Smoking was once the epitome of cool, at least by Hollywood and advertising standards. Mid century idols displayed a sense of sophistication with that white stick dangling from hands, mouths, or the even more glamorously, a cigarette holder. Smoking was normal, socially acceptable behavior – in homes, schools, hospitals, and most influentially, in the neon allure of the media. Cut to 2014 and let’s replace that imagery: the vision of smoking, with misogyny, sexism and even rape.
Rape Culture – a ghastly sounding term originating with second wave feminists of the 1970’s – is still prevalent. The phrase itself describes a culture that normalizes rape based on its attitudes towards gender and sexuality, and that culture is one we have embraced, wittingly or not. It can’t be denied that the conversation – the dialogue on misogyny, sexism and rape – has become less taboo than decades past, but the sexualization of women has also become more brazen than ever before. It’s in our music, on our televisions, at the movies, in our video games, and enacted in the institutions built to protect us.
It would be unwise to assume that the media is the root cause for these atrocities, as there are many consumers who would rather chew off their left arm than succumb to reflecting the imagery presented before them. Nonetheless, it would be equally ignorant, and even dangerous, to disregard the impact the media has on what culture and society deem normal.
For example, Robin Thicke’s dance anthem, Blurred Lines, has been described as ‘rape-y’ by many, with it’s suggestive lyrics, and shameless accompanying video, and yet it tops the charts. Kate Upton evocatively groans and disrobes at a drive-in to sell a Carl’s Jr. burger, and she continues to be lauded as a standard of beauty. Players can elect to batter, abuse, and even kill prostitutes while playing Grand Theft Auto, however age restrictions are not enforced. And toddlers are put on display and dressed in the likes of Pretty Women and a Hooters waitress for the amusement of reality television viewers, but the pedophilic grey area is dismissed.
The objectification of women in our media is nothing short of abhorrent, and yet we are surprised by the sexual harassment and assaults played out on our streets, campuses and even in our military. Some go insofar as to condemn those that attempt to dissuade assaults, particularly those on campuses, claiming new rules and regulations place a burden on male students.
In the article The Escalating War on Campus Rape, Margarette Wente of The Globe and Mail chastises North American campuses for rooting out “sexual harassment and misconduct, however slight…”, which only further devalues the issue. Bloomberg’s John Lauerman and Jennifer Surane use the theft of an unlocked bike to justify victim blaming and continue by empathizing with college men over their burden of hesitancy in pursuing women. While additionally suggesting female students need to avoid “drunkenness and other risky behaviors”.
While being incapacitated could be dangerous for a multitude of reasons, the onus of rape should not fall of the victim’s shoulders – your clothing, your level of sobriety, your gender, creed, or religion should not define an unwanted invitation, in public or private sectors. The mismanagement, or blatant indifference to sexual misconduct in education and military institutions only perpetuates rape myths and condones the culture in which it breeds.
The New York Times reported in May 2014, that a case study done by the U.S. Pentagon found that out of 26,000 reported cases of rape in the American military, only 376 resulted in a conviction – a result that is difficult to swallow. While statistics for North American post secondary campuses vary, 64 campuses are currently being investigated for violating Title IX – a public law that protects equal opportunity in education. And though government attempts are being made to implement concise sexual assault protocols, even Time Magazine’s Christina Hoff Sommers scoffs, “rape culture” to be “a panic, where paranoia, censorship and false accusations flourish”.
In days past, smoking was a socially acceptable behavior, and even known to be recommended by some doctors as a means to manage stress. But through social pressure and awareness, we have come to see it as harmful and even deadly – no longer does it carry the glamour it once did. I wait with baited breath for society to have the same level of concern for a women’s right to consent. And for the media to acknowledge its role in shaping it.