It’s one of the most appalling things I’ve seen in a long time. One of those things I can’t read for very long because it just makes me that angry. The idea that a wealthy, white male like Brock Turner can rape a girl and basically get away with it because he’s wealthy, white, and male has caused an outrage across the country over the past few weeks, and rightly so. The fact that his father wrote a disgusting letter on his son’s behalf—attempting to distract the public from Brock’s actions with cutesy descriptions of his favorite foods (poor little Brock, raped an unconscious girl and ruined her life, and now he can’t enjoy his daily steak!)—rather than seriously questioning where he went wrong in raising his son and holding Brock accountable…there are no words. The fact that Brock is now appealing his embarrassingly short six-month stint in prison because he just thinks he’s that innocent in all of this…there are no words. The heartbreaking pain and actual suffering that are conveyed through the victim’s address…there are no words.
If this case doesn’t convince us as a country that rape culture is still living and thriving and we should be actively doing something about it, then I’m not sure just what it’ll take for us to awaken from our privileged stupor.
Prior to hearing about the Brock Turner case, I’d actually stumbled across a documentary on Netflix called The Hunting Ground, which exposes the terrible truth of how most academic institutions across the U.S. ignore rape victims and fudge the crime statistics so that they don’t lose their star rapist students/athletes, so that alumni and patrons will continue donating to the school, and so that parents will continue wanting to send their children there, believing they will be kept safe. I watched open-mouthed in shock and horror as I listened to the real stories told by real rape victims who, when they did not receive support from the people who should have cared, took matters into their own hands and became their own heroes. I am so encouraged by their strength and passion for eradicating rape culture. But I’m also horrified at just how prevalent those problems still are in America. The thought that any one of those women could have been me, or my sister, or my friends, haunts the back of my mind.
If you’re new to this issue or think of terms like “victimizing,” “rape culture,” and “privilege” as more liberal buzzwords than anything, I’d like to offer some simple definitions before going further.
Implying that what happened to the victim was her fault for some reason that is not connected to the crime committed against her. Usual questions include things like “What were you wearing?” “How much were you drinking?” and “Were you nice/flirting with him?” These kinds of questions imply, whether the asker realizes it or not, that the woman deserved to be raped (was “asking for it”) because of her clothing, what she drank, or how she acted.
The rights, advantages, or immunity granted only to a certain group of people (the majority). Privilege is often so engrained into their worldview that the majority is unaware it even exists. People of privilege include whites, males, heterosexuals, the wealthy, and so on. Wealthy, white males like Brock Turner are literally the most privileged people in the world, hence his expectation of special treatment when he commits a crime.
The pervading idea that “boys will be boys” and cannot be held accountable for their “urges” or “the way they’re wired.” This mentality, obviously, is spurred on by privilege and encourages victimization.
To give you an even better picture of what rape culture looks like, here are some examples provided by the Women’s Center of Marshall University:
- Blaming the victim (“She was asking for it!”)
- Trivializing the assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
- Sexually explicit jokes
- Reinforcing stereotypes of gender roles (men are dominant and aggressive, women are weak and submissive, etc.)
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women not to appear “cold”
- Assuming that men do not get raped
- Scrutinizing the victim’s dress, mental state, and history
- Perhaps most important of all: teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men NOT to rape in the first place
If you’ve ever heard a coworker make a crude sexual joke about a woman in the workplace, that is rape culture. If you’ve ever heard someone degrade a woman for wearing something deemed immodest, that is rape culture. If you’ve ever catcalled or been catcalled, if you’ve ever heard a guy talk about his conquests, if you’ve ever excused male behavior because “boys will be boys,” that is rape culture.
Rape culture is alive and well in America.
The Christian Problem
But Christians would never support rape culture, right? Victimizing and stereotyping go directly against the example Jesus set for us in Scripture when he deliberately sought out the people society had cast aside and created community with them in his kingdom. Christians would never reinforce privilege, right? Favoring one gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class over another goes directly against the example Jesus set for us in Scripture when he deliberately sought out minorities—like women, Samaritans, Gentiles, and the poor.
We aren’t part of the rape culture problem, right?
Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think there was a problem.
You see, while thinking about Brock Turner and rape culture and privilege and documentaries and all of that, it occurred to me that some of the very same lines of thought and assumptions built into the fabric of Christian culture are the kinds of things that have led to Brock Turner getting six short months in prison (and maybe less) for robbing a woman of her entire life.
To prove it to you, here are a few things you’ll frequently hear in Christian circles.
- “Girls, you must dress modestly to keep your Christian brothers from stumbling.”
- “Women should submit.”
- “Men will struggle with lust. That’s just how they’re wired.”
- “Men are visually stimulated. Women are not.”
- “Now [child’s name], give so-and-so a kiss or a hug and make up.”
So what exactly is wrong with the way we preach about male lust and female modesty, you might ask? Well, it teaches boys from an early age that they are not accountable for their thoughts and actions toward women because the immodest women “caused” them to have those thoughts and actions. It’s almost as if a girl deserves to be lusted after if she’s wearing a bikini. There’s so much emphasis placed upon what women are wearing. If their shirt is too low-cut or their dress is too tight, they are directly responsible for the dirty thoughts going through men’s minds.
We do not teach boys to control their thoughts. We teach girls that they shouldn’t wear bikinis.
If a Christian man lusts after a woman, and the woman is responsible for “causing her brother to stumble,” then there is only one question left to be asked:
“What was she wearing?”
See, the problem with lust goes beyond mere attraction toward someone. All of us humans frequently find ourselves attracted to other humans. A man can look at a woman and admire her beauty. We would say that he’s attracted to her, or that he finds her attractive. But that normal, biological response is not lust.
Lust is something else. As I have talked about in my previous post on modesty, lust is essentially wanting to own that person. You are imagining yourself sexually with that person, and because it’s in your mind, that person has not given you permission to do so.
Why is that such a big deal for Christians? Well, for starters, Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Another way of putting that in the terms of rape culture would be: Anyone who lusts after another person and imagines having sex with that person has as good as had sex with them.
So let’s follow this train of thought to its natural end. If lusting means imagining having sex with someone who has not given their consent (i.e. rape), and imagining it is just as bad as actually doing it, then it’s not out of the question to conclude that lusting after a woman is similar—in Christian terms—to raping that woman. Furthermore, if we place the blame on the woman for “causing” the man to “stumble” because of what she was wearing or how she was acting, how is this NOT the very definition of rape culture?
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty disturbing.
Fixing the Problem
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Christianity was designed to enforce rape culture or sexism in any form; rather, I think it’s the unfortunate result of the way we have misinterpreted Scripture through the lens of a patriarchal society. It wasn’t meant to be this way, but it is. So the question becomes: What do we do about the rape culture ingrained into the very fabric of our belief system?
I’m afraid I don’t have a simple answer.
I know that we should acknowledge it. That’s always the first step in rectifying a problem, right? I know that we should rethink how we teach our children about sexuality and faith. I know that I will teach my future children to be accountable for their own thoughts and actions, and I will teach them to have agency over their own bodies. I will not force my children to hug or kiss someone if they do not want to. I will retrain my own thought processes so that I never find myself so much as wondering if a woman (or man) deserved any action that happened against them.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what the solution is. But I do know there’s a problem, and I know we need to be thinking, and thinking hard. I know we need to be talking about it. So this is me beginning the process of talking about it. I’d love to hear from you, too.