How a misnomer did the impossible
Reader discretion is advised
“This is great!” A friend of mine remarked. “Now I can listen to this song all I want!”
We had just gotten through listening to “Word Crimes,” “Weird” Al Yankovic’s parody cover of last summer’s blockbuster hit, “Blurred Lines.”
“You couldn’t before?” I asked my friend.
“Sure I could,” my friend responded. “I love the beat, but every time I listened to it, I felt like I was supporting rape culture.”
Well, that sure was an interesting notion.
Now, for those of you expecting me to come to the defense of Robin Thicke, read no further. I’m not going to deny that Thicke is probably an unbelievable shitbag in real life. And no sane human being could deny that “Blurred Lines” (both the album and song) isn’t at least a little rapey. This is, after all, the song that contains such immortal prose as, “You the hottest bitch in this place,” and, “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” Charming.
The term “rape culture” first appeared in print in 1974’s Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women, edited by Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson. The phrase was coined to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality.
Like almost everything from the ‘70s, the idea was popular in its time, before disappearing into the cultural ether, only to be hijacked by the Millennials and Generation Y. Seemingly overnight, “rape culture” became the shameful buzzword de jour.
The forceful resurgence of rape culture could probably be pinned on Robin Thicke, but was made all the worse at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax where, as a part of last year’s welcome week activity, organizers led students in spirited chants condoning rape and sex with the under-aged. Similar events also occurred at the University of British Columbia.
After the history lesson comes a quiz: what do you, gentle reader, consider to be more forceful? A) Calling someone a rapist or B) Loudly whining about someone’s active participation in rape culture? If you said “A,” then you probably know where this is going. Any time the Millennials or Generation Y co-opt a preceding generation’s theories, they tend to castrate it of all of the power and meaning it once held.
Congratulations ladies and gentlemen—our endless pursuit of marketing things with snappy, social-media friendly names has finally gone too far. Wow. Bravo. Champagne. Cheers. High-five. Slow clap. We did what I thought was impossible: we actually managed to trivialize rape.
Rape is a despicable, terrible act. It occurs to both men and women(but more so to women), and it degrades the whole of humanity by simply existing as a thing that we do to each other.
But, by attaching that needless suffix, “culture” to the act, we have completely destroyed all of the negative connotations surrounding it. After all, isn’t culture by its very nature something that should be celebrated, revered, and protected? Especially in the multicultural nation of Canada?
How long do you think it’ll be before there’s a rape pavilion at Mosaic, Regina’s preeminent celebration of cultural diversity? I’m not in favor of painting everybody with the same brush. Calling someone like Robin Thicke a rapist for his songs would be counter-intuitive. What I’m suggesting is that we realize that he is trying to make rape okay at a popular level, rather than saying, “He’s contributing meaningfully to rape culture.”
Rape culture is perhaps one of the most unfortunate misnomers that humanity has ever created to push academic papers. Like most theories, it is outmoded, outdated, and embarrassingly irrelevant. I’m not saying that rape isn’t prevalent and, unfortunately, relatively normalized.
What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t continue to enable not only rapists, but those who contribute to painting rape as tolerable behaviour by giving them a very defendable banner like “rape culture” to hide under.
That’s why I’m calling for rape culture to end. Not because it’s despicable. But, because it’s allowed despicability to exist, and make it sound like it’s something to be celebrated.
I, for one, will no longer use “rape culture” as a part of my lexicon, and I encourage you to do the same. Instead of sterilizing the language and cramming all of our sentences with meaningless prattle to make ourselves sound important and learned, I suggest we resume calling spades just what they are.
By identifying sexual insensitivity for what it is, we can begin to do some real work towards reversing the damage of what these rapists have done to decent society.