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The Rape Culture Essay, Research Paper

THE RAPE CULTURE

Recently, I was asked to write about a cultural icon, that is, something in our society that has become a constant or standard. Fraternities, Supermodels, Drugs, Hollywood, Gangs: the choices seemed endless. Yet among these artifacts, one seems to have come from the operation of the others: Rape Culture. This term has been used in the feminist circles for many years, and I think it aptly describes the combination of several mechanisms of American society.

Rape is acceptable today. It is okay to rape. Sound shocking? Why should it? We have an entire culture dedicated to suppressing accurate knowledge of rape and sexual violence. It has become acceptable because Rape Culture desensitizes people to the issue of rape in American society. The subject of rape is one that causes many people uneasiness, and for those who have been victimized, a lifetime of scarred suffering. Rape Culture is present in news media, television, movies, the music we listen to, and videos that go with it. To understand Rape Culture and its effects on society, we must first take a look at the things that contribute to its existence.

Objectification, the treatment of human beings as commodities, is the foundation of Rape Culture. Objectification involves placing supreme importance on individual, physical attributes of people, while discounting or ignoring other elements of their identities. When a women is objectified, she become a commodity, something to be bartered, bought, traded and sold in a sexual marketplace. Turn on MTV and see the ways in which women are portrayed in music videos: cameras consume women as they approach them from angles close to the floor to watch their legs and take the viewer under their skirts, or overhead to get a good look at their cleavage. Shots of women are flashed at random; those shots may have nothing to do with the subject of the video, or with the song being played. Women become objects. They are portrayed as always ready for sex, always craving sex. They grab men by the shirt and drag them into bathroom stalls or pull them onto the hoods of cars. Women become the representation of sex, and sex is what sells. Unfortunately, the price that women pay for that sale is the loss of identity as anything other than one of commodity. (Dreamworlds. Sut Jhally)

Alicia Silverstone’s dress hikes up over her head as she tires to climb out a window in the opening scene for Aerosmith’s video “Crazy”. Near the end of the video Alicia and another anonymous girl remove their bras, throw them out of the car, and then drive up to a young farm boy to him off to a lake for some “skinny dipping”. In “Amazing” (Aerosmith), Alicia Silverstone is a cyberspace love toy, created by a teenage guy. When Alicia’s character initially shows up with an attitude, he simply moves the cursor to the ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT button. One mouse click and she is consumed with passion, such that she throws herself onto the guy, who by this point has ventured into cyberspace as well.

Lilith Fair was a two stage, multi-artist, traveling concert for women performers; it included artists like Paula Cole, Lisa Loeb, Jewel, and “Lilith” founder, Sarah MacLachlan. MacLachlan states “(the concert) doesn’t exclude men, it celebrates women.” Cole, Loeb, Jewel and McLauchlan are all supporters of women’s rights, and all present themselves as strong, independent women. Yet when placed into the spotlight of the video market, they writhe around on beds and talk to the camera, begging to be take back for some wrong, or pleading for the camera not to leave them alone. They ride on horseback in winter, wearing negligees, singing about how lonely and bored they are without a man.

Sut Jhally, a media critic and Ph.D. in communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has created a film entitled “Dreamworlds: How the Media Abuses Women”. The 55-minute video flashes over 150 images of women, taken directly form MTV in their first ten years. Jhally, and now many other around the country, uses Dreamworlds in classes to explain the ways in which women are objectified in music videos. In order to focus attention on the visual images in the videos, Jhally removed the music that originally accompanied them. Jhally explains this tactic in an interview with Fred Pelka: “People are not trained, they’re not media literate, and the tape is an attempt to get people literate about the images with which they surround themselves.” (On The Issues, Pelka) Including videos from Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol, Snoop Doggy, Ice T, David Lee Roth and many other artists from MTV’s diverse collection, Jhally illustrates how women are used as objects or props and how their presence is used to “entice male viewers.” (Pelka)

But MTV is just one station, and the effects of objectification can be found in almost everything that we watch on television. Baywatch, (FOX, USA) at any particular moment shows scene after scene of women in bikinis, running in slow motion, as the camera scans them form head to toe, pausing at the breast and the legs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB) features a woman lead (Sara Michelle Gellar) in short skirts, barless tank tops, and other apparel that doesn’t seem suitable for vampire hunting. Flip to ESPN and boxing, there is a Budweiser girl in string bikini, holding up a “Round 10″ card, or standing next to a tractor pull champion, or being crowned Miss NASCAR, all the time smiling, never speaking. In Living Color (FOX) had the “fly girls”, who were there to cover the breaks in the show with distracting leg splits and high kicks.

The X-files (FOX) presents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who is a female character who appears to be equal to her male co-star. Within the confines of the show, she does present a character not easily objectified sexually; yet in publication of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, and SPIN, Anderson appears, like so many others, dressed in lingerie, and spread-eagled on a bed.

The movies don’t make it better either. How many went to see Striptease for the dramatic plot? Scream, and I Know What Did Last Summer resurrected the “helpless-women-against-the-brutal-killer syndrome.” Batman and Robin showed us Gotham City, dominated by men and male representations; of the two females in the move, one needed to be “transformed” and then becomes a killer, and the other had to “prove” herself to the male hero figure in order for him to acknowledge her as a person.

As easily as Pavlov trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, so do the images we see in the media train us how to view women. The images, the messages, and the characters are directed at men. The images tell us “what women want most of all is sex,” “no means yes,” and seeing women as sex objects is part of being a real man.” These images are not harmless fictionalizations separate from the real world. These images motivate men to see women as existing solely as objects of sexual attention, desire, and aggression. If a woman exists only so that a man can have sex with her, how is it possible that sexual aggression against her can be rape? Women, in these portrayals, are simply willing, enthusiastic receptacles of men’s sexual feelings and actions; these women never argue or protest, so no sexual commerce with them can be construed as rape, right? Rape is thus made invisible again.

Another way in which the realities of rape are obscured is by hiding the real perpetrators of rape so that women do not fear those most likely to assault them, and instead focus their fears on those less likely to do harm. Black men are consistently cast, through literature, film, and other elements of popular imagination, in the roles of sexual predator and rapist; still, 96% of reported rapists are white. (Wiener, Biernbaum)Gay men are frequently portrayed as child molesters, yet heterosexual men commit the vast majority of childhood sexual assault, against both boys and girls. (Justice Department, U.S. Crime Victimization Survey) It is cultural stereotypes such as these that veil rape from the eyes of the public. Women learn to fear men who are culturally Other, who are marginalized, rather than mistrust white men, heterosexual men, culturally powerful men.

Don’t walk alone. Check the back seat of your car. Buy some Mace-sold on handy little keychains-to fend off potential attackers. Take a class with a local martial arts academy in easy-to-learn self-defense.

These are the ways women are told to protect themselves against rape and sexual assault. Women are taught to fear strangers, taught that it is men they do not know who are most likely to victimize them. “Approximately 20% of sexual assaults against women are perpetrated by assailants unknown to the victim. The remainder are committed by friends, acquaintances, intimates and family members.” (Heise, L.L.) Of that 80% remainder, nearly half of those rapes are committed by husbands and boyfriends-those men supposedly closest to the victims. (Violence against Women, U.S. Department of Justice) Marital rape, the rape of a woman by her lawfully wedded husband, occurs with the same frequency of other kinds of rape. It is hidden very effectively by laws and mores regarding men’s “conjugal rights.” If a man is considered to have the right to sex with his wife, no matter what her feelings on the matter, then we are back where we started: women exist for men’s sexual use.

What about children? How are they affected by all of this? The U.S. Department states that 1 out of every two rape victims are under the age of 18, and 1/3 of all juvenile victims of sexual abuse cases are children younger than 6 years of age. And no only that, a survey of 11-to-14 year-olds found:

‘51% of the boys and 41% of the girls said forced sex was acceptable if the boy, “spent a lot of money” on the girl; 31% of the boys and 32% of the girls said it was acceptable for a man to rape a woman with past sexual experience; 87% of the boys and 79% of the girls said sexual assault was acceptable if the man and the woman were married; (White)’

In March of 1993, members of Spur Posse, a high school gang from the Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood were accused of rape. Spur Posse’s members had a private competition going to see who could sleep with the most women. The members of Spur Posse were age 15 to 17, and of the women and girls, who came forward to accuse them of rape and assault, one was age 10. Of the 17 gang members charged, two were prosecuted. Boys are not only growing up with attitudes that contribute to ignorance about rape, but they are also becoming rapists themselves.

I may just be crazy. I mean, after all, these are just numbers, and they could be wrong. The Justice Department, the FBI and RAINN all could be manufacturing these numbers to make a small problem seem worse than it really is. But what is the risk fi I’m right, and the numbers are correct? What happens when men control portrayals of women? What does the future hold for our society, more specifically, for women?

In a survey of male college students, 35% anonymously admitted that, under certain circumstances, they would commit rape if they believed they could get away with it. One in 12 admitted to committing acts that met the legal definitions of rape, and 84% of men who committed rape did not label it as rape. (Koss, Diner, Siebel, Malamuth) In another survey of college males, 43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse; 15% acknowledged they had committed acquaintance rape; 11% acknowledged using physical restraints to force a woman to have sex. (Rapport, Poesy)

The fact is that anyone you ask will more than likely tell you that rape is wrong. It is so wrong in fact, that in America, a woman is raped every two minutes. (U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, Bureau of Justice Statistics) The U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, estimated that in 1995, 354,670 women reported rape or sexual assault. In 1996, 38, 830 more women were reported raped than in the previous year, for a new annual total of 393,500.

An estimated 37% of all rapes in the U.S. are reported according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 26% are reported. 393,500 are approximately 26% of 1,513,461. That is a tremendous number for anything, and an unforgivable number for rape. No matter how much people say rape is wrong, no matter how much they choose is ignore it, a million and a half women are being raped each year.

What feminist have called the “Rape Culture” has effectively hidden itself from public view. It has hidden itself so well, that most of the reader of this paper have probably never heard the term or considered the culture we share to be aiding and abetting in the victimization of women and children. Through media presentations of women as object, by scapegoating minority men for rape, by diverting women’s attention from the most common quarters of assault, and by teaching children that rape is sometimes acceptable, the Rape Culture cultivates a system in which no woman is truly safe and in which no man can trust his perceptions of women.

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