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Notes from the Portland Feminist Meetup – April Edition

August 17, 2013

The first Sunday of every month, a group of feminists meets in the In Other Words space to discuss current issues through a feminist lens. The topic for Sunday, April 7th was Rape. IOW volunteer Susan was kind enough to take notes at the meeting.

Please note that this discussion is the result of an independent group, and the opinions expressed do not reflect those of In Other Words. If you’re interested in joining in on these talks, the Feminist Discussion Group meets the first Sunday of each month at In Other Words; the next meeting will be Sunday, September 1st. You can join the Facebook group for more information.

Ed. note: Due to the sensitive nature of this topic and the possibility for triggering content, the notes for this meetup follow the jump.

Yes, I know this is an exceedingly not fun topic, but it’s a very important and necessary one. I came up with this idea after reading a couple of articles on rape, including about the young woman in India who jumped off a train in order to escape being raped. And I’ve traveled on Indian sleeper cars, so I can too vividly picture this experience. I’d rather turn into a tree, like in the Greek myth.

A sample of recent media coverage:

After reading those articles (in January), I started reading the anthology Transforming a Rape Culture, one essay at a time. I’ve been alternating those essays with other reading such as fantasy novels – much more escapist. There are quite a few anti-rape books out there, including Susan Brownmiller’s second wave classic Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. But we don’t need to be bookish about this. We can discuss rape and how to end it, or whatever comes up in the discussion on the topic of rape. It’s always a free-flowing discussion.

From Transforming a Rape Culture:

The fear of sexual assault that is part of the daily life of women in this country takes up a continent of psychic space. A rape culture is a culture of intimidation that keeps women afraid of being attacked and so confines women in the range of their behavior. That fear makes a woman censor her behavior—her speech, her way of dressing, her actions. Fear undermines her confidence in her ability to be independent. The necessity to be mindful of one’s behavior at all times is far more than merely annoying. Women’s lives are unnecessarily constricted. As a society, this one issue hampers the best efforts of half the population, costing us heavily in lost initiative and in emotional energy stolen from other, more creative thoughts.

(Emilie Buchwald, “Raising Girls in the Twenty-First Century,” pp. 219-20).

Women and men often experience the same event differently. Men experience their behavior from the perspective of those who have power, women from the perspective of those upon whom that power is exercised.

(Michael Kimmel, “Men, Masculinity, and the Rape Culture,” p. 150).

Resources and Media

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and SheryleWuDunn (both a book and a documentary—the latter has some issues, as explained on the blog Racialicious).

Sisterhood is Global edited by Robin Morgan

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Gore.

Tough Guise:

Can’t Buy My Love by Jeane Kilbourne

What makes this a rape culture?

A sense of entitlement to someone else’s body = rape culture. Our society encourages rape; we all grow up in a society that encourages misogyny and the oppression and objectification of women and girls.

Women are expected to not go out after dark alone; if they do so, they’re the ones who are judged. If they’re raped at night (whether in a park by a stranger or while visiting a so-called friend at night) they’re blamed for being out after dark. People automatically blame the woman rather than the perpetrators.

Rape is a form of dominance and control, and this is one of the most militarily aggressive countries in the world. This culture is about violence and promotes violence and takes it for granted.

People don’t tell girls and boys that no genuinely means no, and there are no resources readily available for learning good consent. Sex Ed doesn’t say anything about rape. Sex ed starts in 5th grade; it’s about having periods and it’s painful and gross, Sex Ed 2 is about the penis and the vagina, the physical mechanics. (And then there are schools that teach the fundamentalist Christian and overtly sexist “abstinence only education,” which is a dishonest and patriarchal crock.)

Nobody discusses the amount of alcohol that women buy and are bought and how that makes them vulnerable. Maybe we shouldn’t have “Ladies Night” because that makes it easy for women to be victims of sexual predators. How about paying women the same wage as men instead of giving gender-based discounts?!

How is rape related to machismo and gender binary?

Stereotypes of women and men contribute to rape culture.

Girls’ magazines are about how to attract boys (as is so often the case) instead of how to improve self-esteem and confidence. Girls learn by age thirteen how to please men, attract men. They attempt to appeal to male sexuality, the values of Playboy and other such magazine and images. Women need to take back their ownership of themselves and true body acceptance and stop objectifying themselves and other women and girls.

Rape and sexual assault of males does exist. There’s a lot of pressure on men to not be passive at all and to be super dominant and super big. The concept of a guy leaving early because he doesn’t want to fuck her, because he said no, is beyond the comprehension of his male friends. It’s unusual to meet a guy who has a line to say no or postpone sex. Anyone should have the option to say no, but nobody is taught how.

Rape culture is inevitably focused more toward women as the victims.

  • If a man says no to you, then it’s your fault: “I’m not pretty enough or smart enough or don’t make enough money or wear enough make-up.”
  • When a woman says no to a man, she’s blamed again. “Don’t you want to fuck him?” “You shouldn’t have gotten into that situation.” “You must be frigid.”

“Frigid” is a disparaging label—particularly for lesbian, asexual, or celibate women who said “No”—or any woman who says “No”—invented by misogynists about a hundred year ago. See The Spinster and Her Enemies by Sheila Jeffreys.

There are genuinely nice guys who don’t react that way to not getting to date the women they want to date. Rejection sucks, but we can be adults about it. As long as it doesn’t progress it into bullying, directing it at someone; don’t go up to someone and say, “You’re a jerk,” when they’re wearing an offensive t-shirt or whatever. Yes, you’re nice: you should be—you don’t deserve a trophy or the label of hero for that. Just because you’re a guy who has a higher standard doesn’t mean you should label all other guys jerks.

Women are taught to internalize, and men are taught to get angry and go play sports.

Living with Rape Culture

In rape culture, women have an everyday fear of rape and sexual assault and harassment. This fear that women feel makes them feel silly at certain times; a woman might tell herself it’s not likely to happen to her. This can lead to an uncomfortable in-between, like when you’re on public transportation. Some guy is giving you bad vibes and isn’t really obviously threatening. If you speak up or act up, people will accuse you of being hysterical or overreacting. But if something happens, the victim gets blamed.

It shouldn’t be your responsibility ideally, but we live in a society in which you have to be very cautious. It’s smart in this society to refrain from going out after dark if you don’t have to. We blame the victims in any situation, such as if you get mugged, “What were you doing in that neighborhood?” Of course, the victim blaming is most extreme for rape. “What were you wearing?” “You shouldn’t have been out after dark.” At PSU you can call the women’s resource center and have someone walk with you after dark (for night classes and such); PCC has a button for campus security, so that a security guard will walk with you on campus after dark.

Rape in the Legal System

When the system lets a rapist off and gives him a short sentence, then every woman has to know that this rapist is free and around in the streets; this gives women more fear. It tells rapists that there are no consequences. Statistics show that men typically think that every other man is a rapist and that they’re not doing it. Fewer rapes are reported because women know blaming and punishing the victim is the norm, and the system isn’t on their side. Rapists have the nerve to walk around and be seen even by their past victims—victim blaming—it makes the women, the victims, afraid when the rapist is the one who the system should make afraid. Ironically, the victims are the ones who feel shame, not the perpetrators. Even when guys molest kids, the system doesn’t protect us and the society ridicules the victims rather than punishing the rapists.



Rape in the military and perpetrated by men who are in sports (including celebrities). The military and the sports industry are the two most obviously patriarchal institutions in our society. The way women are treated in the military and by sports jocks reflects the society’s overall misogyny and patriarchy. According to Transforming a Rape Culture, women in the military are fifty percent more likely to be raped than women who aren’t in the military.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is epidemic in many parts of the world, including Portland. There is a nonprofit called Youth Ending Slavery that has a Portland chapter. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz recently spoke about trafficking prevention.

Healing the scars of prostitution, getting women on the right track to being productive members of society, and preventing the damaging and long term impacts to society and the police of child abuse and human trafficking, is a City, County, State and Federal problem.

Prostitution is a choice; trafficking is forced prostitution. If she’s under age, no matter what choices she makes, she is considered trafficked.

Rape is a worldwide epidemic war against women.

Fighting Back

Consent should be enthusiastic and freely given.

Trinity College in Texas is a small school but has a bulletin board of pictures of many boys who are suspected of sexual assault.

Raise boys to respect girls and women and to know that rape is wrong and to speak out against it. Give your sons an in-depth conversation, not just vaguely making sure he knows it’s not OK.

Better sex ed, real and accurate, shame-free and consensual talk. Need to have sociology class and hear consent. Needs to talk about race, because it plays into rape culture (someone who isn’t white is more likely to be convicted even if they didn’t do it). Intersectionality in classes—women’s studies and sex ed interconnected.

Telling boys do that, don’t do that.

Wipe out most of the mainstream culture. The ways women and men are portrayed in the media need to be transformed.

Women—girls, really—should be taught to be more comfortable with their bodies, be aware of it and connected to it. We have a mind-body dissociation in rape culture. We generally don’t know our own bodies and don’t know what we want ourselves; we need to get comfortable knowing ourselves. That’s the first step to being comfortable with someone else, to know that you can say that they’re not comfortable with such and such behavior.

Mainstream media needs to change drastically.

Maybe next month the discussion topic will be butterflies and unicorns. Unicorns that use their horns to gouge rapists to death, that is.


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