In a rape culture, society produces messages that suggest women are sex objects and men have a right to access their bodies. In this type of culture, rape is acceptable despite the fact that the act is a violation of another individual’s free will. So how do rape cultures work?
- Normalizes male violence and aggression towards women by promoting the idea that these attitudes are a part of “natural” male sexuality.
- Promotes the idea that men, not women, determine what consent means. In this twisted world, a woman’s “no” or ambiguity towards a male’s sexual advances can be interpreted by men as “yes.”
There are many popular songs that people love at first glance because they seem catchy and fun. But under the surface, these songs are guilty of promoting rape culture.
1. “Summer Nights” (from Grease)
In this song, a young woman (Sandy) and man (Danny) tell their friends how they met over the summer and fell in love. While discussing the budding, Danny’s male friends ask him: “Did she put up a fight?” Here it’s implied that Danny has pursued the Sandy sexually, and the men assume she may have “put up a fight,” or resisted these sexual advances. The question is problematic because it legitimates the sexual aggression that women are often subjected to when they interact with men. Danny’s friends act as if it is a natural, inevitable, and acceptable.
Another aspect of this song that affirms rape culture is Danny’s assertion that “She was good, you know what I mean.” The lyric implies that Sandy satisfied Danny sexually. It also demonstrates the aspect of rape culture where women are reduced to sex objects that exist to satisfy men’s erotic appetites. In cultures where primacy is placed upon the male right to sexual satisfaction, rape is often viewed as an acceptable means through which the man can attain gratification.
2. “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke
It’s a shame that this song was so commercially successful when it so clearly celebrates violence against women. It upholds the aspect of rape culture that believes women are always interested in intercourse but can’t say so because of the restrictions society has imposed on female sexuality. In the lyrics, the male confident repeats “I know you want it” four times. He goes on to suggest that because she is “a good girl,” she cannot express her sexual desire openly without becoming a bad girl who runs the risk of criticism. Next, the male interprets the fact that the woman grabs him as proof that she wants to “get nasty,” or have sex.
These lyrics fuel rape culture by allowing men to adopt the assumptive role of interpreting what women want rather than enabling women to articulate their own desires. It also suggests that the absence of woman’s “no” actually means “yes”, steamrolling the idea of verbal consent.
3. “U.O.E.N.O” by Rick Ross
“Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”
In this disquieting song, rapper Rick Ross brags about drugging a woman and then insinuates that he had sex with her while she was unconscious. This is an aspect of rape culture that normalizes predatory behavior such as use of drugs to alter a woman’s state of consciousness so that she is unable to say no. As noted by the Network of Victim Assistance, this drug can be used to assist in sexual assault.
While Rick Ross describes his process of drugging the woman and taking her home as something he “enjoyed,” it is important to note that the lyrics reference a nonconsensual sex act, which is therefore accurately interpreted as rape. That he took pleasure in the fact that his victim was unaware of what happened demonstrates the role that a perverse form of power plays in shaping rape culture. In this world, rapists enjoy a form of “sex” in which their partners are not active, conscious participants, but rather unconscious victims who lack the agency and authority to be aware that their bodies have been violated. Here, the rapist’s power consists of being able to violate the victim without her knowing and in a manner that prevents her from resisting.
Stop Fueling Rape Culture
Rape culture is the last thing that we should glamorize. Unfortunately, these songs are celebrated as “catchy” or “sexy.” But they’re not. They are dangerous articulations of rape culture that present women as sex objects, that obliterate the need for a woman’s sexual consent, and give men power to decide what sexual pleasure is—at the expense of women’s dignity and freedom.
Now that you’re aware of the problem, you can choose to be a part of the solution rather than fueling the rape culture. Be more conscious of the music you listen to. Join an advocacy network like LiveYourDream.org to promote a world where women are free to make their own choices, including sexual choices.
Jocelyn Crawley is a radical feminist who found feminism in her late 20s. She has published several works on a wide range of feminist topics, including rape culture, gender identity, feminist literature, and misogynist music lyrics. Her favorite feminist books are Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In addition to volunteering with awesome organizations such as LiveYourDream.org, she enjoys doing yoga and sipping coffee while having great conversations with friends. Her objective for 2019 is working at the local level with other radical feminists to develop strategies for resistance to rape.