Submission: Rape Culture in modern society
Hailey Orrange writes about Rape Culture, Sexual Harassment, and the Necessary Changes That Need to Be Made to End Them in a powerful opinion piece
Content Warning: Mentions of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment
The first time I heard the phrase “rape culture,” I was sixteen. I was in tenth grade, having both endured and observed various events that clearly stemmed from rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the patriarchal ways that children are raised in our society. I was dumbfounded, as I had never in my life heard of such a concept. I knew rape happened, but an entire culture? It was a new idea to me, a new concept that, due to an extreme lack of conversation and education, had never even crossed my mind.
I could write about the origins of stigma and negative connotations associated with discussing rape culture and sexual harassment for hours without ever touching on every single reason dialogue on these topics are discouraged from being talked about. It’s no secret that the modern-day education system is flawed, and is lacking in a lot of extremely prevalent and important content in the curriculum, beginning all the from the early grades of elementary school. We are taught so many things in a variety of subject areas, with the intent that they will be useful to us later on in our day-to-day lives. When multiplication tables and Shakespeare are hammered into our minds year after year from such a young age, we begin to think of those things as second nature. If you ask a four-year-old what five times two is, they probably wouldn’t know the answer. If you asked a tenth grader, I almost guarantee they would.
As I moved through my thirteen years in the education system, uneasy realizations began to occur in my mind: rape culture was never talked about. Gender inequity was never mentioned. Toxic masculinity and misogyny were never ever brought up. I’d seen so many cases of behaviors which I and my friends would just brush off or ignore because it was a very “normal” part of everyday life for women and femmes. I remember being eleven years old when I was first catcalled on the street. The first time I got dress coded at school, I was in the fifth grade. Apparently my training bra strap was showing, and it was “distracting” to my classmates. What the teacher should have said, was that my eleven-year-old body developing in its natural way should be kept a secret, especially from my male peers. I’ve lived in fear of walking at night alone for my entire life, without ever critically examining the reason why I was so afraid. My entire school career has been slut-shaming, watching groups of boys eat up girls bodies with their objectifying gaze as they do something as normal as walk down the hallway. It seemed so harmless, so normalized, so why would I ever second guess it? My whole life had been watching as the female body was objectified repeatedly on TV, while not being allowed to wear a crop top until I was fifteen. It was bullshit, and I soon grew tired of it.
As I began to do my own research, and uncover this information on my own, I began to really critically question the system and their lack of education and conversation around these difficult, yet extremely important and relevant ideas, and I couldn’t help but wonder: how would we be different as young adults once we graduated high school if topics such as rape culture and sexual harassment and ways to prevent it were hammered into our minds with the same importance and persistence as multiplication tables and Shakespeare? How would our patriarchal culture shift, how would it change the minds of perpetrators, and how would it help the physical and emotional wellbeing of victims?
For starters, these terms that are becoming more commonly discussed amongst youth today, such as rape culture, toxic masculinity, and sexual harassment, would be defined for students beginning at an early age. They would be learning the concepts early on, and have a heightened ability to grasp them rather than learning about them on their own later on in their teenage years.
Rape culture doesn’t have an age limit, or a minimum age when it begins. It’s ingrained in us from an early age, and follows us throughout our entire lives. Women begin to be portrayed negatively in children’s TV shows and movies in their very early years of childhood. Male characters are shows as being strong, funny, and the leaders, while female characters are shows as being agreeable, submissive, and the followers of the male’s lead. These toxic gender roles begin to be absorbed by kids by the age of 3 and lead to a childhood of exposure to incorrect and oppressive views of how women and men are meant to act. The idea that men are the ones in power, and women are the ones existing under the power of men produces the ideology that women are property, and that men are their owners. It shows that, by objectifying women on TV, it gives the go-ahead for men to do the same. With objectification comes sexual harassment, with harassment assault, all of which feed into the continuous cycle of rape culture that has yet to be broken.
With children witnessing these gender roles at such an early age, rape culture begins to rapidly become a part of their everyday lives. Having open discussions and education surrounding the negative ways that gender is portrayed in the media will interfere with the formulation of these ideologies in children’s minds before they become developed. If rape culture is going to be removed completely from society one day, it’s crucial for education on the topic to begin at an age when children’s minds are most easily influenced.
There are 460,000 sexual assaults that occur in Canada every year. With a number of that size, you would think that something would have been done by now to tackle the overwhelming amount of sexual assaults that occur each year. 1 in 3 Canadians have reported understanding what sexual consent means, so what are institutions and people in power doing to teach the large percentage of people who do not understand what consent means? 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, and 99% of accused perpetrators in sexual assault cases are male, so what is happening to break the cycle of gender-based violence and toxic masculinity that is resulting in sexual violence?
There is a need for serious changes made to our education system with regard to rape culture and toxic masculinity, and they need to be made now. There needs to be workshops, a change of curriculum content and, most importantly, a change of the toxic and problematic ways of society in which kids are raised in. I want educators, teachers and political figures to be dedicated to changing the ways kids are raised and are exposed to rape culture. If we want the horrific sexual assault statistics to drop, and problematic rape culture that is embedded in our everyday lives to end, creating changes in the way rape culture is talked about in schools needs to change drastically.