The Wild Wednesday email is a reminder that rape culture exists at Penn

Freshman women were told: ‘please wear something tight’

All press is good press, right?

Wrong.

In the past couple of days, the University of Pennsylvania has seen its name cast in a most unflattering light as an instance of rape culture has surfaced, and made its way into the news nationwide. I’ve heard a wide range of reactions to the “wild Wednesdays” email that has found its way into the spotlight – everything from anger and disgust to confusion to bitterness to humor. In the wake of the intense emotional reaction that this email produced, I think it’s important to take a step back and examine this situation in a broader context.

Let’s start by teasing apart rape and rape culture. Rape culture doesn’t necessarily promote rape, but rape culture does normalize rape. Rape is an action that says “your body is my property and I can do what I want with it”. Rape culture is a mentality that says “and when you’re done, we’ll keep this quiet. What you did wasn’t that bad anyways.” Rape ruins peoples’ lives. Rape culture allows them to get away with it.

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Rape culture is subtle, it is easy to hide and often goes unnoticed, yet it is utterly pervasive. In many ways, rape culture is akin to microaggressions in that both too easily become a joke or a phrase said in passing, something that doesn’t conjure up any sort of objection or emotional reaction even though it maybe should.

Rape culture exists at Penn. If you disagree, I encourage you to offer another explanation for what facilitates 1/3 of female undergraduate students to respond to surveys in 2015 saying they had been sexually assaulted. If your explanation is that it’s their own fault or it was only one stupid drunk mistake, you are defeating your own point.

Rape culture exists at Penn not only because an email like this was sent out, but because many were surprised that some might find fault with this email. Perhaps it is even more troubling than the email itself that some people could not find fault in a message that asked its female recipients to get drunk, wear provocative clothing, and object to sexual interactions. That is rape culture in full force.

The email is not the problem. It is only an example of the problem. To throw all of the blame on those responsible for the email would be to ignore the thousands of others who casually offer up similar remarks in daily conversation. Those responsible for the email should be held responsible for their part in propagating rape culture at Penn, but they don’t need to be held responsible for rape culture in its entirety.

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The solution does not lie in making an example out of one select group of people – that doesn’t do much to combat the problem at large, and you even run the risk of others idolizing those select few, in some sickly humored fashion. The solution lies in the fact that an entire community’s eyes and ears have been opened to what rape culture looks like and sounds like, and how easily it can pass us by. Next time a remark of similar nature is made, there is an entire community who can calmly, respectfully, and firmly respond that their comment communicates rape culture, and that is not OK.

I don’t think combatting rape culture immediately combats the problem of rape. In a moment of unfortunate pessimism, I think that there will still be people with the sense of entitlement to handle another’s body without consent, and they don’t need rape culture to justify their actions. However, combatting rape culture does mean that we give greater opportunity for those who have been victims of sexual assault to step forward and be met with more sympathy and less hostility, and it demands greater accountability for those who are responsible. And that is certainly a step in the right direction.

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