I’ve seen many definitions of “rape culture” typically pitting female agency against male entitlement. But to “gender” rape culture leads to an insufficient definition.
Patriarchy is a firm foundation of the culture and yes, patriarchy is male dominant. But what patriarchy is really about is power and all its iterations. Gendering the agency that is denied victims of rape, sexual assault, and those oppressed by this “culture” fails to acknowledge that victims and those oppressed by the culture includes males too.
Maybe because I work among young adults on a college campus where hazing is a rote aspect of the collegiate experience, the first example that comes to mind is hazing rituals.
Especially among males, sexualized violence and homoeroticism is often employed during the “intake” process in ways that steal the initiate’s agency.
(The behavior occurs among women as well and their abusers are same sex too. In other words, rape culture is NOT gendered).
Only if one is intimate with the experience or initiates who experience it, are these details ever really given voice. Or of course, when an initiate is irreparably maimed or murdered. In the latter case, university administration will claim no knowledge and no tolerance of the behaviors. (Too often administration are hardly without bias as members of the same groups wherein they may have likely suffered some of the same abuses in the name of brother or sisterhood). Spankings, forced orgies, and the employment of “little sisters”—coed comfort women if you will—are all part of rape culture. What happens to the brother who refuses to participate in the rituals? He is constantly forced to prove and reassert his power (power usually equated with maleness thanks again to good ol’ Patriarchy).
This is rape culture.
In my high school, this violence was also unspoken but not unknown. Among male athletes and especially male freshmen, the cost of participation and belonging could be as severe. What I knew then and know now despite my own acceptance of it as a rite of passage is that none of the hazing was innocent from having one’s head flushed in a toilet to throwing an initiate’s books in the trash.
This is rape culture.
The entire goal of the mistreatment and sexualized abuse is predicated on the basic premise of rape culture—to deny one their agency in service to patriarchal entitlement. The abusers believe that they have the right to commit the acts (entitlement) because it is a normalized ritual. Normalized by snickers and the euphemism that the behavior is typical high school pranking. Normalized and coded into generational practice. These are likely abuses the young abusers previously suffered. In serving these abuses to victims, the abusers earn power over subjects they perceive as weaker or inferior to them.
This is patriarchy.
And this is rape culture.
Lest this be mistaken as a rant against pledging, intake processes, or be considered a part of specific cultural institutions, these are merely examples of how rape culture is more than the unique instances of “denying women their right to say no” and “teaching boys not to rape.” This is more than trains in project hallways, mollys, and song lyrics that glorify both. But mostly, this is the opportunity to understand that:
Rape culture is NOT gendered.
We make a mistake of unwittingly participating in the victimization of those who are also, or are in danger of being, affected and moreover abused by it when we don’t acknowledge that.