Monday, April 22, 2013

UNM Hotties and Messages from the Car

The sunny day has brought out students and shorts and skin.  Although winter here is nothing like winter in New England, our response to spring ubiquitously sings our joy at tunneling out from darkness under protective coverings.  And maybe it also brings out some strange behavior.

While stopped at a street light at the intersection of Central and Cornell, two young students crossed, their blond hair reflecting the sun as much as their gait spoke of celebration.

"Woooooo!"  I hear.

And "Yeee-aaaah, cut those jeans a little more!"

"You must be sweethearts going to UNM!"

Three young men in the car next to mine are whooping it up, feeding off the support each of them receives hearing his friend's cat call.

I'm surprised that I'm surprised.  How can someone not know at this point how blatant that objectification is?  And how inappropriate?!  And knowing what I know, seeing what I've seen, how can I not expect this?  I sit there for a moment, in the relative safety of my own vehicle, shocked into that silence that comes from our training to hide and get really small when we feel threatened.

It's a testament to the fact that I'm working on not hiding, that I slid down my window and called out of it "You know, that's really gross to overhear". 

"What's really gross?  Your hair?" one of them calls back, but by then the light has turned and I'm saved the discomfort of ignoring a request for an exchange by my utilization of the clutch and the gas pedal.  As I slow for the next light, they zoom past yelling "Sorry, I thought you were a dude!" which is laughably ridiculous.  It was clearly fine with them to make all those loud comments in a way those students could hear, and the idea that saying it only around other men is fine misses a huge portion of the point.  For those of you keeping track, that portion is about how the ways we usually define and appreciate women (for their sexual attributes only) are not okay no matter with whom you are doing so.

On hindsight, I hope next time I say "that's a really gross way to talk about women" or "that's a really disrespectful way to talk about women".  It makes the issue about their action and not about my distress.  All in good time.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Good Point

A good point was recently made about my post Guns, Rape and Culture in which I state: "The idea that women should own guns to stop rape, or wear covering clothing, or not wear ponytails or have long hair, or not drink or never walk alone or always park under a streetlight or any of the other ridiculous things we're told we have to do to not get raped is part of what is called "rape culture". "

It was pointed out that although it is ideal that people simply not rape other people (or anything really), the world is in the state in which it is, and protecting oneself is not in fact "bullshit" as it seemed I said it was.

This is a fair point and one that deserves discussion.  After all, it's natural that we protect ourselves from pterodactyls, raging rhinos and trans fatty acids.  All of these things will harm humans and to not protect ourselves is shortsighted.  Of course, all of those things are easy to see as harmful.  When it comes to other humans, what happens when our first reaction is fear of harm?  (Actually, I can tell you.  This happens as a result of PTSD and it's a crummy way to live.)

So, let me expand on what I actually mean is bullshit.

There are a lot of messages out there about what women and girls need to do to avoid rape (please note that I also mean sexual assault).  These messages are in advertising campaigns, parents repeat them, they're learned in school, repeated in media, etc.  I see almost no messages designed to keep people from committing rape.

It might be that I just don't see them.  I have seen one campaign about consent in which the posters show a heterosexual couple and the wording shows the male talking about how he asked when he wasn't sure, or something similar.  It's awesome.  It's the only campaign I've seen.  Period.

So, my fear is that while we might be giving accurate information on ways that people (okay, it really targets women) can protect themselves, the emphasis is almost entirely on that.  As my mother would say, "that puts the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle".  The emphasis ought to be on people not attacking other people.  I don't yet see that happening enough.

It is easy for people also to take ideas about advice on not getting raped and think of them as absolute.  If it's an onlooker, that person might end up blaming the victim because "the rules say you were supposed to carry an umbrella, and if you had, this wouldn't have happened".  Likewise, the person who was attacked might blame themselves for not taking every precaution.  Also, no precaution has the power to entirely stop rape from happening.  It's as if people think if they follow "the rules", they are invincible.  This is like when you thought that getting a college education would guarantee you a good job and you still ended up working in a burger joint.  (No offense meant to burger joint workers.  We need you!)

Rape, among other things, removes, in a significant and terrifying way, a person's sense of having complete control over themselves.  Have you ever found out that something you believe is completely untrue and then your world is turned upside down?  It's a little like that, only it's also like you ate a cement block with a burning fish in the middle.

Anyway, the problem with giving advice about not getting raped is that it's coercive.  That thing where rape takes away the sense of power and control in your life?  These ideas about protecting yourself do that too!  They limit freedom.  The advice not to drink, or not have long hair, or not walk alone at night or early in the morning... these aren't realistic.  I get with the idea that anyone might curtail certain behavior to protect themselves; it might be appropriate, but it is bullshit to suggest limiting the activities of women (anyone) and not the activities of rapists.

What would work better is to make the information available and then let everyone decide what kind of precautions they want to take.  It would go something like this:

"It's been happening that people have been drugging the drinks of other people, especially at parties and then raping them.  It might help if you always watch your drink being poured at a party to make sure nothing but the drink goes into it."

In what other ways is a list of precautions a useful thing or a tool of rape culture?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guns, Rape and Culture

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and The Store is raising money for The Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico.  I've been really excited about this!  How many hours of therapy have I received at the center?  Um... maybe 300 hours?  And although I donate to them myself, I don't pay them.  Also the therapy I've received there has been on par with the highest quality therapy I've ever had (I've had a lot of therapy).  I owe a lot of fabulous changes in my Self to them.  So, fundraising for them is on my awesome-list.

I was waiting on three customers.  It looked like someone was buying someone else a first toy.  They were boisterous and giggly and disrespectful around things that suggested people might like something they did not.  I was not surprised when they didn't want to donate.  But then one of them said "the best way to stop rape is for all women to get guns... and learn how to use them."

Now, I feel like I shouldn't need to tell anyone why this is awful and creepy.  I feel like there are plenty of websites out there that tell us all about that.  And yet, this kind of attitude is still rampant.  On the off chance someone stumbles across here, or forwards this to someone who needs to know, let's take a closer look.

Thesis: women should have guns to prevent rape
This statement has two distinct parts: first, that women should own guns and second, that guns can prevent rape.  We'll address them separately.
  1. This first part, that women should have guns, is problematic because it invalidates any choice a woman makes about not owning or using a gun. 
  2. This statement also presupposes that either, only women can prevent rape by using a gun, or that only women get raped.  I'm assuming the second is meant, but both are just not true.  1 in 20 men are raped in New Mexico.*  While that's a lower number than the number of women, rape is awful for anyone who experiences it, so let's count men, ok?
  3. Moving on to the idea that guns could prevent rape.  No.  They can't.  They might in some circumstances, but it is unrealistic to think it's a solution.  I know that the after school specials show rape as this dramatic business where some guy follows a woman through a parking garage, or jumps out from behind a bush and practically announces that he's going to rape her.  "Boo!  I'm the scary sexual assault monster!  I am going to violently invade your body.  I don't care about you, nor do I recognize that you are a legitimate human who might have as much ability to feel as I do.  Also, the last time I showered was 1982 and I have halitosis because my last meal was a huge pile of rotten sardines atop a pile of dog doo."
    1. This type of stranger rape (perhaps minus the dog doo) does happen, but not very often.  Approximately 15% of rapes happen this way in New Mexico.*  Using a gun here might work.
      1. The success of this would depend on the brain of the attackee behaving in a way that the fight part of the natural fight/flight/freeze response was activated.  More on that later.
      2. It would also depend on space.  How far away from the attacker is this person?  Do they have time to draw a gun?  
      3. It also depends on if the attacker has a gun.  People going out to do crimes often plan these things... so I've heard.  They have the upper hand in the element of surprise and in what nefarious tools they choose.
    2. If 15% of rapes happen by strangers... then 85% of rapes happen by people we know (and incidentally somewhere between 10-20% are someone we're already sexually involved with).*  Is it likely that if you've known someone, you will think of having a gun ready next time they are around?  Just in case they try to rape you, where they haven't tried that in the past?
  4. The power of a gun, is in its threat and its ability to harm.  In order to threaten someone, the gun should be obvious.  If someone is already on top of you, particularly from behind, it will be difficult to draw a gun, have the attacker see it and have them not try to wrestle it from you and then use it against you.  You might, at this point, use the gun to kill or disable your attacker.  That would also be very traumatic.  Just being attacked, whether the rape is carried out or not, would likely require services from someplace like... hmmmm, a rape crisis center!
  5. We must take into account the body's response to trauma.  You've heard of the fight/flight/freeze response?  This is a physiological reaction.  You might think you know how you'd react.  Or you might plan how you would react.  But until you're actually in a situation, you really don't know how you'll react.  You do not have a choice about this because, as I mentioned, the reaction is physiological.  People have different physiologies and that is why we react differently.  So, if you're one of those people who does not react with "fight", that's normal.  And it's the right thing for you to do.  Whatever your reaction style is, it helps you survive.  Go you!
  6. The idea that women should own guns to stop rape infers that rape victims are at fault if they don't fight back.  Did you get that?  It blames the victims!  Because of the different things our physiology might make us do, which are all normal, this is bullshit. 
  7. This also places the responsibility of not getting raped on the potential victims.  This is also bullshit.
  8. The idea that guns can stop rape takes all responsibility away from rapists.  Rapists make a choice to rape.  It's everyone's responsibility to control their own urges to do things that aren't okay.  If you have a tendency to cut your toenails in bed, it is not your toenail's fault that you are then uncomfortable lying in bed.  Similarly, it's not your toenail's fault that they grow to need clipping.
The idea that women should own guns to stop rape, or wear covering clothing, or not wear ponytails or have long hair, or not drink or never walk alone or always park under a streetlight or any of the other ridiculous things we're told we have to do to not get raped is part of what is called "rape culture".

Rape culture is what tells boys and men that they have to be powerful in order to be manly.  It perpetuates the normalcy of violence against women, other minorities, disenfranchised groups and reinforces rigid gender roles through media.  It tells us that it's the responsibility of someone to avoid rape rather than telling us it's our job to treat other human beings with respect and kindness.

I know a lot of people don't believe in rape culture.  I don't know what to say to them except, go listen to a class or presentation about it and then, once you have information, make another decision.  If it's a good presentation, it won't blame groups of people (nor individuals).  Fault is beside the point.  We are inured to what is right in front of us.  Meaning, we don't bother to look at things we see day in, day out.  This is how rape culture is.  It's so big and so... everywhere, we don't see it.  We're used to it. 

If you want to donate to the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico (incidentally, NM and AK have the highest rates of rape in the country) this month you can go to:
Rape Crisis Donation Through Self Serve

If you're reading this after April 2013, go to:
Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico Donations

*The stats in this blog are from a survey done in NM in 2011 that I heard about through the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico.  If you want the details about what survey and other stats, you can contact their education department.