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.