I do not watch television so I have never seen the show Girls, but I knew something big had happened when my news feed began filling up with statuses and then articles about whether or not events depicted in a recent episode constituted rape.
Although I maintain something of a distance from media, I like to remain informed about the important things, and this seemed to be a pretty big deal, so I started reading what was being written. I mean, how could viewers be confused about whether or not they had witnessed a rape scene or not?
This concerns me greatly. But, at the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. Rape culture is pervasive. It blurs the lines between victim responsibility and rapist culpability. It creates these perceived shades of grey that don’t actually exist. I am known to argue that nothing is black and white, that there are always shades of grey, but the exception is rape. Rape is rape. The only potentially grey areas are in how we define, recognize, and validate rape.
I spent time as a volunteer at a sexual assault crisis centre, and we were trained extensively on issues surrounding rape and consent. As a culture, we are taught to speak of and think about rape a certain way. Media only covers rapes that tend to be prosecutable, and not those that may happen but never make it to a courtroom.
So, culturally, there is this perception of what constitutes rape – we envision someone violently forcing themselves on someone, proceeding when their partner has clearly said no. There are certain kinds of victims we believe (those who say no forcefully and vociferously, those who are chaste, who dressed conservatively, who did everything “right”) and kinds of victims we shame (if a victim was drunk, dressed “inappropriately”, engaging in risky behaviour, sexually experienced, in a relationship with or married to her rapist, then s/he becomes not the “right” kind of victim). This is all part of rape culture. It is perpetuated day-in and day-out through how we talk about sex, consent, women, men, and rape.
It is not surprising, then, when people are confused about rape, or when terms like “grey rape” emerge. But let me just be clear – there is no such thing as grey rape. It does not exist. And this would all be so much more apparent to both men and women if how we talked about sex and consent was clearer. Read more