About a month ago I was sitting with some of the most intelligent and insightful women I know. When we are together our discussions tend to be meaningful in ways that I never expect and certainly don’t give us enough credit for. Today as I am flying, whenever I fly I have this overwhelming desire to write, I am compelled to write about our discussion from that Sunday afternoon.
We covered white privilege- which in and of itself is interesting and really important since we are all white and relatively privileged people. I’m gonna break this one down a little before I move on.
When I decided that I wanted to volunteer at the Sexual Assault Resource Centre at Concordia University I had to go through training- this obviously makes perfect sense because there are a lot of things that you need to be aware of when dealing with survivors of sexual violence. Among the many topics we covered in training, privilege was one of them. We were handed a form that had something like 30 questions on it. These questions were all about ways in which you have ever felt discriminated against. As grateful as I am that I very honestly answered the form and had only ever felt discriminated against due to being female or because of my age a handful of times in my life, I was also shocked. I had never realized just how my white skin and middle class upbringing has affected the way I interact in the world and how the world interacts with me.
I fall into the closest thing to the highest ranking white privilege category possible as a female. I am a university educated, white, heterosexual, cisgendred female who has a job and makes a decent wage. Seriously, other than not having a penis I am as close as it gets to being the top of the white privilege food chain. I had NEVER been aware of this until this past September. Ladies and gents that is really not that long ago and I am now 30 years old. I am not saying I haven’t been aware of privilege, I just had never really realized just how privileged I was until I took this questionnaire and realized that there are people out there who would not have the same answers as me. There are people who do not see their gender represented on a census form. There are people who have been pulled aside and asked extra questions at customs based on their skin tone. There are people who have been targeted for violent acts because they are different.
And for those of you who may be reading this thinking that white privilege does not actually exist I think you may need to take the same questionnaire I did. For those of you who are going a step farther in your denial of white privilege and about to say that reverse racism (a claim that affirmative action, where, for example if you need to hire 5 people you make it part of the guideline that at least 2 of them must be female, or non-white or whatever other thing you want) is actually hindering white people, I will say it again, please take the questionnaire and put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a change. Take a moment to wonder what your life would have been like if you did not have the particular life that you have.
So when five university educated and socially conscious white women get into a discussion about white privilege, sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual violence you can be sure that it’s going to be interesting, even if for the pure reason that we are all white and talking about white privilege. To be honest though the part of the discussion that I actually wanted to talk about when I began writing this post had nothing to do with white privilege. It had to do with this very very scary post that someone had posted on Facebook and it made its way into our conversation.
The picture above is terrifying! It is terrifying for the obvious reason- sexual violence is NEVER okay- and it is terrifying for all the subtle reasons that people don’t always think about or realize. I think it’s important to note that we have no idea how this data was collected, what age the students were, what their background is etc… That being said the information is still important to discuss. The male to female percentage ratio is not all that surprising to me, sadly. It does not surprise me that more males would say it’s okay for each situation than females. For me it’s when the female percentage suddenly goes up that I get more worried- because I have been there.
“she is going to and then changes her mind” I’ve been that person. I’ve been in a situation where things were going well and then I really wanted to stop, however, in my mind we were ‘too far along’ to stop. I had decided that there was in fact a point of no return. And, to be clear I was no longer a teenager who may not have all the information and knowledge.
“she has led him on” Well this one is very similar to the previous statement and I have clearly been in that space.
The question for us as a society and culture is what the hell are we doing that makes people think that it is ever okay to force someone to have sex with them?! And again I have to tell you that most of the time this happens in really subtle ways, it’s not always obvious that it is not consensual.
I have heard people say that we do not live in a rape culture and I want to scream at them! However, I know that screaming will not get my point across and so instead I do my best to calmly have a conversation about how there are about a million and one things that happen daily, that unless you are on the receiving side of, you do not notice- help contribute to a rape culture.
Here are a few examples:
women portrayed as objects in advertising
women and men being plastered half naked on magazine covers and billboards
politicians spewing anti-EVERYTHING language on a worldwide forum, yes I am talking about Trump
It all plays a part. It is not one single thing that contributes to culutre, it’s a million things that happen which build an intricate web of rape culture and violence that makes it next to impossible to know where to start to take it apart.
Let’s also be really clear about what sexual violence really is- it’s VIOLENCE, of a sexual nature. It has nothing to do with sex, not really, and everything to do with power and control. Two men get into a fist fight, it’s about power and control- who can dominate the other one. The exact same thing is happening when it comes to sexual violence. Sometimes it involves hitting however most of the time it is MUCH more subtle than that and yet, it is always about power and control.
We need to be more conscious about the way we teach and talk about sex. And men, we need you to get involved. Women and the LBGT communities have been talking about this for years already and the thing that is missing from the conversation are the male voices. Sure there are some of you out there from all genders and walks of life that still believe that sexual violence is not an actual problem, chances are you are also the ones who believe that reverse racism is a thing- I’m not talking to you. I am talking to the people who care about others, the people who believe that respect for the people walking down the street with you is important, and the people who want to be part of creating a world filled with more kindness.
To those people- please educate yourselves and please have the difficult conversations. I know that facing your own privilege is not easy, I know that talking about sex openly and consciously is not easy but I have a trick- the more you talk about it the easier it becomes. It’s just like riding a bike, if you do not practice it never gets easier, the more you practice the easier it becomes. So, if you are out with friends and someone says something derogatory in any way, say something about it. Even if it’s hard and awkward, tell them that it’s not okay. Be compassionate and be ready to not have it be well received and say it anyway because maybe one day they will actually hear it and realize that they actually do play a part in the way our culture is created.
We have the capability to start breaking apart the web, we just have to start. Start with whatever piece you can and the more people who do that the easier it will be to break it all down. Together we can make a difference. Together anything is possible.