As a mother of both sons and daughters I sometimes feel that life holds a lot of dualities. As an American it’s easy to assume that women and men are living in relative equality. As a citizen of the world, I know that reality is far from true. When I began writing this I was particularly aware that if my opening paragraph mentioned gender equality it would immediately bring to mind the word “feminism” and some readers would back away. I’m afraid that the idea of feminism conjures up 1970s images of angry, harsh women burning their bras. I feel rather grateful to those feminist of the early 70s. It is because of their actions that I can call myself a feminist and be the physical antithesis of that much conjured image. As a parent I know that gender equality is not just about my daughters it is very much an issue that strongly affects my sons.
American women have traveled a tremendous distance in the journey to equality but some might be surprised to learn that we haven’t come as far as it seems. There are obvious issues like equal pay and employment opportunity or even the results of the 2012 Gender Gap Report performed by the World Forum that indicates that the US ranks 21rst in international gender equality. The less discussed issue is sexual violence against women which quite frankly is driven by the belief that we live with equality.
RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/statistics) reports that every two minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted. 54% of those assaults are never reported to the police and 97% of rapists reported to the police will never spend a day in jail. One in four US women is a victim of sexual assault. Men are victims of rape too. The US judicial process is still influenced by myths about what promotes rape. The clothes that a woman was wearing, the beverage that she was drinking and her relationship to her rapist still seems to be consequential in a rape conviction. The fact is that none of these issues should influence the decision to rape. A person’s behavior does not promote rape. The shame attached to rape protects rapists and keeps them warm and cozy in society where they are free to rape again.
In September 2010, St. Mary’s College freshman, Lizzy Seeburg committed suicide. It was just 10 days after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. After she reported the assault to campus police she was threatened, her reputation was questioned and her behavior with the boy was analyzed. The police did not question the accused football player until five days after Lizzie’s death. More recently we have heard of the Steubenville Rape in which 2 high school football players raped a drunk 16 year old girl. Witnesses took pictures and video and posted them on various social media. These are not isolated cases nor are they limited to athletes.
Somehow in the last 40 years of the women’s movement we didn’t manage to progress in the area of rape. We somehow swept the topic neatly under the rug. Perhaps it was because we would have to discuss sex, body parts, unwanted pregnancy and even abortion. Perhaps it was just that we were afraid to discuss a topic which made us feel vulnerable, but like any issue that lays ignored, it hasn’t magically disappeared.
As a parent I am unwilling to sweep the topic of rape under the rug any longer. I don’t think that ignorance concerning sexuality should continue to promote the idea that women and girls invite rape. I don’t think that rape myths should encourage the shame that prevents rape from being reported. I don’t want my son or yours to have any question about what rape is. I don’t want my son to be the witness to rape who takes pictures and video and can be heard laughing in the background.
Our children need to understand that smaller or physically weaker does not equate to less. We have to stop feeling embarrassed by sex and we need to start discussing it with our children early. It needs to be a natural conversation that evolves and occurs often over time. When we attach embarrassment to sexuality it promotes ignorance and ignorance promotes rape. We need to stop referring to women as sluts or “cheap” regardless of what they wear or how they behave. The term “cheap” implies that the woman has no value, all people have value.
Gender Equality is a major player in the battle against the culture of rape. Feminism is not a bad word, it is the belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is an investment in the future of our children, both female and male.
To learn more about Rape Prevention please visit http://www.rainn.org/