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 :)