Rape Culture: From Boys to Piglets to Hurricanes
For over a week now, social media in the U.S. has been abuzz with users sharing their sexual assault survival stories along with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. These stories followed a tweet by Trump which questioned the validity of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Trump’s Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Prior to accusations being made against Kavanaugh, social media was buzzing around another phenomenon: the flood of pig shit and coal ash being washed out of Carolina and into the Atlantic in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Unlike the bodies of drowned pigs and chickens locked up in factories, the media via NASA no less, was able to get a hold of and broadcast these images to everyone.
While hardliners in either climate change or feminist activism may perceive each of these social media spectacles as a derail from their more pressing issue, I believe these two disasters—that is, the widespread culture of rape and the destructiveness of recent hurricanes—are connected by the root to the way we do civilization. To understand this, I believe we must start by deconstructing the belief that either rape or the destruction surrounding hurricanes are solely natural phenomena.
A Natural Disaster?
Rape is popularly understood as a tactic employed by men to assert power over women. To pick deeper at that dynamic, instances of rape are more often framed as violent boys vs. victimized women. Defenders of Kavanaugh for instance, focus on his young age at the time of the alleged incidents to frame him as a ‘boy’ less than an adult man who should be held accountable for his actions. Likewise, critics of this mentality narrow in on the outdated axiom ‘boys will be boys’ for instance by suggesting instead that ‘boys will be held accountable for their actions’, or by infantilizing Kavanaugh (along with Trump). The result of both sides here is that ‘boy’ and ‘man’ become politicized gender terms rather than more or less objective labels for males by approximate age group, social maturity, or reasonable expectation to understand behavioral norms.
Effectively, this mentality classes young boys with anti-social males five and six or more times their age, while defining that class by the latter, not the former. Think about it. What do Kavanaugh, Trump, Weinstein, Cosby, or any other grown men have in common with little boys in kindergarten or preschool right now other than a penis and the gender assigned to them? Are the ways we teach and talk about gender and consent today the same ways they were taught even a decade ago? By denying historical context, by infantilizing grown men, and by denying the possibility for difference between the young boys of today and the ‘boys’ we wish to hold accountable for wrongs committed years ago, we are promoting an essentialist narrative that males are innately violent rapists by default (i.e. that ‘boys will be boys’ and that ‘boys’ = socially accountable men = rapists).
This narrative also comes through in the way many, particularly on the left, have been quick to characterize male survivors are either non-existent, unimportant right now, never challenged when they come forward, or not subjected to lifelong violent gendered conditioning including assaults and workplace conditions that result in a shorter lifespan and higher suicide rate. In essence, raping men or boys is seen as a minor exception to rape culture—which this narrative conflates with an innate behavior of ‘men’ or ‘boys’ as opposed to ‘rapists’—rather than a serious part of rape culture and part of the way gender is enforced.
Rape culture is very real and a very real problem. But our most salient political narrative only focuses on a small portion of its victims and often frames their struggle in ways that deny legitimacy to the victimhood of others.
We think of the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality as benefiting violent boys or young men, but rarely as a pedophilic perspective applied by adults onto young boys, effectively sexualizing them and laying the groundwork for our society to deny that boys can be raped given their alleged insatiable sexuality. Boys after all are not the ones promoting this mentality. Adults are. Adults decide that a boy’s erection is proof of his consent. Adults, perhaps more frequently in the past, applaud boys who are raped by adult female sexual predators or shame into silence boys who are raped by adult male sexual predators, and in doing so teach them that rapists go unpunished by society. Adults have all the power to teach consent and healthy respect to children. Adults have all the power to stop the rape of boys and other children, but choose not to. Our society is not enslaved to the self-perception or biological inevitability of boys, rather boys are raised as victims to the violent ways adults decide to view them. The nuance of 1 in 6 males reporting sexual assault or abuse is lost in our gender essentialism, in our ageism and rape apologism, alongside stories—no matter how recent—that fall outside the narrative of violent ‘boys’ vs. victimized women.
We can neutralize this mentality by making minor adjustments to our language. Just as the language has begun switching from #BelieveWomen (popular with #MeToo iteration of this movement) to the increasingly used #BelieveSurvivors, we can shift the targets of our righteous rage from ‘boys’ to ‘rapists’ or ‘assailants’ and ‘attackers.’ We can remember that our problem is not the existence of males, boys, or men. Our problem is rapists. And we, adults of all genders, have the power to teach the next generations how to live better.
Importantly, I am in no way denying that there is critical healing work which can be benefited by gendered healing spaces, nor am I seeking to police the way female survivors process their experiences. This week has given me new reasons to believe male survivors need healing circles to support one another, apart from feminists, other activists, women, or men who have not been gone through the experiences we have. At the same time though, I have always believed and continue to believe that we are stronger politically when we act together as a united front of survivors and their supporters. Our political language, it seems to me, should strive to reflect the multitude of victims rape culture creates and not fall back solely on sensational stereotypes.
Rape is not a natural function of males. Plenty of males go through their lives without raping anyone and are staunchly repulsed by the justifications employed by any rapist. Rape is an anti-social disaster with victims and perpetrators beyond the popular political narrative, all of whom deserve justice and an end to the violence and psychosexual terrorism they have grown up in. Boys are only one set of rape culture’s victims erased in popular, essentialist discourse.
I am, of course, talking about the violated autonomy of farmed animals here too. As triggered and gaslit over my own trauma as I have been throughout this most recent national conversation on gender and sexual assault, I have continually reminded myself that my hell has passed. The hell of farmed animals continues as I type this. In recognition of the reality that most people still will not see them as victims of any sort, I believe it’s best to approach their victimhood under the vastness of rape culture through the devastation widely visible in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
In the wake of the storm, the national media spotlight brought images of Carolina’s sins to an international audience. NASA showed the world where we spray our coal ash and pig shit—on the same historically looted communities who cannot afford to evacuate from the path of hurricanes, on the same people who often cannot afford healthcare or aren’t provided the option by their jobs, on poor people, on neighborhoods primarily made up of Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. And the wages of these sins are death—death for these same people by across the board health issues, death for the millions upon millions of farmed animals drowned or throats slit in slaughterhouses demanded by an economy that feeds its externalities back to these same people, death in the air they breathe, death in the water they drink, death in the land they farm.
The destruction witnessed through Florence was no more ‘natural’ than rape is a ‘natural’ function of males. Instead, Florence’s destruction represents a new class of super hurricanes empowered by human-manufactured climate change. And Florence also exposed the human-manufactured class inequalities and environmental racisms constructed as part of our civilization. This catastrophic environmental tinkering, these health crises, this pollution, this abandonment of whole populations—they are the accepted losses of a profit-maximizing civilization, infinitesimal in the machinery of agriculture, energy, and the state.
So long as their is demand for bacon and pork and coal-powered electricity, there is demand for communities—people, animals, and ecosystems—to accept the toxic pollutants and other negative externalities incurred by agricultural and energy production, and there is demand for the climate to continue to change.
Wider Than The Ocean
While some Pagans and ecofeminists before me have popularized a connection between the metaphorical ‘rape’ of the planet and environmental destruction, the connections I wish to make here are much plainer. The literal rape of farmed animals is ground zero for the devastation of Earth, the severity of climate change as witnessed through disasters like hurricanes, and the widespread infrastructural problems of humanity highlighted by the aftermath of storms like Florence.
Just as maintaining restrictions on abortion access provides capitalists with a self-replenishing working class, a sustainable animal agriculture industry demands reproductive control of the animals to be farmed. Today’s farmed animals are bred to be meatier, to lack the capacity to move well, to have fewer feathers, to produce more milk, to mature faster so their lifespans can be cut even shorter—to maximize profits for their owners and to maximize the products to be derived from their corpses with no regard for the life of pain it inflicts upon them or the self-determined life it denies them. And when I say ‘bred,’ I mean that today’s farmed animals are raped—to death increasing numbers—whether sodomized and masturbated for semen, impregnated without consent, or imprisoned in such a way to make intercourse impossible to avoid. Rape is the way animals are favorably bred by the people who keep them captive and assert ownership over them. Rape is the way farmed female animals are perpetually exploited as producers of profit for farm and slaughterhouse owners. The industry’s economic obligations do not allow for consensual sex, or for the ancestral mating habits and family dynamics of these animals. It is purely an exercise in power, not sex—the definition of rape.
Of course, the extent of this varies from farm to farm and among the specific niche industries each farm participates in. But even with ‘free range’ and ‘humane’ farms, farmed animals rarely enjoy sexual autonomy. If they did, where would the humane farmers house all the children? Would families be kept together? This is how the dairy industry with its demand for mothers to constantly be pregnant becomes implicated in the meat industry. It is a curse of domestication. Having removed these animals from the wild (and by extension, from natural population control dynamics in an ecosystem), we have made ourselves the gods of their reproduction and murder, and being so far unwilling to divorce ourselves from the pleasure of this sin, the maintenance of their diverted ancestry is passed between us from generation to generation.
So insatiable is our addiction to flesh and animal breast milk, that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the leading cause of species loss, water pollution, habitat destruction, and ocean dead zones, and responsible for up to 91% of the Amazon rainforest's deforestation. Countless animals being raised for slaughter are fed with grains grown in countries full of starving children.
Our farming of animals is raising the temperature of the ocean, in turn causing more terrible hurricanes. Our farming of animals is polluting the ocean, the rivers, the drinking water, the air, and the land nearby these operations, so that even if we don’t consume animal products, our health is still impacted by these industries.
At the root of all these ills is the sin of rape. Just as males are not innately rapists, neither is there an innate need for us to engage in the farming and raping of animals. Instead, this vast rape culture is a social construction, a society where rape is such an embedded way of the world that most of its victims live out their lives without sharing their stories, receiving justice, or knowing that the vast culture of power such acts are enabled by will ever be dismantled. We have drowned ourselves so thoroughly in rape culture that to object to it seems to deny the very nature of the world we live in.
This is perhaps why we like to fall back on essentialist narratives. Assigning the possibility of being a rapist to half the population rather than potentially anyone makes the problem seem more manageable. Restricting ‘rape’ to only certain victims of the human species again decreases the size of the problem, at least in our minds. Disconnecting the rape of even these victims from the foundation of agricultural civilization leaves most of us free of feeling any guilt for our role in the necessary, ‘natural’ horrors of the world. Likewise, assigning the devastation of our way of life uncovered by natural disasters to the natural phenomena themselves frees us from having to question the way things are or the possibility of creating something different.
Yes, it is so much easier to speak of rape in simple terms: bad boys and good girls, always and forever. But rape culture is in our diet of popular songs and in the very food we eat, in the classes that determine our lives, and in the borders that divide production countries from consumer markets. Rape culture has very real, material consequences in the way civilization is structured from family to city planning. And its impact is felt in the response of the planet to this way of doing life here whether we are mature enough to accept these facts or not.
Confronting men in power is only one step in undoing the culture of rape that defines human civilization. Will we choose to be a species who treats the gift of sexuality and pleasure to be found with one another with respect, dignity, and honor? Or will we continue to be a species that would rather innovate new ways of drugging, exploiting, and stopping at nothing to continue violating the autonomy of others?
The choice is always ours. Stopping rape begins in our gardens, on our plates, and in the way we treat the other living beings we share this planet with. We can create something better!
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to email@example.com