Rape Culture, Feminism and Slut Shaming

Cloidhna Quirke gives her thoughts on the rise of ‘rape culture’ in college campuses

My first thought when writing this article was to put in a disclaimer – “Me? No, I’m not a feminist.”This is ridiculous because of course I’m a feminist. All women should be feminists. Why is having an interest in women’s issues such a bad thing? Why shouldn’t we fight for equality or at the very least to be treated with some respect? Today, many young women see feminism as something of the past, something that we need not be concerned with. Sure, maybe it’s relevant in other countries but not in Ireland.

To an extent I can empathise with this point of view. Obviously there are many countries where women’s rights are non-existent and by comparison we are in a much better situation. So does that mean we should be happy with whatever card we are dealt here in Ireland? No.

One of the main feminist issues today is our emerging rape culture. This isn’t just a feminist issue however, it is a societal one. I’m not talking about the ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘what did she expect dressed like that’ because that’s a whole other issue. I’m talking about the kind of behaviour that we all allow to happen every day, the behaviour that facilitates these attitudes.

Cat calls, wolf whistles and sexual harassment in nightclubs. I challenge you to find one girl in the whole of UCC who hasn’t experienced all of the above on multiple occasions. All women have had their ass grabbed on a night out, have been forced to dance with some guy when they have clearly said no and sadly, a lot worse. What woman hasn’t had a car full of guys scream at her because she had the audacity to go for a run in public, or because she dared to walk home from college.  Remind me again why it is ok for a girl to be made feel uncomfortable because she decided to wear a skirt. Upon discussing this with some of my male friends they informed me that, sure girls have to act annoyed when this happens, but really we’re secretly delighted and take it as a compliment.

The reality is that our society is far from equal. However, what we should be striving for is equal but different. Of course guys and girls will be treated differently and a lot of the time this is ok. We are different. However this does not explain why one gender is subjected to being overly sexualised every single day. Let’s turn the tables for a second. Imagine you’re out on a lads night out, catching up and having a few pints. After one too many you decide to start dancing and before you know where you are you’re being grinded from behind by several girls. Having somehow managed to escape you are hassled repeatedly all night by girls who know that you want to go home with them, despite your protestations. In case you’re not aware, no doesn’t actually means no, it means harass me for another hour or two why don’t you.  A few of them will probably squeeze your balls before casually winking as they walk off. Leaving the nightclub you might feel uncomfortable but don’t worry, there will no doubt be several girls in groups ready to heckle you from across the street, probably asking you to take your top off. Just another night out, eh?

What is possibly the most frustrating part of this whole issue is that girls don’t seem to mind. Men aren’t the sole culprits here. Half of the problem is that girls accept what society offers them, forgetting that we don’t owe guys anything. We’ve been conditioned into thinking that being treated disrespectfully is ok and what’s not ok is standing up for yourself and telling someone to back off. Come on ladies, if we don’t respect each other, then why should anyone else respect us? We’ve been taught to think that it’s ok. ‘Boys will be boys’ and they’re ‘only messing’. It’s not like you can’t fight them off. Well I’m sorry for not realising that because I have a vagina, I have to navigate my way through the day avoiding abuse.

As well as not expecting better, women are exacerbating the problem. ‘Slut shaming’ is a modern phenomenon that has spread throughout schools and college campuses. Once again women are being made feel unworthy and somehow degraded because they decided to assert their sexuality instead of being ashamed of it. Don’t call each other sluts, it’s just not cool. Think about the consequences and the power of your words because these words are shaping a culture that is simply unacceptable. Women shouldn’t be answerable to society in a way that men aren’t.

One need only look to the charts to see examples of rape culture emerging. Robin Thicke, a middle-aged married man humps a twenty year old from behind and she’s the slut because she bent over. These are the messages we’re sending to young girls. Surely society should be able to move past the idea of the girl always being to blame?

So what’s it going to take to move away from this ‘rape culture’ that we are rapidly descending into? Plain and simple, men need to realise it’s not ok and women need to assert their value and claim back some respect. Changing attitudes does change actions. If we decide as a society that cat calls, slut shaming and sexual harassment are not ok, then they will no longer be accepted. Until then however, women will continue to grapple with these issues every day, fighting a losing battle.