What is “rape culture,” and why is so much attention being given to it?

March 26, 2013
Rape culture—what it is and how it can be changed
In the wake of the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial that ended slightly over a week ago and other high profile rapes in recent months (such as those in India and South Africa), not to mention all the rapes that go unreported or are paid little attention, there has been a great deal of talk about the existence of an actual “rape culture.”  Today’s link comes from the Marshall University Women’s Center (Huntington, West Virginia), which defines rape culture as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” The website describes how rape culture is perpetuated, how it manifests itself, and ways to combat it. Not viewing women as fully equal human beings is the main factor that feeds into rape culture.

For related reading, see this excellent article by Laurie Penny who says the Steubenville incident (which the perpetrators and their friends thought was so laughable they made digital images to post on social media) is the “Abu Ghraib” moment of rape culture, reminiscent of the infamous photos of those American soldiers who mocked, humiliated, and photographed Iraqui war prisoners as though they were anything but human beings. Another very strong statement about “rape culture” and the Steubenville rapes is one by sociologist Sarah Sobieraj.  And sociologist Lisa Wade calls attention to the common political use of rape as a metaphor. Last, since it is not uncommon for young people to not fully understand what rape actually is, see this post (sent to me by Rev. Becky Kiser) which beautifully illustrates how teacher Abby Norman took advantage of a teachable moment in her class of young teenagers.  (All of the related reading material I’ve listed is well worth your time, but if you don’t take the time to check out all the other suggested links, be sure to take time to read this last one.)

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


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