Rape culture: How we all contribute and what we can do to change

Just a day before the Trump video was leaked, I read a boldly written piece on rape culture you can find here.

I shared the essay on my Facebook, knowing that most men  would not sit well with the text (for the purpose of this essay “men” will refer to cisgendered men).

As it turned out, only women liked it and few women at that.  It isn’t easy to read over and over “men ain’t shit.”  But, it’s important to realize the author is saying, “We ain’t shit when it comes to rape culture.”

I did not read that as a condemnation of men as human beings.  The friend who’d initially shared it is a man; I never got the feeling the author was saying that men have no worth.  He was specifically addressing the work that doesn’t get done when any of us think we’ve arrived at enlightenment.

None of us have arrived.  We need to keep arriving.  If we think we’ve already arrived we can no longer learn about what work we still need to do.

I had more men in my life favorably receive this article which importunes men to own their  responsibility as it pertains to participation in rape culture.

We all are aware that there are people who rape.  Our laws have called such action a crime and we have a system of justice to hold people accountable for the act of rape.

The term “rape culture” acknowledges that while rapists are responsible for their actions there may have been many people along the way who led each individual to believe that the rape was warranted and excusable.

Most women are raped by someone they know.  An acquaintance.  A neighbor.  A friend.  A boyfriend. A husband.  A doctor.  A coworker.  A mentor. A teacher.

I think one of the more frightening realizations is that sometimes the person raping may not even regard what they have done as rape.

Many women who’ve been raped have yet to come to terms with the idea that they were raped.  As a society, we’re so good at blaming women that women who have been raped continue to blame themselves, and excuse the rapist.

I’ve heard many men say, “Well, this woman doesn’t think it’s rape either,” as though that settles the matter.  But this ignores that the woman who defends the rapist  grew up in the same culture that told her women were to blame, as a rule.

Yes, women have also participated in rape culture.

The culture of rape is a system of stories we’ve be told and keep telling, again and again, to young girls and young boys. These stories are remnants of a past when women were literal property to be completely controlled by their fathers until they were given off to a husband who would continue that level of control.  Of course, that dynamic still exists in the world.

After millennia, narratives which supported the exploitation and abuse of women were maintained as truth regardless of the merit or contradictions within.  Those stories say things like:

Boys want sex all of the time.  Boys can’t control their behavior when it comes to sex, therefore, it is up to girls to keep their legs shut.  Boys can’t control their behavior so girls must wear modest clothing (“modest” will be different for each culture).  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.  Boys can’t control their behavior.

We needn’t have been instructed by our parents, either.  Words from peers, coaches, mentors, song lyrics, movies, TV shows, politician’s speeches- all may have elements which to reinforce the culture which tells us that rape, or groping, or harassment, is excusable for men because they have no control -so we must be in control.

A clear example of this are rapes which occur in the military.  Often it’s said “What did she expect?” and “That’s why we keep women out of the military.”  Reckon that justification with the reality that more than half of the sexual assault victims in the military are male.

The truth is that much of the motive behind sexual assault is a show of power and dominance.  The cover story in our narratives remains that men have no control over what they do because their sexual desire cannot be contained.

This narrative exists side-by-side with the narrative that boys are better suited for leadership because they are less emotional.  Western culture prizes the rational mind as superior and categorizes men as more rational, on the whole.

Emotions can be volatile things, I will agree.  In what sense does passion escape that same category of emotion?  Anger is an emotion, yet the culture allows that passion and anger are acceptable- even expected- traits among men.

Men are simultaneously granted the monopoly on mastery of one’s self as it pertains to the ability to execute in positions of authority (she’s too emotional to lead) while still getting monopoly’s “get out of jail free” (often literally) when we’re speaking of self-control as it pertains to sexual desire.

Men and women both have sexual desire though the level of desire varies within each gender.

We shame men who have little desire to the point that it’s not even discussed.  If not for the commercials for Viagra,  we might think a lack of desire in men was a myth.

Conversely, women are told that they don’t have sexual desire, particularly when compared with men.

The message in our narratives maintains that men are out of control of their own bodies when it comes to sex; they are ruled by their own desire. All in our society are taught that men can’t control their sexual impulses so it’s expected that they’ll verbally harass, leer, grope, cheat, sexually assault, or fully rape you.

Men are encouraged to pride themselves on control so when the control is lost, the blame is placed with the woman whose body caused his desire.  Again, many stories throughout time have reinforced that narrative while others merely reveal that the culture has encouraged men to use women as a scapegoat for their own lack of control.

Men have been excused of responsibility and, instead, the responsibility is placed on women. Your woman’s body is too attractive and too irresistible.  Really, your body made them do it.

What happens when we do encounter a woman with sexual desire?  She is immediately called names to let her know that she is a lowlife in society.  “Slut.” “Whore.” She is a lowlife for having the same desire as a man.  In some cultures, they cut out all of the areas of pleasure because of the fear they have over women’s desire.

No one seems to notice that this woman with desire wasn’t supposed to exist in the first place- after all it was the biological difference in men’s level of desire that was supposed to excuse men’s behavior.

If a woman has desire but isn’t harassing, isn’t groping- isn’t raping- we’d have to acknowledge that women exhibit more control over their own bodies than men do.

I do not feel that the level of control, or lack, is innate in any of us.  We have either been trained from an early age to self-police our desire, or to be libertine.

If a woman is verbally harassed on the street, or physically assaulted, someone will ask “Well, what was she wearing?”

If she was raped they’ll ask:

“Did she drink?”

“Has she had sex with many (or any) other men before?”

“What was she doing there?”

Women are trained that they must be the ones to cover up, stay sober, and not ever have sex (unless they are married in which case they have to always say “yes”).

Men can wear what they want.  Men can drink.  Men can have sex- in fact they are compulsive seekers of sex in our narratives.  We give men freedom to do all these things; they can be wherever they choose to be.

Men can have sex but they cannot get pregnant.  Men cannot get pregnant but they can brag about getting women pregnant and will not be shamed.

Women who have children from multiple partners will be shamed.  Women who choose to abort will be shamed.  Women who want the option to abort will be told that they cannot have control over their own body.

When pregnancy begins a man leaves some blue prints but the woman builds the fetus out of her own blood, her own cells, her own life.  It is a part of her body.  That is the entire concept of viability- the point at which a fetus can live separate from its creator.  Up until that point, the fetus is her body.

Men are not in control of their own bodies but are somehow allowed control over yours.

Whether we’re speaking about how society excuses sexual assault as “boys will be boys” or we’re letting the state tell women they can’t have an abortion, really we’re telling young girls and women- “Your body is not yours.”

If abortion were not at all about control of women’s bodies and sexuality, then those who wish to see fewer teen pregnancies and abortions would encourage us to nationally adopt the same strategy which has worked in Colorado.  There, the birth rate and abortion rates both fell nearly 50% in merely five year’s time.  It’s insincere to state that you are against abortion and fail to embrace such programs.

Men are not in control of their own bodies but are somehow allowed control over yours.

Trump’s words regarding his sexual assaults and his statements regarding punishing women for abortion continue to foster the environment which told the boys and men in our lives that our bodies existed for them.

We’re taking back our bodies for us.

Our bodies exist so we can breathe. Our bodies exist so we can learn.  Our bodies exist so we can experience, teach, love, dream, sing, and dance. Our bodies are not here for you.

Our bodies are our own.

Your eyes don’t have to be beautiful; they are here so you can see the sunrise, the trees, and faces of loved ones.

Your legs don’t have to look the way anyone else wants them to look; they’re here for you to walk and explore your world.

Did we even remember that women have minds? This seems lost in the narrative where women only exist to give sex or children to men.

Women’s bodies are not here so that men can experience them but so that women can experience the world.  That is the story we need to tell now.

We’re taking back our bodies for us.

Women: your body is your own.  Your body is your own. It’s here to serve you.  Your body exists for your edification, your enjoyment, your adventure, your teaching, your learning, your pleasure.

It’s insulting to men to suggest that they have no control over their own bodies – particularly to men who do exhibit control and don’t feel the need to speak every thought which pops into their head as though they were a child.

I would ask even of those men to remember that the purpose of a woman’s body is not to be beautiful for you, or even to be beautiful at all.

The purpose of her body is to serve her adventure and exploration of this life.  If you love the women in your life, please promote that narrative.

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Healing from the Past: Why Columbus has to go.

Staring up at the gorgeous statue of Christopher Columbus, I could only think one thing: When do we tear this shit down?

Today, much of the nation will “celebrate” Columbus Day.  I place that word in quotes because few Americans will think of the day beyond gratitude for a long weekend.

However, a growing number of us are fed up with celebrating a man who was no better than a lost pirate.  Cities and states across The U.S. are replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

It’s amusing that a Italian-Americans were a major force in pushing for this holiday given that Columbus worked for the Spanish.  I can understand why they felt the need at the time but I think it’s time to reconsider what was overlooked.

(TW: rape, violence, child abuse, sexual abuse)

Many historians still portray Columbus as a heroic and laudable figure and defend criticism of him by saying he was “A man of his times.”  This suggests that all others would have acted as barbarically as he did.  However, if we examine the reaction of his contemporaries, we can see that -even back then- many were horrified by his actions:

…he sent some 500 slaves to Queen Isabella. The queen was horrified–she believed that any people Columbus “discovered” were Spanish subjects who could not be enslaved–and she promptly and sternly returned the explorer’s gift.

In May 1498, Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic for the third time. He visited Trinidad and the South American mainland before returning to the ill-fated Hispaniola settlement, where the colonists had staged a bloody revolt against the Columbus brothers’ mismanagement and brutality. Conditions were so bad that Spanish authorities had to send a new governor to take over. Christopher Columbus was arrested and returned to Spain in chains.

I called Columbus a pirate for, even though he did not steal from ships, he lived a life of theft and violence.  He lived for his own greed and ego- murdering, raping, and enslaving as he went.  There is nothing here for us to celebrate; this is not anyone to admire.

We cannot heal our nation without acknowledging the past.  We’ve still yet to reconcile with the brutality of our origins.  As we tell these fairy tales of a hero, we hide a monster  whose actions helped to foster an environment of subjugation, rape, abuse, slavery, and murder.

One day this summer, I found myself at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. I’d been there many times but I’d not truly thought about the name of where I was until I crossed into the area where his statue is planted.

Staring up at the gorgeous statue of Columbus, I could only think one thing: When do we tear this shit down?   Though I did mean that I wanted to literally watch a wrecking ball smash Columbus, I also wanted it to be as simple to smash away all that we’ve devoted to his memory and what it means to us.

It was clear to me in that moment that the need for the  Black Lives Matter marches I’d been participating in were directly connected to maintaining these myths.

The myths prop up white supremacy with the lies of the noble intention of those who invaded.  There was never nobility.  It was a continuation of the Roman tradition of conquering.

We hold contrary views in these narratives:

  1. Our origins aren’t worse than anyone else’s (Other people have stolen land)
  2. Our origins are better than everyone else’s  (We believe in “freedom”)

We may believe in freedom but we have never extended freedom to all.  You may as well say “I love you” to someone you’re abusing.  Do the promises and words stop you from hurting if you’re being hit?

In individual families where there is abuse, the child who is abused covers for the abuser.  The rest of the family enables the abuse by going ignoring, or excusing, the abuse.

In my early 20s, I learned a friend of mine had been sexually abused by her father.  As far as I was aware, the abuse began during her teen years.  She would speak about her father as though he was the most amazing man who’d ever lived. She spoke of him heroically in ways I’d never even use to speak of my own Dad.

I remember thinking, “I know this man has abused you.”  At the time it puzzled and upset me.  I had no idea how much she had been manipulated to maintain that lie.

Years later, I found out that he’d actually started sexually abusing her as a young child.

When she was ready to acknowledge it, her family became angry with her.  By merely speaking the truth she was the one “destroying the family with lies.” The reality is she was destroying a lie with truth.

That is what we must do: Destroy lies, and myths, with truth.

Our nation cannot move forward and heal until the enablers are ready to acknowledge the abuse of the past and the harm it’s still causing to this day.  Wounds have not been healed.  The damage has never been tallied because it’s still occurring.

Every time we state that we must hold on to the noble dream of past villains we continue to harm the ones who were abused.  We’re gaslighting all of those in our population who’ve inherited the emotional scars of terror and death and who continue to face terror and death.

Imagine being told that this is your country while simultaneously being asked to celebrate the people who murdered your ancestors.

The enablers of the lying myth are fiercely invested in maintaining the lie of our “heroes” and of obscuring what the past really was.

When Bree Newsome took down the Confederate Flag, I saw people defend a flag with more passion than they’d ever defended the right to live of any person of color (so much for being “right to life”).  Some unfriended me when I stood in support of taking down the flag.  It’s a flag, not a person.

We face a time of reckoning with all of our past symbols, songs, and myths. Now is the time to ask ourselves if those lies and symbols matter more than actual living human beings?

Must we keep holding onto old things?

I loved watching the show “Clean House.”  They’d visit hoarders who were living in untenable situations because they were emotionally attached the the past as it was represented in objects they’d kept.

You can’t move forward while also holding onto the past.

It’s good to grow.  It’s good to move forward.  If we keep defending the past “heroes” with the caveat that “they were products of their times” can we then admit that the times were bad?  Can we finally put some distance to them?

I’ve loved the myth of America and the dream of a land where everyone is free and can live their dreams.  It sounds beautiful.  I wish for this place which never existed.  What is the exceptional quality of our freedom if it doesn’t exist for all?

Since Donald began his campaign, I’ve said that the answer to “Make America Great Again” is Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again.”

In the poem Hughes details all of the Americans who have been failed by the dream. Yet, Hughes states with hope at the end:

“America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath—America will be!”

I also would still love to see this country be that “America” I’ve heard about.  I want it to be  a land which lives up to the promise and the hype sold by it’s marketing team (marketing team=school books).

If we want to move closer to becoming a nation which respects all people, we must stop lying about the nobility of the wealthy white men who founded this country.

Thomas Jefferson was capable of writing about beautiful ideals but living up to them proved much more difficult.  He wrote extensively about the evils of slavery while never managing to free more than a handful out of hundreds of his own slaves.  Love his words?  Sure.  Admire the man?- problematic.

In truth, if we admire the words of Jefferson, we can find instruction which lends itself to this well needed demolition and recreation:

“whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”

We need to tear down the statue but we also need to tear down all the romanticism of the past.  These lies and myths pretend that genocide and slavery were not the foundation of this country’s “prosperity.”  In this instance, the quotes are to remind us that prosperity has always been reserved for only certain groups.

We can’t keep the name “Columbus Circle”.  When I started to think about all of the things we’ve named after Columbus  it’s rather daunting to think of replacing all of it but it’s vitally important that we do. Leaving them there allows us to continue the lie that he ever deserved such regard.

As a nation, we are only in control of those homages we created.  What new name can we use for  “District of Colombia?”  If you’re already feeling the resistance to this change remember- even old “New York” was once “New Amsterdam.”