Ask Sex Coach Leigh: Rape culture

Question: I have two yes or no questions before my real question. Do you think we live in a rape culture? If so, do women contribute to rape culture? And my “real” question: if so, how?

[Content note: discussion of sexual trauma]

Hi lovely! Thank you for your question(s). I do think we live in a rape culture, which I would define as a patriarchal culture that minimizes and normalizes sexual harassment, violence and abuse through its media, laws, politics and institutions. I believe the best antidote to this is creating a culture of consent, which I have written about before.

I don’t think that women generally benefit from rape culture, as it upholds and looks to preserve an especially toxic form of masculinity. (Which is not to say that all men benefit from it either.) But I do think there are ways that women contribute to rape culture. Though it is statistically less widespread, there are, of course, women who rape, harass, and abuse. As we reckon with the ubiquity of sexual misconduct, it is just as important to believe and affirm survivors of all genders whose perpetrators are women. But women (and folks of all genders) can and do contribute to rape culture in less direct ways, too.

So how do we avoid that? Don’t judge folks for having multiple sexual partners, doing sex work, wearing revealing clothing, or any other way they choose to inhabit their own sexuality. Don’t slut-shame. Don’t judge women for having abortions, getting plastic surgery, getting tattoos, or any other way they choose to inhabit their own bodies. Believe women, and trust them to be the authorities on their own experiences. Don’t victim-blame. If a woman opens up to you about a traumatic experience, don’t ask why she didn’t walk away, run away, fight back, or anything else you think you would have done in a similar situation. Educate yourself about the ways the brain reacts to trauma.

Don’t make rape jokes. Don’t laugh at rape jokes. Don’t ignore rape jokes. Stop supporting media made by known abusers, or media that sexualizes violence against women. Stop supporting brands that create a hostile work environment for women. Examine your privilege, and realize that just because something doesn’t affect you, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect a more marginalized woman. Don’t use gendered insults – you can be angry without calling women “bitches” or “cunts.” Don’t use words like “slut” and “whore” to demean other women.

I know this is a lot of “don’ts.” So I want to leave you with a simple, positive, “do.” Do treat others with empathy. Folks who do the things above aren’t always doing it with malice. People of all genders are socialized from an early age to treat women and queer folks differently than cisgender, heterosexual men. This can take a lot of time and work to unpack. In a culture that upholds misogyny, women can easily internalize the misogyny that has been directed at them. Hurt people may hurt people, but kindness and empathy beget more kindness and empathy. So think before you speak, listen to stories from voices different than your own, and embrace a solidarity that can only get stronger from here.

If you have a sex or relationship question you would like me to answer (anonymously), please contact me.

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