You often hear very uneducated people (who attend top-tier universities) make the claim that “rape culture doesn’t exist.” In the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student newspaper The Badger Herald, David Hookstead, an undergraduate of the university, did just this in his open letter “‘Rape Culture’ Doesn’t Exist,” published on Nov. 4.
It actually took me a while to get through the letter – not only because it was terribly written, but also because it troubled me that such thoughts could emerge from a college student’s mind. But then I stopped and thought some more. I don’t necessarily blame Hookstead for having those thoughts and I’m not so surprised – he’s a part of a culture that renders this ideology acceptable. It’s not that I am angry – I felt sympathetic towards the guy and his inability to put himself in another’s shoes. Though his consciousness may have been shaped by a flawed society prior to even his birth, he does have control over the way in which he discusses these issues, and this article was just not the way to do it.
I don’t have to tell you twice that one in four women have been sexually assaulted before they graduate college and one in 13 to 33 men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. If you read anything, you should already know that. What I’m afraid I must reiterate is that privilege continuously persists today, and letters like Hookstead’s are the pinnacle of exercising such privilege. As an editor of a student publication, I am ashamed that The Badger Herald found this worthy of publishing – not because it shows that Hookstead is not conscious of his own privilege but because it’s flat out illogical. I am glad, however, that Katherine Krueger, an undergraduate at the university, submitted an op-ed in response to Hookstead’s letter; at least there is some backlash on Madison’s campus.
Hookstead is right though, “somebody does have to explain this.” So please, allow me.
The letter begins with a claim that “the United States of America doesn’t have a culture of rape any more than it has a culture of murder. This term aggressively paints men as dangerous and as the root of evil.”
Wait, what? Who said anything about men being the root of evil? Or even about aggression? This opinion is a gross misrepresentation of what rape culture is and is wildly heteronormative. But you know what is aggressive? Nonconsensual sex and writing an editorial that argues that it’s inevitable.
Also, what in the world is a culture of murder? Perhaps such a culture may exist in certain places where the death penalty is legalized, but society does not excuse the act of taking someone’s life nor does it argue that the murder was in fact the fault of the victim who was killed. Sadly, the second line of this open letter reveals that Hookstead has no idea what rape culture even is, and that’s the problem.
Rape culture is the manifestation of privilege, slut shaming, victim-blaming and arguing that rape is unavoidable. His open letter about how rape culture doesn’t exist ironically epitomizes rape culture by blaming the victim for consuming too much alcohol, making stark generalizations about how education can’t and won’t help prevent rape and equating a severe calamity like sexual assault to Wiz Khalifa’s choice of rapping about smoking too much dope.
Hookstead’s article is filled with logical fallacies that distract the reader from the problems that arise from rape culture and make obvious claims such as “crime is not unique to the United States, and if you put a spotlight on rape, you don’t understand the real issue.” Okay, no s–t Sherlock, crime is not unique to the United States; however, talking to and educating others about how we shouldn’t rape each other and ensuring that survivors know where they can access resources or simply talk to someone is not misunderstanding the real issue – it’s frankly confronting the real issue. I don’t understand why he’s playing Pain Olympics – crime, murder and rape are all real calamities that permeate throughout the world. But arguing that our society does not normalize and excuse acts of assault is just plain ignorant and proves that Hookstead is speaking on a platform of privilege where he clearly has not experienced what survivors have.
Hookstead also argues that there isn’t a similar culture subscribed to rap music: “Turn on any rap song and you’ll quickly hear some woman being described as a sex thirsty whore. Switch to the next rap song and you’ll likely hear lyrics about shooting people, selling drugs or the degrading state of the black community.” Not only does this statement sound blatantly racist and generalize the entirety of rap music (I think he may only listen to Lil Wayne), but also it’s not true. People do recognize the problematic nature of lyrics in all kinds of genres, and there are specific participants in the industry who try to breakdown this sick misconception. I recommend Hookstead check out Crunk Feminist Collective or read about the Spellman College protests against rapper Nelly. Oh, and just for future reference, any music that does advocate “Blurred Lines,” or calls women “sex thirsty whore[s]” IS a sign of rape culture and should be rejected.
Throughout the article, Hookstead makes some pretty standard Man Who Cried Wolf claims. No, reporting your sexual assault does not undermine the legitimacy of others’ experiences. There is no such thing as real and fake rape.
Hookstead’s arguments and ideology are a large part of the problem as they instill fear and blame onto victims while simultaneously attempting to silence them.
And those attempts to silence are hurting people.
Unfortunately, Hookstead is right: “Some people are bad.”
There will always be those who think it’s okay to strip individuals of their autonomy and force them to submit to whatever demands they may choose. However, we have an obligation to help those who experience these assaults. As opposed to denying the reality of rape culture, we must show that survivors it’s not their fault and try our best to educate everyone we can about these very real issues.
Hookstead is also right about how females can sexually assault males; my sincere apologies go out to his friend who experienced this.
That being said, no one is being heteronormative: rape happens to both genders. Factually speaking, though, one group of people is disproportionately affected. This remark is just another example of Hookstead exercising his privilege as a male and being blind to the reality of statistics.
He concludes his letter with a statement about how we should “focus on those that truly need our help, and let’s stop evil people when we can.” This is where I think he’s being satirical – right? That’s the only way this could possibly be an acceptable conclusion to such a morally questionable letter. Unfortunately, I think Hookstead is really advocating that those who “truly” need our help are not the victims of assault but rather the victims of “more important” problems. That’s a very flawed way to look at things. We need to help survivors and try to change the way we talk about rape, i.e., shift the discourse on rape culture. We need to stop pointing fingers at the oppressed and start pointing fingers at the oppressor. We need to hold those who believe that rape culture doesn’t exist, which by the way is not a male-centric notion, accountable for their words and tell them it’s not okay to perpetuate such a flawed epistemology even if it’s a product of an entirely imperfect institution. And we need to realize that the way we talk about things shapes the reality around us.
Hookstead’s letter has reminded me that there is still much to do on college campuses to raise awareness about sexual assault. The words that he wrote are negatively impacting people, and I hope that through this article he will at least think about these issues in a different way, a way that is untainted by societal norms and rape culture.
I still have hope.
So don’t ever let this culture blame you for something that was not your fault. Don’t ever let the ignorance of others stop you from educating whoever you can, including those inflicting harm, about the horrific implications of rape culture. And don’t ever believe that you’re alone.
If anything, I’m here.
Editorials Editor Priyanka Krishnamurthy is a College junior from Coppell, Texas.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you have support at Emory. Please contact Lauren (LB) Bernstein, Assistant Director for the Respect Program at 404.727.1514 or [email protected] for confidential support. You can also learn more about the Respect Program at respect.emory.edu.
Illustration by Max Cohen
This illustration has been edited to be in accordance with Wheel policies