Political Analyst Zerlina Maxwell Brings Rape Culture Conversation to the Claremont Colleges

By Sophia Rosenthal
Staff Writer

Sexual assault, it seems, has become as much a part of college culture as all-nighters and cheap beer. Why? Rape culture. We’ve all heard the term, but what exactly does it mean? In her talk “From Catcalling to Sexual Assault: How We Can All Work to End Gender-Based Violence” at CMC’s Athenaeum on Thursday Feb. 26, political analyst, speaker and writer Zerlina Maxwell outlined exactly what rape culture means and, more specifically, what we can do to counteract it.

Maxwell, who has a law degree and was named one of The Root’s most influential black Americans under 45, is a contributing writer for EBONY.com, Mic.com and RHRealitycheck.org and has spoken around the country about rape culture and feminism. Maxwell began her presentation by defining rape culture as an intersection of violence and sexuality that essentially allows people to get away with gender-based violence. She characterized it as a spectrum of violence that extends from sexist comments to more publicized crimes like the Steubenville rape case, in which two football players were found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage girl and of photographing the assault.

According to Maxwell, the rape culture epidemic can be broken into several elements: victim blaming, empathizing with rapists, the “false rape allegations” myth (it usually doesn’t mean there was no rape, it means some of the details of the rape might have been misrepresented), the “gray rape” myth (think Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), trivialization of rape, unhealthy masculinity/entitlement to women’s bodies and slutshaming/cyberbullying. Each of these elements can be seen everywhere from everyday conversations to mass media coverage. Maxwell’s presentation examined each element through photos, video clips and anecdotes. The point, however, was not simply to define rape culture, but to define it in order to eliminate it.

The latter portion of the talk focused on strategies for calling out and preventing rape culture when it manifests in our everyday lives. These strategies include bystander intervention, supporting survivors, being a vocal ally, believing survivors and asking for consent. Maxwell also emphasized teaching men not to rape, an assertion that was met with disbelief and outrage by conservative television host Sean Hannity and his viewers when she aired this statement on his show. Still, she presented her “5 Ways to Teach Men Not to Rape” to a much more receptive audience at the Athenaeum. According to Maxwell, teaching men not to rape involves teaching young men about legal consent, teaching bystander intervention, teaching them to see women’s humanity (rather than viewing them just as sexual objects for male pleasure), to express healthy masculinity and to believe survivors who come forward. Hopefully, she asserted, by spreading this knowledge and awareness, we can break the patterns that hurt us and the ones we love. “We have to be brave as individuals to...change the collective that’s around us,” Maxwell said.