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Rape Culture, Activism, and Jessica Valenti

Last night, Jessica Valenti spoke to students at Penn State about why it’s important to use activism to battle rape culture.

Before she started, she named three reasons why she was a feminist this month:

  • Todd Akin and his comments on “legitimate rape.”
  • The GOP platform on abortion and women’s rights.
  • This Belvedere vodka ad.

In today’s culture, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a feminist, and Valenti stressed this greatly. Feminism isn’t just about attaining equality between the sexes, but rather a variety of topics, including racism, sexism, economic inequalities, transphobia, and homophobia.

In today’s society, a culturally-broad and wide definition of rape is absent. This is one of the biggest hurdles today. Valenti talked about how in 2007, the book Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp was released, which brought about a “gray area” of rape. This terminology led to the development of “gray rape,” which was picked up by Cosmopolitan magazine, warning readers about a “new type of rape.” This type of “rape” was sex that fell somewhere between consent and denial, which lead people to be confused about what they really wanted.

This talk led into a discussion about how the media portrays rape, and how they go out of their way to blame the victim, which in most cases, is a woman. This sort of rape culture is especially toxic for many groups, including sex workers, college women, minorities, etc.

Fast forward to 2011, when the GOP wanted to ban abortions for all women except for victims of “forcible rape.” Where did the term come from? The FBI did not change their definition of rape which was significantly outdated. In 1929, this was the definition of rape:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Included are rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape. Statutory offenses (no force used–victim under age of consent) are excluded.

The definition has since been updated to state:

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.

These incomplete definitions make it harder to prosecute rape crimes. A lack of a publicly and widely understood definition of the word rape is chaotic on this culture today.

A cultural definition of rape today should include an acknowledgement of structural inequalities and discrimination, advocate for an enthusiastic consent –not just the lack of a no, but the presence of a yes — and put the focus on the rapist, not the survivor.

After this, Valenti discussed how online feminist activism is changing the culture of today. Online activism is paving the way for future generations, through means like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other resources. When the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced they would defund Planned Parenthood, people took to the Internet to help Planned Parenthood raise funds. This effort raised over $3 million.

Before a Q&A session, Valenti said that feminism today is fun, energized and increasingly youth-led, despite what the media thinks, with the antiquated, played-out stereotypes that many people see portrayed with the media.

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About the Author

Meghin Moore

Meghin is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in English. She transferred from the Harrisburg campus as a junior to finish out her schooling at University Park. She has a passion for all things music, fashion, art, and food. She's a Pennsylvania native (born outside of Pittsburgh, and lived in Lebanon for 11 years), but resides in Virginia when she's not in school, and has moved a total of ten times in her life, mostly thanks to the military.

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