July, 2010

Eliminating Violence, One Creep At A Time

It took a long time to get there (after all, commuting from New Jersey makes anything in New York ten times harder) but I arrived, in sandals and my favorite dress. The Hollaback! launch in Brooklyn on Thursday, July 8 was an intense celebration, with over 100 hearts gathered for the same cause. There was a raffle, iPhone covers for sale- and I was doing my best to push them, thank you very much- and even booze.

Street harassment is described by Hollaback! as “one of the most pervasive forms of violence against women,” and not many people would argue: as the ladies of THE LINE joined me in what we dubbed a “VIP Lounge,” we were able to laugh about a worry we all had getting to Southpaw: would we be harassed on the way? But street harassment isn’t funny, or light. As Emily May said in her speech, those who are street harassed have few options: walk on and feel victimized, or speak up and risk the escalation of violence from verbal to physical. For many people- of all genders and backgrounds- street harassment is a real and worrisome element of our public lives. And, as Hollaback! correctly pinpoints: “if street harassment is okay, then violence against women is okay. And that simply isn’t okay.”

The connection between street harassment and violence against women is obvious: both are tools used to constrict women’s public space and make them feel lesser and endangered in the public sphere, both occur without consent and imply control, danger, and risk of harm, and both are performances of hegemonic gender paradigms that force women to be objectified, judged by their physicality, and publicly shamed out of control of their own environments.

It is very much so worth promoting the action of Hollaback! not only for street harassment, but for violence everywhere. Do not stand by. Do not stay quiet. Do not walk on. Take action and make everyone- including yourself and your loved ones- safer, more comfortable, and more empowered. Hollaback! is capitalizing on one of the most powerful forces, I believe, in history: voices. By collecting stories and showing our might in numbers, in data, in maps, and in attitude, Hollaback! is going to win the fight against street harassment the same way THE LINE aims to fundamentally change the way people think about sex.

Stand up for what you believe in, but most important, always stand up for yourself.

Yes, I DO Have Sex!

I have noticed a disturbing trend among women: we do not like to admit we have sex.

Even with “Sex and the City” films galore and Cosmopolitan magazine hitting newsstands every month, women struggle with straight up saying they have sex. I have no problem telling people I have sex; I don’t get shy or embarassed about it. Sex is a normal human behavior that almost everyone does at some point, so why act otherwise?

I’ve noticed the lack of admission that one has sex when I go to the doctor’s office. The first question I’m always asked at the doctor’s office is, “Are you sexually active?” I answer yes. Most women do not answer questions or ask questions about sex to their doctors honestly and openly because they are embarrassed or ashamed that they even have an “active” sex life.

The silence around sex is a product of the slut/whore dichotomy in our culture: women are viewed as virginal or sluts, with no room in between. So even though women have sex, we have to act like we don’t- because people want us to. The whole thing is incredibly stupid and problematic, and is evidence of the double standard women who have sex are subjected to. And it’s dangerous: women who are afraid to talk about sex are also likely not to ask for information about birth control or STIs, and they are also likely to resist tests or treatments for STIs. Rape is also a product of that dichotomy: women are labeled “sluts” or told that they “wanted it” if they’re sexually experienced, especially if that experience was with their rapist. There is a really fucked up belief that once a woman has sex, she is no longer worth anything and has no right to say no, and she must want all sex- even forced sex.

An April 2009 review of Jessica Valenti’s book “The Purity Myth” pinned the nail on the head:

Virgin or whore? According to current news and media, our generation can’t seem to decide. For every report of a young woman sexting nude photos on her iPhone, there seems to be another of girls pledging their abstinence at the Purity Ball across the street. Depending on who you ask, we’re either just saying no to hooking up, or living the Sex and the Citylifestyle, gossiping about sexual conquests over brunch, in between stocking up on emergency birth control. The message we’re getting is clear: for some reason, a woman’s sexual purity (or lack thereof) is not merely the choice or preference it is for men—it’s a reflection of her morals and values.

Women need to start owning their sexual activity. We owe it to our sisters that are struggling with STIs and sexual health, unplanned pregnancies, rape, and slut-shaming. We owe it to them to admit: yes- we do have sex! And yes, we enjoy it, and yes we will talk about it. The longer we keep quiet about sex, the longer our national, cultural, and political discussions about sex will be shut down, silenced, and disregarded. Our sexual experiences are important and valuable- and we deserve to be proud of our decisions to have safe, consensual sex with the partners we choose.

The Rape Myth: A Tool of Social Control

Rape Crisis Scotland launched their Not Ever Campaign with a Public Service Announcement broadcasted for the first time during Brazil’s World Cup match two weeks ago:

I had to watch it like three times before I completely understood the accent, but unfortunately the scenario itself is not so foreign. A sexy woman is enjoying herself at a party – drinking some wine, laughing, being fabulous, maybe flirting a little – and a male bystander (presumably a stranger) seizes the opportunity to interject that her skirt indicates that “she’s asking for it.” The viewer is left to make an obvious observation:

Um, asking for what, dude? Asking for another drink? A stick of gum? Directions to the Scottish Parliament?

The short PSA illustrates the absurdity of the “asking for it” rape myth while placing due gravity on its pervasiveness. Yeah, the guy’s an idiot, but he’s also engaging in a pattern of violence, and the real problem is that our culture condones and encourages his violent behavior.

The “asking for it” myth is so deeply ingrained in our rape culture that it’s become second nature to most of us. Sexual violence is treated as an inevitable consequence of certain behaviors, and, when you think about it, that’s a pretty effective way of maintaining social control over women and other disenfranchised groups. We’re frequently asked to surrender our rights to even the most basic of human freedoms in order to avoid being victimized. Don’t live in that part of the city, you’ll get raped. Never walk alone at night, you’ll get raped. Don’t talk to strangers, wear revealing clothing, leave your doors or windows unlocked, take drugs, drink in excess, take public transportation, travel alone, or sleep around – because you will get raped. The list of don’ts goes on and on, each rule wildly impractical, blatantly inconsistent with actual statistics related to sexual assault, and specifically crafted to distract us from the culpability of rapists. Why do we have entire dossiers on How to Not Get Raped and no guidelines for How to Not Rape PeopleWe need a cultural revolution.

I can just imagine the headlines:

Police warn rapists against crime.

Campus leaders urge students to engage in consensual sex.

Why is that message so absent from discussions of sexual assault? Why focus so much time and energy on training women to avoid danger while men walk around with carte fucking blanche? In thousands of ways, our culture has conditioned us to anticipate rape as a natural consequence of violating social norms. Rape myths serve to keep women out of the public sphere, and rape culture wants you to believe that the only safe place for a woman is her kitchen.

You have the right to live your life however you like without being subjected to violence. You have the right to live without fear. And no one has the right to violate you. Ever.

It’s the Cycle of Violence, Not “Stupid Victims.”

Stumbling at random around the internet, I happened upon a knock-off “fail blog” sort of site with a screen cap of this website.  [For those unfamiliar, I’m referring to a very tired internet meme in which the poster highlights something seemingly contradictory, ridiculous, or otherwise egregiously incorrect for the readers’ amusement.]

The story of interest was circled in red.  See if you can guess which lines the commenters all found absolutely HILARIOUSLY ludicrous.  About three-quarters of the way down this police blotter transcipt, there is a notation about a crime committed in the West precinct of Huntsville, Alabama – a woman “told police she was raped about 4:30 p.m. Saturday in a field near Triana Boulevard and Johnson Road after accepting a ride from a man she said raped her two years ago. “

Now, when I saw all this, I was, first and foremost, brokenhearted.  My first thought was to the tragic cycle of abuse that would lead a woman to get into a car with a man who had raped (and likely otherwise abused) her before.  Being the internet masochist that I am, I was foolish enough to read all the comments, knowing exactly what I would find.  There were about a hundred of comments, the tamest of which said only “LOL WTF” and dozens calling her a stupid whore, a slut, a liar, and the like.  I read variations on the theme until I felt sick and closed the tab.  I’m actually almost glad I can’t find the link to the site I read originally because I’d prefer to spare you all the agony.  As it is, this link to the transcribed blotter has two victim-blaming comments.

But let’s think about this for a second.  It is clearly not as simple as a girl getting into a car with a man she knew only as her rapist.  The first thought of most commenters was clearly not that this man was a former partner and possibly that this woman had nowhere else to turn – it was of the Rapist as an identifiable criminal, a stranger to his victim except on the occasion of the rape.  Society at large has been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the myth of the stranger rapist springing from the bushes that we fail to comprehend the realities of sexual assault.

Even if you turn off your critical thinking abilities for a moment and just look at the statistics, a rapist is most often a friend, a partner, a relative — almost anyone BUT a stranger.  This is not to erase stranger rape as an experience or a possibility, but to assume this girl “deserved to be raped” because she got in the car with a shadowy, evil, lurking Rapist-with-a-capital-R is absurd.

And, let’s all please remember, revictimization isn’t further “evidence” that the victim is bringing it on herself — it’s part of a pattern of violence.

Me Quiero, Me Cuido

Being the quintessential Gemini that I am, I have been at odds with a lot of what is happening right now in my life while trying to figure out what my line really is. I’ve been involved with THE LINE Campaign since January of this year, starting the new year fresh with fem-fucking-power, and it has taken up a permanent spot in my heart, mind and soul. Not only does it re-awaken my feminist spirit every single day, but I have become part of the bigger movement and that has given me the courage to speak out.

A good friend of mine recently told me that I should watch what I say. Although I do admit that I don’t (always) think before I leap, I just can’t keep my mouth shut when I don’t agree with something(or somebody). He told me this after I posted a public note on the door of his building shouting out the sexist, violent asshole on the sixth floor that catcalls womyn from the stoop and thinks that hog-tying his beautiful german shepherd is “funny”. I felt that he needs to be publicly embarrassed and all the womyn living in the same building as him need to be aware of this creep. An hour later, another note appeared in the same place as the prior one stating “I know it was you, you bitch, you fucking cunt.” Obviously he couldn’t think of anything to say except to respond with vulgarities.

I don’t think that I say enough sometimes.

But back to what I was saying..

I’ve been in the city for over a week now, after traveling around New Orleans, then to Detroit for the US Social Forum. I’ve had some time now to organize and sift through my thoughts and feelings, however I am all-over-the-place and can’t seem to do much gathering. I’ve been thinking about where I stand in love and relationships frequently recently because I am seeing someone exclusively, but I’ve realized that I never reach satisfaction in any relationship because I always feel like there is something missing. For the last three years, I’ve succumbed to the fusion of another human being’s life with my own and haven’t had any time on my own.

Shit, I want to be selfish right now. I want to not worry about anyone else’s need besides my own. Fuck male domination, fuck societal paternal pressure of fucking your partner out of pity and fuck men colonizing womyn of color into relationships to obtain control over our lives. I see/hear/feel it with myself and whomever I talk to. Despite whatever madness (or realty) I may afflict, I haven’t felt this rounded and comfortable with myself– ever.

I steal the title of this post from the COLORR (Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights) girls who I met at USSF at their sexual health ‘zine-makin’ workshop. We ended the workshop in a circle holding-hands reciting Assata Shakur “to my people”, then placing our hands over our hearts and pussies (or cocks) while saying “me quiero, me cuido”. Translation: I love myself, then I’ll take care of myself.

Looking for the Yes

My whole life as a woman, I was told how to avoid rape. The usual advice of not dressing “slutty”, not parking far away from buildings, not going out after dark, not going places alone. All of these “precautions” were a reaction to the stranger myth of rape and sexual assault- the theory that a woman will be attacked by a complete stranger. It never occurred to me that I could be assaulted by someone I knew: I went on dates with men and never thought to be afraid of them or their roommates, although they certainly also could have raped me as soon as any stranger. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but certain lines were crossed.

I went on a few dates with a guy I will call “The Eternal Frat Boy” due to his love of drinking and partying- constantly. He was a nice guy, but somewhat of a “player.” Either way, The Eternal Frat Boy and I ended up in his room making out. One thing led to another and eventually he just grabbed my hand and stuck it down his pants. When I froze and didn’t do anything, he became upset. Eventually he just let it drop, but looking back on that scenario I have multiple thoughts on the situation, including the coercion ploy of his being upset, his lack of interest in obtaining consent, the lasting feeling of shame and embarassment that I felt afterward, and lastly: the fact that I am in no way alone in telling a story like this one.

When women assert themselves in not wanting to do something sexual, they are told that they are prudish, naive, and unsatisfactory. It is total crap. We have the right to say when we are uncomfortable, even if our Eternal Frat Boys weren’t expecting it.

Another scenario involves the “California Boy.” We went out a few times, ended up making out and at one point we started to get semi-naked. We were making out when I felt his fingers moving towards my vagina, and I quickly asked what he was doing. He shushed me and stuck his finger inside of me. Was it as traumatic as other forms of sexual assault or rape? No. Was it invasive, scary, semi-traumatic, and wrong? Yes. He never asked me if I wanted him. A common theme explored in “Yes means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” the anthology edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, is the need to focus on exploring the “Yes” of sex and not the “No” of violation. There are too many people that think women who don’t say “yes” still want sex. This is not true.

Sadly enough, I did not really come to terms with what consent was until I began dating my current boyfriend. One night we began kissing and he stopped, looked at me, and said, “are you sure you want to do this?” I was honestly taken aback. Two seconds forever changed how I look at consent. This is how every sexual encounter of any kind should be for everyone: one or both partners looking for the “yes.”

Where I Feel SAFE.

Photo 101

The issue of consent, and our respective lines, came up fairly early in mine and my partner’s relationship. The morning after a night of heavy drinking, he asked if we had had sex that night. I replied that we hadn’t:  he was much too drunk, and I didn’t want to take advantage of him. He didn’t seem to find a problem with sex in such a state of inebriation, explaining that “having sex is something we would have done drunk or sober.”

My partner and I have very different views on what constitutes consent. For him, the green light is given at the beginning of the relationship, while I feel safer granting permission, be it verbally or nonverbally, each time, and staying in full control of my body and the situation. These kinds of boundaries must be reconciled and respected in order for any relationship to work.

I made it very clear at that point that if I am drunk- repeating conversations; blacked out; falling asleep in an alcohol-induced slumber- or otherwise too under the influence to make a conscious, responsible decision about whether or not I want to have sex, then I am to be left alone to pass out in peace. Even more unpleasant than a hangover is the feeling of being violated.

There is no gesture sexier, more attractive, more moving, or more conveying of respect, than waking up to find yourself still in last night’s clothes, curled into the same fetal position in which you fell asleep (with a blanket protectively draped over you), and turning over to see your partner fully clothed as well, surrounded by obvious signs of sexless evening. For me, that strict observance of my boundaries and respect for my line, my sense of safety, is more romantic than any traditional display of affection; consent is the modern woman’s jewelry and flowers and chocolates and white horses and chivalrous brouhaha.

How one defines safety in a sexual situation is difficult, as it is a concept that is subjective, often circular in its logic, and privy to changing at a moment’s notice. For me, however, safety is as simple as being with someone with whom saying “yes” is just as easy as saying “no.”

Keep In Touch!

THE LINE has had a successful year. The film- and Nancy- have touched countless lives and minds, started tremendous heartfelt discussions on campuses worldwide, and impacted communities near and far with a sex-positive and genuine message about sex, communication, and consent.

For those of you who brought this dynamic and thought-provoking program to campus: thank you. For those of you who attended and took part in this movement: thank you. For those of you who write, submit, support, and promote us in your own work and your personal lives: thank you.

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“You Have the Right to Live In Your Own Body.”

Hey there, readers!  I’m Miranda, a new blogger, and I’m just pleased pink to be here.

My interest in anti-rape activism began sometime in middle school, right about the time I discovered riot grrl music.  Overnight I’d grown great big boobies, and every day I dreaded the inevitable catcalls when I walked home from school.  Then I listened to Bikini Kill.  Here was a group of talented, loud-mouthed women, fed up with street harassment, exploitation and rape apologists, and they spoke to every anxiety and frustration I had about living in a society that alienated me from my own body and my sexuality.  The first time I heard Kathleen Hanna scream/croon, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe,” I knew I was home.

Now I’m 23 and a dedicated anti-rape activist.  I’m a certified sexual assault crisis intervention counselor at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.  When some creep tries to humiliate me, I hollabackand street-shame him.  I do this because I know that the movement to end rape is an uphill battle and everything we say—or don’t say—counts.  So I’m here to do my part to keep the conversation going. And I’m here, blogging for you lovely readers, in case my voice can be that scream/croon that tells you, “You have the right to live in your own body.”

Kicking Sexism in the Butt

Hey everyone! My name is Ashley Lebesco, and I’m one of the newest bloggers here!

I’m a Women’s Studies/History major at Temple University, and I’ve been a feminist since the doctor said “girl.” I’m known as the crazy liberal hippie feminist to my more conservative family members, and when I’m not fighting sexual bias and injustice, I spend time with my dog and pretty awesome boyfriend Kevin.

(That being said, I am also a die hard fan of action movies and wrestling,  and therefore living proof that feminists sometimes have conflicting hobbies.)

I can most commonly be heard saying, “That is so sexist,” and one day I’ll be a lawyer- so I can kick sexism in the butt, one case at a time.

All Posts from July, 2010