Let’s talk about sex...ualization...
Oh good, did I get your attention.
After a colleague shared a Ted Talk with me last week via email, titled “Locker Room Talk” Says Who?, I began to think about my own experience as a woman, my friends, my colleagues, my students and my ten-year-old son. Alexis Jones shares a couple stats related to sexual assault: 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assault and 1 in 16 men. In addition, there are high rates of sexual assault in the LGBT community. Alexis shares that sexual assault is a symptom of how our young men are being programmed regarding how men talk about, think about and treat women.
After watching the Ted Talk a few times, it really hit home for me when I think about the young man I am raising. I began to have a few conversations with friends this week regarding the idea of sexual assault and sexualization of women.
From these conversations, another colleague shared with me this week a documentary titled,“The Mask We Live In”. The documentary discusses the messaging a young man receives as he progresses through various stages throughout his life span (beginning around the age of 5). I watched it this week and my eyes filled with tears thinking about my ten-year-old son.
Another documentary that came to mind is one that a college senior shared with me last year titled, “Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution”. The documentary is about coming of age in today’s young adult hookup culture. The film explores the journey of college students on Spring Break. The film shares shocking insight into attitudes and behaviors regarding sex, the normalization of sexual violation, and the struggle against conceptions of gender and sexuality shaped by the media.
I ask that you take some time to watch the Ted Talk and the two documentaries (currently both documentaries can be watched on Netflix), and consider the connections between all three.
What is our role (as educators, parents, friends, colleagues)? And how can we see each other as humans versus focusing on masculine and feminine traits? We all have traits that are feminine and masculine. However, men are often told not to show emotion and to man up. As a mom, I can have conversations with my son about this, however, I think about what behaviors he may have to develop to protect himself in the environments of extreme masculinity and feel he needs to express himself through dominance, power, or fame to survive. I also, think about how if any of us as humans select to use dominance, power, or fame over others we will only negatively influence society.
What does my son need to know about how to treat a person he cares deeply about? What should he learn about expressing his emotions? Should it be to Man Up? To Not be a P*****, To Be a Man, To Not Hit Like a Girl.
Absolutely not! He needs to learn how to express his emotions, not suppress them. My concern is that even if he knows it is okay to cry, that it is okay to share how one is feeling, that you don’t have to be the star athlete, that you can bake a cake, whatever, that he will still have to change his behavior to survive in the environments we have created as a society.
And then on top of that I’ve been thinking about his access to sexual messaging and how women are portrayed and how through these outlets he will learn how to talk about, think about, and treat women?
Before we go any farther, let me clarify that I am not an expert in the study of sexual assault or sexualization (objectification of women). My interest in the subject matter relates to how adolescents and college students develop throughout their life span and how these matters contribute to their holistic development as a human being.
I am also interested in how this impacts the world of sport management and understanding our roles as educators and professionals in how we contribute to the environment that may objectify how women are viewed. As Alexis Jones stated, it is about changing the mindset, we are programmed regarding our thoughts related to sex based on what we see, hear, are told, what we value, and other things.
The impact is that we are exposed to it daily. What are we teaching young men regarding how to treat women? And what are we teaching women in regards to how they should be treated? And how is women’s behavior changing as part of this?
What are we doing?
For the rest of my post I will speak from my experiences by sharing a few stories of being assaulted, harassed and sexualized as a woman.
This is I, Cara, sharing only a few of my stories and understandings.
After prayer and speaking with friends this week, Esther 4:14 is my support as I share a few short stories.
Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.
In the Bible, Esther at times did not have any safe choices. To speak or to be silent could result in demise.
The fate of how women are treated depends on the decision we make to speak up.
What is our obligation?
Consequences of sharing can result in success or failure. There is anxiousness in the choice to speak, however, God knows my heart so I can be brave to do what I know to be right.
Growing up working in sports, I felt like there was an underlying rule to “just be one of the guys”, “crack the jokes”, “laugh along”, and “go with it”.
It’s probably been about ten years or so where I finally started to stand up for myself, sometimes it can be exhausting and I still go with the flow. After watching the videos above, I understand a little better about how for our men it goes much deeper and almost breaks my heart in how they are stripped of their emotional capacity at such a young age. (I’ll be honest to mention I’m still processing.)
I’ve been speaking with many colleagues about this in relation to the work we do in sport environments. And trying to figure out our responsibility.
I don’t know how this will come across but I’m going there.
Take a deep breath, inhale...exhale...whew!?!
My first thoughts were directed towards my son and how I needed to have a conversation about respecting women. This has been on mind for a few weeks and it all came back the end of last week after watching the Ted Talk.
Three weeks ago, I was at the beach with family.
At the beach this summer I was walking with my ten year old son Caelan and was catcalled (more times than I can count on one hand) throughout the week by men sticking their heads out the window to shout something, whistle or break there neck.
Caelan gave me a look like what the heck, after the first couple. Third times a charm, I turned to Caelan and said, “don’t be that guy.” We began to talk about how to treat people. As he gets older, I’ll take time to share more experiences with him.
I told him that if not already, soon you are going to begin to hear things that do not come from a kind, loving place in regards to how to talk and treat women. I said you will even hear things from people close to you and I said you have every right to say, “that’s not right.” (I say this but after watching the documentary The Mask We Live In that he may have a hard time doing this in the environments he may find himself in – how do I prepare him for that – how do I support him?).
I can only imagine how horrifying and embarrassing for him it was to be walking with his 40 year old mother as men yelled inappropriate things out of the window (ugh…disgusting).
So for perspective, from one woman, me...I can remember hearing inappropriate comments since I was 12…so for 28 years.
I’m sharing so you can put a face with a few stories and know that the women you are close to have experienced some of the following or worse.
I had a guy attempt sexual assault against me when I was an undergrad in college. I was attending a party. I was lucky that I had friends who stood up to help me before it went too far. At the party, the guy trapped me in the bathroom and began to put his hands up my shirt, trying to unbutton my pants and touch me. I began banging on the door for help and three guys that I worked with in campus recreation began screaming and yelling at the guy to open the door. They were part of the cure, looking out and stepping up to help. The guy who attempted to assault me never knew he had because he was so drunk. I would pass him in the hallway going to class and he didn’t even know what he had done. We may have had reporting systems then but I didn’t tell anyone and oh geez this is probably the first time my parents are hearing about it. (Mom, are your reading this?)
This stuff goes so much deeper than one or two instances. Here I share a couple more, however, it is important to know there are more and stories that I am not sharing at this time.
I remember attending a conference, I was 19 at the time. I was with four other men, colleagues (ranging from ages 30-50). We all went out to lunch and had to drive to a restaurant, we ate lunch and someone states how about one more stop before going back to the conference. The car slows down and pulls into the parking lot of a sex shop. Well you can only imagine the jokes that began. I started to be teased about going in or not going in (here were people I respected, I thought, who were helping me with my career and it was the first time I really remember feeling they don’t appreciate me for my work ethic or what I contribute but see me as an object. I went in because I thought it would be worse if I didn’t. I stood to the side feeling awkward as they all looked around the shop, this young woman with four men ten or more years older than her. I remember feeling so uncomfortable, talk about the influence of positional power. I wish I could go back in time and speak up, however, I can’t. What I can do is share the story for us to consider our roles in how we contribute to breeding this culture or how we will take action to change it.
Later, when I was 30 I began my first time in a teaching position as a faculty member. I remember the first day of one of my classes. I’m going over the syllabus and we get to the part about academic decorum, good ole classroom behavior. I ask the students to give examples of things we will not do in the classroom. Remember I teach sport management so the majority of the courses I teach are male dominated. A male student in the back of the classroom raises his hand and says, “masturbate”, my coping mechanism of “being one of the guys” spurred through me, “I responded jokingly with, “that’s a great example of what we will not be doing in here”. I’m sure I chuckled because it is my coping mechanism when I find myself in uncomfortable situations. The other male students looked mortified and began to slide down into their seats. I proceeded to move on with the class. I addressed it with the student later after class. However, even if I think about it now, how could this have been handled and how are we assisting our young men in developing their mindset for how to talk, think about and treat women?
Yes, lots to ponder on this one.
Our lights can shine in the locker room. Sometimes it can be as simple as staring to a friend “how would you feel if someone talked about _____________” (fill in closest female family member or friends name).
Think about how long a special person in your life has had to hear it or have it done to her. It is your friend, your colleague, your future wife, your partner, your mother, your aunt and fill in the blank)
All I’m asking with this post is to think about this deeply. What I’ve shared here is only the surface, however, my hope is to share a few stories of someone you know, me. I will be processing this some more because it is complex, I will be having more dialogue, identifying methods that are productive and contribute to positive change.
For anyone seeking information regarding sexual assault resources click on this link for the United States Department of Justice.