Rape culture is a problem that America has faced for many years and unforunately is still facing today. It is an issue that should have come to an end years ago and simply should have never began. Although rape culture affects both women and men, most of the victims are women who experience rape culture in their everyday lifestyles. Unfortunately, society is greatly at fault for this horrible problem.
Rape and culture are two completely different terms with separate definitions that came together in the 1970s, when the technical term was created by feminists. Rape is the ““penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim” (U.S. Department of Justice). Culture is “The way of life of a particular people, esp. as shown in their ordinary behavior and habits, their attitudes toward each other, and their moral and religious beliefs” (Cambridge Dictionary). Together they form “rape culture” which is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused. It is an environment in which rape is socially accepted as a part of life that women and men must adapt themselves to. Rape culture is almost seen as human nature, as if it were a natural instinct that we can’t avoid.
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Society contributes to this problem in a numerous amount of ways, one for example being the objectification of women. Women are often dehumanized and seen as objects with the sole purpose of satisfying a man’s sexual desire. Their bodies are seen more as an advertisement for sex, as opposed to what they really are; simply body parts. In America today, we are mostly exposed to sexual objectification through the media. The media portrays the female body sexually through pictures on magazines, posts on social media platforms, as well as on television. In 2015, the #WOMENNOOTOBJECTS Campaign put together a video where they googled the “objectification of women” and the results were horrific. One advertisement displayed a woman taking part in oral sex with a sandwich, while another displayed a woman with her name written on her forehead after having slept with a man. These businesses include Burger King and Post It which are part of our everyday life. With these advertisements both businesses insinuated that women are objects and are to be used sexually. Even after they blatantly violated and disrespected the image of women, society continued to support them.
Rape culture is also prevalent in the music industry, where artists purposely objectify women in their lyrics, aiming to appeal to the public and ultimately normalizing rape culture. For instance, a great example of the objectification of women by the music industry is Rick Ross’ verse in rap song U.O.E.N.O. written by Rocko, A$AP Rocky, Rick Ross, and Future. Rick Ross says ““Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” Here he is explicitly explaining that he drugs a woman, takes her home, and rapes her as she is not fully conscious and has no idea of what is going on. The visuals of the music video portray this verse as a cartoon, adding playfulness and humor to the situation. They objectify the woman drawing her with a thin waist, a large bust and of course, money in her bra. This song has 714,542 views on youtube and 39,494,498 plays on spotify. These are rappers that millions of people look up to and aspire to be like. Imagine listening to these lyrics coming from your idol? Listening to Rick Ross say he drugs a woman, takes her home, and “enjoys that” makes millions of fans think rape is okay when it is not.
Another way that society contributes to the normalizing of rape culture is through hyper masculinity. Hyper masculinity is considered to be “a plague to the modern man”, as described by the Huffington Post. Society stresses that men should possess specific characteristics which include dominance and sexuality. Constantly, phrases such as “Man-up” and “Boys will be boys” are reinforced, creating an insecurity of power that most men will carry with them throughout their lives. At a young age, boys are taught to be aggressive in their mannerism and love sex, so much that the effect is that most rapes are caused by men who feel the need to exert power. Hypermasculinity is dangerous and as our oblivious society continues to impose it on our men, society will continue to contribute to rape culture.
One of the worst ways that society encourages rape culture is through victim blaming. In order to justify a perpetrator’s actions, people often blame the victim for initially provoking them. People often ask common questions such as: “What was she wearing?”, “What time was it?”, “Was he/she sober?”. Instead of holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions, they look for a reason behind the sexual assault. Victim blaming isn’t always blaming the victim directly, but “simply thinking that they should have been more careful” (David B. Feldman, Ph. D) . The effect is that unfortunately this devalues experiences of the survivors and makes other victims not want to come forward.
Rape Culture is prevalent everywhere. Often abusing their power, many employers enforce rape culture by what they make their female employees wear and by the tasks that they ask of them. Jobs, such as waitressing and bartending, require “sexy” attire in order for the women to attract more customers and make the business a higher profit. It is also seen on the street all around our neighborhood and community. Street harassment is seen as normal and is extremely common worldwide. Women are being whistled at, “catcalled”, and followed by men regularly. “In a 2014, nationally representative survey of street harassment in the USA, half of harassed persons were harassed by age 17“ (Stop Street Harassment Organization). This survey proved the organization’s assumption that street harassment begins at the stage of puberty. Although it may be unintentional, schools also contribute to the normalizing of rape culture. Dress code regulations are usually aimed at the girls more than the boys and imposing such rules on innocent girls manipulates their mindset. At a young age girls start thinking that they shouldn’t wear certain clothes that will distract boys. School is supposed to be a safe and innocent environment, no one should be sexualizing a tank top or a skirt.
In the song “A Scary Time”, Linzy Lab describes how she lives in fear of living a regular lifestyle because rape is the expectation. She says “I can’t go to the bar without a chaperone, can’t take public transportation after 7pm, and can’t go to the club just to dance with my friends.” If she does any of this she is afraid that the outcome will be rape. This just shows how we must change our way of life in order to adapt ourselves to rape culture being the normal.
What society needs enforce is the importance of consent. Consent is the mutual agreement to participating in sexual activity. Society must understand that no means no. Consent is a verbal yes that is consistent, even if a woman agrees to have sex she may revoke her decision. Consent is a choice of the individual when they are fully conscious of their actions. If a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, their consent is not valid, convincing them to have sex with you while they are impaired is rape. It is also solely the decision of the individual without the manipulation of their partner and it is knowing that your partner was not using protection beforehand. Consent is not a short skirt, a relationship, being drunk, or silence.
Although it will be difficult to get rid of rape culture completely, we must try the hardest that we possibly can for our women and for the better of our society. The possible solutions are countless. If someone makes a rape joke we must educate them on why there is absolutely nothing funny about rape. We need to stop degrading women by calling them “sluts” or “whores” and begin practicing respect. It is important to avoid phrases encouraging hyper-masculinity, such as “boys will be boys” and “man up”. At the same time, both women and men must break gender norms. Three of the most important things to do are to support victims to reassure that their voice matters, report all sexual assaults, and tell your own story to encourage others to tell their own.
The Strings, The Grass, And The Vessel: Symbolism In Paper Towns
John Green’s Paper Towns commences with a prologue that introduces the reader to Q, the novel’s protagonist, and Margo. When Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman are nine years old, they find a dead man leaning against a tree. Margo soon finds out the man has committed suicide and remarks to Q, “Maybe all the strings inside him broke.” (Green 8) As Q backs away from the body, Margo inches closer. Both establishing the personalities of Q and Margo, and laying the groundwork for what’s to come, this formative experience the two share provides insight as to what the remainder of the novel will encompass: the difference in how we view ourselves and each other. Paper Towns is divided into three parts: “The Strings”, “The Grass”, and “The Vessel”. Each section describes its title as an important metaphor for life while wrapping into the novel’s overall concept of change, maturation, and how our lives are connected.
Paper Towns follows Q as he proceeds through a very liminal time in his life. Three weeks shy of graduating high school, Q experiences a life-changing night after his former best friend and long-time crush Margo shows up at his window and provokes him into joining her on an adventure of revenge. When the night is over, and after Margo has explained her actions, Q thinks the two are going to rekindle a relationship that’s been deteriorating for almost a decade. When he gets to school the next morning, he learns those dreams are dashed, as Margo is missing and no one knows where she is. After discovering a few clues, he believes she left for him, Q sets out on a quest to find out where Margo is, and more importantly, who Margo is.
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As previously stated, the three sections of the novel explore three very different views on life, Q’s reaction to them, and how he eventually develops his own metaphor for life and the relationships it entails.
We are first introduced to “The Strings” metaphor when Margo comments on the suicide of Robert Joyner. This simple line of dialogue, “Maybe all the strings inside him broke”, carries a lot of implications. It implies our lives are made up of a series of strings. Each relationship we have is a different string and every time we face a hardship or an obstacle we can’t overcome, one of our strings is severed. When all the strings are gone, when we have nothing left to live for, we end up like Robert Joyner. All our time is over. The simplicity of this explanation is as cynical as it is relatable. Q says, “If you choose strings, then you’re imagining a world in which you can become irreparably broken.” (301) and I’m inclined to agree. Sure, we all face obstacles, we all want to give up sometimes, but wounds heal. People can heal. When one string breaks, we work on strengthening the others.
Despite the easily relatable aspect of this metaphor, it focuses too on much on the pointlessness of our being; that no matter how intrepidly we fight, we all eventually die. I can’t agree with that and I don’t think John Green does either. In the novel, Q remarks, “I like strings. I always have. Because that’s how it feels. But the strings make pain seem more fatal than it is… we are not as frail as the strings would make us believe.” (302)
While “The Strings” represents Margo’s cynical perception of life, the second part of Paper Towns, “The Grass”, is more about connectivity and how all of us are intertwined. Taken from the Walt Whitman book Leaves of Grass, this metaphor explores the idea that we all share a common root system and are infinitely connected. On a positive note, the implication is this: we are all capable of understanding each other. After obsessively reading Leaves of Grass, Q is better able to understand the real Margo, as opposed to the “miracle” he has proclaimed her to be in the beginning of the book, “The grass got me to you, helped me imagine you as an actual person.” (302) It’s easy to understand how Whitman could believe that we are all connected through experiences and emotions and are capable of empathizing with one another, it’s just not that simple.
As noble as the metaphor of “The Grass” sounds, it also implies some very negative aspects of connectedness. It implies that we live together as one organism, connected and dependent. Though we are connected, we are not anyone other than ourselves. We are not successful according to someone else’s accomplishments. We can not live out our dreams through another person. Although relationships with other people are necessary for a self-pleasing existence, Q said it best when he explained, “We are not different sprouts from the same plant. I can’t be you. You can’t be me.” (302) By the end of Part Two, “The Grass” metaphor had overshadowed “The Strings” and I was agreeing more with Whitman than Spiegelman.
The third and final part of Paper Towns, “The Vessel”, is a more complex metaphor for life. This section suggests that people are ever changing, complex creatures adapting to constantly changing surroundings. Margo was a different person to everyone who knew her. For some, it was who they wanted her to be or who they needed her to be. She projected herself differently for different people and allowed them to perceive what they wanted regarding who she really was. One-dimensional and wildly stereotypical, Margo made herself into a “paper girl”. This is the Margo that Q set out to find; his dream girl, his ideal woman.
The paper-girl persona was Margo’s vessel. It protected her from the cruelties of the world and allowed her to swim effortlessly through life, even making her way to the top of she social food-chain. Margo Roth Spiegelman was the ultimate “hunny-bunny”. When she finally decides she’s had enough of the drama cause from being a typical high school cliché, she sets off on a journey of self-discovery. Just like Q and his friends find out, Margo no more knows who she really is than they do.
When Q and his friends set out in a vessel of their own, his newly gifted mini-van, they set out to find the old Margo. Never fully realizing until the end that she is not a “fine and precious thing”, she is not the patron saint of hunny-bunnies, she is “just a girl.” (199)
When Q and his friends finally find Margo, the reader is expecting quite an exciting climax. Instead, Green gives us something a little less than anti-climactic. Margo’s vessel is beginning to crack. She’s not excited to see her friends. She doesn’t look as beautiful as she did when Q last saw her, and she didn’t even expect them to get as far as they did. Her looks and personality have deteriorated and finally, after years of wanting to know the real Margo, Q has an epiphany.
This is the only time Q has ever seen the real Margo and the only time Margo has seen the real Q. He states, “it is the only time we can see each other because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs… the light gets in. The light can get out.” (302)
The idea of a vessel being a metaphor for life is the most appealing and realistic of the three. It seems less aggressive and more calming. Vessels are meant to protect from outside abuse, outside dangers. They can only do their jobs for so long before they start to get a little wear and tear on them. Just like people, they begin to crack. We can recover, we can grow, and cracks can be temporarily mended, but in the end everyone’s vessel will eventually lose strength. Not one crack in the vessel is defining of someone’s life or character. We are ever-changing, constantly getting new cracks and mending old ones. But, like Q said, it’s the cracks that allow us to see what’s underneath the hard-outer shell. The cracks allow us glimpses of the real person on the inside.
The brilliance of metaphors is their innate ability to explain something to us in simple, understandable terms. In Paper Towns, John Green beautifully executes the use of metaphors for describing three very different outlooks on life. Each one perfectly describes the way Q feels about life and the way they change from section to section perfectly mirrors Q’s constantly changing view as well.
By the end of the book Q and the reader are both left with certainty that “The Vessel” is the most appropriate metaphor for life and how we relate to one another. It proves that while we may experience hardships and outside attacks, we are not damaged goods. We are not defined by our scars. The vessel metaphor prove we can move on, we can be repaired, and life is not as fragile as we assumed it to be. Unlike the grass, which implied we are all connected and encourages the reader to live through the accomplishments of others, the vessel reaffirms we are are our own person. A person of our own making. The vessel makes us better people by allowing others to look through the cracks and see the real person inside.