Friday, May 14, 2010

Rape Culture 101 -- The Origins

By Connie Chastain*
So, how long has rape culture been around? Has it always existed? If not, when did it start and under what circumstances? Did folks just wake up one morning and there it was?

I surfed the net a bit trying to answer this question and finally found one post at a blog titled "Feminist Whore" (lovely) with a tad of information on the origins of the term, "rape culture."

It seems the phrase dates to a 1974 documentary film about ... prison rape.

There's a curious thing about this blog post, though. Feminist orthodoxy has claimed for decades that rape is not about sex, it's about power. The blog notes, however, that this was "the first documentary to establish the relationship between rape and our culture’s sexual fantatasies (sic)." How can that be, if rape is about power, not sex?

And besides, I'm looking for the origins of rape culture itself, not the terminology used to describe or identify it.

Thus far, it appears that the concept of rape culture did not exist before the 1970s. Its appearance coincides with the rise of second-wave feminism and begins to make itself known in the era of "Take Back the Night" extravaganzas.

Apparently, the idea behind "Take Back the Night" was that a woman alone cannot walk safely after dark. But I've always wondered -- take the night back .. where? When has the night ever been safe? Darkness has always been a cover for evil deeds, and it isn't just women who are menaced by the dangers lurking in the shadows. Nevertheless, these night-reclaiming organizations and activities assume the woman-as-perpetual-victim position that underlies feminism.

So did rape culture exist before second wave feminism and nobody realized it? Did it come into existence because women began to assert their independence about that time? Who created it? The patriarchy, which appears to be responsible for all that ails Planet Earth? Or have women themselves played a role in the creation and maintenance of said rape culture?

Tracking down the origins will comprise research for future essays. Interesting, though, that an idea so pervasive requires one to undertake research and inquiry in order to pinpoint its beginning. Considering the multitude of women's studies departments in academia, the feminist press and the influence of feminism on news and entertainment media, you'd think that the origins of something this important would be well-documented and easily located. A quick Google search should turn up everything you'd want to know about it.

Well, it doesn't.

By contrast, if false rape accusation can be termed a "culture", the first recorded instance of it can easily be traced to antiquity, to about 1500 BCE in Egypt. We all know the story that has come down to us, preserved in Scripture. Joseph, a good-looking young Hebrew slave in the service of Potiphar, officer of the Pharaoh, catches the eye of Mrs. Potiphar. She attempts to seduce him, he resists, she cries rape and Joseph gets thrown in prison....

It's a story as old as the sands of Egypt, as recent as today's news cycle. And Google will tell you all about it.

Links referred to in this post:
Feminist Whore:


*Connie is a regular contributor to FRS. Her principal blog is