Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making Rape a Spectacle

Rolling Stone recently published an article documenting the horrifying, gut-churning and sadly, not entirely surprising details of a sexual assault on Jackie, a UVA student, whom was attacked in 2012. While the article has attracted much needed attention to the problems associated with assaults on campuses and the frequent failure of responsible parties in handling the matter, there are a lot of problems that bothered me while reading the article.
If you haven't read the article, I suggest doing so but with side notes to consider. Firstly, Jackie's story is her own. It a story that should be told with reverence and the way that she wants. But I have a major issue with the way the story is present. It continually reiterates the "good girl" concept. Her lack if interest in drinking is noted. Her clothing is remarked on as modest and tasteful. She is relieved of any blame in the matter. The problem is that it simply does not matter. We already have a rampant issue of victim blaming. What was she wearing? Was she alone? Was she drunk? We have to stop caring. The problem is that this article wants you to know that she was dressed modestly, was sober or relatively so and had not "asked for it" in any way. The fact is, it didn't matter what she was or drinking. And by making sure all of society knows she did not provoke it, it is implied that anything revealing or associated with drinking probably would have made her somewhat responsible. It is sort of a backhanded way of victim blaming, as if to say, "Don't worry, she was not drunk or dressed slutty, so there is no reason she is responsible."
I would also like to remark on the note that UVA does not have any "radical feminists" trying to overthrow patriarchy. That's nice. Thank God the rampant issue of sexual assault on campus has not caused those ball-busting feminists to uprise and demand a smidgen or respect. 
While fraternities play a large part in assaults, it is important to recognize that they do not create rapists but may simply encourage a hyper masculinity or mentality and behaviors that may encourage someone to commit assault. Getting rid of them may help the problem but it is important to note that rape happens outside of fraternities too. The article seems to make it a one-dimensional issue. I am not disagreeing that fraternity houses are the perfect set up for the perfect environment and mentality that may encourage or make it easier for a predator to assault, it also is not the only thing that is a factor. And faculty, student attitudes and societal attitudes need to change. Also, people should simply not rape other people. But dumbing it down to a problem of merely fraternities is not the right avenue. It is noted that handling of the assaults by faculty is a problem but we should bare in mind that eliminating fraternities does not eliminate rape. Eliminating rape culture eliminates rape and fraternities, generally, are just a portion of that. Also, I have met my best friend at a fraternity house and he is one of the best men I have ever met. I would like to note he is a self-proclaimed feminist and can explain to you who Jessica Valenti is. So, it is not fair to make the he-is-a-frat-boy-so-he-is-an-asshole-rapist claim.
Later in the article girls are described wearing crop tops and being "sloshed" (So poetic). It also remarks on a girl who was assaulted previously and noted that she was virgin. You know, because it mattered what they wearing and if they were intoxicated and how many people they slept with before. 
I praise the story in some ways. It is a testimate to an incredibly brave woman who has decided to speak out against the system. It brings to light the massive problem of sexual assaults on college campuses and the lack of police and faculty participation or even interest in dealing with the matter in many cases. There are wonderful things about this article. It is a story that should be read with reverence and respect. It is a story that should be listened to and taken in slowly. I think it needs to be read though with the author's own voice in mind and while it is a story to be shared and respected, it does not tackle the issue of sexual assault on campuses perfectly and entirely. 
The most important thing that I think we need to recognize is the fact that to some extent, this is violence sensationalized. Maybe that is a part of any kind of story like this. And that does not change the fact that it needs to be shared. However, we need to make sure that as we read it, we read it with respect and sure that we are reading it to listen, learn and then do our part to change the problem. We tend to flock to stories of tragedy and particularly violence. I think we do it sometimes because we like to sympathize with people. I think sometimes we do it because we want to be moved to feel something. I think that other times we do it because we want to get close to this unimaginable and heinous sadness or tragedy without it actually touching us. We bear witness to someone else's pain without it actually affecting us directly. I think that as this important and powerful narrative is told, we need to make sure we have the right motives.
I've been a fan of the show Criminal Minds for a long time. When one of the main characters left the show several seasons in, I researched his reasons for leaving. I found he had decided not to do the show anymore because of the increasing awareness of his contribution to the sensationalization of violence. Instead of focusing on raising awareness on issues pertaining to sexual assault, it simply made it a spectacle, a source of entertainment. He remarked on the fact that people were coming home to watch the show, unwinding from a long day by observing gruesome rapes and murders. I think this concept manifests in our culture in many ways. I think it happens with stories like this. I think we need to be more aware of it. 
A recent video of a father singing "Blackbird" to his dying son in the NICU, following the death of his wife who died in childbirth is a prime example. The video captures the final moments of father and son beautifully. I respect it. But I wonder sometimes why we are so interested in this tragedy that it has gained millions of views. I think we are so interested for the same reason many will read the Rolling Stone article.
I took notice of the article and appreciated it because I am a feminist and I have a particular interest in this issue. I think there are a lot of people who will read this article without any particular interest in the issue but more of an interest in the story. It is something to gawk at and something to respond to. It is simply a stimuli that serves as a reminder as the terrible things in this world that exist next to us but did not directly happen to us. That is why some people will read it.
I have an incredible amount of respect for this young woman's story and I praise Rolling Stone for publishing article that focuses on this terrible problem that I have been passionate about changing for a long time. I praise them for calling out people, a University and a problem that have needed to be called out. But this story needed to be done the right way. It enforced rape culture concepts of good girl and bad girl and asking for it. It makes rape on campuses a one dimensional issue of fraternities and faculty. And as I read, I appreciated the way it was done, the effort that was made and this young woman's courage, all the while worried at the sensationalization of the story that would inevitably occur. I think that that is just a part of things like this. These stories need to be read, understood, respected and shared. But the thing is, we need to make sure that happens in the right way. We need to make sure these stories are told in the best way. And we need to make sure that with things like this, especially with assault, that we are reading and sharing them for the right reason. Next  time you click a video, share an article or start a conversation about someone's tragedy, make sure it is out of compassion and hope for change, rather than out of sheer interest, making it a spectacle. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A response to anti-feminist young women-

If you are a woman in the United States, you are often times going to receive less respect than you deserve and less respect than your male counterpart. Sometimes this will be openly expressed to you because with the pay gap nearing 34% in some states, you will lose tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to a male in the same position of you, entirely on the basis of gender. As you get older, that pay gap will get even worse. In your workplace, you will find that if you are in a position to make decisions and command respect, many will call you “bossy” or a “bitch,” while a man doing the same thing will be deemed a leader. You will be taught to have a guy with you at night when walking places because men respect other men. This idea becomes unconsciously engrained in you as it becomes natural for you to tell a guy who is bothering you at a bar that you have boyfriend instead of truth that you are not interested, because he will respect that there’s another man around, rather than your own opinion, which could insight anger. When you go jogging, you will pile on multiple sports bras and a loose t-shirt but even then will catch uncomfortable glances and cat calls, because you are not given the respect of a human being, but that of a zoo animal. 

If you are a woman in the United States, there are a lot of people who do not value you as a human being. Your worth is often times measured by your appearance and purity. Rather than being valued as a person, you are valued on particular qualities. Many of you will grow up being taught, either for religious or social reasons, that your ability or willingness to remain “pure” makes you more eligible for marriage and more worthy in the eyes of others. You are expected to remain attractive and appealing at a young age. You will be burdened early on with the expectation to be beautiful. Anorexia is the 3rd most  common chronic illness in adolescents. By age 13, 80% of girls have already tried to lose weight. To many, these qualities measure your worth. Instead of focussing on school or character development, girls are told to also focus on an unattainable standard of physical attractiveness. Your “hotness” and virginity are commodities to be traded and standards of measurement. One day, as your body changes or you make any sexual decision, you will innately feel as though your value has dropped. It is because you are taught your value is contingent upon your body and what you do or do not do with it and how it looks. This concept, along with issues like sex trafficking and objectification of women, leads to a world where women themselves are commodities to be owned, traded and used. 

If you are a woman in the United States, your gender is an insult. Boys will be taught not to be “sissies” or “girls” about things. Teenage boys will be taught not be “little bitches” or many other terrible and vulgar terms pertaining to the female body. They are told to "man up." Girls will be taught not be bitches and numerous other gendered and offensive words. Think about the terrible words we call each other. All of them are words about women. Little girls are not condemned for being a tomboys but fathers fear even a remotely feminine son. The worst thing that someone can be, either male or female, is a female. 

If you are a woman in the United States, some people and sometimes society will try to make you a victim. Let me clarify, you are not a victim by nature, but society will threaten you with it and possibly make you one. You will be taught early on that it is your responsibility to prevent rape, rather than teaching people not to rape. Society will not protect you, but tell you that it is up to you to protect yourself. You will be expected to never walk alone, drink too much or dress in a revealing manor. The burden is on you. And if you are assaulted, instead of praise for being strong and coming forward, people will speculate and bring your character into question. What society will not teach you is that often times the danger lies within your own home. Approximately 67% of the time, assaults against women are committed by someone they know, rather than a stranger. Yet society will tell you it is primarily going to happen in public and that either way, it is your responsibility to prevent violence against you. When violence does occur, it is your character that is questioned. Because women begin to fear reporting assaults only 40% are actually reported. Even then, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. As a woman, the system is not set up in your favor and it certainly is not neutral. Many changes must be made, such as placing blame and expectation on the perpetrator rather than the victim, and supporting women through the process rather than speculating and questioning character. 

If you are a woman in the United States, you are taught dislike your fellow females. You are taught that women are mean and dramatic. In junior high, girls will fight with other girls, all the while trying to impress boys. You learn not to work together, but to compete against each other. Women are not to be collaborators but competitors. You will want to identify as a "guy's girl" because other girls are so "bitchy," mean, or fake. We use words to put each other down that insult our own gender. Instead of working together, we work against each other, making it impossible to get ahead. We are taught early on that that is simply the way it is supposed to be. 

If you are a woman in the United States, you have little to no say over what happens to your own body. While assault is a lingering threat that takes from control from you, you lack control in many other ways. Of the people voting on your reproductive rights, right to earn equal pay and many more bills concerning the rights of women, only 10% are actually women. If you are assaulted, 26 states will require a waiting period for you to have an abortion if that is what you want. In 31 states, a rapist is allowed to sue for custody rights. Your body is a political battleground. It is a public matter. In 2014, there were 468 proposed bills concerning women’s bodies and the rights concerned with them. In all of history, there have not been any concerning the bodies of men. People are legislating your body and most of them are not even women.

For those of you women who not identify as feminists, making it a point to clarify that, or do not believe you need feminism, I want you to understand a few things. You need to understand the disservice you are doing to not only yourself, but to fellow females everywhere. This has nothing to do with hating men or believing you are better than the opposite sex. It is about believing you deserve equal opportunity and treatment because you are a human, rather than discrimination because you are a female. You may think these women are just jaded or angry, but you are wrong. Their eyes are just open. One day someone will discriminate against you, hurt you or crush all sense of equality on the basis that you were born female. It is then that your eyes will be open also. It is then you will no longer slander feminism. One day you will realize that you need it. It is then that you will like it. You are not equal and there are people who may not want you to ever be. It is ugly and mean. But it is the truth. It is dreadful. So when I lay awake at night and wonder how we are still at this point, I realize that it is because we are not all working together. I realize that it is because we need more men advocating and we certainly have to have all women advocating for women. The problem is, there are those who do not believe feminism is important or that they need it. They do not align with it and sometimes even condemn it. It causes the system to fail for all of us. For those of you who believe you do not need it or have a misconception about what it is or what it means, understand that you are hurting your fellow sisters, mothers and friends. You are hurting us all. The truth is, the fact that we can not all stand together, as women, on a common ground, is further evidence for the need for feminism. The fact that we are divided is devastating. I ask you, do your research, listen, ask question...learn. As I hear young women in my classes clarifying that they are not feminists, often times in the same way you would explain you are not racist, as if feminist is a dirty word, my heart breaks, and I feel one step further from reaching equality on the basis that I am a human being and an American citizen. If you are a woman in the United States, you do need feminism. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

So, a Lady Goes for a Walk...: Why We Need Respect

I love to go walking, especially during summer and spring. To me, it’s easier than getting to the gym and time goes by a lot faster. I get to get a little sun, be active and have some time to just be alone and clear my head. Living in Fayetteville, a clean and relatively safe small city, a place abundant with outdoor activities, it’s hard not to take advantage. As I have become more and more bogged down by the stress of the approaching LSAT and the summer heat has begun creeping in, I’ve had more of a need than ever to spend some time doing something active outdoors. Over the past few days I began making more time for my walking. Today was an especially nice day. However, it was overshadowed by a sad realization.
As I walked briskly through winding paths across streets, through trees and between houses or buildings, I enjoy the cleanliness of where i live, the beauty of the outdoors and the peace I am finally beginning to feel. I set my pace to the beat of a Janis Joplin playlist. I am about 1/3 of the way to my turn-around point, I begin hearing footsteps behind me. I immediately pause my music and turn around. It’s a jogger. I recently downloaded a pedometer so as I walk, I keep my attention turned towards it in order to see if it’s working; it is. It’s about 90 degrees out and I am envious of the shirtless men that jog past me, wishing I could have just worn my sports bra, but I can’t really do that. I am sweating through my favorite LuLu Lemon top, worrying that it may even look a little too tight. As I get to an intersection that I need to cross, one man waves me over, telling me to cross. Midway through crossing I am stopped in my tracks as a group of young men speed by anyway, honking and yelling inaudible things from the car. I keep on moving. I feel my shoulders turning red and as I head into a tree-lined area of the path, the shade feels great. I decide I want to walk further than usual so as I pass the marker at Gregg Street, I begin heading down a path. I begin my way down the narrower area of the path that is completely surrounded by trees. As I do this, an older man, sort of standing and occasionally taking a few steps, looking around, hands in his pockets, begins to head down the same path.While I am not inclined to avoid everyone I encounter on a bike path, the next part of the trail is secluded and it seems that we are the only people around. I am a little bit uncomfortable. I decide to trek back. As I get close to home I again have to pass an intersection. Right after I do, I hear a car stop or slow behind me. I turn around to see a car-full of teenage boys staring at me and then turning their attention to the girls on the other side of the street who are jogging. They are literally almost at a complete stop, pointing, staring and cat calling. I roll my eyes, keep walking and eventually, make my way home. As I get upstairs and sit down, I find that I feel satisfied that I walked pretty far. I feel my heart pounding in my chest. I also realize that I feel relieved. As I had walked up the driveway and the stairs to the apartment, I had felt a sense of relief, as if I said to myself “ah, I made it home.” This struck me.
It occurred to me how sad it was that in a town that I live and am familiar with, I have to be so aware just going for a walk on a path during daytime. I worry about secluded areas. I have to make sure my shorts are long enough or top isn’t too tight so that they don’t bring uninvited looks. On a bike path, I turn around to make sure no one is coming at me when I hear jogging footsteps. I am disgusted by the fact that shirtless men pass me while I worry if my top is too tight, and even then some people believe that it is ok to stare and observe, or yell and cat-call while I am trying to take a damn walk. I am a human being for God’s sake, not a zoo animal. I am wearing more clothes than most people on this path and am in daylight and even then, things are uncomfortable.
I suddenly realized something else. Most men on that path didn’t think twice before taking their shirt off to run. They did not know the feeling of eyes watching and belittling your humanity with their thoughts. Most of them walked, biked or jogged freely, without a thought of safety or if it was daylight. They did not know the feeling of fear that just because of your gender and the fact that your alone, someone may hurt you. Most men on that path ran freely in whatever they wanted without any concern of scrutiny or creepiness. They did not know the feeling of people watching you as if you are on show for the world to examine and check out, your body nothing more than something for the whole world to admire, stare at and comment on, all the while it having nothing to do if you actually even look good, but because you have a vagina and boobs and are wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It occurred to me that most of these men passing me had never left their apartment because maintenance was coming and they were alone, something parents have cautioned us about or we simply find uncomfortable. They never felt like the had to park under a street light in the garage and even then, make sure they had their keys in hand and mace on their keyring. They didn’t go to a bar and spend so much time making sure they didn’t leave a drink unattended that out of habit, their hands always drip with condensation and cold as their drink warms under their cautious grip. 
I had learned to make it habit to keep my music low when walking or jogging, in order to hear if someone was approaching. I was taught to never leave my drink unattended. I was taught to park under a light at night and even then, not to walk alone. I was taught to make sure I dressed a certain way. I was taught not to drink too much or not to be alone or to be sure to triple check locks or to not be at the library too late along or to park too far or to whatever. All of these fears are so ingrained in our lives, that our behavior modifications to protect against them are habit. And the fact is, we have to. I am not naive. As much as I wish I could jog in my sports bra, stay at the library and walk to my car as late as I want or not have to worry about setting a drink down, I do. If I stop doing those things, it won’t make a statement or fix the problem, it will put me at risk. The problem is something else entirely.
I simply shouldn’t have to do these things. Most men don’t have to worry about most of these things but because of my gender, I do. And instead of teaching all men to behave and think in a respectful way, we teach women to be more cautious. Quite frankly, that may seem minor, but it isn’t. It was in my face today. It was unavoidable and in my face. It was everywhere. It wasn’t fair and it was ridiculous. And even when we do these things, they don’t help. We can modify our behaviors and be as safe as society teaches us to be and the truth is, we are harassed or bad things still happen to us. Even the safest and most paranoid of women are victims. Teaching us to be safe doesn’t teach men not to be violent towards us. 

We have to change the conversation. I am so sick of girls being taught precautionary measures instead of guys being taught not to stare at, bother, cat call, rape, attack, creep on, or whatever...women. It isn’t all that difficult. A Ryan-Gosling-looking man with Brad-Pitt abs jogged by me and I didn’t feel the need to stop, explain “dammmmmn,” interfere with his day or creepily stare at him. That would be weird, uncomfortable and rude. So, I expect the exact same thing. The point is, I am sick of this shit. It is real, it is annoying and quite honestly, it’s wrong. The fact that it is a habit to glance over my shoulder at the sound of jogging feet on a BIKE PATH, is sad. I am not asking for men to all cover their eyes, completely stop looking at women or to stop any interaction so that we can run around naked and be wildly irresponsible. I am also not saying all men are creepers or rapists. I am just asking that we start teaching all men to be respectful, instead of women to be paranoid as hell. Let’s teach peace and respect and ending violence instead of teaching defense. Firstly, I shouldn’t have to be more cautious than a man because of the fact that my genitalia innately makes me more at risk to be a victim of some sort. Secondly, even then, plenty of women are cautious and fall victim. Thirdly, we can never fix the issue if we keep telling women they are responsible for what other people decide to do to them instead of making sure everyone in society is simply taught not to bother, creep on or harm women. Stop telling women that what happens to them is a result of their outside actions or appearance and instead teach society that what they do to other people is entirely their responsibility. I am just asking for a little respect. I am just asking for a little bit of peace of mind. I am just asking for a world where instead of me being paranoid, men are held to a higher standard. I am better than that. Most men are better than that. I just want to be able to take a walk.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bossy, Bitchy, Slutty and Emotional: Problems with gender and word association

When friends inquired over a year ago as to why I shut down my blog, I didn’t have a real answer. My blog was about the humorous lessons and tales from my perils of dating and partying. As time went on and I found myself in a relationship and spending more time studying than socializing, I realized my stories weren’t all that funny or amusing anymore. As I matured, my focus shifted from the perils of the single life, to the perils of the female life. I became increasingly aware of the discrimination, frustration and objectification of women. Frequent whisperings of sexual assault and constant talk of “the thigh gap” got me thinking, things are pretty F-ed up. Here we are, as oh-so-progressive Americans of the 21st-century, and people are still arguing over gay marriage, women still make less money, girls are still being told they’re to blame for rape and that they are too fat. I heard girls bashing other girls’ bodies. I heard guys calling girls sluts. I was called bitchy and bossy for speaking my mind just like the guys in my class, whom no one passed judgment on. A professor told me that as a woman in the South, I could never be partner at a law firm. A guy in my class told me that if a girl went home with a guy and changed her mind about having sex, that it was her fault if he raped her. A guy in a different class accused numerous females students of receiving an A solely because our professor found us attractive, not because we earned it. I heard someone tell my bisexual friend to “make up her mind.” I heard of girls being slut-shamed, body-bashed, and critiqued, by men and by each other. Over the past year, I’ve grown frustrated. No, I’ve grown intolerant of and outraged by ignorance. I grew angrier and angrier, feeling powerless and unable to make a difference. I had so many things to say and change and wasn’t sure how. So, I decided to go back to my roots as a writer and take to the internet. I will be addressing, as humorously as ever, the frustrations of being a young woman in America.
I have recently given much attention to the words and phrases associated with women. I had started noticing how I was bossy but the guy in my class was just assertive. A guy was just a ladies man but girls were slutty. We sort of mean the same thing, but we use different words, which tend to have different feelings and positive or negative associations attached to them. The words we chose were based on gender. I started to think about what words were associated with my gender and I began to realize they were inaccurate, offensive and a poor representation of who I am or what my goals or actually roles are or will be. I asked a male peer of mine to respond “man” or “woman” to certain words, to indicate if he associated that word with men or women. His voice took on a sad tone and his face a look of shame as he answered honestly and uncomfortably. His responses came naturally, these associations deeply rooted and innate. If you had asked me a year ago, my responses would have probably been the same. I asked by boyfriend and a female friend to do the same. All of their responses were similar. So, the verdict? 

These are just some of the words that I asked for responses too. The thing is, I had to explain to everyone whom I asked to participate that they can't respond based on what they think the truth is, but instead what the words are typically associated with. The responses were all pretty consistent. Ones that were disagreed upon were left out here. Here's the issue. These responses are based on things that are instilled in us from a young age. Yet, I don't associate myself with most of the words typically chosen to describe women and instead, identify with a lot of the words that are associated with masculinity. These words take on a gender of their own and they simply should not. Not only should we avoid such ridiculous associations with women, we should avoid associating certain words or characteristics with either gender. When one defies the characteristics typically associated with his or her gender, scolding, criticism or oppression is usually the result. Many girls who defy these pink words are told to be more ladylike. Many boys who defy these blue words are told to be tougher and less of a sissy. It places people into categories, changes goals we set for ourselves at a young age, and puts an unnecessary pressure on people to conform to cookie cutter gender constructions. While it seems natural to us and many don't believe it is really a problem, when you see how offensive, dangerous and wrong it is on paper, I think it's easier to see there is a serious issue here. Women are associated with words about silence, dependence, virginity, attractiveness and emotional instability. Men are associated with domination, sophistication, superiority and stoicism. These associations and expectations tell women they should be submissive and subordinates to men. They tell men and boys that they should be powerful and stronger than women in every role, as if being associated with femininity is gross. Really, it's insulting. Not everyone fulfills these and these associations shape our expectations of each gender. So what can we do about it? I guess start by defying these. Challenge them and argue against them. I also think this issue, like many gender issues, starts in the home with young children. I hate that at 21, in America, in the 21st century, my gender is still associated with such staunch and restrictive terms. The problem is clear here and the words we use, characteristics we value, and lessons we teach are what cause it and can fix it. Language is a huge part of culture and does, in fact, change along with culture. If we eliminate gender expectations and abandon widely accepted gender roles, this culture of offensive and strict expectations will change and once that changes, our language and what we associate words with will certainly change with it. If this list bothers you (which it should) then start making those changes. Let's be careful what we teach kids, base value on and start abandoning preassigned notions, roles and ideals.