Pollution and Rape Culture

One of the difficult things about explaining rape culture and problematic ideas to people is that it’s hard to say that someone is doing something problematic without coming off as saying that they are intentionally doing something problematic. I see this all the time in discussions of rape culture: the people who self-righteously exclaim things like, “Obviously, I’m not pro-rape!”

Saying things like that is a little bit like the owner of a coal power plant saying something like, “Well, obviously I’m not pro-carbon emissions!” when people point out the pollution the plant is producing. In a situation like that, it’s trivially obvious that no one is for pollution, in the same way that it’s generally trivially obvious that people on either side of a discussion about rape culture aren’t intentionally cheerleading for rapists. Most discussions about rape culture are about pointing out the externalities of the actions we take and the language we use, not the direct, intended consequences of our language and actions. In the coal power plant example, pollution is an externality of the running of the plant – not an intended consequence. It was not the owner’s intention to create pollution, the owner is not happy that the pollution is created, and the owner may not have been aware of the amount of pollution the plant would produce, but the pollution still exists, regardless.

Rape culture is, in many cases, an externality. It’s a type of cultural pollution that happens when people slut-shame, victim-blame, engage in hyper-skepticism about victims’ accounts of rape, express sex-negative opinions, etc. The commentor who asks if the victim was wearing a short skirt probably doesn’t intend to reinforce the cultural memes that make it so easy for so many rapists to get away with sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t reinforcing those memes. The implication that a short skirt justifies sexual assault still makes it easier for rapists to get away with rape, in the same way that regardless of the power plant owner’s intention, his plant is going to pollute regardless of whether his intention was to create pollution are not.

If someone says you’re contributing to rape culture, they’re probably not saying that you think rape is awesome — they are probably saying that something you said or did acts as a cultural pollutant. They are probably saying that something you said is harmfully wrong, or carries harmfully wrong implications (whether intended or unintended). In the same sense that one might ask the owner of a coal power plant to be mindful of and take action to control the plant’s carbon emissions, they are asking you to be mindful of what we might term your “rape culture emissions”.

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One comment on “Pollution and Rape Culture

  1. Derick Jensen actually calls the relationship of humans to the environment abusive, much in the same way many cultures are abusive towards the feminine members of that or other cultures. Using the word “externality” captures the toxicity of this kind of relationship well. An externality is a consequence born by those not in charge of causing the effect originally. Perfect example, coal plants produce pollution that the company/owner/operator does not have to pay for, the people who come into contact with the pollution do. Men’s elevated power/status in most societies don’t (usually) deal with issues of being raped, the women of that culture do. Neither the person inhaling polluted air from a coal plant nor a women who wears what she likes causes the externality–they just have to deal with the effects of those consequences on their bodies that other people’s choices create. More often than not, the people in power make the decisions and the effects of those decisions are born by those without the power to escape the consequences. Rape culture just means that allowing people in power to continue to maintain that power at the express cost to others is common and okay. Blaming a women for not saying “no” enough, taking part in life (you were drinking, you deserved it etc…), and being blamed for acting as though they did have power over themselves is the heart of why rape continues to exist. It means that women do have power and that scares the shit out of those who have never been challenged in their decisions and the effects those decisions have on others.

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