What Can We Learn From The Yale Frat Shitstorm?

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

Trigger Warning for  slogans promoting rape and assault.

Members of the Yale Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity have come under fire after members chanted slogans such as “No means Yes” and “Yes means Anal” in a video that went viral. While Yale is keeping quiet about what disciplinary actions the institution may take, the Yale Chapter of DKE is banned from doing any more pledge activities.

I am glad that  the Yale DKE has been disciplined by the governing body of the fraternity, but I’m still annoyed that this shit happened in the first place. What I do worry about are the many students who are involved in Greek life, who are smart, judicious, and care about community, who aren’t heard of because “Fraternities/Sororities Gone Bad” stories are all we hear in the media.

I have friends who are involved in fraternities an sororities that defy the stereotypes we have about Greek life. My friend Max is in a fraternity, doesn’t wear popped-collar pink polo shirts, doesn’t treat women like disposable blow-up dolls, and is very active in community events, when he’s not working for the local radio station as a sports reporter. My friends in Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega sororities perform annual blood drives, hold fundraisers benefiting charities that help survivors of domestic violence, and can be seen in T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans, rather than anything from the infamous Pi Phi rush dress code.

I think it’s wrong to say “Oh, you’re in a fraternity/sorority? Okay, you’re so not feminist”. I think it’s wrong when Greek organizations permit disgusting behavior, like vandalism, classism in the form of demanding that all pledges wear Tory Burch flats, or perpetuation of rape culture. I think the hubbub around this case is a good opportunity for Greek organizations to come forward, condemn this behavior, and do things that promote them in a positive way, such as partnering with organizations like the Great American Condom Campaign, Men Can Stop Rape, Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and so on and so forth.

People do look up to Greek organizations, so if they set a good example about safer sex, what consent really means, promoting equal rights, etc, others just might follow suit.

As a side note, once Yale resolves this current controversy with the fraternity, I’d like them to continue on a more pressing issue: Actually providing scholarships to their graduate students. Come on Yale, you have more money than God. It’s wouldn’t’ kill you to spend some of it on your students.

A Review: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault

September 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

So! I am going to college very, very soon. In four days, actually. My school was one of many to assign the AlcoholEdu program to its incoming students. The website is a kind of alcohol orientation that combines videos, instant message chat, animations, and text to prepare you for a final exam. If you fail it, you have to complete the program again. The site describes itself as “an online alcohol prevention program used on more than 500 college and university campuses nationwide… designed to challenge students’ expectations about alcohol while enabling students to make healthy and safe decisions.”

AlcoholEdu has been the butt of many jokes among my peers. It’s true that its attempts to appear hip and relatable are nauseatingly earnest (really, an IM chat with your parents’ friend who is a doctor?) — though the creators seemed unconcerned with using actors who might be more relatable to students of color.

I expected the program to be rather tedious, and it definitely came through in that regard. What I didn’t expect was the site’s more-or-less-feminist, no-nonsense approach to sexual assault and its relationship to alcohol use. I was deeply gratified and relieved to discover this, because of, you know, the epidemic of assault on US college campuses.

The program started with lots of survey questions to assess our current knowledge. (My understanding is that one’s answers to the survey questions affected the presentation that followed; for example, if your survey responses indicated confusion about Blood Alcohol Content, the lesson that you were directed to would include more information about that topic. But, I’m not sure if this is entirely true. The program was not very transparent in terms of who was directed where.) The survey included questions like these:

When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “be taken advantage of sexually”?
When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “take advantage of someone sexually”?

And this:

Rate how much you agree, on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):

  1. Women should take responsibility for avoiding sexual assault by drinking less alcohol
  2. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if he was drinking at the time and his actions were not premeditated
  3. A person who was sexually assaulted should never be blamed for what happened
  4. A person who forces himself sexually on another person should always be blamed for what happened
  5. Many cases of so-called “acquaintance rape” are nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two people
  6. Without exception a person who forces himself sexually on another person should face legal consequences
  7. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if the other person was drinking at the time and led him on

Then, later on in the program, I was directed to these explanations regarding the question: “How does alcohol affect a person’s ability to give sexual consent?”

Alcohol and Consent

Consent is what a person says or does to give agreement for sexual contact, including sexual intercourse, to occur.

Alcohol can create a lot of confusion when it comes to interpreting whether a person has actually given consent. Because alcohol affects judgment, decision-making, and the ability to communicate clearly, drinking can seriously affect someone’s ability to give clear consent. Alcohol can also make it difficult for the other person involved to understand whether their potential partner has given consent or is even capable of legally doing so.

Determining Consent

In order to be sure that consent has taken place, people should keep in mind the following four standards:

Both parties should be unimpaired by alcohol or drugs: Both individuals should be able to control their own thoughts and know what is going on around them.

Both parties should be able to act freely: Both individuals must be free to change their mind at any time, and a person’s silence should not be misinterpreted as consent.

Both parties should clearly communicate their permission: Both individuals should discuss their willingness to have sex well in advance of sexual activity.

Both parties should be honest about their desires: Both individuals should be 100% honest about their feelings, and they should not convince their partners to have sex by being dishonest about their feelings or intentions.

Source: Berkowitz, A. B., (2002). “Guidelines for Sex in Intimate Relationships.” Campus Safety & Student Development. 4 (3), 49-50

Let me just say it: Hooray. I’m so glad that this was included, though kind of depressed that I was so surprised.

Later, I was shown a video addressing how to “intervene” if you witness “inappropriate” behavior. At a party, two guys were trying to get a girl drunk so they could “get her back to [their] room.” I was pleased to notice that a fat actress was chosen to play the target of this behavior — this choice directly counters the ridiculous cultural meme that only conventionally attractive women are “rapeable.”

I was also shown a video about how to help a friend who tells me she has been assaulted. The narration encouraged me to “believe her right away,” to “let [her] make her own decisions about how to handle reporting the crime,” and to “encourage her to seek counseling.”

In both of these videos, the viewer (me) was cast as a woman, the friend of someone in trouble — ostensibly because I’d indicated that I’m female at the beginning of the course. I’d be interested to see what the men on the site were shown: which videos, which statistics. I’m not sure how I feel about male and female students being shown different content, although I did appreciate the footnote attached to the question about gender identity:

* We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. The purpose of this question (and similar questions that will appear throughout the course) is to calculate your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is based on physiological variables specific to your biological sex and not related to your gender identity.

Overall, I was pleased with the way AlcoholEdu addressed alcohol safety issues, particularly sexual assault. However, I’m sure that a lot of students forgot what they’d learned as soon as the exam was over. I sincerely hope that the lessons introduced online are continued during orientation, ideally with a real-life, interactive workshop. I hope this isn’t the last that my peers will hear about these important issues.

Check out Jamie’s take on the site, too.

Jezebel: Still Not Progressive

September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

by KATIE E.

Nope. Unless your idea of busting the kyriarchy involves heteronormative, classist, ageist, woman and sexuality shaming, pro-rape bullshit.

Overall, the entire piece fails due to its insistence that the only “real virginity” is man’s penis into women’s vagina. It makes no reference at all that might not be true for people who are trans,  non-gender binary conforming, bi/pan/asexual, lesbian, gay, and/or queer identified. Plus, it effectively erases people who simply choose not to have PIV sex, or don’t want to count it as “losing their virginity” due to rape/assault/other trauma, or the belief that oral/anal/something else was their “first time.” And what about people who can’t or can’t comfortably have PIV sex due to sexual dysfunction or a similar condition?

None of these people exist in Jezebel-land.

You know who else is apparently a figment of my silly feminist imagination? Twenty something virgins. Instead of respecting the fact that someone couldn’t or didn’t want to do it before they hit 21, let’s talk down to them and insist they need a “a solid core of female friends to guide you through the first-time sex experience” or “Get out of town. Preferably Paris, France. Pick an attractive, mysterious European stranger who doesn’t speak a word of English and is totally inappropriate for your real life, but perfect for this occasion.” You know, I really have no problem with one-time sex with someone you don’t know, even if it’s your first sexual experience. Nothing wrong with that. But doesn’t the idea of picking someone who can’t understand the language you speak scream with consent issues and sound a little like rape? Or actually, sound exactly like rape because that’s what it is?

Besides, how many twenty-somethings (or anybody, really) can afford random European vacations? Not a whole lot, yet the piece  normalizes it and doesn’t offer solutions for the many people who can’t do it.

The entire piece just perpetuates the culture of  shaming women for not having their first sexual experience go a certain way, something that conservatives are regularly called out on. Jezebel would refuse to publish a piece telling women the best way to have first-time sex is after the wedding, but they are fine telling women they need to have a party or be drunk. While their isn’t a huge culture of shame forcing their advice, it’s still the same concept: telling women they don’t know how to handle their own sexuality. It’s time that all of us-conservative, progressive, or somewhere in between-trust women enough to know if, when, and how their first sexual experience will take place.

Roman Polanski: Still a rapist

July 27, 2010 § 4 Comments

by MIRANDA

Yep, still.

Another woman, Edith Vogelhut, has come forward with allegations that Roman Polanski raped her. (The video interview and transcribed quotes are worth a look, albeit with an enormous trigger warning. The acts described are, obviously, vile.) She says the rape occured in 1974, three years before the rape of Samantha Geimer, to which Polanski admitted responsibility and for which he was convicted. And for which, if you’ll recall, he spent approximately zero seconds in prison. Vogelhut is the third woman to come forward, after Geimer and Charlotte Lewis.

Anyone want to wager how many asshat “artists” have already taken it upon themselves to defend Polanski on the grounds that his films are totes awesome? Or take a gander at just how much “justice” will be served, this time around?

Fuck.

As I wrote recently (in a comment on C. L. Minou’s excellent response to the Swiss government’s refusal to extradite Polanski to the United States): This Polanski shit continues to BLOW MY FUCKING MIND, and also not, because I guess I should know by now that basically the whole world thinks rape is okay.

Rape Culture Rears its Ugly Head (Again)

July 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

Trigger Warning.

Do you know what ruined my morning? What filled me with a blinding, seething rage? What made me really really sad?

This movie poster right here. The one for the I Spit On Your Grave remake.

Now I was almost tempted not to link to it or write this post so as not to give this piece of shit more publicity, but I couldn’t. Not only is this poster heinous, exploitative bullshit, but it also perfectly personifies the serious problem of rape culture in America.

I did some research and the film is about the brutal gang rape of a young woman, who manages to survive. She then goes on to exact revenge on all of her torturers. It was first released in 1978 to much controversy. It was originally entitled Day of the Woman and released under the guise of a female empowerment film, though apparently the way in which she “empowered” herself after the half-hour long, brutal, leaving-nothing-to-the-imagination rape scene, was to track down her rapists, seduce them (excuses for the actress to be naked again), and then torture and kill them in gruesome ways.

The most empowering thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s get this straight. Let’s lay it out one more time. Rape is not a sexual act. Rape is not sex. Rape is not about sexuality or attraction. Rape is rape. Rape is about humiliating, degrading, and removing all power from the victim. I don’t care how you want to spin it, Cinetel Films in association with Anchor Bay Films or anyone else involved in the creation of and marketing of this film. This poster is about sex. This poster is about her ass and her bare back. So what if there’s encrusted blood and bruises covering her upper thighs and back from her TRAUMATIC RAPE? Look at that body!

This is reprehensible. This is sick. This goes beyond blurring the line between rape and sex–it smashes them together into one thing for your (the general public’s) enjoyment.

And the worst part of this whole thing? Countless people will see this poster and not blink an eye. Because these types of images are normal in our culture. Hell, they’re expected.

Update: Pajiba already has a brilliant takedown up. For more rage, click here.

Maureen Dowd…gets it right?

June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Oh, Maureen Dowd. I never quite know how to approach her writing. Occasionally she’s very smart and irreverent in the best way, and at those times her accomplishments as a successful, mainstream female journalist make me proud. More often, though, I accidentally read something she’s written (seriously, I never seek out this stuff) and think: What? Also: Why?

Like this: “Even as he grows arugula in the White House vegetable garden, Barack Obama never again wants to be seen as the hoity-toity guy fretting over the price of arugula at Whole Foods. That is why the president ends up sending mixed signals on food.” …By talking about the nutritional importance of fruits and veggies, and then sometimes eating a hamburger. Or something. Seriously, what? (Sweet Machine had an excellent takedown, which included the delightfully LOL-worthy line, “Seriously, why does ANYBODY mistake MoDo for a feminist, ever? Is it because she is a woman with a job?”)

Or this: “Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct that he’s practically lactating.” What. Can. This POSSIBLY Mean.

But — in true Dowd fashion — I digress.

The point is she had a fairly great piece up yesterday about a truly disgusting group of young men at Landon, “an elite private grade school and high school for boys in [a] wealthy Washington suburb.”

Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.

…In The Washington Post, the sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote about the swagger of young male athletes and the culture of silence that protects their thuggish locker-room behavior.

…Jean Erstling, Landon’s director of communications, said…that “Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”

Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.

Wow! It is a surprising day when I concur with Maureen Dowd. But it has come! We are in agreement! On this one, at least.

Average people do not do terrible things of their own volition. I refuse to believe it! I am too much of an optimist. Because let me tell you something: If I believed, as our culture seems to, that men are rapacious beasts whose thirst for violence cannot be quelled, I would have given up on all of this so, so long ago. I would have given up on this blog, on daring to talk and write about sexual violence, on feminist organizing, on having the audacity to travel alone whenever and wherever I please. I would have given up on men, and I would have given up on my own freedom. But luckily, I haven’t. Because I believe that, in the majority of cases (though certainly not all), rape happens because of the intricate process of socialization that teaches boys that rape is okay, or at the very least, not a big deal. This process is part of the enormous and far-reaching tentacles of rape culture, the cultural meme that encourages and condones sexual violence against women.

Most men rape because of opportunity, because someone is vulnerable and because they’ve got an entire culture backing them up, because they haven’t been taught that it’s wrong, because they think — often correctly — that they can get away with it.

As Bernard Lefkowitz painstakingly documented in his book Our Guys, about the culture of a tight-knit New Jersey town that allowed the gang rape of a mentally retarded young woman — by her classmates and childhood friends – not only to happen, but also to be excused: “These Glen Ridge kids, they were pure gold, every mother’s dream, every father’s pride. They were not only Glen Ridge’s finest, but in their perfection they belonged to all of us.” These rapists were not anomalies. Far from it. Indeed, they were the perfect products of our misogynistic culture.

Sexual violence is not a stand-alone problem; it lies on a patriarchal continuum of all the tiny ways we wrong women, all the time, every day, at home, at work, on the street, in the doctor’s office, on the subway, in advertisements, in the classroom, in the courtroom, on the silver screen, all across the infinite internet. When the world treats women like shit, how can we expect our sons and brothers and classmates to learn that it’s not okay to treat women like shit?

Consider This

June 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just another reminder that only “yes” means yes, another reminder of the importance of enthusiastic consent.

Via PostSecret, “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”

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