What Brought It Up?
I’ve been reading a lot on CHE lately, from editors and opinion pieces and letters to the editor on adjuncts’ rights and Chancellor Wise’s and the UI BOT recent pulling of the rug out from under a faculty approved applicant, but mostly, on Title IX and I’ve also perused Bing and Yahoo! News a bit about Emma Watson’s recent speech to U.N. on her new campaign HeForShe. All of it has my brain churning. These situations seem to feed into each other a bit, maybe a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t link to all (or even most) of the articles because CHE doesn’t really let free readers browse old articles and some of my references are to articles I can’t even find anymore (in a bunch of moves–5–in the last year and half I’ve lost a lot of books, movies, CDs, and articles I would have loved to have kept).
The Statistics on Female College Students and Sexual Assault
In many of the articles and letters to the editor, the number of 20-25% of all women in college would be sexually assaulted was repeatedly brought up, but many commentators on the articles brought up that the reported number does not match the percentage. One could easily chalk this up to assaults going unreported. I’ve always questioned that logic though. How does one count what has no indicators? Other commentators brought up another good point on these numbers: what counts as sexual assault? CHE commentators tend to include sources or cogent counter arguments (though as a website it can be prone to trolling and fallacy, but this tends to be countered again by other commentators calling them out on it), and some started examining studies on college sexual assault and what counted as sexual assault in those studies: actions like forced or attempted forced kissing (such as may happen at the end of a first date) and consensual sex wherein the female party was intoxicated but did not call the sex non-consensual. This seems like a much more logical reason behind the 20-25% statistic as it would indicate why the number of reported instances was lower than the rate would suggest. I’m not saying the statistic is wrong; I’m just calling into question the calculation of it.
College Committees and Their Inadequacy
I don’t trust any college employee to go into a sexual assault hearing and not be prejudice, either way. Why? Because they are human and employees of an institution that has a culture they want to promote. Either they want to find the accused not responsible because he or she benefits the college in someway (typically this boils down to a male athlete). Or they want to find the accused responsible because they want to have a reputation of being hard on sexual assault. If the committee members have these thought/feelings/leanings before an instance is brought before them, they are going in with bias, which means they will downplay the evidence they don’t want to hear or perform mental gymnastics to get the conclusion they want. There are no checks and balances to this. Another form of their inadequacy is their extreme lack of skill in the matter. They are not detectives, they are not lawyers (all of them anyway as many colleges to not have justice or pre-law departments), and they are not judges in the usual sense. This means the majority of committee members do not have the experience or expertise to make judgments in criminal matters, meaning they can either try to be objective as best as possible or fall back on their personal feelings. Neither bodes well for the validity of their findings. Third, they do not have access to some of the tools available to police investigations, such as rape kits and physical examinations of the accused. This is important in proving that any intercourse, in the accusations of rape, actually took place. Without this evidence, the idea that sexual contact even happened is called into question. I’m not saying that in all, or even most or half of, cases the rape didn’t happen. I’m saying that in the small number of instances (and I do believe it is small) wherein the rape did not happen there is no evidence supporting one claim or another. The physical examination of the proposed victim and attacker are most important in the instance wherein the victim describes the rape as one of the violent type or wherein the accused says the rape and even intercourse never happened. In these cases, not having this evidence is a giant gap in the support of the judgment of the committee, in either accuser or accused’s favor or detriment.
Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault
This is such a sticky equation, but one that seems much too black and white to have any real world application. Any married person would most likely find this idea laughable as a common occurrence among married couples is drunk sex, say after a party at a friend’s house or similar alcohol infused situations. I don’t just find it to be joke; I find it to be an insult. The idea is that women in college when intoxicated are incapable of giving consent, but that men in college, intoxicated or not, should be able to see that a woman is intoxicated and stop intercourse even if she has given her verbal consent. This is insulting in many ways. 1): People (all people, men and women) are always responsible for their actions when intoxicated when they brought on the intoxication themselves, meaning that all people are responsible for whether they get behind the wheel of a car, physically assault someone, or commit other acts illegal or legal that they would not do when sober. Regardless of the genitalia they happened to be born with. 2): It takes away a woman’s agency, by suggesting that a man in the same state of intoxication is more capable of reasoning than a woman. How is that not sexist against women? As in, women lack a capability that men have. 3): It places an archaic and nearly impossible to meet responsibility on men for not only their own actions when intoxicated but also women’s. They’re supposed to “take care of us women”. When are we going to move past this idea that men have to make decisions and take responsibility for the women in their lives and let women have responsibility over their own lives? Apparently, not in college. It is also unfair to assume that his judgment is not as impaired as hers at the same level of intoxication and requires basically omniscience, when he may also be intoxicated, on his part. 4): It waters down the reality of sexual assault and lowers people’s empathy for the victims of violent and non-violent sexual assault. Please understand that these insults apply to when a woman in conscious and intoxicated. If a person is unconscious when intoxicated, obviously consent was not given and sexual assault occurred.
It is also a weird contradiction that many colleges think this way about alcohol consumption in relation to sexual assault when they are not even allowed to talk about preventative measures involving alcohol consumption when they have their sexual assault orientations: don’t tell women to alter their behavior by consuming less alcohol, but find men responsible for sexual assault if the woman has consumed alcohol. Uh, . . . I’m not even sure how to respond to this, because I understand why they don’t want to tell women to consume less alcohol, but I really don’t understand why they think drunk sex = sexual assault in relation to their reasoning (not allowed by most Title IX related polices) to not telling women to alter their behavior. It would seem to mean that drunk sex ≠ sexual assault.
Pragmatism vs Victim-Blaming
I am not a fan of victim-blaming, more than that I hate it. I don’t think what a woman wears, says, or does excuses sexual assault, even if she is inhumanely cruel beforehand (think the first episode of AHS: Coven). But I do believe in pragmatism. I have a right to walk down a dark alley, but I also know that I may get attacked if I do, which is why I carry pepper spray. That’s pragmatism. If a person leaves their front door unlocked and open when they go on vacation and someone burgles their home, it doesn’t make what the criminal did any less wrong and doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished, but the preventative action of closing and locking one’s door is just smart. It means one didn’t have to go through the violation of being burgled. Victim-blaming is different than pragmatism. Victim-blaming is when someone says that the victim deserved what they got because they were wrong for some erroneous reason. They may have been wrong. It’s wrong to leave your front door unlocked and open, but it does not change the fact that the criminal was wrong. It does not mean the victim deserved to get burgled. The idea that we have to change possible criminal behavior is nice to say, but it is not something we can actually control. We can say that crime is wrong as much as we want. We can promote a crime-free society as much as we want. It will not completely eliminate crime. The means to crime are desire and opportunity. We cannot take away the desire, but we can lower the opportunity. Otherwise, banks wouldn’t have vaults, guards, cameras, and alarms. There will always be people who want to hurt others, who want to steal, and we cannot eliminate their existence, but we can be prepared for it.
College Men and Sex
I was appalled to see some commentators on CHE on the recent “Presumed Guilty” article saying that college men should just abstain from sex to prevent incorrect judgments against them because it is the kind of argument put against women (“Maybe you shouldn’t do your laundry at midnight alone . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t walk at night . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t dress like a slut . . .” “. . . if you don’t want to be attacked”) basically saying they should change their legal behavior past the point of pragmatism to the point of living in fear. Some men have abstained from having sex in college, but that won’t protect them from judgments, which is another reason the argument disgusts me. One of the men examined in the article, who went by John Doe in his law suit against his university, claimed that he and the woman who had accused him had never had sexual contact. That he, in fact, just walked her to her dorm after a party. If true, and it just might be as I’m not about to assume his guilt based on his genitalia nor assume his innocence simply because he professes it, this throws the changing their behavior argument not just out the window but out of this dimension. One argument that often baffles me is that all guilty people profess their innocence, which isn’t true as some people plead guilty. But what is true is that all innocent people profess their innocence, because if you were innocent why would sit back and let people call you guilty?
One respondent to this article in a letter to the editor called for an apology for its publication. No, don’t apologize for this. We need to recognize that the system of judgment in academic sexual assault is broken in more ways than one; otherwise, it will never be fixed. We do not improve systems or ourselves by ignoring flaws. We improve by recognizing all the flaws, even when they seem contradictory. They aren’t actually, because each case has its specific nature and culture with its specific people involved. Cases can be mishandled in different, opposing ways within the same university depending on the people involved alone, because universities all together and within themselves are not homogeneous entities.
I’ve already explained how I believe the Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault equation hurts both men and women, but the institutions seem to be using it as an excuse to pre-judge in sexual assault cases. I am not suggesting that all sexual assault cases are bullhockey, but that the university committees may be coming into it un-objectively, in either gender’s favor or detriment. I believe the ideas that Women = Victims and Men = Assailants is very prevalent in our society, often even in the parts of society that consider themselves progressive or politically correct, but I feel like this is sexism with both equations. It’s still very archaic. It still casts women as damsels in distress. It makes us less human. Women are just as capable of being assailants as men. Again, the idea that men have a capability that we don’t is in people’s minds, and just because it may work in a woman’s favor doesn’t make it any less sexist. Because on the other side, we have men who are the victims of abuse at the hands of women. Such as but not limited to: assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. These black and white equations take away the voice of victims. Victimization is victimization, and wrong is wrong. Just because one empathizes with one group more than the other doesn’t mean they aren’t all in pain. Don’t judge one person’s pain against another. Don’t say “It could be worse”. Don’t minimize a person’s victimization by saying that in the past, or even now, the other side had it worse. That doesn’t mean the victim deserved what happened to them just because of the gender they happened to be born with. Isn’t that victim-blaming? And even not about that victim’s actions but about a group’s actions they by chance belong to?
Recently, I saw the above PSA on Tumblr (of all places) wherein two actors of the opposite sex were hired to pretend to get into an argument in public then one start to physically assault the other. In the first instance, the man started to assault the woman. People got involved. They yelled at him and threatened to call the police. In the second instance, the woman started to assault the man. People laughed. It was funny to them. The PSA ended with a statistic of how many abusive relationships have men as the victim. That number is pretty even with ratio of men to women in most developed countries (2:3). I’m not willing to ignore that many victims, nor downplay the pain they are in. The argument sometimes goes that a woman cannot hurt a man as much as a man can hurt a woman. My god. Again: women lack a capability that men have. Yes, we can. We’ve all heard of those times that women have mutilated men. Run them over with cars. Shot them. Poisoned them. Women are just as capable as men at hurting and victimizing someone else. And men are just as capable as feeling helpless when in an abusive relationship. As the PSA’s last poignant statement says: Violence is violence.
In most instances sexism on a large scale is against women, but I’m not about to say that it is all instances. A year or two ago, I read a great article on men’s reproductive rights (which I do believe in as strongly as women’s reproductive rights even though they can sometimes be at odds–it’s complex like most important issues) wherein specific allegorical examples were used. “Stop right there!” someone may say discounting that personal stories have meaning. No, one cannot usually make worldwide or overarching generalizations based on allegorical evidence, but such evidence does have validity as it means “This happened” and we must recognize that. A couple of the stories were downright horrifying in how they showed rapists using the courts to further victimize their victims. Most of it was based on child support. A man who was passed out at a party found out later he was raped (it is rare but not impossible for a man to still have an erection while unconscious from intoxication) and his rapist got pregnant and then sued him for child support. The court found he owed her money. Another case was about a twelve year old boy was told by the court that he needed to pay his (statutory) rapist child support. A third man who had oral sex with a woman, who saved his sperm then later inseminated herself with it, was required to pay her child support. Often an argument against men about child support is that they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want to take responsibility for any possible child that comes out of it. Again, this seems one sided as it used to be the same freaking argument laid against (sometimes still) women who wanted abortions. But this argument becomes so outrageous when applied to these three cases. None of these men (or really, boy) were taking on (or capable by law of taking on) the possible responsibility of pregnancy. But the courts found them responsible for the children anyway even though the first two cases involved criminal action on the part of the woman (remember criminals are not meant to profit from their crimes). Why? The courts have a monetary incentive for finding men in these situations responsible: if the mother cannot afford to take care of the child on her own, then she must either turn to the father for child support or the state for aid. Before applying for aid for a child, a mother must report whether or not she is getting child support (in most cases) and if she isn’t, the court will (most likely) go after the father for money first, because if he is helping to support the child then the state may be let out of its monetary obligation. That means the court has a stake in the judgment. But this doesn’t mean that sometimes a court won’t screw a female parent over in child support cases, letting the potential paying parent off the hook often times in benefit of the man. It is just to show that in some instances the pendulum is on the other side, because courts are not an amorphous blob that is homogeneous in nature, just as colleges are not like that. Different cultures, different personal opinions are involved.
But I do feel like we are missing a vital element in law when it comes to abortion rights and the right to give a child up for adoption. If a state allows abortion, I believe that men should be allowed a “legal abortion” so to speak in the same time period (if he has been told by the woman that she is pregnant) that a woman is allowed an abortion wherein from his point of view, both financially and legally, he has not had a child. If he was never told, he should be allowed the same length of time after his notification to make the same decision. The same type of allowances should be given him for an “legal adoption”. Because if a woman is allowed to decide after intercourse what to do about a pregnancy and child, then a man should be given the same option. It may not be his body, but it is not just about a woman’s body but her whole life after the conception, so it isn’t “my body, my choice,” but “my life, my choice.” I doubt this would ever happen in my lifetime. As I stated above, the courts have an incentive to find men financially responsible for any child they may have fathered, so I doubt there would be much political support for such a thing. Some may argue that this is a way for “irresponsible/lazy” men to get out of paying child support, but it is also a way to protect Childfree men and raped men who under current laws are not as protected as Childfree women and female victims of rape (which sounds almost ludicrous but we don’t even think of women raping men as being an issue–it affects a small amount of men, but no means no for men too and just because they aren’t as high a number doesn’t mean their victimization is any less horrible). Many may say that Childfree men are just being jerks, but any one of any gender who doesn’t want to be a parent ever in their lifetime should be allowed the freedom to choose to not be a parent. Many women’s rights advocates would say that Childfree women have the right to access to those things that would help them maintain this life choice, abortion and sterilization, but I believe Childfree men have just as much right to live their lives as they wish.
Feminism, the Dirty Word
A lot of people don’t like this word. I’m one of them. It has nothing to do with the idea that feminists are man-hating or “don’t really believe in equality” despite the definition. I know the definition, and I know what the movement means in general and in many specific instances (there is a myriad of different types of feminism, not all of them pretty and some of them really good in the fight against gender inequality), but the word itself is what I have a problem with. Words, especially for movements, social issues, and political ideals, are like doors to ideas. The word, not the definition, not the movement, is exclusionary by nature. It’s a door that looks like it has a “No Men Allowed” sign posted to it. Men see it, hear it–some women see it, hear it–and think men are not a part of or automatically against the movement. The word promotes the idea that feminism is only for women’s rights and that it is a “gender war”. I’m not saying that’s the goal of the definition or the movement, but it is what the basis of the word itself which is feminine can present to people. While it doesn’t mean to, I think it can feel exclusionary, or make some people think they have the right to exclude. I believe there could be more inclusive words that would allow men (and women) to understand that gender equality is everyone’s right. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last one hundred years, and in that ground, we haven’t just shown that women are as valid as individuals as men, but we’ve also brought men and women closer together and fostered understanding between them. I think the time has come to stop separating us as people because both sides have a much clearer view of the other and the needs they face. “Picking sides” needs to put aside to continue the journey of ending gender inequality, because separating us into these groups to promote equality just seems like another subtle way to cause inequality.
Humanism, the Lazy Word
It has been suggested that calling oneself a humanist instead of a feminist ignores/diminishes the fact that women have it worse off than men. First off, I’m not sure sexism is so simple as that, which should be made obvious by the length of this post. I am worried, upset, and quite frankly pissed off by any sexism, racism, bigotry, or prejudice. It doesn’t matter who the victim is. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is. What matters is the act. What matters is the pain inflicted. I don’t care about the gender, the race, the demographic of either party, because what I care about is if one party did something hurtful to another party based on these things. If I base my caring on the labels of the two parties, I am still thinking in these same bigoted ways. The idea that I don’t care about a woman’s pain caused by sexism because I care about a man’s pain caused by sexism is fallacious. I can care about both of them. I do care about both of them. I believe that only caring about one group, based solely on their genetics or some other label that can be subject to bigotry, is still bigotry and diminishes the pain of other victims. I know not everyone agrees with me because they see a majority of pain inflicted one way, but I care about that pain too. I look at each instance, instead of trying to generalize all of them at once, to prevent a victim from being forgotten. That’s why I’m even talking about this. This word, humanist (sometimes also equalist), is accused of being a way to downplay the importance of sexism against women usually when men use it. I’m not sure one could appropriately accuse me of this as I am a woman and very, very, VERY angry when I see/hear about sexism against women. I’m just that same amount of angry at any injustice. I understand some people want to focus their energy on one issue to do the most good, but I really can’t do that. I have the same visceral reaction to every instance of prejudice or unfairness. Until we stop casting groups and labels as victim or villain, we will not move past bigotry. We will still be thinking in archaic ways. We will still be separating ourselves and saying one group matters more than another.
The Personal Side and My Stake in the Conversation
I’ve never considered myself a feminist. I don’t push my femininity as part of my identity either. I don’t consciously suppress it either. I like being what I am. I just don’t feel like running around shouting that I’m a woman (or the less metaphorical version of this). I have felt some sexism before, but I’ve felt more racism (mostly in early childhood), which some may find shocking or unbelievable considering what race I am. The sexism were little things, words not actions, that I brushed off, because I told myself that if someone is willing to be sexist to me than their opinion of who I am and their idea of my validity as a person does not matter. The sexism invalidates their opinion of me. So that sexism never brought me down. Somehow, not sure how it happened, I’ve always thought of myself as a person, then a writer. Those seem to be the labels I most identify with, which is weird I know. I love the unisex quality of my first name (which is not Alexis or Alexandrea, but just Alex which I wrote an essay on in high school). One would think that I am a “woman” first if anything at all, but I’ve never considered myself different based on my gender. I mean, a lot of people fall under that category, that to me means “not different”. I do consider myself to be weird though. I try to understand every side and imagine every scenario in every situation. I’ll try to understand someone who hates me, understand what motivates them, what happened in their childhood to make them the way they are. It’s a major reason why I write. I want to understand people who don’t even exist. I spend the majority of my time trying to think like everyone else, real, fictional, different, or similar. Mainly because people baffle me. What they do and say is so different than what I would expect, always. I think that’s great, but also a bridge I need to continuously cross to prevent my words or actions from causing harm.
What has seemed to define me more greatly than my gender has been my disability. It has eclipsed in my own defining of myself many other labels one may put on me because it is a part of every moment of my life. Not in a bad way. I do not consider myself a person of less value based on my disability. If it has affected me, which I believe it definitely has, it has all been to enrich my life. I am not ashamed of it. It has made me a better writer and thinker. Some may ask how this is possible as a disability means an inability to do something. Well, that’s complex. Because I had a certain learning avenue shut off to me, one most people in the US go down of phonics, I had to learn to think in different ways, ways most people are capable of but are not taught to use. This means one of the capabilities of thought I have in common with most people is stronger than average as it is used more often than the average person. This is another part of me that I like, so I guess I would say I am a person, then a writer, then learning disabled, because even as I write this I’m still having to think sideways to spell my words correctly and not confuse them for other words (not homonyms but more along the lines of “emphasizes” and “empathizes”; they look and sound almost exactly the same to me even though I know they are not).
But why do I care about injustices that have nothing to do with me? It isn’t because I think “What if that happened to the men in my life that I love?”, but because we should all care when horrible things happen to others. My stake is that I have a problem with injustice, with bigotry, with prejudice. My stake is that I don’t need personal benefits to care.
The Pain Bucket
There’s this weird idea about empathizing with other people that one can only care about those whose pain is considered “valid”. I’m not sure why. It’s like some higher power has a bucket filled with water representing pain and he/she ladles out the pain in varying amounts to different groups. The group with the most water has the most validity. The group with the least amount of water doesn’t matter at all. This is ludicrous. Every single person has an infinite amount of possible pain inside them, and it is all valid. One’s group/label and the prejudice against that group/label may be the cause of the pain, but that group/label is not what makes the pain valid. The existence of that pain makes it valid. The fact that it happened at all makes it valid.
Those that Have No Place in the Conversation
Sexist people. What I mean by this is those *expletives* who threaten rape and murder upon Emma Watson and those other feminists who are trying to fight sexism, all in an attempt to shut them up. I don’t think all these people are men. I think there are some women who also have sexism against women, which is sad. But I don’t believe men shouldn’t be invited to the conversation–that was, after all, Watson’s point in her speech: men should be part of it. Not sexists. They should be told to shut it. But people who don’t agree with feminists on all the issues should not be called sexist just because they don’t agree, nor should they be told to shut up, because within feminism there is disagreement (a Separatist Feminist may be at odds with a Liberal Feminist who may be at odds with the newly emerging Maverick Feminists). Not all types of feminism agree with each other, and not all feminists within even each type agree with each other. There is a conversation. Shutting up cogent counter arguments or points will not be helpful in getting rid of sexism, but these sexists who threaten Watson or belittle her message just enforce the idea that we, as feminists, as humanists, and as moral and ethical people, need to do something in first place.
Because It’s the Right Thing to Do
I loved that Watson recognized that men still face gender stereotypes and inequality, but I disagree with her argument that we as women should support their equality for the benefits it will give us as a gender. That is not why we should stand up for men’s equality. We should do it because all victimization is wrong, because all sexism is wrong, and standing up against injustice is the right thing to do. I also feel as though her argument ignored the victimization men can and do face at the hands of women. Those men in abusive relationships, wherein they are not the abusive party, are not being aggressive and their female aggressor is not being submissive; in fact, the opposite is true in these cases. I do not believe that all gender stereotypes against men result in gender inequality for women. Men are taught not to cry, not to be nurturing, not to be vulnerable, as Watson said, but I do not see how that perpetrates gender inequality for women. Women do have voices telling them it is okay to get angry, to be aggressive, to go for the hard career. Not every woman in the world can hear it, but every day the number of women who do goes up because those voices (bless them for it) won’t shut up. I do not hear the same voices telling men that non-stereotypical action for men is okay. I hear the opposite of the positive reinforcement that women get. Not all women get positive reinforcement for these things, but a lot (in the US and many other highly developed countries anyway) do. It’s in the news, it’s in our T.V. shows, it’s in our movies, it’s in our novels. The “girl power” prevalent in our recent Disney movies (Brave being the biggest one) is one such instance. Then there’s all of Joss Whedon’s work which promotes the strength women have naturally and the support of their right to be sexually active even in casual ways. The Harry Potter novels present one of the most complex, strong, intelligent female role models ever (I hated the change in the movie when Hermione cries after Malfoy calls her a Mudblood. I felt it undermined her character’s strength, though I loved that they had her punch Malfoy in the movie instead of slap him).The enforcement of traditional male roles are still present in abundance in those same sources. This is something we should all fighting against, because as human beings we have a responsibility to fight against injustice, not because it benefits our own lives, but because we should care that people are in pain.
Feel free to voice any disagreements , but do so without threatening or hurtful language or I will remove your comment. This includes trying to shame me or calling me a traitor to my sex: that is not productive language nor a counter argument.