Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

America, This Is Your Rape Culture

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“Me and a gun
and a man
On my back
But I haven’t seen Barbados
So I must get out of this
Yes I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread
For you, your friends your father, Mr. Ed”

-Tori Amos, Me and A Gun

My daughter had this funny thing she did when she was a baby. She would do something she knew was “wrong” (throwing her sippy cup to the ground, throwing a toy) and when we would respond with a firm “No, no,” she would cover her eyes. She thought, in her adorable baby brain, that if she covered her eyes and couldn’t see the spilled milk on the floor, then it didn’t exist. My husband and I would laugh every time she did this. We marveled at the simple naiveté of a small child. We thought it was precious.

But you know what’s not precious? When adults do it. When we do it. When society does it. When we do it about something more serious than spilling milk, it’s not cute at all.

I would like you to complete a short, simple mental exercise. Imagine 5 young women or young girls that you know. Picture each of them. Now, with that mental picture in your head, consider that one of those girls will be the victim of rape. Horrifying, right?

It’s horrifying and shameful and appalling…

It’s also reality.

This is a reality in our country. I know that this is not something any of us want to consider. Who wants to look at our young girls and imagine those kind of odds, that kind of future for them? But not thinking about it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Sticking our head in the sand doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also dangerous.

Is this the way we are choosing to operate in our country? Apparently so.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women will be raped at some time in their lives. An estimated 80% of those rapes occur before the age of 25.

And we call ourselves a civilized society?

We are lying to ourselves. We’re covering our ears and our eyes and pretending like we don’t see what’s happening all around us.

The world in which we live is oozing rape culture like a festering wound.

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.

-Marshall University Women’s Center

There’s no disputing the misogyny present in our music, our television, our movies, our advertisements.


It’s the accepted degradation of half of our population. Sexualizing women, sexualizing girls. Even taking images of young girls in literature/movies and creating “sexy” halloween costumes. So, now we have women dressing up as “sexy children”???

Violence marketed towards boys/men. The vernacular that plays out on talk radio and from politicians. The demeaning of feminism (“feminazi”- ’nuff said.) Women portrayed as hypersexualized while men stand by and look on in their fancy suits…

I have no problem with women expressing their sexuality. I think we all should embrace that part of ourselves. We should own it, nurture it, love it. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But I can’t help but notice the obvious disparities in our media. It is this incongruence that is troubling. And it’s just one small piece of a much larger rancid pie.

We have radio talk show hosts calling women sluts for wanting birth control pills. (Because, you know, women have sex in a vacuum. Men are not even in the equation.) We have politicians talking about ‘legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” We have girls being raped while drunk at a party in front of a group of boys, boys recording the assault and posting it to social media to further the pain and humiliation of the victim. We have news outlets that do this:


We have “slut shaming.”


This week a wealthy DuPont heir was sentenced to probation for raping his 3 year old daughter. The judge said he “wouldn’t fare well in prison”. Last year a 56 year old teacher was sentenced to 30 days for raping a 14 year old girl. The judge said that she was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control”. The girl committed suicide before the case even went to court. In 2013 an Alabama man was found guilty of rape and sentenced to counseling and probation. For raping his teen neighbor on three separate occasions. These are just a few examples. A quick Google search for short rape sentences turns up a stomach turning number of articles chronicling similar sentencing.

Rape culture exists is alive and well in our courts.

Obviously it’s not just video games and popular music and movies and tv shows that contribute to the rape culture that is permeating our society. We are absorbing this from every place.

We see it every time a politician makes dismissive comments regarding violence against women.

We see it every time there’s another slap on the wrist for rape.

We see it when every time a rape victim’s sobriety, purity and behavior is all called into question.

We see it every time a woman is shamed for being sexual, for embracing her sexuality.

We see it every time a girl is told to cover up at school becuase her legs/shoulders/cleavage are too distracting.

We see it every time a young boy lashes out at his female classmate and we utter the phrase, “boys will be boys.”

We see it every time bros are whining over being “friend-zoned.”

We see it every time a girl’s rape is passed around on social media for entertainment and ridicule.

These things matter.

These things seep into our subconscious. The reinforce an ancient narrative. One of control, of power, of objectification.

Rape culture. It’s not just feminist speak. It’s not just political correctness run amok. Look around you. It’s every where.

We need to recognize it. Get used to calling it out. Get used to talking about it.

We need to stop looking past it, pretending not to notice. We need to take our hands off of our eyes and stare it straight in the face. We need to understand that to ignore it is to ignore a sickness that affects us all. That to ignore it is to ignore the ripped psyche of every  girl or woman who is assaulted, raped or shamed. The longer we deny this exists, the more it will persist.

Ignoring it will only bring us more. More “Not Guilty” verdicts. More short sentences for rape. More victim shaming.

More rape.

America, this is your rape culture.

41 Responses

  1. That’s a great conversation on the other site.
    Until there’s more money to be made portraying women as equals and not sex objects, I wonder if anything will change…

  2. Yes, usually the discussion gets more involved later in the day and sometimes it lasts all weekend. A bunch of good people!

    Unfortunately, I think you’re right. As long as there’s a market for it, it will persist. I certainly down want to come off as a prude. I love pop culture and I appreciate all kinds of music and movies and art and I have no problem with portraying women in a sensual way or women dressing provocatively. But I do think that it is so much, everywhere, that it affects the way we think about these things…

  3. Gretchen, I wanted to stop in and tell you thanks for writing this. I intend to come back with a fuller commentary both here and on Gene’O’s thread later in the weekend when things aren’t so crazy busy (Little Jedi’s b’day is today) and I have more time to ponder, but there are interesting things going on in both spots. Looking forward to jumping in the conversation.

  4. The statistics are stomach-turning. As are those recent cases you mentioned. I remember hearing about the “not faring well in prison” line…And I haven’t felt such a violent urge in ages. I’m in general a pacifist, and I’m rarely prompted to an emotion that changes that. But probation for a child rapist…It’s an absolutely gross miscarriage of justice. I don’t give a shit how that guy fares in prison…I just want him in there, away from any child–ever.

    I remember years ago, having a friend who had never owned a pair of low-rise jeans until she bought some on spring break our freshman year of college. Her parents wouldn’t let her wear them at home because they were “asking for it.” She’d been taught that kind of thing since she was a child—by a family member who it was later discovered had molested most all of the girls in the family when they were children. I was horrified by the entire experience but not shocked by the eventual revelation. Those who shout the loudest about women’s responsibility are generally trying to keep from having to be responsible for themselves.

    I’m all for low-rise jeans. And short skirts. And anything people want to wear, really, even if I don’t particularly like it. I’m all for women being empowered by their beauty and sexuality. I don’t think women should have to hide that stuff, and I think that when they’re told to, it’s an indication of a problem, a system that says women are culpable for what men do to their bodies and that men have uncontrollable urges they aren’t responsible for. It’s damaging to both sexes.

    1. Yes, I’m generally not a vindictive person, but in cases like that-anyone who abuses a child- I’m all for a painful torturous type of punishment. It is disgusting that he would go unpunished and be out there, around children. It makes my blood boil. I have never understood the light sentences that are handed down for rape and sexual abuse. I understand why these cases can be hard to prosecute, but once they are the sentences are ridiculous!

      I talk about this issue a lot with my husband. I know that abuse happens to boys (I’m not minimizing that, I have a son and I would literally kill someone for touching him), but it is so widespread with girls and women. I know many women personally who have been abused when they were younger or assaulted when they were high school/college age. It isn’t even shocking any more when I hear about it, which is disturbing in of itself. It has made us SO protective of our children. I agree with you, the one’s who are the most aggressive in blaming and putting the responsibility on women I am instantly suspicious of.

      The notion that women should be careful with what they wear is such a tired and poor excuse. The very first blog post I wrote was in response to a Mom blogger who wrote an open letter to girls on Facebook who were friends with her sons. She basically blamed these girls for the sexual urges that their pictures imposed on her sons. She said that her sons would never be able to see these girls as anything other than sex objects because the girls’ pictures in their bikinis were too suggestive. I was incensed. I know I’m raising my son to respect women and see them as more than sexual beings, no matter what they are wearing. I also compared this line of thinking to the Taliban imposing Burkas on the women in Afghanistan. Even now, thinking about these things the mom wrote, I feel my blood pressure rising!

      1. Oh, I remember that post you’re talking about, I’m pretty sure. The first version of it had photos of the woman’s sons in their bathing suits, running about on the beach, as nude (or more so) as the girls she was complaining about being temptresses. I really don’t see much difference between her reaction and that of religious extremists. They’re about policing female bodies. Perhaps someday we’ll move past that image. I like to think so.

        I try to raise Colin to be respectful of people. I think if we use empathy and if we keep reminding ourselves that everyone else is just as complex as we are that goes a long way.

        1. Yes! That is the one! It got me so fired up I had to start this blog just to respond to it! (I had already been thinking about starting one, that post just motivated me to do it immediately). I have been working so hard on these issues with my son. He’s 13 now and the things I have to explain/discuss with him… He watches a lot of ESPN and I never thought I’d have to worry about content on a sports channel, but that is where he learned about Jerry Sandusky, and most recently the Fl Heisman Trophy winner who was accused of rape. My son kept filling me in on the story as it unfolded on ESPN and when I heard him say “They say she made it up because he’s kind of famous” I almost drove the car off the road. I had to explain that women rarely put themselves in that position, accusing someone of rape, just for kicks or even for money. I had to explain the whole victim shaming that goes on. It’s hard raising kids in this day, when this stuff is everywhere! Although, it was a teaching moment, which is good. And I’m so grateful that he comes to me and talks to me about these things!
          *Also, five is a great age. My youngest turns five in a few weeks and I wish I could freeze her at this age!

  5. Gretchen, this is an amazing post. You took an issue, one I am starting to dabble with slowly, and addressed it directly. Women are taught that men’s actions, when misguided or violent are due to the woman’s sexual appeal. When indoctrinated with this mentality it sets them wide open to accept abuse and fall victim to both gas lighting and blame shifting that occurs in abusive relationships. Little boys are taught to blame girls so in many ways they are victims of the indoctrination as well.

    1. I completely agree. It goes beyond rape, it definitely plays into the mindset that allows abusive marriages and relationships to happen and continue. It harms boys as well, you’re absolutely right. I have been following your blog, but I just signed up to get email notifications so I don’t miss your posts. I think your story and the things you write about are SO important. I know a few people who have been in abusive marriages. One of them got out and is doing great, the other is still stuck in it. It’s such a horrible situation to be in and so hard to get out of. It is an incredibly brave thing to take that step, I love that you name your blog “Better Not Broken”, I love the message that sends! And I’m honored that you take the time to read my stuff…

      1. Well thank you for your positive words and thank you for reading my work. I follow you as well your writing is powerful as is your post on our rape culture. I am glad to hear that your friend who left the abusive situation is happy, that is inspirational to me to keep going, it is not easy but it beats staying in a a situation that jeopardizes the health and welfare of children as well as yourself.

  6. Gretchen-
    Rape culture is so deeply embedded in our society that my teenage students who have been sexually assaulted often feel they are/were to blame.

    It’s heartbreaking. I don’t even know how to begin to address it. Thank you for posting this. This kind of awareness is where it starts.

  7. Thank you Samara, It is heartbreaking. And appalling. It enrages me that this is how these kids are made to feel. When I was researching some stuff for this post I came across a twitter feed about the Steubenville rape case. It was awful. So many people, kids, were blaming the victim. They were calling her horrible names. Her family was basically driven out of town, her mom was fired because of the case and the anger in the community. It’s awful that any person would have to go through the trauma of being assaulted and then go through another trauma of being blamed and vilified. I imagine it tears you up every time you hear this from one of your students. Would you mind if I shared your comment on the thread where we are discussing this, on Sourcerer’s blog?

  8. Reblogged this on Sourcerer and commented:
    This is too good, and too important, not to reblog. It’s an important contribution to our conversation for two reasons: It’s very specific about the consequences of rape and rape culture in the U.S., and it addresses an issue that we deal with regularly – the idea that, for whatever reason, we just shouldn’t talk about it. I’m a little behind because I had something personal going on that kept me offline all day yesterday. At the moment, my plan is to get caught up with comments later this afternoon, and spend some time tomorrow catching up with those of you who tweet with me. Thanks for keeping this going in my absence.

    1. Thank you for reblogging this, I am honored. Quite a discussion we have over there! I love that it’s given me the opportunity to connect with other bloggers that I wasn’t aware of!

  9. I’m so glad to see this kind of discussion going on. I was on a task force to improve rape/sexual assault education, prevention and counseling at my university in the late 90’s, and was often faced with anger and ridicule for making points like those you make above. Even the women around me would admit to thinking that if they were drunk and/or scantily clad, they were “asking for it.” It still astounds me. Culture is very slowly changing – I wish it would change faster – but eloquent words like these are certainly helping. Thank you for keeping the discussion alive!

    1. Thank you so much. I appreciate your thoughts on this. I think the mentality has seeped into all of our minds to some extent. That’s why it’s so dangerous. That’s why it’s these subtle things we see and hear that are so influential. We are having discussions about feminism in general every Friday on I think this Friday the subject will be education especially as it relates to sexual assault. Please feel free to stop by there and comment. It is a great group of bloggers who are really trying to brainstorm ideas to tackle some of these problems.

  10. Wow! I’m so glad we connected over on Matt’s blog. Otherwise I might never have come across yours and would have missed this very powerful post.

    The rape culture is not confined to just one or two Western countries, or to religious zealots. It is quite literally everywhere. In fact, I very much doubt that if we had the power of time travel, we would ever find even one time period or region on the planet where women were not viewed as sexual objects.

    That is not to say I don’t believe that as whole, our species hasn’t evolved. But whether we are talking about a woman in a high ranking corporate or political position, or a desperately poor, illiterate and essentially powerless woman born into the stifling culture of a theocracy, it always comes back down to one basic element… Being born female, no matter your appearance, size, social or economic status, the one thing we all have in common is the innate risk and fear of reduced to nothing more than objects to satisfy someone else’s sexual desires.

    Certainly those of us not living in grip of a community where a woman’s “worth” is determined by some barbaric “honour” and or religiously mandated “purity” value system, are -*generally* speaking – safer. At least statistically speaking.

    I am using the term “woman” very loosely here. I should point out that I mean it to represent all females of any age.

    Yes, as you pointed out, boys and men are also at risk. Sexual violence can and does happen to all genders, including transgenders.

    But again, on the whole, being born female automatically puts you at high risk of being violated – most likely by one or more males – at least once in your life. We are taught from birth that we must always be on guard. We learn the concept of shame at a very young age.

    Personally, I think the true stats of girls and women being raped is higher than 1 in 5. Especially since it’s well known that the chances of the perpetrator being a family member or close friend, are bigger than “stranger rape,” and as such are massively under-reported.

    Phew. I’ll stop now. I was getting so worked up that I babbled on far longer than I intended to.

    Before I go though, I want to congratulate you on a very nicely laid out blog! And Gretchen, you have nothing to worry about in terms of your writing. Trust me, you have are a very talented writer!

    I’m really looking forward to exploring the rest of your site now. Cheers! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your sweet words! And I never mind long comments, I am quite wordy myself!

      I agree with you. The numbers must be higher than 1 in 5. I just know from my circle of friends that it is more than 20%. And that is just the friends who’ve shared those things. And I also agree that it goes as far back in time as humans on this planet. I actually think transgenders should be part of the discussion. I’ve read that the rate of attacks and assaults on that segment of the population is even higher (don’t quote me on that, I am not sure if I’m remembering correctly).

      Anyways, I’m glad we connected also! I look forward to reading more from you!

      1. Phew, I was afraid I’d worn out my welcome. 🙂

        And yes, I can’t recall where, but I have read a few pieces stating that attacks on transgenders are statistically very high. Which isn’t really all that surprising when you consider the rampant bigotry all around us.

        Thank you, I’m really happy we’ve connected as well! Hopefully I’ll have some new posts up soon. The will is there, but I’m not feeling that good the last few weeks. But I’ll get there. 🙂

      1. No problem. It’s an important issue and needs to be constantly addressed if we are ever going to make this world safer for girls and women everywhere.

        Personally speaking, I think religion is one of the biggest barriers to true equality for us.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this! Very well said and point-on. As a surviour of child molestation I can tell you first-hand the shaming, on a child no less, can greatly influence a person’s view of his/herself.

    We get up in arms about children bullying one another – rightly so, but that’s not the point – however, we heartlessly bully rape victims every chance we get (“We” being society in general).

    I could go on and on, but I will leave it there with deep gratitude that you took the time not just to care but to write about this subject.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that. It’s absolutely awful that any victim has to then deal with shame in the aftermath. I completely agree, “we” bully victims. Which leads to un-reporting of sexual assaults. We certainly have a long way to go. It is frustrating, infuriating, baffling… And the shame is so hurtful and harmful and can stay with us for so long. I am so sorry you had to go through that. To think that any person, any CHILD is somehow complicit in something horrible like this happening to them is beyond reason.

      Thank you for stopping by and reading this and sharing…

  12. *mind blown*

    I wish I’d known about this post earlier, it would’ve been my first ever reblog! Such an imperative conversation to be having. You wrote so eloquently, too. I’m uber impressed, Gretchen. Wow…sort of speechless. Thank you for writing this!

    1. Thank you so much Beth. For you to say this, I’m truly honored. This is one of those “angry” writings. I love finding something I feel so strongly about that I need to write. Unfortunately, when the urge hits (and I can’t deny it or put it off, it’s like a crazy itch I have to scratch) my 4 year old is usually hanging on me asking me to do stuff with her. That’s when I tap into my inner bad mommy and snap at her and totally brush her off. I’m sure I’ll pay for it later in future therapy bills for her…

  13. I have been on both sides of the rape. I was raped when I was 18, and to this day, I still blame it on myself. I was drunk and I followed him into the car.. and then last year, my ex, best friend and I had this girl over. She agreed to be apart of the sex, and volunteered herself. The next day I called her telling her I didn’t want to see her for a few days because I was upset about the whole thing… I found out a couple days later by my case manager that she accused all of us of rape. She recanted after a day or two, and I had to show up in court to testify against her. I’ve made some bad decisions in my life, but I know that I would not rape another person. What I’m saying is that, there are those girls that say they were raped when in reality, they just regretted having sex with the person(s). Why they would accuse them of rape and try and get them in jail, I dont know, but I know that rape is serious. I never reported my rape to the cops, and I’m not sure if I’d still be able to tell them, but I also feel like it’s not worth telling them. I mean, it was my fault, wasn’t it? I got drunk, I followed him… I didn’t protest… But I also didn’t know what was going on… I passed out at one point… Maybe I’m wrong? This has been going on in my mind for the last 4 years. What am I supposed to do? And I have yet to talk about it in therapy…

    I’m sorry, I just needed to talk about it. I thought this was a great place to tell someone finally.

    1. The only thing I can say to you is, it was not your fault. Just because you go home with someone, just because you were drunk, this doesn’t give someone the right to rape you. That much I know for sure. I also want to say that if you’re in therapy with a good therapist who you trust, you need to talk about it. It is the scariest thing to do, I know. But you will feel better if you do. This is a lot of stuff to carry around on your own. I think for some of us, that is the scary thing about therapy, talking about something that you haven’t really dealt with or don’t want to deal with. I’ve been through it and it wasn’t easy, but it was a lot easier than carrying around this huge secret. And the secret I was harboring was decades old, buried deep. I honestly felt better almost instantly.

      We’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all done stupid things. And we’ve all put ourselves in bad situations. But this doesn’t mean that it’s ok for someone to violate us. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made mistakes. I am so sorry you are going through this, that you have had to experience this. I truly hope you are able to talk to someone and ultimately find a place of peace.

      1. Thank you. But I don’t know if the feeling that it was my fault will ever go away… I’m so afraid to really tell anyone because I’m afraid that if i do, they’ll tell me it really was my fault.

  14. The way media treats rape disgusts me. It’s just…gross.

    May I reblog this? I’d like to call attention to this as much as possible, and right now, my blog focuses a lot on how my own experience with victim-blaming affected my ability to heal post-rape.

    1. You can absolutely reblog this, I would be honored. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced victim blaming, I think some people would rather engage in destructive victim blaming than deal with the brutal reality of rape. You are so brave for writing about it.

      1. I totally agree, and although I’ve worked through a lot of what happened for me, I think it’s important to talk about it so that we can start changing the way we look at it. My hope is that talking about it and writing about it will make people reconsider how they talk about and deal with rape and victim-blaming.

        Thanks for letting me reblog your post. I appreciate it.

  15. How did I not see this before, G? And good GRIEF it’s good. And GOOD GRIEF I’m mad it’s still so, so very pertinent as when you first published it.

  16. Hi Gretchen, you have put effort into writing this article that you are passionate about but my request of you and others who primite their view is that you would be clear and not imply things that are not accurate. When you go this, you paint other good points with a flawed brush. It weakens, not strengthens your argument. For example: the say that the centre for disease control says 1in5 woman will be raped…and use this in addressing g problems in the US creates the impression that this is a US relevant stat when in fact it must surely be s global assumption.

  17. As someone who has myself endured maluse of this sort, I can testify firsthand to the correctness of your argument at its most generally figured core. I must also add, however, that this is not merely a women’s issue, not merely even a women’s & girls’ issue, but an issue affecting all genders & ages. I myself am an hermaphrodite, or as it has now become p.c. to say an intersex person {though I far prefer the older, more luxuriant & divine title}, & also a child prodigy, among other peculiar classifications of things. I thus, due to my unusual state of gender & biophysical & mental age, have had a rare insight into the manner in which being on the fringe of the fringe in terms of occurrence in statistical probability makes one often unwelcome & unsung even in civil rights movements, even on the front of politically up-taken battles for progress. And so I see how boys & men & people like me of the 3rd sex & gender have been relegated to the fringes of the movement for recognition & justice on rape issues, relegated also to the domain of outliers & even distractions unwarranted by either our considerable numbers or harrowing singular experiences in a domain now dominated by women fighting for & about but ‘their own’, not seeing how in fact we are all but reflections of one Existence, one Reality, & so one another. Also, as a minor, I find far too many argue against childrens’ right to feel & love & chose consensual it our own relationships, careers, & experiences; too many especially in the community for victims of sexual abuse protest too much & too loudly against people like me taking our rightful place amongest adults at work in our chosen professions, & in sexual or drug {as I prefer — I am asexual when it comes to human affaires; Morphine is my lover of choice} along side others of all ages as we wish to & deserve to.
    An expanded address that includes these issues would be much appreciated.

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