4 Ways We Unintentionally Participate in Rape Culture

“Is rape good or bad?” If asked this question, we would all probably answer some variation of “What are you talking about?! Rape is terrible!” 

So it can be pretty jarring when we begin to realize that we don’t just live in a rape culture, we at least in some ways participate in it. The point of this is not to make us feel guilt or shame. If we want to change the culture, the first steps are understanding it and taking responsibility for our own actions/reactions.

Today let’s focus on four ways we may be unintentionally contributing to rape culture:

1. Objectifying women

Men get a bad rap for objectifying women, but I was surprised to find out that women objectify women too—particularly ourselves.

The Oxford Dictionary defines objectification as “The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.” Now most of us do not consciously look at other people, or ourselves, and say, “Hey that’s an object.”

But the more we are exposed to objectifying images of women, the more our brains respond to them as though they are objects. The brain science is fascinating. 

Researchers led by Philippe Bernard discovered that both men and women responded to photos of women as though they were objects and photos of men as though they were people. The European Journal of Social Psychology published a study showing that both men and women recognize the sexual parts of women as independent of the woman, but they recognize the sexual parts of men as being part of the whole man.

Our brains actually change the more we are exposed to objectifying images of women. Over time the part of the brain that recognizes objects that can be used for your own gain (like tools) lights up in men when they see objectifying images of women—rather than the part of the brain that identifies humans. Their brains processes the image of a woman as an inanimate object that doesn’t feel pain and does not have wants, needs, or desires of its own. 

In women, our brains change so we begin to identify ourselves as objects existing to meet others’ needs. 

This video explains it well:

Out of this we get some men who feel entitled to a woman’s body. And it becomes easy to blame rape victims based on what they were wearing, where they were going, or how much they had to drink. When we view women as objects instead of humans created in the image of God (Genesis 2) suddenly people feel they can do whatever they want with them—you know, like an object. 

2. Over-sexualizing women.

Closely tied to the objectification of women is the over-sexualization of women. What I mean by that is the conscious or unconscious belief that women primarily exist for sex. We see it in the movies and TV we watch, in advertising, in music, in conversations, and even in a backwards way in much of the Christian church. 

Whether we’re exposing and exploiting women for their bodies, or telling them they need to cover up their bodies specifically because they are a temptation to men who cannot control themselves, we are sexually objectifying women. Then when we also tell them they were created only to be a wife and mother we are again placing the focus on their bodies, sex, and what they can do for their husband and the children, who are a result of the sex.

We’ll talk more about how Christian modesty culture contributes to rape culture next week, but this video gives some great perspective on why this is such a big deal:

Yes, women are sexual beings, and God created sex as an amazing gift to enjoy inside marriage. A gift that promotes oneness, intimacy, mutual satisfaction, and mutually serving each other. We are not sex objects, created for men’s viewing, fantasizing, touching, raping pleasure! Women’s bodies were not created for men!

3. Watching Porn

Porn seems harmless doesn’t it? I mean what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom is not hurting anyone right? It’s not like we’re raping someone, or watching someone get raped, so what does watching porn have to do with rape culture?

Porn (whether it’s on a screen or in a book) is harmful on so many levels. I have personally experienced some of that harm, having been formerly addicted to it. It messes with your brain. It messes with your relationships. It changes the way you respond sexually, and what you need to be aroused. But all of that is for another article at another time.

Porn contributes to rape culture as it continues to expose us to sexually objectifying images of women. The more we view it, the more we see women as objects to be used for pleasure rather than humans with autonomy, wants, needs, emotions, and rights. And the more we view porn, the more we become desensitized to it—needing more hardcore types of porn to be satisfied.

The Gospel Coalition notes, “One study published in CyberPsychology and Behavior found that 39 percent of college-aged males and 23 percent of college-aged females said they had viewed bondage porn as teens, and 18 percent and 10 percent respectively said they had viewed rape porn. While their bodies and minds are in key developmental stages, kids are viewing images that portray woman (sic) as objects to be used in whatever way a male desires. Is it any wonder that boys being educated about sex by pornographers become men who associate sex with the rape and bondage pornography that ignores the humanity of women?”

As pornography continues to become more normalized we risk spiraling deeper into a rape culture that devalues women and views them as sex objects rather than people. The Gospel Coalition goes on to explain that porn contributes to rape culture by presenting women as inferior, objectifying women, treating sexual gratification as an end to itself rather than focusing on a loving relationship with another human being, and encouraging male aggression.

That’s a lot to process, especially if you are a person who watches, reads, or is addicted to porn. Please hear me, I don’t not want you to feel shame, and neither does Jesus. That’s not what this is about. Shame comes from the enemy who tries to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus offers you abundant life (John 10:10). I’ve been there, and there is hope and grace. If you are struggling with pornography addiction XXXchurch is a great resource to get help. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

4. Marketing with Sex

Sex sells. 

That’s why marketers use it for everything from toothpaste to cars. Of course, we don’t have control over what marketers use to sell their products. 

Except, we kind of do. 

Marketers use what works. They use sex to entice us to buy their products or services because when they do, we buy their products and services. The more we purchase from them, the more they use objectifying images of women to sell their goods. And the more we are exposed to objectifying images of women, the more our brains change to view them as objects.

Advertising is probably the number one way we are exposed to sexually objectifying images of women on a daily basis. 

I don’t even know if it’s possible to stop buying from every company that uses sex for marketing, but we can make conscious choices about where we spend our money. For example, I will not eat at Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. because their marketing is outright sexually objectifying to women. It’s disgusting. 

And we can speak up about it. Companies listen to our dollars and our voices. Social media is a powerful thing. It seems daunting, but we can influence change in advertising.

The first step toward change is awareness. In the coming weeks we’ll talk more about specific ways we can change rape culture.