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Even though the story broke a few weeks ago, the knowledge that three young women survived kidnapping, torture, brutal rape and forced miscarriage over the course of ten terrifying years continues to shock and obsess us. Glued to our screens, we absorb the nightmarish details as they unfold. But there is something still hidden in the shadows: Where does an Ariel Castro come from? Rape culture is everywhere you turn. Why is there an epidemic of sexual assault in our military? Why does rape and sexual assault in the military so often go unpunished?
What about the rampant cases of rape in Egypt after the revolution? The rash of gang rape in India? In fact, I believe that access to pleasure is one of the keys to killing rape culture. Some Westerners believe the Middle Eastern veil is a symbol of a backward, anti-women culture. Allowing women to work, to speak openly, to drive cars and to wear what they want signals our superiority: The assumption is that men cannot control themselves, that women must remain behind it lest their dangerous, habitually sexualized bodies tempt these men.
In the West, we have slut-shaming. These pamphlets said nothing about teaching men not to rape. Are we really so different from our friends in the Middle East? Women are still temptresses who must protect themselves from men, who will surely rape, given the chance. Gun culture and rape culture are birds of a very violent feather. Laws are not enough even though we need stronger, better laws. There must be a sea change in the way men look at women, and the way that women see themselves.
The masculinity crisis is embedded in patriarchy: This antiquated idea that women are less than human is finally disintegrating, and as it turns to dust and capitalism dies with it, men need to figure out how to share resources. It is YOUR problem. Way to blame the victim, General. And here it is — the crux of the issue at least in my humble opinion.
Until women can be given full and unimpeded sexual agency, ownership of their own bodies in public space, in the media, and in their own lives — we will continue to live in a rape culture. We know that teaching girls to use their bodies in sports creates a healthy body image and higher self-esteem, but we must do more. Even those girls who are lucky enough to get support, in school or at home, will at some point encounter the rough trade of sexualized relationships — even before they start to have sex.