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?
But he doesn’t stop there. He continues: “Not saying there shouldn’t be age laws but let’s stop equating real rape with the statutory version. That’s what makes people take real rape less seriously.”
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.
Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. You may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.com/blog.
There are so many perspectives on this subject. Many seem to involve what presuppositions the writer has about the length of childhood in a particular society.
Yes, there are all sorts of presuppositions about women and girls in different societies, mostly of varying degrees of misogyny. Girls who are impregnated overly young are relegated to one role only in life, assuming all these births don’t kill them.
Biological essentialism goes both ways. If you want to argue that it’s perfectly reasonable for men to impregnate girls as soon and frequently as possible (because that is where this argument goes, though I am aware you did not specifically say that) then it’s equally valid to note that since this process is extremely hard on female humans, and limiting to their other options in life, not to mention how it drives an unhealthily large human population: then perhaps we’d all be better off with a lot fewer men.
As a social constructionist, I eschew both these arguments, but I see no reason to give one more weight than the other.
Where subjugation is involved, there needs to be far less of it. But having lived in several cultures where there are far fewer resources and options for everyone, freedom of choice can be a distant dream. I personally think the US is doing a pretty good job, generation to generation, of making progress on women’s opportunities and empowerment.
You are a man, and socially perceived as “white,” am I right?
So, you have all the privilege possible, and you want to comment here to dismiss the perspectives of those who are less privileged? Because you know more about oppression than we do?
Today in things that make me loose faith in humanity: the fact that grown men are arguing for the right to have sex with 13 year old girls. And they don’t even realie how wrong that is. God save us all…
*realize. Blasted auto correct.
In the present political culture, no sane man would even consider sex with any woman under 21.
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Dr. Rebecca Hains is a terrific blogger, who writes about important stuff about gender enforcement and what’s wrong with it. And I swear that if she gets trolled about her excellent work I will arrange to get this out to every serious feminist network on the Internet. I have the contacts.
Why are we allowing men to decide when girls’ bodies are accessible? I wrote a while back on letting perps define crimes, and I think this falls neatly within this category.
I think looking for really young ‘women’ is just a cover for finding perfect victims that are too young to realize they are allowed to say no. Men know exactly what they’re doing despite their protests to the contrary. Sick, entitled stuff, and word smithing doesn’t fool anyone (except maybe the raped children).