An article came across my Facebook newsfeed about a fraternity that greeted parents and freshmen on Welcome Week with lovely banners hanging from their balcony. They read “Rowdy and fun. Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off” and “Go ahead and drop off Mom too.” When I read the article, it provoked both a “What the hell?” and a “*shrug* What’s new?” response.
I’m sure a few of you will think “Ha ha. That’s hilarious. Can’t you take a joke?” Sure, I find shit funny all the time. It’s funny when my kid puts a bucket on their head and bangs on it while hopping around. It’s funny when a friend trips going UP the stairs. You know what’s NOT funny? The fact that one of every four college women will survive a sexual assault while in school and that 27% of male rapists were victims of rape themselves.
The actions of this group of young men (who have since been suspended) raises the questions we should be focusing on, “Why do we think that sexual violence is a joking matter?”and “What can we do to prevent this kind of thinking?” The answers are buried in a culture perpetuated by a country (that’s us, the good ole’ U.S. of A) that not only mystifies and shames sexuality but also puts it on a pedestal.
Growing up I struggled with being bullied about my early-developing body and then tried to morph myself into something more appealing so I would continue to deserve attention. By the time I reached junior high I simply equated sexual advances to my self-worth. I had been raised with very little education about being a woman and so I had let the world teach me that my worth was equal to my delicate balance between “slut” and “virgin”. (Hint, there’s no such thing.)
So, what is our world providing in the way of gender and sexuality education anyway? Not only do our young women grow up thinking it’s okay to be pursued by full-grown men, but our sons are learning as they witness their fathers make unsolicited passes at the gas station clerk or hear how “respectable” business men and politicians talk about women. We fill their minds with sexualized images of women eating hamburgers as if this is a normal, perfectly fine way to advertise anything, much less our food, and then we listen intently and silently while talk show hosts rationalize rape. They see magazines on grocery story shelves shaming women in bikinis and listen to lyrics that reduce women to body parts. Their mothers shamefully cower in bathrooms while simply trying to breastfeed and then they watch as men catcall strangers on the sidewalk.
At the same time men grow up with an idealized standard of masculinity. They are expected to conquer all and never take “no” for an answer. You will rarely see one of those magazines call out a a man for putting on a few pounds or wearing sweatpants, but instead we see a culture that glorifies the young men who are raped by older women and celebrities who perpetuate unrealistic body images. These negative stereotypes of sexuality, femininity and masculinity lead to attitudes and expectations that foster a dangerous sexual environment.
Of course the paragraph above only emphasizes the cisgender heterosexual white perspective. If we focus on LGBTQIA+ and POC, it’s a completely different and much scarier story. Violence against transgender people, especially people of color, is staggering. 50% of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lives and are twice as likely to experience assault as cisgender white people. Queer folk are three times more likely to experience sexual violence compared to heterosexual people. You may not even have to, but imagine being a queer transgender person of color on a college campus and you might just start to get an idea of why these numbers are so devastating.
After decades of work we are just now starting to see some advancements for the LGBTQIA+ community. But while brave members of this community were fighting for acceptance, ignorant and confused communities were normalizing hate against anyone who wasn’t heterosexual or cisgender. And we are seeing the result of that hate with a climbing statistic of 15 transgender deaths in 2015.
“Greater awareness has not yet translated into broad acceptance, says Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center: “The majority of society does not understand who transgender people are in ways that lead to the violence and the murder and the harassment that we’re seeing.”
The risk is even greater for transgender women of color, who often grapple with both transphobia and racism. Sixteen of the at least 20 LGBT people murdered in 2014 were people of color, according to the NCAVP; 11 were transgender women, and 10 were transgender women of color. “People who are marginalized both because of their race and being transgender, it’s like a double whammy,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.” Source Time.com
All of these situations are slowly teaching our children how to act and how to assimilate into a rape culture to receive the least amount of damage or to come out on top. So how do we reverse something our society rarely acknowledges? We need to start by speaking up against sexual violence and the gender expectations that encourage it. I found this list from Marshall University to be a good starting point for preventing violence, specifically violence against women.
- Educate yourself on violence against women; learn the facts and the prevalence
- Believe survivors
- Contact your local legislators and political leaders and advocate for tougher laws against perpetrators of violence against women
- Know that dating violence & sexual assault affects 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys by the time they are 18
- Contact your local school board and ask them to address sexual harassment in schools
- Speak out against all forms of violence
- Question gender roles and assumptions
- Respect and embrace diversity
- Respect a person’s-even a child’s- right to say no
- Respect your partner’s right to disagree or have their own opinion
- Don’t blame victims, and reinforce that rape is never the victim’s fault
- Strive for equality for everyone
- Understand that putting boys and men down by calling them “ladies” and “girls” hurts everyone
- Speak out against the media’s portrayal of violence
- Learn how racism, sexism and homophobia are connected
- Acknowledge that it does happen in your own community
- Learn about power and control tactics
- Attend Take Back the Night events
- Ask permission before pursuing physical or sexual contact with someone
- Realize that sexual violence is about power and control, not sex
- Teach kids that respect is the minimum in a relationship, and lead by example
- Advocate for victim’s rights
- Ask your priest, rabbi, pastor, cleric, or spiritual leader to hold a special service to raise awareness and promote safety for victims and accountability for perpetrators.
- Avoid engaging in, supporting or encouraging sexual harassment by speaking up when you see or hear it
- Teach kids that violence will not solve problems
- Know that most sex offenders aren’t strangers · 86% are known to their victim
- Avoid making threats or using coercion and pressure to get sex
- Be courageous; don’t be afraid to speak up for those who have lost their voice or dignity
- Praise women and girls for something other than the way they look
- Speak out against racist, sexist or homophobic jokes
- Advocate for more youth violence prevention programs
- Get others to speak out against sexual violence
- Stop your sexual advances if the other person says no and encourage others to do the same
- Avoid buying music that glorifies sexual violence and the objectification of women and girls
- Urge your local radio stations to stop playing music that contains violent lyrics
- Applaud others who speak out against violence and oppression
- Invite a speaker from HAVEN to share with your class, work or community group
- Pledge to never commit or condone acts of violence
- Stop yourself or others from taking advantage of someone who is intoxicated
- Make a decision to become an active bystander by speaking up and calling for help when necessary
- Respect the choices victims and survivors make to survive
- Encourage your local college and universities to offer prevention education to students
- Work toward eliminating oppression of all kinds
- Think globally and act locally
- Hold perpetrators accountable for disrespecting their partners when you see it or hear it
- Engage others in discussions about violence against women
- Learn about healthy boundaries and don’t be afraid to voice your feelings in your relationship
- Notice when someone invades your boundaries
- Report it if you witness sexual harassment in your school or workplace
- Post awareness materials in restrooms and break rooms for easy & confidential accessibility
- Celebrate all aspects of masculinity, including compassion and sensitivity
- Choose your words carefully and respectfully when speaking of women in your life
- Show your strength by speaking up to men who are using their strength for hurting
- Refuse to let TV, movies, music or other people define what it means to be a man for you
- Understand that it takes more than just not being a batterer or a rapist to be a good guy
- Treat all women and girls with respect
- Don’t patronize sex workers or strip clubs
- Ask, don’t assume you know what your partner wants
- Get involved with the Men Can Stop Rape movement at www.mencanstoprape.com
- Refuse to coerce or manipulate your partner in order to get your way; be willing to compromise”
TheNation.com also gives us 10 really great examples on how to end rape culture, from self-advocating, understanding enthusiastic consent and lobbying. Personally, I’m a huge advocate and supporter of education. Whether this education starts at home by teaching our children respect for other people’s bodies or by lobbying for more comprehensive and medically accurate sexual education in our schools that doesn’t stop at heterosexuality, change will reveal itself in our next generation.