The causes behind the normalisation of rape culture

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The normalisation of rape culture did not occur overnight or in a vacuum, rather it was “progressive” capitalist liberal values that paved the way for it, writes Aisha Hasan.  

Since the beginning of this month, almost 24 women have come forward accusing acclaimed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape, as Tinseltown’s “open secret” finally went public. The incidents have shed light not only on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the film industry, but also opened up a broader discussion on society’s treatment of the perpetrators and victims of abuse.

But one question that is less spoken about is what has caused the culture of sexual assault in society today. Such cases are not unique to the film industry – statistics show that some 1,600 adult women are raped every week in the UK. Only 15 per cent of those raped report the incident. A further half a million people experience some kind of sexual assault.

Around the world, such instances of sexual harassment have become part and parcel of women’s daily life, but isn’t it in Western society in which we are told women have achieved “equality” compared to the developing world? Surely in the West, with the emphasis on “tolerance” and “freedom”, women could count on to be protected from such behaviour? Clearly not.

So why is it that a culture of abuse towards women persists, despite claims of values and laws to the contrary?

Liberal values and modern society

For many, this seems an obvious question. Sexual assault happens because of individuals only: egotistical, narcissistic men, who use women to fulfil their sexual desires.

But all individuals are a product of their environment; no one is born a sexual abuser. So what has created a mindset that either does not consider such actions as wrong, or simply does not care?

To answer that question we must look at the position of women in the modern age. It is no secret that standards of appropriate behaviour between men and women have become more liberal over the past decades.

Just over 100 years ago in Victorian Britain, a woman showing her arms would have been considered vastly “unsuitable”. But throughout the 20th century, particularly during the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s, women claimed their rights and their bodies for themselves.

Feminist march

Yet, as much as this has seemed to empower women from the educational, political and social limitations imposed on them, it has not liberated them from exploitation.

Liberal culture’s sexualisation of society and the promotion of sexual freedom has normalised promiscuity, adultery, and pornography, harming the healthy cooperation of the genders.

Its contemptible and systematic degrading of women through their objectification and commodification in the entertainment industry, licensed by freedom of ownership, has generated a view amongst many men in capitalist liberal states that women are simply objects to play to their desire.  Women have been dehumanised, making them easier the natural targets.

Moreover, values that have been heralded as the key of modernity; namely the upholding of individual liberty, has demoted the role that morals and ethics plays in ones life. Good and bad is considered unique to each person’s perspective, aside from a few universal ills such as murder (which can also be ignored if it suits your political position).

“Freedom”

As such, women are abused because individuals are “free” to seek hedonistic pleasures at the expense of all else; such is the measurement of right and wrong, where manmade laws are the order of the day. Women are perceived as “wanting it” or even if they do not, “its only sex”; when individual perception rules, lines are continuously blurred.

To those who think that such an assessment is a gross exaggeration, it’s worth mentioning two other events that have also occurred recently.

Hugh Hefner

The first was the death of Hugh Hefner; a man who made his living by selling soft pornography in the Playboy magazine; a man who was famous for being surrounded by near-naked women at his parties, even at the age of 80. And yet, his eulogies last month were full of praise. He was heralded as an artist, a humorous and engaging revolutionary; despite the numerous women who have spoken of the psychological abuse they experienced in the Playboy mansion.

When such a man is placed on a pedestal, what message does that send to society about what is considered acceptable treatment of women?

The second incident occurred last week, when a clip of Game of Thrones star, Jason Momoa, at Comicon in 2011 resurfaced, in which Momoa stated that one of the benefits of his job was that he got to “rape beautiful women”. The reaction of the audience: mostly laughs. While some gasps of shock can be heard, and other members of the panel looked embarrassed, the fact that it took six years for this clip to go viral, shows that such a proclamation had not even garnered sufficient outrage at the time.

But then why are we surprised to hear such statements from a show that is littered with sexual content and has justified some 55 incidents of violent rape on screen?

Normalisation of rape culture

Beyond the normalisation issue, we also have the question of punishment for rape, or rather the lack of punishment. Some 95% of rapists in the UK never see prison.

Earlier this year, a UK court allowed an admitted child rapist to walk free after the judge agreed that the 12-year-old victim looked 16, whilst in the US a man who raped an unconscious woman served simply three months in jail. Do such sentences do anything to deter potential abusers, who already have a flawed understanding of how to view women?

It beggars belief that despite drowning in this social and legislative chaos, Western states have the audacity to continue to export capitalism and liberalism globally as “champions” of women’s rights. The developing world and the Islamic world undoubtedly have challenges of their own when it comes to abuse of women, but is the solution proposed by secular liberals the answer? Evidently not.

Islam and gender relations

Whilst Islam’s understanding of gender relations, its prescribed method of prevention and how it would deal with sexual assault necessitates an article itself, suffice to say that the Islamic source texts not only obliges men to always view and treat women with respect, but also rejects sexual freedoms and prohibits the sexualisation, exploitation or devaluing of women in any way or for any purpose, as well as the sexualisation of society. It focuses on prevention, not just the cure.

Islam’s values, laws and social system, which liberals are trigger-happy in labelling as “backward” and “oppressive” towards women, in reality regulate the relationship between men and women so that the fulfilment of sexual desires are exclusively directed towards marriage, and not promoted as a free-for-all within society.

 

Of course, this is not to say that no incidences of sexual abuse would occur under an Islamic society or state. Human beings are flawed and no society will ever be truly perfect. However, a society holistically ruled by Islamic morals, ethics and laws would ensure that such behaviour would not escalate to the epidemic we witness today.

Sexual abuse is a real threat that millions of women and men fear in their day to day lives. Surely the hallmark of any progressive society would be at the very least, that it is able to protect its citizens and see that when they are abused, justice is served. If society’s current values are unable to provide that security, perhaps its time to look for an alternative.

Aisha Hasan is the founder and editor of the Muslimah Diaries, a platform run for and by Muslim women.  A Middle East researcher by profession, she is also an aalima student and a Quran teacher. She has appeared on Islam Channel and delivered talks on issues pertaining to Muslim women.

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