Rape Culture, Pro-Life, And Anti-Women Rhetorics

There is a connection between various cultural messages about sex that reach us through the media, politics, and everyday life. I’ve seen it helpfully articulated on feminist blogs and in conversations with feminists and other allies, but it wasn’t until I was reading the footnotes of Sex at Dawn (because I am a nerd like that) that it all fell into place for me.

First, I’d read Echo Zen’s Slutwalk address, which was awesome and thought-provoking. Speaking from the perspective of a reproductive health advocate, he defines rape culture as a culture that punishes women for trying to be in control of their sexuality, especially when that means choosing to be sexually active. Rape culture normalizes sexual violence and employs victim-blaming and slut-shaming strategies to cow women into complying… but even when women follow all the rules, it’s still their fault if they are sexually assaulted.

The brilliant thing that Echo Zen does is connect rape culture with the pro-life/anti-choice movement. Both “seek to strip women of control over their bodies and their sexuality,” treating rape as “an inevitable and natural part of life.” Both deny women the agency to make choices about how their exercise their reproductive rights–and, conversely, portray men as potential sexual predators, the active or aggressive force in sexual interactions, such that women are encouraged to be the gatekeepers of sex, to have the sense to just keep their legs shut. Neither gender is served by these stereotypes.

The fact that so many common factors underpin both rape culture and pro-life/anti-choice movements is disturbing, but also something that makes sense since both aspects of culture spring from the same source: a patriarchal culture (I know “patriarchy” doesn’t mean “all cultures are the same everywhere” but it’s handy short-hand for a culture where men typically and institutionally have more power than women). What made this all fall into place for me was reading some statistics about infanticide and selective abortion in Sex at Dawn. Many cultures value the lives of men more than women, boys more than girls. This leads to selective abortions, and “accidental” infanticides, and the neglect of unwanted (female) children.

One chilling fact I read was that in China, due to selective abortions, there are 32 million more men than women, and that in 2005, 1.1 million more boys were born than girls. Male children are valued more than female children in many other countries: India, parts of the Middle East, and so on. I’m not arguing that the same exact thing is happening in the U.S., where many of the writings about rape culture and reproductive rights are generated and relevant… but it got me thinking about the connections between all of these things. It’s no wonder that in patriarchal cultures, where women are valued less as persons, they are granted fewer reproductive rights, and less bodily integrity when it comes to not being violated.

Lest this read like feminist conspiracy theory, look at the facts: the CDC reports that, according to different surveys, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 adult women are sexually assaulted. Many of these survivors experienced sexual abuse and violence as children. The reports also indicate that violence against women is predominantly intimate partner violence, and is mostly perpetuated by men. How is this a culture that is pro-woman? Or supportive of women’s sexuality?

As a friend of mine has said, “All forms of oppression are connected.” I didn’t even get into the racial and sexual identities that intersect with gendered identities at the nexus of many acts of violence. Sex should be a thing of pleasure, recreation as well as procreation… and it looks like we still have a long road to travel to get there.

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.