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Issues with sexism and rape culture in our society are extremely detrimental because they increase the likelihood of sexual violence, which significantly negatively effects women. Sexism involves the idea that men are the dominant or superior sex. This ideology becomes evident through types of social and economic imbalance based on gender, which creates systematic limits based on gender (O’Brien).
Rape culture often stems from sexism. It is the existence of environments that influence and normalize sexual violence and attitudes towards rape. The concept of rape culture can help to explain the fact that men are more often offenders in cases of rape. Studies of rape culture suggest that that men are simply taught cultural behaviors that increase their risk of taking rape-related actions (Strain, Hockett, & Saucier).
How it works
While rape is generally considered to be a violent crime that involves physical coercion, rape is defined as any type of sex that is not completely informed and consensual. This includes acts such as blackmail, intimidation, deceit, and threats. Men tend to consider sex that involves this type of coercion normal, and female survivors are often discouraged from speaking out against this type of rape. Men sometimes even consider this type of coercion to be a flattery, believing that a woman should be glad to be “convinced” to be intimate (King & McCaughey).
Despite it often being normalized, sexual harassment can have serious effects on women. If the harassment is severe enough, women can experience serious negative health issues including depression, PTSD, headaches, muscle aches and insomnia (Chamie). HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that is often spread through violent or non-consensual sexual acts. Often, women who are exposed to this disease due to an assault are hesitant or altogether unwilling to seek treatment because of the blame towards victims of sexual assault.
In a society that does not condemn sexual harassment and violence, victims are at serious medical risk (Berlatsky 16). Sexual harassment can also cause women to miss work and school more often, leading to unemployment and a lower quality of education.
This can affect the economy as it can decrease job performance and increase absenteeism (Chamie). An estimated seventy-five percent of the world’s women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. According to the World’s Health Organization, thirty-five percent of women have experienced a form of sexual violence, which WHO deems to be a significant health problem facing women.
Countries across the world report varying statistics on the issue of sexual harassment facing women, reporting that between fifty percent and over ninety percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, depending on the country. These differences in statistics are likely due to the differences in culture and the ability of women to report these experiences (Chamie). Clearly, sexual harassment is an extremely important and complex issue, which a conversation regarding rape culture and sexism could begin to untangle and resolve.
Sexism and the patriarchy enable sexual violence and rape related behaviors. Men are more likely to commit act of sexual violence when they are believers of gender stereotypes and hold merit in the claim that the male sex is superior to that of females. These men are also more likely to disbelieve rape claims made by women. This shows that ‘rape culture’ is more than just societal norms, it is also made up of generally accepted personal beliefs that women are inferior (Strain, Hocket, & Saucier). In a patriarchal society, sexuality is often linked with the idea of violence and brutality.
Violent sexual acts are considered normal because men are encouraged to assert their dominance over the female body in order to maintain their own masculinity. This makes the line between rape and normal sex blurry for many who live under a patriarchal society. The objectification of women is a huge factor in this. Men are expected to be violent, and women are assumed to be submissive and are considered sexual objects in the hands of men (Garcia & Vemuri).
These stereotypes are so prevalent in many societies, and they can easily lead to the acceptance of violence and harassment towards women. Sexual violence is normalized in our society through common media and acceptable actions. Sexual harassment and speech against women are normalized and linked into the culture of our society using media and pop culture. This encourages male sexual aggression (King 38).
Most societies today are replications of past government systems, which were usually types monarchies involving a man in a high position of power. This replication often means that men are in control of systems such as government, religion, law and the labor system. This often goes ignored as a normal type of society, so the consequences are somewhat unknown and normalized (O’Brien). Almost half of American women have had a man attempt to rape them, many more than once. This fact is proof that rapists are not simply strange, abnormal men.
They are normal, everyday men who do not understand the idea of sexual coercion, nor the extreme detrimental effects rape has on women (King & McCaughey). Woman have different viewpoints on the idea of rape and sexual violence, however many see rape as an extremely real and serious risk daily. Women are often taught from an early age how to prevent and defend against the risk of rape (Williams).
Rape culture is perpetrated in the institutions of our society such as the criminal justice system and the employment workforce. Women often are unable to report sexual harassment due to the stigma surrounding survivors or their own embarrassment of the situation. These women are often humiliated or blamed for their own assault, which is a huge reason they choose to remain silent. They also may be afraid of violent retaliation from their assailant.
Survivors who speak out are also at risk to lose their job and education due to the stigma of sexual harassment. In addition, women are aware that men are often not punished by law for their crimes. The court system tends to place so much burden of proof on female prosecutors in this type of case that it is impossible to convict an offender. Women tend to consider it not worth it to go through the humiliation and lengthy, expensive court process when it is likely that their assailant will be acquitted (Chamie).
There are many problems when it comes to the way sexual harassment and assault are prosecuted in a court of law. Often, law enforcement does not handle these claims properly. They are at times insensitive to the victim, and fail to enforce protective orders. In court, female victims are often demeaned and embarrassed through strange and confusing questions or demonstrations (Mankiller, et al.).
In court, lawyers are more likely to attempt to impair the believability of a female prosecutor during rape cases. This is often due to the common belief that women are less trustworthy than men, and will likely lie about rape for personal gain. Despite rape being illegal, men are often left unpunished because of the tendency to misrepresent and distrust the stories of female survivors (Mankiller, et al.) People are quick to dismiss the idea of “rape culture” because they are suspicious of women’s frequent accusation of men.
However, this dismisses the realities of rape and sexual harassment statistics, which causes real victims to be ignored by society on the ground that their accusation may be false (King 37). The accountability of criminals is a major issue in cases of sexual assault. Not enough efforts are made by the criminal justice system to punish a sexual assault and prevent future sexual assaults (O’Brien). “Rape is the least reported, least prosecuted, and least convicted major crime of violence” (O’Brien). No matter societal differences, all women are at risk for experiencing sexual harassment and violence. This violence against women is often accepted in society through systematic means.
For example, women are often forced to stay politically inactive through threats of violence or through generalized democratic bias. Violence against women keeps women continually afraid to speak out in their favor, creating a vicious cycle of oppression (Mankiller, et al.). While all women are at risk for violence and objectification under the patriarchy, race plays a major part in the idea of rape culture.
Throughout history, it was perfectly legal for white men to rape enslaved women of color, which has affected modern culture. It was written into law that black women were not able to be victims of rape, and that also is an idea that has stereotyped black female survivors as untrustworthy. There is also a stereotype that black men are more likely to be sexually violent, especially towards white women. This causes an imbalance in race, as black men are more likely to be punished than white men, and black female survivors are more likely to be ignored than white female survivors (Garcia & Vemuri).
Though people are accepting of rape culture, the attitudes towards it are changing quickly and there are ways to accelerate this change. These behaviors that are normalized by ‘rape culture’ are accepted by society, likely due to the fact the concept of exactly what rape is is not clear. People also may oblige these behaviors because of how normal it is to discredit survivors of sexual assault (Strain, Hockett, & Saucier).
Often, sexual coercion methods that are not physical force are generally much less likely to be seen as punishable. However, these behaviors strengthen the societal idea that men are superior to women. Men who are more accepting of these behaviors are also more likely to commit crimes of sexual assault and have more negative attitudes towards women who have been raped (Strain, Hockett, &Saucier). In media, celebrities are often not prosecuted for committing crimes of sexual violence, which shows a lack of accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence.
However, with the emergence of social media, women can speak out against the offenders when the court and legal system will not let them. This was especially prevalent when comedian Bill Cosby was accused of sexually abusing multiple minors and these survivors were able to confront him with the use of social media in 2014 (Williams). There was a radio program was broadcast in Nepal called VOICES. This program told the stories of women who had experience with sexual violence.
One woman who had listened to the broadcast told The UN Trust Fund that prior to hearing this program, her husband had never asked for consent when engaging with her in sexual activities. She had never considered this to be violence until hearing this program, and after listening to it, she says that her husband has changed his behavior towards her.
This shows that programs that bring attention to women’s struggles with violence makes a difference in the behaviors of men (Berlatsky 16). In a society that celebrates patriarchy and normalizes sexism, sexual harassment will be a constant issue. Too many women face this threat of violation every day and are too often complacent in the fact that this is normal. The criminal justice system ignores, antagonizes and undermines female victims in every step of the process.
From reporting a rape to convicting the criminal, it is often made to be a difficult and humiliating process for a survivor. Though many people accept this as the norm, there are some positive changes that are occurring. Social media is helping survivors speak out, without the need for police or lawyers who may not handle the situation in the best way. In order to sexual harassment to become less of an issue, culture must change.
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