The Rape Culture Pyramid

By Karen Petree

I usually avoid the term “rape culture”.  At times, the dialogue around the concept vilifies all men instead of including them, and often ignores male victims.  But there is validity to the term if the context in which it is used is explained.  Rape is no more common now than it ever was.  It’s a social plague that has existed for millennia.  The plot doesn’t change: some men (usually the perpetrators) have a deep-seated sense of powerlessness.  To alleviate this and experience themselves as strong and powerful, they literally invade another human being, usually a woman or younger person.  Most of the time, it’s someone close at hand – a wife, daughter, sister, son, cousin, step-child.  Most of the time, it’s someone who feels socially bound to the rapist in a way that prevents her from speaking out.  To speak out against the attacker is to pull at the thread of the family unit or social structure that sustains her.  In many ways, the more embedded the attacker is in his victim’s social circle, the more power he wields.   

But this is nothing new.  What’s new is that we’re talking about it.  This is why the term “rape culture” is somewhat problematic.  To many, it erroneously implies that one culture in particular is the unique wellspring of a set of depraved cultural mores that center around rape.  That’s just not true.  What the expression does get right, however, is that we all share responsibility for it.


This coming Saturday, the most repugnant man in the world is hosting an international meetup in over 160 cities around the globe.  Police in Des Moines, Iowa warned citizens on social media that the meetup may be a “ruse to commit rape.”  The purpose of the meetup wasn’t clear on the organizer’s website, and as of 8:00 this evening, the transnational event has been cancelled.


I won’t name the organizer here since, judging by his website, he seems to get off on how many people, especially women, openly hate him.  He’s not worth the time.  More importantly, any man who openly endorses rape on private property and expresses his blatant disgust with fifty percent of the global population is certainly a peon in the grand scheme of things.  


Misogyny, like racism (these two social ills share many things in common) can be explained as a pyramid.  At the top you have the most evil, vile people: Men who buy and sell women, who stone and mutilate their female kin.  Just below are a more populous group – bloggers who have a lot of rage and an Internet connection.   


But acute as it may be, the top of the pyramid of misogyny only exists because of the larger section of the population who directly support it.  These are the people who don’t go to extremes such as openly calling for marital rape to be legal or buying and selling women like black market cattle.  These people don’t do that stuff, but they know the guys who do.  They say things like, “ha!  He takes it a little too far sometimes, I guess.”  These guys follow the blogs and remark, “Well, he’s got some good points.”  They’re enablers.  They don’t participate directly but they enjoy the show.  


Supporting these enablers are an even bigger group of men.  Men who “understand why some men take it that far” though they, good men that they are, have a limit.  Women are human beings, but they were created for men.  These men see it as their duty to protect and provide, and have no beef with women who follow the rules.  They complain about women “crying rape” and not taking responsibility for the “consequences of her actions”.  They only know who they are when women embody their idea of what women should be.  These are the Manly Men.  They are strong if women are weak.  They are brave if women are afraid.  They are predator if women are prey.  They need the mirror of Woman to reflect what they are not so that they can know themselves.  In this category too are women.  Women who play the roles men ask of them.  Women who sit down when they should stand up.  Women who are silent when they should scream.  Women who defer responsibility and blame each other and pull the ladder up with them.


Then there is the rest of us.  The foundation.  Those who mindlessly perpetuate rape culture.  Those who shout “f**k you” at the sources of their anger.  “F**k” only means one thing, and it isn’t love. So does “up yours”.  So do so many words we use everyday without even thinking.   In this category are the teachers who ignore teenage boys saying things like, “man, he raped you!” as a metaphor for being defeated in a game or a war of words.  Here are the parents who warn their girls not to drink instead of teaching boys not to rape.  Here are the dress codes that lay the responsibility for boys’ misbehaviors at the hem of a girl’s skirt.  And here are the votes for the politicians who talk about “legitimate rape” or propose women get “rape insurance”.


Too much of our anger is targeted at the top of they pyramid.  Each of these groups enables a group who is worse to enable a group who is worse still.  In order to bring the pyramid down, we have to destroy the base that supports it, layer by layer, until it falls. 


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