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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.”

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.

The Obruni Diaries: Cab Driver

13 Nov

by Allyn Faenza

Sitting in this hot cab is torture. It’s bad enough that the sun never ducks behind the clouds here and the temperature is always nearing ninety, but why can’t this cab driver turn on the air conditioning? Poor Eden is lying down in the back about to vomit once again because of some illness the hospital we were just visiting cannot diagnose due to a combination of staff incompetency and apathy. Here I sit in the front seat on this short drive trying to direct our driver back to campus, so Eden can lie down and rest.

Then it happens.

It is not the first time it has happened here in Ghana, and I hate that it won’t be the last either. I was warned it would happen, because after all, I am exotic here. Uneducated men have seen movies and television shows of women who look like me, who come from America. These men have the expectation that I will act how those actresses, adult film stars, or singers do. They may have even heard stories about American women in Ghana who are give their sex freely and indiscriminately. But mostly, I think they see me as a foreigner, vulnerable with confusion and wide-eyed from the culture shock. I am easy to violate. These men see an opportunity, and they take it.

This cabbie, just like some other men have done, places his hand on my lap and tries to work it under my short skirt. I look in his eyes to see a smile stretch across his face. He is amused by violating me. Does he think he is getting away with something? Does he think this should be a natural position for me or maybe I deserve this? Does he think I want this too? I speak up. Finding the inner strength, I slap his hand away. I say, “Daabe! No! You don’t get to touch me like that!” when I see his smile is transforming into a laugh. “You should be ashamed. You have no right,” I shout. He mumbles something that sounds like a half-hearted apology.

Now I am grabbing the door handle and walking out of the cab with Eden, feeling ashamed by his cheapening touch. I feel alone and scared. I am tainted by this, feeling like a little piece of my self-worth and strength has been taken from me. I should have been smarter. I should have never gotten in that cab. I should have known. I know I am giving him power over me by reevaluating my own actions and cursing myself for sitting in the passenger’s seat instead of the back with Eden, but I feel somehow responsible for letting this happen to me.

I feel powerless. I feel so powerless.

This piece is part of a weekly column about the author’s experiences abroad in Ghana.

Because Lists Are Trending and This One is Needed

12 Nov

by Stacey Lynn

This post originally appeared on Stacey’s blog Homeward Bound

After reading Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege for the first time, a friend asked me if I had a good article to send her way on male privilege. She was looking for a gender-related equivalent to help raise some flags around the way sexism functions in our lives. This left me sitting with the question: how have I experienced sexism alive in my life? It made me think about the day-to-day comments and assumptions that litter my social experience, all upholding the ideas that (1) gender is neatly defined in two boxes with distinct traits (2) which correlate to our biological sex with (3) one box being superior to the other.

So I made a list of the ways I’ve seen 1-3 played out recently. This list is nowhere near comprehensive and is certainly filtered through my experience and other identities, particularly as a White upper/middle class American cis-woman. It is not angry and it is definitely not exclusively a list of microaggressions perpetuated by men towards women. It is a series of observations on the ways in which I see myself and the people in my life promote a view of gender that keeps us locked into an oppressive system.

Here goes…

  1. On a date recently, the man I was meeting ordered a colorful drink with cherry grenadine and I proceeded to order a whiskey. His jaw dropped, “Are you really going to emasculate me like that?” he inquired. Here’s the thing: the extent to which I do or do not perform according to traditional gender roles should have no bearing on someone else’s sense of self. The expectation that it does puts undue pressure on me to be someone other than who I am so not to threaten their sense of and confidence in being someone other than who they are.
  2. One of my students suggested— on more than one occasion— that my anti-war sentiments were likely rooted in deep-seated anger and resentment from my previous relationship with a man in the military. The thought that I could have an independent, rational opinion about institutional violence seemed less likely than me being blindly driven by an emotional charge from past love.
  3. A dear friend (and many women I’ve been acquainted with) seems to think “bitch” is a term of endearment. The idea that an animal being female (originally stemming from a reference to a female dog in heat) is insulting is misogynistic. Thus, for me, the use of this word casually indicates a comfort with the aforementioned view, condoning language that literally equates one’s genitalia and hormones to a lower social value. The same is true of the pervasive use of pussy, cunt, sissy, and tit as insults. When my body and its cycles are used as derogatory terms, my very self is relegated to something one would never want to have— or be.
  4. Every time I go to a wedding, or fill out a form, I am struck by the archaic symbols that persist in our unions. The changing of names, passing off of the bride, donning of a white dress, all stem from the idea that a woman (and her virginity) is property being passed from father to husband. I understand that people engage in these rituals without holding these beliefs. Yet, in sharing my critique of them, many have defended traditions— such as asking a bride’s father for permission/blessing— as being respectful. My question is, respectful to whom? The extent to which we fail to question the origin of our traditions— and the messages underpinning them— is connected to our acceptance of the power structures in place. My issue is not in maintaining tradition, but in neglecting to raise questions around the histories, significance, and ramifications of such practices.
  5. A close friend, who identifies as a feminist himself, told me that he is uncomfortable walking through a door when a woman holds it open for him. Do I really need to elaborate?
  6. As a lot of this is about the messages we take in, lets collect some data. How many songs on the pop-radio station do you hear that aredevoid of lyrics that treat women as objects and/or hyper-sexualized beings, or use language that condones violence against us? How many books have you read in the past year with a female protagonist whose main storyline did not revolve around her relationships with men? How many television shows do you watch with a female lead? Really, I am asking you to count. Or, the next time you flip through a magazine or look at the tabloids while standing in line at the grocery store, ask yourself: how are women being portrayed in these stories and ads? Essentially, what does the media teach us about what it means to be a woman and what her place is in society? (This same question should also be asked about men)
  7. While reading on the porch this week, the three boys (ages 6-8) we are staying with mocked me for having hairy armpits. “Gross!” they squealed. “Girls aren’t supposed to have hair there,” they explained to me. The idea that women are not “supposed to” have hair where itnaturally grows— be it leg, armpit, or pubic— likens women to children and dolls, both of which you control and hold power over. (NOTE: I understand that this preference is socialized, that’s my point)
  8. I increasingly struggle to identify with most worship music within my faith tradition, as gendered images of God are exclusively masculine. And I know that this complaint, or advocating for moving language from mankind to humankind, or problematizing using “he” as the default pronoun, is bashed as being overly concerned with political correctness. I am not interested in being PC. I am interested in my existence as a part of the human race being acknowledged and valued equal to that of a man’s. In learning herstory too. In letting the divine be reflected in images beyond those conjured under patriarchy’s reign.
  9. I learned growing up that being “cute” is something women are valued for. At some point, I thought small sneezes fell into this category. I am still working on unlearning the habit of putting my tongue to the roof of my mouth to suppress a sneeze and make it “cuter”. I just rewrote my “About me” for this blog with the recognition that this same pattern of a socialized cute-Stacey drove my initial description of myself (chocolate is not actually a core tenant of my self-image or understanding).
  10. Some people who read this list will dismiss it on the basis that I am yet another “overly sensitive” woman. Within this criticism is the underlying acceptance of gender norms and prioritization of rationality and logic, categorized as “masculine” traits. From this perspective, emotion holds little weight and women’s voices fall into a category less worthy of being heard. My sensitivity, my attentiveness to my emotional experience, is not indicative of my sex, nor is it a handicap. And it does certainly not provide grounds to stop listening or to delegitimize my claims.

There was a point in my life when I would have internalized all of these exchanges as indications of the way I am supposed to behave— measuring my value against the extent to which I performed my gender. Drink fruitier drinks. Shave more. Let’s not put too much stock into your thought in case it’s actually coming from your heart, or your menstrual cycle.

Still today, I find myself believing some of these messages— finding myself less-than for the ways that my natural tendencies, interests, and desires don’t fit into the neat package of a “feminine” woman. This is so far from the liberation I yearn for: a world where people can be who they are and want to be, without power or inferiority imposed on them for this choice.

You don’t have to hate women to contribute to a system that oppresses them. You don’t have to identify as a man, or have a penis, to perpetuate sexism. You merely have to believe the messages you received since your birth announcement, likely scribed in blue or pink. In fact, you don’t even have to be as active as the word belief implies. You just have to live your life without noticing or finding fault in the patterns described above.

I invite you to practice noticing with me. How have you seen sexism alive in your life?

My Identity is NOT My Consent

5 Nov

by Anonymous

We have all heard (hopefully) of the phrase “My costume is NOT my consent,” but apparently it’s not the costume that makes me vulnerable but my sexual orientation and gender. I am a bisexual woman. This Halloween I opted out for a more conservative costume. I wore pants, a sweater, and a backwards cap; not exactly what we consider a “sexy/slutty” costume. I was at a Gay Pride party, which is usually a safe space, until the party was crashed by male students who were unaware of a common theme of the party—that most people present were of the LGBT community or allies. I was asked by one guy if everyone at the party was gay. I told him that most people did identify that way. He then asked me if I was gay. I told him the truth that I was bisexual.

Because I am not out at home, I don’t hide it at school. Here I can be who I really am and will not hide it just to avoid an unwanted situation. Apparently this fact was enough consent on my part because he proceeded to put his hands on me, forcibly turn me around, and began to pelvic thrust against my behind. I was not asked to dance, I did not consent to him putting his hands on me, yet the fact that I am bisexual was enough for him. Obviously, because I am attracted to guys, I am therefore attracted to him and don’t mind him placing his hands on me. Because I do like men, I obviously like all men, including him. I let him know that my sexual orientation did not give him consent and that he should think twice before putting his hands on anyone in that manner, and I walked away.

Later that night after the party was over, I waited in a school square—a very public place at the time. I was awaiting a text when a group of guys proceeded to come out of an apartment. A group of three headed my way up the stairs when one of them proceeded to comment on my ass, then grabbed it, and just walked away. At this point I was too stunned to say anything and saw them walk away; his friend gave the excuse that he was drunk. His friend would rather make excuses for his behavior than confront his friend about it. This Halloween, I learned that “my costume is not my consent,” but sadly my sexual orientation and gender are. The fact that I am a female who is still attracted to males is enough consent for unwanted advances. It does not matter what I wear, my own identities—that of a bisexual and that of woman—make me vulnerable.

In my opinion, society has failed. Not only does the majority of society place the blame on women who dress “slutty,” rather than the men who assault them, but even when a woman is dressed in what is considered a conservative outfit, she is still harassed. And society continues to make excuses. The excuse for the man who slapped my ass was that he was drunk; he placed the blame on something other than himself. Even in the first situation, blame was still put on me. When I shared this story, one response I heard was: why not tell the first guy that you’re lesbian? To this I respond: why should I lie about who I am? Why does my sexual orientation give him consent to my body? Because I am bisexual does not mean that I consent to all advances.  What happened last night was not my fault, it was society’s.