When I teach students about social issues I often face some resistance to the topic, particularly when trying to discuss how a phenomenon is impacted by underlying assumptions, stereotypes, or inequalities. Students sometimes resist the idea that an issue is about discrimination against one group and cleave to more surface explanations.
One of the most common times that this occurs is when we discuss rape myths. I read a number of statements and students have to move to different places in the room depending upon the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement. Some of the statements are fairly noncontroversial and simple—others get more complex. One statement reads “The way a woman dresses indicates her desire for sex.” Obviously the goal is to get students thinking about attitudes that contribute to victim blaming—one of the most common ones being that women “ask for it” because of how they dress, walk, drink, etc.
After students pick their place in the room, we discuss the statement and their reaction to it. This statement often brings up a lot of mixed feelings for individuals. And then I turn things on their head and ask students “How would a man dress if he wanted to indicate his desire for sex?”
Without fail, this statement is followed by laughter. Students’ first reaction to the question is that it is absurd. The same students who might have argued that in some way women should know that how they dress sends a message about what they want suddenly are at a loss for words.
I tell students that this can be a very useful tool when they are trying to evaluate something that is going on in the world and question whether or not it is about discrimination against one group. Simply examine how the phenomenon applies to a different group.
After the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a Massachusetts law that created a buffer zone protecting individuals entering and exiting abortion clinics I have wondered how to get people to see the underlying issues at hand. The Court argued that the law violated the 1st Amendment and placed too many restrictions on people’s freedom of speech.
Some people have tried to claim that the decision was simply about protecting Americans’ rights to free speech and to protest and wasn’t really about discriminating against women’s reproductive rights.
I have been hoping that someone would turn that argument on its head.
And someone did.
Her name is Rachel Maddow.
In her June 26th show, Rachel outlines the history of violence surrounding abortion clinics and compares it to the violence that has taken place in other areas that have buffer zones. None of those zones are being challenged with this new decision.
Check out the piece—it is an amazingly well researched and thoughtful approach to making sense of this Supreme Court decision. And remember this argument when you hear people claiming that the decision is not about reproductive rights. It just might leave them speechless.
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.