I have volunteered as an advocate in two rape crisis centers in New Hampshire, I have accompanied women and children to the hospital for a rape kit, I have sat with worried parents while their son or daughter was in the next room for his/her forensic interview. I have supervised amazingly inspirational advocates. I have written for other blogs that write on the issues of sexual violence. I have been an intern at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation since October, where I have created materials to educate the community on the pervasive nature of human trafficking and sexual exploitation on our own soil. I consider myself decently well-read on the nature of sexual violence.
This is how I respond, in some way, shape or form, when someone asks the all-to-common question: “so what do you do?” Many times, when I am speaking to a guy, I can almost read his mind and know he’s thinking “Why did I ask?” but what he says outloud is, “oh. so you’re a feminist.” I immediately realize that if I want to be productive in this conversation and educate him even remotely on the issue of sexual violence, I need to not listen to my instinct toslap him across the face — I need to keep his attention, while simultaneously making him feel like a slight idiot. I mean, I just told you I work with extremely vulnerable and traumatized women and girls and all you got is “oh. so you’re a feminist.” and all you’re thinking is “where is the exit?”
So I ultimately respond with “I prefer human rights activist.” See what I did there? I took the issue of sexual violence out of the “radical feminist” “women’s movement” “man-hating” realm that he had placed it in when he judgmentally asked if I was a feminist. Instead, I re-framed it as a human rights problem. Sexually violating a woman, stripping her of all dignity and control, being violent to her, and not respecting her voice is undeniably a human rights violation and I strive to focus on that. If we continue to allow society to strictly see it as a feminist issue, then all those people who shutter at the sound of the F-word and refuse to define their belief in equality and human rights protections as the F-word are lost in the dialogue about how to eliminate sexual violence. This is undoubtedly a travesty.
Women and girls are constantly considered unequal, inferior, and incapable alongside our male counterparts. Women and girls are too often portrayed as sexualized beings, viewed as commodities, judged based on our bra size and shape of our ass, and illustrated as a victim in a romanticized, tolerated manner (e.g. Eminem, Chris Brown, advertising). One in four women will be sexually assaulted before graduating college. One million women will be the victim of rape this year in the United States. So I’m sorry, but this is not a feminist issue nor is it a woman’s issue… it is an issue plaguing our society perpetrated by men the majority of the time. It is nothing short of a human rights violation and an endemic that men should be front and center screaming about as their mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, etc. are sexually assaulted and sexually harassed.