There’s that Rape Culture Again…

{Trigger warning: sexual assault}

By Jillian Gilchrest, Age 33

Jill

“A man forcibly raped his [estranged] wife eleven months after she moved out… One night [the man] went to his wife’s apartment. After she refused to admit him, he kicked in the door and carried his wife to the bedroom. She managed to break away and rushed to the window, screaming for help. Undeterred, [the man] ripped off her clothing and forcibly penetrated her, while she screamed, scratched, kicked, and pulled his hair.”

–excerpts from Unwanted Sex: The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law by Stephen Schulhofer

Although at first the man described above was convicted of rape, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the man’s conviction after he claimed the state’s marital exemption. Legally, because they were still married, his brutal attack did not qualify as rape, after all he was entitled to have sex with his wife. This happened in 1984. I was 2 years old.

Fast-forward to the year 2015 and students at Virginia’s Old Dominion University are being criticized (as well they should) for hanging sexist banners to greet incoming freshman. And, they aren’t the only students to do so; apparently hanging banners has become a pretty big tradition for students across the country with illuminating phrases such as;

“Freshman daughter drop off”

“21 to drink, 18ish to spend the night”

“Thank you fathers for your freshman daughters.”

I’m happy that these banners are garnering so much attention this year. The outrage is important, but the sentiments are not new, nor are those who argue it’s all in good fun. It’s definitely not funny and it is so much more than offensive. It is indicative of a culture (yes, rape culture) that justifies that men need sex which is reflected in our practices, beliefs, and laws and contributes to the epidemic of sexual violence.

During my lifetime, rape wasn’t illegal inside of marriage because if a man wanted sex, his wife better give it up. That’s nuts. And, 15 years ago, when I attended the University of Connecticut, men didn’t hang banners but they did shout, “send us your virgins” at tour groups of prospective students. …I wonder if that still happens today?!

So, what will it take to change our practices, beliefs, and laws?

This year, Connecticut advocates and lawmakers tried to pass “affirmative consent” legislation for all colleges and universities. The bill would have required Connecticut campus judicial processes to use a ‘yes means yes’ standard. The bill was heavily debated, misunderstood, and didn’t pass despite a lot of attention and public education. Nationally, efforts to pass “affirmative consent” polices are also facing major pushback by those arguing that it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, when all it really does is ask you to explain how you obtained consent.

“Affirmative consent” policies are meant to address what often takes place when a woman reports a rape to campus administrators—the accused claims she wanted it and then she is made to prove how she resisted. ‘Yes means yes’ policies are a response to the consent defense, but they are also a response to a culture that justifies that men need sex. A culture that has historically put the onus on women to prove how they defended against unwanted sex. A culture so rooted in the belief that men need sex that when women do resist, it is common to suggest that women always resist at first…

I wasn’t too shocked by the banners– outraged yes, but unfortunately, in my 33 years we haven’t come very far. Our practices, beliefs, and laws about rape may look slightly different– I mean we did make rape inside of marriage illegal (wow, big win), although in Connecticut the law only applies when the spouse uses force or threats to use force– but underlying our practices, beliefs, and laws is the same premise that men can’t control themselves when it comes to sex. It’s that same premise that causes many people to view those banners as harmless fun.

I, for one, don’t doubt that men enjoy sex, as do women, but I believe that with a little bit of effort, they too can exert some self-control and not rape. Alas, the work continues, because in the end #itsonus to end #rapeculture.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov. 

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