The Commoditization of Women and North American Rape Culture.

What level of responsibility do we as a society have in the commoditization of women? Can that commoditization be linked to North American rape culture and the portrayal of women in media and advertising?

Consider the issues of human trafficking (modern slavery) and gender violence.

“Human trafficking is the modern day practice of slavery. Sex trafficking is one of the most lucrative sectors regarding the illegal trade in people, and involves any form of sexual exploitation in prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children.

An estimated 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked annually in the United States alone. The number of US citizens trafficked within the country is even higher.” 

So again I ask, What level of responsibility do we as a society have in the commoditization of women?

Media and advertising is one of the strongest forces behind how we perceive females. To be commoditized is to no longer be seen as an individual worthy of rights and dignity.  A person becomes something to be purchased and used. On a global level, this creates an environment where, whether through apathy or direct involvement, sex trafficking becomes possible. On an individual level, it opens the door for the objectification and abuse of a woman (sexual assault, rape, gender violence etc…)

There is no one cause of human trafficking but I propose that there is an undeniable link between commoditization and abuse.  Society’s majority may be inclined to deny any involvement in the sex trafficking industry but when we begin to look at root causes we may find we are more culpable than we would like to admit.

The same dehumanizing nature of sex trafficking can be found at the core of our rape culture epidemic.

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. (Transforming A Rape Culture, 1993)

Media and advertising are phenomenally effective.  They play a huge role in determining how we dress, speak, act and what we desire. We are bombarded on a daily basis with visual/audio representations of what we should want.  Companies influence us through commercials, print ads, billboards, celebrity endorsements, television, movies, and radio.  One of the most popular and effective ways to utilize these outlets is with sex-driven advertising. Sexuality is not an innately evil thing but when it strengthens the link between pleasure, ownership of others, and violence it becomes a dangerous reinforcement of the North American rape culture.

There is a seemingly limitless source of advertisements showing women as objects and bolstering the following perceptions:

- Women must always be beautiful and accessible

- Violence against women is edgy and enticing

- Men are superior: they are often positioned in a power stance while women are in a submissive position (on all fours, laying down)

- “real” men are aggressive and dominant

- “real” women are a mystical creature: one part sex kitten, one part homemaker, and one part innocent doll.

Note the images in this article – implied gang rape, murdered women, women in cages, dehumanized through the omission of their faces, and available for purchase (valued at the cost of a 20 oz. coke).  These images are advertisements from popular and trend-setting companies.  They are a repulsive example of what we as a society (through our silence and consumerism) have told mainstream media is an acceptable and effective representation of women.

North American rape culture has placed the burden of rape prevention on the women at risk of victimization.  

“Be more responsible!”

“Don’t wear such short skirts. You’re inviting it”

“Have some common sense and watch your drinks”

“Take a kickboxing class and learn to defend yourself”

“Did you say or do something to lead him on? After all, he’s only human”

 These “preventative measures” all focus on the responsibility of the woman to protect herself and not “allow” herself to be victimized. Yet these women are facing a culture that daily reinforces the notion that they are an object to be purchased or taken; by force if necessary.

 The fact is a rapist WILL rape. A woman can take all the preventative measures and live a life of hyper-precaution but a rapist will still be a rapist. It is the responsibility of society to make a clear and unequivocal statement of intent against rapists not women.

 Women are NOT here for your sexual pleasure

We will NOT tolerate the prevalence of rape culture in our advertising, video games, movies, literature or humor/jokes.

Sexual assault of women is NOT an acceptable means of establishing power or dominance

You WILL be swiftly prosecuted and sentenced

Women will NOT be subjected to re-victimization as a part of the legal process.

We will NOT accept rape being used as a weapon in wars, genocide, oppression, or persecution.

We will NOT remain silent as women and children are bought, sold, and victimized through the sex trafficking industry.

We will NOT place shame on the women. YOU should be shamed.

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In 2008, victims age 12 or older experienced a total of 203,830 rapes or sexual assaults.1

81% of rape or sexual assault victims in 2008 were female.

Of female rape or sexual assault victims, 32% were assaulted by a stranger. 42% of offenders were friends or acquaintances of their victims, and 18% percent were intimate partners.

In 2008, 41% of all rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement.

During fiscal year 2008, military criminal investigators received 2,908 allegations of sexual assault involving members of the armed forces worldwide, representing an 8 percent increase over 2007. Of these reports, 2,265 were “unrestricted,” thus initiating an investigation process and opening access to support services, and 643 were “restricted,” allowing access to care without a formal investigation. (The restricted reporting method was implemented in June 2005.)

In 2007, 41 percent of all sexual assaults occurred at or in the victim’s home.

In a 2007 national survey, 4.5% of state and federal prison inmates reported experiencing sexual victimization. Ten facilities in the survey had victimization rates of 9.3% or higher, and six facilities had no reported incidents.

In 2005, nearly half of female rape victims experienced either drug-facilitated or incapacitated rape.

A meta-analysis of 61 studies found that 18.9 percent of rapists were convicted for a new sex offense within four to five years.

Michael Rand, “Criminal Victimization, 2008,” (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009)

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NOTE: Though this article focuses on the North American rape culture and its link to sexual violence against women please be aware that men can be victims of rape and sexual assault and are deserving of equal support by society and protection under the law. Likewise, women can be rapists and deserve equal punishment under the law.

  • About 3% of [North] American men – a total of 2.78 million men – have experienced a rape at some point in their lifetime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • In 2003, one in every ten rape victims was male. While there are no reliable annual surveys of sexual assaults on children, the Justice Department has estimated that one of six victims are under age 12 (National Crime Victimization Study, 2003).
  • 71% of male victims were first raped before their 18th birthday; 16.6% were 18-24 years old, and 12.3% were 25 or older (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Males are the least likely to report a sexual assault, though it is estimated that they make up 10% of all victims (RAINN, 2006).
  • 22% of male inmates have been raped at least once during their incarceration; roughly 420,000 prisoners each year (Human Rights Watch, 2001).

Miss Representation – Miss Representation exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality.

11 thoughts on “The Commoditization of Women and North American Rape Culture.

  1. Pingback: Women as commodities « John Meunier

  2. Like your article. Did one about this subject a few weeks ago, in Dutch though. And I’m really wondering how to change the whole culture which degrades persons, but I don’t have an answer yet. Reading other peoples blogs does keep me focused, so thanks!

    • Continual education and raising of awareness is a great way to initiate change. So thank you for being one of the people making an effort to do so. I visited your blog and it turns out… I can’t read Dutch!

      I could tell which post it was though by the “NotBuyingIt” hashtag. Keep up the good work!

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  6. commoditization of women is not only unacceptable in this post-modernity it should be illegalized. Together lets fight this fight and restore back the glory of God that was bestowed on woman. Also women lets know our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be kept holy not for public display, or for financial benefit.

  7. I really appreciate this article. It is SO hard to find ANYONE speaking out against this stuff! It’s really horrifying especially when you realize what rape can do to a person in the long run – including post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, relationship problems etc. The stats are hard to find too. A lot of women are afraid to report. I totally agree that there is a real problem with people blaming the victim too. However we still do have to encourage women to be careful because rape is still going on but if you’re in a dark alley alone you are more at risk, for example. You can avoid SOME situations, though obviously not all. I myself was attacked when I was only 19 while I was walking near the woods. Luckily I got away before anything could happen and called the police. When they came they found the guy hiding in the bushes in my back yard. From that point on I always took a big dog for a walk whenever I went past there and it seemed to keep people away. I definitely wish the world was less hostile to women.

    • Katie,

      I’m sorry for the delay in my response. Thank you so much for trusting us enough with your story. I really appreciate it. I too wish the world was less hostile. It’s disturbing that conversations are even necessary. They are though and hearing from women such as yourself is powerful. Thank you, again!

      On a related note,

      Men and women should always be aware of their surroundings, make smart choices etc… but the notion that this what stands between being victimized or not is a dangerous one. It feeds into the “teach people not to get raped” rather than “teach people not to rape” mentality. It’s also a “stranger danger” response that doesn’t line up with rape statistics. 60 percent of rapes and 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.

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