An Exploration of Rape Culture
The ever problematic question of “legitimate rape” or to use a term quaintly coined by Whoopi Goldberg the issue of whether an act constitutes “rape-rape”, has yet again been splattered across newspapers as part of another ungainly tableau of sexual politics. US Congressman Todd Akin’s frightening faux-biological supposition that in an act of “legitimate rape” a woman cannot become pregnant as “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”, is another example to be added to the ever lengthening list of erroneous insensitivities uttered by politicians on the question of the female body.
What is most disturbing, despite the alarming ignorance of the comment, was the entire exclusion of the woman as an agent more important than a biological vessel. Akin, who sits on the Committee for Science, Space and Technology, goes on to say that in the seemingly unlikely case of pregnancy “there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Where is the woman in this debate? Akin’s comments present the women as little more than a depersonalised body; the inevitable spoils left disregarded after the political war has been waged upon it. Sadly, Akin’s opinions are not anomalous; the Republican platform committee has recently called for a constitutional ban on abortion that includes no exemptions for rape, incest or even to save the life of the mother. This motion would engender total state control over a woman’s body.
The exclusion and muzzling of the female voice is inherent to the ideological scaffolding which bolsters the unjustified impunity enjoyed by male celebrities; since pleading guilty to the rape of a thirteen year old Roman Polanski has won an Oscar, has married and has fathered two children. Meanwhile, discussions on Julian Assange have centred upon his political role as the father of Wikileaks and his fears of extradition to the US, which has effectively camouflaged the reasons why Sweden has attempted to extradite him in turn diverting ever more attention from his two alleged victims.
This seeming immunity from moral and legal action that we have granted and continue to grant to household names when serious crimes have been committed against women sends a damning message. George Galloway’s assertion that Assange’s behaviour was at worst “bad sexual etiquette” diminishes women’s claims of rape to querulous and oversensitive whining. The assumption that underpins Galloway’s tenuously cobbled together argument is the specious view that once a woman has consented to sex, her body is no longer in her possession but in that of her one-time sexual partner, who never need ask her consent again. This reasoning is, of course, ludicrous but whilst we may view Galloway’s commentary with derision, we must ask ourselves how seriously our culture regards crime against women.
Chris Brown’s violent assault of Rihanna in 2009 has since been obscured after his fourth studio album was released in 2011 and after his so-called glorious comeback at the 2012 Grammys. Disturbingly, one woman tweeted that she would “let Chris Brown beat [her] any day”. Western culture’s wilful amnesia when it comes to the rich and successful serves to render deeply embedded prejudice against women acceptable and demonstrates the efficacy of Thorndike’s Halo effect: the human tendency to assign a person with a positive character trait, in this case attractiveness or fame, with other positive traits. Our overzealous readiness to forgive exhibits a great carelessness or rather a lack of empathy for the women concerned; a shared ability to shut out their presence and silence their cries. However, what makes the case of Chris Brown unusual is that he has received punishment for his crime; Polanski’s only punishment has been living in “exile” from the United States and time will tell as to whether Assange will be tried for his alleged indiscretions.
The smokescreen of fame and politics has long left female victims of violent crime as shapeless figures cast aside in the dry ice of celebrity; Galloway has claimed that it would be “inexcusable” for the British government to enter the Ecuadorian embassy without consent, a sanctity clearly not allocated to the female body. The halo that society willingly has bequeathed to the rich, the famous and the creative has left female victims with the struggle to assert their presence and reclaim their bodies from a clamouring and insatiable media hungry for momentary scandal, but ever-ready to exonerate men with status. Firstly however, we as consumers must actively deplore those implicated in crimes against women, and as women we must condemn these criminals rather than adopting a naïve and light-hearted stance as exemplified by the careless words of Whoopi Goldberg. Instead of passively tolerating lamentable attitudes towards rape and violence against women, we must exercise our voices and our buying power to banish the smokescreen and clear the ideological haze in order to face the overlooked women behind it.