Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day

On Monday, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Faith Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a moving and powerful experience with exceptional speakers and calls to action.  The following are some of the topics that most touched me and my reflection on them.

Do NOT get defensive

I loved this, as hard as it was to swallow.  Keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith begged those white allies in the congregation to promise her just this.  I could not help but chuckle with awkwardness and understanding when she stated that when trying to have a “courageous conversation” about racism, our black brothers and sisters already knew that their white allies had not owned a slave nor participated in a lynching.  Pat on the back, congratulations.  But that does not mean that racism is dead. It does not mean that white privilege is not alive and well.  And it does not mean we are off the hook.

When my protectors fail me

Dr. Smith stated that when something is supposed to protect you and it doesn’t, “you get mad!”  When we are left oppressed and hopeless without consequences to those who do wrong, I hope you get pissed off.  And I hope that anger motivates you to stand back up and fight another round.

The victims of racism 

Who are the victims of racism today? The answer at first seems obvious, but the service’s litany provided some food for thought.

“…evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.”

Shit.  It seems to be my nature and instinct to place blame where I see fit.  If one commits evil deeds, one must be evil. But aren’t we are all products of our environment?  I struggled for so long to internalize the concept that just because I, myself, did “bad” things did not mean that I was a “bad” person.  So I must extend this to the rest of my experiences.

How do I make this personal to my experience as a white woman of privilege?  I have experienced sexual and physical assault and abuse.  Afterward I was filled with anger and hate (when my protectors fail me, perhaps?) only to very  g r a d u a l l y  come to the understanding that my perpetrators too were products of their environments and if they got off on violating and abusing me, what then must have been their past experience?  I have since been able to forgive my oppressors through hard internal effort and a lot of therapy.

Let me be clear, THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE THE OPPRESSORS. THIS DOES NOT MAKE THE ACTS OF RACIST INDIVIDUALS OKAY.  But it does make them victims of our racist, sexist, homophobic, you-are-different-from-me-ist society.  Which means those individuals who have fought through this fog of hate and bias and come out on the other side are survivors of what our culture has taught so many.

The definition of peace 

“Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.”

I really don’t think I can say it better than this.

Dr. Susan K. Smith encouraged us to “wrestle” for peace and justice.  To wear down the oppressors with an active effort against intolerance, oppression and injustice. It takes a long, consistent fight.  Get your wrestling gear on.

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Project Unbreakable

At the end of this past semester, I took a deep breath and participated in my university’s contribution to “Project Unbreakable”, a website started by 20 year old, Grace Brown, of Massachusetts that works to bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault through art. Survivors of sexual assault are photographed holding signs with quotations from their perpetrators or about their experience.

TRIGGER WARNING: This website features many disturbing quotes from attackers and perpetrators of sexual violence.  It may be disturbing to individuals, and particularly triggering to those who have experience with sexual assault.

http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

The Violence Against Women Prevention Program at my university sent out an email asking for volunteers willing to be photographed with a quotation from or about their experience.  While I knew this would be a difficult task, I was determined to use the experience as a therapeutic and self-strengthening one, a challenge and a chance for reflection. It was more trying than I anticipated. I used to keep a journal- for seven years straight, from fourth grade through high school, I wrote in a journal every single night.  It became a habit easily, then an obsession of sorts, and I was terrified that anything not put down in writing would be forgotten.  It took me hours to search through notebooks and pages to find the day I was sexually assaulted.  Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to write more about my experience, but today is not yet that day.

I don’t remember anything he specifically said. It’s all kind of a blur and I used to obsess over whether my specific memories of that day were valid or if they had been manipulated over time.  What I remember more than actions or words is the emotions the experience evoked in me.  I chose to be photographed with two quotes, the second a statement of hope and power over perpetrators and the culture that condones and perpetuates their actions.

photo-2 copy“He was my best friend’s ex. I felt like I BETRAYED her. I couldn’t tell her what he’d done because of the guilt I felt.” 

photo-2

“We are all victims of the rape culture we live in. But if we can recognize this, we are also survivors.”

With love and hope – S

Masturbation 101

The Theory

I have a theory.  It has yet to be tested extensively, but I stand strongly behind the idea that if every woman masturbated, world peace would be established.  Just a thought.

While obviously my conclusion is a bit of an exaggeration, I do believe that more female masturbation would have positive effects on our society.  Just another example of the sexist world we live in is the increased acceptance and assumption of men masturbating as normal.  Yet, stigma and negative attitudes surround the topic of masturbation and causes 50% of individuals, both men and women, who masturbate to feel guilty about it.  Meanwhile, approximately 70% of men and 50% of women report masturbating.

The Myths

Rumors and myths run rampant regarding the consequences of masturbation for both men and women.  These falsehoods are depicted in the media, passed through families, and reinforced by peers.  However, masturbation does not cause hair growth of the palms of the hands, will not make you blind, won’t change the shape, color or texture of sex organs, won’t stunt your growth, cause injury, infertility, mental illness or make someone gay.  In fact, masturbation does not have any risks other than possible skin irritation, which is what lubrication is for.

The Benefits

While the derogatory myths are false, the benefits of masturbation are vast.  Emotionally, masturbation decreases stress and sexual tension, and increases self-esteem, body image, and sense of well-being. Sexually, those who masturbate report enhanced sexual activity, greater sexual and relationship satisfaction with their partners, and increased ability to achieve orgasm.  Individuals learn about their bodies, their sexuality, and how they can be sexually stimulated.  Physically, masturbation can improve sleep, relieve muscular tension and menstrual cramps, strengthen muscle tone of the pelvic area to prevent urinary leakage and uterine prolapse in women and treat sexual dysfunction.  Masturbation is a great option for those without sexual partners or those choosing to practice abstinence.  There is no risk of STIs or pregnancy if performed solo!

More men masturbate than women, and while still surrounded by stigma, masturbation appears to be much more acceptable and discussed for men than for women.  Those who masturbate learn about their sexuality, their bodies, how to achieve orgasm, what feels good and what does not.  They have better body image and higher self-esteem and can direct their partners during sexual activity.  If more women masturbated, what would be the effect on women’s self esteem? On their self confidence, both in and out of the bedroom? How would it affect their sexuality?  Their role within relationships? Their body image? Would it change rates of teenage pregnancy? The occurrence of assault and violence toward women? What would happen to the misogynistic porn industry and the media that reflects it, which focuses on and dictates what is supposed to be pleasurable and teaching women and men what is “sexy” and what is SUPPOSED to turn them on?

So, y’all know what your homework is 😉

References

Cullins, V. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., (2011). Masturbation. Retrieved from website: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/sex-101/masturbation-23901.htm

The cost of denial

The only reason I can think of for people to deny, deny, deny, the prevalence of sexual assault in our society is because they’re too scared.

They are scared that if it’s true and if they admit the reality, then they, their friends, their loved ones are no longer safe and dammit, they might actually feel compelled to do something about it!

I suppose I can’t blame people for wanting so desparately to feel safe, because once you admit the truth that you have a 20-25% chance of being a victim of sexual assault and that so many people you know and care about have already been assaulted, it is actually harder to get out of bed everyday and walk the streets because of the fear and the disgust and the disappointment in humanity.

If this applies to you, I hope you think long and hard about your denial. I hope you realize just how badly it hurts, how strongly your questioning stings those of us who have gone through it. I hope you do your research and educate yourself before you take up another insensitive debate with another survivor. Before you cause someone else to relive the victimization and question themselves and the years of re-education, of therapy, of activism that it took to recognize that they were not at fault for the wrongs done upon them.

On Tuesday

On Tuesday: a reflection on Cape Town, South Africa

Some days I’m head-over-heels in love with this country, but other days there are too many hardships and not enough solutions and I feel so helpless in dealing with what I see.  

Like when I have to ignore countless people who approach me on the street pleading for cash with which to buy something to eat because they are so hungry- because the money is more than likely used for drugs, not food and if not I still can’t try to feed everyone on the block.

Like when the sister at the clinic can’t take a blood pressure on her patient because she has a burn wound on her left arm and two stab wounds on her right arm and the poor woman is so thin and has two kids in foster care, is living with drug addicts and is only a year older than me.

Like when the café staff run out of the kitchen, yelling and scolding in Afrikaans, the two young, hungry boys who are asking me if I’m planning on finishing my cake, and when they won’t give up and leave, the cook comes out with a curtain rod with which to chase them away.

Like when our cab driver gets out and yells at the rival cabdriver in front of us who is blocking the path “You asshole! You fucking blacks are all the same!” And I sit in confusion trying to determine why he would insult his fellow countryman when I realize our driver is considered “coloured” and the other is categorized “black” and therefore they will remain a world apart due to the arbitrary rules set by some white man in high court a hundred years before. 

Like when I slip out from my professional demeanor at the children’s hospital and can’t help but whisper “I love you” to the 2 year old boy who only just learned how to walk, abandoned by his family due to the tuberculosis that has infected his spine. And he looks up at me with his dark brown eyes and practices this brand new phrase, “I love you,” back to me.

I love this beautiful country, but I can’t always ignore these things I see. 

20/11/12 

Regarding Susan Herbst’s “statement”

According to the UConn Daily Campus, the student-run newspaper at the University of Connecticut, Susan Herbst has issued a statement in response to the atrocious and violent threats toward student Carolyn Luby, albeit a weak and evasive statement. 

“As an institution, the university takes these issues very seriously, supports the right of free speech among all members of our community and stands strongly against harassment or intimidation of any kind.  When a student is subjected to harassment, the university works closely with him or her to provide any resources they many need.” 

In this short, out of context statement (I was unable to find the complete statement or any record of this statement outside of the Daily Campus article) it is not made clear whether the comment on free speech is in reference to Carolyn Luby’s letter to the president or toward the threats made toward Luby.  While I’m comforted that UConn is against harassment or intimidation, I have not seen any evidence of the university’s efforts to prevent or correct these events currently or in the future.  I can not speak for Carolyn Luby, but I would have to imagine that the advice she received from the campus police officers, to which she reported the incidents, who told her to wear a hat and keep a low profile, were not the “resources” she needed.  

Susan, we have a problem!!!

Good morning world. Wake up and smell the rape culture strongly in bloom all around us.

As of late there has been an alarming trend being reported at minimum on a weekly basis.  Strong, brave, empowering women are speaking up about the rape culture that we live in… and in response, society is threatening to rape them.  Thank you society.  Because we needed our point proven further.

I wrote about Zerlina Maxwell who went on FOX News to discuss our culture of rape and violence who suggested the novel idea that teaching individuals not to rape would be the ultimate way to prevent rape.  Despite my tendency for sarcasm, I am 100% genuine with this statement, because as common sense as it seems, teaching people that rape is wrong and unacceptable, that individuals have a right to their own bodies, and that no one is entitled to another individual, are not lessons that are taught on a regular basis in our society.

Carolyn Luby, my peer at the University of Connecticut, wrote a sophisticated, respectful and well-spoken open letter to the president of the university, Susan Herbst.  Herbst has spent her recent time in office working with Nike to design a new face for the university’s husky mascot through her “New University Visual Identity Program”.  Personally I hate change for the sake of change and feel that Herbst’s time could have been utilized focusing on much more essential issues, i.e., her plan to hire five-hundred new faculty and staff members for the university in a four year time period.  Thus far, at the end of year one, less than 70 of these proposed positions have been filled.  Or, better yet, she could address the issues of misogyny, sexism and sexual assault that are currently plaguing her campus.

Luby, wrote about Herbst’s focus on the mascot as a depiction of the University of Connecticut’s student athletics program.  Herbst’s comments that the mascot had be previewed and approved of by coaches and student athletes made clear where her focus is situated.  Luby appropriately reminded Herbst of the recent events that have revealed prominent athletic team members as exhibiting less than the “poise, confidence, competitiveness, and the determination to succeed in the classroom and on the field and the court” that she credits them with.

Luby speaks as a survivor of sexual assault, more eloquently than I am able, in response to women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma’s statement that the new mascot “is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’”:

What terrifies me about the admiration of such traits is that I know what it feels like to have a real life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot “mess with them.” And I know I am not alone.

We know Carolyn is not alone, as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men on college campuses has been the victim of sexual assault.

When I heard about Carolyn’s letter, I was so proud of my fellow student and feminist for speaking up against the rape culture we reside in.  However, two days following her letter going public, Carolyn has been harassed with comments as she walks across campus, spammed on her university email account, and verbally violated by the atrocious commentary and posts on Barstool Sports.  She’s been threatened with sexual assault and rape for speaking out against the culture.  I’m not even going to link to this horrendous site and I hope others don’t feel the need to search it, to give the organization the satisfaction of another viewing.

Here is some further food for thought:

  • When Carolyn went to the campus police about the harassment she was receiving online and on campus, the police took down her statements and recommended to she go to the police force whose jurisdiction is over her off-campus housing location, because the UConn police couldn’t protect her there. 
  • Despite the fact that a student wrote her a sophisticated and public letter, and is now being told she is danger in her campus community, Susan Herbst has yet to make a public statement or acknowledge these events.
  • The more mild commenters on Barstool Sports have stated that they stopped reading Luby’s letter after she identified herself as a feminist, because they felt this somehow negated her beliefs.
  • Various “supporters” of Luby on Facebook and other social media sites have felt the need to state that they approve of Luby’s stance, but don’t worry, they don’t identify with the f-word… feminist!
  • On the Change.org petition to President Susan Herbst, presented by The Feminist Wire, entitled, “UConn: Denounce Threats Against a Student and Make Campus Safer for Everyone”, individuals have signed and commented from across the nation, India, Canada, and Tanzania.  One supporter from India writes, “It’s really amazing that misogyny and violence against women is rampant in the US which is [supposed] to be the land of equal opportunities, freedom and equality. This country is on par with less developed nations in terms of attitudes to women.” Tell it like it is.
  • UConn student activists, who proudly and avidly identify themselves as feminists, are planning…something (TBA).  Personally, although I have been infuriated by the frequent speak-out-against-rape-culture-get-threatened-with-rape events as of late, this is MY peer, MY campus, MY community, and the safety of my friends, family, and colleagues that is at stake.  And although it is exhausting (dear God, this work is exhausting… and frustrating… and triggering!) I have to do something, to make a statement and take action against the college culture that is potentiating violence and sexual assault.  If you want to get involved, leave a post for more information and who to contact.

To read Carolyn Luby’s full letter to President Susan Herbst:

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-uconn-president-susan-herbst/

Sign the petition on Change.org for Susan Herbst to take a stand on the issue of sexual violence and make campus a safer place for everyone:

http://www.change.org/petitions/uconn-denounce-threats-against-a-student-and-make-the-campus-safer-for-everyone?utm_campaign=twitter_link&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

Can men be taught not to rape? Hell, yes!

Ms. Zerlina Maxwell went on national television to speak to the issue of how to prevent sexual assault in today’s society.  Her idea is a simple one, and not new to most modern day advocates against sexual assault: teach men not to rape.

This, however, is a shocking idea for many who have only been exposed to suggestions of how to avoid becoming a victim, things we’ve heard all too frequently, a list of what (mainly) women should NOT do: Don’t go out alone, don’t hang out in dark alleys, don’t get too drunk, don’t be vulnerable, don’t park in a desolate area, don’t lead someone on. Other suggestions include taking self-defense classes, keeping pepper spray on your person, having a rape whistle, using the buddy system… but do these things keep rape from happening?

The fact is that this is not PREVENTION, but “risk reduction” methods.  As a potential victim, one can utilize all of these methods, without success.  The one person who can prevent a rape from happening? The perpetrator.

If every individual was taught and made the individual conscious decision NEVER TO VIOLATE ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, who would be left to perpetrate these crimes?  But, obviously, we are not teaching our children, our teens, the right messages to keep them from thinking they somehow have a right to the bodies of others.

Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Ms. Maxwell and she received accusations and THREATS OF RAPE via social media sites.  Zerina Maxwell is a survivor of rape and has been unable to bring herself to access her social media sites due to this disgusting and triggering terrorization- which could not prove Ms. Maxwell’s point any better.  The education and sensitization of the population is simply not there.

I stand by Zerina Maxwell.  I have taught countless students through the  Violence Against Women Prevention Program that, sadly, potential victims CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH to prevent themselves from being raped or assaulted.  Instead we need to teach potential perpetrators about how to be decent human beings.  We need to change this “rape culture” that accepts and supports sexism and misogyny, this rape culture that we live in and potentiate.

In solidarity with Ms. Maxwell, I’m sharing posters from one of my favorite campaigns started by the organization, SAVE (Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton).

The campaign’s slogan, “Don’t be that guy”, targets men as potential perpetrators.  It’s important to note that not all perpetrators are men, however 9/10 are.  The campaign does a good job representing different scenarios where sexual assault commonly occurs- where the perpetrator is someone the victim “knows”, either closely or as an acquaintance (as in 2/3 sexual assaults according to RAINN.org); rape can and frequently does occur in relationships, in marriages.  You can check out the organization’s message here: http://www.savedmonton.com.

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Selling the Female Orgasm

Everyone has heard that “sex sells” as women become increasingly objectified and ultra-sexualized in media advertisements. But recently ads have taken extreme measures in order to associate everyday products with sex. Our culture has a long time obsession with the mysterious female orgasm. But, according to television advertisements, all you need in order to achieve orgasm nowadays is a pair of shoes or a bottle of shampoo. Herbal Essences’ new tv ad features a young woman washing her hair in the airplane lavatory, an experience so sensual that her moans can be heard throughout the airplane. And the hashtag at the end of the Herbal Essences commercial encourages you to share the story of your #firsttime. JustFab.com, a site that sells shoes on a monthly basis features two young girls who couldn’t be out of high school moaning over the tempting image on their laptop which is revealed to be a pair of shoes. Really? This is taking the sexualization of products and the objectification of women to a whole new level. The message is that all it takes to pleasure a woman is clean hair or a pair of shoes. Using the female orgasm to sell products? A new low for advertising.

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