The Rape Culture Is Not Immutable

[Content Note: Rape culture; sexual violence; misogyny; homophobia; exploitation; dehumanization; bullying; hazing.]

For background, please see Jessica Luther's piece "'We Felt Like We Were Above the Law': How the NCAA Endangers Women."

I was interviewed for this piece, and was asked to provide some prescriptive suggestions for what male collegiate sports can do to challenge the rape culture. My entire quote was not included, for totally understandable reasons, but I want to share it here in its entirety, because there is this idea that sexual violence, and the rape culture that abets it, are just fixed things in the world over which we have no collective influence.

Victim-blaming, and tasking potential victims with the exclusive responsibility for preventing sexual violence being done to them, are the natural outgrowth of this erroneous belief that we have to collective responsibility, and no collective ability, to change the rape culture and significantly diminish incidents of sexual violence. Throwing up our hands and putting the onus on potential victims to protect themselves from rapists (who we treat as innate monsters when it suits us, and as poor little misguided boys when it suits us) is the ultimate example of tasking individuals with finding solutions to systemic problems.

Male-dominated spheres are typically treated with this profound abandonment of social responsibility, because aggressive masculinity is regarded as natural, rather than socialized. (Note it is the rape apologists who consign male-dominated spheres to irreparably rape-infused spaces, which is a damn sight more "man-hating" than anti-rape advocates' view, which is that men are not inherently hostile to consent, but products of a culture that encourages predation and discourages respect for consent. Despite this, it is we who are called the man-haters.) Male sports programs are routinely treated by rape apologists as places where rape will just exist, and there's nothing that can be done about it.

But, in fact, there is. Here, then, were my suggestions for any male collegiate sports program that has the desire and willingness to meaningfully address rape culture:

Any solution to this problem starts with identifying how women are dehumanized within the culture of male collegiate sports and then taking steps to challenge that dehumanization.

Female students should never, ever, be treated by athletic programs as prizes to be handed out to male athletes. Every coach of every male team should start each season by delineating a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault, which includes information about seeking enthusiastic consent. Every locker room should have a zero tolerance policy on misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic language and imagery: No coaches calling the teammates "ladies," and no teammates calling each other "bitch" or "fag." No porn in lockers. Every team should establish a zero tolerance policy on sexual violence on and off the field, especially as part of team hazing: No slapping each other's asses with towels in the shower; no forcing the rookies to dress in women's garments or make-up to earn their stripes.

There is always resistance to these steps, are always complaints that it takes all the "fun" out of male sports. But this hostile environment already isn't fun for the male athletes who are obliged to affect misogyny to avoid bullying, who have to remain closeted to be safe—and it isn't fun for the victims of male athletes whose predation has been tacitly encouraged by a culture that treats women as a sex class to be consumed.

That is the most basic start that any NCAA program could take. It is certainly not a comprehensive list. My recommendations are first steps—and they are first steps that most programs have failed utterly to take.

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