Vagina Dialogues

By Angelica Estacio
Staff Writer

Ashley (last name omitted for privacy) was only 17 when three men raped her in the back alley of a bar. “I went to the bathroom,” Ashley, who currently resides in Martinez, began as she recalled the event that happened to her more than three years ago. “One of the guys must have slipped something in my drink before I got back. Next thing I know they were dragging me out of the bar. I was too weak to protest, I felt my body disconnect from my brain. There were three of them. And I was, well, I was like a vegetable.”

While some may argue that what happened to Ashley was one isolated, unfortunate incident, pundits who argue that American culture is pervaded with images of rape glorification and female submission also have much to support their claims.

The website defines rape culture as a culture where people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”

It was not more than three weeks ago when GOP representative Todd Akin’s controversial comments about the validity of rape became the hottest topic on the campaign trail. In his statement Akin said, “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut the whole thing down.”

What he meant, of course, was that if a female were really forced by a man to have sexual encounters with him, her body would be capable of stopping the reproductive process that could result from this forced intercourse. This statement was intended to support the Republican party’s platform with regards to banning abortion in its entirety, including when pregnancy resulted from an incident of rape.

Akin was, however, not the first to claim that it is highly unlikely for women to conceive from being raped. In 1980, James Leon Holmes, who is currently the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas, wrote, “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”

Unfortunately for Akin, and everyone else who shares his beliefs, science seems to present a different version of the truth. The “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” stated that for the country’s annual rate of three million unwanted pregnancies, twenty-five thousand of them are rape-related.

But rape isn’t just a matter discussed by serious men who belong in high offices. Last July, comedian Daniel Tosh made himself the talk of the town when he used a not only poorly executed joke, but a highly offensive rape-centered one during one of his sets in his show at the Laugh Factory.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like, right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” were Tosh’s word to a female audience who ironically called him out for talking about rape jokes in an endorsing manner.

When a woman’s body and her rights are being insubstantially voted upon and joked about by men, and such ridiculous comments are uttered relentlessly, you would think that a bigger uprising would commence. That an angrier crowd of anyone who had a mother, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, and a friend would be marching on the streets demanding for an apology.

But when the chances of anyone being knowledgeable of rape culture are three out of ten, and even those three must come from having to personally undergo sexual assault, it is not hard to see why we go on living our lives normally and shrugging off statements about rape jokes and rape-related pregnancies as mere political stuff we would rather not be involved with.

In a study released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, one in every five women in the United States has been a victim of successful or attempted rape. That roughly translates to 1.3 million women having been sexually assaulted in a year. But out of that number, only about 85,000 were reported.

“Rape is more pervasive now than it has been historically,” Sarah Thompson, a Sociology instructor at Las Positas, said. “There are many reasons for that, such as many women now socialize more in mixed company than they did in previous centuries. And women now are more mobile and can go to places unescorted.”

However, according to Thompson, there will always be a certain kind of resistance for the level of freedom that today’s women have.

“I don’t [really] feel safe. I am a woman and I travel,” student Kelly Lehane, 23, told me in a quick interview.

Lehane, who commutes from San Leandro to Livermore to go to school, shares this concern with thousands of women in the country who use public transportation to make their way from home to work or school. Thousands of women who hope that each day as they strike out to earn their living or earn their academic stripes they are not assaulted or worse.

For 18-year-old Jaimie (last name omitted for privacy) from Pennsylvania and 22-year-old Gwen (last name omitted for privacy) from Illinois, also rape survivors, watching out for potential stranger danger apparently did not matter as much as watching out for people they knew. These women are among the average 40 percent of rape victims, according to same study by the CDC, that were not attacked by random strangers but by an acquaintance.

“He was a co-worker of mine and we had hung out one day after work,” Gwen said. “I thought I could trust him. We weren’t exactly ‘close’ but I had known him for four years and never thought he would do what he did.”

“I spent the night at his house, which I had done before,” shared Jaimie. “And it was a good night. I wasn’t drunk, and he was completely sober himself. Anyways I fell asleep in his bed, okay? And when I woke up, my pants were down and my shirt was up.”

For survivors, the rape is just the beginning of a lifetime of not only physical but also emotional scars that they will have to keep facing. Gwen and Jamie developed self-harming habits in the form of eating disorders and cutting. Jamie also ended up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which she is still going to therapy for, even after three years. These psychological consequences are common among 30 to 65 percent of rape survivors, according to the National Resource Center on Violence Against Women, depending on how traumatic the experience was.

“It’s super hard because I work with him,” Gwen said about dealing with the aftermath of the event.  “I am constantly being reminded of it every time I see him. There were many times when I cried in the warehouse of my job or I’d go outside for a break and sob my eyes out. And he acts like he doesn’t even care.”

In his article “The Legitimate Children of Rape,” Andrew Solomon stated, “Men who have gotten away with rape seldom retreat in shame or repentance.”

And that is indeed the case for the men who attacked both Gwen and Jamie.

“The next morning I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Jamie said. “I confronted him. But he just denied everything. I sat in the shower for three hours when I got home. I just sat there.”

“He basically told me afterward that it was my fault,” Gwen said. “That I led him on and that I had turned him on so he, of course, couldn’t control himself. He didn’t think about it, he just did it. He never asked me or anything.”

Victim-blaming is not an uncommon backwash of rape. And part of the rape culture phenomena. As a matter of fact, for nearly every single occurrence of rape ever reported, the rapist turns into the safety net of turning the tables around and pointing the finger back at the victim, making them look responsible for their own predicament.  And the most successful way to do this is to resort to slut-shaming.

A most recent boisterous account of public slut-shaming is actress Kristen Stewart’s infamous infidelity scandal. When the story of her affair with Rupert Sanders came out, everyone was fast to call Stewart the home-wrecker. As a matter of fact, a new slang “Trampire” was coined especially for her. Her career also suffered the consequences of the event, as she was dropped from the next installation of her hit movie “Snow White.” And while the public is making sure Stewart gets the punishment she deserved for being a “slut,” Sanders gets to keep his job as director for the films, and manages to win the pity of the public. After all, who can blame the married man who was merely tempted to have sex with a younger woman? And with type of slut-shaming mentality we openly accept the fact that women, who are more sexually open than they are socially allowed to be, are deserving to be raped.

“You call someone a ‘slut’ when they engage in a behavior outside the constricted female norm,” Thompson said. “It’s a method of social control that we use to try and silence women. To silence women’s desires. To silence women’s sexuality.”

In a thread dubbed “The other side of the story” that was opened last July in the prominent online website Reddit, rapists and could-have-been rapists all over the world flocked in to share their personal accounts.

“Most girls don’t really understand how horny guys are, how much stronger guys are, how guys will rationalize what they do,” one commenter said. “The reality of the situation is that women have to be careful because guys are one way when they’re hanging out and another way when they’re horny, or worse, drunk and horny. That doesn’t make what happened okay, but it is what it is.”

But rape culture does not begin and end with the act of sexual assault itself, or even the slut-shaming. It begins the moment we introduce the idea of sexuality and gender roles to children.

“Rape has a lot to do with gender identity and power and control,” Thompson said. “We have to look at what kind of images we are creating particularly for young men who are coming of age that make them want to have that level of control in order to be defined as a man.”

A 2001 research published by the University of Iowa for their study, titled “Perceived Motivation of Rape: Gender Differences in Beliefs About Female and Male Rape,” garnered results concluding that rape is an expression of power. And as far as social constructs on power go, humans are all but members of a “macho society,” where they are trained early on to believe that men are the strong and women are the weak.

“One of the challenges of bringing our rape statistics down has to do with what social scripts we socialize young men and women into,” Thompson added. “And we definitely have this tradition in the United States of encouraging young men to be initiators and women to be gatekeepers.”

The problem with this set-up, according to Thompson, is that young women then end up being confused when it comes to their own feelings of sexuality. Being the “gatekeepers,” most women are not only told by society to tone down their expression of sexual desires, but also to take responsibility for any form of sexual advances made towards them, whether or not they provided consent.

“That’s why when we have women who are hesitant to be identified as victims of rape, because they feel like, ‘I was supposed to be the gatekeeper. It was my role, my job to keep it out. And I failed,’” Thompson said.

In “Stop Telling Women How to Get Raped,” where she particularly addresses victim-blaming and slut-shaming, Zerlina Maxwell also talks about stopping and reversing such social brainwashing. According to Maxwell, it is not women that needed to be taught on how to avoid being raped, instead we should start teaching men how not to rape. And to do that, she suggests, we should start educating young boys and girls alike with the truth about rape culture.

“How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop?” Maxwell wrote. “The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so.”

Following Maxwell’s word, maybe it’s time we looked at rape and the mentality surrounding it from the right angle and start working from there. The way we use language is one of the most overlooked manifestations of our social brainwashing, such as using words with feminine connotations for derogatory purposes. A day in a college or high school campus and you will undoubtedly hear the words “slut,” “bitch” or “p-ssy” being thrown around casually.

“We practice an odd kind of censorship in the United States, we censor any kind of sexual fact from being advertised on TV,” Thompson added, explaining that while we readily hand young people highly-sexualized video games, music videos, movies, TV shows and magazines; we hold back when it comes to providing information when it comes to the responsibilities and health issues that are tied to sex. “We live in a world of innuendos rather than facts. What happens is that all these young people grow up with warped sexual messages and scripts, because there aren’t any solid facts to build their sexual selves on.”

Todd Akin’s and Paul Ryan’s statements may go down in history for being some of the most ridiculous and foolish political opinions ever spoken; but truth is, in a matter of a year — or possibly as soon as once the elections are over — most Americans will have no clear recollection of what they said. And why they said the words that so many labeled as “misogynistic.”

Rape is not an unfamiliar idea. Ten-year-olds nowadays can easily define what rape is. But knowledge of rape does not necessarily translate to understanding of it. And most importantly, knowledge of rape does not give us free passes into thinking we are above it.

For the survivors, rape is not a misplaced joke, a bad childhood memory, nor a relationship that didn’t work out.  It’s a permanent open wound that millions of women in the world carry with them. It is not something they can choose to put behind them and simply move on from. Not as long as they keep waking up to a society that continuously turns a blind eye to the harmful nature of booty, bitches and booby song lyrics, jokes and advertisements.


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