ENOUGH EXCUSES

I was supposed to write a piece for She the People on rape culture, but I’ve found myself with a million things to say and no way to get it all out. For the past month, my entire Facebook newsfeed has demonstrated just how pervasive rape culture is, from Melania’s clothing, to #MeToo, to Roy Moore, to Al Franken. As a rape survivor, I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to even check my newsfeed anymore (seriously, Facebook, why did you get rid of the Groups app?!).

There was a time when I would have excused Al Franken or Bill Clinton (sorry, but I’m pretty sure I would have found Roy Moore’s actions repulsive and inexcusable at any time). There was a time when I believed Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill and William Kennedy Smith over Patricia Bowman. I get it. There is a pervasive undercurrent in our society that causes us to be skeptical or to push blame back onto the accuser. I can only speculate why or how it came to be, but I can tell you that its pull is just as strong now as ever.

One of the most common excuses I see for slut-shaming is this lousy analogy comparing rape with theft. The argument was that if you flashed a lot of money and fancy things and left your car or your house unlocked, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if you got robbed (the implication being that women who dress or act a “certain way” shouldn’t be surprised if they become the victim of rape or sexual assault). But there are multiple flaws in this analogy, which only further prove the point about rape culture. First, if your friend says he was robbed, what is your initial response? I can guarantee it wouldn’t be a question about his own behavior and home security. But when a woman says she has been raped or assaulted, the initial response is often a question of clothing or alcohol consumption. In the case of the robbery, do we tell the victim that he couldn’t possibly be the victim of a crime since he was “irresponsible”? Will his actions be on trial if the thief is arrested? Will a jury find the thief Not Guilty?

Ultimately, the personal responsibility argument needs to work both ways. Open any one of a thousand self-help books and the message is the same- we can only be responsible for our own words and actions. We can not control the people around us. And yet, as a society the message to women is that we are somehow responsible for men’s actions. It’s ingrained early, as seen in the questionable creation and enforcement of school dress codes (can’t have that bare shoulder distracting the boys, so you need to change your shirt). It continues through our lives and is reinforced every time we see explicit pictures of a woman used as evidence against her if she is the victim of harassment or assault. Why do we not put this kind of emphasis on the behavior of men? Why is it so difficult to hold a man accountable for his own actions?

I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where how a woman dresses or what she does for work is used to discredit her. I’m tired of living in a world where partisanship appears to cloud our judgment. I’m tired of feeling like our experiences can be brushed aside or invalidated if our truth is seen as an inconvenience.

The sad truth is that we live in a culture where I suspect almost all, if not all, men have done something that crossed a line at some point in their lives. Making excuses for those actions doesn’t help anyone. As a society, we need to start facing and owning up to it- that’s the only way we can ever hope to destroy this toxic undercurrent. This isn’t about an individual or a political party. This is about human decency.

A DIFFERENCE IN VALUES

by The Lady Eve

Psychology tells us that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through all five stages on Election Night. Repeatedly. As the map started turning red, I tried to coax myself to sleep by saying it would be better in the morning. But sleep eluded me for most of the night. Instead, I tossed and turned in my bed, wondering how this could possibly be real.

I know it seems hyperbolic, but that restless night was a turning point in my life. I felt like my country let me down. But it wasn’t just faceless and nameless strangers who voted for this man; my own family was filled with Trump supporters, and I found myself wondering how I would ever be able to look any of them in the eye again. How can I look at my father the same way knowing that he voted for a man who bragged about being able to grab a woman by the pussy without reprimand? How can I look at relatives who posted one fake news piece after another? As the Russia investigation unfolds, how can I respect people who were deceived by propaganda planted by a foreign nation?

Sadly, even after all of these months, I don’t have any more answers now than I did in November. I’m torn between holding fast to my beliefs and attempting to maintain relationships with family and friends. I don’t want to be that person who cuts people out of their life over politics. I want to go high instead of going low. I want to build bridges instead of walls. But I’m finding it more and more difficult to reconcile these conflicting ideals.

In August, Jennifer Wright wrote a piece for Harper’s Bazaar titled, “If You are Married to a Trump Supporter, Divorce Them.” I cringed at the harsh words, but this author managed to perfectly articulate exactly why I feel like I’m struggling so much with making peace with Trump supporters in my life. I had an epiphany when I read these words:

“Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.”

There it was. This was really what all of my agonizing boiled down to. I’d been dancing around this kernel of truth from the moment Trump entered the race in 2015. As Trump called Mexicans racists, insulted former POW Senator McCain, mocked a disabled reporter, and criticized a Gold Star mother, I kept waiting for people I knew to say that enough was enough. I sat with bated breath, hoping to hear all the self-proclaimed Christians in my life speak up and say that Trump obviously lacks the moral character and basic human decency to hold the most powerful office in, the world.

I often struggled to find the right words to express my frustration and disappointment in the people around me but felt the need to speak up after the Access Hollywood tape. About a month before the election, I posted the following on Facebook:

While I’ve shared plenty of other people’s words, I’ve been generally hesitant to add my own, but I think it’s time to change that.

For those of you who missed my post a few years ago, I am a rape survivor. What most people do not know is that I was also sexually assaulted when I was 16.

Let me be very clear- I’m not offended by the fact that Trump used the word “pussy. I don’t care if he’s caught on tape using the word “fuck” or any other obscenity. What does offend me is the context in which the word was used. Make no mistakes, what this man was describing was sexual assault. Whether it’s walking up to a woman and kissing her (which he said that he did), or grabbing her by the pussy (based on transcript this was more of a hypothetical), this is unwanted contact of a sexual nature, and it is a crime. And if this is truly what all locker room talk is like (which I already know is not the case), all that does is explain why we have this ridiculous ingrained rape culture where men like Donald Trump or Brock Turner believe that they have a God-given right to take what they want from a woman, regardless of her own wants.

Do you really still think that this is okay? Because I don’t.

But it didn’t matter because, in the end, not one Trump supporter that I knew personally was swayed by any of it. In the end, character didn’t matter to any of them. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the months since Trump has taken office, the affronts to basic human decency just continue to pile up, and between 30 and 35% of Americans seem to be completely okay with that.

As I was brainstorming for this piece, the word that kept coming to mind was “empathy,” because that seems to be the key difference between those who support this President and those who resist. Empathy is the ability to relate to the feelings of others. In many ways, it’s the opposite of narcissism or greed. For example, even though I have a good job, I empathize with the working poor and firmly believe that anyone who works a full-time job deserves a livable wage. The self-absorbed person only cares if it’s his problem; the empathetic person cares that it’s anyone’s problem.

Many of the issues that I see with Donald Trump and his agenda hinge on empathy, whether it’s threatening to deport Dreamers or to strip health insurance from millions. It relates to proposing tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting the social safety net for the poor. Prior to the election, one of my relatives said he was voting for Trump because he was hoping for a tax cut. What about the fact that this nation has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world? But how do you teach someone empathy? How do you teach someone to care about their neighbor? If you know the answer, please share it, as too many of my personal relationships depend on it.

UNDERSTANDING PRIVILEGE

by The Lady Eve

The definition of “feminism” is actually simple and straightforward. Dictionary.com lists the following:

  1. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men
  2. (Sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women

And yet only a cursory search of the world-wide-web would demonstrate the many facets of the Feminist Movement. Given the various nuances and the ever-evolving nature of the movement, it’s easy to understand the misconceptions that I’ve heard expressed by people who I expected would know better.

When I was in college, I recall learning about two types of feminism: liberal and radical. Liberal feminists were defined as those who wanted to work within the system to create change, such as Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Steinem. These are the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were the women who fought tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment, the ultimate display of working within the system to bring change. As the name implies, radical feminists believed that change could not come from within the system, because the system itself is the problem. These were the feminists who didn’t just oppose the idea of a patriarchy but also opposed the numerous systems that they identified as contributing to the patriarchy, such as capitalism, religion, or pornography. While I initially thought of myself as a liberal feminist, I found that over time my views became more aligned with concepts originally attributed to radical feminism. This became apparent to me when I was writing my senior thesis on witchcraft. That was the first time I could understand what my professors meant by the system itself needing to be dismantled.

However, since that time, a seemingly new dichotomy has emerged in the discussion of feminism. This is the distinction between traditional (white) feminism and intersectional feminism. At its core, intersectional feminism is based on the belief that all systems of oppression are interconnected, and it is impossible to eliminate any one single system in isolation of the others. In simpler terms, sexism cannot be fully abolished without also addressing racism, homophobia, etc. Understanding the need for an intersectional approach to feminism can definitely be a challenge. I know because I’ve been there.

I have a confession to make: when I turned 18 and registered to vote, I registered as a Republican. I spent four years as a proud member of the College Republicans. Even as I learned to embrace the feminist label, my views were still extremely narrow and, I hate to admit, extremely self-centered. It wasn’t from any lacking in my Women’s Studies classes, just my own inability to fully process the information until years later. Although I don’t recall hearing the term “intersectional” in college, the coursework definitely fit that description.

One of the requirements for my major was a class called Feminisms in an International Context. Without question, this class was one of my least favorite. In retrospect, I see that much of my dislike was based on the way that it challenged my views. I didn’t feel like the class was relevant to me or to my own life. Spoiler alert: this is the epitome of what white feminism looks like. As I began to understand intersectionality better, I was able to reflect on how much this class contributed to that understanding.

One of my sharpest memories from this class was a discussion over an article in the previous day’s Daily Orange (our school paper). It was about an email that the Student Government Speaker sent to a number of his friends. It was supposed to be one of those jokes that everyone sent to everyone they knew. Only this was about Ebonics. The guy who sent the email happened to be a personal friend of mine, and I felt defensive as the discussion centered on why what he did was wrong. I even stayed after class to debate it further with my professor because I just knew that my friend didn’t send it out of malice. It was my very first experience with impact vs. intent. It was years before I was able to really understand why my professor kept saying that it didn’t matter if it was meant to be a joke.

I wish I could point to the exact moment it finally clicked, or cite the article that put everything into perspective. I can say that it hinged on my understanding of the term “privilege.” So what exactly is privilege, and why does it seem to make so many people feel defensive? Privilege is the idea that certain traits (often based on genetic luck of the draw) give some people a leg up on others. I’ve most commonly seen this used in relation to skin color, i.e. “white privilege,” a term that seems to send many white people into a mini-rant about how hard they worked for everything they have.

But privilege is about more than skin color. There are a number of areas where someone can be more or less privileged than others. For example, if you happen to be heterosexual, you have a level of privilege. How so? Well, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about a bakery turning you away if you asked for a wedding cake, just for starters. Socioeconomic class is also a type of privilege. If you happened to be born into an upper-middle-class family, you also experience a type of privilege. This could include things like private schools, vacations abroad, or being able to attend college without the need for student loans. In 2015, Buzzfeed released a video on privilege. They had 10 staffers stand in line and then asked them a series of 35 questions. Each question involved either taking a step forward or a step back. The end result demonstrated how all of the different forms of privilege intersect and impact each of us to varying degrees.

Once you can fully appreciate the impact of privilege, it becomes easy to see why an intersectional approach is so necessary for the Feminist Movement. When privilege exists on so many different planes, it requires addressing multiple areas in order to even attempt to level the playing field. It also points us in the right direction to truly come together as one united movement. At its core, intersectional feminism is about shifting the focus off of the white woman’s experience and looking at the broader landscape. It means learning to become allies to other marginalized groups (I realize allyship can be a full essay in and of itself, and encourage you to do some additional research if the term is unfamiliar to you). In the broadest sense, intersectional feminism hinges on empathy, which is something I will be further examining in my next post.  

 

A FEMINIST LENS

by The Lady Eve

 

These days, it’s not a surprise that I wear the word “Feminist” as a badge of honor. What might be surprising is how long it took me to reach that perspective. It’s especially surprising considering my strong personality. There was never a time that I considered myself inferior because of my sex. I might not have enjoyed math and science, but I excelled in both areas. Even as a young child, my vision of my future self was as a career woman, without any thought even given to motherhood. And yet, I never considered myself a feminist until I reached college. I know that I’m not alone in this. I know that there are probably thousands, if not millions, of women who are the embodiment of feminism but shy away from the label.

When scholars discuss the feminist movement, they typically divide it into distinct time periods called waves. First wave feminism is most recognized for the fight for women’s’ suffrage. The second wave captures what many of us probably think of when we hear the words “Feminist movement” or “women’s lib.” It included the push to recognize women in the workplace as more than just secretaries, a la Mad Men. It also encompassed the push for reproductive rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. From here, things get a little fuzzier. While there is a general consensus about a third wave of feminism, some scholars believe that this has given way to a fourth wave. What sets the modern feminist movement apart from the first two waves is a focus on intersectionality, which I will discuss in greater detail in my next column.

I was born in 1977, which is generally recognized as the tail end of Generation X. I’m sure most others born around this time can relate when I say that I sometimes feel slightly out of place in the Gen X tent. On the other hand, I relate even less to Gen Y/Millennials. So perhaps it’s fitting that I hit adolescence at the start of the nebulous Third Wave. Too young to feel like Second Wave feminism was relevant to me, too old to catch on immediately to the inclusiveness and broadened approach of the Third Wave, I was once again left feeling like I didn’t quite belong.

When I was in high school, I bought a used copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Admittedly, I was feeling some internal peer pressure, since one of my friends often mentioned Simone de Beauvoir. My friends were already proud feminists at that time, while I was still trying to understand all the fuss. I was the boy-crazy one, and I wasn’t about to stop shaving my legs. More importantly, I didn’t believe I was treated differently because of my sex. There was a Good Friday service once, where my cousin asked me to cover for him as an altar server. When I got there, the priest sent me home because he only wanted boys that day. But I saw that as an exception, rather than a rule. I didn’t feel like I was treated unfairly, ergo, women, in general, were not treated unfairly. It was truly the logic of a child.

Given that my first recollection of discrimination was in the setting of the Church, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that it wasn’t The Feminine Mystique or The Second Sex that started my journey to proud feminist. Instead, it all started with a book called The Power of the Witch: The Earth, the Moon, and the Magical Path to Enlightenment by Laurie Cabot. Cabot did an interview in Sassy magazine, which prompted me to buy the book. It was the juxtaposition of a female-centered religion next to the Catholicism of my childhood that first made me realize that the struggle for equality was far from over. In fact, it made such a lasting impression on me that seven years later it was the topic for my senior thesis at SU.

While The Power of the Witch helped to open my eyes to the need for feminism, it would still be several years before I was ready to willing embrace the label of “Feminist.” I can trace it back to my first semester of college. All freshmen were required to take a Freshman Forum course, which was kind of a support group. My advisor/facilitator for this class happened to be the professor who taught Women’s Studies 101. Over the course of the semester, I developed a great admiration for her, and when the time came to enroll for my second-semester classes, I found myself signing up for a class called Philosophy of Feminism (Women’s Studies 101 was not available in the spring). I wish I could pinpoint the moment everything clicked, but it was within the first two weeks of the semester. I realized I still had much to learn, but I also realized I was where I needed to be.

During the second week of my second semester of my freshman year of college, I officially declared a dual major in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Political Science was the potential major I had been looking at since 9th grade. Politics and government fascinated me, and like any true social scientist, I wanted to understand the innermost workings. But it was the Women’s Studies major that ultimately captured my passions because it offered something that Political Science could not. My Women’s Studies courses gave me an entirely new lens through which to view the world. Those courses opened my eyes and challenged my beliefs in a way that no other courses did. Most importantly, the toolset that I acquired was one that has allowed my perspective and beliefs to continue to evolve, long after I graduated.