In a world suffocating in rape culture, women can do everything “right” and still lose. And that’s serious a problem. One that needs fixing now.
Rape culture is one of those terms that is bandied about online, but oftentimes people don’t know what it means. Or they’ve some idea, but don’t understand the implications of it. In simple terms it’s the notion that rape and sexual violence is normalised due to our attitudes. But that doesn’t tell you much about how pervasive it is and how dangerous it really is.
We grow up surrounded by it. Without even knowing it we are impacted by it. We’re taught to question those who come forward. Laugh when we should rage. Women are taught many rules that men are not. Learn to be meek. Smile when faced with unwanted advances. . To not walk at night. Don’t wear tight clothes. Heaven forbid your skirt is short. Don’t laugh too loudly. Or talk for too long. Be friendly but not overly so. Don’t drink too much. Or dress up. Behave in a way that is fitting. Unsolicited dick pics are the norm. Being slut-shamed and cat-called, groped and harassed is part of a night out. To resist, but in the right way. You must prioritise men’s comfort over your own. Which quickly becomes why didn’t you fight back!? The onus is always on the victim to modify their behaviour. Even when the problem is someone else.
This whole court case has exposed major problems in Irish society. Women are seen as vindictive liars, Sexual double standards are rife. Many young men don't care about consent and show no regard for the wellbeing of their sexual partners.
— Feminists in Dublin (@FemInDublin) March 28, 2018
Recently it has felt like that dial was moving. #MeToo and #TimesUp felt like things had shifted. That we’d taken a step in the right direction. And that women are slowly starting to be believed. Alan Maguire, writer and co-host of Juvenalia and Roast Chestnuts and the creator of Not The RTÉ Guide, had sensed this shift too.
“With the #MeToo movement we’re finally seeing men being held accountable for their actions. Previously, a whole spectrum of toxic male behaviour both legal and illegal, ranging from catcalls and groping up to serious assault and rape have been dismissed as just “boys being boys” and women were urged to change *their* behaviour if they had a problem with it. Now, however, society is starting to believe women by default when they call out these behaviours and that’s a huge step forward.”
Yet this movement has felt dulled today due to the verdict in the Belfast rape case. It feels like a punch in the gut. We’ve taken two steps forward and one step back. But we cannot allow ourselves to be defeated. In the Belfast case, like thousands of others before it, the victim did everything right and still lost.
This woman was bleeding and crying on the night in question. Her taxi driver remembered her. She told people what happened. She sought medical treatment the next day. She reported what happened. She did everything you are supposed to do. And yet.
— ⭐ amy o'connor ⭐ (@amyohconnor) March 28, 2018
We are at a turning point in history. It’s not going to be easy, there’s been talk about rape culture since the 1970’s. But now it feels like something is being done about it. I agree with Alan, who suggests that we need to tackle the root of the problem and men need to get involved in solving this issue too. “What we need now are a) compulsory consent classes in secondary schools and b) to encourage men to call out their friends when they verbally or physically mistreat women.”
“Men need to take responsibility for rape culture and stop putting the onus on women to change it.”
Despite the outcome, the Belfast case has had some small steps. Firstly, the overwhelming support for this immense brave young woman. Second the fire that has been stoked by her treatment. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, a very stark light has been thrown on the behaviour and language used by men when they think they won’t be reprimanded. Their conduct is beyond disgusting. But they are not alone. It’s likely that men you know have spoken about women in the same way. Or have laughed when their friends have. It’s likely that men you know have harassed women, or seen women being harassed and done nothing.
Every woman I know, and I know a lot, will have a story to tell – either her own, or a friend’s – that is grim. An interaction that will turn your stomach. A report that didn’t get made because of fear. Being manhandled on a night out. An invite for a drink turning into a threat when declined. Physical violence. Intimidation. Verbal assaults. I sometimes wonder do men talk to their female friends about the world they live in. Because it’s not the same. And there needs to be a wider acknowledgement of this. The landscapes inhabited by men and women might appear to be the one, but their realities are very different.
If you’ve been the victim of an assault you can get in touch with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on their national 24-hour helpline 1800 77 8888 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find more information on what to do in the aftermath of an assault here (UK) or here (USA).