Friday, December 17, 2010
SHEER is alive!
Sexuality Health Education to End Rape (SHEER) is a survivor centered, sex positive, pro-consent coalition formed to prevent sexual assault, abuse, harassment and victim blaming and to address myths about rape by promoting an affirmative consent standard as the cornerstone of healthy sexual interactions. An affirmative consent standard calls for the use of enthusiastic consent that is active, mutual and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter.
SHEER is an anti-oppressive coalition that values open and ongoing dialog about the ways in which physical and mental ability, race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among other factors, shape and inform our relationships with rape culture and with healthy sexuality.
Please learn more at SHEERonline.org. The site is currently under construction, but I invite you to watch it as it grows.
I will be taking a break from this blog while SHEER gets off the ground. Please feel free to contact me via facebook or write messages to me through SHEER.
Thanks and Peace,
Friday, December 3, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Hello, my name is Eva Ball and I am the Prevention Education Specialist at Rape Victim Advocates, the largest rape-crisis center in the city. I am also the founder of SHEER – Sexuality Health Education to End Rape, a new Chicago-based coalition to address sexual violence through sex-positive prevention education. I am here today to speak with you about sexual violence, the media and young womens’ sexual health.
I want to be clear about something from the beginning: I am not here to BLAME the media for sexual violence. Sexual violence undoubtedly has numerous causes, but I am not here to discuss where it came from. I am here to talk about strategic ways to prevent it and support survivors. I look to the media not as the cause of the problem, but as a potential solution.
We know that sexual violence has huge ramifications on women and girl's sexual health. One in three girls will be sexually abused or assaulted before her 18th birthday. And grown women don't fare much better: one in four women over the age of 18 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. And we know that many of these girls and women will be assaulted when an otherwise consensual sexual encounter becomes non-consensual. I know first hand that this is the case, because I am a survivor of this type of sexual assault.
I want to take a minute to tell you some of my story. I was raped by a man with whom I had a previous sexual relationship. We had a great time together but did not engage in vaginal intercourse. I expressed to him that I was not ready to do that with him. But one night, he penetrated me anyway. Without my consent. I don't know if he meant to rape me or not. I don't know if that was his intention. But regardless of his intention, the effect was: I WAS RAPED. The person I'd spent 19 years becoming, died. I've spent the years since trying to pick up the remnants I can find, while simultaneously coming to accept that I will NEVER be that person again. In the act of raping me, he killed a large part of me. But despite the fact that I'd always been a loud-mouth, I didn't speak up or seek help for months. I didn't tell soul, because I was confused about what happened and because I was ashamed. I felt worthless.
But I a not here to depress you all. I am here to motivate you. I want to start at the unlikely place of looking at media's portrayals of women today.
I google image-searched "women in magazines" and here are some of the first page results:
If you were an alien from outer space, and these pictures were all you knew about women, what would you think a "woman" should be? What would you think it means to be "a woman"?
- Sexually available
- Hyper sexual
- Light Skin
- Straight hair
Of course not ALL images in the media show women this way. But many of them do.
Now let's move away from visual images in the media and talk instead about language. I want to think of words used in the media and pop culture to describe women and girls who have sex or are sexually active. What words have you heard in popular music, or elsewhere in the media?
- bust down
- chicken head
They're all insults. So is it fair to say that the language used in popular media gives girls the message that it's a BAD thing to be sexually active? [yes].
Okay now let's put these things together:
- bust down
- chicken head
Visual images SHOW young women that they should be hyper sexual and always available to men. But LANGUAGE used in the media tells young women they are worth less if they actually BEHAVE the way we show them they should. It's the ultimate catch-22.
The result of these mixed messages is a type of social schizophrenia. Young women act sexually -- they're hormones are raging and they've been shown that that is how they should act -- BUT they feel ashamed about it because they've internalized the message that they are IN FACT worth less as people because it.
So let's connect this back to sexual violence. If we combine this internalized shame that comes with being a sexually active young woman, with the fact that many young women are raped during otherwise consensual "hook-ups" then we've got a BIG problem on our hands. We have scores of young women being raped and not being able to speak out or seek healing without the reasonable fear that she will be labeled "just a slut."
That's why I didn't speak up. I was scared of being labeled and devalued by others. And in the 8 years that I've been doing this work I've spoken to more young women than I can count who were silenced for the same reasons after an assault similar to my own.
Okay. So we know what the problem is.
So let's talk solutions...how do we empower young survivors to speak up and get help?
I believe one solution is to give girls a clear message about what sexually healthy behavior looks like.And we need to be strategic in doing so. We must focus on finding out WHAT WILL WORK to improve girls' sexual health? What will make unintended pregnancies go down? What will limit the spread of HIV? How we can empower young girls to speak up and get help when they are assaulted or abused?
I think the answer to all these VITAL questions lies in one simple solution: We stop the shame. We accept that raging hormones are a natural part of being an adolescent young woman, and that biology is nothing to be ashamed of.
How do we do this? By being brave. By speaking up if you think young women are worth more than their so-called "virginity." If we believe that a woman's sexual history DOES NOT impact her worth as a human being, we need to shout it from the rooftops. So I want to know: who in this room believes that young women are valuable human being regardless their sexual history? Please, make some noise...
Okay, now that we've identified ourselves, we need to take this message and spread it whichever way we can. Tweet, facebook status updates, organization's websites, use it in fliers and advertisements. Let's come together and use the media to spread the message LOUD AND CLEAR that:
Young women are valuable human beings. Their value is not tied to their sexual history. Period.
Surviving isn't good enough for our young women. They deserve to thrive.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Maybe we've been too hard on men. Okay, I get patriarchy -- a system that gives more privileges to men than women. But an over-simplified analysis of patriarchy could lead a person (say, me as a sophomore in college) to believe that all men have it easy. But I tend to believe that if it's simple, it ain't true. And I think this oversimplification has negative implications on the ways men are viewed in our society.
Men are complicated people. Men have feelings. Men can be vulnerable. Men can be beautiful and sensitive and sensual and sweet and kind and loving and tender and imperfect and weak and silly and gentle, everything that "men" aren't; MEN are.
"Men" (in quotes) refers to the uber-masculine stereotype of what men "should" be. MEN (no quotes, with or without caps) describes what men actually are. And first and foremost, men are people.
Maybe that just sounds silly. But I think it bears stating: men are people. Women are people. People of all genders are people. That's why we call them people.
Some people are totally emotionally unavailable. Some of those people (perhaps most of them?) are men. But not all of them are. I'm blessed to know a lot of amazing, caring men. And no surprise, they have all the complex feelings and emotions that all people experience.
Men (in general) have to face some challenges that women (in general) don't. Penis' come with baggage. I was an awkward teenager. My hormones were raging and I was aroused by the most random and inexplicable things. Luckily, being a girl, no one was the wiser if I got turned on in math class. My male classmates' bodies did not allow for the same discretion. I cannot imagine the embarrassment that comes along with your classmates seeing you pitch a tent during freshman algebra. Oi!
Something all humans have to deal with is getting aroused when they don't want to or not getting aroused when they do want to. Either situation has the potential to totally suck, but people with penis' lack the option to keep it a secret. When you combine that exposure with the "Don Johnson" stereotype -- the myth that a man is only as good as his control over his penis (and over women) -- you get a tough situation for many men.
Men get messages that the size and hardness of their dick is what makes them a "man." If you buy into that myth, I can't imagine the performance pressure that comes along. And let's face it, this myth is so pervasive that it's difficult not to buy into it on some level. As such, I would like to see increased understanding an empathy for this, and other difficulties, that are unique to the male experience.
Is the patriarchy alive and well? Yes, without question. But when it comes to sex and sensuality we need to have complicated conversations about pressures experienced by people of all genders. And we need to have equally complicated conversations about sexual violence. Does the pressure put on men to be "men" contribute to perpetrators' desire to rape? Could shifting the way we understand men's sexuality, individual struggles and social pressures lead us to a more comprehensive understanding of human sexuality and sexual violence? I think it could.
Simple solutions hide untruths. People are not 1-dimensional. And the more dimensions we can examine and understand, the closer we'll be to creating a world without rape, a world in which all sexual interactions are communicative, pleasurable and consensual.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I don't have words for how disturbing this video is to me. It is distusting and vial. It is not, however, particularly surprising. My one year as a student at a University with the "Greek System" made me very well acquainted with the connection between fraternities and rape. I know that not all fraternities encourage rape in this way. But I doubt that Yale is alone in these types of practices, either.
In my opinion, Yale's response to this video was unacceptable. They called it "a lapse in judgment."
I wrote the following to Dean Mary Miller to urge her to take discinplinary action againt the fraternity in question. I encourage you to do the same. Just click this link to get started! (If you agree with me, feel free to use my language).
Dear Dean Miller,
I am writing you because I believe that you are in a powerful position to set a culture-changing precedent. My name is Eva Ball and I am the Prevention Education Specialist at the largest rape crisis center in Chicago. Thank you for taking the time to read this email.
In my experience, the connection between rape & fraternities is not a Yale-specific phenomena. And while I can understand and appreciate why Yale may take a self-protective stance on this issue and minimize the implications of this video, I urge you not to take this path. Instead, I urge you to take this as a historical moment, a moment in which Yale University takes a firm stance against rape and the systems that promote it.
I understand that there may be political consequences to taking punitive action against the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. I know this must not be a simple issue for the college to address. But I beg you to consider setting an example for universities to follow in the future, and take serious action against this fraternity. Not only will you send a strong message about your priorities to your students, but you will set a much-needed precedent that could prevent countless acts of sexual violence in the future.
You have an ability to make substantial progress in the way rape is addressed on college campuses. Please do not miss this opportunity.
With gratitude and respect,
Friday, October 1, 2010
Had I been a young woman merely 40 years earlier, my situation would have been very different. It wasn’t until the 1970s that rape crisis centers, hotlines or advocacy programs even existed. Before the 1970s a rape victim (yes, “victim” – the term “survivor” was yet-to-be coined) had few options. They were lucky if they had a friend or family member to turn to, but without any public discourse about rape and without any helping services in place, they most likely had to suffer in silence. So yeah, I’m happy to be a young survivor now as opposed to then. And I will forever be indebted to the founding mothers of the feminist anti-rape movement who got those services started.
But despite amazing feminist accomplishments the word “feminist” has a polarizing effect when uttered in mixed company. The dreaded “f” word brings up mental images of man-hating bra-burners who are driven by anger and rage. And while anger and rage are warranted when you’ve been raped or otherwise abused I’ve worked with a lot of feminists, and I would like to testify that more often than not their work is driven by love. They love themselves enough to acknowledge they deserve to be treated better than doormats, blow-ups dolls or punching bags. They love each other enough to support their brothers and sisters who've been raped or beaten or used. They love humanity enough to strive endlessly to ensure a safer world for future generations. Yet they, we, tend to get a bad name. I want to clear that up.
Regardless of your gender, if you believe that it’s worthwhile to provide helping services to rape survivors, you’re a feminist. If you believe that sexual violence is bogus and the world would be better without it, you’re a feminist. If you think women are whole people and not objects to be fucked, you are a feminist. If you’re bothering to read this blog, you’re probably a feminist. And I encourage you to claim the “f” word as part of your identity. I am honored to do so and to align myself with people who call injustice by name and dedicate their lives to fighting against it.
But just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean I agree with all the feminists in the world. And just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean we’re enemies. We can appreciate and value one another while disagreeing. For example, an older feminist recently told me she has a staunch anti-pornography and anti-prostitution stance. I disagree with her stance because I strive to live where idealism meets strategy. In 2010 porn is down-right mainstream. It simply isn’t strategic for young feminists to work to end pornography or the sex trade. It may have been a reasonable stance in the 70s, but I don’t think it’s a relevant approach to getting work done today. But despite our differing ideologies I respect her and the work she’s done. Heck! Without her work, I wouldn't be able to do mine.
That being said, it is clear to me that the anti-rape movement is in the midst of a paradigm shift. And when the movement successfully shifts to sex-positive, I hope we can do it with the understanding and support of the feminists who came before us. Similarly, us young feminists need to understand that our work may not be relevant or even appreciated by future generations. But that is okay. Because in order for feminism to thrive we need to constantly adapt to the changing world, and we must love and support one another through those changes. (Luckily, this plays to our strengths).
I was raped in 2003 by a friend, a man with whom I’d had a previous sexual relationship. I didn’t even know that what happened to me was rape. I was never explicitly taught that I should expect to be respected in the bedroom. No one told me to expect pleasure. So it didn’t immediately occur to me as problematic that neither of these things were happening. Months later I confided in a friend that “he had sex with me” and my friend responded, “did he have ‘sex with you’? Or did he rape you?” Before that, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had been raped. But it was healing and relieving to call it by name. Yes, he did rape me. That is why I’m crying so much of the time. That is why I lost my appetite, my joy. That is why I lost my ability to find happiness in my first true love: music. Because he raped me.
I hope that future generations can take for granted the difference between rape and sex. I hope that the status quo becomes expecting pleasure, respect and most of all, CONSENT, regardless of your gender. Because as it stands, I truly don’t think you have to be a terrible person to commit rape. All you have to do is follow the status quo.Thankfully, things are much better than they used to be. But we’ve still got a long way to go...
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I've been harassed before, plenty of times. But rather than getting "thicker skin" I feel as though the same scab is peeled off again and again, the wound growing ever deeper. I contemplate quitting my weekend job where much of the harassment takes place. But then I remember that this harassment doesn't happen because I'm a performer, because I dance in a short skirt or because my character appears to be drunk -- it happens because I am a woman. I've been sexually harassed walking down the street on a sunny day dressed to go to my grandmother's birthday party. It has nothing to do with what I wear or how I present myself. It has to do with the fact that the harasser thinks is a-okay to treat me with disrespect. Because I am a woman.
And why shouldn't he? Tonight there were literally hundreds of people witnessing the harassment, but did anyone speak up? Besides the lead singer of my band, no (at least, not to my knowledge). The fellow audience members were apparently good enough folks to not be yelling obscenities about my body, but not good enough people to shush-up or call security on the d-bags who were. So that leaves these d-bags with the message that it is okay -- it's okay to be a sexist, perverted asshole.
But it's not okay. Far from it. And I have faith that most people agree with me. Because I usually don't get harassed. I've played over 400 shows in the last five years, and despite the fact that I always wear a short dress, I always dance enticingly and my character always appears to drink Jack Daniels [coke + water = fake whiskey], only seldom does someone take those factors as an invitation for a verbal assault. So clearly it's not me -- it's them.
And if I'm correct that most people don't think sexual harassment is okay, I want to know: why do so many people condone it when it happens? Why don't more people speak up? Of course, there can be as many answers to this question as there are silent spectators, but my hunch is that most people don't speak up because they see it as normal. They see women being objectified on TV, billboards, music videos, movies and as a result, seeing it in real life may not seem shocking or even problematic.
But it is VERY problematic. Because I am a strong woman. And this shit puts me to tears. It makes me feel weak. It makes me feel like all my work to end sexual violence is for nothing. It makes me feel like I don't matter. It makes me feel unsafe in my workplace. It makes me feel like a victim. But I am a fucking survivor.
If you're reading this, you're probably my friend. And since you're my friend I don't mind asking you this favor: if you see something, say something. Please don't tacitly support sexual violence by bearing silent witness to verbal or physical assault. Speak up. Get security. Put the perp in their place. Intervene safely in a way that is comfortable to you. But for goodness sake, intervene. If you do already, thank you. Now consider taking it a step further and encouraging your friends to do the same. This shit won't stop unless we stop it.
Usually I end my posts with some words of encouragement. But they are escaping me tonight. Have you got any for me? I could use them.