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The term rape culture describes any idea or action that normalizes sexual violence against women within a society. This can include how a culture or region defines gender or words and actions that trivialize sexual assault. The overall manner in which victims are treated by the legal system and society as a whole is considered a component of a this culture as well.
The way in which a society defines a man and a woman is a large part of the development of a rape culture. The classic description of a man paints the male gender as strong and, in some cases, predatory. Women, on the other hand, are often described as weaker and, therefore, victim-like in nature. Many believe that this creates a sort of acceptance of violence against women, thereby making rape and assaults of other natures acceptable.
This definition of men and women can result in a society trivializing sexual assault, often in the form of comedy or the portrayal of sexuality in the media. Offhanded jokes, whether in private or in social settings, which portray either sex in these predefined roles is believed to perpetuate the growth of rape culture. Media outlets that portray women as submitting to men perpetuate this belief that men are supposed to pursue women until they give in and can inadvertently perpetuate the idea that sexual harassment or violence is, indeed, normal.
Outside of the roles that both genders are often forced into throughout many different cultures, the overall discussion of sexual violence is a large part of the issue. In many cases, people are taught how to not be victims of a sexual assault rather than the discussion being about how to dissuade perpetrators from committing a crime. The manner in which rape is portrayed makes it seem that this type of assault is inevitable, thus leading to an acceptance of sexual violence against women.
Those who developed the idea and definition of a rape culture have found that this overall acceptance of unavoidable violence against women is relatively new. In some areas of the world, sexual assault is a relatively nonexistent crime, while in other areas women are advised to take proactive, protective measures to prevent attacks against their person. This is part of the foundation of rape culture: The idea that one should expect to be harmed, rather than harm being a rare occurrence, tends to make rape and violence against women a normal part of everyday life.
A society that makes assumptions about a victim of sexual assault or even blames the victim only intensifies a cultural acceptance of rape. In many parts of the world, a woman who reports a crime against her person is often questioned as to what she was wearing or how she was behaving. In rape culture, placing blame on the victim is believed to not only trivialize sexual assault but also to demean every other person in the society itself, especially men.
Proponents of the idea of a rape culture suggest that by insinuating that the way a woman dresses or acts can cause a man to lose all self-control is just as damaging to males as it is to females. These assumptions about both genders often occurs in the legal systems of many different countries. This acceptance by governments and individuals, however unconscious, only solidifies the development of a rape culture.
I think a "rape culture" is best defined, not as a culture where rape happens, but where rape is considered a just "punishment" for a woman, for just being a woman.
Jerks are always going to make stupid jokes about rape, and jerks are always going to objectify women, no matter how evolved a culture becomes. That's just human nature. A society that does not approve of this behavior and goes to every length to prosecute rapists to the fullest extent of the law is not a rape culture.
Cultures that consider rape to be a minor problem, or where a woman is arrested because she must have done something to "tempt" a man? That's a true rape culture.
No one deserves or "asks for" rape. Ever. However, I do believe that sometimes, women put themselves in risky situations by their behavior.
It's a fact of life that not all people are trustworthy, and by putting herself in a potentially risky situation, with no one around whom she trusts, a woman is not doing herself any favors.
There is a *big* difference between placing blame on the victim and assessing whether that person was doing something very risky. No one asks to be mugged, either, but showing a wad of money in an unsafe place is not using a lot of common sense.