Archive | March, 2013

The Virgin Feminist

31 Mar

Treatise Concerning the Decisions of Certain Persons to Abstain from Sexual Activity for Religious and Other Reasons Herein Explained and What this Means for Them as a Proponent of Feminist Theory and Practice

By Merry Molly Malone

I didn’t decide to not have sex because the Catholic Church told me I couldn’t or else I’d go to hell. The Church tells me plenty of things—Don’t be greedy! Don’t be proud!—that I’d go to hell for long before they got around to chastising me for having sex. Besides, it’s silly to not do things just because people tell you not to do them—those are usually the best kinds of things, and sex is no exception.

That being said, I made a decision a while ago to not have sex before marriage, or perhaps more accurately to make the bar for sex in a relationship high enough that it represents a serious life commitment.

And that’s like, kind of weird, right?

Moreover, I consider this a feminist decision on my part, and I will defend to the death everyone else’s right to have sex the same as I will defend my right not to.

I won’t deny that the Catholic Church had something to do with this, but it’s not the way you think.

It starts with the book of Genesis—stay with me here—and the fundamental revelation that creation is good. Creation is good! The physical world is good! Trees and wallabies and fish in the seas, kangaroos and zebras too, it’s all wonderful and beautiful and the best thing that God ever did.

What does this mean for us? First, it means that people who think that Catholicism is about denying earthly pleasures because the physical world is evil—well they’re wrong. And you know what is included in the physical world? You are. I am. My family. Friends. Sex.

Wait, did I just say that?

I did, and I meant it. But more on that elsewhere.* Let’s just talk about this idea that I am a good thing.

What this taught me is a great respect for my body. In all its intricacy and beauty from neuron to neuron and head to toe, my body is extraordinary. It is godly. It is good. (We can—and should—have conversations about body-positive messages, but let me just say that Genesis beat us to the punch by about 3 millennia. Why doesn’t it ever get credit for the cool stuff?) I was lucky enough to grow up in a Catholic environment that taught me that I am worth something, in fact I am worth the world, and my body is a very special part of that.

And call me a narcissist, but this means I don’t particularly feel like sharing my body with you if you’re not going to appreciate its awesomeness.

If I suspect that you’re just using me for your own pleasure—if I feel like I’m just some interchangeable body parts rather than the best thing that’s ever happened to you—if I think for a second that you would dare disrespect my bodily or emotional well-being for the sake of your pleasure—fuck off, asshole.

If, on the other hand, someone loves all of the goodness that is me, including my intellect, my humor, and all of my quirks, then I trust that they can love the goodness of my body and they don’t just think I’m a convenient solution to their physical desires. I’m not convenient, I am the Daughter of the Lord of the Universe. Show some respect.

You can see that it’s a high bar, and it’s going to stay there.

I understand that different people have different ways of showing this respect for their body. For many women, it is celebrating the fact that they are sexual beings after centuries of repression. This could mean having many casual partners or a few serious ones, or any combination in between. That’s great! It’s different than me, but no one said we had to be the same.

I will say that I don’t appreciate those that tell me I should be having sex, and if I’m not having sex then I’m repressed or (more commonly) weird. I don’t feel weird, I feel like I’m biding my time, waiting for someone to come along who is as obsessed with me as I am. I know most people don’t mean to pressure me or make me feel like “true” feminists have lots of sex. I know that spreading the message that sex is not taboo and that we, as women, are allowed to enjoy it is incredibly important. I endeavor to spread it myself, and it’s because of conversations like that that I am able to write a blog piece that mentions women and sex in the same sentence. I am forever grateful for those who have worked for this freedom. Still, I wanted freedom, not a mandate in the opposite direction!

I want women to feel like they can be feminists and not have sex. I think it’s one of the most feminist things in the world to assert that you control your body, and that you have the right to turn down every person who wants to have sex with you if you so choose.

In conclusion: I like sex a lot. I can’t wait until I can have sex all the time with someone who respects me and my body as the life-changing experience it is. However, I am constantly walking a tightrope between celebrating Creation, supporting my fellow feminists in their expression of their sexuality, and making sure that I love others in a way that affirms them as part of God’s beauty and not as sex objects for my pleasure. It’s hard and I’m not very good at it. However, I think the struggle is worth it—most struggles are.

For what it’s worth, I would love to hear responses on this—does this sound like repression to you? Do I sound brainwashed, like I’ve internalized the patriarchy? It’s entirely possible. Alternately, am I bastardizing the Catholic faith into something it was never meant to be? These views make me a black sheep in almost any community around here because they’re not traditionally “liberal” but they’re sure as heck not conservative Catholicism.

At the end of the day, let’s support each other no matter what our sexual choices are. Feminism is about choice, and this is mine. The Daughter of the Lord of the Universe has spoken.

______________________________________________________________

*A word on Catholic views on sexuality as I understand them: Much of what I said contradicts the popular imagination of Catholics as sex-starved idol worshipers. I promise I’m not a heretic and this is coming from somewhere. Catholic theology does celebrate the body as part of physical creation, and therefore as a good thing. Sex, too, is a beautiful gift from God. In fact, the Church thinks that sex is so good that’s it’s not something we should treat lightly. It’s actually part of an encounter with the divine, you know? So I would challenge anyone who says that the Church doesn’t like sex—to me, it sounds like the Church gives sex a lot more credit than contemporary society does. The Church does have some fears; for all that it wants to affirm the goodness of God’s creation, it also constantly reminds us that this earth is not the point of our existence. We are spiritual beings as well, and even while we should celebrate God’s creation, we also should know that it is ultimately another channel to Him, a place where we can find his presence and marvel at it. Those who focus too much on the physical—be it on food or sex or drugs or whatever else is considered an earthly pleasure—they’re missing the full experience of those things bringing them closer to God. Moreover, there is a real danger that focusing too much on sex leads to people viewing other humans as objects, and the Church rejects that wholeheartedly. Everyone is a person and deserves to be treated as such. We are better than sex toys. I have more inherent worth than a vibrator. I’m leaving out a lot of nuance here—Pope Francis, please don’t excommunicate me—but that’s the gist. Corrections welcomed.


The Vocabulary of Feminism

29 Mar

by Kayla Corcoran 

Like every fifth-grade vocabulary quiz, this blog post starts with a word bank:

educated           rights                     to equal            to teach

citizen               position                 gender             forbidden

to oppose          young woman      to struggle        traditional

to be aware       vote                        assembly         to demand

Now, for the test: Using only these words, please make your argument defending the Feminist movement’s right to exist.

Prompted by the vocabulary in our new chapter, my Arabic professor decided that our class would stage a debate about the necessity of advocating for women’s rights. She divided our class into two sections: those who would argue that Feminism remains relevant today and those who would argue that Feminism has overstayed its welcome in the face of all the progress that women have made. Partially because I spend half of Arabic class wondering what is actually going on and partially because I couldn’t seriously believe that the professor was asking us to debate Feminism, I laughed incredulously and asked, “Is this a joke?” She shushed me and told me to stop using English. I took her admonishment to mean “no.”

She divided the class arbitrarily into the pro-Feminist group and the anti-Feminist group. Even though I found myself on the pro-side, I felt uncomfortable about the debate. I am not unaware that the point of the debate was not to convince ourselves one way or the other about Feminism. The point of the assignment was to practice using our vocabulary and forming comprehensible sentences. Nevertheless, the situation felt strange. As it turns out, however, the uncomfortable nature of this debate turned out to be a blessing: it taught me a thing or two about how we address Feminism and the conversation that surrounds this complex network of issues.

What I learned comes in the form of another question: did you notice that the vocabulary list with which I provided you at the beginning of this post didn’t include the words “sexuality,” “birth control,” “health care,” “domestic violence,” “double standards,” “lesbian,” “choice,” etc.? In class, I couldn’t mention any of these things even though I feel that they are relevant because I didn’t know how to say them in Arabic. For the majority of the times when we speak about Feminism, we speak about it in our native languages without the same inability to express ourselves. But just because we know how to say the words does not mean that we always use them. We cannot talk about Feminism if we are not equipped with the right words and with all of the words, and we are not doing Feminism any justice if we cannot talk about it.

And we need those words. When I joked that the vocabulary list didn’t include “birth control,”  someone else in my group joked that birth control wasn’t relevant to our debate. On the contrary, it is incredibly relevant—both the word itself and the acknowledgment that Feminism today encompasses so many more points other than “rights” and “gender.” If we debate the relevance of Feminism in those terms, then Feminism is in danger of being irrelevant. If we’re only talking about women being able to vote or to hold jobs outside of the home, then we don’t need Feminism any more. Mission accomplished.

But we’re not only talking about women being able to vote and to work anymore (and even these issues are still more complicated and less “equal” than we’d like to think they are, especially if we move beyond the United States). In debating the relevance of Feminism with a limited vocabulary, we miss the nuanced version of what Feminism has become, and that version includes a lot more words besides “vote.” The women (and men) who fought for women’s political rights laid the groundwork for us to engage in a more complex dialogue about Feminism. This nuanced version of Feminism is the kind of Feminism that we need today—the kind that examines the intimate roles that Feminism and gender relations serve in the lives of modern women and men who are voting and who are working but who are struggling with other social inequalities.

Just as society, for centuries, did itself no favors by clinging to the idea that women were intellectually and physically inferior to men, we are not going to do ourselves any favors by clinging to ideas of what Feminism has meant in the past—whether it’s “suffrage” from the beginning of the twentieth century or “bra-burning” from the sixties. We are not going to have fruitful conversations and constructive debates about Feminism if we cannot articulate how it is that Feminism has changed from these past conceptions. There was a time for suffrage and there was a time for bra-burning, and today can still be a time for those things, but it is also a time for other things. We are wrestling with questions appropriate to our own historical moment, and we should also acknowledge that these questions vary across communities and individual experiences.

If we, as individuals, don’t know why Feminism is relevant to us, then it is no longer relevant. So, my friends, I leave you with an invitation ripped right from the pages of Candide: cultivate your garden of Feminist vocabulary and never stop cultivating it. Learn to ask yourself why Feminism is important to you and embrace the fact that your ideas may change over time. In short, be better than a fifth-grade vocabulary quiz.

It Keeps Coming Up Anyhow…

27 Mar

By Hoya Saxxa 

Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd

It keeps coming up anyhow

Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic

Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it

“Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-N-Pepa

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Sex is one of my favorite things to talk about. I can go on and on about it, and as any one of my close friends could attest to, I often do (especially when a bottle of wine is involved).

But for many people, talking about sex is hard to do. At least, it can be difficult to talk about sex openly and honestly. So often, we’re told not to talk about sex, because it’s inappropriate, impolite or TMI. And when talking about sex is shamed and stigmatized, it can lead us to harbor unhealthy and unrealistic attitudes about sex.

These kinds of attitudes are sometimes referred to as “sex negativity.” It isn’t hard to find. For me, sex negativity meant growing up in a Catholic household where talking about sex was a no-no and I never got the birds and the bees talk! I was lucky enough to receive comprehensive sexuality education in school since 6th grade, but I also went to Sunday school, where the only mention of sex was not to have it until marriage. But sex negativity isn’t always religiously motivated. It can also include shaming people for never having sex, waiting for marriage, or abstaining from sex, for whatever reason. Of course, it’s also shaming people for having sex (i.e. slut-shaming) or having certain kinds of sex (i.e. “taboo” sex, like group sex or BDSM). Sex negativity is what causes people to hide their sexuality – sometimes with devastating consequences. Every time we hear of an LGBTQ kid taking their life because they were bullied or pushed into the closet is one too many.

Sex negativity is a deep and pervasive problem in our society that manifests in different ways. While there’s no singular answer to these problems, I think talking openly about sex is a start to solving them. And you shouldn’t need a bottle of wine to do that.

So how do we start having better conversations about sex?

Open and honest communication about sex is a major component of the sex positivity movement, which the unstoppable Kat Kelley wrote about recently. I think sex positivity is an attitude that we should all adapt in our own lives in order to create a happier and healthier society. For me, learning about sex positivity changed my outlook on sex and definitely improved my sex life – and I believe it can change yours as well.

What does sex positivity mean? People often think that being sex positive means you love sex or think that sex is objectively “good.” But the definition of sex positivity is more complex than that. The best explanation I’ve come across is by a sex educator named Charlie Glickman. To him, sex positivity does not mean “sex is a positive thing.” Instead, sex positivity is about “working towards a more positive relationship with sex.”

Sex positivity puts forth a philosophy that challenges our harmful attitudes about sex. First, it advocates for the acceptance and respect of different sexualities. Second, it encourages open and honest communication of sex.

Sex positivity challenges the assumption that sex should look or feel a certain way. We are told so often what sex should look or feel like all the time – from our families, friends, peers, school, TV, movies, magazines, porn…the list goes on. When we don’t fit these standards, we feel like we’re not normal, we’re doing it wrong, or we feel like we should be ashamed for our desires. When others don’t fit these standards, it becomes too easy to shame them as well. But none of us wants to be judged or feel ashamed about expressing ourselves. Sex positivity challenges these standards of sex by advocating acceptance of different gender identities, sexual orientations, and desires, as long as they’re safe and consensual. Whether you’re straight or queer, monogamous or promiscuous, celibate, sexually active, asexual, disabled or able-bodied, elderly or young, vanilla or kinky – again, the list goes on – sex positivity means accepting and respecting these expressions of sexuality equally. By doing so, we reduce our insecurities around being “normal” when it comes to sex.

Furthermore, there really is no such thing as “normal”. Sex positivity can open up a world of possibilities when it comes to sexual expression. In one of my favorite sex-ed videos ever, sex educator Karen B.K. Chan describes having sex as a lifetime of musical “jam sessions,” where each person brings their own “instruments,” skills, and experiences to sex. Each sexual experience is different and open-ended. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes we just need practice – what’s important is that it’s consensual and collaborative, more about pleasure during the process and less about the outcome.

Speaking of consent and collaboration, sex positivity also advocates for open and honest communication around sex. Feeling shame when talking about sex is a learned behavior, which means we can find new ways to talk about sex. We should be able to speak about sex with our peers, friends, and parents. This doesn’t mean you have to share every single experience or talk about sex at every opportunity – but if you feel there is an occasion to talk about sex, you should be able to do so openly and authentically.

Of course, we should always be able to communicate with our partners by expressing our desires, expressing consent and discussing our personal boundaries. Glickman analogizes open communication to ordering food at a restaurant. You wouldn’t ask for everything on the menu or simply let the waiter decide. You’d say, “This is what I want for dinner tonight.” (Or breakfast!)

 

I believe embracing sex positivity is something anyone can do, regardless of sexual preferences, whether or not you’re having sex, your religion or your upbringing. It’s ultimately about respecting choices and accepting others’ decisions and desires – as well as your own.

The conversation doesn’t stop here. I encourage you to do your own research on sex positivity (The CSPH is a great resource!), ask questions and figure out how to apply this attitude to your own life. If we do this, I believe we’ll all have healthier and happier sex lives – and start building a healthier and happier society.

So let’s talk about sex…

(Note: I don’t use in my real name in this piece not because I’m ashamed to be attached to it, but because I’m employed by the University and my boss respectfully asked me not to, given the nature of our work. But if you have any questions or want to chat, contact Feminists-At-Large!)

It Happens Here

26 Mar

by Kat Kelley and Nora West

It happens here. One in four women will experience sexual assault before graduating college. One in thirty-three adult males experience sexual assault. And unfortunately, our stats at Georgetown match the national average.

It happens here. It happens to Hoyas. Hoyas are perpetrators, bystanders, allies, and survivors of sexual assault.

Look around you- as you stand in the pasta line at Leo’s, in your Econ recitation, browsing Facebook in Lau 2, or on the treadmill at Yates. It happens here. Can you really afford to ignore it any longer? Are you prepared to support your friend-teammate-lab partner-neighbor if they turn to you for help?

Of college women who experience sexual assault, 42% tell no one about the assault, and only 5% report to the police.

So what’s going on here?

As a society, we consistently fail to adequately support survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable. There is a deep cultural silence surrounding sexual assault, which impacts our ability to respond.

When our society only talks about sexual assault in the context of “prevention,” which includes carrying mace, not walking alone at night, and taking self-defense classes, we immediately ask survivors “what were you wearing?” “how much did you drink?” “why were you out so late?” and survivors ask themselves “what could I have done differently?”

When our only image of perpetrators is sketchy psychopaths in dark alleys, we deny and invalidate the stories of the countless survivors (66-90% depending on the study source) who were assaulted by a friend of a friend, a classmate, or their partner.

When we ignore that sexual assault happens on our own campus, and happens to members of our community, we fail to address the needs of and create a supportive culture for survivors, we fail to hold perpetrators within our own community accountable for their actions, and we fail to challenge our own rape culture and our own tolerance of sexual coercion, harassment, and assault.

When we talk about sexual assault, there are a lot of huge, scary numbers, but quite frank we don’t care about those numbers, and you shouldn’t either. We have to stop looking at numbers and start looking at people. This is your classmate, colleague, and friend. Numbers are remote and stagnant. This is not motionless, this is someone you know walking around this campus living and experiencing Georgetown among and with us. In light of that, Georgetown University Take Back the Night will be holding an event “It Happens Here” during Take Back the Night Week (April 8th-12th) in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April). We will be collecting and reading anonymous submissions from members of our campus community regarding sexual assault. The stories that It Happens Here presents are the stories of these people.

Survivor’s deserve a safe space to share their stories, and as a community, we must challenge ourselves. We must abandon complacency and ignorance, and listen to the stories of our peers.

And once we see that it is the people we know and it is not numbers, but our fellow Hoyas, then we need to decide that numbers don’t matter because one is too many. We need to decide that we are better than this rut of self-destruction in which we are stuck. We are one Georgetown and we can stand and we can act and we can demand more and we can be better, but that has to start now and it cannot stop. Let us be accountable to one another and make a meaningful needed change on this campus.

Please submit stories HERE

Stories can be those of survivors, bystanders, or allies. They can be three sentences or a novel. They can focus on the incident, the coping experience, or reactions and responses from others. The important thing is that these are the stories of our community. For more information or to submit an entirely anonymous story, please follow this link. 

One is Too Many

22 Mar

by Nora West

One is too many. When we talk about sexual assault there are a lot of numbers, 1 in 4 women, 1 in 33 men. 90% of assault on college campuses is acquaintance rape. 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 campus. It happens here.

We have to stop looking at numbers and start looking at people. This is your classmate, colleague, and friend. Numbers are remote and stagnant. This is not motionless, this is someone you know walking around this campus living and experiencing Georgetown among and with us.

And once we see that it is the people we know and it is not numbers, but our fellow Hoyas, then we need to decide that numbers don’t matter because one is too many. We need to decide to make a change. We need to decide that sexual assault information belongs in NSO. We need to decide that our current code of conduct is not enough. But most of all, we need to decide that we are better than this rut of self-destruction in which we are stuck. We are one Georgetown and we can stand and we can act and we can demand more and we can be better, but that has to start now and it cannot stop. Let us be accountable to one another and make a meaningful needed change on this campus.

If you found this post triggering, know that there are resources and support available. 

I am a Feminist, And I’m Sad For the Steubenville Boys. You Should Be Too.

21 Mar

by Joe Donovan 

The last couple days have seen a great deal of (completely justified) outrage at CNN’s absurdly inappropriate response to the convictions of the two teens on trial for rape in the Steubenville case. I’m glad that the segment in question has been met with derision from all corners of the feminist world. To divorce the consequences of their actions from the context of the actions themselves – the rape of a human being – is absurd and infuriating and a reflection of the worst and most dangerous side of patriarchal ideology.

But being a feminist and being outraged at rape culture, victim-blaming, and the normalization and justification of violence against women should not bar us from feeling sorrow for the boys who were found guilty. The primary tragedy is, always and of course, the harm suffered by the survivor of the rape. But that is not the only tragedy, and incarcerating the boys is not a victory.

We should never celebrate when we find someone guilty of violence. Every time an act of direct violence is committed, it is a failure. Not just a failure of the individual who committed the act, but a dramatic failure on the part of our society to form individuals with the resources and the skills and the empathy to live and act in non-violent ways. No one is born wanting to murder, molest, rape, harm. Violence is taught, and violence is spread. Every time we decide that the only way to keep our community safe is to remove a member from it and lock him (or her, but usually him) away, we should feel shame, we should feel sorrow, and we should question what we’re doing wrong as a society to make violence seem normal or acceptable or rational. Individual accountability absolutely and always matters. But social and communal accountability absolutely and always matter too.

So even if we cannot all bring ourselves to mourn for the future of boys who have committed rape, we should all mourn for the present, for the  culture and the conditions that make such violence possible.  The boys alone are responsible for their actions and the harm they caused, but we are all collectively responsible for that culture and those conditions. We are all collectively responsible for training so many men to view women as objects, as inferior, as responsible for their own victimization. Rape is an insult to everyone’s humanity. It is an insult for which each of us is and will remain responsible until we have succeeded in overturning the structures that enable it.

This recognition of collective responsibility for our collective humanity leads to a final and perhaps more radical point: as feminists, we should not only mourn for the boys as symbols of a violent culture, but we should feel empathy towards them as complex human beings who have strengths and flaws and beauty and most importantly are not evil.

I don’t blame you if you feel anger after reading that statement. What beauty? How can you empathize with a rapist? It’s worth clarifying that empathy doesn’t mean or imply acceptance of actions or forgiveness.  Still, I will not argue that building empathy for those who have done terrible things is easy. I will, however, argue that it is at least necessary to try.

Truly and meaningfully dismantling rape culture and patriarchal ideology requires not only lifting up the voices of survivors and ensuring accountability, but also recognizing the humanity of the offenders. Because if we don’t, if every man who has ever raped is only a Rapist and nothing else, an evil person whose evil nature led to evil actions whose punishment is to be celebrated, then we are losing sight of what we should be fighting: not bad people but a violent culture.

The reality is that patriarchy does not simply give bad men the power to express their badness. Instead, it steeps all of us in horrible ideas about power and that we come to internalize and express. Again, no one is born a rapist. Rape culture makes rape possible. It takes men who would never rape if raised in a culture and environment of respect and equality and peace and instead teaches them incredibly harmful lessons in misogyny, superiority, privilege, impunity, and violence. That is how men like the boys in Steubenville can do such unthinkably terrible things and not even understand that it’s wrong. Not because of some innate and irrevocable badness, but because that’s the message they received and internalized and expressed throughout their lives.

It is easy to create an Enemy. It is harder – and, I think, more brave and ultimately more truly feminist – to see the humanity in those who have caused harm. When we do, we are recognizing and embracing the potential for change. We are recognizing that things don’t have to be this way, that if we build peace and respect for women and replace patriarchal structures with equality then it will matter.

Feminism only has a purpose if those who rape are more than just rapists. If not, then we’re accepting that men are just “that way,” that there’s nothing we can do about it, that rape is inevitable. If we’re willing to take the step towards empathy and towards recognizing humanity, we are moving towards hope. We are expecting more from ourselves and, crucially, we are expecting more from offenders. Rape is even more unacceptable when we recognize that it is never inevitable and that all men have the potential and the responsibility to do and be better.

There are many things to mourn in the wake of a tragedy like Steubenville. Let the offenders be one of them.

What Are We Going To Do About Steubenville?

20 Mar

by Erin Riordan 

*Trigger Warning*

I am done with rape. I am done with men raping an unconscious girl at a high school party. I am done with videos and pictures of that rape being distributed on the Internet. I am done with men in Tahrir Square raping women, attempting to intimidate them from participating in the political process. I am done with gang rape. I am done with colleges and universities that refuse to take the experiences of their students seriously. I am done being angry and pissed off and hurt and hopeless and heartbroken and frustrated and scared. I am done with rape and rape culture and slut shaming and victim blaming. We need to be better than this. We are better than this.

We need to address why our society has a culture of violence against women, and what we can do to change it. We need to talk about why men rape, and address the root causes of violence that permeate our society. We need to stop holding women accountable for their experiences of sexual assault. We need to stop punishing women for their behavior, their drinking, and their dress, and instead acknowledge our responsibility to take real action against sexual assault and recognize the responsibility of those who perpetrate it.

(Note: I essentially exclusively address men as perpetrators of sexual violence in this piece. This does not mean that all men commit sexual violence, or that only men commit sexual violence. There are many men in the world who do not participate in violence against women, and many wonderful men who work to combat violence against women. That said, 99% of sexual assaults are committed by men, and our culture is one that inculcates violence in men in a variety of different ways, and thus I feel it is worth addressing.)

Teaching Consent

We need a universal definition of consent, and it needs to be taught in Sex Ed classes in schools, and reinforced throughout a person’s life. Kat and myself have both written about consent before more extensively, but ultimately what I think we should be teaching is a culture of active, participatory consent. When engaging in any sort of sexual activity, you must ask for consent. Consent should not be presumed, and the absence of a no is not a yes. Consent should not be coerced, and it cannot be given by when someone is underage, when someone is drunk or otherwise incapacitated, or when someone is unconscious.

If everyone were taught this definition of consent then there would be a basis of respect in more sexual encounters, and an understanding of active participation from all involved. A better understanding of consent would help to prevent sexual assault. It is also easier for friends or bystanders to intervene earlier on in an assault or altercation when everyone has the same understanding of consent. Beyond that, with a universal definition of consent it easier to hold those who commit sexual assault accountable. A universal definition of consent may also better empower survivors to speak up about their experiences, and if they choose, to prosecute their rapists.

Establishing Accountability

We need to establish accountability. Far too many men believe they can get away with sexual assault, and will face no consequences. The texts sent by Trent Mays indicate that he believed his coach had “taken care of it,” and did not expect to face any real consequences as a result of raping a 16-year-old girl. When a girl was raped by a Notre Dame football player and reported the assault, she received a text from the rapist’s teammate saying, “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” Only 46% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police, and only 3% of rapists spend any time in jail at all. We need to stop letting athletes, fraternity brothers, and university students from committing rape and going unpunished. We need to stop giving free passes to men who are famous and successful, men like Chris Brown, Michael Fassbender, Christian Bale, Josh Brolin, and Dominique Strauss Kahn. We need to create a culture of accountability, where men realize that committing sexual assault is wrong, and that doing so will have real and lasting consequences, both for the men themselves and the survivors.

Women as People

We need a culture where women are consistently treated and recognized as people. We can’t live in a world that consistently objectifies women, showing exploitative images of women on TV, in ads, and in magazines. When we are overwhelmed with images that present women as objects rather than as people, with many ads literally just presenting various parts of a woman’s body or her headless figure, it is easier to view women as objects rather than as people. And it is far easier to commit violence against someone seen as an object rather than commit violence against someone recognized as a person (Jean Kilbourne explores this idea further in her excellent documentary Killing Us Softly 4). A culture where in 80-99% of women experience street harassment in their lifetime is one in which violence against women is normalized, and in which women are viewed as objects and not as people.

Rehabilitative Justice

We need a system of rehabilitative justice that will better address the culture of violence and what it does to individuals. We do not need a system that simply punishes and dehumanizes the men and women in prison. A system that offers educational opportunities, counseling, therapy, and other rehabilitative services will better address underlying causes of violence, and will be more likely to be effective in reducing the likelihood of violence caused by individuals in the prison system.

Support for Survivors

We need to offer better and more accessible support for survivors. We need to listen. We need to believe survivors and let them talk. We need to let survivors make their own choices of what actions they will or will not take- whether that is pressing charges or not, and if, when, and who they go to for help and support. We need safe spaces on campus for survivors to share their story if they choose to, and to find the resources and support they need. We need campus to be a safe place for survivors to live and live safely- physically, mentally, and emotionally. We need clear policies and laws regarding sexual assault, and clear, just processes to prosecute those who commit sexual assault. We need to challenge every instance of victim blaming, and not allow attitudes that hold the survivor responsible for their assault to exist in our communities. We need to be allies and advocates for those who are survivors of sexual assault.

These changes will take time and will not come without great effort, and they are by no means exhaustive, but they are key steps in a start to end violence against women.

If you found this post triggering, know that there are resources and support available.