Violence Against Women: Why Should Men Care?

April is sexual assault awareness month. It’s sad to think that I didn’t know that until this year, but hey, it’s never too late to learn (after all, at least one more person is aware!). The reason I now know this is because I had the pleasure of listening to Jackson Katz, who is recognized as one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists, talk about how violence against women is also a men’s issue. His talk that he gave to various members of the student body here at AU was loosely based off of his TED Talk, Jackson Katz: Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue and provided a unique viewpoint on violence against women- one that I had never heard or pondered.

If there was one main thing that he wanted to get across to those who attended his talk, it was that it enrages him that violence against women has, “been seen as a women’s issue that some good men help out with” because he believes that, “calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem”. By calling sexual assault and violence against women a women’s issue solely, he believes that it gives men an excuse to not pay attention. Even here at AU, his belief was held true. When you look at who attended his talk, the majority were women. Not only that, but even though all Greek organizations were required to have at least 70% of their organization in attendance or else they would be faced with a fine, only two fraternities of thirteen on campus met the requirement, while almost every sorority did. (I guess now I know which frats to avoid). This is part of the issue: gender violence is a problem that affects both men and women, yet it is viewed as “unmanly” to actively support women in the effort to alleviate said violence. Every man has a mother and grandmother. Some have sisters. Eventually, most will have wives. We can’t coexist on this planet without members of the opposite sex, so it baffles me that in 2014, there is still gender inequality and patriarchal dominance that reigns superior in our society.

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April is sexual assault awareness month.

But what can we do? There’s still work to be done and it all starts with taking action instead of only taking interest, so I’ll leave you with this idea from Katz.

“There’s so many men who care deeply about these issues, but caring deeply is not enough. We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.”

What do you think about this topic? Should more men be challenged to stand up for women or is it too ingrained in their minds to put women down? How can we begin to make positive changes to help the genders become more equal? Is this even possible?

*If this interests you, make sure and check out my post about AU and EI and how sexual assault plays a part in the whole debacle.

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Turns Out the Line Isn’t So Clear: Do Cheaters Deserve Second Chances?

I always thought I would be one of those people who believed that cheaters didn’t deserve second chances. If things are going well in a relationship, then there’s no reason to cheat, and if things aren’t going so swell, then you either fix the issue before you feel the need to cheat or you end it. It’s as easy as that; something that’s black and white with no room for any shade of grey.

Then this weird thing happened. I wasn’t cheated on, but one of my very close friends was, and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Granted, it didn’t happen directly to me, but my feelings weren’t as I expected them to be. I had always thought that if a friend came to me saying her significant other had cheated on her, I would say something along the lines of, “You really should dump him. You deserve better than that.” Classic, right? But it turns out that when you’re actually in the situation, things don’t always go as you imagined they would (shocking, I know).

Recently, a friend confided in me that her boyfriend of four years had cheated on her. They were high school sweethearts, making the transition to college. Here’s the thing, though. If it’s possible to “kind of cheat”, then that’s what he did. The problem with the cheating issue is that two people in a relationship rarely take the time to consciously talk about what they think of cheating to be. Is it flirting, kissing, or having sex? Or, is it more about the emotional side of things? How do you deem that your partner has established an emotional connection with someone that qualifies as cheating? To complicate things further, what happens to the definition of cheating when we add online cheating to the mix? Affairs used to take longer to develop, especially because you had to leave your house. But now that social media and technology are so accessible, one can be in constant communication with someone other than their partner without being suspiciously absent physically. Then my question is, how do you decipher between what is an emotional affair (or emotional sex since that’s the emerging phrase) and what’s just establishing a friendship?

In my friend’s case, her boyfriend cheated on her with a girl with whom he had an emotional connection. But, according to his story, he wouldn’t have had sex with the girl if she hadn’t initiated and if he hadn’t been drunk. Does his intoxication make the cheating okay or was he just giving her an excuse?

When you hear someone has been cheated on, it’s easy to begin to bash the cheater. But you have to remember that even though you might think the worst of them, your friend is still under their spell. They still care about the person who has cheated on them, even though they know they’ve been wronged. They remember all the reasons they chose that person as the one for them, whether that’s for a lifetime, a few years or a few months. Love and hate are centered in the same part of the brain after all, making both feelings extremely passionate and usually irrational.

Now, keep in mind that when my friend told me this, I had just come off of a Grey’s Anatomy binge watching spree. I truly found Dr. Bailey’s words so applicable, which is why they were the only thing I really said to her. “He did a terrible thing. It doesn’t mean he’s a terrible person.” When I told this to my friend, she burst into tears. She had kept a straight face through the entire story, but it was at this moment that she broke down. Everyone who she had told prior to me had said to dump him. They said he didn’t deserve her. He wasn’t good enough. But, she loves him. He’s a part of her, and four years (especially when you only have eighteen under your belt) are tough to just let go of. When you’re cheated on, it’s the ultimate betrayal. You love someone so much and therefore want to satisfy them every way possible, and when they turn their back on you and explore other options (either emotionally or physically), you can’t help but feel at a loss. What do you do? How do you recover? Do you even recover from this?

As for my friend, she ended up staying with her boyfriend. Some may call it young and naive love, but she thinks it’s the real deal. Sometimes it’s still hard to come to the realization that their trust has been broken, but little by little, it’s being rebuilt. They’re putting new boundaries in place and restructuring how their relationship works. In a sense, I like to look at it as the cheating marked an end of an era for them. They had been highschool sweethearts who hadn’t faced too many struggles in their relationship, but now, because of the cheating, they made the decision to move on and start a new chapter. With a new sense of perspective and outlook on what it takes to make a relationship work, they were able to catapult into the next phase, a more mature one. They understand that the things you want most in life are worth fighting for, and that’s where they are right now: they’re working each day to, like Tim Gunn says, “make it work” and update the pieces they put in place four years ago that are no longer working.

At the end of the day, it’s a choice you have to make. Do you move forward with the cheater, knowing that there’s a broken piece in the relationship that may never be able to be pieced back together, or do you break it off? I think cheating is one of those things that, without a story to put behind it, is easy to see as black and white. But the minute you factor in memories and love, the line gets smudged. The choice should be individual, and we shouldn’t be shaming people for giving cheaters a second chance. They might get hurt again, but it’s their choice to make. And who knows? Maybe the cheater learns their lesson, but we will never know if we don’t give them a second chance.

Update: This post has now been featured on Feminspire. Check it out here!

Why the Selfie Revolution Has Actually Helped Women

To selfie or not to selfie, that is always the question.

So, you might have heard. Selfie was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013. However, it’s been around longer than you may think. It all started with MySpace back in the early 2000’s, when you needed a profile picture of you, and only you, so that your “friends” could find you easily. Early 2000 selfies can include but are not limited to awkward early teenage years, bathroom mirrors (don’t forget about the flash reflected in the mirror) and ancient looking cell phones (a Razr or Chocolate if you were cool). However, when Facebook came into the mix and wiped out MySpace, selfies nearly vanished as well. On Facebook, the informal idea was to post photos of yourself, taken by someone else, or to post photos of you and your friends. But with the introduction and popularization of Instagram in late 2010, selfies returned and have evolved to be even bigger than ever anticipated.

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Ellen’s famous Oscar selfie

In today’s world, we are bombarded by pictures. We float between checking our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (selfie city right there) and are constantly stimulated by an exciting, yet deceiving online world. With the introduction of Instagram and Snapchat, selfies became an everyday activity, both privately and publicly.

So, my question is: Is the rise of the selfie into everyday life positively or negatively impacting our culture, specifically for women?

Common arguments like to suggest that taking selfies come from our culture becoming more narcissistic. An article from the Associated Press, for example, points out that, “Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist Carole Lieberman sees narcissism with a capital N. ‘The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. We’re desperately crying out: Look at me!’” But I don’t see it that way.

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Kim Kardashian: AKA selfie Queen

Taking a cue from Starbucks, the way I see it is that people are using selfies to document the everyday things that happen in life instead of only taking photos at parties, vacations or other “special events”. I mean, when I look back to the pictures of my first year of college, I can honestly say that about 80% are saved snapchats. Of those snapchats, 90% are selfies either of me or my friends. But how special is that? Now, because taking selfies has become so commonplace, it’s socially acceptable to snap a picture of yourself, well, anywhere. We now have recorded evidence of everything: from that run (okay, it was more of a walk, but we can call it a run) that you took yesterday to the scrumptious milkshake you inhaled after said run, we have selfie proof that it happened. But even better than that, another important thing has happened in the selfie revolution, and that is that the emphasis has moved from girls posting pictures of their bodies to posting pictures of their faces. Instead of posting photos of our bodies, sexualizing ourselves for men to ogle us and women to envy us, we are posting our beautiful faces. Who cares if we are duck lipping it (a personal fave) or if we put a filter on it? We are reclaiming the idea that we hold more beauty in our faces than our bodies. Our faces tell a story of where we’ve been and who we are, whether that’s through the dimple in your cheek or the lines on your forehead from when you frown.

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Even Mona Lisa takes selfies 

So, I say take all the selfies you want! We have the power each and everyday to choose how we view the world. You can view selfies as a self centered thing saying, “look at me” or you can choose to understand that there’s more to a selfie than what meets the eye. Take Cancer Research UK for example, who took the selfie fad as an excuse to promote cancer research and inner beauty by having women post selfies with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie. By promoting selfies and teaching young girls that it’s okay to be confident in themselves and take selfies and be proud of the people they are, then we are helping to raise a generation of women who believe that they are enough. We are teaching them that they are not their bodies and that by controlling the way in which the picture is taken, everyone can feel confident and happy with having their picture taken. When we have a generation of women who gravitate towards cameras instead of shying away from them, that’s when I will know that we’ve done our job in creating a generation of women who are happy, confident and understand their worth, both in front of and behind the camera. Until then, keep taking those selfies.

Of course, I couldn’t write this without including my own selfie. So alas, here you go.

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Me at the top of the Empire State building in NYC… couldn’t pass up the opportunity! 

How do you view selfies? Are they empowering, a fad, or just downright ridiculous? I’d love to know what you think! 

UPDATE: This post was featured on Feminspire, so check it out here!

Vulnerability and Sex: Do They Go Hand in Hand?

I have this friend, let’s call her Piper, who has an interesting perspective on sex. One that, for me, I do not find to be true as do most of the other people in our friend group. Piper doesn’t see sex as an act of love or emotion, rather just something that one does to have fun and let loose. When she told me this, I had to really stop and think about her viewpoint. Yes, we see impulsive one night stands and sex being done purely for fun on TV and in movies, but up until this point, I had never actually met someone, let alone a girl, who held this belief to be true.

After digging a little deeper into this and practically psychoanalyzing her (disclaimer: she psychoanalyzes me too), I realized something. It’s not that she doesn’t understand that for some people sex is supposed to be meaningful, it was just that for her, she was too scared to allow herself to be vulnerable enough to someone else to become meaningful. Because of things that happened in her childhood, she built up walls around her heart and shied away from letting herself be vulnerable to other people in all aspects of her life. But vulnerability is a funny thing, and something that almost everyone struggles with at some point in their life. Our natural instinct is not to be vulnerable because that’s scary. We worry that if we let ourselves be vulnerable, something bad might happen: we won’t be accepted, we won’t be loved, or we won’t be understood for who we truly are. But as Brené Brown, a self described researcher storyteller and presenter of the TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability says, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggles for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging and of love”.

I told Piper that by being scared to be vulnerable and by refusing to let herself be truly seen by someone, she was going to miss out on something, sexually and emotionally. By suppressing her fears and struggles (the scary part of vulnerability) and acting like they didn’t exist, she was also not giving herself a chance to experience the other part of being vulnerable which is having someone see you for who you truly are, with all of your imperfections, and still love you. Vulnerability is two fold and difficult to portray because there are so many uncertainties, and unfortunately, sometimes when you let yourself be vulnerable, you have to come to terms that there is the possibility of being hurt as a result.

What I told her was that she wasn’t wrong in thinking that sex is just an act with no meaning, but what I tried to get across to her was that there is more to sex than the act itself. There is a time to have it just for fun, but hopefully at some point in your life, there should be emotion and passion behind it. At the end of my explanation of how I had disentangled her life to be able to get to the root of why she thought of sex as a meaningless act she turned to me and said, “you just psychoanalyzed me on what I thought sex was, not lovemaking”. Touché Piper, touché.

How do you feel about this? Do you think there is pressure to have meaningful sex or do you think sex should sometimes just be for pure physical pleasure?

Please, please, please watch this video… I cannot emphasize enough how important this concept is to incorporate into every aspect of our lives. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!