The best way to end rape culture and gender-based violence is to raise awareness of the issue and start teaching men not to rape. So why is sexual assault still rampant in our society?
On Wednesday, November 6th, Zerlina Maxwell gave her keynote address to the JMU community, entitled “From Catcalling to Sexual Assault: How We Can All Work to End Gender-Based Violence”. The event was hosted by It’s On Us: Campus Conversations & Initiatives to Prevent Sexual Assault, and the event was held in the Grafton-Stovall Theater. The event was well publicized on social media and around campus, but the auditorium was maybe half-full. However, Zerlina’s address was still powerful and informative, and it was a great source of information for people who did not know very much about rape culture.
Zerlina began her address by defining rape culture as the normalization of rape and sexual violence in our society, including everything from sexist jokes to street harassment to Steubenville. This definition was followed by sexual assault statistics that are fairly well known in our society: 1 in 5 women will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, 1 in 4 women in college, and 1 in 33 men. Zerlina also included statistics from a UN report: in a survey of 10,000 men in Asia and the Pacific, 1 in 4 men admitted to using physical or sexual violence against a female partner.
Rape and sexual assault is a global issue that is perpetuated through rape culture, and it needs to end. The keynote broke up rape culture into 7 categories: victim blaming, empathizing with rapists, the false rape allegation myth, gray rape myth, trivializing rape, unhealthy masculinity/catcalling, and slut shaming/cyberbullying. Zerlina highlighted these categories by citing the following examples:
For victim blaming, Maxwell highlighted an article written by Jason Whitlock and published by Fox Sports entitled “Big Ben suspension fair, but not for the reason you think”. This article includes an incredible amount of victim blaming and extreme generalizations of women. Empathizing with rapists was apparent in the mixed messages on social media of the two Steubenville high school football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl, which was clear in this CNN news segment. Other examples used in the keynote address included advertisements for alcohol, cars, and jeans that unnecessarily sexualized women, Hollaback’s street harassment video*, songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” that exemplify the “gray area” rape myth (which shouldn’t be a thing), and the statistic that approximately 2% of rape allegations are false.
The biggest takeaway from Zerlina’s presentation is that changes in education may be the most effective way to end sexual violence, through teaching appropriate behaviors and teaching men not to rape. However, many people are completely baffled by that assertion, believing that “boys will be boys” because they can’t control themselves. One example of this is from Zerlina Maxwell on Hannity talking about gun violence and rape prevention:
For more information about how we can prevent rape through education, Zerlina wrote an article for Ebony.com entitled 5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not To Rape. Her examples include:
- Teach young men about legal consent
- Teach young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects for male pleasure
- Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity
- Teach young men to believe women and girls who come forward
- Teach males about bystander intervention
Zerlina’s advice to men who want to end sexual violence was to believe survivors and support them through recovery, be a vocal ally for victims, be an active bystander, and ask for consent. The lecture was a great source of information for people who did not know much about rape culture, but I wish more JMU students (specifically male JMU students) had been in attendance. I think it could have been a great way to inform and change the way many students act in regards to rape and sexual violence, but due to the small number of uninformed students in the audience, I’m afraid that her impact will not be as widespread. To combat the attendance issue, I hope that the students who saw Zerlina speak spread the word about why rape culture is detrimental to society, so that change can be implemented and Zerlina will not have to give this speech in 20 years.
It’s On Us hosted another event about sexual assault on the following evening, which was a student-led round table discussion featuring JMU students, and TheRadicalRadish will be writing about that event for her post on Sunday. I can’t wait to read your post, TRR, and I’m so glad that JMU is actively trying to start a conversation about sexual violence on our campus.
*Check out msdionnedavenport’s recent shoutout post about street harassment in relation to Hollaback’s video!