When I address high school girls and college women I begin by telling them about male socialization. Most haven't heard the truth about male socialization, especially from a male. Very often as I talk, some cry, most get very quiet. Previously they have been taught to ignore their instincts; not to identify abuse that they have suffered as abuse; that the greatest danger is from a stranger; and that it is nearly inevitable that they will be assaulted. Their only hope, they have been taught is: 1) to dress differently; 2) to drink less; 3) accept the protection that a male relative or partner offers (no matter that statistically he is most likely to assault them); 4) blame the victim and otherwise distance themselves from other survivors who they believe to be weak; 5) continue to believe that it is hopeless that there is nothing that a "mere" girl or woman can do to avoid sexual assault. It would be wrong to leave them feeling hopeless, so I read aloud from the following stories I have collected. I suggest to them that many females have "success" stories, stories where they (or other females) have avoided sexual assault. Sharing these stories and supporting survivors is definitely part of rape prevention for females. But, I don't want to victim-blame inadvertently. I include the following "disclaimer." There is no 100%, fool-proof method of rape avoidance. The research of Dr. Pauline Bart suggests though, that when women employ one rape avoidance strategy, they successfully disrupt 75% of rape attempts; and when two strategies are employed, women successfully disrupt 85% of attempted rapes! (NOTE: There are survivors present. There are girls or women who have employed any number of "proven" avoidance techniques, and were still assaulted. You weren't assaulted because you did something wrong or because you didn't do the right thing. Someone else chose to assault you. The perpetrator is completely responsible for committing the assault; someone who has been assaulted is in no way at fault because they didn't avoid being assaulted. And, even if you do all the genuinely right things, you can still be assaulted there are no 100% prevention techniques yet. Additionally, we need to support those who, trusting their instincts and fearing for their lives, choose to submit to the person intent on assaulting them. Submission is not consent.)
1.) The 14 year-old, younger sister of a friend was in New York City on her own alone from "safe," rural Connecticut. A man sitting in a car parked by the curb called out to her, got her attention by gesturing with a road map. Wanting to be helpful and assuming that he needed directions, she went to the car. When she came up to the car and stuck her head into the car to look at the map, he pulled the map away. He was masturbating. "What do you think of that?" he asked. She briefly glanced at his penis, looked him in the eye and said, "I've seen better," and walked away.
2.) One of the founders of Chimera (women's self defense) was on a crowded, rush-hour bus in Chicago. She felt a hand on her breast. It was her breast, it wasn't her hand. She grabbed the hand by the wrist and, not letting go of the now wriggling hand, shouted as she simultaneously thrust the hand into the air, "Look what I found on my breast...Did anyone lose a hand?" The perpetrator flew off the bus at the next possible stop.
3.) A high school girl was in an Arby's, waiting in line. She noticed an older man, obviously staring at her body. She felt uncomfortable. She moved to stand in front of her boyfriend to put him between she and the staring man. The man craned his neck to continue to stare at her, around her boyfriend. The girl turned to the man and asked him, "What are you thinking? Do you know that I am 16 years old? You should be ashamed of yourself."
4.) At the University of Illinois, there was a group of activist women called "Sluts Against Rape." They dress in fishnet stockings and bustiers and insist on the right, dressed in any way, at any time, to be safe from masculine violence. When I first heard their name, I admit to questions about what they stood for. "Ladies Against Women?" The text of one of their signs reads, "YES MEANS F*** ME NO MEANS F*** YOU."
5.) A female friend in Chicago was accosted on her way to the train to work every morning. Like clockwork for several weeks, a car full of young men would pull along side her and eventually one would roll down his window and ask, "do you want a ride or what?" She would square her shoulders and ignore them and eventually they would drive off. "One bad morning," as she described it, "when my usual car full of chaperones pulled up I was in no mood for their usual stuff." "Do you want a ride or what?" they asked." "Listen," she said, "I am late, pre-menstrual, tore a run in my panty hose and generally am not looking forward to work let's forget the ride and go right to ‘or what.'" They drove off, wheels screeching and never showed up again.
6.) A woman responded to group of men who were verbally abusive, attacking her with phrases that attempt to both reduce women to their genitals and insult women's genitals. "We stopped and politely corrected them," she said. "You are referring, no doubt, to that space between a woman's legs that forms a maple nest? Pungent, we agree. At times, perhaps, in need of some gentle soap and warm water. Your doorway to the world." by Meredith Rose
7.) Many female first-year students at a school were offended by posters and centerfold-type pin-ups of women that male first-year students would display in their dorm rooms. The women's appeals to the men fell on unresponsive ears. Many males defended the posters as art, typified the women's efforts as censorship, and refused to listen to the women's desire to discuss how they felt about the one-dimensionality of the depiction of women. Instead of feeling impotent and/or appealing to the Adults of residence life to arbitrate (as if they would or could do much), the women responded directly with an "art show" of their own. They displayed a montage of penises that they cut-out from Playgirl and gay male porn. They invited the men to a showing of their "art." The men were outraged. "This objectifies men," they declared. But the point was effectively made. After the men took their posters down, the women followed by removing their penis display. (thanks to Dr. Ault for this item)
Stories from my mother
When my father was still alive I talked to him often about my developing understanding of sexual assault. I have also talked to my mother. She is (as my father was) supportive. Several years ago, I was talking to my mother. She said "You know, I just don't think that there were as many rapes when I was young." I replied, "Well, I wasn't alive then Mom, so I can't for sure tell you that I know better than you, but I believe that there were as many then as now. I think the main difference was that rape, incest and domestic violence were not publicized as much as now." I added that many more abusive acts have now finally been criminalized and some people's understanding has grown. Several days later, we were talking again. She said, "You know, I have been thinking about what you said about rape. Do you mean things like this? When I was 12 years old, I was on a street car [precursor of the modern bus] alone. A middle-aged man I didn't know sat down next to me and started to touch my thigh with his hand. I jumped up and ran to a different seat. He followed me and sat down next to me again and started touching me again. Other people on the streetcar saw what he was doing and did nothing. This time I jumped up, got off the bus and ran home. I never told my mother. You mean things like that?
Or when I was 19 years old, already married to your father, we were living on the Army base. A neighbor had a medical deferment. He also had a car and gas rations. He would take all of the wives food shopping in his car. One evening he agreed to drive me for food. He took a different path that I was familiar with and we ended up at the base rifle range. I asked him what he was doing. He parked and said ‘You've always wanted me and I've wanted you. Here we are.' I replied, 'Don't be ridiculous. I don't want you. You just think so because you're so short and insecure.' He deflated right before my eyes and drove me home. You mean things like that?" I replied, "Yes, those kinds of attempted and completed assaults have always been prevalent and have always been the majority of assaults. And even if you had reported, the authorities probably would not have done anything."
Later, I was sharing some of the stories (printed above) with her. She said, "You know, when your sister was young, I never told her any of those stories. Maybe I should have." I assured her that she did not fail and that probably many (most) (all?) women had stories like that and relatively few had told their daughters their "success" stories. I added that I believe many women almost take these abuses for granted, as if assault were a "natural part" of growing up female. Of course no one asks to be attacked. But at the same time few people have ever told girls that they deserve better. I include this material here and in many of my presentations with girls in middle school, high school and with women in college. I am not trying to shame those women who hadn't thought to tell their stories to their daughters. How many of their mothers told them stories like this?
And what about telling our sons these stories.
© 1997 JOSEPH WEINBERG & ASSOCIATES