Early on children pick up on gender stereotypes. For example, a school might bring football players into the classroom to give motivational talks, and students will hear the players make statements such as, “All my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong… boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken. One day, you’ll have a very, very deep voice… But the ladies―they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men supposed to be strong.” Kids hear this narrative: Girls are weak. Boys are strong.
“Modesty talks” can reinforce gender stereotypes with teens if such talks characterize women as sexual tempters and men as sexual animals who cannot be tamed. In such talks, often given in church youth groups, females become defined by their bodies, and males become defined only by what happens in their brains. From a young age we give modesty talks to girls, but what do we tell boys? Girls are told they need to cover up to keep boys from having uncontrollable thoughts. So the girl’s body is presented as the problem.
Such a mentality can leave females thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why did God give me this curvy figure?” The responsibility falls on the girls to protect themselves against wild sexual men and to avoid rape. Even comments such as, “Just cover up, wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit,” can communicate blame.
Meanwhile, boys are taught that women have overwhelming sexual power. What about teaching self-control as a sign of maturity? Teaching girls that they overwhelm guys and teaching guys they can’t possibly control themselves is teaching falsehood. If the only message is “Boys must look away, while girls must cover up,” we are doing our youth a disservice. And we’re reinforcing rape culture.
Strict female dress codes also reinforce rape culture. Young women’s bodies are sexualized, so females get the idea that what men think is women’s responsibility; and such rules teach men that they have no control. Thus young women become objects.
These are rape myths. And the sexier the woman, including the more skin she shows, the more likely, it is said, that she’s “asking for” rape.
What is the point of uniforms? To protect girls? To protect boys? To keep people from obsessing over outward appearance? To limit distractions? It’s important to discern. Because even with uniforms, a girl can worry how many inches above the knee her skirt falls or whether her shirt exposes her collarbone.
The media also reinforces gender stereotypes. As people watch TV, listen to the radio, or drive down the highway and see billboards, we encounter messages. Women’s bodies sell products. Women are sexualized and photoshopped to unrealistic extremes—perpetuating rape culture by defining women by their sexy bodies.
What we say about masculinity and femininity affects rape culture and can reinforce sexual aggression. When masculinity is defined as power, authority, assertiveness, or lack of emotion and femininity is defined as submission, passivity, delicacy, or weakness, we have the perfect scenario for rape culture. Such messages excuse male rapists, because men are “just being men.”
In a marriage, when the husband and wife see themselves in these gender binaries, their perception often leads to the men being dominant and controlling in their sex lives. In fact, one survey shows that 25 percent of marriages are considered abusive. These gender stereotypes also lead to sexually dysfunctional beliefs. For example, male sexual dysfunctional beliefs could focus on sex as a performance and the issues of dominance and control, whereas female sexual dysfunctional beliefs focus on issues such as pleasing only their partner and experiencing their own pleasure.
Research has proven that when men or women have sexually dysfunctional beliefs, they are more likely to believe rape myths. Rape myths are beliefs such as “If a woman is raped when she is drunk, she is somewhat responsible,” or “a woman who goes to the home of a man on the first date is implying that she wants to have sex,” or “she asked for it,” or “if the rapist doesn’t have a weapon, you really can’t call it rape,” or “many women secretly desire to be raped,” or “a lot of women lead a man on and then cry rape,” and “rape is unlikely to happen in a woman’s own neighborhood.” Other myths are implied by questions such as, “Why didn’t you fight him?” or “Why didn’t you scream for help?” and “What were you wearing?” One policeman describing a woman who had endured non-consensual sex stated that she was not raped because her ex had not had an orgasm before he stopped. Such rape myths must be removed from our culture.
How do we change rape culture? We remove traditional gender stereotypes. It is important to note that historically the early Christian church, especially Jesus, elevated and dignified woman when the surrounding culture failed to do so (e.g, Matt. 5:29). Yet often today Christians assume the gender stereotypes of popular culture. We should look to Jesus as our example of how to treat women and how we help men take responsibility for their own actions. In doing so, we can change the way society, including the church, views gender and sexuality. We must teach a biblical view of sexuality for single and married people. If we continue to teach classes on “biblical” manhood and womanhood in our church that perpetuate gender stereotypes, we are part of creating and sustaining rape culture.