Red Lipstick and Rape Culture

Trigger Warning: Content related to sexual violence, rape culture and misogyny

Why are you wearing red lipstick, Steph?

Let me tell you about it.


During the month of April, I participate in the Red My Lips campaign, a worldwide awareness campaign, which seeks to draw attention to sexual violence, demonstrate solidarity and support for survivors and start important conversations. I participate by wearing red lipstick, posting images of myself on social media and telling everyone who asks why and about my hopes for a future with no sexual violence, where survivors are heard and can heal, and where rapists are held accountable. And to send the message that it’s never okay to blame a victim, no matter what she is wearing.

Over the past month, I have had many opportunities to educate and raise awareness about this issue that is so important to me as a survivor and an advocate. I have participated in several events and conversations about sexual violence, posted pictures online and contributed to #RedMyLips. Then, last week I received an unexpected message in my inbox in response to an article about #RedMyLips and victim blaming.

Names and images have been blocked to protect privacy

I was floored. I had no idea what to say. This wasn’t from a random dude on Facebook or OKC. It was from a former coworker with whom I had worked at a feminist organization and a friend. He told me I was sexy? In response to a post about sexual assault awareness? My mind rapidly conceived 100 responses:




Come on?!

You do realize that you said this in response to my post about sexual assault awareness month?!?


Is this a joke?

Shut the fuck up!

Are you serious? You can’t be serious. Please don’t be serious…

As one of my GP colleagues put it, “OMFG. If you sat down with a committee and a white board and brainstormed for an hour about how to come up with a MORE inappropriate response, I don’t think you could.”

And then, the urge to forgive his blunder, excuse it and even to be grateful. Because, society has taught me that compliments are to be appreciated. That I should be pleased when a man thinks I am attractive. Even a former coworker. That it should make me feel good. That I should say, “thank you.”


I did none of these things. But, it did motivate me to write this post, so thanks, I guess. /sarcasm

Things like this happen every day in our culture. These microaggressions marginalize women and girls and make us feel uncomfortable and small. And worse, we unconsciously participate in them because we are conditioned to accept them as a norm. They seem small, but the cumulative impact is huge.

  • enhanced-mid-13717-1430242199-22every time someone calls a female doctor – “nurse” or assumes that the female engineer must be the secretary,
  • or the auto repair guy asks to speak with a woman’s husband or father,
  • or a teacher has the boys make pirate hats and the girls make princess ones and won’t allow a girl to make a pirate one, because they are “for boys,”
  • or the furnace inspector tries to give a woman his phone number when alone in her home with her
  • or someone compliments a little girl by telling her she’s pretty, while telling her brother that he’s smart or athletic,
  • or an assertive female manager is labeled as a bitch, while her male counterpart is described as a leader,
  • or a woman gets catcalled as she walks down the street,
  • or a school dress code only applies to girls and implies that they should be responsible for the actions of boys.
  • or a man tells his female coworker that she should use her feminine wiles to influence someone,
  • or companies create and market pink toys reinforcing traditional gender roles to girls,
  • or someone addresses an invitation to two doctors who are married to each other to Dr. and Mrs.,
  • or a man in a meeting interrupts a woman and takes over,
  • or someone uses the phrase “like a girl” to refer to something less than perfect,
  • or someone calls a group of adult women professionals girls,
  • or someone congratulates a dad for watching his kids for four hours, while ignoring the fact that their mother cares for them for the remaining 164 hours of the week,
  • or Budweiser decides to print the phrase: “The perfect beer for removing “No” from your vocabulary for the night” on their beer label,
  • or a bar prints t-shirts that read: “We are not responsible for lost or stolen virginity,”
  • or someone suggests a woman keep her legs closed if she wants to avoid pregnancy,
  • or someone questions a rape victim about the clothes or lipstick they were wearing when they were raped.


All of these examples and the countless other examples of misogyny in daily life contribute to rape culture. Contribute to a world where women and girls are less than, and where victims are blamed. That is wrong.

I don’t wear red lipstick to be sexy. I wear red lipstick to raise awareness.

To draw attention to the fact that every 107 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States,

One out of five college women experience sexual violence,

More than 2/3 of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, and

98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail

I wear red lipstick to give a voice to survivors. My colleagues at Grounded Parents have joined me. We don’t want you to think we are sexy, we want you to think about sexual violence and rape culture, to question the way our society treats women and girls, to rage about it, and to be motivated to fight with us. #RedMyLips


Featured Image: Steph

Other images: Budweiser, Grounded Parents Team


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. Or someone addresses a letter to a married couple as Mr. and Mrs Hisname Lastname.
    Or someone in one of those schools with the female only dress code makes a public example of any of the girls thought to possibly violate the dress code.
    Or someone starts a social movement which pretends to be about ethics and is really just about slut shaming his ex-girlfriend.
    Or when a bunch of people join a social movement because there’s no way these women are real gamers or designers and they’re ruining everything for everyone (that looks and thinks just like them).

      1. Or some guy named Hanoumatoi asks a coworker why she wore uncomfortable shoes, forgetting his ludicrous privilege in being allowed to wear comfortable flats every day. I did that today, then realized how dumb I was being, after she complained about them. Of course she wore uncomfortable shoes, and I shouldn’t question that, because that’s what’s expected of her. I should empathize, not criticize.

        1. I know a woman who’s biracial, but she takes after her mother in terms of appearance, but still has her father’s name, but everyone thinks it’s her husband’s name because of that.

    1. Ugh, my partner’s family members keep addressing mail to us with his last name for both of us. They also for a long time assumed that we would eventually marry (and apparently that I would change my last name if we did).

    2. Bluh, my mom recently sent me and my husband a letter addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Husband’s Full Name. I’m still not sure how to go about the inevitable “Mom, even though you call me my sister’s name all the time, I’m relatively certain that you do in fact know what my name is, please write it on the damn envelope next time, as husband and I did not actually fuse into a weird conglomerate spouse-creature when we got married, and I’m pretty sure you know that too, since you were there” conversation.

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