When I hear the word “cunt” used in a derogatory manner, I am afraid to say anything. I am afraid to defend something that every female-bodied person possesses. Something warm, something beautiful, something that probably pushed your live-ass body into this world. I hear it all the time. I used to say it myself. I am afraid to stop it. It makes me quiet.
This is the easiest way for me to explain where rape culture starts: it’s in the beginning, when girls begin to speak and are promptly taught to be quiet. It’s not a disease of the college environment; it’s not something that starts at 18 and ends at 22. Rape culture begins when we are children and never goes away. It’s a product of the silence that we teach to girls, which they then carry on as women.
As a child, I remember I was entirely unable to speak in the presence of strangers, especially men. This may have been symptomatic of something now recognized as Selective Mutism, a disorder that is more prevalent among girls. But I can’t say this for sure because I was never diagnosed. I was never brought to a psychologist at all. No one worried about my silence. I was a girl. It was expected of me.
There is no biological excuse for the gender discrepancy in Selective Mutism, or anything else really, yet not a single anxiety disorder presents equal numbers between genders. They are all more prevalent in women. Where might this fundamental difference between male and female psychology arise? Well, women live under constant threat of sexual assault, whether they recognize it consciously or not.
We are forced under the standards of harsh, male-serving dualities, told to keep quiet about it and then raped. Patriarchy is a rewardless system for women. Our conformity to male will has no correlation to our risk for sexual assault. We are all at risk. The stress of that reality weighs like lead — molten, dripped into the mind, encasing the amygdala, corroding our mental processes. The standards make some women shy, make others neurotic.
The overwhelming effect of all that hegemony and stress: gendered silence.
I’ve always thought silence to be a vaster concept than its dictionary definition. It extends beyond the absence of noise and into an absence of all communications and expression. Women are taught to wholly limit their impact on those around them.
They are told to be thin and smooth — to cross and shave their legs — to minimize visual and tactile impact. They wear deodorants and tampons that minimize scent. They are to speak rarely, or only about pleasant subjects, in a pleasant voice. Even when they create music, it is expected to be softer and quieter than the music of men.
Silence becomes apparent on this campus when five consecutive rape jokes pass through a conversation without protest. When men call us cunts, bitches and whores. When we call each other cunts, bitches and whores. When a girl on Del Playa is mocked for being overdressed or underdressed, too fat or too skinny, too drunk or just a killjoy. There is no right way for a woman to be, according to I.V. culture. And when a woman defends any aspect of her own existence, or that of other women, she is labeled a feminazi. So really, the correct way to behave as a woman, is quietly.
Silence has made consent into a gray area and survival into hell. Every rape occurs under a different circumstance, and yes, there is often an undeniable “no” involved. But other times, there is only silence. Women have been conditioned not to say anything when they are attacked, whether verbally, or in the physical act of rape. The consequence of speaking seems worse than the immediate pain.
An issue then arises when the survivor is accused of lying — when she is told her rape was not legitimate because she didn’t say no. If it’s not a lie, it’s an exaggeration, or it’s her own fault. To avoid this, many women retain the silence of their rape as the silence of their survival. They never admit that it happened. If anxiety and depression rates were already high, imagine what repression of a sexual assault might do to a woman’s psyche.
While survivors may come out eventually (weeks, months, or years after the rape), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is only preventable by support given immediately following the trauma. Not every survivor develops PTSD, but the inability to speak about the experience certainly increases the likelihood.
We, as a culture, impose silence on women and it hurts them every day. It hurts physically and mentally, and it can hurt permanently. Don’t blame it on the media, don’t blame it on universities and don’t blame it on men — everyone takes part.
Stop calling women cunts. Stop calling them hypersensitive when they react. The next time you want to call someone a feminazi, think about the Holocaust. Actually think about it. Eleven million people died. A woman speaking her mind isn’t quite that bad.
Rape culture is real. Only the hateful and the ignorant deny it. We used to just call it misogyny. It is still, at its core, misogyny, but by admitting the word “rape” into our vocabularies, we recognize the extent of the damage. We recognize that silence is more than a woman being confined to housework, or receiving lower pay for equal work — it is a pervasive violence which our society has condoned. It is abuse, murder and rape.
I am not making a statement about women. You are not all quiet. Some of you are loud, and powerful, and I am so grateful for that. I am making a statement about our culture. When a woman is loud — when she defends herself — someone, invariably, will criticize her. Even if the woman in question is unaffected, even if a thousand confident women are immune to the attack, there will be women who internalize it. Criticism of noise perpetuates the silence of others. It perpetuates rape.