On rape culture and the exclusionary nature of the heteronormative, gender-conforming discourse

Christina Cavalcanti
Web Editor

Since the inception of a definition for “rape culture,” the meaning of the term itself and the discourse surrounding it have been greatly influenced by traditional gender norms and heteronormativity. Rape culture was first defined by second-wave feminists in the 1970s, linking it to misogyny and the expression of male domination – pivotal problems at the time which are still prevalent today.

Our failure to replace the roles of cisgender woman as the abused and cisgender man as the abuser with other sexualities and gender identities is a major part of the problem. The socialization of women as inferior to men – of patriarchy as a whole – is a direct cause; in our societies, it is considered normal, even expected, that women are dismissed, degraded, and treated as lesser.

A significant problem with the discourse surrounding rape culture is exactly the aforementioned; heteronormative notions and binary gender norms are so embedded within the discourse that we fail to consider what lies beyond.

Let us say, for instance, that the abused is a cisgender man and the abuser, a cisgender woman. In this case, society’s immediate response would be to dismiss the man’s case as only occurring because he lacks “masculinity.” But what is masculinity? Aggression? The assertion of control and dominance over women? Patriarchy would deem this true. The man’s circumstance would, subsequently, not be taken seriously because patriarchy and gender roles dictate that men are to dominate, and women are to be dominated.

And what about those who are TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming)? According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), in the United States, more TGQN students have been sexually assaulted than have cisgender women and men. This is happening in a country that supposedly advocates for freedom of expression and acceptance. Peer into any society, and it becomes evident that those who do not conform to the “norm” are, more often than not, met with violence and backlash – not unlike bullying in schools. Many of these cases occur here in Lebanon, whereby the abuser commits rape in a twisted attempt to “demonstrate” to the victim how they “should” be, and often, it is simply because they are “different.”

Because of how central the gender binary has become to rape culture discourse, we fail to recognize the struggles of those who are TGQN. The discourse tends to revolve around women and how they are shamed for speaking up about their experiences, and while this is true and necessary to address, there is an entire group of people being absolutely ignored.

Additionally, according to RAINN, out of every 1000 rapes that occur, only 6 rapists are incarcerated. This is also in the United States. Imagine how low the numbers of incarcerated rapists are in Lebanon, and this would only be of cisgender men who rape cisgender women, (because there is apparently a veil shielding the eyes of our people to anyone beyond that). Were same-sex rape to occur, the perpetrator is more likely – and almost certainly – to be incarcerated due to the committing of a homosexual act, rather than because of the occurrence of rape. In the country that we live in, it is a bigger crime to be attracted to people of the same sex than it is to force sexual intercourse onto someone.

So what of the rapes of those who are queer or transgender? And what of same-sex rape? None of this is addressed by the Lebanese government or law simply because our society refuses to look these problems in the eye, for fear of “shame” and for the maintenance of “honor.” But what is so shameful about bringing justice to people who deserve it just as much as anyone else does? What are we so afraid of?

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