The caption from Getty Images where this picture was purchased reads: "A jubilant American sailor clutching a white-uniformed nurse in a back-bending, passionate kiss as he vents his joy while thousands jam Times Square to celebrate the long awaited-victory over Japan. " (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images) Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt
Rape culture. Is there any feminist topic more guaranteed to provoke an indignant reaction? One recent commenter on this site, Jb88, summed up the views of many with a curt, ‘Our society as a whole vehemently rejects rape and that is why, after murder, rape is considered the most heinous of crimes and can carry jail sentences comparable to murder or manslaughter.’
Jb88 has completely misunderstood the concept. Rape culture is not a culture in which every man is a rapist or every citizen runs around exclaiming how wonderful rape is. It is a society that pays lip service to the ‘heinous’ nature of rape even as it fosters an environment in which sexual assault flourishes by excusing certain types of sexual violence, laying at least partial responsibility on the victims, and downplaying the prevalence of rape.
The attempts of feminists to discuss this contradiction are frustrated because of this widespread refusal to acknowledge it. Another commenter on this site, purporting to be one Tyler Durden, had this to say:‘Please stop using the term 'rape culture'. It's not actually a thing.’ Durden’s moniker could not be more apt because, as many feminists would recognise, the first rule of rape culture is ‘don’t talk about rape culture.’
As long as we don’t talk about it, it’s easy to pretend it doesn’t exist. Take the photograph above.
Most of us know this iconic image. A moment in time capturing both the elation felt at the end of WW2, and the heady romance of Young Love.
Except that nurse and that sailor were never in love. In fact, they were complete strangers. This year they were finally identified as George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer-Friedman. This is how Greta describes this ‘romantic’ kiss: ‘It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!’
Last month feminist blogger ‘Leopard’ earned herself a place in the hall of fame of Feminists Who Ruin Everything when she suggested that, by our standards today, the Kissing Sailor actually constitutes a sexual assault. Naturally, her assessment was met with outrage that she could turn something so romantic into something sinister.
Yes, this is rape culture but not because of the act itself. Mendonsa, who saw a girl on the street and felt entitled to grab and kiss her without asking, behaved in way that was more or less acceptable at the time (the grinning woman in the background was his date and later became his wife). No one is suggesting he be retroactively arrested a la David Hicks.
No, as Leopard pointed out what makes this an example of rape culture is the refusal to discuss what is actually happening in the photograph. Even in this more enlightened age when we ostensibly agree that a woman should be in charge of her own body, not only was Leopard vilified for her contrary view, but no major media outlet took seriously the suggestion that the photograph was anything other than wistfully romantic. They did this even as they acknowledged that both the nurse and sailor publically admitted that he kissed her without consent.
It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!
It’s easier to deny sexual assault than admit we live in a society that often treats women’s bodies as public property. Getting angry at feminists for pointing out sexual assault is akin to getting angry at people who point out racism. As if calling someone a ‘racist’ is worse than actually being a racist. Rather than confront the widespread existence of rape, we do the exact opposite, we pretend ‘real’ rape, like ‘real’ racism is a rare thing.
The University of Miami recently found itself subject to unwanted publicity after a flier entitled ‘Top Ten Ways To Get Away With Rape’ was discovered making its way around campus. The ‘funny’ manual included such side splitting instructions to would-be rapists as climb through windows, slip drugs into women’s drinks, and prey on women walking alone at night.
Such displays from college age young men seem to be par for the course these days. This latest incident follows in the footsteps of the Sydney Uni pro-rape Facebook Page (which described itself as ‘anti-consent’ and challenged us to ‘Define Statutory’), and the Yale incident (more on that later).
What did Miami University do when faced with proof of this leaflet’s circulation? What society does best, they pretended it was an aberration. Clearly in damage control mode, a spokesperson claimed 'All of our evidence shows it was confined strictly to McBride Hall.’ In other words, ‘Nothing to see here folks, move right along.’ No mention that at least 27 sexual assaults have been reported at Miami University since 2009.
First rule of rape culture: don’t talk about rape culture.
A similar situation erupted at Yale last year after a bunch of frat boys thought shouting ‘No mean yes! Yes means anal!’ during an initiation would be a swell idea. That led female students to launch a complaint about how sexual assault claims were handled on campus, which in turn prompted a student by the name of Julia Fisher to pen an editorial demanding feminists just shut up because ‘There is no rape culture at Yale.’
First rule of rape culture: don’t talk about rape culture.
For how much longer can we continue pretending rape is an aberration when all evidence suggests the contrary? In her book Body Wars, Margot Maine cites some frightening but not surprising statistics.
•30% of surveyed US college men said they would rape if they could get away with it.
•58% said they would rape if the term was changed from ‘rape’ to ‘force a woman to have sex’.
•83% claimed ‘some women just look like they are asking to be raped.’
When surveys continue to reveal that people think rape victims often bear some of the responsibility for their assault, that’s rape culture. When judges tell victims they wouldn’t have been raped if they’d just stayed at home, that’s rape culture. When journalists emphasise the sexual history and clothing choices of victims, that’s rape culture. And when police officers suggest that women should dress a certain way to ‘stay safe’, that’s rape culture.
It doesn’t matter how much society says it hates rape. It matters what it does to stop it, and at the moment, we are not doing nearly enough.