Potential Trigger Warning: This article discusses the complex nature of sexual assault
1. I can get pretty drunk and not worry about sexual assault.
2. I can talk about sexual abuse without feeling unsafe or having personal negative emotions triggered.
3. I can go to a dance without thinking about sexual assault.
4. I generally feel comfortable around people who are drunk that I don’t know.
5. I can dress as I want without fear of looking “inviting.”
6. I can walk alone by someone I don’t know without having to look back to make sure they don’t turn around after me
7. I can kiss someone without thinking of my attacker.
8. I can kiss someone without fear of the advances they will make.
9. I can go back to someone’s room with them and feel as though I’ll have control over what’s going to happen and how far we’ll go.
10. I can hold a conversation with someone at a party without constantly wondering what it is they want from me sexually.
11. I can flirt with someone and not fear that I am putting myself in a situation that could lead to sexual assault.
12. I think exiting an unwanted sexual situation is as simple as “No.”
13. I can develop a relationship with someone and trust they won’t put pressure on me to do more sexually than I am comfortable with.
14. I can speak out against sexual assault and not have people think I’m just emotional because I was a victim.
15. I can use the word victim comfortably and/or just think it is a term used to convey statistics.
16. I don’t feel ruined or made impure because of past, unwelcomed sexual experiences.
17. I am not numb to sex.
18. My sex drive hasn’t been interrupted, disturbed, or eliminated because of an unwelcomed sexual experience.
19. Flashbacks and panic attacks do not pervade my everyday life.
20. I don’t feel powerless.
21. I’m not hyper-vigilant when meeting new people.
22. People don’t view me negatively for being raped or assaulted.
23. I don’t struggle constantly with looking for ways to speak up against sexual assault.
24. I don’t struggle with speaking up against sexual assault because I feel silenced.
25. I don’t see how sexual assault is relevant to standard events that occur each and every day, like walking to class, through commons, or down alumni.
Using the same format as Peggy McIntosh’s, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, this list of privileges is an invitation to consider how we, and you, think about gender and sex at Bates. Survivors of sexual abuse created this list, but it’s not intended to be generalized. Certainly, it is probably true that there are survivors or otherwise that have not experienced some or all of these struggles, and it’s probably also true that there are individuals that don’t necessarily identify as survivors that have faced some or all of these struggles. There are also probably individuals that haven’t quite considered these struggles at all. These distinctions are important because they suggest that we all experience sex differently, and with different backgrounds, levels of comfort, safety, and entitlement. Talking about sex, reading about sex, perhaps engaging in sex—this can all be pretty healthy, but it can also be particularly unsafe or uncomfortable for some individuals depending upon how it’s carried out.
I am writing this article because we, as a college community, live in a rather unhealthy and problematic sexual culture. I mean to say that in a community where sexual abuse is an issue, there is some cultural commentary going on outside of those unwanted sexual encounters regarding what kind of sexual behavior is okay. I think it’s important to acknowledge that the “sexual culture” of a college campus expands far beyond sexual interaction, as many of the privileges above might indicate. In other words, the “sex” itself is not necessarily the issue at hand, but rather how we go about asking for it. The question I want to pose is this: What exactly is it about our culture that makes not asking for consent appear to be okay? Even in circumstances of consensual sex, there are occasionally lingering feelings of shame or helplessness; what is it about our way of life that contributes to this?
I want to suggest that whether one realizes it or not, sexual culture largely impacts all individuals of all genders living in that culture. In particular, I think it’s easy for men to feel removed from questions regarding gender. I think that, to many men, questions of gender and sexual abuse are “women’s issues” that don’t necessarily pertain to them and their daily lives. I would challenge men at Bates to reconsider that belief. I like to believe that men understand that what are traditionally considered “women’s issues,” are “people’s issues.”
I know and love many, many truly wonderful men at Bates, and I like to believe that all of them are capable of challenging our own culture, a culture that underemphasizes the importance of sexual consent and gender equality. I like to believe that men have the opportunity to be active agents of change, particularly on a campus where many individuals, men and women alike, feel uncomfortable or unsafe because of personal, unwelcomed sexual interactions.
The reason that this article needs a “potential trigger warning” at the very beginning is because language can be so powerful. In this case, discussing sex can be a tremendous weight with potentially negative emotions and connotations for different individuals. I would claim that is equally as true in day-to-day interaction. In a lot of ways, the sexual culture is a very dominant force that can determine much of the colloquial and often derogatory language that we use. I would challenge individuals to consider how sexist or objectifying language contributes to an unhealthy living environment, and more specifically, how that language makes individuals feel. Words are powerful, and they impact how we think. I would say that the sexist language that we use each day almost dehumanizes our sexual experiences, and perhaps makes sexual abuse inevitable, thus reiterating an unhealthy sexual culture and living environment.
I think this is an important article to write, and I hope that others feel similarly. We all talk about and experience sex and gender differently. Certain language, actions and experiences can trigger different emotions for different people. On one level, perhaps this is a request for individuals to consider people’s feelings more often, especially in the context of hooking up. On a similar level, perhaps this is also a challenge to think about one’s own individual role in making Bates a safer and healthier place. Consider one’s own role in these questions, even and especially if they appear to be distant. Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I’m okay with that. I would say that if you have finished this article with little hope for change, I challenge you to make that decision for yourself.