I like Aziz Ansari. Parks and Recreation was one of my all time favorite TV-shows. I have a photo and quote of Ansari on my office door. It reads:
“If you believe that men and women have equal rights, and then someone asks if you’re a feminist. You have to say yes. Because that’s how words work. You can’t be like, “Yeah, I’m a doctor who primarily does diseases of the skin.” “
I love it. And yesterday I asked myself if I have to take the picture down.
A recent story posted on babe describes a woman (called Grace—not her real name) and her experience of a date with Ansari last fall during which he repeatedly pressured her for sex and engaged in numerous coercive sexual behaviors. She left the evening feeling violated and shocked.
As always happens when a woman recounts an experience of sexual violence from a beloved man (or frankly any man), people are claiming that her story is not true.
I believe her story, in all the disturbing (and somewhat graphic) detail.
And I also believe him.
Ansari has responded to the story, saying in part:
“It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.”
Now, I don’t know Ansari personally. Maybe he is a terrible guy. Maybe this incident is just one in a long pattern of sexual violence. Maybe all of his feminist talk is just a super savvy marketing scheme. Certainly some people will decide to believe all of these things based on this story alone.
But, what if he is NOT a terrible person? If he truly means his feminist rhetoric? If he is genuinely committed to supporting women’s rights?
Whatever the truth is about Ansari—which I will never really know—this is the fundamental question our culture needs to deal with.
What if good men are committing sexual violence?
I hope that the #MeToo campaign and the new Time’s Up fund continue to work to expose and disempower men who have abused their power to repeatedly sexually harass and assault women. We need that work to happen. We also need college campuses to stop turning a blind eye to repeat offenders. We need a criminal justice system that prosecutes sexual offenders. We need an intersectional anti-rape movement that awknowledges the reality that women of color and trans women face the highest rates of sexual violence.
If we want this to become more than a moment; if we want a movement to end sexual violence, we need to expand our focus beyond exposing the worst of the worst. We need to deal with the reality that good men are committing sexual violence.
In addition to challenging the truth of Grace’s story—many of the responses (including a ridiculous piece by Caitlin Flanagan for the Atlantic) have argued that the encounter wasn’t serious enough to warrant attention for a myriad of reasons. Most of the responses convey an angry tone, claiming that:
Sexual violence is not harmful because it is illegal.
It is illegal because it is harmful.
Jessica Valenti tweeted in response to the story:
“A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”
This is not about ruining Ansari’s career. This story is an opportunity for us to have real conversations about the harm that is caused by rape culture. That people are hurt by the sexual scripts that make Ansari’s experience of the night and Grace’s experience of the night so fundamentally different.
We have to address the sexual culture we have created in the United States. A rape culture.
But, I believe in the potential of men. I believe that there are lots of heterosexual men who want to do better, who want to have respectful, consensual interactions with women. Who are uncomfortable with rape culture. I believe that men can learn to recognize the sexual scripts they have adopted, can learn to seek affirmative and enthusiastic consent, can pay attention to a sexual partner’s verbal and non-verbal cues.
I believe that if we stop teaching boys to participate in rape culture, we can raise men who don’t participate in rape culture.
I won’t speak for Grace, but I don’t want to see Ansari punished. I don’t want his career to be ruined, and him to be vilified and silenced. I want him to learn from this experience and become a role model for other men. I want him to reflect on why and how his actions made another person feel uncomfortable and violated. I want him to hear that SO MANY other women (including this writer) have had similar experiences and that they are harmful. I want him to speak out about how he is going to learn to dismantle his internalized rape myths, address any personal issues that may make it hard for him to hear “no”, learn how to read his partner’s cues and look for affirmative consent. I want to post a quote of his on my door about how he is working to end his own participation in rape culture.
And I’d really like it if other men took that journey, too.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
That’s right. It is January 3rd. Which means some of you have made (and maybe already broken) your New Years’ Resolutions.
According to the Marist Poll, the two resolutions tied for most popular are:
While there are certainly some health related reasons to consider losing weight, I am going to take this time to caution those resolutioners to avoid promoting beauty sickness in their quest for self-betterment.
In her recent book Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women Renee Engeln, Ph.D. examines the ways in which a culture that focuses on women’s appearance above all else contributes to numerous negative emotional and physical outcomes. Most girls in the US (and other beauty sick countries) are taught that their physical appearance is the most important quality they possess and that they should strive to achieve an unrealistic (arguably unattainable) beauty ideal.
Girls and women are taught that they are objects that exist for the pleasure of others.
Is it really a surprise that we are dealing with epidemic levels of sexual harassment? Boys and men are often given this same message—that girls and women are objects that exist for their pleasure.
Many arguments that promote beauty sickness are couched in terms of “promoting health.” Especially those related to weight loss. Since weight is a poor measure of one’s physical health (to say nothing of their emotional or spiritual health) intense focus on weight loss is often truly about appearances.
Even if you, the diligent resolutioner, think that you are making weight loss goals for health related reasons, be careful about how you approach these goals and how you talk to others—especially girls and young women—about them.
Engeln describes studies she has conducted that demonstrate girls often learn body dissatisfaction from observing others. In fact, in one study, women who believed their mothers were body dissatisfied were dissatisfied with their own weight, regardless of their actual body composition.
There are so many examples of girls and women criticizing their own bodies and discussing their methods of trying to change their appearance that many girls learn that this is “acceptable and normal” female behavior.
I have seen this in my own research with adolescent girls. In one study I am currently conducting with adolescent girls, we ask the participants to describe things they like about themselves and things they wish they could change. The study is a follow up to a longitudinal study I conducted in the mid-2000’s. Both then and now, girls often talk about an aspect of their physical appearance when asked what they would change.
Perhaps even more disturbing is what happened when we asked what they think most girls/young women wish they could change about themselves. Almost without exception the answer is “their appearance.” Even when girls report other aspects as being more important for self-improvement (things like, increased patience, or organization skills), they have an awareness that identifying as female more-often-than-not means being unhappy with one’s appearance.
So, what to do differently?
Well. If you really want a resolution about health—make resolutions about health. Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising more. Seek out metrics that are more reflective of health than simple weight.
And, talk differently about weight and appearance, especially around girls and women.
Engeln suggests that focusing on what one’s body can DO may help take some of the pressure off of focusing on how one’s body LOOKS. Encourage girls to track how fast they run, or how much weight they can lift, or what a better soccer player they become, or how many mountains they climb this year.
Try to avoid engaging in “fat talk” around girls and women—or really any conversation that is focused on critiquing your own or another person’s appearance. Minimize exposure to media that promotes unattainable beauty ideals. Knowing those images are photo shopped may not be enough to inoculate against them.
And, maybe most importantly, be sure to compliment girls on aspects of their selves other than their appearance. Talk about how good they are at math, or how you value their generosity, humor, curiosity, and bravery.
Ask them how they want to make an impact on the world. Ask them what they value in their friendships with others. Ask them what kind of person they want to be.
Maybe, just maybe, focus instead on the resolution to be a better person.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
I don’t remember the dreams of my girlhood.
I think I had them.
I must have. Girls are such dreamers.
We dream and believe and have faith.
Until we don’t.
Until we learn that each dream can be used like a weapon against us.
Until we decide that in order to be “taken seriously” we must put aside our dreams—put aside the dreamer.
We hide our dreams. Or crush them.
Forget that we ever dared to be dreamers.
There is little space for dreams in a world where we are told that we will never be as good as the boys. In a world where we are called sluts or told we are being “too sensitive” when we report sexual violence.
In a world where our bodies are policed, and objectified, and minimized, and always at risk.
There is little room for dreams in a world where we are told to be quiet and to stop taking up so much space.
Because dreams are big and loud. They need space to grow.
The deep irony is that I have forgotten how to dream in my efforts to fights for a world where girls are allowed to dream. In my efforts to be “taken seriously” as a researcher, teacher, writer. I learned early on that I would have to fight for credibility and I couldn’t afford to risk losing any by being seen as a dreamer.
And in doing this work I see how young women continue to engage in this struggle.
My team is currently conducting a research project with adolescent girls in Utah. We asked high school juniors and seniors to talk about their experiences in school, their future aspirations, their challenges and triumphs. As girls talk about their future career plans, many express concerns that they won’t be “taken seriously,” especially if they choose a gender non-traditional path. Throughout the interviews, these bright and articulate young women describe ways their teachers and other adults in their lives minimize their accomplishments. They tell anger inducing stories of boys laughing in their faces and telling them to “chill” when they express their opinions passionately, when they push back against sexism and racism and classism.
These young women are navigating these pressures as they hear story after story of workplaces where men have sexually harassed and sexually assaulted women for years. Workplaces where women are treated as objects rather than human beings, colleagues, equals. Where women are not taken seriously.
Although many women reported these incidents in their workplace, doubts about their credibility contributed to stagnation within systems that should have been responsive. Tuerkheimer (2017) argues that at in regards to sexual violence, there is systematic “credibility discounting” of women--the “unwarranted failure to credit an assertion where this failure stems from prejudice.” In fact, a large body of research demonstrates that questions of victim credibility influence the outcome of sexual violence cases, including impacting whether an arrest is made (e.g. Morabito, Pattavina, & Williams, 2016).
As we talk about how to deal with workplace sexual harassment, we need to acknowledge that sexual harassment is one symptom of the overall problem of distribution of power. Not only are there fewer women in formal leadership positions, but women’s contributions are often viewed differently than men’s. Many studies have examined ways that women and men are judged differently in performance situations; how women’s accomplishments are more likely to be attributed to luck, while men’s are more often attributed to skill. And when women and men work together, women’s contributions are often doubted. Heilman and Haynes (2005) found that women in successful male-female teams were rated as less influential, less competent, and less likely to have played a leadership role than their male counterparts.
It is not surprising that the young women in our study worry about how they will be treated in the workplace. Wonder whether their career goals and aspirations are possible. Hesitate to articulate their deepest desires. Who can dare to be a dreamer when we have to fight for recognition for the work we do? When our careers and lives might be derailed by sexual violence?
It is hard to maintain the energy to dream when we are told it is our fault that we are not taken seriously because we are:
We need a culture shift in which girls and women are taken seriously. In which we are believed, valued, seen, heard, respected. Where we can dream, and be funny, silly, girly, joyful, sexy, ironic, passionate, angry, powerful, imperfect. And still taken seriously.
I will continue to conduct rigorous research and hold myself accountable to deserve credibility in the same ways I expect my male colleagues to be accountable. But I will also challenge the assumptions that lead to credibility discounting of girls and women.
And I will dare to dream.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
During a meeting last week one of my students commented that she loves Thanksgiving, but feels guilty about it.
She didn’t need to explain—she was in my Culture and Identity class last year which focused on Native Americans and First Nations people. We talked about the problematic nature of Thanksgiving and the many myths surrounding the holiday that are destructive to Native peoples.
I can relate to her comment. As a White multi-racial woman, Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for me. My mother is Irish and Cherokee. My father is English American, and our family narratives are filled with pilgrim origin stories. See. Complicated.
I will offer for my student and others what I try to do instead of attempting to suppress White guilt, or feeling overwhelmed by White guilt, or congratulating myself for experiencing White guilt (none of which are particularly helpful actions). Instead, I suggest these strategies:
1. Expand your knowledge and awareness of Native history, current events, and Native peoples.
This year, I am focusing on Indian removal policies and the implications of living on stolen land.
The National Museum of the American Indian released online curriculum about Indian removal policies. The curriculum is designed to support Social Studies teachers for grades 7-12, but I am gonna go out on a limb and guess that most of my readers were never taught this material in school, so this can be a good place to start.
The Indian Removal Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. It was this act that led to the Trail of Tears. In the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, over 7,000 troops were sent to Cherokee homes, where people were removed at gunpoint and forced to march west. Approximately 4,000 people died along the way. The Indian Removal Act also directly impacted the Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw Nation.
Pennsylvania reflects the deep impacts of removal, as there are currently no federally recognized Indian nations within the state today, despite the fact that the area was once home to the Shawnee and Ohio, the Erie, members of the Iroquois nations, the Munsee Delaware and Lenape Delaware and the Susquehannock nations.
One of my friends recently commented that the term “removal” seems to be a way to dismiss the horror of these laws and policies. Which is by design. Tools of state sanctioned genocide are often given fluffy names to avoid calling them what they really are.
The Indian Removal Act was just one piece of legislation among many laws, policies, coerced and broken treaties which moved native peoples from their homes and historic lands. These policies continue to infringe on the rights of Native nations and endanger the health and well-being of Native people today. (Think Standing Rock) They also mean that the United States is a nation built on stolen land.
This week I attended a conference in Minneapolis for the Interdisciplinary Research Fellows, a group collaborating on community engaged research for social change. The conference opened with a Dakota language specialist (Neil T McKay) who asked us to consider what it means to be working toward building equitable communities on stolen land.
I think this topic is especially important to examine at Thanksgiving. This is a time when many people focus on home—going home or welcoming others into their homes. For Americans of all ethnic groups, home is not an uncomplicated place. Homecomings may be fraught with anxieties of past family conflict, different political beliefs, or the impacts of trauma.
For Native peoples, home is often the place that was stolen.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am struggling with my own family’s history of homelessness and being uprooted through removal, living in poverty on reservations, avoiding Indian boarding schools, and forced assimilation. All of these policies and traumas interrupted the ability for my family to have an embodied experience of home. The loss of my own home last spring makes this particular soul wound especially raw for me this year.
I am thankful that I will spend this year's holiday with dear friends—the people I call my Pittsburgh family. This week I will also be reflecting on what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving on stolen land.
In addition to buying supplies to make a sweet potato casserole and stocking up on white wine, I will be learning more about the people who once called Pittsburgh their home. People like the Shawnee who were pushed into Ohio and forced to sign a treaty in 1831 that removed them to eastern Kansas.
While I drink my morning coffee I will be reading As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson) and learning about the ways Indigenous communities continue to engage in resistance to protect their land and people.
As I hike the beautiful woods of Western Pennsylvania, I will reflect on those who called this place home before me. I will work to heal my own wounds as I strive to live in a way that honors my ancestors. And I will continue to reflect on the meaning of doing equity work on stolen land, even as I dedicate myself to building a space that I may call home.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
One night in graduate school I found myself leaving a coffee shop later than I had planned to get on my bike and ride home. I had spent hours studying and I was tired and ready to be in bed. A group of guys across the street shouted out to me—some stupid pickup line I don’t remember. I am not sure exactly what I said, but it was something belligerent and sarcastic (not surprising to anyone who knows me).
Suddenly, my exhaustion turned into fear. The guys got angry.
They had felt 100% entitled to say whatever they wanted to me, fully expecting me to just put up with it.
I left the situation quickly and safely.
And then I got angry.
That week I marched myself into my advisor's office and told her I had figured out my project for my master’s thesis. I wanted to document the experiences of harassment that most women dealt with every single day of their lives. It wasn’t that this incident was unique. I was just fed up. Tired of being honked at during my morning runs. Sick of the male grad students in my department making belittling comments about women. And absolutely done with being afraid. Afraid to walk home alone at night. Afraid that rejecting a stranger’s unwanted attention could result in my physical harm.
So, I studied women’s experiences of harassment.
In fact, I conducted multiple studies in which I examined college men’s and women’s everyday experiences of various forms of gender prejudice. In the first study, college students kept daily diaries about their experiences ( College students’ descriptions of everyday gender prejudice ). College women reported experiencing an average of 18 sexually objectifying events over a 14-day period. More than one per day.
You read that right, on average, college women experienced sexual harassment EVERY SINGLE DAY.
And the harassment happened everywhere—on campus (including during class), within dorms, at grocery stores, in the gym, at the gas station, at work, while walking down the street….
So, when the #MeToo campaign recently went viral, I was not surprised to see most of my female friends participating. I also know that I likely have friends who have experienced sexual violence who did not want to disclose that info on their Facebook page.
I am striving to be hopeful that we are seeing a tide change. It is amazing to hear about the number of individuals (predominantly women, but a few men) coming forth to publicly share their stories of sexual violence committed by men in power. It is a brave move, as men in power tend to look for ways to keep that power and to retaliate against anyone who challenges it.
It has been even more amazing, and sometimes surprising, to hear about the number of men who have actually lost their jobs, TV shows, endorsements as a result of these accusations.
Maybe things are changing….
But as reporters dig into these stories, it becomes quite clear that in most of these cases, victims have been reporting their experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by these men FOR YEARS.
While I support the consciousness raising element of the campaign and appreciate that many women (and some men) have felt less alone by sharing their experiences of victimization, it is time to move beyond just awareness raising in order to eradicate sexual harassment (and sexual violence of all degrees).
First of all, men need to take accountability. Accountability for the ways they support, enable, and protect perpetrators. And accountability for the times that they have unwittingly participated in sexual harassment themselves.
And we need more women in positions of power. Because, ultimately, sexual violence is about power.
Feeling powerful enough to treat another person as an object. Using power to keep people from speaking out.
When boys grow up in a society where girls and women consistently have less power than men—where they are paid less, where women make up only about 20% of Congress and 6% of Fortune 500 CEO’s, where the United States has yet to have a female President—they get the message that women have less power than men.
So, how can any of us be surprised that some of those men decide that they are entitled to treat women however they want?
Which also explains why girls and women of color are even more likely to experience sexual violence than white girls and women.
I hope we continue to hear that when victims step forward they are believed, and there are consequences for the perpetrators.
I hope to hear more men stepping forward to talk about the ways they will hold themselves and other men accountable for preventing and stopping sexual violence. And how they intend to support more women (especially women of color) holding positions of power.
I dream of the possibility of a world where my students don't assume they have to endure sexual harassment by male faculty. Where my nieces might get to walk down the street without cringing when men open their mouths. Where girls and women are not expected to view sexual harassment as a daily nuisance they must tolerate.
Until then, I will stay fed up, and angry, and outspoken, and belligerent. And probably sarcastic.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
And a weird one about Trump being orange and gross… I couldn’t quite follow that one.
Oh and the signs! Let me tell you: feminists are funny! And creative! And dark! And smart! And thoughtful.
Since the march, I have heard various stories and news reports asking what does it all mean?
I have been surprised by the number of times I have heard reporters ask something to the effect of “Was this a one time event or is it the start of a movement?”
What? Have you been living under a rock?
The Women’s March was inspirational and moving and by many reports it was the LARGEST INAUGURAL PROTEST IN US HISTORY. But it was not the beginning of a movement, nor will it be the end.
The Women’s March was rooted in a long history of protest and resistance to oppression:
I could go on and on and on.
The March on Washington DC and in dozens of other cities in the US and around the world were built upon the foundation of resistance against oppression. They grew out of the blood, sweat, and tears of activists who dedicated their entire lives to these movements. They owe homage to the those who gave their lives for change.
For some, the march may have been a beginning. A call to examine systems of privilege and oppression. An invitation to raise their voice in protest. To them I say, “welcome.” Join the fight. Learn about the history the work is rooted in. Look for ways to stay engaged. Participate in the Ten Actions for the first 100 Days.
But this is not the beginning of a movement and it won’t be the end.
Because many of us got up the day after the march and went right back to work. Educating, advocating and working for social change. We didn’t go to the march because we just discovered inequality. And, despite Trump’s alternative facts, we did vote. And not for him.
We went to the march because, as Gloria Steinem said, “Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”
- Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
I wasn't surprised to read that Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in a county jail after being found guilty on three felony sexual assault charges including: intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. Six months.
I wasn't surprised to read that at trial Turner's victim was asked about her weight, what she was wearing the night Turner raped her, and about her sexual life, including whether she has ever cheated on her boyfriend.
I wasn't surprised to read that Turner's father blames the rape on "alcohol and sexual promiscuity" instead of on his son.
I was saddened, outraged, and disgusted by all these things, but not surprised.
Unfortunately, it is all too common that sexual assault victims are blamed for what happens to them, that perpetrators of sexual assault get minimal prison sentences (if any at all) and that sexual violence is dismissed and minimized.
But I was surprised by the outrage I have seen all over the internet about this case.
I believe with every fiber in my being that we can eradicate all forms of sexual violence. Men are not inherently rapists. People can learn to give and receive consent.
I also believe that we currently live in a rape culture. Where lots of boys and men learn that they are entitled to women's bodies. Where judges believe that sexual assault is "non-violent." Where fathers think their sons should get "one freebie" to commit sexual assault as long as they learn from their mistake. Where women who are sexually assaulted are blamed based on what they wore, how much they drank, or who they have had sex with in the past.
Sometimes it seems that rape culture is so pervasive it is hard to imagine how we can change it.
And yet.... perhaps something is shifting. Dare I believe that we are seeing a changing tide against rape culture?
CNN host Ashleigh Banfield spent more than 20 minutes of her show "Legal View" reading the victim's statement--providing a national platform for the victim's own words to be heard. John Pavlovitz wrote a powerful letter as one father to another challenging Turner's father's assertions that Brock shouldn't be punished for "20 minutes of action." Petitions are being circulated calling for the removal of Judge Arron Persky. Brave survivors are sharing their stories with friends and family in solidarity.
We should be outraged.
We should be outraged at the outcome of Brock Turner's trial, but we should also be outraged that the sexual assault even happened. Let's build on this momentum to find ways to do more to prevent sexual violence. We can all do better. Parents can talk to their sons about consent and teach them to respect women and their bodies. We can stop offering ridiculous abstinence only "education" programs and instead provide adolescents with comprehensive sex education--teaching them about the complexities of consent and communication. Colleges and universities can do more sexual violence prevention, education, and bystander training, so that it won't take Swedish heroes to intervene in sexual assault. We can demand that the members of our judicial system (police, attorneys and judges) be knowledgeable about sexual violence and hold them accountable when they contribute to rape culture. We can all work to become more aware of the ways we inadvertently support rape myths by making statements about what women are wearing or how much they drink.
Let's ride this wave and not let this story just become last week's news. Here's some ways we can keep this going:
The best way we can fight for justice for this survivor is help prevent future assaults. We can eradicate sexual violence.
Britney G Brinkman
Eleven states are currently suing the Obama Administration over the recent directive telling public schools throughout the country that they should allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The decree came in the form of a letter from the Justice department and Education department describing specific ways schools are expected to prevent discrimination against transgender students.
And just in case you slept through your high school civics class, that is exactly what those departments are supposed to do. In fact, providing guidance about how to execute and enforce federal laws is kinda the job of the President--you know the executive branch--that whole "checks and balances" thing.
It would appear that a number of state officials and lawyers missed that part of the civics lesson, as the lawsuit is asking the courts to block the implementation or application of the law by the federal government. The laws in question here include Title IX and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of student's sex. The Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education is tasked with enforcing these statutes in educational programs that receive federal funding.
And yet I woke up this morning to arguments on the radio about the need for local control rather than federal regulations regarding bathroom policies in schools.
These arguments sound eerily similar to those made by opponents of same-sex marriage. Which shouldn't be surprising really. Many of the same people who oppose civil rights for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are vocal opponents of transgender rights. And they are using similar tired and discredited arguments attempting to scare people into thinking that they and/or their children won't be safe if gender neutral bathrooms become widespread. Some have even argued that transgender bathrooms are really a proxy issue for the entire cultural battle over LGBT rights.
I applaud the Obama administration's decision to take a stand on this issue--to root their policy recommendations in best practices and clearly articulate that discrimination in schools is unacceptable. It is so important that trans youth hear the message given by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
“We stand with you,” she said. “And we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side.”
I am disturbed by the fear mongering happening by those who oppose rights for trans youth. I'll admit that I find the claims a bit silly, not based in fact., and generally being employed in an attempt to manipulate people. I recently spent some time in Sweden where almost all of the bathrooms were gender neutral (single use stalls) and the whole situation was pretty drama free.
But I understand that some people are genuinely afraid--afraid of sexual assault against adults and children. I understand that fear and the desire to protect loved ones. As a vocal advocate for the prevention of sexual violence, I am completely on board with work that prevents sexual assault. But using the threat of sexual violence to scare people into discriminating against an entire group of people--and in this case children--is wrong and short-sighted. True safety never comes at the expense of others' human dignity. None of us are free until we are all free.
Yes, some people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of their child sharing a bathroom with a transgender child. But that discomfort does not justify discrimination. That discomfort is likely rooted in a lack of information and misinformation. But those things can be addressed by letting people ask questions, providing them with accurate knowledge, and exposing them to new ideas.
And isn't that was educational institutions are supposed to do?
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
Sometimes I hear about a news story that gets under my skin and I can't seem to shake it. With these stories I often find myself talking directly at my radio or launching into a five-minute rant the second I hear the name of the key players or location.
The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has been one of those stories.
One of the reasons this story had such a powerful impact on me is because I grew up in the western United States, where battles over public land were far from rare. Although not exclusively, arguments were often between conservationists who sought to protect public lands to preserve wildlife and individuals who wanted land to be privately owned and open for unrestricted recreation (think ATVs) and/or financial gains (e.g. logging and ranching).
It probably comes as no surprise that I often fall on the side of the conservationists. I consider myself lucky to have hiked and camped in some of the most beautiful places in the world--in my home state. Why would anyone want to destroy such spaces which inspire awe and remind us of the more important things in life?
But, my interest in this story has not just been about the politics of land use.
Like many others, I was immediately disturbed by the implications this situation has for the state of racial affairs within the United States. And on this MLK day as I reflect back on a year filled with yet more shootings of unarmed black youth, I find it impossible not to see the unfolding (or perhaps more accurately stalled) situation in Oregon as an example of the way white privilege functions within the United States.
No, I am not saying that the police should barge into the wildlife refuge with guns blazing. I hope that the authorities find a way to end the standoff without any lives being lost. I am saying that police should stop shooting at unarmed black men who are running away. And they should stop shooting black 12-year-old boys playing with toys.
Questioning the terrible racial double-standard on display in Oregon is not about wanting more force to be used there--it is about wanting less force to be used elsewhere.
When I teach about white privilege in my classes, occasionally white students get upset and argue that they do not have any privileges. That they have only been treated in the ways that they deserve to be treated.
What they sometimes fail to understand is that is exactly how privilege works. Yes, some privilege functions like a zero sum game-- a tiny fraction of the population controlling most of the wealth is a type of privilege that means some people are benefiting from the disadvantages facing others. But some forms of privilege are about the ways that everyone deserves to be treated. But the reality is that not everyone receives such treatment.
In order for women to feel safe walking alone at night, men don't need to feel unsafe.
There is not a limited amount of safety available in the world.
In order for LGB couples to hold hands with their same-sex partner without fear of ridicule or physical threats, heterosexual couples don't need to be threatened.
There is not a limited amount of respect available in the world.
And for the police to stop shooting unarmed black women, men, and children, they don't suddenly need to shoot white men.
The fact that the protesters in Oregon feel confident that they have the right to protest and fight for (their interpretation of ) democracy, that they feel entitled to enter a federal building armed to the teeth is absolutely about white privilege. They trust that the system they live in --the very system they proclaim to hate-- will respect the dignity of their lives.
(And don't even get me started on the entitlement that these white men feel about the land. Land that was home to Native Americans long before white people showed up to claim it.)
EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves to trust that people in power believe that their lives matter.
It is a privilege in this country to assume that the authorities will do all they can to resolve a conflict peacefully. But it should be a right available to everyone, not denied to some based on the color of their skin.
We must stop acting as though having respect for the dignity of human life is a scarce commodity available only to those with the most power. Let us instead move closer to The Dream we honor today.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
So, I have to admit that getting to the question that serves at the title for this post was a process for me.
I read about the sexually suggestive signs posted by a fraternity at Old Dominion University last week and had the reactions that anyone who knows me would expect me to have.
I was angry, disgusted, annoyed, and saddened.
Offensive back-to-school signs have been spotted all over the country. The problem is clearly not isolated to Old Dominion University or Sigma Nu fraternity.
At this point, fraternity men posting signs suggestive of sexual violence is almost a cliche. I mean, come on.
So many people have been working tirelessly to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses (efforts I have written about elsewhere on this blog). Brave survivors have gone public with their stories, hoping to raise awareness about ineffective responses, poor treatment of victims, and repeat offenders being allowed to stay on campus. I have been optimistic about some of the changes taking place---increased pressure to comply with Title IX, the Obama administration's efforts to improve campus prevention and response.
And then this.
It is almost like no one is talking to these young men about any of these issue. Maybe they live under a rock. Maybe they just don't care. Maybe no one is talking to them about masculinity and sexual violence.
I laid in bed one night stewing about all this and have to admit that my first thoughts were punitive. ODU's Sigma Nu chapter was suspended pending a university investigation. "Big F-ing whoop," I thought. They should just be done. Zero tolerance. No more fraternity for them.
Full disclosure: I am not exactly the biggest cheerleader of the Greek system. In graduate school we were required to attend an event held by a group that we had negative stereotypes about (with the intention that exposure would change our perceptions). I went to a sorority fundraiser.
I came by my dislike of the Greek system honestly. A friend in college was raped at a fraternity party. Many of my friends (male and female) had negative experiences in fraternities and sororities related to hazing, binge drinking, disordered eating, etc. While working at various college counseling centers I heard many Greek-related horror stories.
A colleague of mine recently told me that he was asked to write a book chapter about fraternities and he declined the offer, saying that the chapter would be too short. Three words in fact:
"They are bad."
Unfortunately, most of the evidence indicates that these systems are problematic. How many stories of rape, racist songs, hazing related deaths, eating disorders, do we need to hear to realize that something is not working within the Greek system?
Which is how I got to the "get rid of all of them" opinion.
I responded to my colleague saying that fraternities are certainly more bad than good. Which is coming a long way for me.
I have a number of good friends, colleagues, and graduate students who participated in Greek life in college and found the experience to be empowering and positive. The idea of groups of students living together, providing each other with social and academic support, encouraging leadership, engaging in service to the community seems pretty good. The practice in many cases is much more problematic.
So maybe the Greek system should be eradicated on college campuses.
But, we would be foolish to think that will actually solve these problems.
As I thought about the events unfolding at Sigma Nu I realized that a punitive approach would likely accomplish little. Most likely the young men who made and hung those signs would just get angry about having their fraternity suspended and take their same attitudes about women elsewhere. They probably didn't learn anything and I doubt anyone at the campus feels safer.
Zero tolerance policies just don't work. As much I as I felt better for about 2 seconds being righteously angry, what I REALLY care about is the eradication of sexual violence. Maybe getting rid of fraternities will make college campuses safer. But probably not if that is all we do.
Perhaps it is time to use restorative justice with fraternity members in these cases. Focus on repairing the harm that has occurred within the community. Help young men deconstruct negative messages they have internalized about women. Challenge assumptions about masculinity. Create safe spaces where men can be authentic and vulnerable.
While many fraternities do become hubs for toxic ideas about hegemonic masculinity, objectification of women, and tolerance (and promotion) of violence, they are not the source of these problems. Until we do more as a society to challenge harmful stereotypes about masculinity and degradation of women, sexual violence will continue--whether or not fraternities are involved.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.