Changing Our Culture
Sexual violence is often called interpersonal violence because it is committed by a person who has targeted another individual. The most direct harm is to that targeted individual, and the punishment—if any—is of the perpetrator. But it is a societal problem, not an individual problem. We are all responsible, and we all suffer. Preventing sexual violence is about us. It’s about the stories we tell, the language we use. Individuals commit the acts of violence but the community around those individuals raises them, teaches them, supports their behavior, rewards them, excuses them, and punishes—or doesn’t punish—them.
The Steubenville rape case is known for many reasons. Among them is the sympathy toward the offenders expressed by a CNN reporter in response to the guilty verdict. Her statements were jarring, but her sentiments were compassionate. They were well-intentioned comments, just focused in the wrong place. What is sad is not that the young men were receiving punishment they deserved; what is sad is they were raised in a culture that taught them it’s acceptable to assault a drunk, young woman, then brag about it and laugh.
Even after the facts of that evening were well known, the young men were supported, not just for who they are, but also for what they had done. They will probably continue to be supported for the rest of their lives by people who believe it was her fault, that the guys were acting like any young male might. Because they were. They didn’t behave that way because they are sociopaths. They behaved that way because the dominant messages they had received for their entire lives taught them that kind of behavior was acceptable.
Basic media education easily points out these dominant messages, such as emphasis on rigid gender roles, rewards for sexually aggressive men, and disrespect for girls and women who don’t conform to a narrow definition of feminine. It’s not the fault of the media, however. Media messages reflect us and our beliefs. Pay attention to the everyday language around you and you will hear common phrases about “boys being boys” and “what do girls expect when they dress that way.” Media messages will not change until the society that creates and supports those messages has changed.
Prevention of sexual violence has historically focused on the individuals most targeted. Girls and women have been told for centuries what they should and shouldn’t do to prevent being assaulted or abused. Prevention instructions are heavily gendered, rooted in sexism, and one consequence is that when males are victims, they are invisible. Another consequence is that when a woman is assaulted or abused, the ingrained first thought of many people is, “Why didn’t she prevent it?”
In another recent high-profile case, football players at Vanderbilt University were dismissed from the team after being arrested for the sexual assault of a female student. Just weeks after being charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of sexual battery, one of the players, Jaborian McKenzie, transferred to Alcorn State University and joined the football team. Here are two ways to think about this. One, he has not been convicted, deserves a hearing, and to use his talents as a player. The other, the campus should have waited until after a hearing and should not welcome him as a prominent student if he is possibly a dangerous perpetrator. Either way, the focus is on one individual.
What if the conversation was about us, not him?
What if we talked about why too many boys grow up thinking it’s OK to sexually assault a drunk woman, and too many others of all genders and ages silently let them continue to think this way? It wouldn’t solve the disagreement over whether McKenzie has the right to play ball for another team, or whether his presence on campus creates a hostile environment. It wouldn’t answer the question about what we should do with sexual predators. It wouldn’t change the complication of our unbalanced obsession with football or the racism embedded in everything that happens in this country.
This is what changing the conversation would do: it would get us closer to the heart of the matter. It would help us focus on real solutions rather than handwringing about the inevitability of sexual violence. It would help us all begin to understand that our everyday words and actions have an impact either positively or negatively. We can learn to recognize those moments when saying something as simple as “I disagree,” or “That’s not right,” will make a difference. When enough of us begin to make these statements, the collective impact will move us toward a future where girls and boys grow up knowing that respect for one another is expected.
We can all be Agents of Change.
Director, We End Violence
Tags: Culture, Media
I Know You Want It: Objectification, Music Videos and Consent
Talk about getting blasted,
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must want to get nasty.
“Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke, T.I., Pharrell
I’ll admit it: I hadn’t heard this song until I watched some of the many parodies of it that have been floating around the internet. I knew that it was the “Song of the Summer,” but I tend to not listen to new music on the radio, and I miss out on most pop music until it becomes passé. After viewing some of the parodies, I knew that in order for me to get the joke, I needed to watch the original. So I did. Then I wished I hadn’t.
The video is, what has sadly become, a pretty typical example from that genre; a lot of nudity, objectification, and questionable lyrics. It was more graphic than most, but still within the realm of what has become normal. So I wasn’t too surprised. However, once I started reading what Robin Thicke was saying about his song, the video and feminism, I lost my cool.
When asked about what “blurred lines” mean in the context of the song, Thicke answers that he wants to show how “women and men are equals as animals and in power.” Yet, his video shows exactly the opposite.
In the two different versions (one “clean” and one not), women are treated as props: they are all scantily clad (or nude) while the men are fully clothed, the women are controlled by having their hair pulled, one’s back is used as a track for a toy car, and they are shown in compromising positions as their male video co-stars sing and move around the set like the women are scenery and not people.
As if that wasn’t enough, Robin Thicke has said in a recent interview that his song is “a feminist movement in itself.” I’m extremely curious to hear what branch of feminism he most closely identifies “Blurred Lines” with.
Most troublingly, is that Thicke knows it’s derogatory and thinks the video is a joke about old men cat calling young women. He says that he deliberately chose to be as offensive as possible in both versions. It works. Women are treated as animals that need to be controlled, or they are being disrespected by having smoke blown their faces and being shot up with giant needles without their consent.
By obviously engaging in such behavior, and without showing any repercussions from such, I don’t think he’s successfully making a joke about sexist behavior here. If anything, he’s being rewarded for his bad behavior with support from his peers, Pharrell and T.I. If someone ever needs a visual representation of rape culture, this video is great place to start.
It’s not that I don’t like pop music (full disclosure: I listen to an embarrassing amount of Lady GaGa and Katy Perry), but I do take issue with music and imagery that treats women as objects, or worse yet, for whom consent doesn’t matter because they’re animals. The “I know you want it” line repeated constantly makes that pretty apparent. It seems to me that the ever-present “asking for it” trope isn’t too far off. Thicke’s argument that it’s a part of the feminist movement is really just the gross icing on the rotten cake.
Yet, the thing is so damn catchy. To be honest, I caught myself singing it as I wrote this piece. If there hadn’t been such controversy surrounding the song, I might not have really listened to the lyrics, and would have bounced around to it when I heard it at parties. Now I know better (you do too, by the way). Even if the beat makes me want to nod my head, which it really, really does, I’m not going to engage. When I hear it next, I’m going to turn off the radio, ask to hear something else, or share why I’m not getting my groove on. I won’t condone such an obvious ode to rape culture, and, if you agree, you shouldn’t either.
Thicke says that he’s seen the articles comparing his song to rape culture and that they’re “ridiculous.” Is he joking like he says he is? “Sometimes a bad joke goes a long way,” indeed.
What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.
 BBC2 Interview, July 8, 2013.
Written by Meredith Donin, Social Media Manager, We End Violence
Tags: feminism, objectification of women, pop music
Drugging Your Date
Too often in our culture we are exposed to “humor” that suggests drugging someone (which includes deliberately getting them wasted drunk) in order to take advantage of them is, at times, acceptable. This “humor” is tragic, especially since we know that there are thousand upon thousands of women (and many men) in the U.S. who are raped every year with drugs and/or alcohol being their attackers weapon of choice.
This last week I heard a radio advertisement–undoubtedly designed to be “controversial”–on a popular Clear Channel radio station in San Diego. The ad is from a company called, the Anti-Gym. They’ve been criticized for MANY of their ad campaigns, several of which refer to overweight people (in particular women) as “cubbies.”
While I find this company and its ads offensive, I think the fact they are running this type of ad reflects a larger cultural problem…namely our beliefs that drug-facilitated rape doesn’t really happen or isn’t serious, that men cannot be raped because they’re men, and that there are some circumstances in which it is acceptable to tease/joke about sexual violence.
So here’s the ad. Have a listen.
Now I’m not sure how you feel after listening, but I was, to say the least, SERIOUSLY disturbed by the ad. First, this is just another example of advertisers in the health/beauty industry helping women hate their bodies no matter what their bodies look like (so they can then sell them more stuff to “fix” the bodies they’ve been taught to hate). Yet what REALLY disturbs me about this ad is the way that it makes light of sexual violence. What in the world is this ad trying to say? That it is okay for women who can’t afford the Anti-Gym to use drugs/alcohol to rape men? That it’s okay to support your friend’s body issues even when they tell you they’re considering DRUGGING THEIR DATES!?!? This ad not only fails to denounce such ideas as negative, illegal, or immoral, it actually suggests that sexual violence is an acceptable consideration when someone is desperate because they do not feel physically attractive or appealing enough.
How many times must we be exposed to the idea that sexual violence is, at times, acceptable?!?! How many times will our culture repeat the idea that there are some excuses for an act THERE SHOULD BE NO EXCUSES FOR!!!
Now I recognize that at no time in this advertisement does someone say, “it’s okay to rape,” but the idea that drugging someone to facilitate rape (yes, rape, because it’s no longer sex once you’ve drugged them) should be seen as silly, playful or funny, is actually dangerous. I don’t mean to imply that someone listening to this ad will rape; what I mean is that this ad, along with a culture full of other ads/ideas like it, creates a space where those people who do rape can think that what they’re doing is acceptable, and people who are raped can think that it’s their fault for not “knowing better.”
Bottom line…this ad is dangerous for ANYONE living in a culture where people can hear it, and not be bothered by it.
Together We Can.
Tags: alcohol and sexual assault, Sexual assault, Violence
Sexism vs. Sexism
Sexism is a powerful system. Arguably, it exists in almost every culture on the planet, and facilitates discrimination, oppression, and violence against women all around the world. The “face” of sexism does change from culture to culture, however, and at times those changes prompt people to examine the differences in sexism across cultures. That is precisely what happened last Friday night on Real Time with Bill Maher.
On his show, Bill Maher commented on the tragedy of Lara Logan (the journalist who was raped while covering the Egyptian revolution). Mr. Maher used this as an opportunity to assert that men in Egypt and other Muslim countries were never going to have democracy if they didn’t also have a sexual revolution. Maher argued, in sum, that the way Arab (he switched between the terms Arab and Muslim) men treat women is worse than the way that American men treat women.
Mr. Maher’s thinking is both a predictable and a counter-productive way to analyze sexism. While his comparison is not ridiculous—there are clear differences between women’s lives in the U.S. and women’s lives in some Muslim or Arab countries—his argument is basically about which culture treats women LESS badly. Not exactly a great starting place for a conversation about improving the lives of women.
Tavis Smiley, one of the panelists on Real Time, attempted to challenge part of Mr. Maher’s assertion, reminding Maher that sexism and patriarchy are alive and well here in the states.
Smiley: I think that it might surprise us to go into our papers in this country every day and to see stories just like this about how women are mal treated in this country every single day.
Maher: That’s such bullshit.
Mr. Maher’s vehement disagreement was based on the notion that Smiley was using a false equivalency.
Maher: I mean in this country we treat women badly because they don’t get equal pay or someone calls you sugar tits or something like that.
Smiley: And you think that’s okay?
Maher: I don’t but I don’t think it’s comparable to cutting their heads off, not letting them drive, not letting them work.
This, is the moment when Mr. Maher failed to support women. By asserting that women in the U.S. don’t have to deal with beheadings, he silenced and minimized the very real daily suffering of women in this country. He, in effect, disproves his own assertion that our culture is “better”. Yes, women can vote here, and that is a SIGNIFICANT difference, but apparently, famous men still feel comfortable joking about the real suffering women here DO experience. We DO live in a country where women are raped and then made to feel it was their fault. We DO live in a country where women are sexually assaulted while serving in our military, and then reprimanded for THEIR behavior when they come forward. We DO live in a country where men beat and murder their wives. Sexism is, point in fact, an issue of LIFE and DEATH in our country too.
Mr. Maher is correct in that there are places in this world where women are SO devalued, that throwing acid on their faces seems acceptable practice. Yet, the fact they are devalued worse should not ever be used to excuse or minimize the way WE devalue women here. To do so only fuels the system of sexism everywhere, which benefits women nowhere.
Tags: Culture, pop culture, sexism, Violence