By now you have seen the hundreds of blue shirts lining the bike paths. By now you have been to a workshop, listened to a speaker or “guessed the rapist.” By now you have talked to a peer educator about sexual violence. By now you have worn and you understand your own blue shirt. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, by now you realize that you are affected by rape, sexual violence and rape culture.
You realize that one in four women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time that she graduates from college and you realize that men are also survivors of sexual violence. As a man you realize that a woman might be afraid of you because she cannot tell the difference between a man who is safe and a man who is dangerous. You realize that you live in a society in which sexism is celebrated on MTV. You realize that you live in a culture where rape is allowed to happen.
So, now what do you do? What part can you play in ending sexual violence?
Start small. Think about the language that you use. The next time that you hear a friend call someone a slut, ho, skank or whore, recognize that these words punish women who engage in consensual sex and contribute to an overall culture of sexism. Ask her to choose a new word. The next time that you hear a communication professor use the word pussy, recognize that he is comparing something that he sees as weak to a woman and is perpetuating the belief that women are weaker than men. Call him on it. The next time that you hear someone make a joke about rape, ask him to think deeply about what exactly he is laughing at. Make these changes in your own vocabulary as well.
Think about how rape survivors are treated. If someone tells you that she has been sexually assaulted, always believe and never blame her. Give her the opportunity to tell her story, but never ask questions like, “What were you drinking?” or “What were you doing in his room?” because questions like these blame survivors for actions committed against them. Give her support, but never tell her what to do.
Talk to people about sexual violence. Talk about sexual violence in general. The problem of sexual assault is never going to be solved if people do not talk openly about it.
Go bigger. Educate yourself and others about the definitions of sexual assault and consent. Recognize the myths that surround sexual violence. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper when you see injustice and inequality in your community. Turn off MTV. Read books and articles about violence against women, recommend them to friends and loved ones – my favorites include I Never Called it Rape, by Robin Warshaw and Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, by Peggy Sanday. Stop “rating” and yelling at women outside Sam’s To Go and from your DP balconies. Call Mark Batalla on the sexist cartoons that he draws and allows in the Nexus. Take a Women’s Studies class, hell, take several Women’s Studies classes. Vote for politicians who include ending violence against women in their platforms and hold these politicians accountable to their promises. Imagine new ways to end sexual violence and share these ideas with others.
Recognize the interconnections of oppressions. Know that, as Audre Lorde says, we cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. Understand that ending sexual violence means ending sexism, racism, heterosexism, ablism, agism and all of the other inequalities that exist in our world.
Realize that there are people who want to work with you on this issue. Join Students Stopping Rape, Men Against Rape, Take Back the Night, WETT, or one of the other groups on campus that work to eradicate sexual violence. Call the Women’s Center at 893-3778 for more information.
Understand that “yes” means “yes” and everything else means “no.” If you are unsure, ask. If you are still unsure, stop.
Katie Mahon is a junior communication and sociology major and a co-coordinator for Students Stopping Rape.