How a misnomer did the impossible


Reader discretion is advised

the photo is almost entirely unrelated. I’d just like to see this jerk-ass against some velociraptors/kyle leitch

the photo is almost entirely unrelated. I’d just like to see this jerk-ass
against some velociraptors/kyle leitch

“This is great!” A friend of mine remarked. “Now I can listen to this song all I want!”

We had just gotten through listening to “Word Crimes,” “Weird” Al Yankovic’s parody cover of last summer’s blockbuster hit, “Blurred Lines.”

“You couldn’t before?” I asked my friend.

“Sure I could,” my friend responded. “I love the beat, but every time I listened to it, I felt like I was supporting rape culture.”

Well, that sure was an interesting notion.

Now, for those of you expecting me to come to the defense of Robin Thicke, read no further. I’m not going to deny that Thicke is probably an unbelievable shitbag in real life. And no sane human being could deny that “Blurred Lines” (both the album and song) isn’t at least a little rapey. This is, after all, the song that contains such immortal prose as, “You the hottest bitch in this place,” and, “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” Charming.

The term “rape culture” first appeared in print in 1974’s Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women, edited by Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson. The phrase was coined to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality.

Like almost everything from the ‘70s, the idea was popular in its time, before disappearing into the cultural ether, only to be hijacked by the Millennials and Generation Y. Seemingly overnight, “rape culture” became the shameful buzzword de jour.

The forceful resurgence of rape culture could probably be pinned on Robin Thicke, but was made all the worse at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax where, as a part of last year’s welcome week activity, organizers led students in spirited chants condoning rape and sex with the under-aged. Similar events also occurred at the University of British Columbia.

After the history lesson comes a quiz: what do you, gentle reader, consider to be more forceful? A) Calling someone a rapist or B) Loudly whining about someone’s active participation in rape culture? If you said “A,” then you probably know where this is going. Any time the Millennials or Generation Y co-opt a preceding generation’s theories, they tend to castrate it of all of the power and meaning it once held.

Congratulations ladies and gentlemen—our endless pursuit of marketing things with snappy, social-media friendly names has finally gone too far. Wow. Bravo. Champagne. Cheers. High-five. Slow clap. We did what I thought was impossible: we actually managed to trivialize rape.

Rape is a despicable, terrible act. It occurs to both men and women(but more so to women), and it degrades the whole of humanity by simply existing as a thing that we do to each other.

But, by attaching that needless suffix, “culture” to the act, we have completely destroyed all of the negative connotations surrounding it. After all, isn’t culture by its very nature something that should be celebrated, revered, and protected? Especially in the multicultural nation of Canada?

How long do you think it’ll be before there’s a rape pavilion at Mosaic, Regina’s preeminent celebration of cultural diversity? I’m not in favor of painting everybody with the same brush. Calling someone like Robin Thicke a rapist for his songs would be counter-intuitive. What I’m suggesting is that we realize that he is trying to make rape okay at a popular level, rather than saying, “He’s contributing meaningfully to rape culture.”

Rape culture is perhaps one of the most unfortunate misnomers that humanity has ever created to push academic papers. Like most theories, it is outmoded, outdated, and embarrassingly irrelevant. I’m not saying that rape isn’t prevalent and, unfortunately, relatively normalized.

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t continue to enable not only rapists, but those who contribute to painting rape as tolerable behaviour by giving them a very defendable banner like “rape culture” to hide under.

That’s why I’m calling for rape culture to end. Not because it’s despicable. But, because it’s allowed despicability to exist, and make it sound like it’s something to be celebrated.

I, for one, will no longer use “rape culture” as a part of my lexicon, and I encourage you to do the same. Instead of sterilizing the language and cramming all of our sentences with meaningless prattle to make ourselves sound important and learned, I suggest we resume calling spades just what they are.

By identifying sexual insensitivity for what it is, we can begin to do some real work towards reversing the damage of what these rapists have done to decent society.


  1. Sonia 7 September, 2014 at 15:03

    I think that the author leaves a few gaps in his argument that leave me with questions. First of all,he takes for granted that rape culture is a “defendable banner” for a person to fall under, without establishing why that might be so. Unless I missed something, suggesting that something is a factor of rape culture isn’t exactly complimentary. No one is looking for a “rape pavilion,” whatever that means. Saying that we live in a rape culture simply acknowledges that we exist in a society where there are social mechanisms that normalize and trivialize rape. When nude photos of female celebrities are stolen and leaked, and people blame the subject, that is a manifestation of a rape culture, where we are taught to put blame on victims.

    I also fail to see how using this terminology trivializes the reality of sexual violence. Rather, doesn’t it seek to examine that there are social factors and norms that contribute to sexual violence, instead of just creating a binary of “rapist” and “not-rapist”? I see serious value in acknowledging and examining the ways in which certain cultural elements create a sort of perfect storm of sexual violence, and how we might dismantle some of those. “Rape culture” doesn’t need to be an anesthetized term, if the effort is made to properly understand it.

  2. Joel 13 September, 2014 at 23:48

    This article is extremely incoherent and confused. Mr. Leitch doesn’t have a clear understanding of what rape culture means (even after giving a sufficient definition he decided, instead, to take the words at face value and completely ignore what Conell and Wilson had to say), and he doesn’t seem to notice that he rejects the phrase “rape culture” only to admit that what the word describes—the normalization and prevalence of rape—actually exists.
    I suppose that if the article had only been a complete non-sequitur, I could have rolled my eyes and gotten on with my day—but it isn’t just clumsily written. Even through his own confusion and self-contradiction, Leitch has a driving desire to put an end to the use of the phrase “rape culture” to describe the systemic normalizing of rape and sexual assault. That’s a big problem. This phrase is needed. Feminist Tracey Vitchers is quoted as saying, in an article by Jessica Valenti for The Washington Post, that:

    “The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening and how they can talk to administrators and peers […] Rape culture speaks to the larger systemic problem of why bystanders don’t intervene, why victims don’t feel safe going to campus police and why you see such levels of PTSD among college survivors.”

    It also speaks to the problem of victim blaming and male-entitlement, but once you remove the phrase “rape culture,” you remove the conversation that it entails; effectively erasing the phenomena of rape culture. Now when you do this—erasure through the removal of a term, or just plain obscurantism—then you make yourself part of the problem: you become complicit in the continuation of rape culture. The erasure of the term “rape culture” is itself an instance of rape culture—and it’s for this reason that I think the article should be removed from the Carillon website and apologized for. Both Mr. Leitch and The Carillon are complicit in the perpetuation of rape culture, and it’s time to own up to this mistake.

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