Asking For It is a documentary short about the Violence Against Women Act produced by Georgetown University students Elizabeth Buffone, Sarah Moore and Nicholas Strzeletz.
Re-posted from PolicyMic
by Kat Kelley
Rape jokes are not innocuous. They perpetuate rape culture and promote rape myths which consequently invalidate the experiences of survivors and justify the actions of perpetrators of sexual violence.
According to Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, rape culture (or rather, our culture) is a culture in which we are “surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are.’”
Memes or jokes glorifying sexual violence desensitize us, and significantly impact survivors and perpetrators of sexual violence.
I’ve heard statistics on statistics on statistics about survivors, perpetrators, and the acts themselves, but what I find to be most heartbreaking is that only 5% of college women who are raped report it to the police, and 42% tell no one about the experience. Clearly, the legal system isn’t the only problem.
In the past, I served as a sexual assault crisis counselor on a 24-hour hotline. I’d listen to survivors’ and loved ones’ stories, I’d explain their reporting options and the pros and cons of reporting, and I’d help them navigate our center’s services. I learned quickly, however, that survivors didn’t just need to find a counselor or to be tested for STIs. Rather, survivors needed to be told “I believe you,” and to know that whatever they are feeling, however they are (or aren’t) coping, is valid. They needed to take to heart that what had happened was not their fault, as one of the most common symptoms of rape trauma syndrome is guilt.
GUILT. As a society we teach “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape.”Consequently, survivors ask themselves “What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this? Was I not clear enough? I shouldn’t have drank that, worn this, talked to them.”
Rape jokes tell survivors of sexual violence that you are not an ally, that they cannot reach out to you for support, that you will either invalidate their story, or worse blame, chastise, interrogate, or disbelieve them. Rape jokes tell survivors that they need to “get over it,” that their emotions and trauma are not legitimate, because rape is funny. It isn’t a big deal. It isn’t that different from failing a test. Rape jokes often reinforce rape myths, that men just can’t control themselves, or that women are “asking for it” by speaking out, dressing a certain way, or not obeying.
Rape jokes are a major barrier to survivors reporting and consequently a barrier to holding perpetrators accountable. While one in six women experience rape or attempted rape, that certainly doesn’t mean that one in six men are rapists. Rather, most perpetrators are repeat rapists, perpetrating an average of six rapes. That means that our failure to create an environment in which survivors feel safe and supported through the reporting process allows for further victimization.
Rape jokes also teach perpetrators that their actions are normal and acceptable. Rapists don’t consider themselves rapists. They don’t associate their actions with the world ‘rape,’ even if they’ll admit to acts that constitute as rape. (For example, answering “yes” to questions such as “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force […] if they didn’t cooperate?”) Through their ability to dissociate their actions from the word “rape,” rapists assume that their actions are normal, that all men are rapists.
And rape jokes reinforce this. Rape jokes tell rapists that their actions aren’t anything different from normal, healthy sexuality. Rape jokes condone rapists’ actions. To rapists, they are a confirmation that other men- those telling the jokes, and those laughing at them- are rapists as well.
Rape jokes are not just insensitive. They are microaggresions, contributing to our rape culture, and sending the message that sexual violence is acceptable, inevitable, the status quo.
We don’t have to tolerate it. It is our responsibility to end rape culture.
There’s a major deficit of career advice for college women. There are plenty of quality resources like the Daily Muse and 40:20 Vision for recent grads and young professional women. But the most popularized piece of advice to college women, even at a place like Princeton, is to find a good husband before graduating. So as I move onto the next chapter of my life, I want to share some advice with the incredibly talented young women of Georgetown:
1) Establish a “central theme” and support it with diverse experiences
When someone asks you “tell me about yourself” (an introductory question in many interviews) you should be able to give a succinct answer. Your activities should be tied together by a central theme rooted in a sincere passion. For examples of people who have effectively explored their “central passions,” check out the profiles of Rhodes and Marshall scholars (and note the gender disparity especially for the Marshall).
A mistake that I see a lot of young college women making is having their personal brand be too broad. “Economic development in Africa” is too broad. “China” is too broad. Another problem that I see is that people will claim to be passionate/ knowledgeable about a topic that they have no formal experience in. You cannot claim to be an education policy expert if you have never worked in a school or on education policy. Tutoring with DC Reads or DC Schools is not enough. You need a variety of meaningful and diverse experiences for this theme to be convincing.
For the majority of my undergraduate experience, my “central theme” was financial access and literacy, which borders on being too broad. I worked at a large international microfinance NGO in DC, interned at a locally-run microfinance institution in Tanzania, coordinated the youth delegation to the Global Microcredit Summit, and managed a student-run microfinance institution for low-income DC small business owners. By the time I entered consulting interviews, I could convincingly say that I was passionate about financial inclusion, which made me a memorable and competitive candidate. Other examples of young women who have done this well include Joanna Foote (SFS ’13) with immigration and Emily Oehlsen (SFS ’13) with labor economics.
2) Tell everyone you know what you care about
After you think long and hard about what your central theme will be, tell EVERYONE you know. Drop it to your professors during office hours. Mention it to your friends when dining at Leo’s. Post articles about the topic on Facebook. Be honest about what you’re looking for and, all of a sudden, you’ve turned your social network into personal opportunity hunters. And do the same for others – it’s all about reciprocity. I’ve forwarded opportunities to friends who are interested in subjects like security studies in Central Asia, healthcare policy for low-income families in the U.S., and women’s health in the developing world. These are memorable “central themes,” so when something shows up in my inbox through listservs or other friends, it’s so easy to just forward the opportunity to the relevant person with the hope (but not expectation) that they will do the same for me. (P.S. – I am now looking for part-time/volunteer opportunities to address the digital divide in the United States).
3) Don’t look for opportunities. Create them.
Okay – now you have your central passion and everyone knows about it. The next step is to be honest about where your gaps or weaknesses lie and think of innovative ways to address them. This is especially important when you have just created or shifted your central passion.
What a lot of young college women do it scan the available opportunities and settle if they can’t find something that they want. A perfect example is studying abroad. Many will just accept whatever program Georgetown offers rather than critically thinking what they want out of the experience and then crafting an experience that will fulfill that need. Yes, this is more work, but it’s worth it if an independent study or even dropping out for the semester better suits your professional and personal needs.
When looking for internships, try to optimize for the individual or organization that you want to work with rather than scanning for publically listed opportunities on sites like Idealist. Once you identify the sector leader that you want to mentor you, send a cold email or ideally have someone introduce you. Briefly state your experience (attach a resume if relevant), why you want to work for that person, and what you bring to the table. The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond after one or two follow up emails. For those interested in international development opportunities, I recommend that students reach out to Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, Ashoka Fellows, government ministries, and investments of impact investors like Acumen Fund and Grey Ghost Ventures.
4) Demonstrate transformational leadership
When McKinsey is asked what they look for in applicants, the answer is “transformational leadership.” What does this really mean? It means that you can point out ways that the organization is better when you leave than it was when you joined. It is not just about reaching the highest levels of leadership; it’s about how you specifically affected the established role. There are a few easy ways to get transformational leadership experience at a young age: 1) entrepreneurial activity (you can start something yourself or join a young startup) and 2) involvement in low-skill, under-served regions. If you are in an established role or organization, ASK for the opportunity to lead a project. If the project already exists, pitch why you are the best person for the job. If the project is your idea, pitch how it fits into the broader strategy of the organization. The objective is for you to credit yourself with a specific deliverable that will continue to better the entire organization after you leave.
It is clear that college women need to be better at defining and proactively pursuing what we want. Do not settle and do not sit down. Act deliberately and actively seek challenges that feed into your broader narrative. If you have any questions, would like any help, or care to discuss these ideas further, please feel free to reach out to me directly (Net ID: ao298).
I am packing up my entire life to head East. The mess of years’ worth of living is strewn around me, taunting me to pack it all into small, under-50-pound suitcases. I’m folding my clothes and saying goodbye to friends. But I’m not a freshman heading to Georgetown for the first time.
I’m a junior, heading back to DC after six months’ medical leave of absence at home in Arizona. At least, I used to be a junior.
Facts lie, and I don’t ever trust them – I’m a history major, which means that I don’t believe anything written until I know who wrote it and who was paying them to write it. But I suppose we should get them out of the way now. After years of genetically-inherited depression, expanded like a sick mushroom cloud by drinking, cutting, smoking, and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, I finally tried to end my own life, last November during Hurricane Sandy. The story would have ended there if only I’d taken a few more pills.
But that’s not how it went. My story continues. And now I have to figure out what to do.
There were several months when going back to Georgetown was the farthest thing from my mind. I went back to Arizona and did more of the same – drink, cut, smoke, curl up under bedcovers and cry, scream at God and my parents and my friends with no understanding of what I’d done wrong to still be stuck here. Eventually, with the help of a secretary job and a one-year-old baby that I got to play with for eight hours a week, I dragged myself out of my pity hole and am trying my best to get myself back to Georgetown and finish my degree without letting the suicide attempt bog me down.
It’s not that people have been ridiculing me. Everyone I’ve talked to has been incredibly supportive and loving, and seem willing to forget about the whole thing.
But that’s the problem. Forgetting that I tried to kill myself won’t help anyone. It certainly won’t help me – perhaps the next time I’m depressed I’ll try to do it again without remembering the bullshit, the pure bullshit, that I had to slog through afterwards.
I’m a history major, and it happens to be the cardinal rule: Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Trust me, I tried to forget it. I wouldn’t say the words ‘suicide attempt’ for months afterward. I called it the ‘incident’, or just ‘last November’. My friends and family, following my lead, never acknowledged it for what it was. But now that viper has come back to bite me in the ass. Because now that I’m trying to own what happened to me, everyone is still thinking that it’s best not to talk about it, to sweep it under the rug like my traditional Irish Catholic family has done about everything. I don’t want to be known as ‘the girl with the mental illness’, anymore than I want to be known as ‘the girl with no mental illness’. I just want to be ‘the girl.’
So I am petrified to go back to Georgetown, petrified out of my mind, so scared it sometimes sends me into panic attacks. It’s not for the normal reasons – though trust me, I am seriously doubting my ability to write a paper after six months in Arizona crying and watching 16 and Pregnant. I am terrified that when I tell people what happened – the people who I choose to tell – that they will look at me with scared eyes, pat my head like the nurses in the psych ward did, and say, “But you’re okay now, right? Right?” I’m terrified that we will go back to ignoring it, that I will be expected to sweep it under the rug and put on my happy face and never acknowledge what happened to make people feel comfortable with mental illness – that it only happens to people like Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, that it could never happen to sweet, spunky girls like Allison Brice, that little brunette with the big tits who plays bass drum in the pep band. It can’t happen to people like that.
Yes, it is hard to acknowledge. I can’t tell you how many hearts I’ve broken when I had to tell people who were close to me that even though I loved them and they loved me, I still overdosed on a rainy night in order to make it all go away. It’s hard to understand. I get that. I’m having a hard time understanding it. But the way to understand it is not to sweep it under the rug, pretend it never happened. I thought for a while about asking Kat (a co-coordinator of this blog) to make this post anonymous. But what is that going to help anybody reading this? ‘This girl wants people to accept her mental illness, but she won’t even say her name?’
My name is Allison Brice. I am mentally ill, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. This was not the product of a bad childhood. This was not the product of my age, like the nurses in the psych ward thought (‘Oh you’re just young, you didn’t know what you were doing!). This was definitely not the product of my fucking gender, like so many people have implied (‘You have an illness that makes it difficult to control your emotions? Isn’t that just being a woman?’). This has happened to be because of random coincidence, the machinations of a God whose plan I still don’t fully understand. It’s not going away. I will have to take antidepressants and mood stabilizers and remain in therapy for the foreseeable future. There’s always going to be the fear of a relapse, the fear of that suffocating darkness creeping back into my brain and shutting down every happy thought and memory until pain is the only thing that keeps me linked to this world. My depression and borderline personality disorder may go into remission someday (please, God), but they will probably never go away – and neither will I.
I’m here to take back control of my fear. I’m owning it. I’m terrified. But that’s okay! Fear makes us human. I have a lot to fear. Georgetown was at once the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. I will probably never be able to go into the Nevils bathroom where I tried to take my own life. But that’s okay. I don’t know why my suicide failed – you can call it divine intervention or random coincidence, whatever you want, I’m still not sure – but it has given me a new perspective on this world that I am still a part of. I’m not going to ignore my illness, nor am I going to obtusely push it into every conversation I’m a part of. It’s a part of me, but it’s not all of me. I still love stuffed animals, drunkenly spewing historical dates for no reason, making funny faces with my roommates, and writing novels late into the night. For years, I saw myself as the only insane person in a school full of sanity, a dirty, ugly hag in a world of glittering princesses.
We all know that’s not true. And if you’re reading this and feel like any of this applies to you, let me just say how proud I am that you’ve decided to keep going. If you feel like you’re the dirty hag in a school full of glittering princesses, let me tell you that it’s not true. This blog, this movement, is all about accepting all of us for exactly who we are, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, past history, socioeconomic status, whatever. I wouldn’t be posting this on this blog unless I knew, deep in my heart, that every Georgetown student reading this would, once they’ve heard my story, do their best to understand and help me. Sometimes the school feels full of pretty pretty princesses. But that’s the secret – every single fucking one of us is a glittering princess. Every single fucking one. Me, in all my illness and flaws. You, in all your shit I don’t know about. We are here, all of us, glittering in this world.
So I don’t have any big takeaway. If you’ve actually read this whole thing, then thank you. If you’re in DC this summer hit me up, cause I will be too, working for the summer and trying to figure it all out. If you feel like you have something you need to talk about but you can’t because of the culture of this school, I beg you to give it a try. I didn’t start this journey by immediately writing a tell-all blog post. I drunkenly told my friends I was cutting. Maybe they didn’t understand right away, but they loved me and helped me out more than I could ever want, and it’s partly due to them that I’m much better. I’ve been in CAPS pretty much since the moment I set foot on campus, and they are amazing. So it’s cool to be scared. That’s life. But at least for me, I’m gonna do my damnedest to finish what I started here. I am perfectly me, suicide attempt survivor and all. Georgetown isn’t going to take me down. I’m going to take Georgetown down.
I’ll see you guys in DC.
Need help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Or “How Even Asking if Women Can ‘Have it All’ Perpetuates the Patriarchy.”
by Kat Kelley
“But is that really more important? Is a career really more important than love?”
I sat straight up in my chair, unnerved by his simple, rational inquiry. It was the most unassuming and yet jarring question I had ever been asked.
An ambitious seventeen-year-old, I sat in the front row of my Introduction to Sociology course, hand always poised, ready to rise, as I dreamed of east coast colleges. I craved to be cultured, to use my SAT vocabulary lackadaisically over coffee, and to leave my sleepy beach town to “see the world.”
I craved success, and I was quite certain that men were merely obstacles.
After endless exposure to cinema (romantic comedies), veritable love advice (from Seventeen or Cosmo), distinguished literature (Twilight), and insightful melodies (Taylor Swift), I was under the impression that I was my own arch-nemesis. My feminine, irrational emotions made me vulnerable. Men, I had been told, were the ultimate fatal flaw of all (heterosexual) women.
Yet, in all my musings, I had never asked myself such a question. I spent my life internalizing the belief in the total necessity of my independence as a woman, that I never stopped to ask myself if a career is really more important than family or love. I mean, I wanted to have, to be, everything, but I assumed love would come naturally, in due time, and that foremost, I had to be vigilant to ensure I did not compromise my career.
Which is quite reasonable, given the persistence of the patriarchy and dominance of gender roles. However, understanding “success” merely in the context of a career, and valuing such success over all else, is absolute bullshit.
Our notions of success have been warped by our assessment of masculine roles as superior to feminine roles. Thus when we speak of “having it all,” we demand redress for the women who have not been able to achieve their professional pursuits, but spare no sympathy for men who have not been able to attend their child’s little league game or debut in the school play. When we speak of “having it all,” we speak of the capability to pursue roles and achieve success in ways that are characterized as masculine. And as “having it all” has become the holy grail of feminists, we have forgotten that relationships aren’t about personal attainment or achievement, but rather compromise.
Sheryl Sandberg, feminist extraordinaire, author of Lean In and C.O.O. of Facebook, asserts that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.” She gets it, in a way that Anne-Marie Slaughter fails to. The conversation should not be reserved for the feminist blogosphere or book clubs, but rather we need to define what “it all” means for us as individuals, and engage in active, evolving communication within our relationships to ensure that we can live with the inevitable comprises we will make.
“I never feel good enough,” my classmate said. “I always feel like my friends are doing more impressive things than I am. No matter what I do, I always feel inadequate.”
It was the last session of class for the semester, and the tone had become intimate and confessional. The professor nodded. “Okay. Who else feels that way?”
I raised my hand and timidly looked around me. The class was mostly women, including ones I greatly admired – women I had compared myself to before raising my hand. Every single hand was raised.
At that moment, I felt both huge relief and deep sadness. Relief in realizing that I wasn’t alone, and sadness that so many others must feel the same overwhelming pressures that I did to meet an unreachable standard.
The second semester of my junior year, coming back from a semester abroad and feeling isolated, I found myself caught in a spiral of self-doubt and self-blame. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that, despite my internships, past leadership positions, and an impressive GPA, I had already failed myself.
I felt worthless. The self-confidence I had carried without a second thought, back home in high school when I was a big fish in a little pond, crumbled. Any accomplishments I made quickly seemed trivial compared to what everyone else was doing. If I were good enough, I would be the president of some organization, preferably one I had started myself. I would have my academic work published. I would have a Facebook-photogenic group of friends who went out together every night and did fun, cultural things on Sunday afternoons in the spring. I would run half-marathons. I would be working too hard to get enough sleep, but it wouldn’t matter because of how engaged and passionate I would be.
I tried to ignore the feeling and make it go away. But that just made me feel worse, because of course it didn’t go away. It made me unmotivated, unable to command the energy to take on new projects, and so I hated myself for sleeping eight hours a night and numbly watching TV instead of “being productive.” Some nights, the despair went so deep that it was all I could do to call my mother at two AM, sobbing without a reason – sitting on the cold tiles on the bathroom floor with the door shut, so my roommate wouldn’t know. By the time I realized there was a word for what I was feeling – depression – the semester was over and it was time to pack up.
Only too late did I find out how many people feel this way, even though no one talks about it. It shocked me to realize that I wasn’t the only one going through this, that even the peers I admired most felt inadequate, that the façade I measured myself against ruthlessly and mercilessly didn’t actually exist. In real life and on the internet, we’re plagued by the Facebook effect. Everyone’s accomplishments are public but their insecurities are invisible. It creates a vicious cycle. We are all fueled by each other’s successes, trying to race against a receding horizon we cannot reach, which just makes us feel less worthy.
It seems as though this internal, destructive drive towards perfection is more of a female phenomenon. Granted, maybe it’s because I’ve mostly spoken with women about it, and this isn’t to say that men on this campus don’t suffer from anxiety, depression, and the overwhelming pressure to achieve, because they do. But it’s women who are taught to be pleasers from day one, and it’s women who somehow are never able to say no. Courtney Martin captures this in her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, in a quote that gave me chills the first time I read it:
We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving…We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation…We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others…We are the daughters of the feminists who said “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything.”
Speaking to more women on campus, I’ve realized how closely their experiences mirror mine. Yes, we understand that people need to take time for self-care – to sleep, eat well, take time for themselves to relax when the stress is too high – but that’s something other people need to do, not us. If we were as strong as we pushed ourselves to be, we could keep going. Instead, we drink too much and walk home from yet another guy’s house in the morning.* We hope no one notices how many meals we skip or how much time we spend at the gym. But we still don’t live up to the standard, and it doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves.
We need help, but we don’t know how to ask. The reason I never asked my friends for help wasn’t because I was afraid they would say no. I do think that we want to care for each other, and the spirit of community service extends to those closest to us. That wasn’t it. It was because I didn’t feel I could ask, when they all were so busy with such impressive, important things. I didn’t want to be a drag or a buzz kill, and I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t handle the pressure.
We need to talk about this. It’s hard to ask for help because that means we have failed at the basic goal we have aspired to for years – self-sufficient, effortless perfection. Asking for help, and accepting that it is okay to do so, means rejecting that framework entirely, and accepting that we can be valuable people, worthy of love and friendship, even if we didn’t score the internship or win the election or get the A. It’s incredibly hard to do, and I wrestle with it every day.
We are already accomplished and compassionate social justice leaders – we know how to be kind to others. We need to be kinder to ourselves.
*This is not to say that drinking alcohol or having casual sex is inherently bad or unhealthy. Personal context is key.