April was Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and TAASA’s “Break the Box” campaign challenged each of us to share how we dared to break free from normative gender identity and expression. I like to think that I challenge gender stereotypes and gender expectations regularly but this challenge made me look within and see where I’m still holding back and not completely stepping out of the gender boxes society has constructed. So for the month of April I decided to focus my attention on undoing an aspect of gender socialization that I am still struggling with- assertively responding to the male gaze.
My struggle began when I was a young girl and cultural expectation of what it means to be a lady human began to creep into my psyche; specifically, the aspect of being a woman that states if addressed by a man- either commenting on my physical appearance or making a request- women are to acknowledge and/or comply in a pleasant, polite way. Having worked in this movement since 2002, I have developed a more complex analysis of the male gaze and how it has trained me to respond to specific behavior. In short, the male gaze and gender socialization have taught me that if I don’t comply with a man’s request the consequences might be violence- verbal, emotional or physical. Now, just one of the many issues with the rape culture we are living in is that if violence were to occur, especially sexual violence, I would be partially if not fully blamed for the violence. This dynamic, teaching women to fear the consequences of noncompliance and then blaming them for the violence others have inflict upon them only adds to the pressure of complying with the request in the first place.
So I took the TAASA challenge and for the month of April I assertively (and still politely…no need to be rude right!) responded to male gaze that often takes the form of the street harasser. And I use ‘street’ harasser loosely- we lady humans know that harassment not only occurs on the street, but in grocery stores, at book stores, and gyms. I have to admit, I was TOTALLY TERRIFIED, NERVOUS, and ANXIOUS – my stomach was in knots not knowing how complete strangers would respond. The good news is I made it to the other side and I’m here to write about it. Woo hoo! Also, it helped me notice how often I cast my gaze down when walking through public spaces. So, the first way I began to challenge the male gaze was to hold my head up and look men directly in the eyes. Yes, I held eye contact and fought back the urge to look down. Once I practiced that a few hundred times it got easier and wasn’t so scary. The more I kept and maintained eye contact the more confidently I walked, the more I pulled my shoulders back, and the more I lifted my head and thought “I am one sassy lady human.” I now felt ready to address the street harassers. When a street harasser told me “I’m looking extra fine today” or “I would be prettier if I smiled” I stopped in my tracks, looked them right in the eyes and said “I don’t appreciate your comment, please allow me to have a good day by not saying that again.” This was not easy, but I did it. And by the end of April, I was able to assertively responding to the male gaze without my voice cracking! I’m going to do my best to keep up with challenging the male gaze, its hard but I feel it’s totally worth it. I would love to hear how you are “Breaking the Box,” so please share your stories at http://www.causes.com/actions/1745744-share-your-story.
People have been sharing their stories of how they break gender stereotypes a part of our Break the Box campaign. Click here to see some of their stories. While reading through these stories, one common theme seemed to strike a cord with me: the struggle of parents to create a space where youth can challenge gender stereotypes. I don’t have any earth-shaking answers to share, but in this blog I hope to offer a few starting points for discussions I know we need to have. I hope you’ll join me in this conversation.
1. “Bad parenting is the problem” is a problematic statement. I hear this pretty consistently – “If parents would just raise their children right, then we wouldn’t have any of these problems.” The implication is that it is up to parents and caregivers to break gender stereotypes with and for their children. While parents and caregivers are certainly a major influence in the lives of youth, it is important to acknowledge that other adults, other youth, media, etc., etc. also have a profound influence. We as humans learn by watching our environment and seeing how people and institutions interact with one another. I can talk until I’m blue in the face to my daughters about setting no limitations on what they can do, but if they continue to hear messages to the contrary from teachers, their friends and their friends’ parents, they may stop believing me.
This reality reminds me that my role is as an ally to my daughters, as well as to the other youth with whom I interact. If I’m going to support my daughters in wearing whatever it is that they want to wear, then I must also actively work to create a space where their friends can do the same.
2. The wardens are pretty young. I have notice that some of the loudest voices pushing my daughters back into the gender box are their friends. I was watching a massive water fight spread across my lawn and the neighbors’ lawns the other day. There were bikes and scooters strewn about. One boy grabbed the nearest scooter – a pink one – to make his getaway. The laughter and finger pointing were immediate and quite loud, and almost everyone seemed to join in, including my youngest daughter who had just told me a couple of days ago that there are no such things as boy colors and girl colors. As you might have guessed, the boy violently threw aside the scooter and proceeded to defend his manhood.
I see part of my work as an ally to my own daughters as helping them cultivate their own empathy and humanity, and to develop and hone the skills so that we can co-create an environment where youth can challenge gender stereotypes.
3. Youth are already challenging gender stereotypes. Two of my enemies as a parent are hopelessness and fear that leads to over-protection. How can I create a safe space for my daughters to challenger gender stereotypes in a world that enforces them? How can I expect them to challenge gender stereotypes when I never did at their age, and I still buy in to them from time to time? If they do continue to challenge gender stereotypes, how do they stay safe? In these moments of uncertainty, my daughters inspire me. It might be my youngest daughter sharing how she argued with her classmate about the right for people to marry whomever they love. It might be my oldest daughter explaining to me that some girls pretend to like Barbie so that they can be friends with girls who really like to play Barbie, but that she thinks that is silly because the other girls will eventually find out that you don’t like Barbie.
Youth are challenging gender stereotypes every day and it is our role, my duty, as a youth ally (and parent) to support and join in with those efforts. Not challenging gender stereotypes doesn’t really create safety, just the same constant threat of violence we deal with everyday – the violence we’re fighting against.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the points I’ve brought up or hear about how you support youth as they challenge gender stereotypes.
Denim Day has become a revered event for local rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention month. This event signifies the transcendence of victim blaming across the globe. Most often the challenge for sexual assault victims and advocates is maneuvering a society and system guided by the misconceptions of sexual assault. Denim Day allows for a visual and powerful reclamation of choice, freedom and redirects the blame where it belongs – on the perpetrator and not the “jeans”. Click here for the history behind Denim Day.
How did your community celebrate Denim Day? Please share your stories and pictures!
Social Justice League ACTIVATE!!!
My current partner and I have recently made the decision to be mates for life and we couldn’t be happier with our choice! This pronouncement comes at the end of a two year negotiation (he wanted a wedding and I didn’t want a public ritual) ending with my partner and I jointly agreeing for a number of personal and political reason to not have a traditional wedding but rather a commitment ceremony. We were overjoyed with the relative ease with which our families and friends took the news of our non-traditional commitment. Yes, there were tons of questions that accompanied their acceptance like “so what is a commitment ceremony exactly?” and “is there a legal document for that?” As we emerged from the monotony of intrigue my partner and I were drenched in heterosexual privilege.
While there has been an expansion to the vernacular of ‘public commitment rituals’ (i.e. wedding, commitment ceremony, marriage, domestic partnership), there are few variations to what the ceremony and pre-ceremony routines entail. Three months into planning our special day, I feel lost in the interwebs of white lace, cakes toppers and ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ monogramed napkins with little to no guidance on how a non-traditional, (post-modern) feminist lady-human like myself is supposed to plan a non-wedding wedding?! For example, what is the verb for participating in a commitment ceremony? And since my partner and I opted to not have an engagement ring, how do we identify ourselves when mailing out our Save the Dates? As my partner and I continue to navigate this unfamiliar terrain, I am continuously reminded of the explicit heterosexual bias of the Wedding Industrial Complex.
So this brings me to the current question I am pondering: do I fling before the ring? The bachelorette party, a complementary ritual to the bachelor party, is a relatively new phenomenon that arose in the late seventies/early eighties in opposition to the traditional pre-wedding ritual of the bridal shower. A feminist critique illuminates how bridal showers support the belief of separate spheres for women and men. Gifting brides with cookbooks, housewares, lingerie and other items that will enable her to nurture her husband and home reinforces the idea that the private sphere is for Women and the public sphere is for Men.
In stark contrast, a bachelorette party thrusts women and women’s sexuality and non-virgin status into the public sphere by publicly acknowledging the bride’s farewell to her days of sexual freedom. Just a few decades ago (and to a lesser extent today) women’s sexuality was assumed to be nonexistent or inappropriate to discuss outside of the home or doctor’s office. From a feminist perspective, the bachelorette party symbolizes social change; specifically the transformation in women’s sexual expression. Now that’s what I call PROGRESS!
At this point you may be asking yourself why I am questioning whether or not to “fling before the ring?” Well, I can also see how a bachelorette party is problematic. Currently, marriage (as recognized by the federal statutes) is open only to heterosexual couples. Therefore, the bridal shower, the wedding and the bachelorette party maintain and reinforce heterosexual privilege. Ugh, not super cool as an ally to the Queer community. I ask you, do we really need another event in which heterosexuality is rewarded and glorified as the “right” sexual orientation? I think not. So where do I go from here, I don’t know? But this is where I’m at in my decision making process. Stay tuned for Part 2- Did She Fling? Arriving March 2014!
A vast majority of the public carries an instinctive concern for those in need. In particular, youth have an unfettered interest in humanity and the impact of inequity on society. When combined, generosity and energy have the potential for major change.
A group of 6th grade girls decided to take action in their community when they learned about the “one billion rising” worldwide movement to take a stand against violence against women. Their focus was their local rape crisis center – Hope alliance and the issue of violence against women.
The students took the necessary steps to obtain permission from the primary principal at Meridian World School and then persuaded teachers to allow classroom time to present the project to their peers. Their goal was simple. First, to create awareness and spark dialogue around fairness and violence and how that affects them, and secondly, a day of action to spark a collective spirit in donating items necessary for the agency. The response these girls received was overwhelming and astounding.
The students were inspired to generate dialogue about a problem that is often times very difficult to discuss. When asked why they chose to highlight the issue of sexual assault, the girls responded by saying, “It’s happening, but you would never know it because no one talks about it,” “When some form of violence is happening to a person or family it opens the door to unfairness and violence for everybody,” and “The one thing everyone deserves is fairness and to feel safe.”
The idea and campaign came about organically and ultimately, ignited this group of girls’ innate need to make a positive difference. Congratulations to the 6th grade girls for a successful campaign and kudos to the parents and fellow students for their support and participation. Hats off to Meridian World School for allowing students the freedom to take action and prompt discussion on an issue most adults shy away from.
What examples of youth in action do you have to share? Need ideas? Start a Texas PEACE Project in your community.
During our prevention team’s strategic planning process in January, we decided that one of the ways to continue our own education is to have a team reading group. As part of this, one team member picks articles or book chapters on a pre-determined theme, shares them with the group, and we discuss the articles at a team meeting. We will be sharing some of our discussions through the blog to engage readers in our process.
Part of what our team is focusing on this year is further exploring the connection between healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention (and helping folks in the field do the same). So, our first reading group focused on the topic of “enthusiastic consent.” (One reading was a defense of the concept, another an opposition to it.) Consent is a tricky topic when we are talking about primary prevention. Most of the ways people in our work talk and teach about consent would be consistent with awareness or risk reduction approaches, generally focused on teaching people what the laws are about consent and how to make sure you’re getting consent instead of sexually assaulting someone. Consent, as it relates to sexual assault, has become mostly a legal term and is addressed as such. But what does consent mean in the context of a healthy sexual encounter? (As opposed to in the context of an encounter that we just hope isn’t a rape.) Well, enthusiastic consent is one model of looking at consent that explores it a little bit more in the context of consent’s role in healthy sexuality, though, as you’ll see in our readings, still also seeks to help people avoid sexual assault (which we would argue is still a problematic way to approach the issue).
We had a pretty lively discussion about the two articles we read and about the role of exploring “enthusiastic consent” as a part of prevention work and as a part of promoting healthy sexuality.
On the “yay” side:
- Enthusiastic consent, at least on the face of it, acknowledges that all parties in a sexual encounter should be happy about and interested in what’s about to happen (and get to agree to it in advance). This is a nice contrast to traditional consent models that only suggest agreement to an act and traditional gender models that don’t hold much room for women’s enjoyment of sex.
On the “Hmm” side:
- A lot of our “hmm” conversation centered around what “enthusiastic” means and how sometimes people are perfectly fine with but not necessarily jumping up and down about the sexual acts they consent to. And that doesn’t make those acts violence because, again, someone was actually consenting to them. So, yes, the context surrounding consent is pertinent. And complicated. That brings me to the next “hmmm” point.
- Probably the most interesting point of disagreement in our group (in my opinion) was around how enthusiastic consent intersects with equality (or, rather, the general lack thereof, between men and women.) The question we kept coming back to: in a world where women have less power than men, how does that context impact consent, enthusiastic or otherwise? Is there a difference between consenting to sexual acts and engaging in active negotiation of sex? Which one of these does the most to mitigate power imbalances?
I’ve notice a thread of connection between several of the conversations and happenings in my life this month. It is the month of LOVE. It is also the month of teen dating violence awareness and prevention week and V-Day. In addition, we’ve been having several conversations about consent as it relates to preventing sexual violence at work. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about how and when to get into more detailed conversations with my daughters, who are 8 and 6 years-old, about sex and sexuality. This blog about the ways that adultism keeps us from having a healthy conversation about healthy sexuality with youth flows out of all of these interconnected factors.
Adultism is a complicated and pervasive force in our communities. It can show itself in many different ways, but essentially, it refers to the fundamental belief that youth are less important and less capable that adults, and to the systematic discrimination youth face when this belief is incorporated into the ways that institutions relate to them. It shows up in subtle phrases like “you’ll understand when you’re older,” or “she’s just not ready to handle that conversation yet,” as well as in more overt ways, such as when youth are left out of decision-making processes that impact them, are excluded from voting in elections or are routinely silenced by the adults around them. (To learn a little bit more about adultism, check out this great piece by Paul Kivel.)
Adultism also shows up when the topics of sex education, healthy sexuality or consent are brought up. Here are three of the lies that adultism spreads in regards to youth and healthy sexuality, followed by the reasons why these lies are so dangerous to the development of healthy sexuality amongst youth.
- Youth aren’t ready to handle information about sex.
- Youth can’t be trusted with information about sex.
- Human sexuality begins at the age of legal consent.
Youth aren’t ready to handle information about sex. Adultism teaches adults to underestimate youth consistently and to minimize their capabilities. As a result, adults often withhold information that impacts youth, a decision that is justified with the belief that youth are too young to understand it. This belief is very clear when adults and youth-serving institutions address healthy sexuality and sex education for youth. Sex education almost always comes several years later than when youth actually need it. I am not suggesting that adults give youth all of the information there is about human sexuality at an early age, but rather that adults recognize that youth have the right to age appropriate information about sex and sexuality as they grow. If adults would provide the information that youth have a right to, conversations about sex and sexuality could become a part of life, rather than the daunting, one time sex talk so many adults fear and youth dread. Having regular conversation about healthy sexuality would help youth make informed decisions about sex and sexuality when they are faced with them. The alternative is to leave other people and institutions, often steeped in a rape culture, at the only source of information about sex and sexuality for youth.
Youth can’t be trusted with information about sex. One of the dominant messages in an adultist culture is that youth are just all around bad. If you watch the news or, unfortunately, listen to some adults talk, you might believe that youth are always up to no good. Adults are bombarded with messages that youth are violent, untrustworthy, lazy and manipulative. The belief is clearly at the root of the message that adults can’t talk to youth about sex and sexuality because they’ll just go out and have sex, and that if conversations about sex are avoided, youth won’t have it. This message leads adults to avoid conversations about sex and sexuality with youth until they suspect that youth are already sexually active. At this point, the conversation often turns to shaming youth about sexual activity. Reality is that youth are getting information about sex, period, and that they are getting that information through the lens of a rape culture. Youth are also faced with decisions about sex, regardless of whether or not the adults in their life have conversations with them about healthy sexuality. For youth, it is their job, developmental speaking, to explore and establish who they are. It does youth no favors to pretend that sexuality isn’t an important piece of that exploration, as it is a part of who all humans are. Experts have long said that informed youth are not more likely to have sex, and those informed youth that do have sex are armed with the information they need to have healthy and respectful interactions.
Human sexuality begins at the age of legal consent. One of the results of any form of oppression, including adultism, is that the oppressed are dehumanized. Adults are trained to see youth as one big group of people that possess a set of mostly negative characteristics, stripping youth of any individuality or emotion. The result of this black and white thinking is the belief that all youth are just youth until they become adults. Since they aren’t adults yet, youth are denied what is consider adult rights, privileges and resources. There is not recognition of the gradual transition from youth to adulthood, however adulthood is defined. As a result, growth, transition and development are all minimized, or ignored all together. Reality is that human development involves the development of the body, as well as sexual and gender identities. Adults do tremendous damage to youth by denying and shaming the natural exploration and development of their own sexuality and how to manage that in relationship to other people’s sexuality. Just because the law says that youth can’t have sex until they’re 17 doesn’t mean that youth aren’t exploring and developing their sexuality from birth, and frankly throughout their adult lives. To make sure that youth have the information they need to go through that exploration in a healthy way, adults need to have conversation with youth with you and provide them with the resources they need and are entitled to.
In what ways have you challenged the lies adultism teach us about talking to youth about sex and sexuality?
What do you wish you knew about sex and sexuality when you were younger?
Tags: activism, feminism, sexism, sexual assault, Tavi Gevinson, TED Talks, TEDxTeen, teen, teen girls, Texas PEACE Project, youth
Filed Under Motivating Moments, Powerful Women | By Ted Rutherford | Leave a Comment
Each morning I take a leisurely stroll through the social media landscape searching for the little gems that I can “LIKE” and “SHARE” with our loyal followers on the Texas PEACE Project Facebook page. Often they are articles or pictures that make a point that somehow furthers the work of the Texas PEACE Project. Inspiring stuff! However, today I came across something that took it to a whole…‘nother…level. At first, I thought it was just the usual, but I dug a little deeper and discovered something awesome!
Stephen Colbert, on his show the Colbert Report, had as a guest a 16 year old named Tavi Gevinson. The folks over at A Mighty Girl posted the following graphic on Facebook:
I thought it was really funny in the clever, sarcastic way that Stephen Colbert is funny. I started to just do the ol’ “LIKE and SHARE”, but I decided to read the comments section to see how people reacted to the post. There I found a link to a TED Talk (no relation to me unfortunately) that Tavi gave at TEDxTeen on being a teen and “figuring it out”. In the talk she also discusses having a difficult time finding female, teenage role models and how she did something about that by creating her own online magazine for and by teen girls, called Rookie.
Please take a moment to follow the link to her TED Talk and soak it up then head over to her website and have a look at her amazing work! I found her to be incredibly thoughtful and inspiring. While her magazine is called Rookie, she is clearly a major role model for all of us. Enjoy!
How many times have you heard somebody say that when it comes to “the big game”? Every February the advertising world whips us into a frenzy with the suspense over the new crop of commercials that will air during the Superbowl. Will they be funny? Touching? Racy? What commercial will get the biggest buzz around the water cooler on Monday morning? I have to admit, I am a sucker for the commercials myself. They are, for the most part, entertaining. They should be considering they cost around 8 million dollars per minute (not to mention the cost to make them). Advertisers are sinking huge amounts of time and money into grabbing and holding our attention in hopes of selling us their products and services. And we watch. By the millions, we tune it to see what the creators have in store for us. These ads have become just as American as apple pie and football (sorry baseball).
From time to time I am blown away by them – usually by the ones that fall into the “touching” category. They can be quite moving. Unfortunately, those are too few and far between. A more typical reaction to the ads ranges from mildly amused to downright disgust – sometimes a combination of both. Far too often advertisers roll out rehashed ideas that rely on outdated strategies for reaching their intended audience. You can bet that this year’s crop of ads will be no different. If history is any indicator, I would bet there will a significant number of them that, from a sexual violence prevention standpoint, will be problematic. Some will be sexist. Some will show physical violence. Some will objectify women or glamorize hyper-masculinity. While they usually aren’t very “good” commercials, these are the ones we need to discuss on Monday morning. These ads and, more importantly, these advertisers are the ones we need to be talking about so that we can build a critical consciousness of the ways violence in the media are perpetuating sexual violence in our world, in our towns and in our families. While media isn’t the only contributor we can all agree that it is a powerful, omnipresent force that influences human behavior on some level.
In anticipation of this year’s crop, the Texas PEACE Project wants to help people identify the advertisers that are responsible for this sort of content. At the same time, we didn’t want to be the cloud that takes all of the fun out of watching the big game. So, we came up with BIG GAME BINGO. It is a fun way to watch all of the ads while keeping tabs on what companies are perpetuating a violent culture.
The directions are on the card. Just print out before the game and you are ready to play. Download your copy HERE . You can even do it after the game if you want to track the commercials down on YouTube. If (or when) you get a BINGO, take a picture of your game card and post it on your Facebook wall. Be sure to tag the Texas PEACE Project (www.facebook.com/txpeaceproject) on your photo so that we know you participated. We will randomly select one winner to receive a Texas PEACE Project goodie bag.
Building consciousness on 1…READY…BREAK!!!
Have you ever been so deeply inspired that words themselves fail to express the depth of that inspiration? I ran across a post titled “Random Acts of Kindness” highlighting kind gestures by ordinary individuals simply lending a hand expecting nothing in return. Its touching depiction of humanity was also present in each scholarship application reviewed. The dedication to compassion, hope and healing became evident as the unsung heroes in local Texas communities emerged. The decision was difficult yet derived after much discussion and consideration.
TAASA’s Diversity Task Force proudly announces the 2013 TAASA Conference Scholarship Recipients!!
Children’s Advocate/Prevention Educator/Sexual Assault Advocate
Hutchinson County Crisis Center
Manager of Community Education & Training
Houston Area Women’s Center
Primary Prevention Coordinator
Fannin County Family Crisis Center
Client Advocate & Transitional Home Coordinator
Advocate/Forensic Interviewer/Spanish Outreach
Child Advocacy Center
Client Services Administrator
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Concho Valley Rape Crisis Center
San Angelo, TX
(Emails detailing the rewards will be sent to each recipient individually)
Congratulations to ALL scholarship applicants. Each embodied the spirit of grassroots advocacy and outstanding service to local communities.
TAASA’s Diversity Task Force is a statewide network of professionals dedicated to an ongoing effort and dialogue in reaching and effectively serving society’s most hidden populations.
TAASA’s Diversity Task Force seeks to facilitate access to reliable and accurate resources regarding diversity issues. We inform, empower and support service providers in their goals to offer culturally appropriate and sensitive services to survivors of sexual assault from diverse communities.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyrosex/2401260039/”>ashley rose,</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>