The XX Factor

Is American Culture a Rape Culture?

I was raised to fear rape. Not by my mom, but by my teachers, my pastors, and advice columns in teen magazines. As a high schooler, I was certain that when I left the safety of the suburbs for the wilderness of a big state school, I would be surrounded by serial killers, rapists, or at least predatory frat boys. But when I actually arrived on campus at the University of Oklahoma, I discovered neither legions of threatening men nor groups of cowering women. In fact, my girlfriends and I had been educated and empowered to within an inch of our lives. We took our drinks with us to the bathroom, but we didn’t take trash from guys. We knew that no meant no, you never blame the victim, and there’s no such thing as asking for it.  And we knew the guys knew, too. William Golding’s contemporaries may have had good reason to fear the men around them, but not us. SafeWalk was there if anyone was afraid to walk home at night, but we weren’t.

After four years of feeling very, very safe in an environment that is supposed to be festering with sexual violence, I was startled by this video about “rape culture.” The filmmakers seem to believe that women are routinely victimized by men and most people are pretty okay with that. The Chicago teens who put together the video explain that during the course of their research, it “was made clear to us how common rape is” and “we finally came to the conclusion that everything was connected under a bigger concept called rape culture,” which includes everything from society’s attitudes to its advertising.

While I understand that assaults happen, I was surprised by the assertion that we live in a rape culture . My own experience suggests that we live in an anything-but-rape culture, where some men are more likely to fret about their flirtatiousness being perceived as harassment than they are to actually flirt. But are these the impressions of a sheltered young woman from the South, the product of a specific social milieu that most women wouldn’t recognize? What do you think, DoubleX ers? Do we live in a rape culture, an overly-politically-correct culture, or some contradictory combination of the two? And if we don’t live in the kind of culture we want to live in, what can we do about it?

Photograph is a screenshot from the “Hidden Culture” video.