Last week, The Lancet published a groundbreaking UN study addressing the void in ‘rape perpetration’ research. The study surveyed 10,178 men aged 18-49 in six Southeast Asian countries and found that one in four had raped someone. ThinkProgress‘ Tara Culp-Ressler broke down the results, noting that “rape typically goes unpunished in Southeast Asia.”
Also in the news last week were reports that Jaborian McKenzie, one of the four Vanderbilt University football players accused of raping a 21-year-old female student was continuing his football career at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. He has since been kicked off the team, but the initial decision to include him on the roster should not be dismissed.
How do we process this information?
Well, we can start with deconstructing the profitability of rape culture. But let’s define ‘rape culture’ and what I mean when I say it’s ‘profitable.’
FORCE defines rape culture as involving “jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable,” and explains that “media imagery perpetuates rape by excusing it, validating myths about rape, and/or sexualizing rape.” When rape goes unpunished and is celebrated in songs, TV shows and movies, it becomes normalized and as FORCE notes, it can be dismissed as “just the way things are.” Tara Culp-Ressler writes that another dimension of rape culture “is the idea that rape is inevitable, men can’t help themselves, and women must therefore work to protect themselves against it.”
Now, let’s discuss profitability of rape culture. When I say that rape culture is profitable, I do not limit that benefit to financial accrual. Someone who profits from rape can do so by skirting responsibility or punishment, as their person is not affected by the act they committed. In the instance above, we see that in Southeast Asia, rapists are rarely punished for their atrocities, an example of their person not being affected. In terms of Jaborian McKenzie, Alcorn State University’s decision to allow him to play football for their team was surely a financial one. Had Jaborian continued to play for Alcorn State, he would have contributed to this country’s very profitable football culture. But- he also profited in a non-financial way, by his person not being affected by rape charges to the point that he could join the football roster at another school. In this case, we see both personal and professional profitability.
In my post last week, I wrote that you cannot talk about the culture of college football and rape culture without talking about Penn State. If you remember the timeline of events surrounding the horrific scandal, you know that several people knew about the abuse since 2002, and others since 1998 but “failed to report it to the Board of Trustees” at Penn. Stephanie Taylor Christensen wrote in 2011 that Penn State’s football program “finished as the third most profitable program with just over $50 million” during the 2009-2010 school year. When you pair that information with reports that the school’s administration and athletic department employees, including Joe Paterno, covered up the scandal, all you need is a degree in common sense to conclude that Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and others profited from rape culture by allowing football to trump justice.
What about the profitability of rape culture in Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines?’ Vibe reported that the song, as of July 27th, had “reached more than 242.65 million listeners, breaking the previous record of 188.8 million.” While it’s up for debate whether all 242.65 listeners liked the song (I’m one of them and I hate it. Can you tell?), we can be sure that Robin Thicke made a pretty penny off the song whose lyrics encourage pursuance of non-consensual sex (“I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it”) and patriarchal attitudes that a man knows more about what a woman really wants than she does.
Or how about the profitability of rape culture in the justice system? Last month, Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced former teacher Stacey Rambold to a 30-day jail stint for repeatedly raping his teenage student, the late Cherice Morales. Baugh’s justification for the sentence was that Morales was “older than her chronological age.” In Soraya Chemaly’s brilliant piece for Salon about “The Six Ways We Talk About A Teenage Girls’ Age,” she writes that “not one of these many ways of measuring an adolescent girl’s age excuses predatory rapists — and yet time and time again, they’re used to do just that.” Although Baugh ordered a new hearing after receiving (understandable and valid) backlash for Rambold’s 30-day sentence, it’s unclear whether the slap-on-the-wrist sentence can be overturned. All in all, Rambold has profited from victim-blaming and the perpetuation of rape culture at the hands of a Judge. Even though he did not evade punishment entirely, the fact that part of the blame was placed on Cherice, who committed suicide, proves that rape culture so deeply institutionalized that the death of an underage victim who was two years younger than Montana’s legal age of consent cannot see sufficient justice.
So there it is- the profitability of rape culture, the omnipresent chameleon. Until we can make rape culture unprofitable, we will never see an end to this systemic tool of oppression, violence, control, misogyny and war. Where do we start, you ask? Here are “Ten Things to End Rape Culture,” courtesy of The Nation, Walter Moseley and Rae Gomes. Let’s start there.