Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A 6-year-old's Suspension and Rape Culture

A first grader was recently suspended from school for several days for kissing a female peer on the hand during a reading group.

Wait... what? That sounds pretty ridiculous. Like... really ridiculous. At least, that was my first thought. H (my husband) text me about it this morning and suggested I write about it so I googled it a few minutes ago. The article I found is here and it focuses on the question of whether or not we can call this incident sexual harassment and whether or not the school over reacted.
The first thing that really stood out to me was this line:

"Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days."
So this kid had kissed this girl before and was told not to do it again, he was suspended, and still he doesn't respect the "No." He's six, so I can't judge him too harshly, but I do think his parents are doing him a disservice. Based on the article, it seems that his mom is really excusing the actions of her son to her son. I mean, if my kid was suspended for kissing a girl on the hand, whether it was a repeat offense or not, I would probably think the whole thing was pretty silly. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have a serious talk with the kid about consent and appropriate boundaries.

At the same time the behavior is being excused, relevant information is also seeming to be withheld; the mom says,

"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a six year old. Now my son is asking questions. What is sex mommy? That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six year old."
She has a right to her own ideas about when sensitive conversations need to happen, but it seems to me that this little boy might be able to understand his situation a little bit better if his questions were answered accurately, honestly, and responsibly. If he understood what sex was, why it's special, and what it has to do with kissing, he might be able to understand why people are upset by his lack of boundaries.

Now, the little girl's family didn't comment about the situation but the school policy is against "unwanted touching" and the Superintendent of the school district said,

"The focus needs to be on his behavior. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension."
It seems as if the little girl probably told him the touching was unwanted, if not at the time of this incident, at the time of a previous one. Additionally, his teacher or another adult at the school had clearly told him the touching needed to stop.

I'll be honest, I'm not really too concerned with a six year old kid kissing some other six year old kid on the hand. I am, however, concerned with the idea of who this little boy will grow into. What kind of man will he become if he is consistently being taught that other people's boundaries are unimportant and that he doesn't need to follow the rules of his society.

And what are the readers of this USA Today article going to learn?
This boy broke a rule, invading the personal space of someone else with unwanted touching.
Now there is news about it, questioning whether the boy's motive was bad and whether the consequences are too heavy.
Whether his actions caused the little girl to be uncomfortable and unfocused in her learning environment isn't even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated is simply rolled over with the phrase, "he has a crush on a girl at school and she likes him back." As if that makes it alright that he invaded her space.

Again, not really that big of a deal. I remember little boys kissing me on the hand or cheek at school in elementary school and even when I didn't like it, it didn't damage me. That being said, this format we've just explored is used really often in much more serious circumstances.

Like with Steubenville, when several boys broke some rules, invading the personal space of someone by touching her in a way she couldn't consent to.
Then there was news about it, questioning whether the boys' motives were bad and whether the consequences were too heavy.
Whether their actions cause Jane Doe tremendous pain, anxiety, depression, etc. was barely even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated was simply rolled over with phrases like, "party girl," and "drunk." As if that made it okay that they raped her.



A little boy kissing a little girl on the hand during reading group in the first grade is not a big deal. Refusing to see the patterns we, as adults, are developing and imposing on children, especially so young, IS a big deal.
I'm sure this kid is really great and awesome. He probably doesn't understand why he's been suspended for trying to make the girl he likes feel special and I do feel for him, but he still has to be taught that intent is less relevant than harm.

I've only read this one article about it and I obviously know nothing about this boy, girl, or their families. I can't possible make an accurate judgment about whether suspension was too harsh, but I do know that our culture sets kids up to continue the long tradition of rape culture and victim blaming we live with.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Common, Unintended Christmas Message - The Mary Paradox

It's becoming more and more common to hear and see examples of women being objectified, dehumanized, and held to impossible standards in today's media. As a consumer this holiday season please be conscious of the kinds of messages you support with your dollars. If the advertising is sexist (or oppressive in the form of any other "ist" or "phobic") don't buy it. There's a movement out there to use #notbuyingit in response to those kinds of ads so we can show companies that we don't respect oppressive advertising and we won't support it.
I think it is really important to let our dollars speak for us on the commercial side of Christmas as we're bombarded with marketing schemes, but there is another side of Christmas that can have some pretty negative impacts on our young women too.

Religion is a touchy subject so let me just say that I am not trying to be offensive. In fact, I'm trying really hard not to be offensive, so keep that in mind. I get that people have all kinds of personal feelings and beliefs and the only reason I'm bringing this up at all is because there are a lot of Christians in the United States and every year this story about Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus is told, which is fine, except that there is a really damaging impossible standard for women in this story and no one talks about it.

Mary is a virgin and a mother.

In many cases, culturally and religiously, women are found valuable for only three reasons: Purity, beauty, and child bearing. The more a woman has of one of these things, the more valuable she is, if she has two of these things, she's even more valuable. The catches are that without at least one of these things, no other positive qualities seem to matter, and it's impossible to have all three.

Unless you're Mary. Mary, who is a virgin and a mother, who is always depicted as young, innocent, and beautiful. Mary who was said to be "favored" and "blessed among women."

I was raised in a devout Christian home and I can testify to the heart-breaking sense of shame at knowing I would have to choose between purity and bearing children. I used to wonder what Mary had done to be worthy of such a wonderful calling and what I had or hadn't done that made me so much less special. Women feel an expectation to live up the standard this presents. We're expected to be sexy enough for a man to want to have sex with us, but we're supposed to not want to have sex ourselves; we're supposed to be striving for "virgin mother" and that's about as close as we can get.

I'm not saying that, if it's true, the story of Jesus being born of a virgin isn't miraculous and worth telling. I'm saying that the value of Mary, as a person, should be a lot more about the way she accepted the scary and dangerous calling of carrying a fatherless child during the time and in the place she did, and the overwhelming responsibility of raising the Savior of all Mankind. I'm saying that the value of Mary, as a person, should be a lot less about the fact that she'd never had sex. The virgin part seems incidental to me... in a time without birth control, choosing a virgin was a good way for God to make sure no one else claimed his kid, that's about all the value I can see in it.

Personally, I'm not a religious person so when I think about Mary now I imagine a young woman who either thought she was in love with someone she knew before she was given away to Joseph or was raped. In either situation she would have been killed as punishment, probably by stoning.Which is why, in the bible Joseph considers keeping the matter private, and simply "putting her away."

So... the difference between one of the most revered, respected women in history and a woman stoned to death in shame and disgrace, or made to disappear, comes down to whether the skin on the penis of a man had touched the skin lining the inside of her vagina. Or, if you'd like, it doesn't have to do with her at all, it's about who impregnated her- a person or the spirit of the lord. Whether she had any choice in it doesn't matter either way.

Neither of those messages is acceptable to be teaching girls and young women.
If you wait to have sex until God makes you pregnant you're awesome. If you have sex after you're married, just to have children, you're alright, and if you have sex before that, you should die horribly or at least disappear. Or:
If you're raped by someone cool, you're cool. If you're never raped you're alright. If you're raped by someone not cool you should die horribly or at least disappear.

Do I need to go into all the ways these ideas influence and support rape culture?

It seems to me that many Christian women have at least part of their sense of value tied up in Mary. Let's stop influencing that value with the idea of the pinnacle of womanhood being dependent on simultaneous virginity and motherhood. Instead it should be influenced by the ideas of courage, selflessness, strength, and grace that can just as easily accompany women without "virginity" or children. Mary displayed those characteristics and they influenced our world much more than the details of her bedroom ever could.






Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Text Before Sex" and Proving Consent

I just read the article posted by Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN, titled "Jones: Young men, text before sex" you can, and should, read it here.

This article is well intentioned - she wants sexual assault to end and she wants her son to be healthy and safe while he's at college. But her subscription to a couple of common rape myths, and ignorance of some little-known facts, makes her article just another victim blaming, convoluting, confusing, piece of rape culture.

Jones basically expresses a belief that having proof of consent (in this case, in the form of text messages) is important to protect young men from false accusations of rape.

I have mixed feeling about this tactic. On one hand, I appreciate any attempt to make discussions about sex and consent commonplace. On the other hand, I'm disgusted by the emphasis on avoiding false allegations of rape because they don't happen very often. In fact, for every unfounded report of rape there are around 15 founded reports. And guess what else? Just because a case gets recorded as being "unfounded" doesn't mean that the rape didn't happen, so there's something to think about. Honestly, it's ridiculous that people focus on protecting people from being falsely accused instead of protecting people from sexual violence considering how often each happens.

But if this texting thing can help clear the muddy waters of consent, isn't it a good thing, regardless of the ulterior motive? Well, in that one way, yes. But that isn't what ends up happening. A person who really does consent, in person and not just over a text message, will, likely, not be reporting a rape later.

On the other side of things, consider the following situation:

A man texts a woman he is friends with,
"Hey! We should hook up tonight. What do you think? Are you DTF?" (For those of you who don't know, DTF stands for "down to fuck" It's a particularly crude and casual way to ask for consent.) So the woman texts back,
"Of course! How could I resist you? ;)"

Knowing nothing else about these people there is already gray area... were either of these people being serious? Was this an inside joke? Do they both know whether the other was being serious or not?

For the sake of the argument, however, we'll assume they both understand the other and they are, in fact, consenting to sexual activity.

Now, what if the next time this man sees the woman she has had several drinks. Does the previous consent still apply?

See how the gray area just keeps popping up? 

The thing is that we already have a lot of guidelines and rules and advice out there about how to prove consent was not withheld: text messages, listening particularly for the words "No" and "Stop," making assumptions based on previous sexual partners or activities, etc. and ALL of these leave room for "gray area," for "he said - she said," for doubt and discussion.

As a culture, we need to stop focusing on whether or not consent was clearly withheld and/or granted in the past and begin to focus on the concept of whether or not consent is obvious and enthusiastic when the actual activity occurs.

The article by Jones ends with her telling her readers to stay away from the drunk, party girls; the implication is that those are the girls who are in the best position to later make a rape accusation.
I agree with her sentiment, but not with her reasoning.
Dear readers, you should stay away from sexual activity with drunk people, but not because they may later accuse you of rape, because you may be committing a rape especially considering that an intoxicated person is not, legally, capable of consenting.
The concepts Jones expresses are great, but unless it's presented in a way that doesn't slut-shame, and/or imply that false accusations are a common issue, it does more harm than good by further cementing rape myths.

A person with such a broad following should be more responsible. Better advice for young men would be to learn what consent really is. I'll end with a definition for those of you who aren't too sure:

Consent: Voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
-A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex

Let's talk about sex. Because if you don't understand sex - what it is and what it isn't - it's a lot more difficult to understand and talk about rape.
A while ago I posted a blog called Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day-Regrets. Or is it? I mentioned my discomfort with the idea of a person's value being tied to their virginity or the amount of sexual activity he/she has engaged in.

So now, maybe, before we talk about sex, we should talk about our bodies and what they have to do with sex. First off, let's get something clear: Sexual activity does not affect a person's value, purity, worthiness, etc. It does not make you dirty (well, I mean, depending on several factors, sexual activity may necessitate a shower, but  you know what I mean) and it certainly doesn't make you "used merchandise" because guess what, YOU ARE NOT MECHANDISE.

You are a person and you deserve body autonomy. This culture can lead you to believe that your body dictates your value but really, the only reason your body has value in the first place is because you live in it.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's define

Sex: (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including, specifically, sexual intercourse.

Okay, I feel like most of us get that right? Sex = penis in vagina. But is that all? I mean, that's what the definition implies, but we know there's a bit more too it right? Maybe we can find a better definition...

Sex: The consensual act, by two or more humans, of pleasuring each other with their bodies, specifically their genitals. The act can be physically fulfilling, through orgasm. It can also be fulfilling emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

This is a definition I put together from pieces of other definitions I found. I hope we can all mostly agree on this definition because we need to talk about what that means in terms of what sex IS:

1. Sex is consensual

2. Sex is about pleasure

3. Sex is fulfilling

Which means:

1. Sex isn't forced on someone else

2. Sex isn't about power, control, or manipulation

3. Sex isn't harmful


Knowing what SEX is and isn't makes it a bit easier to see through the blinders of our rape culture to understand what RAPE is.

Basically, rape is what sex isn't. When sexual activity is forced on someone, when it seems to take the power away from one of the people involved, when a person has to be manipulated, coerced, or otherwise "convinced" to participate, when it's harmful - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually - to one party, that ISN'T sex. It IS rape.

The thing is that if you feel ready, if you're safe and responsible (concerning STIs and pregnancy), and you are with someone(s) else who is also ready, there isn't anything wrong with sex.
*Note: I'm not saying that if you want to wait for personal or religious reasons that your choice is invalid. It's perfectly valid. If marriage is something you require to feel ready for sexual activity, that's fine.

However, this society tells us, particularly women, that sex is bad and gross and that if we participate in it we are subsequently dirty, stained, spotted, used, broken, changed... pick your descriptor... I've heard all of these and many more, while simultaneously telling us that we have to do it. Your "virginity" (btw, what the hell IS virginity anyway?) guards your intrinsic value as a person while your value as woman and your chance at love and happiness is dependent upon losing said virginity. Because a "virgin's" value, while culturally recognized, is not interesting or valuable to her male peers who have been told that women are, primarily, sex objects.

This concept creates a lot of confusion for victims of sexual violence. For someone like me, who's first experience with "penis in vagina" was when I was raped, the feelings of dirtiness, the feeling that something was horribly, horribly wrong, seemed... appropriate for any kind of first sexual experience. I had always assumed that sex would kind of feel... uhm... well, awful the first time because I would be able to feel my virtue and purity slip away, although, I did plan for that time to be with my husband who's love and commitment, I assumed, would be worth it. I just knew that sex would be, ultimately, devaluing but I didn't think it would hurt SO MUCH. Still, I barely questioned my pain for months. I thought my intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt were normal. Because of the myths of rape culture I didn't even know I had been raped.

Is there a better way to make sure sexual violence remains a low-risk, high-reward crime?

Imagine my surprise when I realized that sex was supposed to feel good for women too... No, I really didn't know that. My experiences, in conjunction with rape myths I believed, had led me to the conclusion that sex was for men. A close friend and I decided that men had made up the concept of the female orgasm in order to get more sex (interesting how we never considered that the concept of blue balls might be a lie). We concluded that sex was a thing women did for men when they loved them. They made the ultimate sacrifice - a sacrifice of self - to prove that love and they did it again and again and again throughout a relationship or marriage or whatever.

Our conclusions were the only thing that made sense to us without seeing and understanding the "purity myth," without understanding that value is not tied to sexual activity.

Sure, sex is really useful for our species, since it's the primary way we reproduce. In fact, that's WHY it feels so good, we needed to like it so we'd keep having children right? But reproduction isn't the only reason we engage in sex, especially since we can all but guarantee that sex doesn't lead to children now, if we don't want them. Sex can be connecting, stress relieving, good exercise, and just plain fun. If we, as a society, as a culture, don't start recognizing that sex is meant to be a fully positive expression we can't recognize the fully negative implications of rape.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What does a homophobic, weightist comment have to do with rape culture?

I was talking to a friend of my sister's today and he made a statement I've heard other variations of many times. He said, 

"As straight guys, we don't like to be around gay guys anyway, but especially not a fat, gay guy cause he could rape us." 

The statement made me pretty angry. I was angry as an lgbt ally. I was angry as a feminist. Statements like this are really interesting to me because they make me really angry before I can even express why. I often use my feelings of outrage as a sign that I need to dissect a statement or experience in order to understand something. Usually I end up better understanding the subtle ways rape culture slips into our common ideas and beliefs. So let's dissect this statement a little bit because I feel like there are a whole lot of things wrong with it.

Right off the bat I have to tell you that I know A LOT of straight men who don't mind being around gay men at all. In fact, most of the men I know recognize that whether a person is gay or straight or bisexual or pan sexual or asexual doesn't really have anything to do with whether or not he/she is someone they want to be around.This attitude is really, disgustingly homophobic.

Then he starts talking about rape. But what does he even mean? What was this man really trying to say?

Maybe he was implying that gay men would all be rapists if they were strong or big enough. I wish that this idea was just too outrageous to be taken seriously by any sane person, it's hard to believe someone could make such an insidious blanket statement about such a large, diverse group of people. Unfortunately, however, this belief does exist, just look at all the controversy around the issue of gay leaders in the Boy Scouts.  Just in case you actually subscribe to this bullshit - you can't take an entire demographic of people and just assume that they are all rapist or pedophiles. That. Is. Insane.

But that isn't really what this blog is about, and I don't really think that's what he was trying to say.

Maybe he's just really arrogant.  I mean, this guy really thinks that he's so attractive and witty and great that no gay man could possibly resist him? Seriously?

Actually, I don't really think that's it either. At least, I think there is more to it than that. There is this idea that if someone CAN force intercourse with a subject of desire he WILL. Let me re-word this statement a little differently and we'll see if we can make the underlying message a little more clear.

He said: As straight guys, we don't like to be around gay guys anyway, but especially not a fat, gay guy cause he could rape us.

He also said: I don't like being around people who may be attracted to me, but especially not if they are larger than I am because they could rape me.

Is it surprising that my first thought was, Well, at least you can understand how women feel all the time?

And that isn't because I hate men or I'm afraid of men or I think that all men are rapists. I know that only a very small percentage of men rape. I know and love many men. Also, I know a lot men that I could definitely beat the shit out of, if it came down to it.

So where does this idea come from? This fear that women and men have in common? Well, maybe that question is a little bit erroneous. The fact is that the fear of being raped, which is very common in women, is almost non-existent in men. On top of that, women's fear is often misplaced, we're afraid of strangers, walking home at night, etc, when statistically, very few rapes occur in these conditions.

When this statement was made, it was regarding a social setting. It was said in a tone of voice which implied "truth-in-humor."
So, somewhere, subconsciously, this man believes in the idea that "People who are attracted to me and are larger than I am are likely to rape me." But he also believes that that's funny. If he thought it was a real possibility that something so horrible could happen to him he wouldn't have said it, but he probably believes that men don't get raped; it's a common misconception. The truth is that 1 in 7 men in Utah is a victim of sexual violence. When we perpetuate the myth that men don't get raped we telling male survivors that they are alone, that they should be ashamed that they weren't "manly" (what doesn't that even mean??) enough to avoid sexual violence.

Subsequently, it implies the message that women are "meant" to be raped.

So, maybe what this statement was implying is that rapes happen often and it's funny as long as it doesn't happen to men?

The only way a person could say something like this is if he/she subconsciously carries the belief that women are less than men... less than human.

And it all comes back to objectification and how it exacerbates the epidemic of sexual violence.

Remarks like this are made often and casually. They are made as jokes. It seems to me that people don't even know what they are saying. I seriously doubt that if I asked this guy if he thought women were less valuable than men, if he thought it was funny when women were raped, or if he thought gay men were all rapists, that he would say yes. In fact, I feel fairly confident that he would say no.

But he did say all of those things. He said them with one statement he didn't even have to think about. Still think rape culture isn't a thing?



Monday, November 4, 2013

Guest Blogger: From A Rape Recovery Journal

 This is my very first guest blogger!! She writes, on her own blog, about the difficult recovery process as a recent survivor of sexual violence. I think it is so important that we, as survivors, feel empowered to speak candidly about our experiences and feelings. Sexual violence is a crime that aims to silence it's victims and being able to speak out, if we want to, can be very helpful to a healing process. So, without further ado, an entry from A Rape Recovery Journal:

On June 2nd, 2013 I was raped.. and I am okay.
                I have been writing that same sentence down over, and over, and over again for five months. It has been somewhat therapeutic for me. Sometimes I need that little reminder that I am okay, and I will be okay.. it will just take some time, and until then I am choosing to focus on the things that make me happy. 
                It has been a long five months for me; quiet possibly that hardest five months of my life. I find it funny when people talk about how emotional “the average” teenage girl is, because they clearly have not had to put up with a teen girl that has been raped.
                I think a lot of my emotions have come from confusion, and not having answers. The day after my rape I remember asking my sister how I was supposed to feel, she told me there wasn’t a specific emotion I should be feeling. That made me mad. So incredibly mad. I was mad at her for not telling me what to do. I was mad at myself for being so confused. Most of all I was mad at my rapist for putting me in this situation.
                However, lately I have been trying to look at the positive. I have been so down in the dumps lately that one morning I woke up and didn’t even recognize myself. I had not been the person that I want to be.
                I have to remind myself that I am not the only one who is unhappy. Everyone has something to be upset about. I am doing my best to dwell on my happy days rather than my sad days. I have been doing the things that make me happy, and trying to be happy doing the things that don’t.
                I have been trying to turn this tragedy into a learning experience. I’ve been trying to come out of this depression by looking at life differently. I have been using more positive words: awesome, amazing, beautiful, great, precious, fun, smile, laugh, love, fresh..
                It’s okay to let this experience change me as long as it’s for the better. Life is about change and adaption. I am doing my best to move on from the past and dwell on the happy in my life.

-From A Rape Recovery Journal

 

Friday, November 1, 2013

I am 25

Today (November 1st) is my 25th birthday. I'm 25 and I'm definitely having feelings about that. Living in a world obsessed with youth, a culture that basically worships youth, I find myself feeling apprehensive about the fact that I'm closer to 30 than I am to 18. This is a really weird phenomenon considering the fact that I would NEVER want to be 18 again. Or 19. Or 20... really, since I've been an adult, the closer I've gotten to 30, the happier I've been. So why the fear?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Miss Representation. In the documentary they examine the lack of 40+ y/o women represented in the media and in Hollywood. The media shows us this world in which older women do not exist. And when confronted with that idea, it's no wonder I'm afraid to grow up... my whole life I've seen that when women grow up they're supposed to disappear.

It's one of those strange double realities we exist with in our culture: I know many women who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s, who are actively participating in their communities, who have jobs, goals, dreams, plans, struggles, drama, dates, work-outs, etc. just like most younger adults I know. They also have wisdom, experience, maturity, insights, trial & errors, etc. that most younger adults I know do not have. So while I can simply look around and see that growing older does not mean losing relevance, I still have this deep-seeded fear of actually getting there.

I think, unfortunately, that part of this double reality stems from my own privilege. I've never been older than 25 so I can't begin to speak to the struggles of aging women in an objectifying, youth-obsessed culture. Except, perhaps, to say that I'm beginning to feel the pressure...

This whole concept really bothers me because I feel like I'm only just beginning to be the person I aim to become. I am only just beginning to understand the world and my place in it. I'm only just beginning to know exactly what I want to get out of all this life stuff. I can't bare the thought of only having another 15ish years before I have to go back to living in shame and silence (less if I don't maintain my current weight, but that's an issue which needs it's own post). 

It seems to me that a big part of the problem (as with many social justice issues) is the objectification of women. As we get older our bodies change and since we've been taught, since we were children, that a woman's value is directly effected by her sex appeal it shouldn't be surprising that older women feel ashamed of their bodies, and therefor, ashamed of themselves. Especially since the "ideal" woman's body is an impossible standard and we don't have many images of healthy, happy, mature women.
So today I've decided that I will try not to be afraid to grow older. I want to be excited for it!  Society tells me I should be afraid and ashamed. That I should work as hard as I possibly can to keep my face and body looking like they do right now, and I should be silent and ashamed when they don't stay this way.
I reject that. I'll continue taking care of my face and body, but not because I need to fit into an oppressive gender/age paradigm. It will be because I still have 60ish years of shit to do. I have a lot to say and, as I continue to gather experiences, I'm sure I'll find even more to talk about. I'm going to have saggy skin and boobs, but so will everyone! I'm far too excited to shape the future of the woman I will become to worry about how her physical shape or age "should" make her too ashamed to be seen in public.


Okay, this post is kind of ranty and scattered, and it's honestly the first time I've written about ageism, so thanks for letting me spew stuff randomly to shape my ideas on the topic. Please let me know if my privilege is showing!

BTW, my birthday has been really great so far, in case you were wondering :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"She's a Slut, So it's Okay"

Earlier today I was facing a serious caffeine deficit so I went to the cafĂ© at my place of work to get some coffee. Two of my co-workers were in there, both women, and they greeted me as I approached them,

"Hey! Don't mind us, we're just talking about sex." Said one of my co-workers.
"Oh." I replied, "Cool, I love sex."

I spent the next ten minutes chatting and laughing with them about past loves and lovers, and strange sexual situations we, or friends of ours, had encountered.

I really like having these conversations with women. The myth that a woman's value is tied up in her "purity" or virginity is often (re)shaken up for me, and for other women, I think, when we have open, honest discussions. As women we can give each other permission to exist outside of the "purity" paradigm when we are honest about our own desires and experiences.

Anyway, so we're having this conversation and one of the women tells us a story about a friend who recently had an experience in which she believed she was being fingered and then realized that the man was engaging her in intercourse. The story was supposed to be funny, because of the implication about the man's penis size, but I wasn't amused. I asked, concerned, if she was alright and expressed a sense of uneasiness at the lack of communication which could lead to that kind of misunderstanding, had he known whether or not she wanted to have intercourse?
The woman who had told the story responded,

"She's a slut, so it's okay."

Knowing this woman, and being there to hear her tone of voice and the things she said after making that statement, I know that the message she was trying to convey was that the woman had consented. She meant "She consented, so it's okay." Which alleviated my immediate concern for the woman in question, but heightened my concern for her future and the futures of other sexually active women.

There are two really nasty implications in this statement, the first one we've already touched on a bit; the implication that a woman who consents to sex is a slut. When the phrases "She consented" and "She's a slut" are interchangeable we have a real problem. Consent, enthusiastic consent, is an idea that our society needs to be celebrating, not shaming. We have to start respecting women's choices, especially as other women.
When a woman my age (early to mid twenties) tells other woman that she is a virgin there is almost always some surprise, followed quickly by someone saying something along the lines of "Good for you!" or "That's awesome" or "I really respect that." And there isn't anything wrong with that, except for the implication that a woman who isn't a virgin is then, by contrast, bad or less worthy of respect. We have to start respecting the empowerment in making an informed decision, regardless of whether it's the one this culture tells us is "better." That way we can truly start to celebrate enthusiastic consent and other responsible and empowering sexual decisions (like getting tested, using birth control, using condoms, etc.).

As a woman, I feel like I have a responsibility to stop letting the double standard of purity apply to me and to stop applying it to other women. You are valuable because you exist. Your value isn't based on whether or not you've made your sexual debut or how many sexual partners you've had. In fact, your value isn't even remotely tied to anything involving physical intimacy. Yours isn't, and mine isn't.

The other really big issue with this statement is the meaning you probably picked up on right away. I voiced concern about the possibility of a sexual assault. I was told, "She's a slut, so it's okay." As if the fact that a woman has consented to intercourse before determines whether she has the option to withhold consent later.

If your friend asks you if they can have $20 and you tell them yes, does it mean that he/she can take $20 from your wallet whenever they want now? Or that each of your other friends is entitled to $20 from you? Of course not! So why would anyone assume that because a person has consented to sexual activity in one situation, they are less able or likely to withhold consent in another one? That doesn't make sense at all.

AND - it's victim blaming -- She didn't get raped because everyone knows that she is a slut -- in other words; it's the victim's fault because she gave consent previously. Consenting to sex in the past was wrong and that is why this thing has happened.
Excusing the perpetrator and blaming the victim. Continuing the cycle of silence and shame.

It's really confusing, as a woman, to feel as if I only have value because of the ability my vagina has given me to engage in intercourse, while simultaneously feeling that if I use my vagina for intercourse I lose that value.

So let's just agree now, even if she is a "slut," it's only okay if she says it is.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

You Need to Watch This Video

I talk a lot about how rape myths contribute to the perpetuation of violence and victim blaming. There's a clear trail of logic there, but I just saw this video from Button Poetry and the way this poet expresses it is so perfect. What you feel when you listen to it is what I, and many of you, I'm sure, feel every time I hear rape trivialization or a rape joke or a myth. I'm so glad this man has found a way to vocalize it!

***Trigger Warning!!! Extensive discussion of rape, sexual assault/abuse, victim blaming.***






Thursday, October 24, 2013

Men Fly While Women are Invisible


As my husband and I drove home from our family's cabin this weekend we listened to a very interesting program on NPR called This American Life. The installment we happened upon was about Super Powers and it was really cool. It was written by John Hodgman. You can read the entire transcription here.

There was one part that really stood out to me though, so we'll talk about that.

Early in the program they talk about an informal study in which participants were asked if they would choose the ability to become invisible or fly, if given the choice. This decision, and the reasons different people pick different options, was discussed at length, and this came up:

John Hodgman:

So who chooses invisibility and who chooses flight? In my experience, though there are lots of exceptions, men lean towards flying, women to invisibility. And many brood anxiously over their choice, switching from one to the other and back again. And that's because, more than the ability, say, to burst into flame or shoot arrows with uncanny accuracy, flight and invisibility touch a nerve. Actually, they touch two different nerves, speak to very different primal desires and unconscious fears.
My friend Christine chose invisibility.

Christine:

One superpower is about something that's obvious, and the other is about something that is hidden. I think it indicates your level of shame.

John Hodgman:

How do you mean?

Christine:

A person who chooses to fly has nothing to hide. A person who chooses to be invisible wants clearly to hide themselves.

John Hodgman:

Do you feel that you want to hide yourself?

Christine:

I want to-- I'd like to not-- I'm not going to answer that question.
I relate with Christine, as do many other women. So what does this mean? I know that when I first started trying to decide what I would pick, my gut said to go with invisibility. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I would really rather fly. But why does the idea of invisibility appeal so strongly to me and so many other women?
This idea of invisibility being linked to shame is really eye-opening to me. Women are taught to feel ashamed of themselves, their bodies, their opinions, from a really young age. We're exposed to harmful media images, inequality in schools and the workplace, and a culture of misogyny in the worst cases and ambivalent sexism in the better ones. Impossible and ridiculous standards for beauty and purity are engrained in us before we can even understand the concepts. No wonder we struggle with shame and wish to be able to disappear.
I've had experiences in groups of men where I was completely ignored throughout entire conversations. It would have been really nice to be invisible then, if only to be able to feel as if I had chosen to be ignored, to not have to confront the idea that these people felt I was unable to contribute to a discussion because I have a vagina.
The issue of shame for our culture's young women is an involved and nuanced problem. But being aware of it's existence is the first step in changing it. Now, I don't really see a huge problem with the idea of having the super power of invisibility in and of itself but when a majority of women would rather disappear than spread their wings and fly.... 

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day-Regrets" Or Is It?


The other day I was on train on my way to work. I had a beautiful, blue beach cruiser with me, like most days, because my mother-in-law let me borrow it when my car started having problems. There was a sticker on the back of the bike. It had two little speech bubbles one said "Yes! Yes!" The other said "Oh yes!!" and underneath were the words "Always Get Enthusiastic Consent."


So, I was on the train, reading Cloud Atlas (which is a REALLY good book, btw) and I heard, "Excuse me," I looked to my right to see the man who'd spoken to me and he continued, "Will you explain what this sticker means to me?" He smiled and I could tell he was genuinely interested so I told him,
"It's exactly what it seems. It's about making sure you have enthusiastic consent before engaging in sexual activity." I smiled as he started laughing, obviously a bit embarrassed. I told him that I'd received the sticker from an advocate at the University of Utah and told him that I believe if everyone would gauge their partner's sexual readiness based on enthusiastic consent, or lack of the same, it would help change our culture into one that does not accept rape.
At this point another man sitting near us said something like,
"That's all fine and good, as long as they also have stickers that say 'Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day Regrets.'"
As common as I know they are, I'm still always a bit thrown off-guard when I'm confronted with a rape myth. I paused a few seconds and the man chuckled, taking my temporary silence as agreement. I ran through several things I could have said. In hindsight, I didn't say the simplest thing I could have said which would have been, "The concept of enthusiastic consent can help avoid situations where that could be an issue." Instead I went with, "You know, I can see why you might say that, but studies have shown that only about 2% of rapes are false reports." I explained one of the main reasons this myth is so prevalent when he confessed that he thought that number was inaccurately low.
My stop came up after that so I had to leave the conversation, but I didn't stop thinking about the exchange for most of the day. Firstly, because it was actually a pleasant conversation, which is kind of rare. But secondly because I couldn't stop thinking about that statement:

"Rape is not the same as next-day-regrets."

Because, well....yes it is.

If a person really consents they generally aren't going to regret it the next day. I mean, there are exceptions to most rules and I'm not saying that there are never legitimate cases of simple next-day-regrets, maybe a person sleeps with their best friend and then regrets it because of the fear of the relationship changing negatively. But a person isn't going to file a rape report in that situation.
It's estimated that over half of sexually violent crimes are never reported, part of the reason behind that is that you have to go through the hell of a code R exam (rape kit), interrogation by the police, the court process that is usually at least a year long, and the realization that your own society is largely against you. Why would someone go through that just for the sake of some petty revenge or guilt?

The reason this statement bothered me so much is that, like most rape myths, this isn't just about a simple case of misinformation. The widely accepted belief in this myth trickles down to survivors too. It took me almost a year to really start my healing process because the culture I live in told me that I was having "next-day regrets," that I was the one who had messed up. My culture didn't accept that I was raped so neither could I. And I'm not alone, this happens to thousands of women every year.

Coercive sex is rape
Sex with drunk person is rape

Rape. Not "next-day regrets."

The statement bothered me for another reason too. It's this implication that sex is something women often regret or feel dirty about. Our culture tells women that they should protect their "purity" (whatever that means). I remember hearing a metaphor in high school that compared a woman's "virtue" to an apple. Every time a woman does something impure, like have sex, it's as if a bite has been taken from the apple, so if she doesn't guard her virtue and keep it sacred she'll only have the yucky old apple core to offer the man she will eventually want to spend her life with. This kind of thinking is so insidious, not only to survivors of sexual violence, who often feel as if their entire "virtue apple" has just been stolen and gobbled up completely, but to all of our young women. This myth can only lead to a lack of self-esteem and a deep sense of shame as young women's bodies change, flooding them with hormones and bringing them to a point of sexual readiness and they begin to experience arousal.

This topic really deserves it's own post so I'll leave it there. But if you're interested, you should read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. I haven't read it yet, but I've heard great things! I plan to pick it up in the next week, so maybe we'll be discussing it soon.




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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dehumanization: Welcome to a Woman's Life

One of sexism and sexual violence's best tools is dehumanization. The word means exactly what it sounds like. When you dehumanize a person you are treating them as less than human; less capable of experiencing human emotions (like terror and joy), less capable of thinking like a human, less... you get the idea.

I see subtle dehumanization of women daily. One quick example: when I'm with my husband and he is speaking with a group of men I am often completely ignored, as if I'm an accessory, by most of them (not by my husband of course).

I also see a lot of overt dehumanization, particularly in the form of rape jokes. Here's a real winner:


Now, I'm no friend to animal cruelty. In fact, I'm a vegetarian. Well, I'm mostly vegan, besides a little cheese every once in awhile, but I digress.
I do hate the idea of any living thing suffering. But that's not the issue. Blurred Lines is about a woman, obviously, and the implication in this tweet is that it's okay that he's talking about a woman, but it wouldn't be okay if he were talking about an ape.

So, as a culture, what are we supposed to infer from this? Well in it's simplest form we could probably describe it this way:

Ape < Man

Woman < Ape

Any other humans have a problem with this?

This is also really a perfect example of how the dehumanization of women has led to so much sexual violence. If a woman isn't even as valuable (for lack of a better term) as an animal, why shouldn't we treat her like an animal? I mean, in the United States we kill millions of animals a day for human purposes (food, research, etc), so we obviously (as a culture, not individuals) don't value their lives or their right to live freely or make choices. So when a woman doesn't consent to sexual activity why would the perpetrator care? It's not as if he's harming a human.

We can think of it another way too:
Say I told you that I will give you $10 if you kick a bean bag chair as hard as you possibly can. Most people would probably take me up that offer.

Now what if I told you that I will give you $10 if you kick a person as hard as you possibly can. Most people wouldn't do it.

Why? Because the bean bag won't feel pain, you're getting what you want ($10) without taking something away from someone else (comfort, feeling safe).

So, when we equate human beings to objects, known as objectification (which is a form of dehumanization), we make it easier to justify violence against them.

While thinking of a woman in the same terms as a bean bag chair is obviously much worse than treating her like an ape, the concept is the same.

Statements, like the one on the above twitter post, which dehumanize and objectify women are directly reflecting and influencing our culture. They need to stop. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Open Letter to the Men of Greeting People with a Kiss

Hey Stuart and Andrew,

I watched your YouTube video and I have to say I don't think it was nearly as funny as you seem to think it was. I kind of feel like you shouldn't need me to tell you this since several of the people you "greeted" with a kiss were obviously less than comfortable. The thing is that what you call "Greeting People with a Kiss" many others (and the law) call sexual assault.

Sexual Assault is defined as: a statutory offense that provides that it is a crime to knowingly cause another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act by force or threat.

Now, let me say first that I really like a lot of your videos. The "Can I have a bite of your food" one... hilarious! As are many other videos. I'm also pretty sure you guys probably didn't feel like you were forcing people to engage in kissing with you, but you were. First of all, you completely ignored the body language and protests from several people who tried to pull or lean away. It was completely obvious to me, and to you, that many people did not want you to kiss them and you did anyway. I know you didn't have bad intentions, but that doesn't negate the harm you could have (and very probably did) cause.

The very first woman in the video was very obviously confused and upset. But Andrew just stood there making the woman feel even more uncomfortable about the fact that she hadn't let him kiss her. He didn't leave her alone until she said that she was married (which is typical, since many men only respect a woman's right to body autonomy when she "belongs" to another man).

The second clip of the video is of you two explaining that in many cultures a kiss on the cheek or lips is an appropriate greeting. That's true, and I understand that other cultural norms, which are different than ours in the USA, can be funny when inserted into our social situations. That being said, this was most definitely the wrong custom to choose. Here's the biggest reason why:
In Utah, 1 out of every 4 women on your campus (that's right 25% of those UVU women) have been or will be sexually assaulted during their time at the University. 1 of 5 those women will be raped during their life. What does that have to do with a little prank? A lot.

I am a survivor of rape , I work with survivors and have many friends who are survivors. I can conclusively state that a random person forcing a kiss on a survivor in the hallway at school would be a horrifically scary and triggering experience for many women. There were 12 women in your video which means that, statistically, up to 3 of them were sexual assault survivors that could have been really negatively affected by this experiment of yours.

Although I think that reason alone should be enough, there's more.
The main reason sexual assaults and rapes are so common is that we live in a culture which excuses perpetrators and blames victims. It's easy to fall into the myths our culture perpetrates about female sexuality and male dominance because we're also constantly surrounded by images, and other media, which dehumanize women. It's what makes men think it's okay to kiss a random woman in the hallway. We don't consider that a woman has just as much right to decide who she kisses as a man does. Now, I know that other men where involved too, and I'll get to that, I just want you to know that what you did to these women further cemented their sub-conscious belief that they are less valuable than you are, that they have less ability to make decisions. It also shows other men (at least 2% of whom are rapists) that it doesn't matter if a woman doesn't want sexual contact to happen, if the man wants it, he can keep trying until he gets it.

But let's move on.
The next woman in the video makes it clear 4 TIMES that she doesn't want to be kissed. She's laughing, but it's nervous laughter and she's also pulling away, if you hadn't had a hold of her hand she certainly would have retreated out of your reach. Is there any other way to describe this other thank non-consensual sexual activity?

The woman after that seems fine with being kissed on the cheeks (she's the first one btw) but when you go in for the lips she pulls away and tells you that she's seen your other videos. The way she said it sounded, to me, like an excuse to not have to participate (the fact that she felt she had to make up an excuse instead of just saying "no" is just more evidence of our culture's oppressive nature toward women). The fact that she made clear she didn't want to participate makes me think that she probably didn't want you kissing her cheeks either, but she knew you were recording and she didn't want to be "that girl" on the finished video. You know, the one who stands up for herself and then gets mercilessly ridiculed for being an irrational, crazy, angry, prude, bitch with no sense of fun. Of course, I'm making an assumption, but as a woman who's been in similar situations, I feel like I have the experience to back it up.

The next few women either say "no" or make some kind of negative statement like "I don't..." The woman in the leg brace was even pushing Andrew away as he pulled her entire body into his. That would be terrifying for me.
And then, you don't come clean about the fact that you're making a video that's supposed to be funny, you tell them that this is a part of YOUR culture, making them feel unjustified and invalidated about their reactions.

Many of the women you encountered were willing to laugh it off. The woman who suggested a high-five instead of a kiss was a good sport, trying to provide a boundary without making you feel stupid. But the video continues, despite the clear boundary setting by this woman and the attempt to establish boundaries by every single other woman in the video up to this point.

Now, this is the part where you kiss some men as well. The first thing I noticed about these men is that they weren't pulling back trying to get away, at least not like the women were. The were clearly confused and were trying to figure out why some random person would be kissing them but there was a clear difference in the levels of fear and discomfort between the men and women you targeted.
The second thing I noticed is that you didn't try to kiss the men on the lips, just the cheeks. You didn't even try for the lips which makes it clear, to me, that at least part of the reason you were kissing women on the lips is because of the sexual meaning behind kissing on the mouth. If it was really only about cultural differences or humor you would have tried to kiss the men too.

One of the next clips Stuart says, "Look at that grip, she's like, 'Get away!'" and then you laugh, still holding onto her hand. So, you know that she wants you to "get away" and still, you continue exploiting her for you YouTube channel.

One last thing before I conclude this letter: At the end you ask for people to comment about whether or not it's okay to kiss people on the cheeks or lips in their cultures. I think that you two might do well to remember that in OUR culture it isn't okay to kiss random people on the lips and there are reasons for that.

Okay, I know that I've just been really critical and I've made a lot of assumptions about what other people, and you two, may or may not have been feeling and/or thinking. I just want to put out there that I don't know what other people think and feel and I could be totally, dead wrong about some things.
The point of this letter isn't to claim that I know more about kissing strangers than you do. This letter is about hoping you will see a new perspective. The perspective that only a woman living in an oppressive society, surrounded by rape culture, can give you.

Sincerely,

Jenna Rae Rudolph - A Feminist Slut

Friday, October 11, 2013

Title Change: An Explaination

Until a few days ago the name of the blog was "Diary of a Feminazi." It has been suggested that I take a little time to explain why I originally picked that title and why I changed it.

The reason I picked the name in the first place is because of this time my little brother, who was in Jr. High school, called a little girl in his class a slut (side note: there is actually a LOT more to that whole story, including the fact that my brother had already apologized to the little girl the same day the incident happened). It got back to my mom and she called me and said something like, "Your brother called a girl a slut today. I've told him he has to call his feminazi sister so she can explain why he isn't to use that word. He'll be calling you in a few minutes." She had used the word as a term of endearment and I liked the irony in it. I didn't even realize, at the time, that it was a Rush Limbaugh reference. Anyway, I named the blog and then learned about the Limbaugh statement. I liked the name even more after that because it felt like a reclamation of the word, much the way Slutwalk works to take back "slut" in order to help stop victim blaming.
I really liked the name but then I read something, somewhere that happened to mention the use of the term as derogatory even when used ironically by feminists. The piece argued that the term showed insensitivity and a lack of validation to the victims, survivors, and families of those who were damaged by the horrific actions of the Nazi party.

I originally felt a little bit defensive about this. I didn't mean any harm by the name, and it had a personal significance to me besides the Rush reference, so maybe it was okay if I kept using it. I tried to just not think about it, but I also couldn't bring myself to publish another post under the name.

A week or so ago I read an article called "How to Tell if You're Racist," you should check it out here. It presents a metaphor: When you're walking past someone and you accidentally step on their foot, you stop and say your sorry and then you pay more attention as you continue on your way. You wouldn't dream of stepping on someone's foot and then saying "It's okay, you shouldn't be hurt because I intended to step to the left of your foot."
It's the same with language. It doesn't matter how pure or good your intentions are, when you discover that you've harmed, or could harm someone with your words or actions; you fix it, and watch out for that in the future.

This is my public apology; I'm sorry.

I've chosen the name "Diary of a Feminist Slut" for several reasons. It still has that sense of irony and reclamation I like so much, but it's also something I can claim completely. The word "slut" has been a tool of my oppression as a woman and a tool of my current empowerment, especially since I began working with Slutwalk SLC. It's also kind of perfect since my very first step into organized feminism and public speaking came from a request to have a "Third-wave feminist slut" on a panel about inter-generational cooperation and tension, specifically regarding language like slut, queer, and cunt.

Anyway, there's an explanation,  I had to check my bias and my privilege and I hope you'll take this admission as an opportunity to do the same.









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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My thoughts on a super rapey email.

A member of a Georgia Tech fraternity sent out the most incredibly rapey email I've every seen. It's basically a how-to guide on "Luring Rapebait."

I'm sure that there are already a lot of blogs addressing this and I'm sure there will be a whole lot more, so I'm not going to do a whole break down on all of the rape myths, dehumanization, and sexism (against men and women) that exists in this email. It would take me a really long time, as hardly a line passes without the stuff, and I have a fundraising meeting to get to. You can read the email for yourself here. And I'm just going to talk about the two things that bothered me the very most about this email.

The first thing is that there are several instances in which he tells his "bros," in no uncertain terms, that if a woman says No it either means try harder, or remove her ability to think clearly (or be credible?) by getting her more drinks. The most overt of these messages is probably when he writes, "If for some reason they aren’t down for a cheek kiss, just dance through it or say you are going to get another drink and see if they want one. And then repeat from the beginning." In other words, if she doesn't want to get physical, let her think that's fine with you, get her another drink. Then, lull her into a false sense of security by de-escalating things, making her think that you really like HER and are okay just dancing or whatever. That way, she continues being friendly, drinking, and then when you rape her you can always say that she led you on.

This guy writes down contingency plans for every No a bro could encounter. Every one of them is about manipulation, shame, or further intoxication (btw, you CAN'T consent to sex when intoxicated, so if these guys were looking for consensual sex alcohol wouldn't even be entering the equation). 


Okay, the second thing is the one that bothers me the very most, which really means something considering how much this whole damn email bothers me. It's this line:
" ALWAYS START WITH THE MAKING OUT!!!! NO RAPING."

This person has just written a six paragraph email that outlines the process of an alcohol facilitated rape. This person is talking about rape, very likely, as a serial rapists. He seems to fit the profile exactly. He is helping people plan violent crimes and with these two sentences he's attempted to employ the biggest rape myth there is as a buffer between himself and appropriate consequences.'

 Rape Myth: A rape is ONLY something perpetrated completely randomly by horrible, ugly strangers. Therefore, if a girl would want to make out with someone, he couldn't possible rape her.

This, of course, is untrue and so damaging to potential victims and to survivors. Because of this myth tens of thousands of women, every year, do not seek justice or healing for themselves. This myth tells women that if they "lead someone on," they no longer have the option to say no to intercourse. So, what is leading someone on? It seems to me, that our culture tells us it happens as soon as the guy in question thinks intercourse might be an option. So as a woman, how do I know when that is?? Is it after I've initiated petting? Is it after the first really passionate kiss? Is it when I say I'll dance with him? When I accept a drink he buys? When he sees that I'm wearing a low cut shirt?
You see the problem?

Let's take another step out of the rape culture to ask these questions:

Is being raped an appropriate punishment for leading another person on?

Is being raped an appropriate punishment for anything?

Why would a person want to waste his/her time punishing someone for leading them on instead of trying to meet someone who would be happy to engage in consensual sex?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.



Update: The young man who sent this email wrote an apology. I saw it today, and while I have a hard time believing that it is as sincere as it's meant to seem, I still think it's an important step for our culture. The fact that he felt obligated to issue an apology at all is surprising to me considering the usual, defensive response after incidents like this. See the apology here, it's actually pretty good.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rape Jokes Aren't Funny

I was going to write about something different today, but because of a few things that happened to me this week I decided that instead I need to write about rape jokes. Because, really people, rape jokes are not funny. Ever. Not only are they not ever funny, they are never acceptable. Ever.

Here's why:

In Utah, 1 of every 3 women you meet has been sexually assaulted. 1 of 5 has been raped. It's not much lower than that anywhere and it's a lot higher in some places. So, if you are at a party and there are 10 women there, it is very likely that at least two of them are rape survivors. That means that when you make your rape joke you are damaging two people.

When I hear rape jokes a bunch of things happen really quickly - first, I think about my rape, which causes me to feel anxious and unsafe. Then, I feel shame. I'm an activist. I fight rape culture every day and when someone makes light of it all it makes me feel stupid for caring so much. Of course, that's just a culturally conditioned response and I have a lot of practice overcoming it, so the third thing that happens is I get angry and then scared. See, I get angry so I know I have to speak up. Which makes me scared because I know that I'm going to be blamed with killing the party vibe or accused of being uptight and too serious or made to feel like I've done something wrong by speaking up (IF I'm not called horrible names, and threatened with physical violence, which has happened, on more than one occasion). Of course, that's ridiculous, because why should I be blamed for making people feel uncomfortable when someone has just made me, and probably a lot of other women, feel not only uncomfortable, but unsafe and anxious?

That's what happens to me. I've done hundreds of hours of research about rape culture and slut shaming and sexism. I know what's happening and why and I am still afraid to speak up, imagine how someone else, who doesn't know what I know, feels in the same situation.

Basically, when you tell rape jokes or make a rape-trivializing comment, you are making it harder to exist in this world as a survivor.

I've had a survivor argue with me about this, saying that humor is one of the ways he copes with his trauma. I would never want to judge the coping methods of anyone else, but if that is how you deal, please do it privately. As a survivor you should understand that everyone heals differently and you should be sensitive enough to the feelings of other survivors to refrain from doing anything that would make it harder for them.

That's not all though... it isn't just about choosing not to make it harder for victims and survivors. It's about choosing not to accept this culture that blames and dehumanizes victims and  excuses perpetrators.
When you jokingly say, "I hope that person gets raped by a toad!" You imply that if that person really were raped, they would deserve it, at least a little bit, meaning the perpetrator isn't as much to blame. You also dehumanize the person. Think of it this way; if you really saw a rape happening to a person it would be a horrible thing to see, a human being in that kind of pain, experiencing that level of terror.... it couldn't be funny to a person with half a conscience. So, in order to be able to joke about rape, you have to disconnect the hypothetical victim from his/her humanism. By doing this, you desensitize yourself to the humanness of all victims and you desensitize the people listening to you as well.

Again, that's not all though.... if 1/3 of women are sexually assaulted, that means that there are a lot of people out there assaulting. Most rapists think that everyone else is a rapist too, because not all rapists are horrible, serial killing, monsters. Most of the time rapes are perpetrated by "normal" men so, to be a "normal" rapist, you have to be embedded in rape culture, and rape culture tells us that rape is the victim's fault. If rape is the victim's fault, then "normal" people can't help themselves, but rape when confronted with a potential victim.
So, when you trivialize rape or make jokes about it the rapists, and potential rapists, who hear you assume you are a rapist too and it's a normal thing. It solidifies for them that they haven't REALLY done anything wrong and that it won't be a big deal when they do it again.

Okay, I just wrote a lot of stuff that all boils down to this:
If you make jokes about, or trivialize, rape you are making recovery more difficult for victims, endorsing rape culture, and actively excusing and encouraging rapists.

I know that most of rape-jokers reading this are not horrible people. I know that you don't want to hurt survivors or excuse rapists. But that IS what you are doing. If you doubt me, check out some of these studies:

Duran, Mercedes, Miguel Moya, and Jesus L. Megias. "It's His Right, It's Her Duty: Benevolent Sexism And The Justification Of Traditional Sexual Roles." Journal Of Sex Research 48.5 (2011): 470-478. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.

McMahon, Sarah, and G. Lawrence Farmer. "An Updated Measure For Assessing Subtle Rape Myths." Social Work Research 35.2 (2011): 71-81. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.

Yamawaki, Niwako. "Rape Perception And The Function Of Ambivalent Sexism And Gender-Role Traditionality." Journal Of Interpersonal Violence 22.4 (2007): 406-423. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.

They aren't specifically about rape jokes, but they talk about sexism and rape myths. The connections are pretty obvious.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You're So Hot

I take I-15 to work almost every day. I take the exit for 600 South and I pass a billboard that makes me want to puke, almost every day. This is the billboard:


The first time I saw it I was mainly angry about the objectification issue. I mean, has anyone else noticed that when a guy complements the looks of another man's wife or girlfriend it's often with a tone which is eerily similar to the one he uses to complement his car or new barbeque? I have, and I'm not amused when I see that thought process justified and further normalized by advertising.

I was already angry the first time I saw this billboard. But I drive past it almost every day so I noticed the rest of the sign and became even more upset.

Now, in addition to the implication that a person who is also a wife, and therefore a woman, would be unable to fix an air conditioner, there's the added insult in the fact that this is a advertisement for a company which fixes air conditioners, meaning that the implication is actually that a woman is incapable of making the phone call necessary to get the repair made.

So, you have to ask yourself, why does society think that women are incapable, even of making telephone calls? Maybe because society still sees men as the only humans capable of earning significant money, and therefore, the only humans who should be making calls which will dictate how that money is spent? But that's definitely not true and like it or not, men are going to have to face up to that. See Gina Rinehart. Or maybe they don't see women as incapable anymore, but want us to continue to feel incapable in order to perpetuate the patriarchy?

I don't know... but I do know that even as a wife, I am perfectly capable of assessing a situation, checking our bank account (to which I have contributed about 50% throughout our marriage), and calling a repair person. Not only that, but give me the tools and instructions and I bet you I could fix the damn thing myself (shout out to my mom and daddy, who aren't sexist asshats, and taught me how to do things to keep me safe and comfortable regardless of if they were "girl things" or "boy things")!

While all that makes me pretty mad, I think the thing that makes me most frustrated is the fact that they could have kept their joke and not been all anti-women at the same time! The billboard could have said:

You're so hot,
fix your air conditioner!

See! Now it's funny, charming, and not misogynistic! The funny part, the misdirection, is still there, but it isn't discriminatory, based on gender anymore.

So why didn't they do that in the first place? I wish I knew. Which is why I sent them an email to ask about it.

***Update***
In my email I simply pointed out why the sign is sexist and offensive and expressed my confidence in the possibility that the sexism hadn't been recognized. I also kinda asked them to take it down. 
Here is the response I received back:


"Hello Jenna,
Thank you for sharing your feelings about the sixth south billboard.  We have run this
particular campaign off and on for approximately seven years.  We have received hundreds
of compliments and no compaints during the campaigns.
Aside from branding etc., the goal of our advertising is to try to add some simple humor in an otherwise
boring category to our stressful day-to-day lives.  Though I respect your view, your concerns never
entered our minds.  There is no subtle message intended. 
I apologize if we offended you.  Thank you for your input and we will take it into consideration in the future.

Jackie Weaver
President" 

So, I guess mine has been the only complaint about the billboard. I know I don't have many followers here, but if you agree that this billboard is sexist and should be taken down I'm sure Ms. Weaver would like to hear about it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Feminism Ruins Relationships. Or not.

I was on Twitter the other day and saw a post which contained a link to this little gem from Thought Catalog:




First of all, I want to point out that it's obvious the author of this post was trying to remain PC and not ruffle any feathers. She even spends most of the first sentence showcasing her seemingly positive views on feminists.But, by the end of that sentence she's already missed something pretty huge: What kind of "enlightened" women, who sees herself as a "full human being" would WANT to date someone who "isn't on that boat?" Uhm... none of us.

But let's pretend that this whole thing isn't a moot point and analyze all the other (unintentional?) anti-woman elements of this paragraph.

The "someone who isn't on that boat" comment bothers me for another reason too; it seems, to me, to be saying that there exists a valid way of thinking that does not include feminism. Of course, this is untrue. Any person who doesn't think men and women should be equal, who doesn't think that women should be able to control their own lives and bodies, DOES NOT have a valid opinion. Not being on board with feminism isn't the same thing as not being on board with chocolate ice cream.

"But wait," I can already hear some of you saying, "just because a person doesn't want to refer to themselves as a feminist doesn't mean that they aren't in favor of women's rights."
Well, that may be true. However, the author here lists the things that this hypothetical potential partner isn't on board with. She says the person isn't on the boat that recognizes the virtues of women who are "enlightened" about their "gender and sexuality," and the fact that a woman is "a full human being." So really, the only other "boats" out there are the USS Bigotry and USS Misogyny. I think it's a lot more likely that the sexist asshats, who can't accept that women ARE their equals, are a lot more to blame for the failed relationships the author is trying to warn us about.

Which brings me to my next point;  this paragraph is aimed at the wrong party. Feminism isn't responsible for doomed relationships, misogyny and sexism is. Since none of the rest of the points in the article were particularly aimed at women, it wouldn't have messed up the flow of the article at all to change the focus of this point to be more accurate and less horrifyingly sexist.

The problem is the culture. I'm sure the author did research to write this post and found some study somewhere that had the same backward focus. Since our society doesn't question misogyny nearly as often as it questions feminism, she probably just didn't think too much about it and wrote the point. That's what we need to change. We HAVE to think about things we see, things we read, things we hear people say, things we say ourselves. Like I said before, I feel like this author tried to write the point in a way that didn't put women down, but she needed to have tried harder. We all need to try harder.

That being said, I offer you a rewrite!

3. Sexism.

Being sexist can be a poison to any given relationship, especially if you are dating a woman who is enlightened about her own gender and sexuality and what it means to be a full human being in the world that sometimes wants to stop at "bearer of uterus." You are going to have some problems dating someone like that if you aren't willing to rise above the culture and view women as equal human beings. If she is constantly having to explain to you that catcalls are not flattering, and that abortion shouldn't even be a question (and having to take refuge in the comments section of feminist websites to keep her sanity), you already know it's over.
P.S. If this describes you, stop being such an asshat.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Woman" by 1/2-E featuring... ME!

Today you all get a little information about my life; I've been married for three years (as of yesterday) and my husband is a hip hop artist. He released an album last year and today we released the music video to one of his songs. So, what does that have to do with feminism and my blog? Well, the song is called Woman and it's about domestic violence. Henry, my husband wrote the song as if he is the woman in an abusive relationship. It's meant to be a statement about the overwhelming amount of violence toward women in our society and the fact that men don't often think about how it must feel to be in a situation like that.

Anyway, if you can handle some explicit lyrics, the message is pretty amazing and it certainly will make you think. Also, the chorus, yeah I sang it :)

Here it is, without further introduction: Woman! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFWBC4tn-V8

If you are struggling with feelings of Suicide please call the National Suicide Helpline at
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you are in a dangerous situation and/or an abusive relationship call
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

If you have been a victim of sexual violence you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at
1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Stunning Similarites Between Rape and Theft

Any of you who know very much about the epidemic of sexual violence in our culture has probably heard this kind of argument:

If you leave your car unlocked, with a bunch of money sitting on the front seat you are partly responsible for the loss if that money is stolen. And it's the same with sexual violence, including rape; if you do not take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe (ex: not drinking to much, not going out alone, not wearing revealing clothing) you are partly responsible for the violence that could be perpetrated against you.

Hearing this makes me livid for  several reasons and I'm going to rant about them all now.

#1- How the hell are you going to compare losing some money to losing your sense of safety, sanity, and value as a human being???? This kind of argument trivializes sexual violence, making it seem even remotely comparable to having money stolen.
Now, I can already feel the comments coming in about how having your car broken into DOES take away your sense of safety and sanity. About how the potential damage to the car in conjunction with the loss of the money could mean lasting and significant struggles. But please refrain from leaving these comparative comments unless you happen to have had your money stolen before AND been a victim of sexual violence. Because you can't possibly understand how completely ridiculous your assessment of the comparison is otherwise.  

#2- You would not be held responsible for money stolen from an unlocked car. You would report it to the police, who would open an investigation and would be committed to finding the criminal. While there are obviously going to be exceptions to this, it is generally the case. You may be made to feel a bit foolish, but it would be obvious to everyone, including yourself, that the only person who really did something WRONG was the person who stole your money.
This is, overwhelmingly often, not the case with sexual violence. First of all, it is estimated that less than half of rapes are even reported. Rape is very likely the most unreported crime in our nation. (http://www.rccmsc.org/resources/get-the-facts.aspx) This is, at least partly, because our culture makes victims of sexual violence feel responsible for the crime. Unlike the theft example, wherein the victim feels foolish, but knows that he/she didn't do anything wrong themselves, victims of sexual violence are made to feel like they did do something wrong to cause the crime. This feeling is reinforced by the incredibly low conviction rate of these criminals and the lack of enforcement of laws which are supposed to protect victims (more on that in another post).

#3- We are all responsible for our own actions, and we are not responsible for the actions of others. Which means that if a woman chooses to go out alone with people she doesn't know well, drink too much, and wear a tight fitting, cleavage showing, mini dress she is responsible for all those choices. She will be responsible for her own hangover, being too cold, and possibly for some awkward conversations due to the lack of friends out with her.
However, she will not be responsible for the actions of someone else, perhaps someone who criminally (yes, criminally) ignores the fact that she is too intoxicated to be able to consent to having sex.
When we think about it this way it becomes obvious that not only is a person not responsible for their own rape, but that a person isn't responsible for having their money stolen either. So, the theft example becomes a moot point anyway. 

I don't have ANY idea why we seem to want to allow criminals to get away with less responsibility and consequence than they deserve, but we ARE doing it, and it's at the expense of victims.

Think about it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"The husband has his trophy" -- WTF?

I'm kind of reading a self help book. It's about relationships. I got it as a wedding gift and I read a bit of it back then, but I put it down after a few chapters because it was too religiously inspired for my personal tastes. But I pulled it out the other day for a couple of reasons, first of all, I just started writing my first self help book (it's going to be a collection of "Recovery Challenges") and I needed formatting ideas. Secondly, this book is supposed to help you show love more effectively and that can't be a bad thing right?

Anyway, I was flipping through this book and I happened upon this bit,

"But for most couples, things begin to change after marriage. The wife finally has her man; the husband has his trophy." 

Uhm... what? It's pretty frustrating to read that as the "wife" in the scenario. The wife gets her man but the husband doesn't get his woman, he gets his trophy. He doesn't have a person to share his life with, he has an object to be admired. An object is something you own. Therefore, the common use of terms which objectify women exacerbates the cultural belief that women can be possessed, that we are not our own autonomous beings. Our culture does not believe that men and women are equal in terms of self ownership.

One of the direct consequences of this cultural belief is sexual violence toward women. When a woman is seen as an object it becomes considerably less important to gain consent for sexual acts. Even a clear refusal can become "gray area" to a person who allows this mindset of male ownership to guide him, "I bought her dinner, took her dancing, paid for this hotel room, she can't possibly actually mean 'No.'" As if the money he spent also pays for her body.

Of course, we know that it does not. A woman is not a trophy to be won or bought and her decision to accept dinner is not the same as her decision to have sex or not have sex.

But until objectifying language is no longer used to describe women we will continue to have this problem in our culture. The biggest problem is that the language and the actions are cyclical; when women are treated like objects people talk about them as objects. When people hear women being talked about as objects, they start to treat women like objects.And on and on it goes.

But we can make a difference here, we need to be more aware of the words and phrases we use, We need to call out sexism and objectification wherever we see it. If we can stop the language, we are on our way to stopping the mind set and the behaviors.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Don't Touch Me!

My sister's wedding was on a cruise ship. Most of my family was able to go and it was really awesome! The only downside, beside some occasional sea-sickness, was this random guy who thought it was okay to touch me.
My husband was at the buffet and I was waiting on my parents to finish getting ready so we could go meet up with him. I was standing outside the door of my parent's cabin when I felt someone grab and squeeze my side.
I immediately felt unsafe. Someone grabbing your side feels very different than someone grabbing your shoulder or forearm. It feels sexual and intimate.
As a survivor of sexual assault I struggle sometimes. I have been through a year of therapy, a really great support group, and I have a lot of awesome coping mechanisms. But I'm still really jumpy and I don't think that will ever go away. Being touched unexpectedly often startles me, but especially when it's somewhere I'm not generally touched or somewhere that feels intimate.
Although my first reaction was to be on guard and afraid, my second reaction was the same one I think most women have in a similar situation; I tried to talk myself down. I thought about how it wasn't a big deal, it was probably a friend or family member on the ship teasing me, it was probably my brother or my uncle or my husband. I just needed to calm down.

So I was surprised again when I turned around and saw two complete strangers. My gut instinct told me I should control my face, not let on that I was disgusted and upset. But that instinct couldn't quite contain the nastiness I felt toward these men. When the one who had touched me saw the look on my face he just laughed and said,
"You're welcome." His tone implied not that I actually was grateful, but that I should be. "Just letting you know what a cute chick you are." He continued before winking at me. He and his friend had continued walking and I heard him say to his friend a ways down the hall, "She's a pretty cute chick, hu?" I realized, with some satisfaction, that I had not been wrong in feeling that the touch had been sexual in nature. The man had just confirmed that he had touched me because he found me attractive.

I surprised myself by being too surprised to say anything. I just watched them walk down the hall until my parents came out of their cabin. See, I've thought a lot about what I would say next time someone touched me like that. I have a whole list of quippy comebacks for catcalls and the like. I was really annoyed with myself. As I thought more about my reactions I realized that I am still a victim of our culture; our anti-woman, slut-shaming, rape culture. The culture that tells women to put up with random people touching them. In the first few seconds after he grabbed me I had a lot of society-implanted thoughts run through my mind. These thoughts included: "Don't make a scene," "It's not a big deal," "He didn't mean anything by it," "I am wearing this little black dress..."

All these thoughts that, as a feminist, and as a rape survivor, I KNOW to be false. But still I thought them... I guess that cultural pressures die hard.

Anyway, it took me several hours to feel safe again. I kept looking around for those guys, I was jumpier than usual for the rest of the night. Which brings me to my dual-part conclusion:

First: It is NOT okay to touch someone, in an intimate way, without considerable evidence that they would like to be touched. It is not okay and it never has been and it never will be.

Second: You don't know what another person has been through. While it is NEVER okay to touch anyone like that, 1/3 of all women are survivors of sexual assault. That means that 1/3 of women out there already feel unsafe and vulnerable much of the time. That means that 1/3 of women will experience extra trauma when they are touched in a sexual way like that, and most of them will have shame feelings resurface as they tell themselves to stop freaking out; that guy didn't do anything that bad by touching them.
So, don't touch people. If you know that there's a one in three chance that by touching someone you could be re-traumatizing them, you should... uh... NOT!



Okay, rant over... But check out www.everydaysexism.com It's a really awesome project that aims to record every day acts of sexism that women have to deal with. It's very powerful and definitely worth reading through. You can also follow on twitter @everydaysexism

You can follow me on twitter @JennaRaeRudolph and instagram @jennarae_12345