On a warm, sun-filled, fall afternoon in 1991, the phone rang. Martha Roth, my friend and editor colleague, was inviting me to work with her and Emilie Buchwald, founder and publisher of Milkweed Editions, on a project about rape culture.

What kind of culture? I swallowed hard when I heard the word rape. I had no idea what she meant. But I didn't ask for clarification or utter the gasp I heard inside my head.

"That sounds interesting. But I'm working on my own project, so I'll have to pass for now," I blurted out.

A few minutes later, after agreeing to consult with them on their project, I hung up to get back to work. Yet a voice inside of me said, "What a hypocrite! If you're truly a feminist then you must do what's right. Don't be afraid!"

I called Martha and merely said, "Hey. When is the meeting?"

During the following year, Martha, Emilie, and I encountered a heavy task. We became nearly inseparable, meeting and working daily on the book. We consoled ourselves with good food and heartfelt conversations as we mined the large and growing body of factual literature about sexual violence.

Our study led us to define rape culture as "a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm." Therefore, we vowed to take back both the night and the day with our book. We realized that we needed a vision of possibility to build a different world.

In 1993, Milkweed Editions launched the first edition of "Transforming a Rape Culture." The book contained four sections: Living in a Rape Culture, Strategies for Change, Activism, and Visions and Possibilities. We commissioned essays from both women and men: educators, legal scholars, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, activists, creative writers and more.


After the launch, we did group and individual interviews, traveled around the country to promote the book, and conducted speaking engagements and readings around the Twin Cities. It was a heady and humbling experience because I realized how I almost missed a great opportunity to transform my own thinking. During those pristine moments, when listening to and speaking with enthused, concerned and hurt people who attended the book events, I comprehended that "Transforming" was a balm for so many because of its hope-filled message: We refuse to live in a rape culture, and here are some ways we can work together to change it.

Now I understand we were ahead of the curve 25 years ago, when too many considered "rape culture" only a sociological term, or some individual situation that radical feminists had blown out of proportion. Yet today, the reality of a normalized sexually violent culture has produced our 45th president who has demeaned and objectified women in public.

Nevertheless, over the past 10 years, some progress has been made. College women have demonstrated that they refuse to live in a rape culture. Locally, protests led to the passing of 2016 Minnesota Statute 135A.15 Sexual Harassment and Violence Policy for post-secondary institutions, aiming to end sexual assault and improving the response to it.

Calling all feminists: Don't be afraid to do your part to transform a rape culture.

Pamela R. Fletcher is professor of English and director of writing at St. Catherine University, and executive editor of the Saint Paul Almanac.

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