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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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cosby

On Cosby, Rape Culture, and Accountability: Change Is My Responsibility

anacronAnacron is a singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist with two decades professional experience in the recording industry. When he’s not performing on tour or delivering University-level music business lectures, he’s an experiential educator in his hometown of Los Angeles, specializing in facilitating progressions for team building and leadership programming. http://anacron.LA

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TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE

A few days ago, several of my closest homies and I were conversing and clowning as we typically do, delving through discussion of recent news and happenings as it relates to and affects us; a group of almost-young, artistic, educated, cultured, and employed Black-American men.

After an in-depth and deeply involved interaction on the unsurprising indictment dismissals for police that murder men like us, we then tap-danced hurriedly through a brief discussion around the other “hot button” issue concerning and creating an uninvited and often counter-productive buzz around people of Color in the media right now.
cosbyWe hit the topic with vigor, via the naturally obvious segue of differential treatment and judgement from both media and public. We noted that as with those lost indictment opportunities, blatant racism was an obvious source for the unfair treatment of, and response to allegations made against, the popular Black figurehead at the center of this traveling media circus.  We spoke, of course, of the Bill Cosby rape scandal.

Back In The Day

I grew up in a Black middle-class home during the 80’s. My father was a superstar sociologist at one of the top universities in the country, while my mother was the director of public health for an entire city, inciting progress in leaps and bounds. I had two beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic sisters, and I was the artsy and outgoing baby of our socially atypical Black family.

For all intents and purposes, we were the real-life Huxtables, a fact that many of my friends from single parent homes would jokingly poke fun at by calling my mom “Claire” at any chance they could. My experience, in many ways, brought me much closer than the casual viewer to the Huxtable family and their clever, funny-face making father.

Maybe it was the nostalgic memories of this reality that prompted my own initial and immediate “yeah, right” upon hearing about the resurfacing and new accusations of rape made against Bill Cosby. Maybe it was the image of a frozen-treat loving funny guy that had been established and developed over the course of 5 decades that sparked insensitive comments like “those chicks weren’t even cute” from voices in conversation with my pals.

Maybe it was the impending media-wide attack on one of Hollywood’s limited representations of intelligent and successful Black men that cued the colorful conspiracy theory one of my buddies offered up, which was too far-fetched for me to even consider. Maybe.

Then again, maybe it was something more, something rooted in the rape culture deeply ingrained into the American society that I am regularly, regrettably, influenced by and contributing to.

Not more than several days following that inappropriately humorous group chat, something caught my eye while surfing the web. Beverly Johnson’s first-hand account of her encounter with Cosby had apparently become the rage of the day, and suddenly I was interested. Why in the world would this successful celebrity, someone who had nothing to gain by becoming a part of this media whirlwind, forgo her privacy at risk of judgment and scrutiny?

I stopped everything and took the time to read her account, linking through accordingly to a related article detailing Janice Dickinson’s similar brush with Bill. I marveled at the fact that these women, with whom I was only connected through their appearances as guest judges on America’s Next Top Model, had instantly validated the collective attempted/completed rape claims for me.

A Shared Moment of Shame

It took no more that a moment to realize that I’d just participated in something that I generally pride myself on being well removed from: the great American pastime of succumbing to celebrity influence. A spark of clarity flashed somewhere in my mind, and I regrettably recognized that I’d also leaned into something far worse; the pattern of dismissal, disbelief, and victim-blaming that perpetuate and enable the cycle of rape culture that exists in our society.

As any well-behaved and civilized social networker would do, I promptly emblazoned my artist pages with this moment of self-critique, in hopes that it might cue similar realization for others:

Not sure what to say about this #BillCosby drama… Other than I’m terribly ashamed I didn’t pay attention and doubted there was any validity to any of the stories until “relevant” or “familiar” celebrities like Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson got involved. How embarrassingly pathetic and terribly pop-culture-consumer-American of me.

It sucks to come to an internal realization that my own reaction to these accusations mirrors the typical response that most abuse victims face; “whatever,” “you’re just looking for attention,” or “she’s just making it up.” Normally, I speak out against this type of persecution and vilification of a potential victim; but today, it’s been both confusing and disappointing to find myself falling into the exact same pattern of behavior that not only perpetuates, but enables the rape culture that exists within our modern society.

This has been for me what my good friend & amazing experiential education facilitator Michelle would refer to as a “learning opportunity”, and I’m only sharing in hopes that my own experience might serve as such for others as well.

When Rape Hits Close To Home

Only a couple days after this moment of introspection, I became absolutely infuriated as one of my closest, strongest female friends revealed to me that she had recently been raped. It was painfully obvious through our discussion that the emotional and psychological scars left behind from her horrifying experience with a man she was dating, a man she had trusted, were rightfully still very fresh.

As the society defined and assigned “Man” in me wanted to vindicate her, seek revenge, be the aggressor and protector; I found myself almost on autopilot, asking why she hadn’t told me about it sooner. The reasoning in her answer, much like my ultimately unimportant question, was almost textbook in relation to the patterns that we’ve established as a norm in our society when dealing with rape.

She was afraid. She was confused. She blamed herself. She didn’t want to create a “scene” in the circle to which she and this predator both belonged. All of these things that had seemed so unrealistic when expressed by complete strangers in regards to a rich and famous man became autonomously valid when coming from a directly valued and loved personal connection.

My experiences and relationships have inserted a constant state of hypocrisy into my life, an ongoing internal battle to find balance between right and wrong, fair or unjust. My parents raised me to be respectful and understanding towards women, no matter what. The hip hop and gang cultures that I chose to be a part of while growing up taught me that it’s okay to disregard and dehumanize women.

As my daughter has matured, I’ve become increasingly aware of and intent on changing the messages regarding women that I convey through my own music. I’m a man that can admit to having objectified, womanized, disrespected, and otherwise abused the rights and liberties of women. I’m the son, brother, father, and friend that desperately hopes the women in my life will never have and/or have had to experience what those at the center of the Cosby saga have been challenged to endure, both at the hands of a predator and the public.

Ending Rape Culture is Up to Me

I’m not proud of the ways I’ve mistreated women and overlooked their rights over the course of my life, nor do I seek to justify my actions by rattling off a list of societal and environmental influences as to why I’ve made the choices to do so. At the same time, I refuse to beat myself up for my transgressions against the fair and just treatment of women, because I don’t see that as either constructive or productive.

The question then, is simple: How do I become more understanding of and empathetic to the experience of female rape victims?

How will I help to write the guidelines that lead current and future generations of men and boys to dispel the stigmas associated with rape survivors and victims?

How can I, a man, proactively fight the patterns that normalize misogynistic practices and desensitize all of us to the horror and severity of rape?

The notion of even asking these questions aloud makes me scoff, reminding me too much of the ironic absurdity behind a White liberal asking Blacks what they can do to help fight racism.

I believe that as with many of the major changes that need to happen in our modern society, the change needs to begin within each individual. It has nothing to do with creating awareness, blogging, posting, sharing, or tweeting. It has nothing to do with protesting, fighting, marching, or inciting revolutions.

I Am A Work In Progress

Sometimes the answer is as simple as saying, “I am responsible for ME.” I don’t identify myself as a male feminist, a female rights activist, or some kind of superhero here to save all women. I’m an imperfect guy with many of the same faults and flaws as the next man struggling to live within the bounds of what’s fair and good. However, instead of making excuses, self-deprecating, or asking questions, I try my best to focus on making progress, initiating self-realization and improvement, and sharing the answers and insights that I discover through my own journey towards getting right.

I continually try to make conscious efforts to identify and acknowledge the moments at which I fail to give women the equal and appropriate respect that they deserve. I often strive to consider the impact of my actions, and attempt to appropriately assume responsibility for the ideas that my choices might relay to others. I regularly work to reassess, learn, change, and grow every day. First and above all else, and possibly the most effective step that every man can make towards abolishing our global culture of sexual violence and the victimization, objectification, domination, and oppression of women and their bodies: I don’t rape.

Courtesy of DumbSainthood

How Do We CHANGE Rape Culture on College Campuses?

Carly PuchCarly Puch is a recent graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With a Bachelors degree in sociology and women’s studies Carly’s interests are in gender, masculinity studies, and all things feminist. Carly developed an increasing interest in social media and women and work working as an intern at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium. To see more of Carly’s work check out her blog, “Carly Puch: Life Through a Feminist Lens”.

Follow her on Twitter: @carlypuch

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I recently graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. My last year at Augsburg I, along with some other amazing women, started a group on campus called Augsburg Against Gender Violence. Our goal was to address what we thought was lacking on campus when it comes to education, information, and resources regarding gender violence and sexual assault. Augsburg College has been a leader on many hard issues, but it does not lead in the conversation concerning sexual assault. So our first step was to brainstorm.

Where to start? The task seemed more and more daunting. At our intimate meetings (we were lucky to have five people), we would throw out some truly incredible ideas. But we always ended on that ok where to start kind of vibe.

Should we call for more professor sensitivity training? Should we check if we are a Green Dot campus? Should we try and contact our public safety department? Should we target students and plan an on-campus activity? Basically were we thinking micro or macro? Both? In-between? I started to realize we took on a lot. It felt out of reach to make change.

Some of these options we attempted to pursue, and some we even accomplished. We attempted to contact the department of public safety, but our voices remained small. However, we managed to have Carlos Andrés Gómez speak at our school. Gómez is an award winning poet, actor and writer that discusses the connection between toxic masculinity, violence against women, and overall all how we fail to allow men to become fully developed emotional human beings. It was a lovely event.

As I reflect I thought that maybe we were asking the wrong questions. But really we weren’t asking enough.

After all, truly all of the above should be addressed: professors, students, faculty, staff, orientation leaders, and the public safety department. We should think about micro and we should think about macro. We need both. We need it all.

But it is time to admit that addressing sexual assault and rape against women after it happens is not enough. I do not mean to dismiss the many amazingly hardworking people that do this type of advocacy because it hard and under-appreciated work. But we need the before so we can stop relying on the after.

Statistics get thrown around all the time: 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted. But I ask you to truly think about that. Now yes, that woman could be your daughter, mother, sister, or friend.

I am sick of that argument. We should care because they are people. End of story.

Building a Movement

There have been many steps in the right direction this year for addressing sexual assault on college campuses. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault paired with the 1 is 2 many campaign to release a PSA encouraging men to be a part of the solution in ending sexual assault.

The White House then released a list of schools that have not properly responded to sexual assault complaints. Campaigns like Know Your IX, which work to educate college students to know their rights under Title IX, are gaining national attention.

KnowYourIX

But with every step forward there have been reminders as to why dealing with the after is not enough.

The most poignant example surely is the recent tragedy at University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, had connections to Men’s Rights Activist and Pick Up Artist groups, and shared with the world about his hate for women via YouTube.

This spring a female student at Harvard wrote a letter to the college paper, titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win.” The letter outlined how Harvard completely failed to do anything when she came forward and named her rapist.

A young man at Duke is actually suing the college because he was expelled after being charged with rape.

These incidents remind us that the problem is deeply rooted. We have been socialized to embrace rape culture. I say we because I am NOT exempt from it. I too fall prey to the effects of this system.

Nationally we have arrived at a point that Augsburg Against Gender Violence did, the now what? stage. What can we do with this information? More specifically how can we change the culture that allows and condones rape on college campuses?

Luckily there are people, groups, and organizations working on this effort all over the country. But they tend to be based at one school or one geographic location.

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Thinking Comprehensively: Preventing Sexual Violence

There is a parable used often in education to describe the reforms that are needed to better serve those students who are left behind or pushed out of our educational system:

A man and a woman were having a picnic along the river outside of their village. As they were eating, they heard a baby crying and, looking around for the source, saw a baby floating down the middle of the river.

The woman waded out and caught the baby and passed it to the man, only to realize there was another baby coming. The man ran to the village to get help, and before long, there was an organized party who were forming a chain across the river to stop the ever growing number of babies who were floating down the river. They saved a lot of children, but the number of babies was too many, and they could not save them all.

Then a young girl walked away from her duties on the riverbank and marched upstream. People yelled at her, “Where are you going!? We need your help!”

She replied, “I’m going to find who is throwing all these babies in the river so that we can stop them!”

Here’s the lesson for any social justice cause: If we don’t get to the root of the issue, all we’re doing is pulling some individuals to safety while losing others to the river.

In combatting sexual violence, undoubtedly, we must work to help survivors heal, seek justice, and find the “new normal” in their life, but that cannot be our only work.

We must prevent sexual violence before it happens. But how do we do that? What does it look like?

Expanding Who We Think of As Survivors

We can start by changing how we think about who experiences sexual assault.

In most prevention and response work, the focus tends to be on cisgender, straight women as victims and cisgender, straight men as perpetrators.

And there’s good reason for that: The vast majority of survivors are straight, cisgender women.

And with limited resources (especially in these times of austerity), those who work to prevent violence and support survivors tend to focus on that majority in order to best serve as many survivors as possible.

But to prevent sexual violence, we must acknowledge the incredible diversity of survivors and perpetrators.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.

How We Can Address Sexual Violence on Campuses

Everyday FeminismThis week’s post is published over at the incredible Everyday Feminism.

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On every single college campus in the United States, there is a powerful, committed group of feminists and feminist allies who are working to prevent sexual violence and respond to the needs of survivors.

These incredible coalitions of students, professors, staff, administrators, and wider community members are working every single day to ensure that survivors have the support they need while working to prevent further sexual assaults.

Too often, though, they are working against institutions and campus environments that shame survivors, protect perpetrators, and reinforce the rape culture that is endemic in our society.

The grim reality is that at least 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual violence, and our institutions are not doing enough to stem this terrible tide.

It is time that more of us join these committed activists in transforming the culture and climate of our college and university campuses.

Whether you’re a parent, a student, an alumni, or simply a concerned community member, here are a few ways that you help:

1. Change How We Talk About Sexual Violence

The messages that are sent to women and men about sexual violence on college campuses tend to be misguided at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Whether the message is delivered formally through a New Student Orientation program or through norms and mores, the traditional wisdom for sexual violence prevention on college campuses can often be boiled down to:

“Ladies, be careful so you don’t get raped.”

Whether we tell women to go out in groups, watch their drinks, or never walk across campus alone at night, the conversation is the same – the responsibility for preventing sexual violence is on women.

But considering that the VAST majority of rapes are committed by men, we can’t afford to leave men out of the conversation!

To place the responsibility for sexual violence prevention on women not only completely ignores those who perpetrate the majority of sexual assaults, but it lends itself to victim blaming.

“You shouldn’t have been dressed that way.” “You shouldn’t have gone out alone.” “You shouldn’t have been drinking.”

Thus, in both our informal conversations and as we look to change how our institutions address sexual violence, we must shift the conversation to ones of positive sexuality, enthusiastic consenthealthy masculinity, and support for survivors.

First, if sex and sexuality is talked about openly and honestly, we can begin to have more accountable conversations regarding positive sexuality.

We can introduce the ideas behind and methods for realizing enthusiastic consent. We can encourage healthier relationships and healthier sexuality in all their forms. So that people of all genders understand what healthy and consensual sexual relationships can and should look like,

Secondly, we must also end the culture of male sexual entitlement, disrespect, cat calling, and objectification that protects perpetrators of sexual violence.

Men, women have been trying to tell us these things for ages. It’s time for us to be the leaders in ending sexual violence. We, as men, need to work with other men to change how we talk about and practice sex.

Third, we need to change how we talk about sexual violence so that it reflects reality and not myths about rape.

A good place to start is changing where we place the onus for prevention. The only person responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Plain and simple. From there, we can do a better job of supporting those who experience sexual assault.

Finally, we have to make sure that our conversations don’t accidentally silence survivors who don’t fit our understanding of “normal.” Any person of any gender or any sexual orientation can experience sexual violence. 50% of transgender peopleexperience sexual violence and approximately 8% of all men (by conservative estimates) are raped by a former partner.

Often, conversations around rape focus solely on straight relationships, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual people commonly experience sexual violence too. Further, 1 in 10 survivors of sexual violence are men, and we need to have resources that support male survivors.

Lastly, we need to expand the conversation around sexual violence beyond rape (forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration) to other types of unwanted sexual contact and coercive sexual activity (including forced kissing, groping, forced hand jobs, non-consensual kissing, etc).

Otherwise, those who experience sexual violence that they would not call rape may feel like their experience is not legitimate or worthy of attention. But they often still experience trauma like rape survivors because it was still not consensual.

In short, we can make our conversations more inclusive, and we can push to make our campus programming more inclusive.

2. Transform Party Culture

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.