“Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee
O, could our mourning ease thy misery!”
(“Titus Andronicus” 2.4.56-57)
It seems as though Shakespeare can teach us about more than just iambic pentameter and slant rhyme — he also has a little something to say about rape culture. The quote above voices Marcus’ lament over the atrocity committed over his niece, Lavinia, who is raped and mutilated. Her hands and tongue are severed. Beyond the savage physical violence of rape, this alludes to the symbolic silencing of victims.
One thing is clear: we should never silence victims of sexual assault. This is what rape culture does.
On btchflcks.com, Leigh Kolb writes about Lavinia’s rape and begs the question to contemporary notions of rape. “What if we rallied behind not the rapists, but the one who was raped? What if we never said, ‘I am not saying she deserved to be raped, but…’” Kolb said. Why do we victim-blame and have little sympathy for victims?
With the recent controversy surrounding Kirby Wiley’s column on issues of sexual assaults and binge-drinking in college, terms such as “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” are thrown into the air, but they aren’t being defined clearly. It’s high time we address this and begin a conversation. Without further ado, here are some steps to help you get involved in this discussion.
1. Read the literature, high and low, about rape culture.
2. Listen to opposing perspectives and those that mirror your own.
3. Ask questions in a sensitive and considerate manner.
Rape culture is a culture in which rape is normalized and accepted. In Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s “Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape,” they write that “sexual assault is not only a crime of violence and power, but also one of entitlement.” Instead of suggesting that victims “protect themselves from strangers, don’t drink too much, don’t walk home alone” and stabilizing a culture of fear, we need a culture of consent.
A consent culture is centered on mutual agreement and respect — one that definitely does not include force, intimidation and abuse.
Becoming knowledgeable about the issues is crucial. Listen to what people have to say. Explore others’ opinions and promote a dialogue. Question and stop slut-shaming comments like, “Did you see how slutty her skirt was? I could see everything.” It is as damaging as victim-blaming.
It’s disheartening to see that women are shamed by what we choose to say, what we wear and how we express ourselves in our society today. Unfortunately, this is a reality many young women experience daily. Instead of biting our thumbs at women, let’s try to have honest conversations on this campus and put an end to rape culture.
We try to facilitate these sorts of conversations at the Women’s Interest Network (WIN), the feminist organization at SMU. Last week WIN and SPECTRUM’s Change.org petition strived to raise awareness about rape culture.
I welcome readers to join in on our many conversations concerning not only rape culture but issues of body image, media portrayals of men and women, gender and sexuality, and much more. WIN hosts events such as the Vagina Monologues in February to raise awareness about violence against women and Take Back the Night in November, an international rally against rape and sexual violence.
The spread of rape culture is toxic and like a disease, contaminating people with distorted images of men and women. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes about victims and perpetrators. It’s more important than ever to get educated on rape culture. Shakespeare appeared to be ahead of his time — it’s about time that we get the facts right.
Kim is a senior majoring in English.