Before #MeToo, we just called it 'rape culture'
People are afraid of the term ‘rape culture’ - and fair enough. Who wants to be told that their actions contribute to why rape is a thing?
But before we had #MeToo, we just called all of this rape culture.
What the #MeToo movement protests is the definition of rape culture. We needed this movement, and a little rebranding, to get people to click with what this culture really means, to be less threatened (without the label of rape at the forefront), and to be more open to identifying with the toxic culture that we constantly accept and, in some cases, promote.
While the term rape culture is still one I’ll use and I encourage you to as well, I think #MeToo is a great way to express and define the same cultural phenomenon. #MeToo works because it doesn’t isolate or attack. It’s simple and inclusive. And it has that social media participation, global sharing aspect to it.
But what I love most about it is that it encompasses and carries forward an aspect of rape culture that people have been holding against women since the beginning: the fact that we haven’t spoken up sooner.
#MeToo is a way of saying not only yes, we have experienced the symptoms of our rape culture (catcalling, sexual pressure/coercion, sexual assault, sexualizing without consent, etc.), but it’s also a way of saying that we may not have been doing everything we possibly could do to change it before - mostly because the world wouldn’t let us or intimidated us out of it - but now we will.
And this is not just a conversation about rape and sexual assault (though that’s obviously a huge place where our focus lies). This is also about the entire structure of gender imbalance that exists in every single space we inhabit. How else could this culture get away with being a thing if it wasn’t completely integrated into who we are and how we live?
We must remember that to overcome rape culture or #MeToo or whatever you want to call it, we all have to look inwards and ask ourselves - what do we specifically do that assists this culture in perpeturapeing us. What media do we consume that perpeturapes? How do we perpeturape ourselves?
We need to be able to recognize it at every turn. When, as women, we let men speak to us in specific ways or make dumb jokes - we need to point at it and say ‘that is rape culture.’ When, as men, you hear a friend or even yourself doing the same, you need to make it stop. For people who don’t identify, the idea is the same: always try to say something.
It is a learned behavior change that we all have to go through. First, seeing that the problem exists and then deciding we should do something about it - even when our culture would really rather we didn’t.
This is important because a lot of men feel attacked by this movement. They feel scared, they feel confused. And while it’s easy for us to give zero shits because we’ve endured a lifetime of all of those feelings, the #MeToo movement also has a way of saying, “Okay before I was not always standing up for myself. Maybe that was confusing. And while it’s not my job to teach you and it’s your job to learn, I will do my part to make it clear to you what is happening. Now sit down and listen. And also, raise your hand - it’s just POLITE.”
So men who feel threatened by this movement or feel like it’s coming out of the blue in full force, or who have ever used the term ‘witch hunt’ in the context of this discussion - this is for you. Yes, women are angry. Yes, women’s anger is generally directed at men. Maybe you feel like this is unfair because you’ve never sexually assaulted or raped a woman. But what is it that you have done that isn’t great for women?
Have you ever laughed at a friend’s stupid joke about getting a woman to do something sexually? Have you ever heard a woman say “I should probably go home tonight” and still somehow ended up sleeping with her? Have you ever felt uncomfortable when a friend sexualized a woman on the street but still didn’t take a second to say, “Dude, not cool.”
Women are now learning how to tell the world that what’s going on, and has gone on for literally all of history, isn’t okay. We get that, in order for this work, we have to say it, scream it from the rooftops, plaster it on every wall (real and virtual), and be heard.
We’re doing our part, now do yours. Don’t run away or isolate yourself from the movement or from rape culture. Think about it, talk to some smart ladies about it (I’m happy to refer you), and then move forward from there.
Women are generally understanding creatures; we want to help you, often a little too much (#StopMothering). But we literally need you to help us. Because before #MeToo, we were dealing with rape culture the best way we could - mostly by protecting ourselves and remaining silent. Some of us were speaking, but no one did a great job at listening.
But not anymore. So be on the right side of history. Do you want to wake up one day and have to think, “I didn’t help women feel comfortable in this world because I was too busy being concerned with how important my penis is.” Or you know, something else that’s probably not that but is also just basically that.
And remember, it’s a culture, people!