Here’s a thread from my latest blog post that exemplifies what rape culture looks like.
It begins when a commenter asserts that girls who are “physically adult” can consent to sex. This seems reasonable enough when applied to the girls ages 17 and 18 he uses as examples; indeed, in most U.S. states, 17-year-olds have legally reached the age of consent.
But this language is incredibly problematic. What makes a girl “physically adult”? As the first response notes, we were discussing the statutory rape of young teenage girls. 13-year-old girls are children.
Another commenter supports this, explaining that 13-year-old girls “cannot legally consent” to sex.
But an anonymous commenter responds that girls are women who can consent to sex, if they’ve had their first period.
“18 is the age of majority,” s/he writes, “not the age when a girl becomes a woman. That happens when menarch happens.”
Menarche? Really? No.
A fifth commenter notes that the age of menarche and the age of majority are unrelated, and should be. After all, the onset of puberty is happening earlier and earlier: Girls as young as eight have their period now.
Are third-graders women now? Or fifth- or sixth-graders? No, they are not. It’s a reprehensible, backwards argument.
In response to this, another commenter reaches back 2,000 years to Biblical times and replies: “Hmmm…Mary gave birth to Jesus at 13.”
This is appalling. If you’re using a 2,000-year-old story from another time and place to support the idea that 13-year-old girls can consent to sex with adult men, you are part of the problem.
Elsewhere in the comments, another commenter offers a similar justification to support the idea that underage girls should be considered able to consent to sex: The fictional Elizabethan tale of Romeo and Juliet.
He writes: “Juliet was 14 and we celebrate Romeo (17) in high schools across the country.”
Gee, I wonder which other Shakesperean plays he thinks should be touchstones of modern law?
Take a look at those last two sentences again, which remind me of Todd Akin’s roundly condemned comments about “legitimate rape”:
“Let’s stop equating real rape with the statutory version. That’s what makes people take real rape less seriously.”
No. Actually, let’s stop insisting it’s fine for young girls to have sex with adult men.
This, my friends, is rape culture.
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.