Occupy Sexism

2011 was a year where the world changed, visibly and suddenly, in a way that most of us have never before seen in our lifetimes. From the Arab Spring across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Egypt and Libya, to the protests across Europe and the Occupy movement beginning in New York and spreading all over the world, millions of people who didn’t have a voice or a say stood up and changed the way things worked in the world.

It’s still too early to judge what the effect of these in the long run will be, whether the system over the world will change, how the new governments that replaced the old dictators will do. But ultimately, that’s probably not the only metric by which they should be judged. It could easily be argued that the legacy of these worldwide protests in the year 2011 could be summed up in the following words by one of the protesters in Egypt:

“In the end,” Wael Nawara says, “things will turn out all right, because the relationship between people and authority has changed forever. People discovered that they can change and stop authority from going too far. That self-discovery changes everything. They learned they can replace a ruler. That’s the revolution.”[1]

To phrase it simply, all of these have shown us the power that people have nowadays.

Between almost everyone of teen or adult age having a cell phone, to Wikipedia letting us getting information about anything, to Facebook and Twitter allowing for quick communication between millions, an increasingly connected world is one where the good intentions of the everyday person gets increasingly closer to catching up to the might of the media and politics owned by the powerful few in a way that wasn’t possible even five years ago.

It’s created a generation growing up with the mindset that, much like Wikipedia has content created by ordinary people across the globe that corrects itself to show accuracy, or protests organized through Facebook and Twitter connects people who couldn’t have carried out any revolutions on their own can now connect and collectively brainstorm, where ideas aren’t created and followed through from a single authority but a good idea pops up and then becomes viral, spreading organically, growing stronger and being adapted to different situations like an open-source program.

And now, people are starting to take advantage, to tackle various injustices and issues through the impact a good message can have.

Having laid the groundwork with the idea that the world has shown us, now, that we have the power to change things drastically and how to go about it, I’d like to move on to the main point- a cause that should be a major issue but is so neglected, and shouldn’t stay that way. Namely, rape and sexual violence in society. It’s almost frighteningly prevalent. Various statistics seem to collate the number that about one in every six women have been raped at one point in their lives[2]. About one in every seven college girls have suffered the same crime[2].

Numbers staring out from a page doesn’t quite have as much power as they should, but just try imagining what it’s like living with that kind of statistic, especially for you male readers out there or people who believe the war for female equality has been completely settled. As a friend of mine once told me, “One in every six. If I have five friends that’s saying statistically that could easily be one of us.” And from among the people you know, probably already is. If you’re a guy just try imagine how you’d feel if you knew that you had a 15% chance of being stabbed, for example. You’d afraid going to your car in a deserted lot. You’d be nervous going home at night in a cab. When you hear about dictatorships or old Communist states where activists ‘disappear’ for expressing a different opinion, and think about the horror of living somewhere you’d always have to worry and watch your step every moment- imagine that. Having to live with fear isn’t a free and just world, and a world where this continues is not one where the fight for female equality has been won and should just be neglected. That’s what the scope of the problem is right now.

And only like a 10% of those girls report it to the police[2]. Only 1% end up getting to pressing charges[2]. And even from those, more than half the time the rapist is acquitted[2]. This is a crime which affects people’s entire lives, which is almost like killing a little part of someone, where they may never be the same- it’s one of the most disgusting crimes imaginable. If you’re a guy and don’t really understand how horrible the thought is or can’t understand why people find it so horrifying, just think of the idea of a guy bigger and stronger than you forcing themselves into you– does the thought makes your skin crawl? How’d you react if a bully did that to you in school or a deserted parking lot? Think for a moment, before you continue. This is the crime- how can someone doing one of the worst crimes possible get away around 99.5% of the time?

The answer clearly, is that something is terribly wrong with the status quo, and most of this with the mindset that the population in general, and figures in law enforcement and courts specifically as well, seem to have regarding rape and sexual violence. In English, these certain views are known as ‘rape culture’. It doesn’t refer to rapists- but to sexism and objectification of any women, to dismissing or stigmatizing women who have been victims of a crime, of a reluctance to consider the problem as one or to blame victims. It’s hard to deny that cultures do have a problem with sexism and objectification, and that it directly leads both to the enormously high rate of sexual violence as well as the disproportionately low rates of punishment. And this statement leads on to the basic idea that the views you hold and the things you say- whether it’s a sexist joke, or an objectifying discussion, or ‘dating tips’ that tell you how to manipulate a girl to try get them, or a demeaning comment to a woman when with a bunch of friends- directly create the atmosphere where women are unsafe, where these crimes can happen, and where people get away with it.

We begin to realize that these are an issue even as young as high school or teenage years. Not only because opinions that last for life can be created or broken at that age, but even in a direct way- if, as the earlier statistic says, one in every seven college girls has been raped, then trying to cut out the possibility even before that is obviously crucial.

So now we’re led to the question of how this is connected to the first section of this article. Ultimately, this is a call for action.

They could be the little things that individual readers can decide to do, too. For example, the guys among our readership who aren’t already so deciding to have guts, and stop making sexist statements or objectifying comments and be more respectful to women, regardless of whether other guys will make fun of you, to be a real man and decide that creating a safer world is a principle more important than trying to be macho and fit in. Understanding that no means no, and trying to understand when you’re trying to make a move or talk to a woman or understand if they say no that, for someone growing up with the very real possibility of a violent crime happening to you anywhere and of anyone you are alone with hurting you, that for all they know you might do the same. Or for girls to demand the bravery of standing up for that from their male friends, classmates or boyfriends; because when something is no longer acceptable in your classes or circles of friends, it makes people think about whether and how it is wrong.

But mostly, for students in schools or colleges, or people who’re working. Not everyone will read this, maybe only a handful. But this is a call of action for you with the hope that you’ll go back to your schools or classes or workplaces, and you’ll ask the teacher or the principal or the boss for some time to talk a little or give a presentation, and that you will.

I’m firmly of the belief that, even though some unshakeable jerks exist in every group of people, that a large majority of people who are sexist or objectifying will stop once they understand the magnitude of the issue, that even though individual criminals may be okay the mindset which shapes these future criminals and then lets them get away with it is a matter of ignorance that can be corrected. Much like people’s views on racism has changed between the 60s and now, or how many people who grow up against homosexuality get rid of their homophobic views as they learn more about it and see that it’s normal. Those were all also situations where people were to some degree dehumanized, and thus a mindset of discrimination and violence against them was more acceptable than it is now- as people are taught to not think of a woman as some weird other species, or a video-game puzzle to unlock to get some, or someone at a bar to try trick and manipulate into sleeping with you, or as temperamental, irrational bundles of emotions, or eye candy, or someone at work who is less good at things.

It’ll help them realize the fact that not calling it out is creating an atmosphere where sexist comments are considered okay, and having to calmly bear objectifying or lewd remarks is considered part and parcel of life that girls should just live with and get over. One where people who’d do stuff like that hear  all that, instead of things that make them take a look at themselves and think- and then believe or make themselves believe that it’s not as big a deal, that it’s condoned, that doing so and so to a woman isn’t as bad, and go on to do those kinds of things. And that a world where those things are accepted instead of called out and shamed is one that creates the kind of sexism where police and juries and people are able to dehumanize those girls far too easily and assume a lie instead of facing a possibility that makes people uncomfortable, making people so reluctant to report it because they’re more likely to get in trouble than to get help; a world where people constantly put some responsibility of it on them, even though nobody finds it that hard to believe if someone says they got robbed or beat up, or says they were asking for it by looking like they’d own a wallet. And as that changes and improves, open and widespread sexism and objectification will become a thing of the past as much as open and widespread racism has become nowadays.

So this is a call for action for all of you, in an increasingly connected world, with the internet allowing you to share your own experience with it or plan and make ideas, to try that in your own schools and workplaces so that a number of the twenty or fifty or two hundred others you talk to may just walk out of there with a different mindset, that they may tell their friends or share their views or stand up for those beliefs to other people, and that way it could change a city. That in a world with Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and dozens of friends from various countries, that this idea could spread to other schools and other cities and other countries.

It’s a belief that our generation is one that can change the world and that it’s probably around time for us to start. That we can set our minds to it, starting here in our own communities, on to our cities and countries, and perhaps, who knows, the world- to start in our hallways and classrooms to make sexism and rape no longer something ‘everyday’.

 

Footnotes

[1] – http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2101745_2102132_2102373,00.html

[2] – www2.binghamton.edu/counseling/documents/RAPE_FACT_SHEET1.pdf

 

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