feminism: talking about rape culture

It really is the year of the woman and Hollywood is taking it hard. Good, maybe other industries will be more aware of rape culture and change accordingly. These news stories help people see the deeper double standards women experience, especially in the workplace. Reading other women’s stories have saddened me to bits, but on the other hand, their bravery has reassured me in many ways. These women have worked hard to push past their assaults and maneuver themselves to not come across their perpetrators or other men in power in similar situations. On top of conversations that can perpetuate these double standards, women now have the mix of social media- where sometimes their assailant will be a mutual friend or coworker that is always active in their feed. Rape culture is now beginning to be talked about more freely within the public space, and I believe we need to keep pushing for widespread education on these issues.

Many argue that the pitfall lies in the ambiguity of social situations, especially when you add alcohol, drugs, or party scenes. The reality is these factors make people more vulnerable; perhaps they’re too drunk to be 100% on a decision they make. That doesn’t mean their silence or hesitation is an automatic ‘yes’. The ambiguity is where one needs to pause and to first ask themselves what they want, and then verbally form that into a conversation with the other person. People react in very different ways, and often, victim-blaming situates itself in assuming that one has the power to physically attack their abuser or run away. In my own experience, I freeze. I can’t seem to find a way out, run away, or try to casually make a joke of it and end the situation. Each individual has their fight or flight response, and each woman knows how to use the buddy system, walk attentively, and pay attention to her surroundings. But add a variety of different factors- alcohol, mutual friends (that elicit trust from us), or an event? There can be a lot that can be out of our control, as well as a lot that can be assumed from us.

Online- things can be misconstrued as well. With social media, we often use one platform for our general friends, another platform is for professional connections, and another for a very select group of people. Although it seems cut & dry, young women have experienced unsolicited pictures, harassment, and mean comments on their social media accounts. It becomes embarrassing, and in bad case scenarios, it’s ongoing (to the extent of online stalking). I once received a friend request and message from a young man who had violated my trust years ago and seeing his name turned my face hot. ‘Why do we feel the need to be polite and accept the invitation from people we’re trying to forget?’ I asked myself. I then decided to message him and stand up for myself, when I wasn’t able to all those years ago. We had a very frank conversation, and he apologized after I talked to him about consent. People often hide behind their screens to say nasty things, as many girls experience horrible rebuttals from men whom they have politely turned down. If you want, you can stand up for yourself and try to open a dialogue, but don’t waste your breath running into the same walls with people who just don’t seem to get it.

If you haven’t heard much of other women’s experiences, especially those close to you, now is the time to put forth your effort and your listening ears. Just listen and process those experiences, practice empathy. Unfortunately, many women have similar stories (and to varying degrees), and it is their story to tell on their time. So in light of all these allegations, let’s take a refresher course on sexual assault & consent:

Sexual assault is any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent.

The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, meaning this acquaintance/mutual friend/coworker leverages their power by being trusted by the victim in the first place.

Consent is…ongoing communication

-You can withdraw consent at ANY TIME, you don’t owe anyone anything

-Using phrases like “is this okay?” and saying “yes”, “we can try”, “sure”

-If someone is underage, drunk, asleep, they are in a vulnerable position and cannot consent

-Even if they’re your partner or spouse- this does not automatically assume their consent!

-Consent is given by choice, one must not be intimidated or pressured into an activity

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.4673

Visit RAINN for more information