Turn on the news, watch a TV show or see a movie, go shopping downtown, or simply walk outside your door — it seems like everywhere you go, you can see the evidence of rape culture in your everyday life. But that doesn't make it any easier to wrap your head around the prevalence of these social beliefs. For so many women, it's impossible to ignore and heartbreaking to try to comprehend this aspect of our society that directly affects us daily. But this "norm" isn't just about females, which is why there are some essential books every young man should read to understand rape culture.
From rape jokes to slut shaming to the ever-prevalent act of victim blaming, rape culture has become the sad standard in America. Our society has come to normalize rape in a way that actually perpetuates the crime. Most recently, rape culture has become the center of conversation surrounding the Brock Turner case. After being sentenced to a mere six month in after being convicted of sexual assault, Turner's family and friends jumped to his defense, asking the judge to give the guilty defendant probation in place of a prison sentence. Turner's fierce supporters cited the man's quality of character, his high achievements, his social, academic, and his athletic status as reasons he shouldn't go to jail. His father even went so far as to say that jail was "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
But what Turner's father doesn't understand, what so many people, what the media, what the entertainment industry doesn't seem to understand, is how this kind of conversation perpetuates rape culture. It takes attention away from the crime. It makes excuses for the crime. It puts the crime — the brutal, horrific, heartbreaking crime — in the background, and makes it about the perpetrator rather than the actual victim.
If we want to change out culture and our society, we have to start with our youth. Young women become aware of rape culture at a young age, many of them even living in fear of it, but young boys need to be brought into the conversation, too. Young men need to be educated, informed, and empowered to change the status quo, and before they can do that, they need to know what rape culture is. To help them do that, here are five essential books every young man should read to understand rape culture. It's well beyond the time for change.
1. The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
In her extraordinary debut novel The Way I Used to Be, Amber Smith chronicles the aftermath of a young girl's sexual assault at the hand of her brother's best friend. Eden, the "good girl", was just starting high school, getting her bearings, and coming into her own as a young woman when one night, everything came crashing down. Told in four parts — each one centered upon a different year in high school — The Way I Used to Be follows Eden as she tries to deal with what happened to her, struggles with her new feelings and raw emotions, and fights like hell to keep her secret hidden. Brutally honest and emotionally powerful, this is the kind of book that will help young men understand rape and rape culture from the victim's perspective.
2. Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
While many YA books that deal with rape and sexual assault are told from the victim's point of view, Chris Lynch's nuanced novel is told from the perspective of the assailant. In Inexcusable, Keir thinks he's a decent guy, a good boyfriend, and a nice young man. But he commits sexual assault. And now his girlfriend sees him completely differently. Keir, however, doesn't understand. He knows what consent is. He knows that "no means no." And he knows that he's not the kind of guy who could ever do that — except for the fact that he did. A thought-provoking and provocative read with an unreliable narrator, this book is a great conversation starter for young men trying to understand rape culture.
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson's gut-wrenching classic Speak may be over 15 years old, but every word of it resonates with today's youth and speaks to modern rape culture. After a horrific incident in the woods outside a high school party, freshman Melinda calls the police and gets the party broken up. Despised by her classmates for being a tattle tale and getting fellow students arrested, Melinda finds herself unable to articulate what happened to her, and what it was that made her call 911 in the first place. Shunned by her friends and classmates, Melinda grows depressed and even more reclusive until she befriends someone who finally encourages her to speak up for herself. An unflinching look at the aftermath of rape and the fear and victim blaming that is a part of the current rape culture, Speak is a must-read for all teens.
4. Asking For It by Louise O'Neill
After a night of partying, Emma wakes up on her front porch in pain, with no memories of the night before. While she doesn't know what happened to her, others at the party do, and thanks to some explicit photos, everyone thinks they know what happened — but do they? A brilliant novel about the aftermath of sexual assault and the perpetual act of victim blaming, Asking For It will start an essential conversation about consent, sexism, and rape culture as a whole.
5. Asking for It by Kate Harding
Another book by the same name, this time nonfiction, Kate Harding's Asking for It should be considered essential reading when it comes to understanding rape culture. In her honest and accessible guide to rape culture, Harding explains what it is, how it came to be in the US, and what we can do to change it. Smart, informative, and sensitive, everyone needs to read this brilliant and important book.