Rape Culture Between Women

Oakland, CA (TFC) – Platonic and familial relationships between women often unintentionally foster rape culture. Here’s how to see it for what it is and how to deal with it.

I want to talk about how women perpetuate rape culture.

And before I do, I want to remind everyone that this is not intended to divert energy or resources from the fight against men as the primary perpetrators and beneficiaries of rape, rape culture, and patriarchy.

I’m talking mostly about non-feminist women here, and largely heterosexual and bisexual women, but women who consider themselves feminists (liberal, radical, and every other stripe) can also do these things, as can lesbians. For the sake of brevity and faithfulness to the topic of female (platonic or familial) relationships, I’m not even going to touch on female involvement in kink and female pornography supporters, though these are two ways in which women contribute to rape culture. Rather I am looking at the ways that women interact with each other, often between close friends or family members, and how these interactions support rape culture.

When women talk to each other about faking orgasms as if it is something women just do, that is perpetuating rape culture. It is normalizing a culture in which women do not expect sex to be pleasurable for them, and a culture in which women do not seek personal pleasure from sex is one in which unenthusiastic consent is commonplace. Unenthusiastic consent does not count. It creates a world in which women who do not want to have sex submit to sex anyway because their partner, often a man, wants it.

Female friendship

Image source: Michael Vincent Photography for Bride’s Night Out, Inc, wikimedia, creative commons

Women who talk about how sex is “supposed to hurt” (especially the first time) are perpetuating rape culture. They are teaching young, impressionable girls – often their daughters or younger sisters or someone similarly familiar yet subordinate – not to say no when they mean no, not to say no when they don’t want to have sex. I say “especially the first time” because this encourages girls to expect that their introduction to sex, their first impression, will be negative.

Women who look down on underage mothers, particularly mothers who teach their daughters to “not get pregnant too young” are – say it with me, y’all – perpetuating rape culture. They are putting the stigma on the woman – no, the girl – who was almost certainly a victim of statutory rape in the legal sense, and even if Romeo and Juliet laws apply, was a child and therefore could not consent regardless of the age of the impregnator. This indirectly and incorrectly teaches young girls that their “consent” as a child is valid and obscures the understanding of an older man who wishes to sleep with her as a pedophile.

There are countless examples of women who, in building relationships with other women, say these little things that continue the grand tradition of rape culture. This is not to say that women’s relationships are built around rape culture, but instead that female friendship, hailed as the powerful sisterhood that will bring us to the revolution, is far from exempt from patriarchy. Female friendship and solidarity is good, but it is not good enough. It is up to us to make it better.

the fem columnThe question is, how? A chat about sex with female friends is hardly a good time to educate someone about how they uphold the patriarchy. A little girl being given a substandard sex talk is in no position to lecture her mother or sister or misinformed teacher, should she be so lucky as to get any sex education, about feminism, even if she is precocious and learned enough to be able to formulate and articulate such an opinion.

There is an argument to be made here, and that is that feminism is not, has never been and should never condescend to be about convenience. It was always an inappropriate time to chain yourself to a fence in the name of female suffrage. People did not want to legalize abortion; it was never a good time, never convenient. The thing about feminism is that we are not in a position to do things, but we do them anyway because we have to. It is never a good time, but it is always the right time. Still, especially when talking to non-feminist women, it is important to tread delicately. Personal discretion should be used, but starting with “that’s messed up” or something similar will often lead to “what do you mean?” and will open an avenue towards explanation. If you have only recently seen why these things are out of place, then a variation on the theme is “I only just realized how messed up that is.” Mothers, resolve not to teach your daughters that sex is something men want and women tolerate. Let’s have 2016 be the year where female relationships foster healthy, enthusiastic sexuality. This won’t stop men from raping, but it will stop victims from failing to recognize rape for what it is.