Imagine a society where rape is often glorified in television shows and movies, and people talk openly about how much they enjoyed the rape scenes. Suppose also that some of the most popular religions in society view rape as a normal part of life, and even morally permissible. In that society, rape is both a large part of the culture, and it’s a direct/open part of the culture. It would probably be fair to describe it as rape culture.
When you think about whether something is ____ culture, it seems reasonable to think about both size and directness. For example, it would be hard to argue that it is unfair to describe a society where violence was common and people openly talked about enjoying it, as ‘violence culture.’ Consider two other societies where it’s less clear whether the violence culture label is appropriate. Imagine a society where there is indirect support of violence. There, the culture contributes to violence from less visible things (e.g., parenting styles that do not promote empathy). Alternatively, one could imagine a society where there is direct promotion of violence but on a small scale. An example of this might be if there was some violence as entertainment, but, for the most part, it was not something that received much attention. Would it be fair to characterize the latter two societies as ‘violence culture?’
I am confident that there are many ways in which american culture leads to a higher incidence of rape than we would see in a more rape-prevention-optimal culture. I can think of candidate cultural contributors, including the following: rape trivialization attitudes; overemphasis on the importance of beauty in girls/women; sex-negativity; glorification of alpha-males; alcohol over marijuana as high of choice (drug war); too many unsupervised people with under-myelinated brains (teens); too many unsupervised people with under-myelinated brains who further render useless their frontal lobes by consuming alcohol; not enough access to porn; too much access to porn; glorification of violence; emphasis on competition; too much religion; not enough religion; the standard narrative of human sexuality; fewer economic opportunities for women; victim blaming; overrepresentation of men in law enforcement and the media; and lack of concern about prison rape. I’m sure I’m missing some obvious ones.
At the same time, the words rape culture have a shock element to them. Almost everyone is against rape in the sense that they think it’s bad and wish it never happened. I suspect a very small minority of people would enjoy seeing a rape scene in a movie, and even fewer of them would admit to it (because they would be judged harshly). So, we don’t have a culture that directly encourages rape. We do, however, live in a society where 15-20% of women have been raped . That number is so alarming/sad/horrific, that that alone might be sufficient reason to call this rape culture.
The Steubenville Ohio case cemented in many people’s mind that this is a rape culture. Yet, I wonder how much of that perception came from misleading or inaccurate facebook memes. If it’s so clear that this is rape culture, then why the need to mislead?
Even questioning whether rape culture is a fair term can get you accused of being pro-rape, anti-women, ‘part of the problem’, etc. If you describe our culture as ‘rape culture,’ you immediately signal to everyone around you that you are strongly against rape. This reminds me of something I read about pedophilia:
…people gain status by attacking pedophilia. And you gain the most status if you go the furthest attacking pedophilia, if you can separate yourself from the pack by attacking it more, if you can say “My opponents think this marginal case is okay, but I am so against pedophilia that I oppose even the marginal cases” so on even further into the margin. And it’s really hard to say “Okay, you’ve gone too far with the attacks on pedophilia”, because then the other person can just say “I notice my worthy opponent is trying to defend pedophilia” and you lose whatever debate you were having.
Most people are against rape, and there is a lot to gain but showing you are even more strongly against it than most people; there is little-to-nothing to be gained by questioning whether someone is taking their anti-rape arguments a little to far.
‘Rape culture’ efficacy?
All of the above are just some of my thoughts about these types of labels in general. However, the important question is not whether rape culture is a fair or appropriate label, but whether it is an effective one. The label ‘rape culture’ is kind of jarring. I could imagine someone hearing if for the first time and thinking “Rape culture? Everyone is against rape. Why would they call it that? Convicted rapists are some of the most hated people in society (right behind pedophiles and child murderers).” And then the person might think deeper about the issue. Perhaps they will think about the ways in which society does contribute to rape. Perhaps they will start to notice things, like ‘boys will be boys,’ victim blaming, objectifying images of women, etc. Thus, the label, which has a shock element to it, might be very effective at raising awareness of these important issues.
Alternatively, perhaps people will find the rape culture description as too extreme, and want to take a stand against it. In that case, you’ve just given them motivated cognition in the wrong direction.
 “In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking.” I can’t help but wonder to what degree ‘drinking culture’ is a major factor in ‘rape culture,’ and to what degree that is caused by our stupid marijuana laws (i’m pretty sure someone high from pot is less likely to be aggressive than someone who has been drinking, but I’m not sure about this)
 I have heard arguments on both sides (that access to porn leads to more objectification of women and leads to more rape; that access to porn gives people a sexual outlet and makes them less likely to rape; I think the data are more supportive of the latter theory, but I am not an expert)
 Data on rape are not particularly reliable for a variety of reasons, but those are the numbers I found on wikipedia, and they seem pretty consistent with what I’ve seen from other sources.