A critical analysis of rape culture in Jill Filipovic’s Offensive Feminism and Jessica Valenti’s Purely Rape article What is rape culture? This issue is prevalent in contemporary society, especially on university campuses. Filipovic blames this prevalence on “religious conservatives” (13); they want men to remain the most dominant sex while women remain submissive to these men, hence maintaining the status-quo. Valenti, on the other hand, casts her blame on the sexual purity myth, which is the “lie” that a woman’s value and importance depend on her sexuality (Valenti 299).
If she is a virgin, she is the preferred woman (any woman not in that category has no morals). These two articles provide reasons that position societal institutions as dictators over women’s bodies. Rape is a tool which is used to punish women that transgress these boundaries, and both articles provide evidence to support this conclusion. Filipovic argues that women are not granted autonomy over their bodies (13). Based on the coverture laws, a woman was not recognized by the law unless through her husband (14).
This placed women as servants to their husbands, who provided all their needs -including sexual needs – “in exchange for financial security” (15-16). Women are objects to be purchased and traded. She gives examples of the bride price and purity ball ceremony. The former is an “honor” to the bride as her husband, who may want to be with her for love, considers her valuable enough to drop a down payment. The latter requires young girls to pledge their virginity to their fathers and remain virgins until their marriage night.
Women do not have rights to their bodies, including their reproductive rights. For instance, conservative activists are eager to restrict women’s freedom regarding abortions. When women begin to take control of their bodies, rape, and other assaults become tools of punishing and relegating these women back to their respective positions. Valenti on the other hand, mentions this double-bind, which is explicit in the United States. There is a harsh collision between “a sexualized pop culture and a conservative movement [which reinforces] traditional gender roles” (300).
The conservative movement requires women to abide by this purity myth (aforementioned in the introduction) while the media encourages girls to explore and embrace their sexuality. Allison Madison explains this in The Breakfast Club: “It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it… Well, if you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have you’re a slut. It’s a trap. ” Women look to these two opposing sides for guidance are confused; if they favor one side, they are left to deal with the condemnation of the other.
Women who choose to remain virgins, run the risk of being mocked and called ‘prude,’ while those who embrace their sexualities are devalued and degraded, and even worse, raped. However there is a negotiation between these two sides, women are required to be virgins, that is the norm, but they can portray this virginity in a sexual way – “sexy virginity” (300). Taking this further, this ‘sexy virgin’ would be who Filipovic referred to as “the tempting woman” (18). This tempting woman, by carrying herself in this manner, justifies men’s reasons for raping her.
Then statements like “what were you wearing? ” “You teased him. ” “How did you behave around him? ” are made to hold her responsible for the rape. Now with regards to the sexy virgin, being a virgin (pure) is a desirable characteristic, while being sexy is intriguing to men. In the event of a rape, she is not only blamed for being raped, but for losing her virginity. It is never a win-win situation for women in a patriarchal society. These two writers propose ways in which women’s bodies are perceived by society and the mechanisms that are put in place to monitor it.
By focusing on women’s sexuality, women are reduced to sexual objects – the vagina to be exact; this determines a woman’s value. Once the hymen is gone, she is not as valuable, and can, therefore, be violated. Valenti says, “The myth of sexual purity not only enables sexual violence against women, it forgives it and renders it invisible” (301). This is why a woman’s sexual history is alluded to when she is raped; this is exemplified in the gang rape case Valenti mentioned in the beginning of her article.
Although the teenager had passed out, her rape was justified based on her sexual history, and her eagerness to make a “porn video” (301). An important fact to note was this victim in question was not an adult, but a young girl, nonetheless the court still sexualized her. What does this mean for young girls then, adolescents and children who grow up watching Rihanna’s Bitch better have my money or Demi Lovato’s Cool for the summer? When they do not remain chaste, as society demands, are they punished also?
Yes, young girls are punished also. In Valenti’s article, she says purity is “the desired norm” and it is “fetishized” (301). Padded bralettes are sold to little girls, children are sexualized in romance novels, and the list goes on. The Simpsons accurately depicts this in its fifteenth season, episode sixteen: the family arrives at a mall, and a saleswoman stops Lisa to say “This is our Little Hooker line. All the girls your age are wearing it, except the freakishly unpopular. Lisa: But I’m eight years old! Saleswoman: So is your look”.
Girls are led to believe that being mature, means being sexually liberal. This sexualized media pressures them into this archetype of the ‘sexy virgin. ‘ It is either ‘pure’ or ‘sexy,’ there’s no in between for girls in which society would fully accept them. Still on the issue of girls. Based on the movie, Woman thou art loosed (2004), Michelle, a black girl, (Kimberly Elise) had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He easily denied it and blamed Michelle for being “so fast” (being sexually active at a young age).
Does this hyper-sexualization of Michelle also occur in reallife scenarios? A real-life example would be Elizabeth Lauten (a Republican Party staffer) calling President Obama’s children classless, for dressing as if they were at a bar. Black girls and other girls of color are forced to mature (sexually) as opposed to white girls. When these girls experience sexual assault, they are often called ‘fast girls,’ their race is used to justify the rape since women of color are overtly sexual beings.
Through this hypersexualization, it becomes obvious what kinds of bodies are raped as punishment and those that are raped due to their insignificant status in society. The norm is women who are raped are often blamed for their rape, minority bodies, though, may not raise any questions, such as the missing and murdered aboriginal women. Being a woman in a patriarchal society is difficult, so one can imagine how dangerous it is for minority women who are non-white, differently-abled, fat, immigrants and so on.