We’ve been talking about rape culture for a while now. We’ve been living with it for longer. Realistically, it shows no sign of abating. A recent well publicised case has brought it all to the fore again. The abridged version of the story is this: An American woman was raped by Brock The Rapist Turner, and a judge sentenced him to a pitiful prison holiday, which has already been reduced for good behaviour.
What a shame he couldn’t do the good behaviour when in the presence of a woman too intoxicated to give him consent.
I grew up in Sydney, in the 80s and 90s, the younger sister of a feminist. In those days it felt liberating to wear a whistle when I went out a night. To carry my keys clutched between my fingers so I could jab attackers with them. To wear solid clothing, and stay with friends at parties. It was all liberating to us because we thought it would prevent rape. The trouble was that it didn’t do any such thing. What we now know is that all the rape prevention that we threw at the world did nothing to reduce rape statistics. Not a thing.
I’m now the mother of a teenager, one about to become legally an adult. I’m excited about that, it feels like a real achievement to say that I RAISED AN ADULT! But do you know what the sick thing is? I’m about to send her off to university, where she will hopefully meet new friends and begin an exciting new social life. A part of me is thrilled about it, but the rest of me is absolutely petrified that there is nothing I can do to protect her from rape.
I told her all about rape when she was relatively young. Far younger than many people think girls should hear it. I wanted her to have a name for it if ever it happened. I wanted her to know that it was no shame on her, no secret she had to keep, and that I would always, ALWAYS believe her. But I’m the only one who would always believe her aren’t I.
What I had to tell my daughter about rape was sickening. It made me want to cry and rage and scream out loud, because it’s so unspeakably absurd that any mother would ever have to tell her daughter this message.
Telling your daughter that she is never ever responsible for unwanted attention, assault, rape, stalking, or other violence is one thing. No matter what she wears, who she sees, what activities she partakes in with them, where she goes, what she drinks, or takes, she is never ever responsible for the actions of others.
“There is nothing, not a single thing on the planet that you will ever do, that will make you responsible for the actions of another person who harms you” I said to her.
Here’s where it gets sick.
After telling her that, I had to tell her that if she IS ever raped, attacked, assaulted, stalked, or abused, she can’t rely on a single police person, judge, jury, no stranger, and possibly not even friends to look past what she was wearing.
I said words to the effect of: The defence lawyer will hold your skirt up in court and measure it with a ruler, they’ll read out your blood alcohol level, they’ll tell everyone on the jury how your rapist bought you dinner and you giggled at his jokes.
Or maybe how she wore her hair in a ponytail, didn’t phone a friend, went out alone, didn’t say NO loudly enough, how she’d already had a boyfriend before.
That’s right. I had to tell my daughter
“You will never be able to prevent rape, but people still think you should.”
In 2016. If you don’t prevent a rapist from raping you, probably a rapist who is larger and stronger than you, then your skirt had better be down to your ankles and made of chain mail, and you’d best be hollering NO throughout the event, without stopping to draw breathe. You’ll never see him in court otherwise.
The irony of raising a daughter with a backdrop of pop culture that screams SEXY IS POWERFUL, and if you dress like that it’s slutty, is truly bizarre. Her culture, rape culture, screams at her that she must be sexy at all costs, but if she gets raped whilst being sexy she shouldn’t have been so sexy!? Everyone worries about the poor powerless rapist and what will become of him after the momentary lapse in his exemplary history. Apparently sexiness is SO powerful that it causes boys and grown men alike to become rapists. The poor things!
I remember when I told her all about this. It felt wrong on every level. At the time I couldn’t explain why it felt so wrong, why I felt like such a desperate failure of a feminist mother to tell her that it would never be her fault, but …… Then along came someone far more eloquent than me, who came up with the term RAPE CULTURE and everything fell into place. Like a jigsaw that had been missing a couple of pieces. I wasn’t a failure of a mother, I was just a mother held hostage by rape culture. Trapped in a place where I wanted my daughter to feel safe, and yet understand that there is no safety.
I feel like I’m handing over the baton to her now. A baton that will burn her hand as she carries it forward in life, only to hand it on to my granddaughter, whose hand will burn too. I never wanted this for her, or the daughters of tomorrow. I wish they could grow up as I did, thinking that you could prevent rape by wearing a whistle and phoning a friend. But the most sickening truth of all is this. No lone woman, no group of women in solidarity, will ever end rape. We are relying on rapists to end it for us. Rapists. Criminals who are comfortably oozing through life, buoyed by the perpetual lull of rape culture.
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