples of rape culture all around us. These infiltrate the mindset at personal, family levels, and in institutionalized and structured ways as well.
Sexual oppression works in so many indirect ways in everyday life. If in a society rape is prevalent as revenge, punishment, or perversion, and sexual violence is normalized and sometimes even approved and justified in even media and popular culture then it surely is rape culture.
Some common tropes include
Such a society largely disregards women’s rights, privacy and safety.
In such a socio-psychological setup one rape is used to terrify, limit and control all other women or even men from marginalised groups.
A cycle of fear is perpetuated by the following means to maintain sexual violence as a potent tool of submission and control:
This is so commonly done and nonchalantly too, in spite of rapes of even little girls the rapists aren’t blamed but the survivors. What they were wearing, their social conduct, socio-economic status or other factors that are not really in any way the reason or cause for sexual violence.
(“She asked for it.” “Only such women get raped.” “Why didn’t she run away?”) are commonly used misogynist phrases.
Whenever a victim brings forth a case of sexual harassment or assault as was the case in the #MeToo movement, there is an attempt to trivialise their experiences. Often sexual harassment is condoned as casual flirting.
Also a commonly used phrases include (“Boys will be boys!” “Don’t be a spoilsport!”)
In the recent years these have become a lot more normalised than they ever were, no longer known slyly as “non-veg jokes”, these are now every day banter on messaging apps like Whatsapp and both women and men just forward these as just jokes. Another common example is laughter/comedy TV shows that promote a lot of derogatory sexism body shaming women or transgender people.
When the incidents of rape are frequent and common it automatically normalises them as just crime and in turn develops a social tolerance for them. As someone had famously said when being assaulted don’t shout rape shout fire, someone might turn up for help in case of a fire.
Just for the sake of counter-arguments and putting down feminists and women right bodies and activists misogynists often quote inflated statistics about false reports of rape/sexual violence cases suggesting most of these complaints are untrue and thus invalidate a woman’s lived experience.
Mass media is a huge influence on popular perception and if people watch shows and films that glorify sexual violence and show sexual offenders as heroes like the recent film Kabir Singh it makes them more tolerant of such abuse in real life.
How often are boys raised with the dictum boys don’t cry but it is okay for them to make others cry, inflict violence on plants/animals and other human beings. Parents/ families/ schools often tell boys to “Man up”, “Don’t be a sissy”, “Don’t cry like a girl.” Hence the pressure on boys/men to prove sexual prowess (mardangi).
Women grow up mostly to be submissive and docile because they are raised as girls to never speak up, hide their bodies and never have a mind of their own. Their decisions are made by others and their ultimate aim in life is projected to be motherhood. In India everything about mothers is glorified to the extent of dehumanising them.
A rape culture also propagates that men are immune to sexual violence and those who become victims are not “man enough.” The concept of toxic masculinity bars men from expressing any emotion especially that of weakness or vulnerability especially sexually, and those rare men that do get labelled as sissy or worse.
Moral policing of women is rampant in a rape culture, since they are blamed for sexual violence the onus to save themselves is also on them, thus justifying control on their social movements and interactions. However men/boys are never advised against sexual violence per se instead to “protect” their own women.
This is an inherent part of all patriarchal systems that women are seen as a liability for the family and community whereas boys are seen as assets. Also it is a vicious cycle; because women are vulnerable they do often become dependents.
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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