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Scene from the movie Elle with actress Isabelle Huppert,

There are many ways to define a culture, and there are almost as many cultures as there are ways to define them. Two distinctions can help us narrow down the problem a bit. The first is to distinguish between culture and civilization, the first being a set of knowledge that is reproduced according to a specific mode of transmission, such as art, science and religion, and the second being a network of practices and disciplines of normative coercion. The second possible separation is by the method of opposites: the opposite of civilization is barbarism, the opposite of culture is nature. The concept of culture is similar to what we find with the expression “man” that indicates both the human being in general and the masculine gender.

In this small semantic ambiguity hides a universe of problems that go back to the old theory that there is only one sex, and that is the masculine one, with the woman being an imperfect man, whose genital organ is actually a penis bent inwards. This converges with a stubborn ethnocentrism that makes us see, so often, the our culture particular as The culture universal, and to recognize the culture of others as a minor form, not yet as evolved as our own. When we talk about rape culture, all these meanings combine. This designates the force of coercion that associates masculinity with submission, domination or the ability to exercise power and violence against women. This also refers to the leniency and naturalness with which we interpret acts of private violence as a universal tendency, integrating them into everyday life, naturalizing them and neutralizing our capacity for indignation and the transformative power we expect from each form of suffering.

The invisibility of certain modes of female suffering is part of rape culture, understood as an essential part of femininity itself, particularly when it comes to female eroticism. For example, until the mid-XNUMXth century French doctors avoided using anesthesia in childbirth because pain, specifically the pain of women at this time, had a moral sense: punishment for exercising their desire and an inaugural pedagogical lesson for their motherhood. It is in cases like this that feminist theory begins to doubt the boundary between politics and culture, that is, what we should take as a space of freedom, even if partial, to create new laws and the space where we must submit, even if not passively, to the established laws. A certain theory of freedom can be deduced from this problem, deeply linked to the dimension of rights, therefore dependent on the logic of contract and assent and on our more or less intuitive concepts of possession, use and property. Rape culture is inseparable from the theory of women as property, whether of a father, a man, an institution or a discourse.

The extreme point of this problematic, customarily raised by sexist culture, often raised as an argument to perpetuate rape culture is what we could call rape fantasy. A woman who walks alone at night, dressed in daring clothes, in a dark alley is letting herself be carried away by the fantasy of being raped. She didn't take care of herself enough, she didn't guard herself, she didn't protect herself. We perceive here the same terms that we usually find in the discourse of property: insurance, risk, daring and conservation.

At the same time we qualify The culture according to the gender we attribute the most power to: patriarchal, masculine, misogynistic, sexist, and so on. Feminine culture is the particular case, anomalous and deficient. But what stands out in this argument is the conceptual poverty with which the notion of fantasy is understood. The translation of rape fantasy in rape culture is: what you want without having the courage to admit that you want it. We can conjugate declensions of this hypothesis: what you ask for without knowing you are asking; what deep down you like, but don't want to admit; what you still don't know you want, but want anyway.

Possession of the other's desire is the fundamental problem of rape culture, so it happens mainly in situations in which the subordination of power leads to the temptation of possessing the other's desire.

The film It (2016) by Paul Verhoeven is a qualified discussion of this problem and a didactic and preventive lesson for rape culture. Many feminists consider the film sexist because it depicts a woman whose eroticism, in its many forms, involves inciting or engaging in aggression. In this critique there is a certain understanding of culture that values ​​the fact that images are examples and narratives are models of action. We are culturalized by identification and identification is the assimilation of traits of belonging and equality. Here, we note a concept owner of cultural cannibalism.

Our culture devours other cultures ingesting their traits and deep down "you are what you eat”. Macho tolerant daughters learned it from their mothers, macho sons devoured it from their fathers. Daughters and sons were raised in the sexist culture observing and identifying with the iniquitous and unequal treatment they were exposed to in their upbringing processes. We also note that this concept owner of culture and identification will result in a legal and contractualist concept of freedom. Freedom that oscillates between the denial of what is obligatory (culture as coercion) and the affirmation of equality of rights (culture as a fair distribution of goods and resources, symbolic and material).

If in this perspective the film can be read as an incitement to rape culture, as it provides and recalls the argument for the existence of rape fantasies, I want to argue that the film also provides elements for a critical reading of the experience of the body as property (whether of a , or from another). It is about a businesswoman who makes money from rape culture, producing video games involving erotic scenes in which women are sexually abused. This is consistent with her story, as she is the daughter of a notorious murderer and a futile, hypersexualized mother.

Clinically it would be quite plausible that someone with experiences of this kind would have to reconcile impulses of punishment and masochism as a necessary condition for their sexual satisfaction. Many people need to feel hated in order, in this situation of moral debasement and carnal objectification, to authorize themselves to pleasure. For many others, just a slap, light and well calculated just before the hour “h”. For still others it will be enough to imagine being tied up, imprisoned or coerced into sexual intercourse. This has several advantages: it suspends responsibility and the risk of actually being rejected, it makes the partner responsible for the pleasure-producing work, and, Last but not least, play with the transgression of the law and the arbitrary exercise of power as an insurmountable aphrodisiac.

The crucial fact is that this does not justify, legitimize, or promote rape culture. The problem here should not be reduced to its contracturalist version of free and informed consent. The impasse is well portrayed in the film. After discovering that her masked rapist is the neighbor she has sexual fantasies about, she goes to his house and the two have a relationship underground. Between slaps and aggressions she says “he comes!”. At this point he confesses to his fantasy"so I can't".

Just as the sadist's ideal partner is not the masochist (as the joke goes: masochist says: hit me, hit me, to which the sadist replies: I don't, I don't) rape fantasy is not rape demand. This equivalence only exists for a culture that thinks we own our desires just as we own cars, houses and labor rights (when they still existed). The false understanding that underlies rape culture is that everyone has their desire and can trade it in the market of desires with others who are also sovereign masters of their individual desires. What escapes this conception is that our fantasy includes the fantasy of the Other's desire, just as our culture includes the fictions we make about other cultures.

A great illustration of this is the scene in which Michele, the masochist, masturbates while watching through binoculars as her neighbor removes life-size statues of the Christmas crib from his car, accompanied by his blessed wife. That is, it is not only what she imagines for herself, but what she imagines about the other's fantasy that determines her eroticism. It changes everything. She herself has no appreciation for Christmas dinners, Christian beliefs in the redemptive family, or pity for other people's marriages, even if they involve her friends or ex-husbands. Fantasy is composed of a double loop, what I “suppose” I desire and what I suppose the other supposes to desire.

The danger of rape culture is not, therefore, the violence of one's desire that goes beyond the limits of the other's will. This is the most banal level at which we appeal to the legal level to contain violence against women. The level in which such violence must be curbed with greater visibility and intolerance at the level of laws, customs and practices. But the deeper plan of cultural transformation requires a preliminary treatment of the idea that it is possible to “know what the other wants” (or, conversely, what he cannot bear in his desire).

The problem of possessing the other's desire is the fundamental problem of rape culture, which is why it happens mainly in situations in which the subordination of power leads to the temptation of possessing the other's desire: parents and children, employer and employee, men over women.

The despair and impotence that are habitually hidden behind rape do not stem from the fact that someone knows what he wants and advances on the other, but from the fact that we are usually talking about someone who has become disoriented as to what he wants and therefore he must violently seize the other's desire, he must impose his fantasy of the other's desire on the other himself.

This is why many pedophiles honestly claim that their violence is an act of love, a way of “teaching” or “favoring” something beautiful is good for its victims.

Yes, this sounds stupidly tragic, but it doesn't excuse anyone.

At the end of the film, when the lover-rapist is killed by Michele's son, in an accidental murder, insofar as he does not perceive the reality of the theater that is staged in the masochistic maneuver (alluding to a possible repetition of the 27 murders committed by his grandfather, of those who could not make the sign of the cross), his religious wife makes a fundamental declaration: “thank you for giving him, during this time, what he needed”. Here is the true perversion, the one who has no doubt about what the other needs, the one who takes possession of the other's desire without hesitation, the one who becomes blind, deaf and changes to the "no" that he receives from the other.

As long as our model of culture is restricted to the application of vulgar individualism to think of our fantasy as desire in a state of ownership, as long as our model of culture is based on the anthropophagy of identity traits assimilated by imitation and as long as our model of recognition is the contract of simple opposition between the free and the coercive will be far from transforming the foundations of rape culture.

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