So perhaps some of you out there have seen these signs around campus: “It’s Not Just A Women’s Issue.” These signs are designed to get men involved in the fight against sexual violence in our community. I know what you are probably already thinking: “I don’t rape so it doesn’t pertain to me.” But, unfortunately, not raping is not enough. I once thought the issue of sexual assault and rape had nothing to do with me. Now I know better. I know now that an estimated 350-500 sexual assaults occur each year in our community. I now know that in almost all of those cases, the survivor of the sexual assault knew the perpetrator. I know now that one in four college-aged women are survivors of rape or attempted rape. Imagine four women you care about. Now imagine that one of those women will be forcibly penetrated by someone they know – someone they consider a friend, an acquaintance, a boyfriend. And it is not just women: Men are survivors of sexual assault as well.
I came to realize there was something terribly wrong with this picture. Their friends are assaulting these women. Not by “crazy people” hiding in the bushes – though that isn’t to say that doesn’t happen – but in our community, it is apparent men who women consider to be friends, or acquaintances, are betraying that trust by forcing themselves upon them. I look at all the people I know, and I do not see anyone who “looks” like a “rapist.” All I see are men and women. And that is part of the problem. There is no real way to tell who is a rapist and who is not. We live in a culture in which it is normal and appropriate to dehumanize women – whether it is through language like “bitch,” or “whore,” to the way we treat women who are more sexually active than others. And for those doing the raping, it seems they are simply agreeing with Eazy-E: “ALL BITCHES AIN’T SHIT!”
Most men and women tell me they value and believe in equality between genders. But we still live and participate in a society dehumanizing women for things men get applauded for – men who have sex equal studs, women who have sex equal sluts. We portray women of color as exotic – the “hot-blooded” Latina, the “seductive Asian masseuse.” We sexualize underage girls/women – like you haven’t seen a “schoolgirl” party. We think the exploitation of women who are subordinate to men in the workplace is fun. CEOs and secretary hos, anyone?
While all of these things may seem minor, or inconsequential, they share a striking similarity. They each dehumanize women, devaluing their lives and their bodies. And this is what rapists feed off of. Why should a rapist care about consent when the person he is doing this to is “just another bitch?” All of these ideas and beliefs make it easy for some men to rape. I know most men are not rapists. But for some men, this environment we’re all guilty of creating, this message about women and their bodies, justifies their behavior. If we can change our society and reject this culture, we can take away the justification rapists use to rape.
This is my challenge to you, and the purpose of the signs. Get involved: Fight sexism and fight for gender equality. Speak out against those who blame the survivor for their experience. Speak out against sexism. Speak out against the objectification of women and the degrading language labeling them, basically, as female dogs. Hold perpetrators accountable. We can each do something – we are all a part of it. Ending sexual assault and rape in our community may not be easy, but it is not impossible. No social change happens overnight, and the fight against rape is no different. But you have the ability to begin that change right now. If you are interested or would like to discuss this issue more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.menagainstrape.org.