June, 2010

I’d Tell You: Just Ask!

haack

Hello, everyone! My name is Sarah Haack, and I am part of the new crop of bloggers here at Where Is Your Line?

Originally from Richmond, Virginia, I now attend American University in Washington, DC (along with the fabulous Carmen Rios, fellow Vagina Monologues cast member and she-ro) as an Environmental Studies major. I will be studying Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden next year, but in the meantime, I am living in New York City, interning with the Girl Scouts of the USA, and learning the finer points of navigating bureaucracy, planning potlucks, and empowering women and girls.

I toured AU during the April of my senior year in high school, taking in the campus one last time before sending in my acceptance letter, and vividly remember the painted t-shirts strung throughout the student center in preparation for Take Back the Night, part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. One statistic struck me in particular: that one in three women are sexually assaulted. Still in high school and rather naive, this number resonated as tragic, but hollow, sympathetic but not empathetic. Two years later, I found myself standing on the before those t-shirts as a survivor. It is selfish, I admit, to not really take up a cause until it affects oneself directly, but when I was puff-painting my own statistic on that white v-neck after a realization that took a full year, I finally understood the impact of today’s hookup culture and its implications, and how important it is to open the lines of communication not just about sexual assault, but about sex itself. The perceived “gray area” of sexual assault needs to be eliminated, and replaced with standards where a YES! is just as important as a no.
I was drawn to Where Is Your Line? by its sex-positive attitude and celebration of sexuality. Consent is more than knowing when to say no, but also knowing you can say yes; it’s feeling safe enough to enjoy sex that meets your standards, whether it be with a long-term partner or a total stranger, and being strong enough to draw a line that is either non-negotiable or ever-changing. The pervasive rape culture in which we find ourselves dictates that our demeanor, our alcohol consumption, and even our outfits, are all indicators of our willingness to be sexual- and can be interpreted as such without any discussion. And yes, my miniskirt and five-inch heels are an expression of my sexuality, but that does not (necessarily) mean I want to share that with you. Believe me, if I did, you’d know it. I’d tell you. Just ask.

My Line Is What Makes Me HAPPY.

Tran

After the film screening of THE LINE at Barnard College, I was asked to fill out a sticker with my answer to the question “where is your line?” It was difficult for me to put into words what my line specifically was, because it is constantly changing. I thought, well I guess my line is this and that, but wait, what if I had a bad day, I wouldn’t want anyone near me! It is so hard to express what my line is in one sentence- my comfort levels can change with time, my environment, and sometimes even what I am wearing.

My decision to have sex made it difficult for me to express a line in high school. Back then, rumors about my sexual past made boys think that I would automatically have sex with them because I had already done certain things. But having sex was a decision that I made because I thought I was in love and I felt that I was ready to lose my virginity, not an invitation for dirty text messages or naked pictures. Those rumors made establishing my line a lot more difficult during high school. I didn’t like upsetting people: I wanted to make a guy happy by playing along with flirting, regardless of whether or not I felt comfortable.

Looking back at this, I thought of my answer: “My line is what makes me HAPPY at the end of the day.” Over time, I realized that the most important thing about any decision I make is my own happiness. I believe that any decision is justified as long as I can look in the mirror and still be proud of the person that I see standing before me. I have learned to be more comfortable speaking about my sex life and saying no to sex. My sexual life is supposed to make me happy, and regardless of what I choose to do, I want to be able to look in the mirror and know that I did it for my own happiness.

Common-Fucking-Sense

You’ve told us about  sex, consent, respect, and communication. Your passion and conviction is what drives THE LINE Campaign and powers this blog. Your voice is everything, and you have built a movement by opening up, sharing stories, and using your experiences to create dialogue. Because of you- yes, you!- we are destroying a culture of shame and building a culture of empowerment, freedom, and respect.

As the new editor of this blog, I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who responded with such fire to our call to action. We’re stronger now, and here comes the tidal wave: we’re going to be introducing all of our new bloggers and exploring the power of our voices throughout this week.

We asked YOU, in all corners of the USA- and beyond- the same question: where is your line?

And you told us:

It’s common-fucking-sense.

Excerpts from Harvard’s Sexting Report


Sexting: Youth Practices and Legal Implications is a new report by the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Its stated purpose is to “intended to provide background for discussion of interventions related to sexting.” This is only more indication that the MTV-induced sexting panic isn’t over yet. The report covers a plethora of related issues and attempts to compile research and an analytical tongue in making sense of how sexting has changed a variety of legal definitions and cultural trends.

Some excerpts from the report (and yes, we did leave out the reference to sexting as “relationship currency.”):

On the sharing of “sexted” images:

Nearly one in five sext recipients (17%) reports having passed the
images along to someone else, with more than half (55%) of those who passed the images
to someone else sharing them with more than one person.

Nearly one in five sext recipients (17%) reports having passed the images along to someone else, with more than half (55%) of those who passed the images to someone else sharing them with more than one person.

On current legal practices:

Sexting takes place in many different contexts. Whatever the context, however, the minors involved risk being investigated for and charged with child pornography offenses. If convicted, they could be subject to the same types of punishments as adults who traffic in such images, including felony convictions, lengthy prison sentences, and sex offender registration.

On Constitutional Law:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution “bars the government from dictating what we see, or read or speak or hear.” There are, however, a small number of exceptional categories of speech that have such “slight social value” that the government may freely regulate them in order to advance “the social interest in order and morality.” These categories include child pornography and obscenity.

On Potential Alternatives:

At one extreme, it can be argued that sexted images, unlike images of children being sexually abused, are protected by the First Amendment.

At the other extreme, one could argue that sexted images, like conventional child pornography, are exempt from First Amendment protection because the production and dissemination of such images cause harm to real children.

Rather than argue for either extreme, one could argue that sexted images can be covered by child pornography statutes if the statutes provide an affirmative defense for minors who voluntarily self‐produce and transmit such images to other minors.

To read the full report, go here.

Remembering The King of Pop

It has been one year today since the death of Michael Jackson. His name is one that is sloppily being cleaned off, having been covered in dirt, accusations, and lost opportunities (and sanities) for years. He was pretty ridiculous, let’s not kid ourselves- and he was one of the most scandalized public figures in the world before he died.

But Michael Jackson was also a philanthropist, a giver, a kind heart who wanted people to unite regardless of color, work to improve their world, and come together to create change. Reconciling the sex abuse scandals, the erratic behavior, and the eerie personality with his immense talent, ambition, passion, and conviction has always been one of my personal challenges.

In this excellent article from Dr. Susan Block, published last August following his passing, Michael’s sexuality is analyzed for what it was – public property. Michael Jackson scandalized, publicized, sold, and learned about sex in front of an audience:

Michael was raised as a sex object, groomed to be an exhibitionist, dressed up and made to dance and sing for the pleasure of adults.  In his off-stage hours, he observed two very different attitudes towards sex.  Performing in strip clubs at age nine, he saw his “strict” father cheating on his mother and his brothers having casual sex with groupies while he hid under the covers, probably scared that these older females would come after him.  Maybe some of them did.  Maybe some of the guys did.  Whatever happened in those seedy venues, eventually little Michael went home to his beloved mother who was strict in a very different way, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who taught him that “lust in thought or deed” was horribly sinful.  No wonder his adorable head explodes into a monstrous werewolf right after a girl embraces him lovingly in the opening scene of “Thriller.”

Michael Jackson received conflicting messages about sex as a child in Hollywood, playing with the stars and learning about sex in all of the wrong places. He was caught in the dichotomy between right and wrong, performance and lifestyle. He was often perceived as being confused by and fearful of his own sexuality, which isn’t surprising when taking into account that the fame he learned about sex from was often fleeting and harmful.

The bottom line? We need to start talking about sex, and we need to stop shaming sex. Michael Jackson may not be an “example” of why, but his story is certainly not unique: he sold sex but was raised to be ashamed of it, just like young people here in the USA and around the world. Young women, especially, consume sexual messages everyday that are conflicting and harmful.

So here’s to you, Michael- for always making us think, for challenging our boundaries, and for all those sunny afternoons where I played Thriller on my boombox and dreamt about my future. It isn’t the same without you.

He Crossed Her Line- What Can I Do?

I chose the above response from Hunter College because it explains where my line falls, too: without respect, how can there be anything else? I believe that if someone doesn’t respect me enough to ask about my boundaries, they’re not worth my time.

And I know that conviction may seem simple, but it’s not.

The other day, my friend told me she was in bed with a guy and he crossed her line. Then she told me they were “both to blame,” and she “accepted his apology.” I was surprised that she accepted his apology (and to think- he apologized via text message!) with such ease. Did I hear her right? She said he was her friend and it was stupid. A friend? How could he disrespect her boundaries like that? I still feel guilty that I sat silently when she told me this, but I didn’t want to push the issue.

I don’t know how I can best talk to my friend about this openly and honestly. What am I supposed to say? Am I supposed to tell her not to forgive him? Should I tell her straight-up that it wasn’t okay for him to cross her line? I’m nervous she would get mad at me, and that she’ll think I’m making a big deal out of “nothing.” I didn’t say anything to her because I didn’t want to be patronizing, and I didn’t want to lecture her- but I also want her to know that I care about her, and that it is something she deserves more than a text about.

I feel strongly about this, and I’m disappointed in myself for not having said anything yet. I want my friend to be with someone who respects her, and I want her to know that. So how can I talk to her about this without stressing her out or upsetting her?

The NY Times Hands Feminism to Men

When I saw the NYTimes Europe piece called “Feminism of the Future Relies on Men,” I was a little bit confounded. The piece was written concisely and surely, with no hesitation, and started by describing “women closing ranks to battle blatant sexism, get an education and go to work” as the feminism of the past. After all, wasn’t that just women acting like men? Well, it sure was. The next step, after all, as the author promised, was “pulling men into [the] women’s universe — as involved dads, equal partners at home and ambassadors for gender equality from the cabinet office to the boardroom.”

The problem here isn’t the first or second goal included for the feminists of today; we’ve been working hard to ensure men play an equal role at home. But relegating men to being “ambassadors of gender equality” is tricky when it plays out like this:

Basically, guys are the more effective feminists because other guys are more likely to listen to them.

This was the point where I had to pause for a minute to observe her logic. Pulling men into women’s worlds shouldn’t have to mean forcing them to care about our problems for us (the idea of handing off the battle for equality is a little scary and seems quite careless), it should mean achieving social equality that doesn’t discourage them from caring about these problems with us. Men can be great allies in the women’s movement, and much has been written about their inclusion in the feminist movement. But none of those writings would go as far as to discredit the impact of women in the movement, or to discourage them from going on the front-lines themselves. None of those writings think of men as ambassadors to equality, but rather think of them as partners in a movement.

Men being uninterested in the issues that affect women and their inequality is not a problem best solved by waiting for exceptional male leaders to give us tastes of what we rightfully deserve; it isn’t a problem best solved by begging men to handle our anger, our stories, and our futures for us and sitting back to wait for the day our salvation comes.

It’s also not a problem best solved with insufficient and incomplete logic that disregards our lopsided opportunity to achieve our goals through institutions like government:

It took a male prime minister to sell the legislation to the country, and it took male leaders in Sweden and Norway to pass similar laws. It was a man who championed Norway’s boardroom quota obliging companies to fill at least 40 percent of the seats with women.

Would a female Spanish prime minister have been able to appoint a cabinet that is 50 percent female in 2004?

Would a female Spanish prime minister have been elected in 2004? The chance is underwhelming.

The biggest problem with this approach is the damage it could do: telling women to let someone else worry about their equality, relegating them back to playing a passive, gracious role instead of pushing them into the battlefield and letting them fight like hell, and accepting our current reality as silenced, ignored members of a world population as okay and worth working inside of is only going to slow this movement, and any movement experiencing these same characteristics, farther back.

So to the women of Europe and the world: I know that it’s frustrating to be disrespected by institutions, persons, and cultures; I know that it is hard to work for equality when your voice doesn’t matter in the boardroom or the bedroom; I understand that we’re all happy for the progress we achieve through whatever means possible that makes it more likely we will soon be given the trust, power, and opportunity over half of the world’s population deserves; and I know that it feels like feminism may be too old, too tired, too vintage to take care of it anymore. However, keep fighting, keep yelling, and keep raising your voices.

Women of Europe and the world: don’t ever put your personhood in someone else’s hands.

Greek Life and Sexual Assault: Challenging the Cycle of Violence on Campus


The fraternity I founded is diverse in thought, heritage, and class; we are generally a progressive and feminist-leaning group of men. On my campus, and arguably most campuses here in the US, however, Greek Life is a system built on sexism and the objectification, shaming, and abuse of women. My friend was a first-year student pledging the largest sorority on campus: this story is about her experience. (I obtained her consent to write about this beforehand.)

One night while I was walking to my fraternity’s house, a friend called me asking to be picked up from a mixer. She sounded scared and wanted to leave. My brothers were willing to go, but I dismissed the possibility that there was anything to be concerned about. After a little while, a car pulled into our driveway driven by one of her sisters. She was in the passenger seat, and when she came inside she told me that she had been uncomfortable with the men at the mixer. They had made fun of her and her sisters, saying they were going to fuck them later, slapping them on the ass, and refusing to give her their address so that someone could pick her up. She tried to leave the room, but the brothers barred the door and told her she had to stay. She pulled me into the bathroom and I tried to calm her down, but I was far from calm myself.

One of the most offensive things about the entire situation was the assumed status of women at a fraternity party as possessions without any agency, only there to fuck them and unable to exercise their right to come and go as they pleased. This is a horror story we all hear often, but I’m still appalled it actually happens. Any connection between two people based on love and attraction needs to exist through freedom, and any act of coercion is not an act of respect, openness, or mutuality. I wanted to act on the situation and make some sort of positive outcome, and I reached out to the other fraternity in anger, expressing my frustration with their actions to a close friend in their chapter in hopes that I could get them to understand the true magnitude of their behavior.

But in the end, nothing happened. My friend’s sorority sisters blamed her for “starting shit,” said that she just shouldn’t have caused a scene, and they were banned from ever partying at that house again. Her sisters dismissed and blamed her. Sexism and objectification are built into greek life, so much so that a popular saying on campus is that the only purpose for joining a sorority is to “do arts and crafts and suck frat boy cock.” In the end, I was disappointed in the idea of “sisterhood” as fleeting and hurtful, cold and blissfully ignorant of the issues they could be taking effective steps toward improving. Greek life doesn’t have to be about coercion, assault, danger, or pain- and my brothers and I refuse to support, justify, or ignore any actions that are.

Your Voice Can Change Everything: Write for Us!

I want to start this piece by introducing myself. My name is Carmen and I’m a little bit of everything: a bold woman of color entering her third year of college at the sometimes-awesome sometimes-frustrating usually-radical Washington, DC campus known as American University. I’m an activist involved with NOW and multiple student organizations, an advocate who is professionally tied to a plethora of women’s groups, and a free spirit who loves to indulge in v-necks, frozen yogurt, and anything unusual. I have an afro and I’m addicted to the internet, and on the weekends you can find me giggling in my living room.

I’m also the newest editor here at Where Is Your Line?, a blog close to my own heart: I was with Nancy as an intern just last year when she created this website, this program, and this movement. She’s one of my biggest inspirations, and I was unable to leave the project behind in any capacity- I’m still here, across state lines, reading entries and emails and begging her for any tasks possible to tackle online.

My goals for this project are yours, too. I want our message to become everyone’s conversation, our project vision achieved in bedrooms across the country. Imagine it: a world of discussion and freedom instead of shame and silence. We can do it, and projects and movements like this one are an integral piece.

So I wrote scathing reviews of journalism and personal pieces on my own turbulent times with hookup culture, interviewed my biggest she-ro (aside from Hillary Clinton, of course), and then used the experience I had gotten by starting a smaller-focus campaign specific to my campus in an effort to stop rape culture at its roots in dorm rooms all over AU. I know the power of the individual is small, and I know that collective voices have the strongest and most beautiful resonance. I know that openness, affirmation, conversation, and diversity are important, and I want to incorporate every voice, background, lifestyle, experience, opinion, and being into the movement to end violence in relationships, families, and our own lives.

And that’s where you come in.

This is an open call for voices. I am looking for anyone interested in submitting pieces for this campaign as a credited blogger, and there are no requirements- unless you consider it unfair to expect passion, heart, and effort in everything you do. You’ll be an invaluable piece of this movement and the challenge to end violence everywhere.

You can contact me at thelinemovie [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m looking forward to hearing from you- believe me, I’m always excited to talk. Just add “ATTN Carmen Rios” into the subject line to make sure it gets to me.

Your voice can end violence. Your voice can change everything.

Tranie Baby!

500_Tran2Hey readers, this is Tran aka @traniebabyy and I am a new intern for whereisyourline.org!! I am currently in Pomona, California, my wonderful hometown, for summer break. I attend Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City where I am certified as a peer educator for the Rape Crisis Anti-Violence Support Center. I first saw THE LINE when Marilla Li brought it to Barnard.

I grew up in a very sheltered home because Vietnamese culture tends to keep women and girls in the background as men are seen as the dominant person of the family. This meant that my parents allowed my older brothers to do whatever they pleased while I stayed home and did homework (which paid off I guess :D ). Because of this, I really did not have any exposure to a sex culture, and rape was definitely never a topic of discussion as I grew up. My own curiosity pushed me to break away from my parents’ conservative views and do my own thing. That’s pretty much how my nickname came about. My friends always called me tranie baby because it represents my confidence and determination to finish whatever goals I have plus it was just the thing to do in high school (add baby to the end of your name). I embraced the nickname because I really wanted to prove to my parents that I can be successful. It pretty much became my alter ego as I decided to move to New York for college.

In New York, I wanted to experience a different lifestyle and be able to better myself without the interference of my family. What drew me to this campaign is my own personal experience. I feel that my line was crossed on various occasions because my partner refused to ask if I was comfortable or they believed that alcohol had impaired my judgments, so they made the decision for me! I want to be able to help create a support system for all people to feel comfortable to voice their needs during sexual activities. I love learning creative ways to talk about using protection, saying yes, saying no – things we discuss at the Center.

I’m back home now, with my friends from high school. They grew up as sheltered as I did. We didn’t learn about consent, our bodies, violation, pleasure… This summer, I vow to help bring awareness, resources and ways to have these conversations, and show people that consent is where its at!

All Posts from June, 2010