Shifting the Center: My Dad’s Simple Condemnation of Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual violence and rape culture
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My dad is a wonderful man – kind and quiet and thoughtful and generous. I can say with confidence that in many ways, I am the man I am because of my father.

When I was a teenager, he gave me an uncomfortable number of sex talks – he saw it as his duty as a physician papa to talk about STIs, condoms, waiting until marriage, etc. Years later, though, as we were sitting together in the mountains of Colorado, I asked him about something that was never mentioned in any of those uncomfortable conversations.

“Dad, in all of those times you talked to me about sex, why did we never talk about consent?”

He thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I assumed it was a given.”

A given.

God, how I wish that consent was a given, something we didn’t need to talk explicitly with young people about. How I wish we lived in a culture of consent where we breathed in consent and respect and accountability in the way that we presently do rape culture.

But we don’t live in that world. As some people come into clearer awareness about sexual violence by hearing of the lenient sentence given a White rapist from Stanford University and through reading the statement from the survivor of that attack, we see once again the ways that our systems bend over backward to protect rapists (particularly White rapists).

But rape culture is about more than a single viral incidence of violence.

Rape culture is evident in the startling fact that every single one of us knows multiple survivors of sexual violence, yet so often we don’t know that we know survivors.

Rape culture is evident in the truth that just as many of us know perpetrators of sexual violence, perpetrators who will never be held accountable in any way.

But this short post isn’t meant to be about rape culture. This post is meant to be about the ways we can shift those around us to speak out, to act, to work to end sexual violence.

I don’t think I have had another conversation with my dad about sexual violence since that short talk about consent many years ago. I have tried; it just never went anywhere. But I realized this morning that even when we weren’t talking, he was listening.

Last night, my dad sent me this email:

Hi
Should be in bed at 1145 but became pulled and wanted to read the whole article about the Stanford student written by Lindsey Bever in the Washington Post. Definitely  a reading that shows the pain and struggles of sexual assault. She will never be he same but is trying to make that journey back to some normalcy in her life. Very touching. I have a hard time reading a lot of your posts on Facebook but can really appreciate your passion. Sex always has to be  consensual and if one is impaired one cannot give consent.
Take care Jamie.
Love Dad

His email is simple. It’s not a nuanced condemnation of heteronormative patriarchal violence or a stirring call to action for all men.

And yet I sit here in tears. Because it’s my dad.

And my dad spoke out to condemn sexual violence and to remind me that “sex always has to be consensual.” And my dad did so in the context of the Stanford rapist’s father defending his son in such a public and disgusting manner.

That means more to me than I can ever tell him or ever hope to convey here to my readers.

And his words are a reminder that the center is shifting – more and more men are realizing our responsibility to act, to change ourselves and the ways we view the world, which will in turn change our relationships and our communities.

And as I reflect upon this shift, I am forever grateful to those who lead the movement to force a shift, a movement led primarily by cis-women, Transgender people of all identities, and Gender Non-Conforming people, a movement led by survivors and their allies.

The work is far from finished, but this morning I feel just a little bit more hope than I did yesterday.

And I feel thankful to my dad.

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[Video] The 7 A’s of Hooking Up

Some of y’all might remember that back in the fall, a Phi Kappa Tau fraternity brother from Georgia Tech made national headlines when he sent the rapiest email ever to his frat email list.  Entitled “Luring Your Rapebait,” the email listed off the “7 E’s of Hooking Up.”  If you want to read them, you can here, but I’d advise against it, as it’s pretty damn misogynist and degrading toward women.

In response, I wrote a piece for the Good Men Project that called the dude in to consider the implications of his email while putting forward the “7 A’s of Hooking Up.”  Eventually the Huffington Post even picked up the piece and ran with it.

Wel,l when I was in New York City last fall, the incredible Fivel Rothberg (who I profiled in my 7 Men Who are Transforming Masculinity piece) and Martyna Starosta had the idea to film a short piece about the 7 A’s of Hooking Up, so working with their colleague Abe Vazquez, they shot and edited an amazing little video about consent!  Check it out!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments!  I tried to parallel my 7 A’s with dude’s 7 E’s, but in doing so, it surely left out a few aspects of consent.  What would you add?

The Top 10 of 2013: Change From Within’s Year in Review

Happy New Year!

2013 was a transformative year for me and my writing.  My business and my blogging have changed and grown a lot in the last 12 months.  In a lot of ways, my writing here at Change From Within has taken a back seat to my writing for larger platforms, namely Everyday Feminism and The Good Men Project, which has been cool to see. As is my yearly tradition, it’s time to reflect on my writing of the past year and highlight those pieces that were most widely-read.

Over at Everyday Feminism, three of my pieces really stood out in terms of reception and hits:

‘That’s Racist Against White People’ A Discussion on Power and Privilege was by far my most popular piece of 2013 at EF with more than 80,000 hits.

Also worthy of mention from my Everyday Feminism writing in 2013 are Intent vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter and So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know.

At The Good Men Project, I had a few different pieces go bananas in 2013.

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21“, a piece I co-wrote with Alyssa Royse, Julie Gillis, and Joanna Schroeder, was by far my most-read contribution of 2013 with more than 1 million hits on numerous platforms.

My Open Letter to the Rapey Frat Brother and the ‘How to Get Laid’ Generation also was widely read, getting picked up by the Huffington Post.

Change From Within’s Top 10 Articles of 2013

Over here at Change From Within, the posts that were most read speak to the changes in my own work.  More and more, I have tried to highlight the writing and perspectives of the amazing people in my community, and that’s reflected in the most-read articles of the year.  4 of the top 10 articles of 2013 were composed by friends and mentors!

Without further ado, here are the top posts from Change From Within in 2013:

10. Shaking Off the “Harlem Shake” Meme – Tools for Resisting Cultural Appropriation

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After “Racism, Appropriation, and the Harlem Shake” (coming in at #2 below), lots of readers were asking questions like, “So what are we supposed to do?  How do we actually resist cultural appropriation?”  In response, I wrote out a list of simple actions that we can all take to resist cultural appropriation around us.

9.  Standing Up to Racial and Religious Profiling

Kadra Abdi

After being racially and religiously profiled by the TSA in June of 2013, my dear friend Kadra Abdi wrote this powerful call to action with ways that we all can stand up to racial and religious profiling.  Her compelling story challenges us to think critically about our own judgments and how we can be part of the solution to this pressing problem.

8.  Rethinking Lisak & Miller: Checking the Math

After much criticism for my piece entitled “Preventing Sexual Violence – Rethinking Lisak & Miller,” I wrote a piece that tackled some of the math being used in criticizing my reconsideration of the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller research.  My friend Rida helped me run some mathematical scenarios that rethink the “predator theory” for who exactly we should be focusing on in our work to prevent sexual violence.

7.  Coming Out of the Woods: On Hugo Schwyzer and Accountability

In August, Hugo Schwyzer, a man who I have defended in the past, showed everyone who he truly is: a misogynistic, racist fraud.  In turn, I owed a lot of people apologies for my defense of this indefensible man.  Here is the public version of that apology.

6. 33+ Suggestions for Action After the Zimmerman Verdict

Justice for Trayvon MartinFor me, like many people, the “not-guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was devastating.  It wasn’t particularly surprising, but it was devastating emotionally and in its wider implications.  Thus, I was incredibly thankful when my friend and mentor Daniel Escalante emailed me with a list of suggestions for action that he (and others) put together. Now, a few months after the verdict, it is good for me to revisit these suggestions and recommit to action in 2014.  I encourage you to do the same.

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An Open Letter to the Rapey Frat Brother and the “How to Get Laid” Generation

I published this piece over at the Good Men Project this week, and it’s been blowing up!  Since then, it’s been republished at the Huffington Post, and I have recorded a CNN iReport on the subject that’s had almost 40,000 views.  Plus, HLN’s Raising America asked me to record another video!

It’s incredibly exciting to see this message of consent and sex positive relationships getting so much positive attention.

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My brother,

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sure you deserve it, and a lot of people are going to give me hell for it, but I’m going to try. Because when you wrote the email “Luring your Rapebait” to your Georgia Tech fraternity brothers at ΦKT, you touched on something much bigger than yourself.

You touched on a problem we see in masculinity and party culture on every single college campus.

It’s ironic. In the email you expressed the exact cognitive dissonance that I see with college men I work with all over the United States: You explicitly said, “NO RAPING.” Yet everything you described encourages rape!

So it makes me wonder: Have we sent you that many messed up messages about sex, consent, rape, “blurred lines,” partying, and alcohol that you don’t actually know what is and isn’t rape?  

Have we, as the men in your life, taught you that many terrible messages about masculinity that you honestly think this is how men are supposed to act in order to get laid?

Have we sent you that many messed up messages about your own self worth and the personhood of women that you think it’s actually normal and acceptable to refer to women as rapebait (or any other terrible, objectifying term) when you think you’re only talking to your brothers?

If the answer to any of these questions could even possibly be a “yes”, then I have a responsibility as your brother to offer you some perspective.

Again, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, and despite what your letter tells me, I am going to assume that you don’t actually want to rape anyone – if not because you value the personhood and autonomy of your sexual partners then because you don’t want to be expelled, go to jail, and register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

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So let me throw out an absolutely crazy idea: if you actually want to “get laid,” and you want your sex to be inany way better than a sloppy drunk encounter that may actually be sexually assault, forget about your 7 E’s of Hooking Up.

Instead, consider the 7 A’s of Hooking Up:

  1. Ask – See someone at the party that you’re interested in?  Ask her a bit about herself (or him about himself – no need for heteronormativity here, but I will use the female pronoun since your letter seemed pretty focused on female “rapebait”).  Get to know her a bit.  And do so genuinely.  I promise – should your night end with a hookup, your sex will be a hell of a lot better if you’ve talked and felt out the chemistry.
  2. Ask – Ask your newfound friend if they’d like to come with you to go get a drink.  Don’t offer to get a drink for her, as there are some really messed up people out there (of which you’re not one, right?) who would drop something in someone’s drink. If she doesn’t want a drink, no need for “aww, that’s no fun” – sometimes sober sex is the best sex.
  3. Ask – Ask her if she’d like to dance.  If she doesn’t, see if she’d like to play a game like bags or just hang out and talk some more. If she does want to dance, don’t do that creepy “rub your penis against their ass” b.s. that you described. I promise that showing off your ability to actually dance is going to a lot further in impressing her than grinding against her like a dog in heat. Then, if you want to grind a bit,ask!  A simple, “Is this alright?” can suffice.  Also, don’t just run your hands all over her body without her permission. Check in. I promise, asking is sexy.
  4. Ask – As the night progresses, if you have some chemistry and are getting along, ask her if she’d be interested in leaving with you. If she’s not, respect that. If she is, great! Just don’t assume that means you’re getting laid.
  5. Ask Ask where she’d like to go – her place? Your place? Out on a date another time when you’re both more sober and can appreciate each other’s company a bit more?
  6. Ask – If it looks like you might hook up, make sure you check in along the way. Ask if you can kiss her. Ask if you can remove your clothing or hers. Ask.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Consent doesn’t have to be plastic and boring. The single sexiest question someone can be asked is, “Tell me what you want.”  Not sure how to make asking sexy? Check out this article.
  7. Ask – So you’ve hooked up.  Maybe that means you just made out all night.  Maybe you had oral or you “went all the way” (whatever that means). Rather than being a creep (“Expunge, send them out of your room and on their way out when you are finished”), consider this: Sex gets better over time with every single partner. The more you know each other’s bodies, the more you and your partner will know what will make for mind-blowing pleasure. Ask what they’d like in the future. Be honest, and let her be honest. Not really feeling something long-term? Say so. Really like her and want to pursue a relationship or at least a date or two? Communicate that. And respect what she wants.

Follow the 7 A’s of Hooking Up, and I promise your sex will be better and you and your partner will have a much better night. Oh, and you won’t rape anyone.

One last thing. If you’re interested in throwing parties where every person has an amazing time, where those who want to hook up can meet someone, and where sexual violence is not the end result, let’s have a conversation about sex-positive party culture.

I want to see you and all of my brothers and sisters have the kind of amazing, mind-blowing, sex positive experiences that are possible if we leave behind this toxic, rapebait bullshit.

In Sex Positivity,

Jamie

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21

I’m really proud of this week’s post, though most of the credit needs to go to the other three authors on the piece who worked hard to put it together and include my perspective while I was on a busy speaking tour in South Dakota.

Originally published at The Good Men Project:

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A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

Sincerely,

Julie Gills, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

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For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.”

If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”

Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see.

Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!”

Praise your child for assisting others who need help.

Read the rest of the piece at The Good Men Project.

CFW’s 2012 Year in Review

2012 was a big year of blogging for me.  I branched out in my publishing by partnering with a few amazing blogs, and my readership has grown tremendously.  In 2012, Change From Within had approximately 59,000 page views, and the blog had 59 new posts, some short and (hopefully) pithy, and some long and more complex.

There were a few posts from years past that continue to garner huge views on the blog.  In case you missed those, check them out!

Redskins, Sambos, and Whities: Racism in Sports Mascots
Speak American: Multilingualism and the English-Only Movement
It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music

As we head into 2013, though, it’s time to take stock of the 10 most widely-read pieces of 2012 in case you missed any the first time around.

love-is-a-verb-300x25910.  In October, I had the incredible pleasure of serving as the officiant of my close friend’s wedding.  After the wedding, I posted the message I shared at the wedding.  Coming in at number 10 is that message, Love: Endlessly Selfless and Powerfully Selfish.

alonzoashley9. Unfortunately, my former home of Denver, CO has a serious problem with police brutality.  In July, I attended a rally against police brutality that commemorated the death of Alonzo Ashley, a young Black man who was killed by police at the Denver Zoo.  The piece that came afterward encouraged White people to begin to consider the ways that our relationships with police (on the whole) are vastly different from the relationships of communities of Color.  Coming in at number 9 is Talking Privilege: Waking White People Up to Police Brutality.

FL Tray George Zimmerman smiling 2012 3-238. One of the more important stories of 2012 was the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman.  In my piece entitled I am George Zimmerman, I encouraged White folks to understand the ways that everyone who is socialized in our system of White Supremacy is taught to see Black men of any age as the dangerous other.  If we want to prevent future murders like that of Trayvon Martin (or Jordan Russell Davis), we have to understand the ways that each of us are trained to fear Black men, and then we must work to uproot that socialization.

Chick-fil-A-logo7. Sometimes I just have to rant a little, which is what the piece that comes in at number 7 felt like.  After their CEO spouted virulently anti-gay hate speech, activists targeted Chick-fil-a for boycotts and protests.  Those on the right claimed that such activists were attacking his freedom of speech.  In Chick-fil-a: Censorship or Freedom of Speech?, I lay out just how silly that argument actually is.

IMG_0046-203x3006. One of the best ways to share intimacy with your partner, whether this is a long-time partner or a short-term hook up, is to take steps to ensure that your sexual relationship is healthy and driven by sexy consent.  One way to do that is through a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.  My Valentines’s piece laid out just how to use one to ensure your sex is healthy, fun, and fulfilling.  Coming in at number 6 is, This Valentine’s Day Try a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.

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Want the Best Sex of Your Life? Just Ask!!

Originally published at The Good Men Project.

“Sex just isn’t fun any more.”

“What!?” I exclaimed.

“I dunno. I just feel like its gotten to the point where if I want to sleep with someone, I should get a notarized, written statement of their consent. It’s just gotten crazy!”

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I cannot tell you how many times I have had this conversation. As a sexual violence prevention educator, one thing is very clear to me: we suck at talking about sex.

I mean, for most of us, our only real models for learning about sexual communication are porn and television. Yet sex is a huge part of most people’s lives. Many of us learn along the way (usually from a patient partner) how to communicate well in sex, but with as many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime, it’s clear we need to completely revamp how we talk about sex.

When I was a teenager, I probably had 10 wildly embarrassing sex talks with my dad. They basically went like this:

“Jamie, being Catholic, we would obviously prefer that you wait until marriage. But as an OB and family physician, I know all too well the consequences of sex outside of marriage, so if you’re going to have sex, please be safe. If you need me to buy you condoms, I will. Just be careful.”

That’s it. About ten years after my first chat with my dad, I asked him, “In all of those awkward sex talks we had, why didn’t we ever talk about consent?”

His response? “I guess I didn’t think of it.” Nowhere was there even a hint that consent is an important part of sex. And certainly not the idea that we should be equally or more intentional about than traditional understandings of “safer sex.”

But I don’t blame my dad. No one ever taught him how to have that conversation.

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In her treatise on love and relationships, All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks notes,

Our nation is…driven by sexual obsession. There is no aspect of sexuality that is not studied, talked about, or demonstrated. How-to classes exist for every dimension of sexuality, even masturbation. Yet schools for love do not exist. Everyone assumes that we will know how to love instinctively (xxviii).

Her remarks about love are dead on, but despite the robust conversation about sex in the United States, there is one area of sexuality for which there are still too few schools: consent.

Too often, the conversation about consent (if it happens at all) goes like this:

Women , make sure you communicate what you want with a simple “Yes” or a “No.” If he doesn’t respect that, kick him in the balls.

Men, listen to what women tell you. No Means No!

While well-intentioned, thinking about consent in this way frankly sucks. First, it presumes heterosexuality (because sexual violence never happens in Queer relationships, right?). It also presumes that the only people that need to communicate their needs and desires are women and that women are the only people who might experience unwanted sexual advances or contact. It says little of asking, only of listening. It assumes the only answers are yes and no. Plus, it’s BLAND and it’s BORING!

And when something so important to our sexual relationships is only taught in bland, boring ways, is it any wonder that the rates of sexual violence are so damn high?

I mean, the vast majority of sexual violence happens between two people who know each other, often between people who have or have had a sexual relationship. Sexual violence is not exclusively a problem of serial-rapists, roofied drinks, or someone jumping out of the bushes—though those things happen and must be addressed. Many of those committing sexual violence don’t set out or intend to commit the act, and many are so out of communication with their partner that they don’t even realize they’ve done anything wrong!

Clearly, sexual violence is a problem of communication.

If we hope to prevent the sexual violence that affects so many of those we love, we have to change the conversation. While consent should be about preventing sexual violence, it is about so much more. It is also about creating healthy, fulfilling sexual relationships!

I want my consent to be fun, freaky, sexy, silly, seductive, creative, captivating! I want it all, and I want it healthy and mutual! What’s wonderful, though, is that it can be ALL of these things and more. Studies have shown that healthy, open communication leads to better sex. And who doesn’t want better sex?

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