#3: Following the Story Full Circle

Last week, I talked about the idea of following one aspect of feminism/combatting sexism full circle. Starting with identifying/discussing a problem and how it affects women, and bringing it back to: how do we change this? How are people changing this right now?

I started to think about some issues that I think are pervasive in our society, and even in Vermont. I began to think about an issue that is unfortunately rather ubiquitous – rape culture. According to Marshall University’s Women’s Center, “Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence” (Marshall). This leads to a culture where women are forced to fear for their safety and rights. Rape culture manifests itself in a myriad number of ways, with varying levels of severity. While the majority of women are not victims of sexual assault, a large population of women may be victimized by the fear of sexual assault. Sexual harassment may be swept aside and not recognized as a valid instigator of fear for women. Rape culture can infiltrate everyday conversations we have. I’ve heard people say things at my high school that are wildly inappropriate and disrespectful – but the presence of a culture in the rest of the country and online that permits such thinking makes them think it’s fine to act that way.

I found a really moving example of somebody combating rape culture. A student named Skylar White at Green Mountain Union High School was raped by a classmate she had known since kindergarten. She didn’t want to be victimized or powerless, so she came forward. White insightfully stated, “It’s really hard for people to say they were raped… It’s not just that you regret having sex with someone, or that it was never talked about, or that you were locked in a room and didn’t have any other choice and were egged on. It’s all rape, and we need to call it that” (Weiss-Tisman). Every example she listed happens. They can all be traced back to roots in rape culture. Somehow, the perpetrator got the message that coercing or forcing someone into rape was acceptable.

White also stated that, “I have a strong support system at home, and I knew I was the person who would be able to actually go through with it. So I just decided to jump off the ledge and go for it” (Weiss-Tisman). Often victims are to afraid or ashamed to tell an authority or press charges. That is how rape culture survives. In a very cyclical manner, it feeds off of the fear it instigates in people. The only way to break the cycle would be to offer support to victims make the route towards doing the right thing, reporting the assault, as safe as possible.

Fear and shame is also embedded in women through the language we use to talk about them. We control women sexually by putting them down with labels: slut, skank, whore, easy. We make women feel bad for possessing traits that may or may not be inherent to women. Femininity is disregarded as undesirable. Just look at the connotations of the word “pussy”. Try calling a teenage boy a pussy. They don’t like it. It is the ultimate insult.

But how does that all make women feel? Pretty bad. Suddenly girls feel trapped in a box, and have to navigates the ins and out of their lives whilst avoiding judgement for acting or existing in certain ways. Those words are controlling. They are purposed to and succeed in controlling our lives.

How are people combatting this? An example I really like is the Amber Rose SlutWalk. During this event thousands of people take to the streets of LA to show ownership over their bodies and images of themselves. The organization describes its mission statement as follows on their website: “Our mission is to deliver an event geared toward raising awareness about sexual injustice and gender inequality. The Amber Rose SlutWalk aims to impact and uplift, while shifting the paradigm of rape culture.”

This is an issue that has deep roots in the psychology of Americans and our views on women’s sexualities and roles in society. It is an issue that exists in the life of every American, young or old, regardless of race, class, sexual/gender orientation, or religion. I’d like to look into why it is so harmful to women, and our society, and how we can combat it.

 

“Marshall University.” Womens Center, www.marshall.edu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/. (Marshall)

“The Mission.” The Amber Rose SlutWalk, amberroseslutwalk.com/our-story/.

Weiss-Tisman, Howard. “’We Need To Take Our Bodies Back’: Chester Teen Speaks Out About Rape.” Vermont Public Radio, 23 June 2017, digital.vpr.net/post/we-need-take-our-bodies-back-chester-teen-speaks-out-about-rape#stream/0. (Weiss-Tisman)

Zoe Prue

3 Responses to “#3: Following the Story Full Circle

  • I love your Amber Rose Slut Walk example! She is doing a great job at reclaiming her sexuality and body, as well as helping other women call attention to rape culture and misogyny/misogynoir.
    I have a few suggestions. I don’t believe women should be pressured to report sexual assault. I also don’t believe that rape victims or women perpetuate rape culture by not reporting. Instead, we need to work on raising young boys to respect women, and treat women as subjects not objects. We should actually sentence rapists, and give them more time than just 6 months (and only serve 3) like Brock Turner. Rape culture is perpetuated by the greater system of sexism and misogynist behavior. Society should create a world where women feel safe to report, instead of putting pressure on women to report. Develop positive law enforcement relationships with minority groups, and facilitate more discussions about rape on college campuses. According to RAINN, 994 rapists walk free from every 1,000 rapes, meaning that only 6 rapists are incarcerated per 1,000 rapes. In the society we live in, it is more common for the rapist to escape consequences, than for them to be convicted. Another thing that I wanted to mention, was that race, class, gender identity, or sexuality orientation do affect someone’s level of vulnerability when it comes to sexual assault. Native American women and girls are twice as likely to be raped than any other ethnic group, and 1 in 5 black girls before the age of 18 are raped. 21% of transgender students are raped on college campuses, opposed to only 18% of cisgender students, or non-trans students are raped on college campuses. Also, money is always a factor when presenting a case. If you have money, than you can afford a better attorney , but when you’re poor, you’re appointed a public defender with less experience and less time to handle your case. Also, Black and Latina women have a harder time trusting police officers within their communities because of historic oppression, misconduct, and brutality, and therefore refrain from reporting.
    When we talk about rape and sexual assault, we also have to consider the intersections of privilege, and how privilege differs depending on the identity of the victim or their demographic group. This may sound strange to focus on privilege, even when dealing with something as inhumane as sexual violence, however identity and privilege will make all the difference when it comes to vulnerability, outcome, and justice.

    • Thank you so much for your response, Zymora. You brought up so many important points. I didn’t consider how big of a role race, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation had on the level of vulnerability of victims. I also didn’t explore the idea of how large of a role privilege plays in the overall safety of women as well as their access to resources.
      All of this makes me think about the necessity of intersectional feminism. Maybe that is something I should try to explore in research.

  • You raise some important issues, here, Zoe: rape culture, a double standard for men and women when it comes to sexuality, how unhealthy ideas about sexuality are embedded in our culture, and how our use of language can reinforce those ideas. Zymora rightly points out race, class, gender, and orientation as key dimensions here, as well.

    I’m a relative newcomer to Vermont, but in my four-and-a-half years here I’ve seen a number of ways in which it lives up to its politically progressive reputation. Your entry has me wondering whether there are any groups or organizations in the state that share your concerns and have decided to take action. If such groups exist, they could prove worthwhile to look into as you move forward with your inquiry. Keep your eyes and ears open as the course progresses!

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