Rape Culture: A Primer for Fathers

Dads, it’s time to talk about Rape Culture. Today’s society has inherited several attitudes about men and women from centuries of inertia, and these mindsets all add up to a scary situation for women everywhere. It affects women at work and on the street in the form of harassment. It even opens the door to heinous crimes in churches, ministries and Christian communities. Even men who have no intention of hurting women can perpetuate these threats by inaction; however, by action you can help put a stop to it. Whether you have sons or daughters (or both), you have a part to play.

So what’s the scoop on rape culture? Maybe you’ve heard this term and don’t know quite what it means. Maybe your children have heard it and asked you. Maybe you have a general idea, but it just seems so huge! Maybe your first impression of the concept came from a misogynist. Whatever the case, here’s your primer. I’ll define it as best I can, then I’ll give some ideas and resources.

The organization Women Against Violence Against Women defines Rape Culture as “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women”. Marshall University’s Women’s Center further states:

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

Rape culture is the belief that sexual drive, aggression and conquest are integral to male identity, and the same with woman regarding acceptance, submission and victimization. It is the mindset that men conquer and women are conquered. It is the rejection of a woman’s freedom of choice in sexual matters. When a woman refuses consent to sex (or even a relationship), rape culture has trained men to see this not as a choice made by a human being, but an obstacle to be overcome. A woman is said to be “playing hard to get” or “being a tease”. “No” becomes “Try harder”, a lack of interest becomes a challenge to steal that interest, rejection becomes an affront and an offense that justifies any sort of violent reaction.

Rape culture is the belief that sex is something a man takes from a woman, or at the very least something a woman gives to a man. No consideration is given to a woman’s sexual desires or needs. It is the assumption that men enjoy sex, and women don’t. Rather than a consensual act of pleasure between two people, sex becomes a service that women perform for men. Instead of an act that two people mutually desire and enjoy, sex becomes an act meant primarily for a man’s pleasure. Since rape culture doesn’t account for a woman’s sex drive, a woman’s only motivation for sex is to get something else out of it, whether it be love, money, or other things.

Rape culture is the mindset that says that the purpose of a woman’s body is primarily a man’s sexual gratification, and that all other actions are secondary. Women are told that a majority of their body should remain hidden. Otherwise they are asking for sex. A woman walking down the street should consider it a compliment to have a man call public attention to her sexual appeal. It should be totally natural for a woman to be groped wherever she goes. Women don’t deserve respect. They are there for one reason and one reason only: for a man to sex them somehow.

Probably the most harmful aspect of rape culture is that it desensitizes everyone, man or woman, to the grotesque crime of rape. We come to expect it of men. We unconsciously normalize sexually violent behavior in men. It becomes a given, a sure thing that is unavoidable if men are involved. Rape becomes a force of nature that women have to avoid, such as fire or a predatory animal, instead of a heinous crime that a man commits against a woman.

Rape culture needs to change. It needs to fade away. And you, reader dad, can play a part.

Teach your daughters that consent matters. Honor their personhood from childhood. Practice respect from an early age and show them that their consent is their choice. Here’s an article on how to teach consent to younger aged children without even bringing sex into the equation yet. Here’s another one.

Teach your daughters that sex is only a small part of their life and purpose. Emphasize their intelligence, their kindness, their courage. When you compliment them, make sure it has nothing to do with their bodies. When they reach puberty, don’t stop hugging or cuddling them (but do continue to honor their consent). If they get the idea that their changing body causes you to pull away from touch, that only emphasises to them that their bodies are primarily sexual objects. Show them that there is affection outside of sexual intimacy. If they pull away, help them understand their discomfort and communicate with them, but in the end honor their consent.

Teach sons that they are not entitled to a woman’s body or attention. Challenge the assumption. Model for your sons how a man respects the boundaries a woman has set. Call them on it when you see them disrespect a woman, even if all their friends are doing it. Teach them that there is more to a woman than her body. Tell them about female role models you have and encourage them to find some.

Challenge the rape culture around you. Call out jokes that you hear. Address the attitudes of the men in your life. Believe victims of abuse when they trust you with their story. Be aware of your privilege. Listen and learn. In all your conversation, treat rape as a crime (a disgusting one, at that) instead of a given. Challenge the distracting assumption that women do certain things to put themselves in danger.

And seriously, make rape culture a topic of discussion whenever you talk about sex or puberty.

These are only a few of the things that we as dads can do. I encourage you to search the internet for more resources on the subject. Find women who have written about rape culture and follow/subscribe. I cannot emphasize enough how much listening on this issue we men need to do. If your partner is the children’s mother, it should go without saying that you listen to her on the matter too. Continue the conversation in the comments below! I’d love to see what other resources you might have found.


Some great blogs and resources I’ve found from the women I’ve been listening to:

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