Gender Norms in Modern Rape Culture

Essay details

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

Download PDF


The normalization of sexual violence in today’s society leads to the dangerous construct that is rape culture. Young members of society witness the shaming of victims instead of the punishing of predators. This tells rape survivors to avoid coming forward, since their rape kit may end up collecting dust with the 10,000 other untested kits. It also teaches aggressors that their actions will go without consequence. Both the victim and the perpetrator(s) accept sexual assault as a fact of life, thanks to the way rape is presented in everyday society. The “umbrella term” of rape culture hosts many behaviors such as slut shaming, victim blaming, trivialization of assault, and sexual objectification. These constructs have unhealthily produced a society that denies the very concept of rape.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price


Since the beginning of written history, women have often been considered second-class. Rape laws existed, solely to protect the virginity of an unmarried daughter. Rape on a woman was only seen as an attack on the property of her father, since society believed she belonged to him. (Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Ballantine, 1975). Because of this, marital rape was virtually unheard of. A married man raping his wife could never be charged due to his wife being considered his property. Vice versa, a man was expected to be completely in control of his wife so he would never come forward due to shame and embarrassment. The author Winnie Tomm stated, “By contrast, rape of a single woman without strong ties to a father or husband caused no great concern.” (Winnie Tomm (2010). Bodied Mindfulness: Women’s Spirits, Bodies and Places. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 140)

Before the 1930s, rape was seen as a sex crime always performed by a men against a woman. From the 1930s to the 1960s, a rapist was not seen as a criminal but as a “sexual psychopath”. This resulted in sexually violent men avoiding prison, instead being admitted to mental hospitals. (Maschke, Karen J. The Legal Response to Violence against Women. New York: Garland Pub., 1997). People didn’t consider a sane person to be capable of such cruelty.

The Appearance of the Term

The term “rape culture” was born in the 1970s by American feminists. In the 70s, these feminists had begun efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault. Prior to this, many Americans had believed that rape was a rare occurrence. (Review of Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rapequoted in Rutherford, Alexandra (June 2011). ‘Sexual Violence Against Women: Putting Rape Research in Context’. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 35 (2): 342–347. doi:10.1177/0361684311404307. Retrieved 2 February 2018). The definition of rape begin to shift from a “crime of sex” to a “crime of violence”. The true reasons for rape began to come into light: no longer was it a lust for sexual pleasure, it was now seen as an act committed in order to feel control and domination. (Maschke, Karen J. The Legal Response to Violence against Women. New York: Garland Pub., 1997).

One of the first published usages of the term “rape culture” appears in 1974’s Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women, by the New York Radical Feminists Cassandra Wilson and Noreen Connell. The book describes the feminist’s goal: “to eliminate rape and that goal cannot be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of our society”. (Freada Klein (November–December 1974). ‘Book Review: Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women (New York Radical Feminists)’. Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter. Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter. Retrieved 2 February 2018). Another example of a trailblazing book that incorporated first-person accounts of rape was Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. This book brought many issues into the light for the public to view. Brownmiller explains the reason many people never come forward about their rape, women would never want to be open about a crime that went against their “physical integrity”, acknowledging the general public’s denial about the prevalence of rape in society. Brownmiller helped spark a revelation: psychologists began to study what founded this “rape-supportive culture”. Her book is widely considered one of the most important feminist works, and has been used in numerous modern rape studies.

Acceptance of Rape

Rape culture is manifested with the acceptance of rape as an everyday occurrence. It is heightened through the apathetic, or even hostile, nature in which rape is handled. A 2015 analysis discovered that overall, men viewed victims of rape in a more negative light than women did, proving their overall acceptance of rape myths. (Hockett, Jericho M.; Smith, Sara J.; Klausing, Cathleen D.; Saucier, Donald A. (6 October 2015). ‘Rape Myth Consistency and Gender Differences in Perceiving Rape Victims: A Meta-Analysis’. Violence Against Women. 22: 139–67.) A plausible explanation for the frequency of these unhealthy misconceptions is the behavior known as slut-shaming. There is a false idea that only “bad” or “unsafe” women can be raped. This forms a group of people ostracized from the rest of society. It also promotes the idea that rape is not a random act. This invokes an idea that if someone was raped, they did something to deserve or “ask for” it. If the victim believes they were at fault for their rape, they will not seek out help. There is also an incorrect stereotype that portrays men as dominating and aggressive. This furthermore justifies the rape, causing society to see no fault in the act because it is normal for a man to do this. Lastly, rape can be tied to historical sexism, a concept created to oppress women.

Sexualization and Objectification

Sexualization and objectification are practices that fuel the hypersexualization of women in media, further contributing to the theme of rape culture as a whole. Violence and pornography in the media can perpetuate aggression and misogynistic beliefs. (Allen, Mike; D’alessio, Dave; Brezgel, Keri (1995-12-01). ‘A Meta-Analysis Summarizing the Effects of Pornography II Aggression After Exposure’. Human Communication Research. 22 (2): 258–283.) This unhealthy media can come in many forms, such as Robin Thicke singing “I know you want it” in his single Blurred Lines or a Calvin Klein supermodel lying half-naked while being groped by three men. These controversial examples send out a powerful message, but not a good one. Consuming pornography has shown to increase aggressive behavior as well. On multiple occasions, ties between negative views of women and violent pornography have been uncovered. (Hald, Gert Martin; Malamuth, Neil M.; Yuen, Carlin (2010-01-01). ‘Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: revisiting the relationship in nonexperimental studies’. Aggressive Behavior.)

Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is the occurrence where a victim of crime is either completely or partially held responsible for the acts committed against them. For example, a survivor of sexual assault could be asked questions that imply they were doing, wearing, or saying something that could have provoked a predator to rape them. (Cole, Jennifer; Logan, T.K. (February 2008). ‘Negotiating the challenges of multidisciplinary responses to sexual assault victims: sexual assault nurse examiner and victim advocacy programs’. Research in Nursing and Health. Wiley.) Victim blaming can happen anywhere, with anyone: a courtroom, a hospital, a police station, and even on a college campus. Many college students report being faulted for their assault, especially if the alleged rapist is a popular figure or athlete. (Reddington, Frances P. (editor); Kreisel, Betsy Wright (2005). Sexual assault: the victims, the perpetrators, and the criminal justice system. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.) The Brock Turner case is an especially notable event. When college athlete Brock Turner was caught raping a girl behind a dumpster, his sentence was a mere six months long. This caused a massive uproar, and Turner’s privilege was widely spoken about. Also while there is not a lot of discussion about rape, it is important to note that when rape does come up, the words used can further promote rape culture. These conversations often teach people how “not to get raped”, instead of how “not to rape others”. (Basile, Kathleen C.; Lang, Karen S.; Bartenfeld, Thomas A.; Clinton-Sherrod, Monique (April 2005). ‘Report from the CDC: evaluability assessment of the rape prevention and education program: summary of findings and recommendations’. Journal of Women’s Health. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.) It is important to note that these discussions are implying, “make sure he rapes the other girl”. We are always taught to fight harder, run faster than the other girl. But the other girl matters too.

Rape and Gender

Rape culture negatively impacts everyone, regardless of gender. Many educators have theorized that it’s link to traditional gender roles limits self-expression and might even cause psychological trauma. Sexism and gender bias has a glaringly apparent connection to rape culture. The belief that rape is an act of masculinity and power can fuel the fire of this horrific practice. Ann Burnett states that “the concept of rape culture explains how society perceives and behaves towards rape victims and rape perpetrators”. (Burnett, Ann; Mattern, Jody L.; Herakova, Liliana L.; Kahl, David H.; Tobola, Cloy; Bornsen, Susan E. (November 2009). ‘Communicating/Muting Date Rape: A Co-Cultural Theoretical Analysis of Communication Factors Related to Rape Culture on a College Campus’. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 37 (4): 465–485. doi:10.1080/00909880903233150.) Many myths such as, “women could stop their rapist if they really wanted to”, sexually promiscuous women are “asking to be raped”, and “many women falsely accuse men of raping them in order to gain attention”. (Gordon, Margaret T., and Stephanie Riger. The Female Fear: The Social Cost of Rape. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1991. ISBN 978-0029124901.)

One effect that rape culture has is on the concept of consent. Ann Burnett studied, and discovered, that many university students could not define neither rape nor consent. The students did not understand the importance of verbal consent, and felt as if sexual consent had to always be vague. Furthermore, rape leaves a permanent scar on the victim’s view of themselves. Many survivors reported feeling “dirty” or like “damaged goods”. (Bell, Susan T.; Kuriloff, Peter J.; Lottes, Ilsa (1994). ‘Understanding attributions of blame in stranger rape and date rape situations: An examination of gender, race, identification, and students social perceptions of rape victims’. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. (19): 1719–1734. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1994.tb01571.x.) The term oftentimes used to define a man in a rape culture is “toxic masculinity”. This stereotypes men as sexually hungry, aggressive, and violent. A consequence of this poisonous concept is that many male rape victims avoid asking for help from the police out of shame. A study by Michelle Davies and Samantha McCartney found that a heterosexual man was more likely to show less empathy toward the victim than a homosexual man or heterosexual woman. As stated earlier, this could stem from a man’s desire to be tough instead of soft, a traditionally feminine trait. They are more likely to dismiss rape, or become a predator themselves, because of the pressure to be masculine in society. Dianne Herman discovered that date rape was far more likely to occur when the man had paid for or arranged the date himself. The man feels as if his date is under obligation to sexually reward him for his efforts. Herman, Dianne F. (1989). ‘The Rape Culture’. In Freeman, Jo. Women: a feminist perspective (4th ed.). Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. Co. ISBN 9780874848014.


To destroy rape culture is not just ending the tolerant nature in which rape is handled. It requires tearing it out of society by its very roots. It requires the acknowlegement of gender stereotypes in a sexist society and ridding all genders of their roles. Teaching women to be submissive and men to be controlling only enforces the unhealthy culture. At a HeForShe conference, Emma Watson said that allowing women to be strong will enable men to relieve themselves of that responsibility, brought upon them by toxic masculinity in a rape culture. Many steps have been made to support the feminist movement to end rape culture. One day, unhealthy gender roles will have been dissolved and any violence will be dealt with in a non-sympathetic, unbiased manner.

Get quality help now

Prof Saney

Verified writer

Proficient in: Sociology of Gender, Crime, Individual and Society

4.9 (316 reviews)
“He was able to complete the assignment following all directions in an elaborate manner in a short period of time. ”

+75 relevant experts are online

banner clock
Clock is ticking and inspiration doesn't come?
We`ll do boring work for you. No plagiarism guarantee. Deadline from 3 hours.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume you agree with our Cookies policy.