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Amanda Picotte Philosophy and Feminism Research Paper, Fall 2010 Non-Violent Rape and its Cultural

Endorsement Rape, like all forms of exploitation, is concomitant with a denial of human rights. Women are denied the right to autonomy and to full independence under the oppression of phallocentric patriarchy. If we observe human rights as something inherently natural rather than something easily granted and denied, then the historical and current experiences of women displays repeated denial by men of women as fully deserving of the rights all humans are considered born with. The incessant denial of human rights to this group makes it clear that patriarchy has not recognized women as fully human. Through perpetuated notions that women are objects of men’s sexual desires; through notions that women should assume roles which aid in preserving male dominance, women are reduced to beings not fully deserving of all the rights and privileges men are entitled to. So long as cultural institutions maintain the normalcy of this dynamic, women and men will be socialized into their respective roles. At this point in time within our Western society, sexism is perpetuated most pervasively by our popular culture and media rather than other institutions, such as religion and law.1 Through media outlets, aomen are repeatedly told that they are beings to be assessed and prized for their sexual worth. This perspective sustains the notion that women must conform to certain behaviors and posses certain physical characteristics in order to become socially validated. Because there is the culturally held notion that women should be passive, beautiful, nurturing, sexy beings; women find that they must

The placement of emphasis on popular culture and media does not seek to discount other cultural artifacts of patriarchy, but seeks to address a sphere which has not been fully combatted by the advancements of feminism.

If the male partner is incapable of recognizing his socially dominant position he then fails to recognize the power he brought along into the sexual encounter. consent during intercourse is not immune to social pressures influencing a woman’s actions. when it becomes free from the need of social validation attached to sexual desirability. of acquisition even if the two partners have been intimate previously.conform to these ideals in order to sustain the approval of men in order to advance within patriarchy. When the female partner’s sexuality is actualized and personalized. causing intercourse to be exploitative as long as the woman does not feel she owns her sexuality--so long as the woman is not recognized as independent of society’s gender power structure. the dynamic between the couple has begun to actively disempower patriarchy on a personal level. It is counter to all pervading messages received since a child. All of the social pressures created by women’s objectification affect women’s view of self and ultimately the role they assume during intercourse. The failure to remove these entitlements and pretenses results in the category I refer to as non-violent rape. As a woman. sex carries the potential to be an act of overt male dominance. Intercourse will be rape as long as the male partner views sex as a form of attainment. Liberation from the . a realization of this power is revolutionary. The power dynamic created by gender hierarchy additionally maintains the culturally accepted notion that men have a natural right to women and their bodies. In a society which primarily values women as sex objects. Rape is a cultural artifact bound tightly with gender hierarchy. This term may easily seem like an oxymoron. but what prevents the concept from being such is its attempt to bridge between the already socially acknowledged violent abuse and the dramatically unrecognized manifestations of sexual violation. Due to its nature and social implications.

egalitarian act of sensual exploration. The female actor is reduced to a being of desire which caters to the male partner. This implies that rape is not only a physical violation. when the woman is coerced by either the male partner or by cultural pressures. 122 . This objectification culturally permits entering the woman regardless of her freedom of individuality. women are capable of entering into sexual relationships aware of their position. as an almost spiritual. Intercourse predicated upon cultural pressures fails to recognize the individual. For men. I believe that Andrea Dworkin was wrong when she stated that “violation is a synonym for intercourse. there is a fine line here. then she has been entered as a non-autonomous. Andrea. “Occupation/ Collaboration”. It is also 2 Dworkin. With that said.oppressive constraints placed upon female sexuality can only serve to improve sexual encounters and formulate a stronger sense of self worth. Women are capable of gaining power. determination. Required for this to happen is a shift in perspective counter to the distribution of power of society’s gender hierarchy. she makes the claim that all intercourse and all penetration is an abuse which eroticizes powerlessness. it is the institutional stripping away of independence and dignity through intercourse. However. Because of this. and she has been raped. Intercourse (New York: The Free Press. objectified being. Rape is always about power. and claim the act as their own. 1987). in instances of heterosexual intercourse. this realization will free them from the impersonality of purely physical sexual encounters--there is more to gain from intercourse than a climax! Sex should be a shared experience between two beings.” In her essay. and should be appreciated as an act beyond animalism. sexuality for their own sake. 2 This is false because I believe that there is the capability for transcendence of cultural oppressions in a sexual relationship.

but to maintain his social .possible to engage in intercourse with a man who endorses women’s freedom from social drives towards engaging in sex. It is possible that on an individual level non-violent rape can be avoided. and being recognized by him must mean she’s an incredibly beautiful woman. His peer group endorses this behavior and glorifies those within the group for getting the “hottest babe. Sophia’s views on sex are simple: she sees the act as a fun thing to do with someone she finds attractive. for about a week. Michael carries similar views. Sophia is excited by the attention she’s receiving from Michael since he is considered to be one of the more attractive men on campus. consider these three stories. To Michael. If she can “get the sexiest guy” she feels (consciously and subconsciously) she will earn more respect not only with her female friends. Sophia is a young woman in school and is an acquaintance of Michael's. fun-loving individual.” One evening Michael calls Sophia over to his room to hang out. The two have been flirtatious with one another. This meeting very quickly evolves into a consensual sexual encounter. sexy. the gendered power dynamic to be diffused. Her promiscuity validates her within her social network as an attractive. yet not exclusively. a “good night out” must include getting laid by an attractive woman. and this behavior is normal within her peer group. Their intercourse “validated” Sophia as a thing capable of being objectified by a man of great status. To further elucidate in what ways intercourse can and cannot be instances of rape. Sophia was an acquired object meant to not only please him. To him. This first story is about Sophia and Michael. thus perpetuating oppressive sexual perspectives while playing into society’s gender hierarchy. This hookup is an instance of non-violent rape because of the social pressures and cultural expectations dictating to Sophia what she must consent to in order to be a viable member of her social network. but within the male community as well.

or to yet again tell him sorry. but is having a hard time admitting this to Paul. Lisa and Paul are both seventeen years old and the two have been dating for a few months. This is due to the preexisting social power dynamic which immediately placed Sophia in a subordinate position to Michael. Lisa feels bad due to all of the times she has denied Paul sex. In Lisa’s mind. it was Sophia who ultimately was violated.position among his peers. but no. This position serves to only benefit Michael’s sexual pleasure and reinforces him within the patriarchal framework. She knows he really wants to have sex. Lisa does not feel ready. Lisa consents and the two have intercourse. Both Carmen and Aaron understood the profound importance . though she has strong feelings for him. Carmen and Aaron have been together for a few months. During one heated and passionate interaction. Lisa had not felt socially comfortable with the idea of claiming her sexuality as her own. Paul yet again asks Lisa to have sex. and begins to feel that it is unfair that she has let this much time go by without letting him have sex with her. Though Lisa and Paul are more committed to each other and are more sensitive to one another’s emotional well being than Sophia and Michael. she is debating between finally consenting to make him happy. Lisa and Paul’s sexual encounter was not capable of escaping social pressures amounting to Lisa’s consent. Lisa has been apprehensive to have sex with Paul. Story number two is of Lisa and Paul. Carmen made it a priority that before she and Aaron engaged in intercourse that they both establish their awareness of the power dynamic instilled within their relationship because of socially perpetuated sexist notions. and Paul had not come to accept Lisa’s apprehension as equal to or of higher priority than his sexual desires. and she knows that he has strong feelings for her too. While Sophia and Michael mutually objectified each other. The third story is of Carmen and Aaron. Both Lisa and Paul had not unlearned phallocentricism.

The quality he preferred most. What makes this an appealing characteristic lies in the fact that vulnerable women are easily “had”. Susan Against Our Will (New York: Simon and Schuster. where he was asked what qualities were important when choosing a lead actress. both Carmen and Aaron are working to eliminate heterosexist perceptions of sex from entering into their relationship through their dialogue of these issues. Alfred Hitchcock.3 Brownmiller discusses an interview she read with Hollywood movie director. over any other trait was vulnerability. ibid. The active stripping away of power disparity in both their daily and erotic lives has taken the forefront of their relationship and the maintenance of this equality is one of the foundational aspects of their relationship. thereby aiding us in fitting into our gendered roles. Though power inequality may direct the trends of our culture.” there are ubiquitous narratives of the docile and defenseless woman being saved by the heroic and kindly man cropping up in various cultural channels. 4 His choice is telling of the ideal popular culture holds for women. 1975) 310. Cultural sexism socializes individuals into assuming roles necessary for the perpetuation of rape.” fulfilling the phallocentric fantasy of sex as conquest. “won”. As Susan Brownmiller examines in her book “Against Our Will. Our society’s gender hierarchy is not primarily responsible for the pervasiveness of nonviolent rape. In accounting for the social pressures for and endorsements of phallocentric intercourse. or “possessed. 333-334 .of having each sexual encounter be an egalitarian one where both of their sexualities (especially Carmen’s) is fully realized. This is applicable even in violent cases defined legally as forced penetration against the woman’s will. The female 3 4 Brownmiller. it is primarily cultural outlets which mold our sense of identity.

it is important to examine the ways in which power is either granted or denied to the genders. wisdom. We find ourselves able to identify with the characters in movies. These omnipresent images and corresponding messages play to our innermost insecurities and teach us what it is to be culturally acceptable. It is also important to recognize the ways in which our culture and popular culture help to prop up and maintain sex oppression.embodiment of strength. We should be beautiful and accessible to men. what Brownmiller calls. it is easy to see television. Cultural norms and trends evolve out of what we see on the screen. and why. It is important to discuss the media and our culture’s depictions of women because from the time we are very young. we receive messages from many different entities about how we as women should behave. one area which remains barely touched is an active discourse on . young and dependent. sexy. Rather. While those atrocities have been brought to the fore. Finding a strong. So often behavior becomes modeled after what we see on television. sexed manner. we encounter various forms of media continuously. and detachment are not widely portrayed in celluloid. Since rape is about power. movies and film acting as a source of cultural reinforcement of. When an institution with such power chronically represents women in a subordinate.” women as prizes whose significance is determined by sexual vulnerability. “the beautiful victim. The creation of these characteristics also shapes the way in which the two genders interact. In our daily lives. these traits are reserved for male characters while the women remain passive. Feminism has made great progress at confronting systemic discrimination against women and their legal rights pursuing rape cases. handsome man is one of our biggest achievements as a women. These roles have remained true throughout the history of media and into today even with the progress feminism has made concerning womanhood and how it is portrayed.

By actively rejecting men who embody hyper-masculinity and define their masculinity by their conquest of women. it is possible 5 6 hooks.6 Without an open dialogue of feminist perspectives. As active members of a sexist society.”5 This precisely articulates the idea that many women are not aware of their sexual oppression. However. passivity. bell Seduced by Violence No More (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions. While encompassing phallocentric intercourse within the definition of rape. then we must also confront social attitudes concerning sex. women will be able to experience the empowerment which comes along with regaining sexual control. This directly relates to rape culture and non-violent rape. As she so eloquently put it in her article “Seduced by Violence No More”. 1993) 334 Look back to the example of Sophia in her engagement with Michael and why that engagement was a form of sexual exploitation for her.the cultural reevaluation of sexual values. bell hooks states: “one major obstacle preventing us from transforming rape culture is that heterosexual women have not unlearned a heterosexist-based ‘eroticism’ that constructs desire in such a way that many of us can only respond erotically to male behavior that has already been coded as masculine within the sexist framework. . if we choose to decenter phallocentrism from our erotic lives then we are disempowering patriarchy and dismantling support for the eroticization of female subordination. If we are to confront rape holistically. We are kept unaware by the inescapable dialogue emphasizing the importance of sexiness. women’s realization of self is limited to the perspective offered by men. It is easy to pinpoint sections of our culture which endorse sexist notions. Hooks goes on in her article to call out to women to reassess what they desire in men as a means of active protest against sexism. it is more challenging to find aspects of our culture which sanction discourse on sexual empowerment. and beauty without realizing that those traits must be maintained for patriarchal reasons.

Perhaps if rape were to be defined as I suggest. but instead rape becomes recognized as a of type of actions. I hope that this is not the case. but rather includes men’s sense of entitlement over women’s bodies forces all men to reevaluate their impact on female oppression. then the act could more easily be dismissed because it is so widespread that it looses its significance. The reason for associating non-violent rape with rape is to bring awareness to the prevalence of the eroticization of oppression within our sexual lives and through our cultural water-down perceptions of violent and brutal rape cases. Addressing the notion that rape is not limited to back alleys. I hope that individuals will become more cognizant of sexism’s grip on our intimate lives. With this. . What unifies non-violent rape and the torture which makes news headlines is the exertion of male supremacy actualized through the physical violation of a woman’s body.