What is Rape Culture?

I was talking to a couple of folks the other day and the conversation came around to rape culture and the generalized distrust of men by women in today’s society. I don’t think I was able to clearly articulate to them why those are both things that really do need to be considered when thinking about why women are the way they are. I’d like to take another crack at it here.

I recently found out that bees will sting you if you wear black. I don’t know exactly why it provokes that reaction, but it does.

Early one summer evening, a young woman is getting ready to go out with her friends. She happens to look and feel good when she’s wearing black, so she incorporates it into her outfit. Not too much- she didn’t want to be a walking target for bees, but it made her happy to include some. Later, the group of friends was walking along, minding their own business, nowhere near any known beehives, when a random bee shows up and stings her.

There are pretty much two ways to look at this. The first is that it was an animal. It couldn’t help itself. Animal lovers can tell you, though, that if an animal has become a danger to humans, it is at best locked away indefinitely, and only released once re-training has been clearly demonstrated to have made the animal safe. More often than not, though, it is promptly put down so that it can’t hurt anyone else. The extinct lions, and tigers, and bears will bear witness to our decisiveness when it comes to an animal that we consider to be dangerous.

For the second way, let’s pretend the bee has human-level intelligence. It saw the young woman in black and it got excited. Whether it was attracted or pissed off is beside the point. It wanted to sting her. She had done nothing to its hive, she had done nothing to it. The bee could have flown past and gone on to collect nectar and pollan, but it decided that she was just too exciting, so it gave in to the urge and stung her.

There is, of course, a third way of looking at it. She shouldn’t have worn black. There are two problems with this, though. The first is that she has to remove something from her wardrobe that makes her happy just because it might provoke a poor reaction in some passing bee. She’s smart enough not to walk up to a beehive in head-to-toe black and poke the beehive, but she would have to give up wearing black all the time if she wants to never risk being stung by a bee. The second problem is that you don’t have to be wearing black to be stung by a bee. Sometimes a passing bee will just sting you. Therefore, she is losing a part of her self-expression and doing it really gains her nothing. Which brings me to the second point.

A friend of the first young woman heard the story, so she did purge black from her closet. The other thing that she started doing was to keep a wary eye on any bee in her vicinity, since her friend’s sting had been completely unprovoked. She herself had never poked a hive or done anything that would be grounds for being stung. One day, a passing bee befriended her. They got to know each other, and spent a lot of time with each other. She decided that, obviously, not all bees were bad. Her friend must have done something to the first bee to make it sting her. A couple of months into the relationship she and her bee were in a meadow enjoying the sun and the flowers. She was wearing a pretty white dress, since it was the most soothing color for her bee friend. That was when he stung her.

When the young women went out in the future, they were very wary of interactions with bees. This wariness spread to their friends. The sweet, bumbly bees protested that they were being treated badly just because they were bees. The young women were shamed for not trusting the bumbly bees. However, there was no visible difference between the sweet bumbly bees and the ones that sting. There wasn’t really any way to know which was which until the young woman got stung. The bumbly bees also did nothing to purge their own ranks of the stinging bees. It wasn’t really their problem, after all.

Once upon a time, people thought that if a young woman was modest, and had a good reputation, and only spent time with men of good reputation, that she was safe from rape. In fact, up until 1996, it was legal in all but 17 states and DC for a husband to force sex on his wife. These days, forcing sex on your wife is correctly labeled as rape, but it’s kind of scary that it wasn’t necessarily legally rape into the 90s. We have also come to the conclusion that between 73% and 90% of rapes are committed by a person the victim knows. Being escorted home from a date by your boyfriend is no longer absolute proof against being raped. After all, he might do it.

One other thing that we know now that wasn’t common knowledge in the past is that almost one out of five women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape. When your chances are one in five of being raped, the odds really are against you. I would also suggest that because of the low percent that are reported and the situations that a woman may not admit are rape, it may even be more pervasive than that.

Rape culture is a culture in which people are raped and it is almost considered the norm. It is a culture where rapists are slapped on the wrist and victims are shamed and blamed for something that happened to them. It is a culture where no one says not to tell a rape joke because you might hurt the joker’s feelings. No consideration is given to the rape victim that overhears it and will have another night of nightmares. After all, the joke was funny, right?

Women distrust men because society has placed the burden of our protection on our shoulders. Just recently, I started seeing somewhat tongue-in-cheek posters and online posts that were telling men how not to rape. These were in reaction to the ones that had been around for years, if not decades, telling women how to not be raped. In other words, society is only now starting to realize that the problem isn’t because her skirt was too short or she was drinking. The problem is that HE’S A RAPIST. Until society as a whole places the burden on the perpetrator of the crimes, the victims have to assume that they can’t rely on anyone but themselves to stay safe.

In conclusion- I love men. Always have. But I’m not going to trust that hot stranger I met in the bar right off the bat because I don’t know if he’s a bumbly bee or a stinging bee. Society has told me I have to protect myself, so I will. For all of you misunderstood bumbly bees out there- stop complaining that we don’t trust you and start helping us make a world where we can trust you. Rape culture only benefits rapists. Let’s build a culture that benefits everyone else.

Goodbye Earl

I wanted to finish this month, rather literally at the eleventh hour, on a musical note. Music is something that is in all of our lives to some extent or another. Not everyone sings or plays, but I think I can say that everyone reading this post at the very least is subject to the jingles in advertisements. Something that is that ubiquitous is going to be something that affects our world views. People talk a lot about how rap is very anti-female. I’m not going to argue the point. However, that is far from the only genre, and only topic, that is influenced by the lyrics that are written and sung.

When I was in high school, the song Goodbye Earl came out. This was before the Dixie Chicks managed to alienate their fan base by having the audacity to have an unpopular political opinion, so it was heard. A lot. I really liked it. However, when I mentioned that fact to a male friend, he was appalled. He thought it was a horrible song and how could I possibly condone that behavior? Was I planning something like that for a significant other? Somehow, telling him that all he had to do was not act like Earl to save himself from such a fate was not reassuring to him. To this day I don’t understand why that answer isn’t ok.

The other song that sprang to mind when I was thinking about this post happens to fall on the other end of the spectrum. It’s not nearly as popular, and more than once I wondered if I’d imagined it because I heard it so seldom. This one stuck in my brain because it’s so disturbing- and so accurate for many, many abused people.

I couldn’t remember the name of Luka when I was getting ready to write this, so I googled “songs about abused women.” Do it sometime. Be in awe of the number of posts that come up. I’m not going to list all of them, but I am going to list some of the ones that are familiar to me.

Martina McBride- Independence Day

Eminem- Kim (among others)

Green Day- Pulling Teeth

Pat Benatar- Hit Me With Your Best Shot

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus- Face Down

Kelly Clarkson- Because of You

There were also many others that, honestly, I need to listen to again before I can agree or disagree. Eminem’s songs tend to be pro abuse. Independence Day is about a woman getting some of her own back because no one was noticing anything. An interesting note is that in the description of that song and video it was pointed out that in the video the woman was shown to die in the fire, while the lyrics leave it ambiguous. They theorized that a woman can stand up for herself as long as she also goes down in the end.

You know, maybe that was my friend’s problem with Goodbye Earl. It ends with two women not only permanently taking care of an abusive asshole, but getting away with it and going on to live their lives. They had no comeuppance. Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve been learning about domestic violence is that more often than not, it’s Earl who never has a comeuppance. If either side has any right to getting away with something like that, it’s not Earl. More people need to understand this.

What Is Domestic Violence, Anyway?

We’ve all seen the posters and pictures of cowering women with black eyes and casts on broken bones. We’ve seen pictures of women placing themselves physically between their children and their abuser. Maybe pictures of older siblings taking the same stance to protect younger siblings.

So, if you aren’t bruised and don’t have any broken bones, that means you’re not being abused, right?


The legal definition of domestic violence is: Any abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another can constitute domestic violence. In my mind, it really boils down to fear. If you are afraid of your spouse, significant other, parent, child, or caretaker, you might be in an abusive relationship. If they are using fear, either through words or actions, to control you, it is abuse.

I have come across discussions about whether or not to spank your children. Opinions, of course, range from “spare the rod, spoil the child” to pearl-clutching horror that you could even think such a thing! The discussion usually involves talking about what crosses the line from discipline to abuse. A pretty standard answer is that if you are hitting them in anger, it’s abuse.

The problem with that is that I have been spanked and paddled in anger. I was not abused. I do not fear my parents now, and I never feared them as a child. Sure, they could be scary if they were pissed off. I come by my temper honestly. It wasn’t fun to piss them off- but that was because there were consequences to my actions, not because I had any fear of being hurt or worse. On the rare occasions I was spanked or paddled in anger it was because I was either being an unreasonable and unbearable brat or I’d scared them silly. In either case, it was a reaction to get me to see that my behavior was not acceptable and would have very uncomfortable repercussions. It was, in the end, an attempt to help make me a better person and a better citizen because I would think twice before being an unbearable brat or doing things that scare the people that care about me.

In an abusive situation, when the abuser is hitting the victim they may well be red in the face, veins popping, and otherwise exhibiting signs of anger or rage. However, in most cases if the phone rings or someone knocks on the door, the abuser can speak to the non-victim in a perfectly calm, rational manner. I don’t know about you, but when I’m pissed, and I get interrupted in the middle of being pissed, I’m going to be less than calm with the person on the phone or at the door. Why? Because real, genuine anger doesn’t dissipate that fast. Which means that the abuser probably wasn’t angry. What they were doing was using physical (or mental, or sexual) aggression to cow the victim. It’s very easy to hide that behind phrases like “I just lost it” or “I went crazy for a minute.”

Spanking is something that I’m sort of on the fence about. I don’t think it’s automatically abuse, but I also don’t think it’s the most effective response. Possibly because it never worked that well on me. I don’t have children, but I do work with animals. Training the two is similar enough to be able to draw some parallels. Something that crosses species is that you get more out of an animal that is allowed to try things and make mistakes than you do from an animal that is so afraid of being wrong that they never try anything but the handful of responses that they have found to be “safe.” An animal that is allowed to try things, to experiment, and to make mistakes is going to test your boundaries and have opinions that you may not share. However, you are giving the animal the chance to develop as far as they are able to. An animal that is terrified of being wrong, usually because the punishments were way out of proportion to the crimes, is not going to test you. The other side of that lack of pushing boundaries is that the animal will never reach their full potential.

To bring it back to humans, I was allowed to push boundaries and make mistakes as a child. Sometimes those mistakes resulted in disciplinary measures because consequences are real. The discipline was never given in a way that would stop me from wanting to keep asking questions and growing, though. Today, I am a fully realized person with thoughts and opinions that my parents may not like. That’s ok, because they would rather have a whole daughter than an easy life. In an abusive relationship, it’s about an easy life, not a whole partner. The victim is hounded until they stop straying from the handful of “safe” answers. Those answers or actions are usually very good for the abuser and vary from neutral to bad for the victim.

So, are you being abused? Do you know someone who is in an abusive relationship and may not recognize it? Fear is not normal. Making everything all about one family member is not normal. Completely and perpetually bypassing your own needs to always cater to the needs of the other is not normal. Everyone changes small things as they grow with their partner, but in a healthy relationship, they are still able to grow and express themselves as an individual. Are you a fully-realized person, or have you shed all of those parts of your personality that annoy your significant other? Domestic violence seldom starts with black eyes and broken bones, but all too frequently it ends up there. Recognize it before it does.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Yeah- neither did I. I know about Black History Month (February). Women’s History Month (March). Isn’t there even a Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Holy shit- that’s also October. No wonder we don’t know it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Pink ribbons and saving the ta-tas (ok, that idea was cute) is way sexier than talking about spouses abusing each other and their children. After all, abuse only happens to them, not to us. It only happens to poor people, or people with terrible tempers.

An estimated 1.3 million women are assaulted by an intimate partner annually. As women are only 85% of domestic violence victims, that means it’s really over 1.5 million assaults a year. How that does pale in the face of 232,340 cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed each year. One in eight women can expect to have invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. One in four can expect to experience domestic violence. While I don’t intend to belittle cancer, I do firmly believe that it is far from the only thing that endangers women, children, and men.

Most domestic violence statistics are read as female victims, male perpetrators. As stated above, 85% of the victims are female. I will probably also follow this trend because it makes writing easier (she is always the victim, he is always the perpetrator), and it is statistically probable. However, whenever possible, I will also mention the male victims. While getting rid of male-on-female violence is important, we also need to get rid of female-on-male violence and same-gender-violence. It’s only by eliminating all forms of partner and child abuse that we can make sure it doesn’t re-root itself.