Rape Culture™

 MediaHound is surprised what he found when you ask questions, and just how hard it has been to get a straight answer.

Prison cellI have been surprised by the uses of the term “Rape Culture”. It has exploded in the last 12 months, and I was surprised that no one using the term could explain it’s origins. So many could express opinions about what they believed it to be and mean, but none could say where it came from.

When I asked for information I was treated with discourtesy and even told that I simply refused to listen to women. I was even told that I was MRA. I actually took that as a compliment, as I do like to deal with facts and reality as a “Meddling Rational Archivist”; I look for sources and correct attribution. I don’t just accept what people claim, if the claims can’t be a backed up. An opinion is not the same as Data or a well drafted argument based on facts, reality or research.

So here is what my meddling has uncovered, with the help of a few kind people who treated my requests for information with good faith. Rape Culture (1975) – DocumentaryMargaret Lazarus, Renner WunderlichCambridge Documentary Films

Source – IMDb – the internet movie database.

Opening Credits taken from the film itself:

A group of inmates at Lorton prison in Virginia organised Prisoners Against Rape”. Only one member was a convicted rapist, but all felt the need to fight rape in prison and on the “outside”.

They worked with the DC Rape Crisis Centre.

Since the filming two of these men have been killed, victims of prison violence.”

These can be checked as they are available on the website of Cambridge Documentary Films.

The origins of the term “Rape Culture” are also acknowledged in the book “The women’s movement against sexual harassment”, Carrie N. Baker, Cambridge University Press, 2008, page 41. The book and contents are available for verification via Amazon and also Google.

Sources such as Wikipedia are NOT accurate:

““According to the Encyclopedia of Rape, “The term rape culture **originated** in the 1970s during the 2nd wave feminist movement and is often used by feminists to describe contemporary American culture as a whole.”

The **term** was used as **a title** of a 1975 documentary film, Rape Culture, produced and directed by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich for Cambridge Documentary Films, which depicted mass media normalization of violence against women.

See Note 1 below concerning page content change.

It should be explicitly noted: the people who have written on Wikipedia have omitted linking to any information of the film “Rape Culture”, only to sources concerning the directors. There are Circular links within wikipedia from the films title to the page titles “Rape Culture” which is not correct formatting or in keeping with Wikipedia practices.

It seems that some have been confusing the chicken and the egg. There is no attributable source for “Rape Culture” prior to the 1975 film with that title. The links on the directors Wikipedia web-pages should be to the film itself.

I am fascinated that some wish to describe all of American Culture and Society as whole as “Rape Culture™”. It makes The USA far less inviting to tourists and other visitors.

Cambridge Documentary Films state on their own website:

 “”Rape Culture” was first produced in 1975 and then revised in 1983. It helped to shape consciousness about sexism and violence against women. The term Rape Culture is defined for the first time and the film has played a major role in the emerging movement to combat violence against women.

This documentary examines classic films, advertising, music and “adult entertainment,” and documents the insights of rape crisis workers and prisoners working against rape.”

It says “Defined For The First Time”!

I have spent many years working in the field of equality and I’m most happy to say that I have many Feminist friends. I’ve spent most of my time working in Europe, but also have long-standing relationships with a diverse group of people from around the world.

Because I deal with equality it is very important to deal with definitions and meanings. You need those solid foundations so that everyone is on the same Hymn Sheet when words, terms and jargon are used – so that everyone understands and uses them equally.

There has been a great deal of conversation on GMP where the term rape culture has been used. I’ve been surprised by the way it was suddenly being used, primarily in the USA. There seems to be a sudden US centric use, that does not balance with other countries and even continents.

It was surprising to discover the origins of “Rape Culture”, and the first use of the term. It related to the work of a group of men, in prison fighting “Rape Culture” in the prison system as prisoners.

It would appear that some saw only one side of the film relating to their sex/gender and ignored the other sex/gender and how “Rape Culture” was made manifest in their lives.

It all started in 1973 when the Washington DC Rape Crisis Centre provided support to a group called “Prisoners Against Rape”. This was a group of male prisoners in Lorton Prison Virginia, who were actively working to address the rape that men suffered in prison. Those rapes were carried out by one prisoner against another, and even by guards against prisoners. The sexual assaults were known about by the prison authorities but they did nothing to intervene or protect prisoners. The threat of sexual assault was used as a control measure and even facilitated.

The men also addressed rape outside of the prison system. They were struggling to define their experience within Prison by reference to their whole world experience.

The films producer Margaret Lazarus has this to say:

When we made the film “Rape Culture” we highlighted the actions of an organization founded in 1974, called Men Against Rape in Lorton Prison in the Washington DC area). At the time people often misinterpreted what
these, primarily African American men were saying. They were talking about rape inside the prison(raping men) and out(raping women) and pointing out the similarities. It appeared that they were defining themselves as rapists but they were trying to define rape as a power relationship that took a sexual form. Only one of the 13 members of the group was actually in prison for rape. Their work, in collaboration with members of the DC Rape Crisis Center was groundbreaking.”


So the person who was central to the making of the film and the coining of the term “Rape Culture” was concerned that “people often misinterpreted” what the central figures of the film, men dealing with rape in prison, were saying and communicating. Given her central role in the production she would be aware of any such misinterpretations.

Again, the film maker did make it clear “It appeared that they were defining themselves as rapists but they were trying to define rape as a power relationship that took a sexual form.”

It would appear that there was some misuse of these prisoners by others, who wished to see them as rapists, and not people who were concerned about and even dealing with rape in an institutional setting.

That can be traced in the Newsletters and archives of Feminist Alliance Against Rape (FAAR) and Aegis magazine as far back as 1974.

Prisoners Against Rape

by Larry Cannon, William Fuller
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Sep/Oct 1974

Prisoners Against Rape was conceived as a necessary community based program to effectively deal with the RAPE epidemic concerning the general public and women in particular. This project is concerned solely with the political environment aspects of RAPE which has been greatly ignored by community leaders from all facets of society. We intend to combat some essential avenues of RAPE from a political perspective as former RAPISTS who have experienced and know the intricate behavior patterns that induced us to participate in these activities, hence we are about total involvement in helping to alleviate the causes which create the effect (social conditions). Our project is fundamentally concerned with attacking the historical, political, social, and economical ingredients that produced RAPE from a social criminal perspective. We will work with anyone, black, white, gay who is interested in assisting us in this.”

It is most odd that Cannon and Fuller, both prisoners of Lorton Prison and the founders of “Prisoners Against Rape inc”, label all members of the organisation they founded as “RAPISTS”, and yet only one person featured in the film was a convicted rapist.

So we have a film maker, working with a group of male prisoners who are dealing with a sexually abusive and even permissive culture of male on male rape in prison, creating a group (“Prisoners Against Rape”) which they indicate to include only RAPISTS, when it did not, and the men themselves struggling to define and understand their own experiences of rape in prison, referencing upon their life experience within and without prison, and all presented under the film title “Rape Culture”.

No wonder there has been such confusion!

It is easy to see how some have taken different sources and ideas and “conflated” them into something which was not there at the start.

No wonder the Films Producer was concerned that the films content and what was said was being “misinterpreted” and that errors in perception were occurring.

There has been much confusion around the term “Rape Culture”, and discussions of it from the first time the phrase was coined. It would appear that such confusion has continued since 1975.

In the film Mary Daly does NOT use the term “Rape Culture”, but she does use the term “Rapism” which she describes as a more accurate word to describe “The Disease Of A Phallocentric Society”. She then links “Rapism”to such matters as the rape of “land, water, blacks, elders, children and the poor”. Her political position expressed how she saw rape not just as sexual but linked to all people who could be exploited within a “Phallocentric Society”.

It is odd that Ms Daly had such a wide view of her preferred term “Rapism”, and I am forced to conclude that some have “Conflated” her ideas and words with the term “Rape Culture”, and that is what has resulted in the confused and even inappropriate use of the term ““Rape Culture” across US society.

It is of grave concern that Prison Rape is known about and even subject to jokes. I particularly recall a scene in the film “Ruthless People” (1986) where the hapless kidnapper is told he has a nice butt and how he will be the “Belle Of The Ball” in the San Quentin Men’s County Club. Such jokes have even featured more recently in such TV series as “Desperate Housewives”. There is a US centric cultural joke about “Don’t Drop The Soap” which has even been turned into a board game of that name.

The film “Let’s Go To Prison” (2006) even has “Prison Rape” treated as a “penetrating” joke in the trailer. Including the apparently obligatory showers and references to “Don’t Drop The Soap”.

Far less humorous and real portrayals of “Prison Rape” have featured in such films as The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and American History X (1998). It was even a factor in Midnight Express (1978).

It would seem that joking about the rape of men in prison is socially acceptable, and yet some of those people joked about were the very people highlighting “Rape Culture” back in 1975

Conversely, it is seen as socially unacceptable to joke about a woman being subjected to Prison Rape, or any form of rape culture, yet there are numerous references to that very subject in Popular media, such as the music video for Lady Gaga – Telephone ft. Beyoncé.

It has even been seen as acceptable for some celebrities whilst acting as “Drag Kings” to play out stereotypical male roles of being sexually aggressive to women. There has been little comment against this activity by those who speak of wishing to stop what they refer to as “Rape Culture.” In fact, some have lauded these celebrities for their activity and endorsed it.

I have seen some state that Prison Rape of men is not an element of “Rape Culture™”, and yet at the same time argue that the rape of a female in prison by other female inmates or guards is to be seen explicitly as “Rape Culture™”. It is a most odd and bizarre set of double standards.

Since 1975 there have been a number of other groups who have dealt with the issue of Prison Rape, and its consequences. In particular with the advent of HIV/AIDS the situation became deadlier, and a number of people who have campaigned from the position of rape victim who were infected with HIV. Most have died as a consequence of the rape and related HIV infection that resulted.

It took until 2003 for Federal and Government action to take place. That was a quite literally a further 30 years. That was 30 years of allowing “Rape Culture” in prisons, people being infected with HIV, jokes about it all, and the jokes are still featuring in US Culture and Media today, with celebrities being lauded when they exploit matters for personal notoriety and fame, especially if a celebrity is female.

I have been surprised that there is such a US centric bias around “Rape Culture”, and how it features so heavily in debate where gender is concerned.

It would appear that some like the phrase “Rape Culture”, but have no knowledge of it’s origins and original meaning.

It is very interesting to “NOT” be able to find a single reference within Government Publications that use the term “Rape Culture”. Even the “NATIONAL PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION COMMISSION REPORT” (2009) does not use the term.

There are many interesting entries including the report of Prison Rape as far back as 1826, from Reverend Louis Dwight, prison reformer and founder of the Prison Discipline Society of Boston. The NPREC report has a time line to provide context, but it only starts in 1980, with Congress passing the “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act”. It would appear that the ground breaking work on the subject of “Rape Culture”, started at Lorton prison in 1973 by “Prisoners Against Rape.” did have some effect within 7 years.

There does seem to be a very big problem over history and the views that some have over “Rape Culture”, where it came from, what it means and even how the term should be used.

Having located the first attributable source to a Film of 1975, I hope that others will use the term “Rape Culture” with greater accuracy in future and not confuse their interpretation of the term with it’s origins and the intent of those who first used it.

As a “Meddling Rational Archivist”, I have delved as deep as my resources presently allow in seeking the Origin of the term “Rape Culture”.

Should anyone be able to provide explicit references and citation to the origin prior to the 1975 film titled “Rape Culture”, I would welcome any such information.

Note1:Sun 8 Jan 2012- 20.34UT.

Following publication of this blog and the filing of dispute with Wikipedia the web page Title rape Culture was amended to read as follow:

One of the first uses of the term was as the title of a 1975 documentary film, Rape Culture, produced and directed by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich for Cambridge Documentary Films, which discussed prison rape

There is still no originating Citation to who first used the term or who coined it and why. The details of the change can be viewed here


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