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 makesĀ herĀ 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.