V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women, is coming to Wesleyan starting today. Events include Friday and Saturday performances of “The Vagina Monologues”, an ASHA for College Workshop on Saturday, a bake sale benefiting New Horizons Domestic Violence Shelter in Middletown, a screening and discussion of “The Line” on Tuesday, and a talk by Jaclyn Friedman next Friday. Wesleyan students are in a good position to combat violence against women, in part because the campus accepts all forms of gender expression and identity and frequently engages in dialogue about gender and sexuality. Yet it’s imperative that we take up the initiative, not just for a few days, but every day.
“Fundamentally, the problems of sexual and domestic violence are problems of boys’ and men’s attitudes and behaviors, and (white) male-dominated power structures that either produce, perpetuate or condone them,” argued leading anti-sexist advocate Jackson Katz.
Many cultures and societies, including the US, perpetuate extreme notions of masculinity and femininity which force males to “prove” their manhood in acts of aggression and hypersexualize the female body. Moreover, respected studies have shown that the perpetuation of those gender roles and manifestations of those roles in the media influence violence against women.
A report published in the Journal of Social Issues entitled “Sexual Violence in the Media: Indirect Effects on Aggression Against Women” by UCLA media researcher Neil Malamuth and John Briere of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and research by the Media Awareness Network investigates sexual violence and the media. The report by Malamuth and Briere notes a particularly disturbing trend: the increased portrayal of women as desiring sexual violence. (Do the phrases “no means yes” and “women like it rough” sound familiar? They’re the mildest forms of that trend.) It may seem simple to us because we live on such an open campus, but the fact that male students could cross-dress during “Bend It Like Beckham” and not get beat up, and that Wesleyan assembled a Task Force to reevaluate University policy regarding sexual assault denotes huge progress—beyond most of our nation, not to mention other countries.
We all (not just women) have a responsibility to combat violence against women and to empower victims of violence to overcome their experience. It is an imperative within our community and on a global scale. We know there are countries where rape is frequently used as a war tactic or as a way to reconcile the so-called honor of a family or clan. We know there are many countries where sexuality and sexual violence are taboo subjects. A woman, no matter where she is, cannot say, “It will never happen to me, so I do not have to act or discuss it.” And a man, no matter where he is, cannot say, “I would never hurt a woman, therefore I do not have to act, and I can stay silent while other men hurt women.”
The incidents of violence perpetrated against gender nonconformists have reached staggering proportions even as our nation slowly begins to recognize a fuller gender spectrum. It’s one thing to talk about heterosexual males’ domination in society, but if you think this is a casual conversation that ends when the lecture course does, try telling that to the female-to-male transgendered student in my town’s public middle school who had to sue to have the right to use the men’s bathroom. We have to do more than just talk, and it can’t be just women doing the talking.
We all know hatred breeds violence, and silence condones it. The only way to fight against hate is to love and to respect the people around us. Therefore, I ask everyone not only to engage in V-Day on the Wesleyan campus, but also to bring discussion about gender dynamics and violence to every table at which you sit in the near future. The next time you hear someone yell a catcall at a woman or discover an incident of nonconsensual sex, don’t just stand there and stay silent. Let’s honor and respect the women—and all of the identities on the gender spectrum for that matter—around us and celebrate others and ourselves. We have the opportunity to change the culture and the dialogue in this country, and we need to start with this campus. So, come on and let’s make it V-Day every day.
Alperstein is a member of the class of 2014.