When comments and videos perpetuating rape culture are left unchecked, what message is being sent to survivors and victims of sexual violence?
A popular South African TikTok creator recently posted a video about things feminists say and do that annoy him. These included the phrase “men are trash”, “hating white men”, “toxic masculinity” and “women are superior”. The video currently has over 600 000 views, 98 000 likes and has been shared over 5000 times. The creator was called out by other TikTok users but the video is still up. Many have come out in support and agreement of his statements.
Last week, as schools around South Africa opened for the 2021 school year, the minister of basic education Angie Motshekga said educated men do not rape.The minister was corrected by the school children she was addressing and later released a statement.
While there can’t really be a comparison between a government official and a social media content creator, both of these incidents point to the pervasiveness of rape culture in South Africa.
South Africa, we all know, has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. Along with that violence, there is the pervasive rape culture that exists. Those two incidents show that. Rape culture is commonly defined as the culture in “which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults.”
Rape culture doesn’t point to just the actual violence but the cultural and societal norms that shame survivors and victims and give the perperatrators impunity. It’s present in a statement from a government official saying that educated men don’t rape. This type of statement indicates that only certain type of men rape. We know that it isn’t true. Men don’t rape because they’re drunk or because they’re uneducated or any other reason. Rape culture tries to imply that if a women’s behaviour can be improved, then she won’t be raped. Saying educated men won’t rape sends the message that children in school are safe. Yet we know that sexual violence abounds in schools with both girls and boys being victims of the violence.
Another aspect of saying that certain men don’t rape means there is less accountabilty. It lessens the likelihood of assaults being addressed if the accused is a soc-called educated person. This means victims and survivors will have a more difficult time trying to get justice because they won’t be believed. In a system that already works against victims and survivors of sexual violence, this will further silence them.
Then we look at what it means when a social media creator with a platform that is followed by thousands of people makes these kinds of comments. While it can be said that the creator has a small audience compared to a government official, it still matters. Saying that feminists using the phrase men are trash is annoying diminishes an entire movement. Men are trash isn’t just a phrase. It speaks to a system where women live in fear on a daily basis. It’s speaks to a system where women are subjected to sexual harassment, toxic masculinity and violence. It is not about a single man. It is about the patriarchal system that normalises violence against women.
In the video, the TikTok creator also “called out” the dying culture of chivalry. He said women don’t like when you open the door for them and that annoys him. Aside from perpetuating rape culture, when a person does not understand gender politics and makes remarks like that, it’s very dangerous.
Women saying that they don’t want someone to open the door for them isn’t about proving some idea of strength or that they don’t need help. Again it’s the idea that only certain types of men are perpetrators of violence. Those nice, chivalrous men who open doors for women and pull out a chair for women at the restaurant would never do that, right? Wrong. Women have to constantly be on guard – not knowing whether the supposedly chivalrous men who turn horrible. While men get upset about these things, women are literally in fear of their lives. So-called chivalry has actually been used since historic times as a form of power men used over women. There’s nothing nice or polite about it – it’s just violence.
We talk about the need for more accountability but how can there be accountability when people with power and influence still do not understand the issues. They will continue to use their public platforms to spread these dangerous ideas without any tangible repercussions. Meanwhile victims and survivors will continue to be re-victimised and forced to live their trauma – sometimes in the public space.