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How Young Girls Internalize Rape Culture as “Normal”

[Content note: sexual assault and harassment]

My newest post at the Daily Dot is about a study showing how normalized sexual violence is for young women:

They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean…I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.

This is how a 13-year-old girl described being groped by boys at school in a recently published study from Marquette University. Researcher Heather Hlavka examined recordings of interviews with girls who had experienced sexual assault and found that many of the girls consistently tried to minimize their experiences of sexual assault and harassment by claiming that it’s “just what guys do,” “just a joke,” or “no big deal.”

Sexual violence against women is so tragically normal, it seems, that girls grow up expecting it to happen or at least not being very surprised when it does.

Meanwhile, on the internet, a veteran of the comics industry who also happens to be a woman wrote a critique of a comic cover that she found objectifying and gross: specifically, it featured 16- or 17-year-old Wonder Girl with huge, clearly-fake boobs. Predictably, she received numerous death and rape threats online for daring to do this.

Dr. Nerdlove, a blogger who normally dispenses dating advice to (mostly male) geeks, wrote a blog post in response, saying:

Here’s the thing though: this isn’t about whether or not Asselin is legitimately afraid for her personal safety—while not ignoring that these are threats from people who know what she looks like, where she works and where she lives—or if these threats are at all credible. It’s about the fact that this is so common place, that women get so many threats that it stops bothering them.

I want to reiterate that so that it sinks in: women getting so many anonymous, sexually violent threats that it just becomes normal to them.

This is what we’re letting our culture turn into, people.

These two seemingly different examples have a common thread: women viewing sexual violence and threats of it as normal.

When women speak out against sexual violence and harassment, a common response from men is that other women seem fine with it. Other women take it as a compliment. Occasionally a woman or two will join the debate on their side, testifying to the fact that they don’t see anything wrong with catcalling or pressuring someone to have sex with you.

But studies like these show that even from a very young age, many women accept threatening, coercive, and even violent behavior from men because they don’t think anything else is possible. That’s “just how men are.” It’s “no big deal.”

Read the rest here.

Comments

  1. Jacob Schmidt says

    I’m sorry. I tried posting this over at Daily Dot, but the comments system there seems to actively hate me.

    When women speak out against sexual violence and harassment, a common response from men is that other women seem fine with it. Other women take it as a compliment. Occasionally a woman or two will join the debate on their side, testifying to the fact that they don’t see anything wrong with catcalling or pressuring someone to have sex with you.

    Even if a large number of girls and women take it in stride (after all, its “normal”), some won’t. Some won’t get used to or become accepting of sexual violence against them. And these girls and women are going to get dismissed because, after all, its “normal,” it’s “just what guys do,” and “no big deal,” so obviously its their fault for feeling hurt or upset about someone using their body against their will.

    Further, even if girls and women are taking it in stride, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Some people take it in stride when their landlord screws them over. Some people take it in stride when the police harass marginalized groups. For some people, that’s “just the way it is,” so coping with the problem is better than dealing with it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, just that its pervasive enough that some, or many, have learned to deal with it well.

  2. Seth says

    It *is* a big deal, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s one of the reasons I’ll likely never reproduce, because I am sure I wouldn’t be able to handle hearing my child have to go through something like that.

  3. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    A few years ago, one of my students (college aged) just casually mentioned that when she went to bars or to a party, she and her girlfriends had to keep their hands over their drinks to prevent being rufied, and that if one of them had to go to the women’s room, they’d either dump their drink or have a friend protect it from being dosed.

    As a guy, I can’t imagine experiencing a recreational situation where it is just casually assumed that human predators there would try to rape me, as a matter of course.

  4. opposablethumbs says

    I think that most men don’t realise or imagine the extent to which most women take precautionary measures (ranging all the way from major to tiny ones) as a matter of course in the most everyday situations. This isn’t a yell at men, btw – it’s hardly surprising that people usually don’t notice things that are made invisible to them, sometimes deliberately so, and which are outside their own lived experience. In fact it’s probably quite difficult to see these things unless you’re actually aware of and looking for them.
    A quick read through a few pages (or a few dozen pages, or a few hundred or a few thousand … ) on some of the several different language sites of the everyday sexism project gives some idea of the range of things women routinely do, from changing your route to changing what you wear (despite blazing hot weather, for example) to cancelling trips to refusing invitations to not issuing invitations to avoiding eye contact … (and of course we do things like this in an attempt to reduce risk and/or harassment; an attempt which is often not successful – you get harassed anyway).
    I am always heartened when men notice and realise what’s going on, as in #3 above. Men being aware of these problems and not accepting them as normal is in itself actually a significant part of reducing women’s risk.
    Men not joining in with dudebro talk and casual harassment and not laughing at rape “jokes” goes a significant way towards stripping the predators of their protective camouflage.

  5. Abdul Alhazred says

    They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean…I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.

    We must be retrogressing socially.
    At that age (in the 1970s), I never got the idea that such things were OK.
    Not that everything was peachy in general, but not that.

  6. David Marjanović says

    Gah.

    Not saying I’d necessarily have noticed such things happen – I’ve had a rather sheltered life, and had no friends at that age (I had bullies instead) – but when I was at that age in the mid-90s in west-central Europe, I never saw such a thing happen nor heard anyone talk about it.

    There was one teacher who was said to* grope girls on occasion. But while nothing happened at the administrative level (IIRC), nobody tried to make any excuses for him; there was no trace of “of course it happened, what did you expect, he’s a man, that’s what men do” or anything like that.

    * I only heard about the allegations 2nd-, 3rd- or 4th-hand. They’re fairly plausible, though, judging from how I’ve seen that teacher behave at other occasions.

    • says

      Oh, I had one of those teachers. He was a PE teacher so his opt out was always that it was totally in the context of giving aid. Which was, of course, believed .
      Lessons learned?
      Girls always make a mountain out of a mole hill, you don’t need to take them serious.
      What you know just happened totally did not happen.
      People in authority will not side with you.

      Once, on the way home with my female playmate, a guy passing on a bicycle groped my ass. Her reaction?
      Are you sure?
      Well, you ARE wearing a skirt