rape culture

My daughter and I attended a women’s basketball game at the university where I teach. With respect to our male athletes, the women at Dixie have a heart for their game that we just don’t see in prime time. But, that’s not why I’m writing here.

At half time the boards were occupied by a group of littler women, dancing types from five to fifteen years old, with makeup and hair and nylons and outfits one might expect from such a troupe. They took their spots and the music began and it wasn’t long before the two of us watched, slack-jawed, as these girls executed dance moves one would find more appropriate further to the south of our little town in Las Vegas. Shoulder shimmying, pelvic thrusts and gyrations at three hundred sixty degrees, facial expressions to match. We looked at each other in dismay, me checking my perceptions with my fifteen year-old daughter. “Really?” I said. “Wow.” She said. Little girls painted up in nylons doing stripper moves for a half-time show in a women’s basketball game. In St. George, Utah.

A news story broke yesterday about a high school in northern Utah, Wasatch High, where certain pictures of senior girls were photoshopped to bring their wardrobe into compliance with the school’s dress code. See the story to believe it and to give you context for what I’m about to write.

The self-righteousness and shaming of such an act on these young women is reprehensible, audacious, and perpetuates the very intent that those engaged in policing appearances are trying to prevent; rape culture. And so does a dance team that mirrors the moves that conservatives and feminists alike decry as objectifying. Both of these anecdotes support the notion that in this sexually sterilized culture, misogyny oozes through the cracks of restraint and repression.

While driving on Telegraph Street I was passed by a tuner import, the rattle-can exhaust piped, slammed suspension type and on its backlight was a sticker that said, “Four doors for more whores.” It’s times like that (and this will probably get me into trouble or held against me later in a court of law) where I wished I was driving an old surplus Utah Power and Light service truck with a big-ass bumper, comprehensively insured, of course.

Misogyny is a hatred for the feminine. The intersphere is alight with this disposition after pundits have editorialized on Elliot Rodger’s declaration of his misogynistic credo posted just before his killing spree. See #notallmen and #yesallwomen.

Misogyny is the pinnacle of narcissism, both psychological dispositions that lead to nothing good. It’s easy to point out displays of these in extreme contexts such as the stoning of a pregnant woman executed under the guise of an honor killing, or Elliot’s actions. It’s a bit more sophisticated to add capped sleeves to bare shoulders or a digital dicky to a plunging neckline. The message is the same: shame on you.

I use an artifact, a website, in a rhetorical analysis class and a visual communication class that I teach. It was launched by Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill. It’s a converged campaign that uses images to challenge misogynistic attitudes toward rape and to lay bare the assumptions people make about women who are raped.

During the time of this campaign in 2008, only 2.9 percent of reported rapes lead to conviction. This is blamed on prevailing attitudes about rape victims who according to the court showed careless judgments made based on style of dress, behavior and alcohol intake. According to the research, “27 percent of Scots believe that women who are dressed immodestly are at least partly responsible for being raped; a further 24 percent believe a woman was in some way responsible for being raped if she was drunk; almost 29 percent think the woman contributed to her rape if she was flirting; and another 15 percent believe a woman is responsible for being raped if she’s had multiple sexual partners.”

These myths are addressed in this campaign by using provocative images showing women in everyday settings to prove a point about misogynistic attitudes.

Image2 Image3 Image4

Each image has the Rape Crisis Scotland’s slug, “This is not an invitation to rape me.” I’m hoping it’s poignancy is not lost on you. The first two images might seem a foregone conclusion. If there’s a failure to understand its significance with the third image, there’s a deeper rooted cultural influence at work here, not the least less influenced by chauvinistic, if not misogynistic tendencies.

So, what about painted up little girls in stockings gyrating before a scant audience of women’s basketball fans? While I can’t and won’t argue against a woman’s right to her own physical self-expression, these little girls are validation of the notion that the sexual exploitation of the gender is okay.

And it’s not.

It perpetuates rape culture, a misogynistic way of thinking that by virtue of one’s gender they can and/or should be dominated.


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