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...