"Rape culture is a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape."
The definitional entry on finallyfeminism101
from the web article Transforming a Rape Culture:
A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.
The one bone of contention I have with this second definition is the line "a society where violence is seen as sexy". It may well be so that society sees violence as sexy (in fact I shall make the case myself below) but we must be clear of what is meant here. By following that line with "sexuality as violent" can erroneously give the impression that violence is seen as some kind of precursor to sex. Bear this in mind: the kind of violence that is seen as sexy is typically of the powerful male who intimidates other males, asserts his alpha male status over his rivals and always comes out on top in a fistfight. Outside of people's sexual fantasies (and I assume we are all grown-up enough to see the distinction between fantasies we wish to remain as fantasies and the actualities of our lives) the man who physically assaults and intimidates women is not generally held to be sexy, in fact the exact opposite is usually the case.
What I do not intend to do here is dispute the many and varied evidences given to support the notion we live in a rape culture. What I intend to do is the following:
1) Look at some of the categories we can place those pieces of evidence in.
2) Propose that this model ought to be applied more widely.
3) Look at some other categories of crime, particularly against the person, and see if the same arguments can be made
4) Reach a tentative conclusion.
To reiterate what I said above, what I specifically aim to avoid doing is to argue against the evidences cited for rape culture. If at any point my discussion of other categories of crime and their potential associated culture appears at odds with that cited for rape culture then that is merely an evidential spandrel arising out of this approach, it isn't my goal nor pertinent to the argument in any way.
I also want to avoid making this response in any way about teh menz, as much as is humanly possible, knowing how aggravating it is to some when issues that disproportionately affect men are dragged into conversations. That said, it is difficult to entirely exclude 50% of the population and my own experiences, as a man, obviously involve disproportionately encountering the crime issues faced by men.
Anyway, let's get cracking!
1 - Categories of evidence
Looking both at the definitions and thinking on the many many examples I have seen given as evidencing the theory that we live in a rape culture I want to put forward the following four categories, with no claim whatsoever that this is an exhaustive list:
i) Positive attitudes towards male sexual aggression
ii) A downplaying of the seriousness of the offence, perhaps in video games or films, or in seeing rape as a suitable subject for humour.
iii) A passive acceptance that rape is part and parcel of life (for women, at least), both from society at large and an acceptance amongst potential victims of a high likelihood of future victimhood.
iv) Victim Blaming
2 - Applying the model more widely
The case I wish to make here is that the model and the evidences proposed regarding rape culture are actually only manifestations of viewing sexual violence in isolation and, in doing so, misidentifies what is going on.
Suppose one made the case, given our western predilection for pig meat to say we live in a pork culture. Clearly we can imagine the evidences we could provide to help back up the claim. However, even if we just widen the context a little bit and consider beef and chicken consumption we may well see that those things we were attributing as special to pork are actually simply part of a greater whole we have somehow managed to look beyond: we live in a culture that likes to eat a lot of meat generally.
So in a similar way to those blind Indian gents who all correctly describe part of an elephant but misunderstand entirely the elephant as a whole, so I am suggesting here. The claim of rape culture arises from only viewing part of the edifice; from only looking for pork and so only finding pork.
Believe me, I make these analogies knowing the depressingly high likelihood that this blog will be warped beyond recognition into something along the lines of 'Noelplum said that raping someone is no different to eating pork', that my analogy trivialises rape (yet it could be applied with equal veracity to any crime you like) or some such lies.
Be at it. If misrepresentation is the best tool you have available you have my sympathies.
3 - Considering other categories of crime
So moving on, what I intend to do here is to make the case that analogs of beef and chicken actually exist here. In other words, the categories of evidence listed above apply in equally convincing ways to other types of crime against the person. So to consider two categories, firstly non-sexual violence and murder and then fraud.
Non-sexual Violence (and Killing)
Right off the bat, I will be honest and say that the picture here is not entirely clear cut.
General attitudes, in the UK at least, are not universally generous or positive towards acts of indiscriminate aggression. An overriding principle of "you should never hit a woman"(1) still seems to hold sway, in all probability a patriarchal remnant regarding the way in which women ought to be treated, by men at least.
However, such a large proportion of violence is committed by men and given that men themselves are so often on the receiving end of that violence, I think it is legitimate to consider such perceptions as important attitudes(2). In terms of everyday attitudes there still seems to be some kudos attached, amongst men especially, to being seen as the tough guy, the hard man. That kind of respect comes but one way: heavy duty acts of physical violence against other men. The 'hardest man in town' may not attract our respect but he will attract the respect of many and the savageness of his assaults on other males will be the making of his reputation in local pubs and clubs. This situation appears to only be amplified in prisons, whereby a demonstrated ability to beat another man within an inch of his life is treated with respect. Contrast this, if you will, with the moral pontificating (which I often find slightly breathtaking given the crimes they HAVE committed) that these same 'hard men' do with regard to other categories of criminal such as child molesters and rapists. Clearly, in prison at least, it is violence of the non-sexual sort that is afforded status and respect.
Then we have expectation. The expectation I grew up with was that a damned good kicking was just one of the occupational hazards of being a young man(3). That the possibility of getting to old age without experiencing a beating, from some random assailant, somewhere along the way, was practically inconceivable. Don't get me wrong, there was no expectation that any given outing would likely result in such an outcome (if it did I would have stayed in, believe me!) but there was an accepted inevitability that sooner or later your luck will run out. Expectation: without a shadow of a doubt, it was my expectation and that of all my friends.
Victim blaming is another illuminating category here. We see a murder or a beating in the paper and inevitably someone will question whether the victim was up to no good, provoking the trouble or involved in drugs or crime or something else that we deem increases the likelihood of such a thing occurring. Friends who got assaulted, in my late teens and twenties, would be grilled as to the circumstances and any admittance that they had walked home alone or strayed from the main areas (when they need not have done so) always -without fail- attracted responses of the 'fucking idiot, what do you expect' variety.
As an aside, I still feel that way about myself. My parents taught me to stay with friends, keep to busy areas and get a taxi home. To do otherwise was to be irresponsible; to take a risk with my personal safety. To do otherwise would have potentially led to outcomes involving victim blaming, with myself as the victim and myself taking blame.
I still stick to these rules.
What about the media? Seemingly you could fill a small library with biographies and autobiographies of celebrated criminals and 'hard men', all waving their credentials under our noses in terms of how many people they have beaten up: the greater the head count the higher they rank. Make no mistake though, there will be no bragging tales about how many children they have molested or women they have raped, instead the bragging here takes the form of (in your best cockney accent) "I neva laid a fackin finga on a woman in anga and anyone who did is a fackin cant", or words to that effect!
Yet in all of this books are of nothing as compared to films(4), yet let us put films to one side entirely as they are, in turn, as nothing compared to what we see in video games. Video games, that strange leisure activity where, more often than not, the whole aim of the game is to brutalise and murder, male and female alike; where you get awarded points, sometimes even 'honour', for endless dispassionate killing.
-From competitive 'first person shooters' where success is measured by number of kills
-Fighting games, pioneered by the likes of Mortal Kombat, that award particularly clever control combinations with finishing fatalities.
-The endless killing seen in World of WarCraft, often justified via a quest for the most trivial reasoning imaginable and equally as often involving other player characters whose back story and claim on continued existence is as justifiable as ones own.
-To the game I play presently, Skyrim, where the player can train and gain respect as a thief or mercenary, slaughter innocents in their hundreds and, in scenes reminiscent of the fighting game genre, witness savage death blows where ones hapless opponent meets a particularly grisly end.
Yet amongst all of that, for all the noted sexualisation of characters in series such as SNK's King of Fighters and Tecmo's Dead or Alive, the glory always lies in beating the opponent to within an inch of their life or beyond - the violence itself is always non-sexual and resolutely so.
Sexual violence, on the other hand, is notable only by its (almost) total absence5. Indeed, the up and coming Tomb Raider game has already been hit by a scandal that the back story may have involved Lara Croft (the central protagonist) having been raped or sexually assaulted. Things such as they are the publishers are backtracking on the suggestion. One thing we can be sure of, killing and heavy duty non-sexual violence will make up an unavoidable part of the game and will attract the bare minimum of criticism.
So I have to say, in summary, that if video games DO glorify crime (and you can throw in films here also) it is hard to imagine non-sexual violence could feature any higher up the list. (nor sexual violence feature any lower down)
Have I not made the case here that we live in a non-sexual violence culture and a killing culture? If you think not then I can only ask: if all the situations given here applied to sexual violence in the same way, then how would you view it?
Fraud, Scams and their Ilk
Fraud may seem an interesting choice. Perhaps seemingly smaller in terms of scope and less of a hot topic than violence, of either a sexual or non-sexual nature, fraud is of interest, I propose, because I can think of no other sphere of life where victim blaming is more prevalent.
Of course it needs to be said right from the outset that victim blaming, far from being the sole preserve of the sexual victim, is pretty much ubiquitous across the whole gamut of criminal offences. Indeed, the political left(6), who complain most regularly and vociferously about the practice of victim blaming, are generally amongst the first to do exactly the very same when it comes to terrorist threats and atrocities committed against Western democracies. However, my aim here is not to discuss the issues surrounding victim blaming but to consider the level of victim blaming that goes on with victims of fraud and scam-artists.
So I ask you to consider the friend who gets scammed on ebay; or whose data is lost through unwittingly downloading a virus; or who actually hired the man knocking on the door offering to resurface the drive or chop down the unwanted tree.
Immediately we hear of their misfortune we want to know whether ebay feedback was checked; whether virus scanners were installed; whether other quotes were taken and references sought?
After all, you buy on ebay without checking feedback you deserve all you get; leave your pc underprotected and only have yourself to blame; and everyone knows you don't buy services offered unsolicited on your doorstep, right?
If victim blaming signifies cultural approval of a crime then there can be no doubt we live in a fraud culture. The only surprise is that noone seems to be making this connection: noone is pointing out that we ought not be telling people how to protect their personal data from viruses and trojans we should be telling the hackers "don't hack!"
Now in terms of how we view fraud and fraudsters it is a mixed bag.
I suggest that generally we have a pretty low opinion of the crooked tradesperson or used-car dealer, yet the computer hacker is sometimes seen as some sort of modern day frontiersman or freedom fighter, bravely refusing to be constrained by the constraints of society. This as they infect, destroy and defraud.
-Then we have the tax frauds - why shouldn't one who works hard allow a little bit of slippage on their returns?
-The benefits frauds - why should you lose those benefits just because you've found a job, right?
-The insurance frauds - you've paid all those premiums over the years, why shouldn't you add a couple of items onto that claim?
The list of types of fraud is quite long but nowhere near as long as the list of justifications and apologies we have for fraudulent activity. It isn't that bad right?...... but isn't this prima facie evidence of some degree of cultural acceptance of crimes of this type, just as it is when it is claimed rape apologists play down the significance of rape in some way as evidence of rape culture?
Our expectations are also high here. Sky high. We accept rogue tradespeople, as we accept viruses, ebay scams and phishing facebook apps as somehow part and parcel of modern existence. Our intolerance has been blunted and our sense of outrage extirpated, so used have we become to these criminal attempts to benefit at both our financial and psychological expense.
I offer the proposal here that if we accept the same criteria offered for rape culture and apply it to both on- and offline frauds and scams then the conclusion that we live in a fraud culture is inescapable.
4 - Tentative Conclusion
So I chose two broad categories of crime as examples, I could have chosen others. I chose the two I did because they were the two I was motivated to write about, though I contend that I can barely think of an example that you couldn't make a similar case for.
So my intention here is not to dispute the case put forward for rape culture but perhaps to dispute the conclusion. Going back to our Indian gentlemen, it seems to me that the case for rape culture, described as is, depends on only seeing a part of the whole. You see but one section of our societies variously ambivalent, hypocritical, black-humoured, self-serving and, ultimately, contradictory attitudes to crimes against the person (as well as against society) and it is easy to remark that the elephant is rather like a wall, or a snake, or a fan. Then you step back and see the violence culture, the killing culture, the fraud culture.......... so is it not a crime culture we are seeing here, really? Are we not just describing an aspect of that?
Yet I suggest a further step. Does it make sense to label our culture a crime culture when rates of crime are comparatively so low? We are lucky. Western societies are seriously safe places to live compared to most of the rest of the world; western citizens have high expectations of protection from crime and punishment for those convicted; western police forces do actually take reported crimes seriously, they do not simply smile and shrug their shoulders.
So aren't these attitudes just part of the normal human cultural experience and not something that has earnt itself a special label on account of being in any way out of the ordinary? In other words, isn't what we could label crime culture really just............. culture?
To end I would just like to add, as I know it is necessary for the particularly mean-spirited amongst you, that suggesting that something is part of the normal human cultural expereince, or even better than the normal experience, does not preclude us from striving for better, for striving for the best.
We should do that, I think.
1 http://www.ndvf.org.uk/files/document/1093/original.pdf (p27, p34 table 2.26 cf to table 2.27 also and)
2 http://www.ndvf.org.uk/files/document/1093/original.pdf (p24 table 2.17)
3 http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/hosb1210/hosb1210-chap3?view=Binary (table 3.01 figures for stranger and mugging crimes)
4 Films and television also portray violence, often the most severe forms, as something amusing and trivial. We can happily laugh as Tom is skinned alive or struck so hard over the head with a pan he is left dazed and with a pan-shaped face. Yet it is only because the violence stays resolutely non-sexual that such laughter is deemed morally acceptable. So if this is trivialisation and normalisation of violence (and as such evidence of contribution to a cultural climate of acceptance) then, again, it is of the non-sexual kind.
6 Which in terms of American politics would include myself. The centre of gravity is somewhat different in Europe and I have a hard time locating myself in terms of left and right wing.