[NOTE: This post discusses rape and suggestions for reducing "rape culture."]
A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event at my school called Clark's First Time. Sponsored by our campus sex-education group, Choices, it was a night for college kids to get on stage and talk about their first sexual experiences-- and other firsts, too. The goal in doing this was to encourage sexual openness on campus.
Now, I'm not giving you a ton of information here because I really hope you'll check out the article I wrote about it for Worcester Magazine. We would love your comments, and I really liked writing the article anyway. I think I took it in a direction really reminiscent of how I write on this blog, so I think you'll like it.
But I wanted to make a whole darn post about it because I think I learned some really important stuff in researching the article. See, I figured out halfway through the thing that the real story I wanted to tell wasn't just about the event and Clark students getting together to talk sexy. The real story is that most of the participants were women, and women in many societies are seriously discouraged from talking about sex, whether that means sexual health, activities, kinks, orientation or even assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the most common reason women cite for not reporting rape/sexual assault is the fact that it is seen as a personal matter. And in a way, yes, it is. Sex can be used so powerfully as a weapon because the sexual aspects of ourselves are so private and personal: not only does rape take away someone's bodily autonomy in the moments it happens, but talking about it involves discussing, in some sense, our sex lives, which is frowned upon. It is a crime that people don't like to talk about not just because it is traumatic, but because it is sexual.
But rape is not really sexual. It is a crime that involves sex-- a crime of power-- and in our society we treat that as taboo. And this is incredibly problematic. Women are, by far, the main victims of sexual assault, and they're also a group that is told that sex is something you don't talk about. It isn't ladylike. Women who have sex too much or in ways that aren't seen as normative are sluts. Women who get raped face inappropriate questions.
What were you wearing? What were you drinking? What time was it? What neighborhood were you in?
And even though there are some things women can do to help reduce the chance of assault, rape is never her fault. No matter what factors played into it happening, they did not justify attack in any way.
I believe, sincerely, that if we can create a culture in which women are allowed to express their sexuality in whatever way they choose, we can create a culture in which sexual assault can be talked about. If women feel that they have control over their sexuality and that their sexuality is not dirty or wrong, maybe they won't face the terrible shame many women feel over being raped and they'll report it without fear of blame. Rape should be shameful for the perpetrator, never the victim.
So what can we do?
-Talk openly about your sexual experiences. Sex is a normal part of life.
-Listen to people when they want to talk about their sexual experiences, and don't judge.
-Stop using words like "slut" or "whore," and call people out when they use them.
-Don't say "man-whore" either-- it doesn't equalize things. All it says is that a man sleeping around is acting like a woman behaving badly, so it still enforces damaging ideas about female sexuality.
-Don't use "rape" as a turn of phrase. I hear a lot of people say things like they got "totally raped" when their friend beats them at a video game or that they "rape the replay button" on a Youtube video. It's not cute, funny, or edgy.
-Acknowledge that men can also be rape survivors. For the purpose of this post, we didn't discuss it, but that doesn't make that experience any less painful or valid. Men are not immune to sexual violence even though we sometimes forget that.
-Help start a dating and sexual violence prevention group at your school (I wrote about Clark's here).
-Volunteer with a local Rape Crisis Center or a helpline.
-When you hear talk that aims to silence victims or to place shame on others' sexuality, speak up. Always.
What are you doing to create a more woman-friendly world?