Street Harassment

24 Jun

by Maggie Gallagher

Street harassment is nothing new. It’s been happening to me since I got hips and to other women long before that. I should speak out against it but in the past I’ve just seen it as an annoying part of being a woman. Sometimes if I’m up for a fight or I don’t mind being called names I’ll go as far to ask men to stop or tell them I don’t like that. After this weekend I have hit a wall of tolerating it and the only way I can try to deal is by speaking out.

In the past couple of years there has been a prominent new wave of feminism. It’s not a niche group. More and more people have started to understand what feminism actually is and are starting to see its importance.

I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland and I was harassed once the entire four months I lived there. The catcall was nothing out of the norm for what happens to me almost weekly in Chicago but it stood out. I had let my guard down and it startled me to be pulled back into that culture. It’s not as if men in Scotland are perfect gentlemen. From what I witnessed they would wait until a woman passed before saying anything vulgar, instead of aggressively projecting it onto her.

While visiting a friend in Italy I was warned I know how you get but it’s part of their culture or in other words don’t start a fight because they’re not going to get it. Why isn’t that a warning in the US: don’t worry they’ll yell at you but it’s just part of their culturemost of them won’t even touch youbut if you just let men yell it will help them keep the allusion of power.

On Saturday night I went downtown to a club with friends. On nights like this I prep myself but always call it a night after one too many hey, you trying to fuck. So I said bye to my friends and left. It was 2am and normally I would take a cab but there was an L stop close by, the club charged a $20 cover, and I only had four drinks throughout the night, so I figured I’d be fine to go home alone.

From Grand to Fullerton I was fine, no comments. My apartment is less than half a mile from the L, but it’s through the heart of Lincoln Park, one of the biggest drinking destinations for self-entitled bros in Chicago, second only to Wrigleyville.

Within the first two blocks I was catcalled twice. I was annoyed. My skirt was loose, it hit mid-thigh. I had on tights. I was wearing a jacket. I had make-up on but not too much. I was following their rules and I was pissed it wasn’t enough. So I wasn’t smiling. A man stopped me and in a mocking tone said Wow. Look at this little bitch walking alone at night. Literally mocking me for walking home. I was fuming. There were so many things I wanted to say and do but I kept walking. If I had reacted anything after that could be considered my fault.

I turned it over and over in my head why would someone do that. What’s the point? And I landed on fear. I think men are so afraid of losing power that an adult man felt threatened by a woman walking alone.

Can they see the new wave of people who refuse to let ridiculous 1 in 5 statistics be the norm? Did they finally realize that the old white men on capital hill are literally dying? Is it too much for them to think they might have to share power?

In the past I’ve given up on fights like this because people believe yelling louder is winning and it’s not worth trying to be heard over them. But I’ve hit my breaking point and I’m not going to stop fighting. Feminism is no longer a stereotypical, isolated group. It’s becoming louder and larger than those few screaming and clutching onto power. I’m going to fight for the next generation of women. I will be a part of the change. For me that starts with breaking down the idea that a catcall is compliment and a women walking alone is threat.

 

To Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere and all who dissect sexual assault statistics

29 May

by Kat Kelley

Glenn Beck, a conservative television and radio host, revealed his family history of rape and abuse today, on his network, The Blaze. This revelation, however, was not intended to demonstrate solidarity with or validate the experiences of survivors. Rather, it comes in response to criticism he has received after Stu Burguiere claimed that college sexual assault statistics are inflated and mocked scenarios representing sexual coercion and assault, on Wonderful World of Stu, a show on Beck’s own network.

Beck told the “Left-Wing Sites” who demonstrated outrage at the clip “Don’t you ever preach to me about what I can say and cannot say about rape,” and defends the segment by saying that the supposed inflation of sexual assault statistics “cheapens the horror of real rape.”

Yes, “real rape” – we can add that to the list with Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “forcible rape” or former Congressman Todd Akin’s (R- MO) “legitimate rape.”

Beck continued on to say that the inflation was intended to make “every college-age male into Genghis Khan.” And while I’m not sure whether we’re referring to Khan as violent or sexually prolific, regardless, I’m unimpressed by another person more concerned about the rare men who are falsely accused of perpetrating sexual assault, rather than the inordinate and wholly unacceptable number of survivors.

The skit is absolutely deplorable and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the reality of sexual assault. In light of the Isla Vista shooting and the proliferation of literature on the effect of misogyny, and the Pick Up Artist (PUA) and Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movements on the perpetrator, Elliot Rodgers, I can’t help but wonder how this video would be perceived by PUAs and MRAs alike. The invalidation of survivors’ experiences, the complete denial of evidence, the notion that the feminist movement is a threat to men- a video like this is exactly the type of ‘proof’ PUAs and MRAs use to justify their beliefs and behaviors.

My first issue with the video is the intended ‘debunking’ of sexual assault statistics; my second, is the mockery made of sexual coercion and assault ‘scenarios.’

A range of studies have been done on sexual assault, and while I haven’t scoured the methodology sections of the two surveys with which Burguiere takes umbrage, the data consistently shows that at least 15% of college-aged women experience completed or attempted sexual assault. The most comprehensive survey of 3,187 women on 32 college campuses indicated that the rate is 25%, with 84% being assaulted by someone known to the survivor, or what we call “acquaintance sexual assault.”

It is easy to get caught up in the numbers. As a Sexual Assault Peer Educator at Georgetown University, I was often asked how our statistics compare to the national average, assessing the severity of the issue on the basis of whether we were doing ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other schools. However, as Nora West, feminist activist and a fellow Peer Educator says:

“Those numbers are huge and they are scary, but quite frankly I don’t care about those numbers, and you shouldn’t either. What I see in those numbers is that assault happens on Georgetown’s campus. It happens here.”

One is too many, however, people love to dissect the numbers, it is a defense mechanism, it is a way deny the reality of our rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault in America and on our college campuses.

Burguiere takes issue with the wording of the questions on these surveys- he believes it is too inclusive. One question states “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had sex with you,” which Burguiere finds misleading because drunk sex happens all the time (!?!) and haven’t you ever seen a beer commercial that includes drinking and the “strong insinuation” of an impending hookup?!? Yes, Burguiere, drunk sex happens, and is not necessarily rape, that’s why the question explicitly asks the respondent if they were unable to consent.

Burguiere then challenges six phrases used in these surveys to ascertain if the respondent has been sexually assaulted, intending to ‘prove’ how inflated the stats are, intending to show how these scenarios are totally not sexual assault. He finds it absurd that “pressuring someone to have sex with you by telling them lies,” “making promises about the future you know are untrue to get sex,” “threatening to end your relationship to get sex,” “threatening to spread rumors to get sex,” “repeatedly asking for sex to get sex,” and “acting sad to get sex” are all considered to be forms of sexual assault.

First and foremost, Burguiere didn’t do his research. The study included these questions but did not count the affirmative responses as cases of rape but rather sexual coercion.

What Burguiere also doesn’t understand is that these scenarios don’t just involve a disappointed man and a traumatized woman [my use of “man” and “woman” are merely intended to reflect his use of a man and a woman as characters in these scenarios]. Burguiere does not recognize that these tactics involve coercion and often explicit threats. Survivors often recount being told “no one will believe you.” In other cases, when either the perpetrator or victim is in a committed, monogamous relationship, the perpetrator will threaten to tell everyone that they had sex, that it was consensual, and that the victim is a slut, whore, or home wrecker. Burguiere also clearly does not understand consent. Consent isn’t a lack of “no,” but rather an affirmative “yes.” “Maybe” isn’t consent. If you have to convince someone to have sex with you, it isn’t consensual. And consent is definitely not coercive.

The questions on these surveys may seem complicated, but that is because survivors may not classify their experiences as “sexual assault.” Burguiere finds this preposterous, claiming “the President is saying these women were raped, and these women are saying they weren’t.” However, if we actually used the definition of sexual assault – unwanted sexual touching – then nearly one hundred percent of women would be survivors.

There are a multitude of reasons survivors may not consider their experience(s) “sexual assault.” For some, it is a defense mechanism- it is easier to believe that everything is okay, that it was consensual. Calling it sexual assault means acknowledging the reality of our sexual assault epidemic, recognizing that it can happen to me. Many survivors go into what we call “survivor mode.” Survivor mode is a defense mechanism as well- doing and believing whatever you have to in order to survivor or cope with the incident. Survivors may ask the perpetrator to use a condom, they may not fight back, they may continue or start to date the perpetrator after the incident. It is not our place to judge how survivors cope.

Many female survivors don’t classify the incident(s) as sexual assault because they don’t feel entitled to the term. We are taught that sexual assault is committed by a deranged stranger who corners an innocent woman in a dark alley. We aren’t taught that sexual assault can be perpetrated by a classmate, a friend, or a partner. We aren’t taught that it can happen when we previously consented to making out with the perpetrator, or when we consented to returning to the perpetrator’s residence. We are taught that if we dress or behave a certain way, we are “asking for it,” and that by wearing that sequined mini skirt, we have no right to call it sexual assault. We are taught that our bodies are not our own, that men and the media are entitled to examine, comment on, even touch our bodies.

While I recognize the validity of Beck’s experiences, his experience does not entitle him to define the experiences of others. Having experienced sexual assault either first hand, as a witness, bystander, or ally does not give one the authority to tell survivors what is and isn’t “real rape.”

When Your Boyfriend Is In Your Class

3 May

by Katie

When your boyfriend is in your class, never seem too smart. Especially when he has a lower grade than you do. Don’t squash his confidence by being smarter than he is. When your teacher asks for a summary of the Volstead Act and you know it inside and out, don’t answer. It’s the smart thing to do.

Even after you break up, you have to continue the act. If you’re too smart, no one will want to be your boyfriend again. You know the history of the Iran-Contra Affair better than any other student does. When you say that the Contras were from Nicaragua, make sure to pronounce “Nicaragua” slowly and without confidence. When your teacher asks about who the Contras fought, pronounce “Sandinistas” incorrectly. When your teacher asks about how Iran was involved, make sure to answer incorrectly. Explaining all that minutia about Israel, the Iran-Iraq War, and the covert Swiss bank account is incredibly unattractive.

Your teacher is disappointed that you “didn’t know”. But you are happy that you answered incorrectly. A new boyfriend will come to you in no time.

 

 

Ally vs. Superhero: The Western Gaze in How We View News Coverage

2 May

by Queen Adesuyi

 As updates about the 200+ kidnapped Nigerian girls break out, hashtags such as “#SaveOurGirls” and “#SaveOurDaughters” flood my Facebook and Instagram timelines. There were common responses attached to each post with these hashtags and flyers that I saw:

“Why isn’t there more coverage?” “Why isn’t this headlining in the West?” “Why aren’t there any reports of this?” “Why haven’t we done anything?”

I even participated in these criticisms with my thought that if it were 200+ British girls who were kidnapped, the news’ outcry would be drastically different and those girls would have been found.

These criticisms and responses are well-intentioned and in many ways, necessary. Western media has been guilty of perpetrating stereotypes, ignoring important stories, and misconstruing the realities of many complex nations and cultures.

However, why is there an assumption that no one is reporting or taking action on this issue? Many of us are associating a story’s importance with how highlighted it is or is not in our [Western] media. Apparently, the gravity of the kidnappings cannot be legitimate until countries like the United States and the United Kingdom dominate in how it is covered in news. It’s as if Western media validates or legitimizes the narratives and actions of the “other” world. Victims of our own western gaze, many of us are also confusing news coverage with action. Obviously, what is more important here? Does what happens on the ground in Nigeria not count for something?

African media has been reporting this story from the very beginning. Nigerians, most importantly, Nigerian women have utilized their political agency as a response to the kidnappings. Nigerian women have mobilized and have started movements such as the “Million Women March.” Parents of the girls, local neighbors, and other Nigerian allies are raising money and rallying for the return of their daughters. Moves are being made. Yes, proper media coverage would be nice and ideal, but pleas for Western attention/help should not overshadow the fact that efforts made by Nigerians and other Africans are both legitimate and worthy with or without Western eyes.

Being an ally is always a positive. Who can object to sincere solidarity? However, the paternalistic nature of how we approach the “third world” is problematic in that it cultivates an elite, superhero mentality. This mentality deems efforts and actions taken by non-Western nations as inequipped and of no value. Just because the United States or the United Kingdom hasn’t headlined it (though they should) or it originally did not flood your timelines on social media, doesn’t mean that nothing or no one is working on the issue on the ground. Nigerians are taking stand. Nigerian women are taking stand.

We should all make sure to be aware of what happens in our global community, but we should also stop assuming that if our eyes are not watching then nothing is being done. We are not the end all, be all in feminism, the promotion of liberty, medicine, etc… though we like to think so.

The global community needs allies, not superheroes.

I Would Probably Have An Abortion

28 Apr

by Kat Kelley

If you are anti-choice, this article is not for you. I am not writing to add to the plethora of content on the importance of reproductive rights. Rather, I am writing to ask more from the pro-choice community, and specifically, the pro-choice community at Georgetown University.

I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.

There was a time in my life when I had the audacity to make such a baseless statement. But then someone in my life, someone I respect and admire told me that they had had an abortion, and my adolescent naivety was shattered.

I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.

How many times have you heard this? Have you as well had the audacity to say it?

1 in 3 American women will have an abortion. Between 1973 and 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred in the U.S.

I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.

I’m sure most of the women who say that really believe it, and I’m sure many of them really would not ever have an abortion, but I’m also quite certain that no one can relate to the experiences of 50 million women.

Guttmacher_Roe

I am in a supportive relationship, I have a supportive family, I attend a university supportive of mothers, and despite that context of support, if I were to become pregnant, I would still probably have an abortion.

Why is that so hard to say? Why does the abortion stigma remain within the pro-choice community?

Is it because we go to a Catholic school? Is it a desire to assimilate, or at least avoid alienation from the WASPy roots of our university? Is it a fear of acknowledging our womanhood, of owning our bodies? We take the fight out of our own feminism, acting as though the only feminism we need is “leaning in.”

Or is it an issue of validation? We fail to recognize our own needs as women and as members of a movement or activists in a field that has been historically undervalued in society. Our culture-bound norms of success and worth tell us that our human rights are merely “women’s issues” and we forget that our bodies and our autonomy are on the front lines.

Or is it the stigma? We are Hoyas, we juggle classes and internships and extracurricular, we do not make colossal “irresponsible” “mistakes” or “accidents.” We can say “I’d never have an abortion” because we can’t fathom that we’d ever have to make that choice.

I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.

Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe, if you became pregnant tomorrow, you definitely would not have an abortion. But the context in which you would make that choice, whether to have an abortion or to carry the pregnancy to term, is unique, entirely distinct from the context in which over 50 million women have had to make that choice.

Every pro-choice Hoya has at least one form of privilege- the privilege of going to university supportive of mothers, which would enable them to carry the pregnancy to term. And many Hoyas have other forms of privilege, including race or class-based identities or emotionally and mentally supportive families and friends.

I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.

Regardless of the tone and the way in which you preface the statement, there remains the implication that there is something innately wrong with the decision to have an abortion. We need to stop treating abortion like a last resort right, and acknowledge that for many women facing an unintended pregnancy, abortion is a first resort. In saying “I would never have an abortion” we are telling women that abortion is acceptable, but that they should definitely avoid it at all costs, they should definitely feel guilty about it, or that getting abortion should be a lesson to be more responsible next time.

In conversations around sexual assault, we often encourage people to assume there is a survivor in the room. 1 in 4 college-aged women experience sexual assault, and thus, in any group setting, we should be cognizant of the impact of our words on survivors. I think we should assume the same with abortion.

If you knew that someone in your group project, on your team, on your dorm floor had had an abortion, would you say “I would never have an abortion,” aware of the judgment you are passing upon their decision? Would you knowingly reinforce norms about which type of women have abortions or the morality of the choice to have an abortion?

I’m pro-choice and I would probably have an abortion.

 

Got 99 problems and one-percent feminism is all of them

24 Apr

This post originally appeared in the Georgetown Voice.

by Erin Riordan

On April 12, Georgetown University’s Women in Leadership hosted their inaugural Own It Summit. Tickets for the event sold out within 24 hours, hundreds of students and community members attended and a host of impressive speakers participated in panels and workshops. Despite these remarkable achievements, I would not call the Own It Summit a complete success. While this event certainly did empower female leaders, it also left out a significant number of voices in promoting a narrow view of what kind of woman we talk about when we discuss female leadership and success.

It needs to be acknowledged that this event had several barriers to entry that prevented the summit from being accessible to everyone. The $20 entry fee was an economic barrier for many lower-income students and women, and while there were scholarships offered, it is still likely that this fee was a deterrent for some. The entry fee also sent the message, whether intentional or otherwise, that this was an event for women with the means to pay an entrance fee.

The racial makeup of both the event organizers and panelists was also strongly biased towards the perspectives of white women. While women of color did participate, eight of the ten student organizers were white, and 17 out of the 24 panelists were white. It is possible that the event planners made a conscious effort to include a diverse array of voices, but when a space is so dominated by the perspectives of white women, it reinforces the larger structural dynamic that white voices matter more than voices of color.

These dynamics of race and class impacted the perception of the event, as well as those who felt comfortable attending and participating. I spoke with many friends who decided not to attend the summit because they felt their voices and perspectives would not be adequately represented. One friend, who did attend, left after the first hour, saying, “I didn’t feel that a lot of the topics I engage with when I talk about feminism, like class struggles that affect women, labor rights, and race in particular, were being addressed at all.” She went on to say, ”I sensed that the conference would be talking about your more typical ‘Lean In’ and one-percent feminism, which in my opinion is inherently oppressive and exclusive of the large percentage of women who really do need to be talked about when we talk about gender discrimination.” “One-percent feminism” is generally defined as feminism that focuses mainly on the needs of white, socioeconomically privileged women pursuing more traditional kinds of success.

Any event on campus that aims to further women’s leadership and empowerment needs to better represent the voices of all women. While I am a white woman, racism and racial politics in the workplace matter to me because dismantling racism and supporting my fellow women matters to me. An optional session during the summit on “Women of Color” is not sufficient because everyone should hear the voices of women of color, not just the few who choose to listen.

Similarly, focusing on traditional ideas of high-powered success is not sufficient, as it does not include or acknowledge the realities and struggles of working class and poor women. In the fight for gender justice we cannot just be concerned with the struggles of women who occupy space within mainstream, socioeconomically privileged feminism. Fighting for a national living wage and fair conditions in the workplace is as important to me as fighting for my own fair pay, and that should be reflected in all feminist spaces.

Transwomen also need to be engaged in these conversations, as they face unique struggles in the workplace that should be of concern to every person who claims to support the empowerment of women. Any event that supports women’s leadership needs to include the varied perspectives of women of color, poor and working class women, transwomen, and all the other women whose voices were not heard or adequately represented by the Own It Summit. Without these voices, our movement will only support women who are already privileged in many other areas of their lives. To achieve true justice and support all women, we need to engage and listen to voices that the GUWIL Own It Summit did not represent.

Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.