This is the first of a 3-part series dealing with only a few of the reasons feminism matters. Feminism matters for many diverse reasons, but the three topics I chose reflect some things closer to my life today.
You know why feminism matters?
There are countless reasons, and each reason resonates differently for different people at different times in their lives. There was a recent (amazing!) campaign in which women (and hopefully some men) finished the following phrase, “I need feminism because…”
My take on why I need feminism today is the omnipresence of rape culture. Rape culture exists in the form of victim-blaming, rape as a socially acceptable crime, and rape as a given fear if you are female.
I have been groomed by society to feel afraid if I am alone and a woman. I have been groomed to believe it is my responsibility to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault. Whatmore, I have experienced time and again that if I am nervous about the presence of a guy who resonates creepiness, I will not be supported. I will be brushed off to the side and he will be the one defended, despite evidence and instinct.
Let me be clear: I should not have to go through life living in fear of rape. And yes, this is a feminist issue. It is an issue of humanity, true. But it is one the feminist cause is poised to tackle.
Feminism matters because I shouldn’t fear for my safety from anyone. Feminism matters because when I learn about scary circumstances or people and am traumatized, I shouldn’t have to deal with the men in my life blowing it off as no big deal or falsely claiming, “well, most reports are fake anyway.” Feminism matters because no girl should have to worry that saying, “no” won’t be enough.
No one should have to worry about sexual assault. Sexual assault should be a crime that isn’t a given just because you have two X chromosomes. The fact that it is such a socially acceptable crime–that victims are blamed instead of the perpetrators–is why feminism matters.
Sexual assault cases should be just as horrendous to the public as murder cases.
And yet… Most women I know don’t walk alone in the dark fearing murder. If they walk alone and are fearful, it is most likely a fear of sexual assault. Why that particular fear? Because the crime is socially acceptable.
The catch-22 of being fearful of rape in a darkened alley, is most perpetrators
aren’t even strangers. They are people the victim knows.
Many victims don’t report the crime because they feel like it’s their fault, or it won’t do any good, or they are embarrassed. These are feelings that don’t make any sense. The very definition of ‘victim’ removes blame. But these feelings make more sense through the lens that–once again–the crime is socially acceptable.
All this is why feminism matters. Most often women are the victims, men the perpetrators (I want to make it clear that not all men are rapists and not all victims are women, but it is the most common pattern). And most often, women are blamed for the act. People hear of an attack and ask, “well, what was she wearing?” or “was she drunk?” or “what was she doing before?”
It. Doesn’t. Matter. It doesn’t matter what she was wearing, what her level of sobriety was, what her behavior was. The only question that matters is, “did she consent?” If the answer is no, she is a victim.
And let me clarify, consent is not simply the absence of a ‘no.’ It is a very clear ‘yes.’
Another reason feminism matters: how many times has a girl been discussing rape with a guy–not accusing anyone, mind you, just having a conversation–and said guy becomes irritated and defensive. Defensive about rape. Like he’s wondering, “how dare she say it’s a bad thing.”
This is very serious. And a lot of people scoff and blow it off.
Women wander around worried they will be attacked. Universities ignore complaints and cover up incidents. Sporting goods stores sell pepper spray marketed specifically to women. Parents teach their daughters to not draw unwanted attention to themselves, thereby teaching them that if they receive unwanted attention it’s their fault.
This is rape culture.
The bigger question surrounding all of this is, Why do we socialize women to be afraid instead of socializing men to respect women? Why are we not teaching men from the time they are boys that a woman’s body is hers and hers alone? Why do we teach boys that a woman’s body is dangerous and bad, as well as something he’s entitled to possess?
The only way this is going to change is if we start shifting the conversation away from blaming the victim to empowering both women and men to understand respect for themselves and for others. Steubenville may have garnered a lot of media attention, but it is not an isolated incident. The acceptability of rape can only end when we refuse to let it be normal.
This is why feminism matters.