Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Rape Culture, Normalisation and Oolon.

I have already given some of my thoughts on the assertion that we live in a rape culture last year (the conclusion drawn that we do only so much as we also live in a non-sexual violence culture, a fraud culture, a theft culture, a murder culture etc etc).

So over a year later I thought I'd have a look at my old 'friend' Oolon's blog and what do I find? Yes that is right: a nice juicy entry bemoaning the individuals (the embodiments of rape culture) who take issue with the idea.

So here I am running the very real risk (for which read, copper-bottomed certainty) of, once again, being labelled a rape apologist by daring to question this particular mantra. Part of me would like to be all bullish at this point and claim that such comments are simply water off a ducks back. They are not. They do hurt. Notwithstanding that I will press on, those that want to hate through mischaracterisation and misrepresentation have enough to dislike me for already.

One of the most ironic aspects of Oolon's blog is the level of hypocrisy. He criticises rape culture theory critics for picking weak arguments or strawmanning the arguments of its proponents. The problem is, at what point in HIS deconstruction of the critics arguments does he do anything other than go after the weakest and least relevant? Funnier still was the way in which the one commenter on the blog demonstrated very ably how both sides are equally capable of playing this same game. Let me share the humour with you:

This was Oolon's decrying of such an approach:
Much easier to take down a corrupt or simplistic rendering of your opponents argument, this is a very popular technique and to be fair often people are accused of it when they are just trying to fairly paraphrase or restate their opponents arguments. Here our friend is just going for a total fantasy of his own making.

And here is a snippet of his commenters (latsot) response. Oolon must have cringed:

It would be too depressing to describe all the ‘arguments’ against rape culture I’ve seen, but it might be fun to list some of the tropes. For an especially masochistic definition of ‘fun’. Some of these you’ve already mentioned.
 5. The slymepit has lots of examples of FTBullies behaviing badly, therefore…. and I get a bit lost here… people who rape or threaten rape or enable rape are…ok…?
6. FTBullies are evil. Therefore anyone evil is an FTBully. Therefore FTBullies are evil. Why are they evil? Mostly because they are not fans of rape culture apologists.
14. Caring about people is somehow and inexplicably a bad thing
15 Atheism is only about not believing in gods. Unless we are telling off believers for the same things we refuse to tell non-believers off for.

So there you go. Perhaps I should follow Oolon's lead and simply critique what Latsot had to say? I will resist the temptation.

At the end of the piece Oolon lays a challenge to "Skeptical anti-feminist skeptics" to stop critiquing their straw-definitions and instead tackle "the most reasonable definition currently accepted by feminists". Whilst I am avowedly NOT an anti-feminist (and have gone to lengths on video to outline my position there, not that it does me one iota of good) and whilst I am severely irked at a fellow Englishman spelling sceptic with a "k" (presumably Oolon also favours "aluminum" and er, well... "favor"!) I want to tackle what I think is two of the most fundamental issues given the exact definition he uses himself in his blog piece.

Perhaps this is a good time to read the definition of rape culture Oolon is working off here:

Rape culture is a phrase used to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality.
Examples of behaviours commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of certain forms of sexual violence that do not conform to certain stereotypes of stranger or violent rape.
Fundamental in this definition is the idea that rape and sexual violence have become normalised. So what does that mean? Oolon is quoting his definition from wikipedia so here is their entry on normalisation

Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as "normal" and become taken-for-granted or 'natural' in everyday life.  

So is this really the case? Have we started to normalise rape in our societies?

One thing that has been normalised in recent years is homosexuality. Go back a slack handful of decades and attitudes were very much different to how they are today. Nowadays, happily, most lesbians and gay men can quite happily admit to their sexual preferences and the majority of us are a healthy combination of welcoming and blissfully uninterested in who it is the person is sexually attracted to. With normalisation comes the ability to freely admit that which you do or desire to do because it no longer attracts stigma; it is no longer seen as wrong.

Think about paedophilia for a moment.
In the UK in the 1970's a group called the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) sought to normalise paedophilia, make it an acceptable expression of sexuality. Go forwards a couple of decades and the Catholic church, primarily in Ireland, became embroiled in a series of scandals involving priests sexually assaulting and raping children. The reason I mention these two things is because the actions of the church upon learning of the priests evil actions was to suppress and deny. Why? Because, thankfully, PIE was not successful and paedophilia has not been normalised. If sex with children was normalised in our society the church would have seen nothing requiring a denial.

This is why I find claims that rape has been normalised entirely problematic. It is the very strength with which denials are made; the very contempt with which we hold the rapist (over and above perpetrators of other violent crimes); the reticence we have to accept that those we know could be guilty of such a thing, that demonstrates just how wide of the mark it is to suggest that rape and sexual assault have been normalised.
We hear of examples of communities rallying around young men accused of rape, refusing to accept their guilt and culpability (in many cases, shamefully so) but however much these cases highlight a very real issue we have regarding rape prosecutions and societal attitudes are they not the diametric opposite of what we would expect to see if rape was normalised? Surely if rape really was normalised, rather than desperately trying to avoid the reality of what has likely taken place the response would simply be "ok, they raped her, so what?"

When I cast my eye out over society rather than see rape and sexual violence normalised, above and beyond other crimes against the person, I actually see the total opposite. If any process of normalisation is taking place it is specifically and selectively of violent crimes that do not have a sexual component. Video games are possibly the most extreme example of this. Consider the controversy stirred up in the latest Lara Croft game when it was rumoured she may have been sexually assaulted as part of the back story. Beaten up would have been fine; knifed to within an inch of her life - fine; defrauded of her family estate - fine. This is a video game remember, like myriad others, that is end to end (non-sexual) violence and killing of human beings and this violence has, in the name of entertainment, become so normalised that it barely registers any more. It has become the norm. Put ONE violent crime with a sexual aspect amongst the thousands on non-sexual crimes and the moral condemnation and outcries amongst media and public come thick and fast.

Honestly now. Does that sound like something that has become normalised? 

Really, this would take special pleading of the most egregious kind to argue that these indicators, which are the very hallmark of something far outside of accepted societal norms on any other issue indicate normalisation when it comes to rape and sexual violence.

So that was the first issue I have with that definition. The second is of a different form.

Oolon's claim is that the markers of rape culture have been outlined by feminists and that we need to do a review of the scientific research if we intend to debunk the theory. The problem is - at least MY problem is - not the research or the findings therein but the seemingly rather specious choice of factors itself.
For example, he lists five towards the end of his blog that he expects to be challenged, not on the grounds of relevance (which we are just expected to accept, i think) but on whether they occur:
1. Victim blaming, 2. Sexual objectification, 3. Trivializing rape, 4. Denial of widespread rape , 5. Refusing to acknowledge the harm of certain forms of sexual violence.

Forgive me if I challenge SOME of them on grounds outside of what he expects

As I mentioned on my earlier blog on this subject, I accept that victim blaming occurs, as it does with every single crime I can think of. I will grant that there is in amongst that a particularly pernicious and nasty strand of blaming that attaches itself to rape over and above some other crimes. It is the victim blaming that detracts blame from the perpetrator that is at issue, not victim blaming per se because society spends its entire time blaming victims (for not locking their cars, not installing a firewall on their pc's, hanging around with the wrong people or the wrong place at the wrong time)
Then we have sexual objectification. How strange it is that we happily accept objectification of one another in almost every sphere of life (the way we view sportspeople as physical commodities; farm and manual labourers; the gun fodder, once again, in video games) just so long as there is no sexual aspect to it. Add sex to the mix and suddenly that is evidence of rape culture! So here we all are, sexual beings who have a chronic habit of objectifying one another and what the hell do we expect? Big fucking deal. Irrelevant in the extreme.
The denial of widespread rape happens. I admitted it earlier. The problem is, as I pointed out at the time, whilst this may be a big issue in itself (something regrettable that needs addressing), how can it be anything other than evidence against rape culture, not for it? It evidences that rape is NOT normalised, not the other way round!
So that leaves trivialising rape and refusing to accept the harm of certain forms of sexual violence. I agree that these take place and are evidence that points towards a conclusion of rape culture.
What I don't agree is that this is sufficient to balance out all the societal indicators that point to the contrary - that rape and sexual violence are crimes that we regard as far worse than violent crimes that have no sexual element and that the fulfillment of the necessary condition of normalisation is about as far from being fulfilled as one could possibly imagine.

One final note: I realise I am probably wasting my breath here but there is really nothing here that is intended to give any leeway whatsoever to anyone who overrides any individuals right to only partake in sexual activities to which they fully consent. The very basis of this response is to say that rape is a very bad thing and that society recognises it as such. If we fail to acknowledge that, instead convincing ourselves that such things have been normalised, how will that aid toward making our societies better and safer for all involved?



  1. Your crappy blog commenting system didn't like my overly verbose comment, so I made it into a blog post here ->

  2. I agree with pretty much everything you said, except there is one thing I really have to take issue with.

    "So that leaves trivialising rape... I agree that these take place and are evidence that points towards a conclusion of rape culture."

    I just don't think that's true at all. I almost never see rape "trivialised", not in the media (news, movies, videogames, etc..) or even in our personal lives (try telling a rape joke and see how that works out for you).

    If we compare rape with murder we would actually have to conclude that we live in a "murder culture" not a "rape culture". Even as you pointed out yourself, murder is constantly trivialised by the media (movies, videogames, etc..).

    And as I said, you even pointed this out yourself, we are perfectly fine with (primarily men) being killed in videogames and movies, but the moment a woman gets sexually assaulted in a videogame or a movie what do we see? Public outrage.

    I just don't see how this supports the conclusion that we live in a rape culture.

    Personally I think both conclusions (rape culture and murder culture) are moronic. Fiction is fiction, but in actual reality rape and murder are both illegal actions.

    Videogames are triviliasing murder, but do we see more people getting killed now than before videogames existed? Absolutely not.

    Homicide rates for the US are actually lower now than throughout all of the 20th century.

    So this is another problem I have with this idea of crimes being "triviliased", as far as we can tell there seems to be no causal connection between a crime being triviliased by the media and actual crime numbers.

    1. I misspelled "trivialised" twice, my apologies.

  3. Excellently stated; Mr Plum, Oolon isn't really worth the time. Balanced, intelligent and sound,