By Michelle Schaunaman, CCASA Blogger & Outreach Coordinator at TESSA
Recently, I made a shocking discovery. I am a feminist. A young woman raised in a religious, conservative Midwestern home may be one of the least likely feminists, but it happened. My epiphany came after reading Dr. Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, followed by hearing Dr. Jackson Katz speak at Colorado College. Dr. Herman opened my eyes to the systematic and institutional oppression of women and Dr. Katz let me know it was okay to ‘own’ my belief that women and men are equals and should be treated as such.
Like many young women, the word ‘feminist’ held negative connotations for me. It meant man-hating, bra burning, and being angry—three things I do not relate to on a personal level. It clicked for me, that feminist was not a negative word when Dr. Katz defined it in words to this effect—feminists don’t hate men, they see the possibility for men and society to change. Those were terms I could identify with, ‘possibility’ and ‘change,’ and then I realized I could own the values I grew up with, as well as be a feminist.
I share my background, because I want you to know where I am coming from before I give my opinions, and know that I am still on a journey of understanding and knowledge. After my enlightenment, I was sad to see there was much in-fighting amongst the feminist community. Whether it was racial or cultural insensitivity and under-representation or the ongoing debate about the existence of Rape Culture, I noticed no one seemed to be consulting each other. The Rape Culture debate in particular has caught my attention, as it seems that media in general is pitting feminists against each other, possibly to reduce our credibility.
To be honest, I believe Rape Culture is very real. Why else would I, someone educated in the true dynamics behind Sexual Assault, still feel shame over ‘enticing’ rapists because my body is not covered enough, feel compelled to keep my drink with me at all times (per the instructions of other women) so no one can slip anything in it, or own mace to stop potential rapists from attacking me? You can point to my upbringing as a religious, conservative Midwestern female—and guess what? That’s my culture! Beyond my personal cultural affiliations, many in America share these same ingrained victim-blaming sentiments.
We see these victim-blaming sentiments, as well as lack of offender accountability, in movies, television shows, music, and other forms of media. I could write a whole post on Rape Culture in media, but will save that for another time, because it is not the point I am trying to make. For now, check out past blogs on the subjects of media messages and Rape Culture.
My point is whether we are conservative, liberal, or libertarian feminists we need to have each other’s backs. There needs to be more conversation around Rape Culture. Saying that the use of the term Rape Culture is just causing hysteria, [Side note: Read Trauma and Recovery and learn how ‘hysteria’ was used historically in to reference women.] unnecessary censorship and paranoia, and a ‘rash’ of falsely accused college-aged males does not mean it does not exist. To me, Rape Culture simply refers to ingrained ways of thinking and social customs of our society that contribute to not believing victims, blaming victims, and not holding actual offenders accountable. It seems most agree we need to hold offenders accountable, and I think that is what RAINN was trying to say in their recent press release—blame perpetrators not the culture. However, perpetrators do not exist in a vacuum. Where do they get their ideas? Our culture? I think we all want offender accountability, but we need a united voice on how to reach it. Let’s have a collective conversation and stop publicly attacking each other.
So, how do we reach our common goal to have society hold offenders accountable? I think that Rape Culture discussions are one of the keys. Like it or not, it is a phenomenon that young activists have attached themselves to, and it seems to be charging up conversations about sexual assault. Real or imagined, it can be a tool to educate the masses about what rape actually is and how we as a society can change our archaic view of sexual assault. Long story short, let’s focus on our common goals and make change, not war amongst feminists.
Michelle Schaunaman is the Outreach Coordinator for TESSA of Colorado Springs. Currently, she provides education to high school students, members of the military, local businesses, civic organizations, faith-based organizations, and TESSA’s partner agencies about Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (DVSA). She also coordinates Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month events, as well as operates TESSA’s growing social media presence. Her goal is educate her community, Colorado, and the nation to end the cultural dynamics that allow DVSA in our society through engaging presentations and social media.