Anything that's not yes means no: Examining rape culture

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
March 26, 2013

I wish I didn’t have to write this editorial, but after watching the coverage of the Steubenville Rape case we all need to ask ourselves: What the hell is wrong with our culture?

Last Sunday, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty of raping a drunk, unconscious 16-year-old girl, while it was being filmed and tweeted about.  This case has been troubling from the beginning when the victim was passed out and passed around in front of a group of peers who did nothing to put a stop to it to the news coverage after the trial when the mainstream media expressed how sad it is to see the rapists’ futures ruined.

Earlier this year, The Sun Star ran a humor column written under a pseudonym called “My Life in College: The pitfalls of a karaoke bar.”  The piece followed the writer’s Saturday night adventure at a bar in Fairbanks. The column received numerous letters to the editor and comments sticking up for or questioning the columnist’s choices.  The debate was started by Kayla Harrison, an engineering student, who raised several valuable points in a letter  published on Oct. 9.  However, it quickly devolved into comments such as Jon Hochendoner saying “women love attention from douchebags” and insinuating that the author of the column could benefit from a man in her life in a subsequent letter on Oct. 16.

This is all a part of rape culture.

And Moral Mildred was just talking about a regrettable hangover and some cringe-worthy details of too much drinking at a sleazy bar.  For that column, she got weeks worth of sexist letters and comments.  In Steubenville, victim blaming has been expressed from nobodies on Twitter to reporters on national television.

In December, the news of a 23-year-old woman who was brutally gang raped in India dominated the media.  American news outlets rightfully criticized India’s government and the rape culture that pervades their society.  Why haven’t we been able to do that here?  Instead, this story has been mangled from the beginning with the blame discussed as if it was negotiable.  It’s not.  It was the rapists’ fault.

It’s also the fault of rape culture.  We throw around “no means no” a lot, but it should really be: anything that’s not yes means no.

Our culture rationalizes sexism, from telling women to just brush off sexual advances in the work place to telling girls at a party to feel complimented when a guy rates your body on a scale from one to 10.  This stuff is so institutionalized that any woman who didn’t find that “We Saw Your Boobs” song performed at the Oscars particularly funny is considered uptight for example.  I didn’t and I was.  These widely-held ideas are the building blocks of a culture that unintentionally condones rape.

In 2010, the UAA Justice Department conducted a survey on domestic violence against women in Alaska.  In Fairbanks, 45 percent of women reported they had experienced domestic abuse.  Let’s do some simple math.  In an average intro class of 40 people, assuming half of the class is female, nine of the women sitting in the same room as you have likely been abused.

I’m a sensible person, more of a homebody than a party girl, a relatively modest dresser.  By rape culture’s definition, I’m not asking for it.  I should have nothing to worry about.  But I work late every Sunday, and I make sure I walk home quickly with my head down.

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