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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.”

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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.

 

So Much More Than Gender: The Social Class/Race Disconnect

9 Apr

by Angela Bui

Going from an environment comprised of a mainly lower class, predominantly Latino and African American community to an upper-middle class and predominantly white area gives me a combination of experiences which continue to increase my awareness on both sides of the spectrum each day.

Growing up, I was under the impression that the higher the social class and education someone had, the more open-minded and empathetic they would be. However, going to my small, liberal arts college has shown me that it was wrong to make this assumption. For example, my friend often tells me about the conversations that go on in her “Social Movements” class. One day, a girl in her class felt cheated since her wealth kept her from getting into free educational programs for those with low financial statuses. My initial response to this was shock, anger, and confusion. I was unable to wrap my head around how such a selfish and contradictory statement could make sense to someone. Instances like this make me think about the impossibility of everyone coming together to promote justice for all rather than just the majority.

In this particular case, we are similar in that we are both women. However, we differ in social class and race, which changes the experience of our gender so greatly that it is hard to relate with her in anything. I learned that this is called the “matrix of domination,” which points out how various systems such as race, class, gender, and sexuality work to shape a woman’s identity and experience. This girl in my friend’s “Social Movements” class probably has experienced objectification and oppression by men as a woman, but she has not experienced and may not understand the struggle of growing up through poverty and being seen as inferior due to financial status.

I recognize that my response to this ignorance of privilege is detrimental to the essential relationship between women. I often write women like this off as ignorant, rather than try to work together with them so we can understand each other and progress. However, the process for women to understand each other needs to involve both parties, and the privileged side often does not feel like it is necessary to understand the oppressed side since it does not have any direct benefit to them.

Besides being contradictory, this girl’s statement was disturbing in that it reflects a larger problem in feminism. This issue is present in the new, third wave of feminism called “Lifestyle Feminism,” which focuses on the notion that your own needs are what the feminist movement needs. Compared to white women, it is harder for colored women to be heard due to the various levels of oppression they experience. Since it is easy to ignore the needs of colored women, white women tend to focus on gains for themselves rather than go out of their way to liberate all women. There is a lack of understanding that various systems such as race and gender intertwine, and without it movements such as feminism cannot progress. The necessity of having the recognition that various oppressive institutions and social structures work together is essential to getting closer to justice for all.

Hurting

1 Mar

by Anonymous

Trigger warning for language and depression

MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR SELF-HARM

He was my best friend. The only person who knew every big secret I had…and I had a few. That’s why, when he called me a bitch, I was inclined to believe him. I had always had moderate self-esteem, spurred on by the knowledge that what most people thought about me didn’t really matter. But what he thought mattered. He knew me better than anyone else, so I must be the horrible friend he sees me as.

My chest began to ache. It felt like my insides were boiling, expanding my skin, and the pressure kept building. I was crying so hard, I could barely breathe. My mind was racing: Am I a bitch? Will I ever feel “normal” again? Should I just kill myself now? Would the world be a better place without me?

I didn’t know what to do, so I called my university’s psychiatric crisis line. The process was somewhat convoluted, was conditional on giving my full name (which I was reluctant to do), and was ultimately unsuccessful at providing me with any sense of relief.

Shaking and sobbing into my hands, I figured out that the only way to relieve my emotional torment was through physical pain. Knowing I would have to remain scar-free for my dance class (leotards only), I grabbed the pen cap in front of me, dragging it across my arm as hard as I could. After doing this several times, the pressure in my chest subsided enough to be considered bearable. Satisfied, I used my sleeve to cover the scratches that would fade by morning.

Over time, the pen cap turned into a broken shaving razor, the need for relief melding into the desire to feel anything, as my mind was numbed by depression.

I came to enjoy every aspect of cutting.* Cutting makes me feel better, when nothing else can. I owe my life to it, as it brought me down from the brink of suicide time and time again.

Just knowing you shouldn’t be doing it isn’t a good enough reason to stop. The shame isn’t a good enough reason to stop. Neither is the restriction in clothing or the threat of being found out. The pleas of family and friends aren’t good enough. None of these things is enough of a reason to stop, because I wasn’t cutting because I wanted to. I was cutting because I needed to. None of these things reduces that need.

What does? Love, understanding, coping strategies, therapy, all or none of the above. It depends on the person. For me, my strength is in my faith and in my friends. I know that to God or to my best friend at any time when I feel overwhelmed. Staying on the right medications helps, too. So does knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles.

Almost 3 million Americans are believed to be struggling with self-harm. A vast majority of these people are teenage girls. Studies also show that almost half of those who engage in self-harm have been sexually abused. Self-harm can manifest as cutting, scratching, burning, or hitting oneself or other self-abusive behaviors.

To all those out there who hurt themselves, recognize that it is not a long-term solution to your pain. If you want to deal with your emotional pain, I urge you to seek help. Maybe your parents wouldn’t understand; maybe you feel that you can’t talk to your friends about it. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you and want the best for you. If you can get yourself to do it, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.** They’re free, anonymous, and there to help anyone in crisis, regardless of whether or not you are suicidal.

To all those who care for someone who self-harms, be patient and understanding, but also strongly encourage them to seek help. It is a problem and it won’t go away by itself. But do not judge. For those who self-harm, the cutting is the least of their problems. They must challenge the reason they feel that they need to cut. And that is hard and scary as hell. Let them know that you care and are there for them, and then let them know what resources are available to them.

*I want to fully explain why I would cut, but I don’t want to glorify it in any way, so I’ve chosen to leave that out.

**National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

March 1st is National Self-Harm Awareness Day. Spread the word. Spread the love.

Gender Journey

19 Dec

by Anonymous

This isn’t an argumentative piece or a politically correct one. Actually, I’ve just barely scratched the surface of gender variance in my life and wouldn’t know the proper words anyway. This is just a story really, or several, I guess. It’s my stories, of my life and my feelings. And that’s it. It’s a call to walk in my shoes for five minutes and see a different perspective than you may usually see.

I’m eight, and just starting to question everything. The great WHY. Why are there stars in the sky? Why are some people tall and others short? Why was my soul born in a girl’s body?

I don’t feel out of place in my female body, but I don’t feel attached to it either. If I had been born exactly as I am in a boy’s body, I would live my life as a boy with its privileges and downfalls and not think a thing of it. I mean, even the way I phrase it in my head “my soul……girl’s body” shows that what I consider to be “me” is ungendered, even at this age, even though my mom insists on forcing me into dresses and curlers for church. I didn’t like anything girly, and I think a lot of it was due to the stigma against women in society, so I felt more free to do things as a tomboy that are “unbecoming of a young lady.”

I’m seventeen and getting the hang of masturbation. Over the years, I’ve explored my body and fell in love with the responses I can cause with my own touches. I stop railing against everything feminine and let myself enjoy wearing an occasional skirt or some mascara. This is also the age I first fell head-over-heels for Laura.  From the closet, of course. But loving Laura showed me that liking girly things doesn’t make you less of a person in some way. Femininity isn’t a block you have to accept or reject as a whole. You can like what you like, hate what you hate, leave the rest, whatever.

I’m twenty and at university. As I pass a security guard, he says, “Good morning, sir.” I smile, but he quickly blushes, realizing his mistake. I liked it, though. I don’t even know why, but someone not seeing my gender correctly (according to society) really excites me. It’s like a glimpse of a future where no one really knows a stranger’s gender, but it doesn’t matter. I REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR GENDER IS. And I know that leaves me open saying to lots of possibly offensive statements, but I like my maybe/ maybe not gender, and I respect everyone’s right to define their own gender (or to purposefully not define it). Whatever floats your boat.

I’m twenty-one and at my grandparents’ house for Christmas. I know they disapprove of short hair for girls and so I wore a purple dress, my girliest clothes to struggle for their approval. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it’s family, you know? Then my grandfather introduces me to one of his neighbors as “that boy.” This is not how gender fluidity works. I’m still upset about it. I hate when people purposely mess up a person’s gender identity, especially so they can use it as a way to insult them. I HAVE DIGNITY!! Okay, end of rant.

Thanks for sticking through my ramblings to the end. From talking to my friends and peers, I’ve learned that most of us don’t think or talk about gender as much as we should. I mean we talk about the bi-gendered world we live in, and male privilege, and the constraints on women in society, but we rarely talked about our gender, how we feel about gender, if we even feel the need for gender at all. So a strange point-of-view like mine may not be heard so often. So, I hope you got something out of this.

Tom Daley Is Not Gay, He’s Just in a Relationship with a Man

2 Dec

by Johan Clarke

Tom Daley recently came out via YouTube with the information that he is in a relationship with another man, surprising many and bringing pride to many different communities. In the wake of the Winter Olympics in a country with incredibly harsh anti-LGBT laws, the news that a well-known and well-respected athlete from the most recent Summer Olympics is queer provides awareness and visibility to a community that in the past has been erased. Stereotypes within the gay community are slowly coming down. More and more athletes are coming out as gay, giving pride and hope for young people who do not feel they fit into certain categories defined by our culture. One can play sports, be one of the team, and not have to be straight or pretend to be something they are not.

I find it remarkable that Tom Daley has found the courage to do something so brave and come out with his relationship with another man at this pivotal time. Coming out is still an incredibly difficult thing to do, and to do it in front of everyone in the world, to have everybody watch your every move, to judge you without having met you, takes incredible strength. I commend him for doing something so hard, yet so necessary. Daley is helping to change history for the better and creating a safer space for queer youths.

The media’s response, though, is not the most ideal. As I have written in previous articles, I do not like labeling, and I especially do not like labeling that erases other communities. Many of the articles that have come out this morning have titles with the word “gay” in it, yet in the video he posted, he never makes that claim. He says that he is in a relationship with another man and that he is comfortable and feels safe with him, but he does not say the words, “I am gay.” In fact, during the video, he claims, “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

This may seem like an unnecessary difference for some, but this is a prime example of bi erasure, something that has been going on for years. It’s fantastic that Daley has come out with his relationship, but it is not okay that the media has once again mislabeled someone. Daley has not defined his sexuality. He has stated that he is in a relationship with a man, but he has not come out as gay as several articles have claimed. He has not come out as bisexual either, so the media needs to stop saying that he has.

Mislabeling erases many different communities that struggle to have their voices heard. It makes it difficult for people who are unsure about their sexualities or who do not fit with “gay” or “straight” labels. It illegitimazes legitimate relationships and does not allow people to understand or accept themselves in ways they can. We need to stop enforcing labels on people or the great stride Daley made today in this announcement will do little in awareness for the overall queer communities.

The Obruni Diaries: Relationship Checklists

20 Nov

by Allyn Faenza

Earlier this semester I was tuning into the local radio station to hear two friends’ weekly radio show. Each week they present a controversial topic and ask Ghanaian and international students to express their opinions on air. Seeing as they are both males in their twenties and trying to appeal to their audience, more often than not the weekly topic is about romantic relationships. One week, the conversation centered around the “relationship check-list” and attraction. There were four Ghanaian women, two Ghanaian men, and two international students involved in the talk.

My DJ friends began the talk by asking the participants to name five qualities or attributes that would attract them to someone of the opposite sex. My international friend responded first by saying that she was looking for someone who shares the same religion and work ethic as her, is compassionate, physically attractive, and musical. As she was explaining her list, I could hear some of the Ghanaian women giggling. The DJs asked them to comment on why they found her list amusing, and all four of them responded that the list was valid, but she was forgetting one huge point.

As the show went on, each of the Ghanaian women listed the attributes that must be present for them to be attracted to a man. While their answered varied due to their different personalities and backgrounds, all of them said finances were the main factor that would make or break their opinions about a man. One girl stated, “If a man likes what he sees, he should have the money to maintain it! That means paying for my nail and hair appointments, taking me shopping… I am just playing the game.” The girls hummed in agreement. Some chimed in saying, “A man’s job is to work and provide for me.” “He should take me places, give me things.”

These relationship expectations seem problematic to me. I do not know if my expectations of romantic relationships come from my experiences with my own family, from a result of culture, or from a combination of the two. But with a culture that is so family-centered and anti-individualistic, I thought the radio show conversation would be about how men and women work as a team to create something together, something beyond just one person’s capabilities.

I have been to different parts of Ghana and spent time with a few families. Each of them has a complex familial structure that would take years to fully comprehend. Neighbors support one another and the people who occupy the physical space of the home is a fluid group. In the native language Twi, the word for cousins is the same word as sibling, and all female relatives are referred to as “maame.” I was confused to find the women their age interested in maintaining the gender roles that leave males and females confined to traditional jobs, responsibilities, and behaviors. I thought the women would want to be empowered by their education; I thought they would be searching for more, expecting more of themselves, striving to create new expectations for women in Ghana.

Enforcing the patriarchal structure is as simple as maintaining gender expectations. When women in Ghana question why the men in their lives don’t support women in the workplace, I challenge them to look no further than their relationship check-lists. I challenge women to look beyond their wants and see how their actions are playing into the larger system of gender normativity. Because, after all, there is a difference between playing the game and playing into an oppressive patriarchy.