Tag Archive: feminism

shorts kinda like theseI thought I was just making a healthy, positive decision to bike to my pole dancing class in Cleveland Park.  It was easier and faster than taking the bus, and it would get my muscles warmed up for a good pre-workout stretch.  It was finally warm outside, sun shining bright, pleasant heat but no humidity.  To me, it just made sense to wear my pole shorts for my bike ride (why dirty another pair of clothes?).

What I didn’t expect was the barrage of catcalls, whistles, hooting, and ogling that I got on my two mile ide to the studio.  The first time, I thought it was an anomaly.  When I walk down the street, I try to smile at people and be friendly, so occasionally I will get a leer or whistle from a guy who took my smile as an invitation (This, also, is rape culture, btw).  But after the second and third guy hung their smug heads out the window to holler at me, I realized that it had to do with my shorts.

Ugh.  “Fuck them,” I thought.   I know many women who face street harassment of this variety on a daily basis, because of how much makeup they wear, the attractiveness of their figure, the tightness of their clothes, etc.  Intellectually, I understand that it happens.  Intellectually, I knew it could happen to me too.  Which is why I was angry, but not surprised when it finally happened.

For those of you not familiar with the term rape culture, street harassment is a prime example of it.  My short shorts were seen as an invitation by many men to objectify me and treat me with less courtesy as a normal person.  If I had been a man in bike shorts, this would not have happened.  If I was a woman in capris, this would probably not have happened.  It was specifically the combination of my gender and my outfit that made it acceptable for these men to treat me like I was an object of their spectacle.

A lot of people justify this reaction by saying that I made the choice to wear those shorts, knowing that it invited people to look at the skin they exposed.  This is, in a way, true.  I have a good body.  I don’t blame anyone for looking.  To suggest otherwise would be prudish and absurd.   HOWEVER, to make a connection between gaze and the inherent disrespect of a catcall or wolf-whistle is what constitutes rape culture.

In essence, look all you want, but do not treat me with any less respect as a human being because of the clothes I wear.  You wouldn’t cat-call at your cousin, even if you knew she looked very attractive.  Why?  Because there is a level of respect and distance between you and your cousin, no matter what she is wearing or doing.  That same courtesy should extend to me.  Even if you’ve never met me.  Even if you don’t give a damn about me.

Does this skirt make me look slutty?What really surprised me about this whole incident, however, was the reaction I received from my fellow pole dancers once I arrived at the studio.  None of them were outraged, or even mildly annoyed, by the story I presented.  Most of them shrugged, and my instructor said, “Yeah, you really shouldn’t wear your pole shorts out in public.”

Wait WHAT?  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the most insidious side of rape culture.  It has infiltrated the minds of the people who suffer from it, legitimizing itself and its world order.  My fellow pole dancers, who undoubtedly have suffered street harassment themselves, see my experience as ordinary and acceptable, simply “the way the world is.”  Rather than critique the systems that make it socially acceptable for men to whistle and cat-call at us, they blame their friends for life choices that leave them vulnerable to the system.

I’m sure my pole dancing friends didn’t intentionally blame me for wearing my shorts.  It was meant as a friendly reminder, a suggestion for next time to avoid the hassle.  But in doing so, they reinforce the way that society operates, affirming that men are allowed this indulgence of street harassment.

And that, my friends, is just bullshit.

Because I must end these posts in a prescriptive manner, PLEASE, please with everything you do, think not about how the world does work, but how it should work.  Don’t blame women for the choices they make about their bodies.  Think critically about how society has given men the privilege to demean and objectify us, and make sure your men-folk know that this behavior is NOT OK.


****Note to any trans readers out there, I know this was a very gender-binary article.  I beg your patience in that regard, as I know trans people experience severe street harassment, which deserves equal treatment and attention.  It is, however, a much more complex topic and I felt I could not do it justice.  If someone else is interested in guest blogging about it, I would more than welcome such a submission.  Thank you!


Allegory of A Rape Culture

Hey queer kids,

I wrote a very dense, heavy article a ways back about rape culture and the way society dis-empowers women and their own sexual agency.  Well, for as much as I wrote and quoted, I find now that someone else has come up with a short, simple, and incredibly powerful allegory for rape culture.

The April Round Table is a feminist post in a gaming community, and puts forth the idea for a video game which simulates rape culture.  The idea being that the world is split into two categories- yellow and blue shirts, with yellow (including the player him/her/hirself) being the everyday people, and blue being potential assaulters.  I think it has a poignant message, especially when talking about flashbacks and the potential for a second assault after the initial one has been committed.

Perhaps the most important aspect:

“Characters may give the player advice on how to avoid getting ‘shot.’  Following or not following this advice will have zero effect on the player’s chances of getting shot. The player probably won’t know this at first, but may figure it out, when they eventually DO get shot, and exclaim, but I did everything they said!”

Because that really is the truth of it, guys.  It doesn’t matter who you are- male, female, genderqueer, black, white, latino, disabled, gay-, where you live- suburban, rural, or big city-, or what you do, it is impossible to categorically prevent your own rape.  There is no advice you can follow, no set of rules which will make you “off limits,” and no people you can avoid to keep you 100% safe.  And that’s a horrible reality to live with.  But it’s one we’re all better off understanding.

This is the reality I want every person who’s ever made a rape joke to understand.  This is the reality I want my sister to know so she takes care of herself in high school and college.  This is the reality I want my best friend to know so he understands why I can’t come visit him in Georgia-Petworth at night.  This is the reality I need to make myself understand so that I have a healthy respect for my own safety, both here in DC and when I travel to Africa.  It is SO VERY IMPORTANT.

Again I ask, what are you doing to help prevent rape?

Take Back the Night

Last semester, I attended part of the Take Back the Night ceremony, an event which has quickly become a national movement and rallying call for preventing rape and keeping women safe worldwide.  The format of Take Back the Night is fairly simple- audience members, as well as scheduled speakers, are asked to come to the center of the meeting space and share their story- or the story of someone close to them- about their experiences with rape or sexual assault.

The stories are moving, daring, sometimes humorous, but more often heart-wrenching, and always carry a somber, but hopeful message for the future: if I share this, my understanding and my experiences, maybe it won’t happen to someone else.

While Take Back the Night was one of the most compelling events I attended at American University, it was also the most frustrating.  It reminded me of the total helplessness that so many women (and men!) face when confronted with violence and abuse.  It reminds me of how little our society has done to PREVENT rape.  There are so many of organizations out there which deal with the after-effects of sexual abuse: counseling, medical  attention, support groups, memorial projects, but there are so few that do anything about educating the population most likely to commit rape.  I think Scarleteen puts it best in their article How You Guys — that’s right, you GUYS — Can Prevent Rape: (which you guys should all at least skim through)

“Do you know that you shouldn’t walk home alone at night, or on unlit streets? That when walking home, you should have your house key between your fingers to poke a potential attacker in the eyes or throat? How about that if you don’t want to be raped, you need to be sure your skirt is somebody’s idea of the right length, that you don’t sway your hips when you walk, you shouldn’t be alone with new dates, alone in large groups of men, say you enjoy sex out loud where men can hear you, shouldn’t drink — not because you’ll get liver damage or become an alcoholic, but because it’ll result in you being raped? Did you know that if someone tries to force you to have sex, that you shouldn’t fight back, but should probably just try to be nice to them? How about that if you say yes to one kind of sex, you’d best be prepared to have every other kind of sex your partner wants, and that if you want to avoid being raped, you’d best say no to ANY kind of sex, even the sex you DO want?

If these things aren’t as familiar to you as the nose on your face, I can guarantee you that they are for nearly every woman you know. Women have this stuff drilled into our heads endlessly, from nearly everywhere we look, all with the aim of helping us prevent something from happening we aren’t even doing. Almost every article we see when it comes to rape prevention is aimed at women – the ones most often getting raped — not at men, who most often are the ones doing the raping.”

This is rape culture.  These are the protective ideas that our society enforces about the way women have to act to protect themselves from something that should never even happen in a dignified society.  And yet it does.  It does all the time.  So what I’m wondering is- why haven’t we, as a society so deeply concerned with the problem of rape- addressed its root causes?

This loops right back to everything I’ve been saying about sexual dialogue and openness.  As Antonio Banderas says of dance in Take the Lead- “If your son can learn to touch a girl with respect, how will he treat women throughout his life?”  The same applies here: dialogue turns into action, which turns into practices, which becomes cemented as values.  If we hush up sex like it is something bad and dirty, it becomes taboo, desirable.  If we talk about it openly, it becomes something normal, regular- something pleasant to be done with discretion and care, like driving or being in charge of your own finances.  As a society talks more, barriers break down and understanding develops.  “Oh, you mean women like sex too?  And if I’m not a bastard to them, but instead help them find their own sexual desire, then they’ll actually WANT to sleep with me?”  Go figure.

The more women feel in control of their own sexual wants and needs and the clearer those are, the more potential rapists will come to understand about their potential victims as whole groups.  More understanding = less frustration = a heck of a lot less of violent sexual crimes.  Would this eliminate all forms of sexual abuse?  No, certainly not.  But would it go a long way towards a society-wide movement away from rape and the culture of “taking” by men.

And if that wasn’t long enough for you- there’s a second segment to this whole rape culture article.  And that’s about The Gray Area- or rape that isn’t rape.

Part of the “taking” attitude I wrote about involves sexual interactions that sort of bridge the consent line.  There’s “yes, but only yes because you’ve been pressuring me for the last six months,” or “Yes, but I’m really drunk and so are you,” or even “Yes even though I’m not enjoying it.”

Again, this goes back to a societal paradigm where women often don’t “own” their sexual desires.  They feel like sex is “for the man” in their relationship. (or, in the case of same-sex partners, “for the other partner”- sorry, I know a lot of these articles assume a heterosexual relationships, although these problems occur in same-sex relations too.  Excuse my use of the gender dichotomy for ease of writing in this case.  Thanks loves!)

Thus, “the Gray Area.”  When women say ok, even though they mean, I wish you’d stop harassing me about it.  Or, sometimes, when they say ok because they want to feel desired, mature, or some other social construct attached to sex, without actually wanting SEX.  The C-spot, a literary/erotic women’s magazine, published a great article on this concept here:  http://www.c-spotmagazine.com/main/?p=1159.  For the author, the idea of being wanted, of being mature by fooling around, even though she didn’t have any real idea about sex, pushed her much farther than she wanted to go.  It’s a very relatable article for me, as I’m sure it will be for many people out there.

The prescription here is all about women taking hold of their own sexual identity, as Scarleteen writes brilliantly about it again in their article: An Immodest Proposal. Here’s the best part though:

“What we individually and collectively visualize has power and influence when it comes to what we manifest. By all means, not a one of us can somehow erase or alter all of the barriers we have right now when it comes to real sexual agency for all women. But there are no barriers beyond the limitations of our own imagination when it comes to rewriting the scripts of our sexual ideals, our individual sexual lives, and what we present to ourselves, our sisters and our daughters. We have the power to dream up and manifest something far better than a woman merely being able to say no and to say yes; something which is an entirely different animal than scenarios which are positive primarily because they have avoided the most negative consequences or results. Good sex, great sex, enriching sexuality is not just about the absence of physical or emotional pain nor only about emotional intimacy. It is about desire and the full expression of that desire.”

Guys, girls, all of you- especially if you haven’t had sex yet, or you’ve had bad sex, or had sex you didn’t really want, READ THIS.  I mean, PLEASE READ THIS.  The more we as individuals come to realize the power of our own sexual agency, the greater the ability for sex to mean something, to be something big, Powerful, and EXPLOSIVE.  And my personal hope, as a writer, as a student, as a sister, as a friend, and a queer teen, is that everyone who reads this gets an experience like the one this article describes.

Take care, queer kids.  Keep the dialogue open and the ideas flowing.

((Also, we should be having a guest collaborator or two on a sexuality and religion article soon.  Huzzah!))

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