Friday, April 19, 2013

A Feminine Critique: Slut-shaming and victim-blaming are cop-outs

 By Ruthie Kovanen, Columnist

“She’s such a slut.” If you or anyone you know has uttered these words, well, you’re not alone.
   
Slut-shaming, as a part of a larger rape culture, is alive and well in the United States — especially on college campuses. The severity of this so-called rape culture, however, is often overlooked.
  

Rape culture consists of a collection of values and behaviors that promote and perpetuate rape. In rape culture, rape is not taken seriously and is glamorized or made to seem insignificant through the hyper-objectification of women in the media and popular culture.
  
Furthermore, rape culture defends and overlooks perpetrators while blaming victims. Victims are blamed for causing rape — often by being reprimanded for unsuccessfully preventing it.    
  
Common ways of blaming victims include using their dress or behavior as excuses for the rape. She was “dressed provocatively.” She got too drunk to fight back. She lost sight of her group of friends.
  
Victim-blaming and slut-shaming are cop-outs that trivialize rape and fail to address its origins. They focus on surface level inconsequentialities rather than deal with deep-seated cultural problems. Instead of fixing anything, victim-blaming allows the perpetuation of sexual assault and ignores possible solutions.
  
The ideology and practices of rape culture run rampant in the U.S. From college campuses to suburban America, and from newsrooms to the political arena, expressions of rape culture are prolific.
  
One of the most shocking and transparent examples of the manifestation of rape culture is the Steubenville rape case. In this case, two teenage boys horrifically violated a 16-year-old girl at a party.
  
During the news coverage of this case, the perpetrators were held up as victims of the law rather than offenders of a crime. The victim, aside from being blamed for causing the situation by being drunk, was portrayed as an unfortunate impediment in the two boys’ lives and futures.
 
After the rape occurred and the media began covering the case, Twitter erupted in a firestorm of malicious comments and death threats directed at the victim. Peers condemned her for causing the situation, tearing the community apart and ruining the positive reputation of the two boys the community idolized as football stars.
  
Reporters noted how difficult the boys’ future will become now that they have a charge of sexual assault on their records. People looked at the victim with disapproving eyes and scolded her for being drunk at a party.
  
This sexist, misogynistic response to sexual assault by the media and the public exemplifies rape culture in the U.S. Unfortunately, this case is not exceptional. Similar sentiments of reprimanding the victim and pardoning the perpetrator are echoed in other cases of sexual assault.
  
An alternative voice to cultural commentary is seemingly nonexistent. However, a few voices exist. On campus, the Women’s Center offers many great resources and educational programs that renounce victim-blaming and promote progressive preventative measures.
  
These programs, including Voices Against Violence, Men Against Violence, SAPET (Sexual Assault Peer Education Team) and bystander training through Green Dot, educate the Pacific Lutheran University community about and offer solutions to sexual assault. They are promising programs that identify and reject rape culture.
  
To begin to address the problem of rape, we must stop blaming victims and start focusing on the actions of perpetrators, the non-actions of bystanders and the broader socio-cultural remnants of rape culture.
  
We must stop viewing sexual assault as a “women’s issue.” Everyone has a role in stopping rape by preventing potentially dangerous situations from progressing, refusing to accept victim-blaming as a solution to sexual assault and rejecting misogynistic portrayals of women and sexual assault in the media.
  
Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University and is studying anthropology, Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies. Aside from reading and writing about feminism, Ruthie enjoys chatting over a cup of coffee, baking bread and spending time outdoors.