By: KENDALL ASBELL
“Grab her by the pussy.”
It was a phrase that perhaps brought on the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Upon hearing the tape, millions of women reflexively imagined their vagina’s being hooked by a stranger’s hand. Men were asked by their wives and girlfriends: “do men really talk like that when they’re alone?”
Herein lies the problem, many men do talk like this in the company of other men. This is problematic. Although many men have come forward, proclaiming that they would never talk in such a way, and that they get offended when they hear other men say such things, the operative question remains: what do these “good” men do when they hear such language?
I surveyed 100 women on campus and found some disheartening results with regard to how they have been treated sexually. Fifty-six percent of them reported that they had been grabbed in a sexual manner that made them feel “uncomfortable.” 51 percent have had sex, or performed a sexual act, even though they “weren’t really in the mood.” And 38 percent of women have faced some form of negativity simply for performing a sexual act.
It is important to note that a whopping 75 percent of those surveyed answered yes to at least one of the questions. This means that three in every four women on campus have suffered from at least some form of sexual assault, whether it be an overt act, or some kind of public shaming.
Many women left additional short comments. Here are just a few:
“Consent is always needed, alcohol is not a yes.”
“After my experience he told his friends I was a slut.”
“Cat-calling sucks too.”
“You don’t have to act on a sexual urge.”
“Both parties should be happy to be doing what they are doing.”
From the survey it became clear that these women were well aware of the dangerous culture in which we live. Men, however, seem to be a bit more in the dark. Some are unsure as to what even classifies as sexual assault, or whether they are actively involved in rape culture. At its most basic level, some men are even unsure as to what are appropriate topics of discussion with regards to sex.
This last point leads to another problem with our current culture—the idea that people are at times unwilling to discuss sex openly. A good rule of thumb, which may feel clunky at first, is to always ask questions. Go beyond the simple, “Is this ok?” Ask questions like, “Do you like this?” and, “How would it feel if…” Become enthusiastic communicators with your partner and or desired partner.
This is not to say that every man out there is a sexual assailant. Indeed, the number of convicted sexual predators is actually quite low. But many women do feel victimized. And men may not fully understand the emotional consequences of their actions. Something needs to change. Many people have been taught that “giving consent” is the way to communicate before engaging in a sexual experience. But what does “consent” mean?
“An enthusiastic ‘yes!” said Professor April Lidinsky. Lidinsky is the director of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at IUSB.
“People who live as women in our culture have learned to live with a level of constant sexual violence that is intolerable,” she said, referring to the United States as having a highly subliminal rape culture, one that proclaims, “Boys will be boys and girls just have to learn to live with it.”
“When you’re a star, they let you do it… You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy… You can do anything,” said Donald Trump to Billy Bush, the then host of Access Hollywood.
“It’s just locker room talk,” Donald later remarked about the incident, as if to imply that it was OK because every man talked that way around other men.
This is a clear example of rape culture at work. Although no actual rape takes place, the idea of men thinking of women as sexual items to use and dispose of at their pleasure is problematic. “We need to start looking at sexual violence, not as a personal tragedy, but as a social problem,” said Lidinsky.
Social media can be an important platform in the fight against sexual violence directed at women. It has provided men and women a space to share and hear stories that are empowering and eye-opening.
“Silence is the most powerful tool of any oppressor. If you can shut someone up, you’ve won,” said Lidinsky. Which is why men and women everywhere need to start speaking up and saying “THIS IS NOT OK!”
If men start talking more openly to other men about what is OK and not OK to say or do to women we could take the next step toward a safer, gender-equal society. If Billy Bush had said to Trump that he thought that was a horrible thing to say about women and he should not treat women like that, then he would have been part of the solution, but instead he kept silent and continued to be part of the problem. He would have also likely kept his job.
Second wave feminists have been fighting since the 1960s for their fundamental rights and have made amazing strides pursuant to the equality of women. But it’s not just women who can openly fight for women’s rights, men need to step up as well.
Some men are now claiming the title of “feminists.” They are steadfastly standing up for women and reaching out to new, uncharted territories—places where women feminists could not have reached, like Trump’s proverbial locker room. That is why men everywhere need to be proactive when they hear this sort of rhetoric. They need to stand up and say ‘Hey! That is wrong and inappropriate and here is why.”
“Activism is making visible what is invisible,” said Lidinsky.
If we all openly begin to communicate about sexual assault, sexuality and sex more broadly, perhaps we can begin to address some of the real consequences that rape culture can have on both men and women.
If IUSB students would like to learn more about what they can do in the fight against sexual violence they can come to Fireside A at 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10. The BRAVE group will be meeting and hosting a short workshop on how students can fight against sexual violence.