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The Woke Rape Culture Phenomenon

Updated on March 14, 2020
Christina Dunn profile image

As a biology major, Christina loves exploring the sciences and applying them to everyday life.

Digital technology has allowed women to bond over shared experiences and confront patriarchy. However, the technology enabling women to unite and progress feminism, and the culture that is associated with that technology, is simultaneously being used to undermine the progress feminism has accomplished. This sabotage of the feminist movement is majorly being done under a veil of progressivism. Digital culture has created an online environment that encourages misogyny under a newly developed woke rape culture phenomenon.


What is the Woke Rape Culture Phenomenon?

Rape culture is a term used to describe the ideas that promote sexual violence and rape against women. Woke rape culture is the concept of rape culture combined with taking advantage of female socialization. Due to female socialization, women are heavily encouraged to help others at their own expense. Under a false cover of progressiveness, women are increasingly pressured to forfeit their autonomy and rights. Within social media, the pressure for women to be harmfully selfless is amplified greatly under digital culture.

Pornography Amplifies Rape Culture

Rape culture, and the misogynist perceptions that are part of it, are also amplified under digital culture due to greater accessibility and prevalence of pornography. Before widespread access to the Internet, it was significantly harder to access pornography. Now, anyone online is only a few clicks away from viewing pornographic material. As a result, pornography is being used more frequently and at younger ages; the average age of first porn exposure is 10. Pornography amplifies rape culture perceptions: porn usage increases sexual aggression and abuse against women. Due to repeated porn usage, men associate sex with violence and women pay the consequences; porn users tend to believe exaggerated “... cultural ideas about masculinity … directly related to rape myth acceptance in individuals who have internalized the cultural message about masculinity” (Aosved).

Porn usage increases sexual aggression and abuse against women.

Porn users are more likely to believe women actually enjoy being “aggressively pursued, and in some cases, overpowered by men” as that is commonly an aspect of porn, resulting in porn users being more likely to aggressively pursue, harass, and assault women in their daily lives (Keller). The women and girls in the porn and prostitution industries also pay dearly for porn. With the prevalence of pornography online, the rape culture ideas and abuse against women and girls that it produces are only amplified.

Woke Rape Culture Takes Advantage of Female Socialization

Current mainstream and spreading false ideas about porn and prostitution are taking advantage of female socialization to normalize them even more, further amplifying the harm they do against women. Female socialization refers to how girls are treated, trained, and forced to act since birth. For example, due to female socialization, many women wear makeup. Women are trained to take care of others before themselves. Because of female socialization, women have been forced to be harmfully selfless; this makes women more unlikely to confront ideas that oppose them, especially when those ideas are painted as progressive.

When the behavior encouraged by female socialization is combined with the notion that prostitution should be a normalized occupation and doesn’t harm women, women oppose anyone confronting prostitution. Many of the people opposing prostitution are other women- many of the key activists opposing prostitution are women who used to be prostitutes. The result is women attacking other women who used to be prostitutes in a well-intended effort to be pro-sex worker, fueling the “patriarchal ideology of women as enemies” (Drakett). Because of the progressive idea that prostitution is should be socially accepted as a normal occupation, some women are working to normalize it, thus even further amplifying the violence, sexual abuse, and mistreatment of women that prostitution results in.

Online Sexist Humor Normalizes Mistreatment of Women

Common online humor frequently contains sexist humor that further normalizes violence and the mistreatment of women. Online jokes and memes are not regularly analyzed for their effect on society; because they're supposed to be funny, they are frequently dismissed as trivial. However, this freely allows memes to “[transmit] loaded messages in their content under the guise of humour” without critique (Drakett). For example, there is a variation of the “Success Kid image macro captioned ‘Pressed Play - No LiveJasmin pop-up’”, which is referencing a pornography website (Draskett). To understand this meme, one must be aware that LiveJasmin is an adult site that opens in a new window when pornography is streamed; as this meme has a targeted audience of porn users and requires prior knowledge of porn to understand it “contributes to the normalisation of the consumption (and by extension, the production) of [porn] for men” (Draskett). Many jokes analyzed in Draskett’s study contained “stereotypical constructions of women and femininities” as well as “heteronormative (and heterosexist) constructions of sexuality and gendered relations” (Draskett). Memes are inescapable in online environments, just like harassment towards women.

Figure 1

By using the acceptable target of TERFs, it becomes socially acceptable to tell women to shut up.
By using the acceptable target of TERFs, it becomes socially acceptable to tell women to shut up. | Source

The abundance of harassment in online environments against women discourages women from participating in the online sphere. Online harassment opposes women as they engage in social media. This online misogyny is never regulated as it is viewed as the “mere banter which women should simply bear as the price of online participation” (Barker). Online misogyny is so common and normalized that it’s a common experience for women; “46 percent of women worldwide [have received] sexist or misogynist comments as a form of online abuse” (Barker). This online misogyny can be observed in explicit terms, like saying women should only be in the kitchen, or in progressive terms, like jokes expressing a desire for the "wrong type" of feminist to shut up (Figure 1). The term TERF used in the glue lipstick joke technically means trans exclusionary radical feminist, but in practice, it is a term used to identify an acceptable target of misogyny.

The Term TERF is Used to Silence Women

Calling someone a TERF is most commonly used as a silencing tactic; frequently, people who aren't radical feminists or don't know what radical feminism is are labeled as TERFs. The term "TERF" has been used to replace the words "women" and "lesbians", making it socially acceptable for people to talk violently about women, so frequently that there are multiple websites for recording these occurrences. Digital culture has created an environment that encourages misogyny against the socially acceptable target of misogyny, TERFs, under false progressiveness. For example, one woman was called a TERF for wanting to help women in prostitution and porn and another for criticizing child pornography. Explicit violence against women is generally not socially acceptable. Explicit violence against TERFs, on the other hand, is so ordinary it has become a meme.

The twitter meme “pov you’re a terf” is such as meme demonstrating misogyny and violence against the socially acceptable target of TERFs is more than just acceptable, it’s encouraged. The meme has a similar format to an image macro: it consists of a photo typically of a person holding some weapon with the caption “pov you’re a terf” or a variation of those words. The message conveyed in this meme is the TERF will be the target of whatever weapon the person is holding. Violence against women is deemed as socially acceptable as long as the woman is marked as a TERF first. If the actions that deem women as TERFs are increased, the amount of women that can be attacked by misogyny in a socially acceptable way is also increased.

TERFS are Viewed as Acceptable Targets of Misogyny

Women who are blunt or aggressive with their feminism, for example, are commonly marked as TERFs, attacked, and mocked by people attempting to be woke. Some women are afraid of the online backlash that results from being labeled as a TERF, as being a TERF means being subjected to death and rape threats, especially through social media. A TERF receives more explicit online misogyny than other women, since attacking a TERF is viewed as socially acceptable. This results in women being silenced; if they speak up and too bluntly make a stand, they are labeled as a TERF, and as a result, an acceptable target for misogyny.

This results in women being silenced; if they speak up and too bluntly make a stand, they are labeled as a TERF, and as a result, an acceptable target for misogyny

Due to women not wanting to face the consequences of being called a TERF combined with the result of female socialization, they don’t stand up for themselves. They don’t comment on the rapidly increasing trend of people threatening violence and death against women that they don’t agree with. They stay silent as porn and prostitution are deemed as empowering and is normalized. Because women are afraid of speaking out too much and being labeled as a TERF, there is an even smaller opposition to the woke rape culture phenomenon.

Effects of Woke Rape Culture: Vandalism and Defunding of Vancouver Rape Relief Shelter

This has allowed the woke rape culture phenomenon to expand and become even more blatant in the misogyny under false progressiveness, resulting in consequences that have transitioned from rape and death threats online to defunding of women’s recovery services and degradation of women’s autonomy. For example, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, a rape crisis center that is known for only accepting female women, was vandalized; dead rats and graffiti with the phrases “Kill TERFS”, “Trans women are women”, and “TERFS go home you are not welcome” were spread across the windows. Due to the rape shelter’s female-only policy, it was labeled as a TERF organization, resulting in the shelter being subjected to the vandalization and funding cuts.

Due to the decision of Vancouver city councilors in March, the funding for the rape shelter for 2020 is denied until the shelter changes their only female women policy to include trans women. The purpose of the rape shelter’s female-only policy is to provide a haven for female women away from males since the sex of their assaulters are typically male. False progressiveness has created an environment that any boundaries women have are being attacked in this woke rape culture phenomenon. Women are not allowed to recover from rape away from males without being targets of misogyny under false progressiveness.

Due to the rape shelter’s female-only policy, it was labeled as a TERF organization, resulting in the shelter being subjected to the vandalization and funding cuts.

Women are not allowed to choose not to date males without being targets of acceptable misogyny under this false progressiveness, either. The word TERF is frequently used online as a replacement for the word lesbian, allowing people to express explicit lesbophobia but in a woke way. Lesbians are frequently attacked for not wanting to date males that identify as women. Bisexual women that don’t want to date men- sometimes identified as febfems- are also attacked for not wanting to date males identifying as women as well.

Within the woke rape culture phenomena, these women are expected to ignore their preferences in dating partners and forfeit their autonomy to avoid the consequences of being labeled a TERF. Women must make sure their dating life is inclusive of males, disregarding their sexual orientation or preferences, or accept becoming targets of the socially acceptable misogyny; they are not allowed to say no without social consequences. In a situation where a woman cannot freely say no, she cannot truly consent. Pushing bisexual women and lesbians to date males they don’t want to or be called TERFs and receive rape and death threats is thus attributing to the woke rape culture phenomenon.

Women who speak up about any aspect of this misogyny can be labeled as a TERF and subjected to socially acceptable misogyny under false progressivism.

The woke rape culture phenomenon is the direct result of the compilation of female socialization, online misogynistic jokes and harassment, digital culture and rape culture. Jokes containing sexist ideas are widespread online and inescapable due to how thoroughly digital culture is ingrained into everyday life. The sexism in these jokes contributes to the normalization of online sexism and the harassment women face. The online misogyny and harassment women are subjected to serves as a deterrent from being able to truly share their thoughts and experiences online; as women who speak up about any aspect of this misogyny can be labeled as a TERF and subjected to socially acceptable misogyny under false progressivism. This socially acceptable misogyny against TERFs results in an undermining of feminism and a degradation of women’s rights and autonomy.

Works Cited

Aosved, Allison C., and Patricia J. Long. “Co-Occurrence of Rape Myth Acceptance, Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, Ageism, Classism, and Religious Intolerance.” Sex Roles, vol. 55, no. 7-8, 2006, pp. 481–492., doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9101-4.

Barker, Kim, and Olga Jurasz. “Online Misogyny.” Online Misogyny as a Hate Crime, July 2018, pp. 20–37., doi:10.4324/9780429956805-2.

Drakett, Jessica, et al. “Old Jokes, New Media – Online Sexism and Constructions of Gender in Internet Memes.” Feminism & Psychology, vol. 28, no. 1, 8 Feb. 2018, pp. 109–127. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0959353517727560.

Keller, Jessalynn, et al. “Speaking ‘Unspeakable Things’: Documenting Digital Feminist Responses to Rape Culture.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 2016, pp. 22–36., doi:10.1080/09589236.2016.1211511.

© 2020 Christina Garvis


Submit a Comment
  • Kyler J Falk profile image

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 months ago from Corona, CA

    I always find it unfortunate when people seek to both invalidate and hurt others over real struggles. Men and women alike have it so rough in the digital age, especially those of us who wish for equity and even equality.

    Keep fighting your fight!


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