Comments on Culture

In the news | October 30, 2009

This is probably the most sociologically-leaning piece I’ll post here.

Last weekend in Richmond, CA a 15 year old girl was gang raped after a homecoming dance by around 10 teenage and adult men. A larger crowd of onlookers formed. They watched it, allowed it, encouraged it, recorded it, and made cell phone calls inviting others to come see it. The rape lasted over 2 hours. The victim was abandoned in critical condition.

Stories like this remind me that women in the U.S. are still very much a social minority, subject to abuse for their status. There isn’t necessarily anything inherent about the male sex that makes this so; it is our culture that fosters this type of behavior. The onlookers’ actions and inactions drive home the social implications of this crime. In light of cases like this, one cannot argue that violence against women results only from a very small group of disturbed mens’ actions. It’s a much larger and more complicated issue than simple perversion or psychopathy. A combination of cultural rhetoric and individual behavior allows such abuse.

The news story states that the community is shocked because they don’t feel it’s representative of them. But it is. Violence against women and gang violence reflect our cultural reality, just as hate crimes do. Historians and anthropologists alike will attest that a people’s violence–particularly ritualized or ceremonial violence–does in fact reflect culture, to some degree at least.

It could be argued that this story has more to do with gang violence than violence against women. However, violence against women is too common a problem in America for this to be limited to just one subculture. And, gang culture cannot be dismissed as a mere pocket in which bad things happen anomalously to the rest of America. It has been part of our cultural identity for longer than most of us care to admit.

Through both personal behavior and popular media, gang culture, including denigration of women, is increasingly becoming a louder voice in our national identity. Behavior such as overt crime broadcasts that women are targets; they are subject to abuse because of their gender. That message will be internalized in profound ways. Some will process it through art. Subsequently, the cycle of art imitating life imitating art will create representation: extreme violence accompanied by hyper-sexualization of women (such as your average trailer for an action movie or “street” movie), and hip-hop songs that reduce women to “nothing but bitches and hos”. Thus, the combination of violent behavior and pop culture normalize the abuse and disparagement of women in America.

A final voice in our national dialogue related to gender is one of moral superiority held by the U.S. over the countries we target. Our moral outrage over girls not being allowed into Afghan schools reiterates the American fable of equal opportunity and personal freedom for all, regardless of ethnicity or gender. This critical piece of our national identity is belied by the commonplace brutality against women that this country witnesses every day as a result of social inequality. One. In. Four.

Here is the radio story that inspired this: Number of arrests growing in California



  1. Violence against women seems to hide in plain sight. It’s almost as if society is horrified by each individual rape and assault but doesn’t recognize the whole that all the incidents combine to form. Both in America and around the world, violence against women is an epidemic, and I’m glad that you are pointing it out.

    Comment by jacobpedia — October 30, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  2. I absolutely agree. The violence we see against women is a direct result of the way our culture sees women. As less than and for the pleasure of men. Women are depicted in the media in ways that allow people to view them as objects, non-human, void of worth. And then the people who internalize these depictions have little trouble with using said object to their pleasure. Well put.

    Comment by breedermama — November 6, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

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