I saw a tweet the other day that reminded me of the painful reality of rape culture’s impact on society and women. There is often this perception of what sexual violence is that prevents some women from even recognizing the harassment or assault they have been through.
Growing up, I was taught that sexual assault was equal to rape and there was no in between. I was 10 years old when I was sexually assaulted but back then, I had no idea what to call it. I barely knew what sex was let alone sexual violence. After I was assaulted, I negated my own experience because I didn’t believe it was as serious as rape, so it was not worth me talking about to anyone. When I began to speak about it I belittled my experience. I did not call it sexual assault so my close friends and family members would not be too concerned. Even though this was a traumatic experience and I went through numerous therapy sessions, I did not allow myself to say that I was a victim because I believed other women had gone through even worse experiences.
As the #metoo movement has grown, I have realized now normalized rape culture and sexual violence are embedded into society. Sexual assault and rape are perceived as one way and all of the complexities in between are negated. Up until recently, sexual violence has been centered around rape. We knew rape was wrong (even though there is little justice for survivors) but sexual assault and harassment were considered the norm. This means that some women did not recognize the effects of rape culture in their lives. So much to a degree, that some women will suppress and minimize their experience because it’s considered the norm.
“Some women will suppress and minimize their experience because it’s considered the norm.”
We have normalized catcalling because it is something that happens to every woman. We have normalized assault and harassment in the workplace because we’re afraid of being fired or receiving repercussions. We have normalized not believing, being suspicious of, or questioning women who tell their stories years later because it is easier to ignore it. All of these normalizations lead some women to be afraid to speak up about their experiences for a variety of reasons (not even including the possibility of not being believed). We are afraid of the loss of allyship we might face, we are afraid of retaliation of the harasser if we come forward, we know it will happen again but we are still afraid. We have told ourselves for generations this is “just something we all go through.”
As I have gotten older I’ve noticed the language we use is more focused on what women should do to prevent sexual assault and harassment rather than why men shouldn’t assault and harass. Women are taught to be counteractive in preventing assault rather than men just being decent human beings and not assault. When I was younger I was told, “Don’t wear that, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.” When I came to college I was told, “Don’t go to this Frat or you will get hurt.” Even now, I avoided streets where I knew I’d get catcalled, I always try to cover my chest, and I try to not wear my dresses too short in order to not catch the wrong attention. But I’ve learned the ugly attention from men I got when I was a child and that I still get today is not my fault.
The normalization of rape culture is in no way any woman’s fault. It is a combination of practices that have been inflicted by men and normalized for many, many years. It is not our job as women to come and fix rape culture either. This is something that men need to hold themselves accountable for. For many years, I thought what happened to me was normal and something all women go through, so I did not view my assault as legitimate. Rape culture should not be normalized any longer and we have to keep fighting to get our voices heard.
India Card is a rising sophomore at American University. She is a CLEG major which is the interdisciplinary studies of: communication, legal institutions, economics, and government. India is a program assistant for DC Reads on American University’s campus, which has worked to improve the historically low literacy rates of DC Public Schools. She is also the Environmental and Health chair of American University’s branch of the NAACP. She is a passionate in fighting for universal equality, enjoys traveling to new places, and is a Scorpio.