In a media landscape where sexist hit pieces on powerful women are common, “appealing” profiles are especially insidious. But objectification is not a compliment, even when well-intentioned. Old habits die hard for men who have been raised to believe what they think about a woman is the most important piece of information they can relay. But ogling isn’t journalism, and until some men learn as much, we’re going to be stuck with a media that’s more Peeping Tom than press.
If female sexuality is muted compared to that of men, then why must men the world over go to extreme lengths to control and contain it?
Last week, I wrote here at The Nation about how important it is for survivors of sexual violence to tell their stories, and what civilians can learn from the US Military about how not to listen to those stories.
One of the cures for that epidemic is the destigmatization of pleasure. A culture in which girls and women are taught to understand and honor their own sexual desires, and in which boys and men are taught to respect those desires as much as they respect their own, is a culture that does not permit sexual violence. In such a culture, it is a prerequisite for initiating and continuing with a sexual interaction that everyone involved will feel good. Everyone will have the vocabulary and the permission to talk about feeling good. They will consent, enthusiastically. In that culture, Steubenville is inconceivable. In that culture, bodily autonomy comes first and pleasure comes—and yes, that was entirely intentional—a very close second.
This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it.
It’s a proven fact, backed by simple math even my first grader can understand: the number of reviews of books by men is greater than the number of reviews of books by women; the number of male reviewers is greater than the number of female reviewers. Men, in other words, are still the arbiters of taste, the cultural gatekeepers, and the recipients of what little attention still gets paid to books.
What I will do, however, is open my kimono and make it personal, though I’ve been warned not to do this. It’s career suicide, colleagues tell me, to speak out against the literary establishment; they’ll smear you. But never mind. I’m too old and too invisible to said establishment to care. And I still believe, as Carol Hanisch wrote back in 1969—when I was having my then three-year-old feet forced into stiff Mary Janes—that the personal is political.
The thing that’s incredible to me – North Dakota being case in point – is the thought that women’s rights in this country depend on their ZIP code. There are now states where it’s not safe to be a woman.
If a woman doesn’t say “no” to sex, is that the same thing as saying “yes”? That’s the question at the center of the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial that began this week… To defense attorney Walter Madison, who is representing one of the accused men, consent is not an affirmative “yes.” He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that what happened wasn’t rape because the young woman “didn’t affirmatively say no.”
But the absence of a “no” is not the same thing as the presence of a “yes.” And until American culture and law frames sexual consent as proactively, enthusiastically given, there will be no justice for rape victims.
As you continue to grow up, you’re going to have plenty of opportunities (too many) to laugh at women’s pain, embarrassment or the sexual harassment and assault we face. These moments will define you. Will you laugh along? Share a video, like a status, laugh a joke? Or will you say ‘no’, tell a friend that’s a fucked up thing to say, and walk away?