I felt like I went back in time this week. I was a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara during the post-Reagan, George H. W. Bush era in the late 80s and early 90s. Nearly 25 years later, UCSB is still fraught with the issues of violence and sexual assault we struggled with in 1990 and beyond. In 2014, there is more information, better data, bigger guns, more deadly violence and yet the same issues of sexual entitlement and misogyny remain. In fact, the misogyny might be worse.
During my time at USCB, President Bush Sr. and Congress were busy sledgehammering women’s right to choose by enacting parental consent laws, unnecessary and prohibitive waiting periods and other restrictions. These restrictions set in motion many of the huge barriers to safe abortions that we still face and fight against today. Meanwhile, our college sex lives existed within a new age of compulsory condom use. The free flowing sex of the 70s and early 80s was over. We were the first generation to come into our sexual agency with the reality of AIDS. “Sex=death” had begun.
A fire was flaring inside me that demanded agency over my own body and that violence against women, in general, had to stop.
An anonymous group of women started to take action on campus to raise awareness and challenge the community to do more to stop rape. They were vocal about what was happening to our reproductive rights. The Creative Underground Network of Truthful Sisters (aka The C.U.N.T.S.) took Isla Vista and UCSB by storm. The C.U.N.T.S. would dress all in black and wear black hoods, taking cues from the Israeli-founded anti-war activist group Women In Black. They showed up at “Little Sister Rush” and frat houses where women in the C.U.N.T.S. had actually been raped. They showed up to protest in the midst of the fraternity
fundraisers for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The protests were silent. C.U.N.T.S. would hold signs with messages, hand out flyers and stickers with a compelling, reticent presence.
It angered people. It incited action and debate. Dialogue.
It’s hard to believe, but there was no Internet yet. That made the Daily Nexus (which existed only in print) the centrifugal force of campus communication and information. Every other week a new dialogue raged on the pages of the Nexus Op Ed section as students battled over whether what the C.U.N.T.S. were doing was right. Much of the controversy focused on their tactics, e.g. spray painting messages intended to raise awareness about rape on the side of a fraternity house. But many wrote passionately about the issues the C.U.N.T.S. were calling to attention.
I worked at Morninglory Music in Isla Vista at the time, where I often overheard animated, sometimes angry conversations about the C.U.N.T.S. “Say what you want,” I’d sometimes interject when I’d had enough, “But the C.U.N.T.S. have already been successful: they have your attention. They have every student and faculty member on this campus talking about these issues. Whatever your critique is, the fact is that they have made you talk — and made you think.”
I was a young feminist coming into consciousness about gender inequities and power imbalance. I used my bandwidth on air at KCSB, the campus radio station, to be more political. I was a woman on fire with a mission to change the way we learn and experience sexuality and power. It was the beginning of my journey into the sexuality field.
The most common question I am asked when someone learns that I am a sexual empowerment coach is, “How did you get into that line of work?” UCSB was where it began for me. I could see how women’s sexual oppression and experiences of violence needed to change in a big way, in a watershed way. It took so much away from the women I knew.
The energy required to fend off unwanted attention, to report a rape that will rarely be prosecuted, to keep saying “no” until we are worn down, to try to dress in a way that might help us stay safe and unnoticed, to be on alert when walking alone, to get ourselves past all the barriers to care and get to the clinic in time, to fight to get things like the Violence Against Women Act passed, to get the restraining orders, to protect our children, and to heal from assault — that energy would fuel the entire world. Men rape women, using our bodies and sex as weapons to fight wars and to emasculate their enemies. Our wounds keep them in power while we are again focused on the work of healing and changing systems of patriarchy that continue to oppress us around the world.
Right now there are hundreds of girls still missing in Nigeria because of their pursuit of their birthright to education. This is a barbaric act of misogyny designed to keep these women where they are, and to keep us all scared. Last month in Connecticut, a high school girl was murdered in her school stairwell after turning down a boy who asked her to go to junior prom. And in idyllic Santa Barbara, a young man with a dream to annihilate an entire sorority house killed six and injured 13 because he didn’t get the sex from those he felt entitled to.
All of these issues are part of a worldwide misogyny that denies women human rights, agency over our sexuality and bodies and the energy that we need to self-actualize our dreams. They are part of a misogyny that defines women as less valuable than men are — it defines sexual access to women as a privilege of maleness and an unequivocal expression of masculinity. Women are still treated as property, as weapons of war, as bargaining chips and as trophies by men.
Women are outpacing men in education. Women are claiming our sexuality. Women are making more money. Women are (still) demanding birth control and access to abortion. Women are speaking out. Women are starting movements. Women are fighting back.
Women are standing together, and it is only as men stand with us that we will finish these seemingly endless battles. No oppressed people overcome systemic oppression without members of those in power and privilege standing with them and working for change.
I call on men to join this battle. It’s the same battle that keeps men’s emotional vocabulary limited to anger and punishes them for tenderness. It’s the same system that creates such a limited idea of what men can be that when they don’t fit the “alpha male” avatar, they implode. It’s the same one that teaches men that their limited choices for acting out their masculinity are sexual conquest or violence. It’s the same one that teaches men they are entitled to women and that if women are giving sex, they should always take it, always be ready for it and always want it. Gender oppression directly impacts us all.
Changing cultural norms is no small task. All forms of violence can be traced back to traditional gender roles, which create a larger system of patriarchy that limit men’s emotional agency and women’s freedom, safety and political power. Every single one: War. Sexual Assault. Domestic Violence. Hate Crimes. Gay Bashing. Street harassment. Genocide. Annihilation. But until we broaden ideas of what it is to “be a man” and change what women can do, say or choose, we will continue to be plagued by these massive problems. Guns or no guns, men who think they are entitled to women’s bodies, sexuality and affection will continue to act violently towards women — and, themselves. Traditional gender norms harm us all.
It is with both deep sadness and tremendous hope that I have engaged in dialogue about these complex issues this week. I was challenged on Twitter for participating in the “YesAllWomen hashtag because it allegedly gives more power to a man who murdered for infamy. I liken #YesAllWomen to the C.U.N.T.S. and see what just happened in Isla Vista as yet another catalyst for dialogue about men’s sexual entitlement and women’s sexual vulnerability, new awareness about how toxic ideas of masculinity hurt us all and an opportunity to break new ground on a long-overdue and sorely needed healing of sexuality.
For the truly sexually empowered, there is no sexual entitlement. There is only sexual responsibility and agency. That sexual agency cannot impede another person’s agency, for then it becomes control, manipulation and violence. No one owes anybody else anything sexually — not the person you are on a date with, the one who doesn’t want to go on a date or the one you’ve been married to for 20 years. I envision a world where all people are sexually empowered in their bodies and desires, expressing their sexuality from a locus of self-knowledge, with total agency over their choices. Sexual empowerment is needed for all of us now. We must address gender and sexuality maturely and men must raise their voices with us so we can all heal.
Amy Jo Goddard is a Sexual Empowerment Coach and UCSB aluma who has taught courses at UCSB as a visiting instructor.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students