The Mistakes Dress

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***Guest Post***

Like many people in college, my friends and I were young, broke, and sometimes stupid.  We made dumb decisions about how much to spend on sushi, how long that political econ homework actually take, and what kind of shoes are appropriate for walking around campus in a snowstorm.  For what it’s worth, Midwest sushi shouldn’t be a priority when you’re cash-strapped, political econ will take you days to complete and YEARS to understand, and boots would have been a better choice.

We also made dumb decisions about who was safe to drink with.  We made dumb decisions about what we should drink.  We made dumb decisions about how much we should drink.  In fact, we were so good at making these dumb decisions that my friends and I shared a cocktail dress we called “the mistakes dress”.  If one of us was wearing it that weekend, it was guaranteed she’d throw up in it, make out with a gross frat boy in it, or fall down the stairs in it.  It was guaranteed.  You could win millions betting on this dress.  And yes…despite it’s nickname, we still kept wearing it.  Was it really that cute?  I’m afraid to look back at pictures.

The thing is, despite our dumb decisions, despite the nights where I drank cups of god-knows-what at god-knows-whose houses, despite choosing to wear a dress we literally called THE MISTAKES DRESS, we still deserved to be safe.  We deserved every bit of the hangovers and embarrassment the next morning, but we never deserved sexual assault or harassment.  Being in a cute clubbing dress did not mean that we were looking to hook-up.  It did not mean that you had any right to touch us without asking.  Being in that dress did not mean that we were “asking for it.”  All it meant was that we had a dress with a silly name that we all liked to wear.

So often when women and femmes are sexually assaulted, the first question asked is “what were they wearing?” If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m here to tell you that this question doesn’t matter.  Whether you’re in your pajamas, workout clothes, a snowsuit, or the mistakes dress, you haven’t consented to anything.  My dress is not consent.  That is as true today as it was all those years ago in college.  Unless I’m verbally consenting, I’m not “asking for it.”

We need to be a culture that values and expects consent.  We need to respect everyone, even the young women in college who are just figuring things out.  Be the person who speaks out against this harmful rhetoric.  Be the person that speaks up for a friend in a vulnerable position.  Respect consent and expect others to do the same.

Bachelorette Background

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Our American obsession with reality TV says a lot about us as a culture.  Some people love reality TV.  Some people love to judge those people.  But with a reality TV star sitting in the Oval Office, we can’t deny the fact that this is a deeply ingrained part of our ethos.

I would argue, as [an embarrassed] reality-TV lover, that we can learn a lot about our selves and our society by looking at the plot lines, characters, and attitudes created by the producers of these TV shows.  In fact, if you want to learn about how Americans feel about gender, sex and sexuality, and relationships, you couldn’t find a better education than you’d get by watching a few episodes of the Bachelor or Bachelorette on ABC.

For those of you who are unfamiliar (have you been living under a rock or do you just have more exciting lives than me?), the Bachelor franchise on ABC is a series of reality shows about a chosen Bachelor or Bachelorette (cis-gendered, almost always white, heterosexual man or woman) who dates anywhere from 25-30 people, slowly eliminating these potential suitors until they arrive at week 10 and propose to their one true love in what is always “the most dramatic season finale yet.”

This show has given us some gems as far as Gender and Sexuality 101 material.  Bachelors sleep with multiple women and no one bats an eye.  Bachelorettes have sexual relationships with multiple contestants and you hear the usual: slut, whore, skank, easy.  Put 25 fitness trainers in a house together in a competitive environment and you quickly see how our society fails to promote deep emotional intelligence in our boys and men. Homophobia (“no homo”), toxic masculinity, racism, and problematic gender norms run rampant.

This season, however, the Bachelorette production team has outdone themselves.  A cast member, currently on the show though clearly not a final contender, was convicted of indecent assault just prior to the show airing. (LINK TO STORY). Had the producers done any sort of due diligence with their contestant background checks, they could not have failed to uncover two-year-old allegations of sexual assault and harassment.  In a #MeToo world where we’re finally discussing sexual harassment and assault, would producers really not be thinking of this?

It’s unfortunately likely that these charges were uncovered and dismissed as “allegations” that don’t need to be taken seriously or valued as a potential source of drama.  Even if they were unaware, that shows a willful ignorance to not be protecting the contestant from suitors with aggressive or violent histories.

Our reality TV reflects us.  It reflects our culture and it reflects our values. Whether we want to admit it or not, TV shows what we want to see and what we see in ourselves.  If these producers can ignore a convicted sexual aggressor, what are we tolerating or ignoring in our every day lives?  How do we go through our daily lives ignoring the abusers around us?  Who do we tolerate because “it happened so long ago” or “it really wasn’t that bad” or “she just couldn’t take a joke”?  Who escapes the consequences of their actions because their a beloved entertainer or a leader in the community? Who will go unpunished because the victims are not important enough to our society?

It’s just a TV show. I know that. But it’s also a reflection of us.  It is a mirror held up to our culture and we can’t turn away any longer.  #MeToo

 

 

Justice and Injustice

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Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today, we share our favorite MLK quotes.  We hear people talk about his dream.  We feel good, remembering the feelgood moments of a powerful, inspirational leader.

Those parts of Dr. King matter.  We need to hear his powerful words of love and hope.  We need to hear that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  We need to remember that dream of a world where every child is judged by their character, not their race.  We need the inspiration that through it all, Dr. King chose love, not hate.

But we also need to hear and to heed his powerful words of justice.  We need to remember that while he lived, he was often reviled and dismissed by white leaders and white communities.  He was considered dangerous and radical because he spoke truth into a world of racial injustice.  He is the man who reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  He is the man who reminds us that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Dr. King was and remains a reminder that we must all choose a side, that remaining neutral is not an option.

Today, of all days, we must be honest about the history of the movement for female safety and empowerment that gave birth to shelters and crisis centers like Safe Passage.  Too much of our history was tied up in racism and classism as much as it was tied up in feminism.  Founding mothers often fought for the rights of white women at the expense of our sisters of color.  We fought for emancipation for white women, willing to sacrifice emancipation for people of color if it got white females the vote.  We made progress in diagnosing and treating critical women’s health issues, but have rarely admitted or made restitution for the fact that these medical breakthroughs were thanks to non-consensual medical experimentation on enslaved women of color.  We have fought for reproductive justice, ignoring the very recent history of sterilization programs for incarcerated women of color.  We speak out against domestic and sexual violence, but rarely stop to highlight the incredible dangers faced by transwomen, and particularly transwomen of color.  Our shelters, our boards, our coalitions are too often overwhelmingly staffed and led by white, cis-gendered women.

If we truly want to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, today is a day to be honest about both our successes and failures to live up to his dream.  We are proud of the work we do as crisis center employees.  We are proud of the work we do as activists.  We believe in the mission and vision to end domestic and sexual violence.  But we know we must do more to include and support people of color in our mission.  We know we must do more to acknowledge and overcome a history of racism in our movement.  We know we must do more to fight systemic racism alongside sexism, homophobia, transphobia and so much more.

Today, we remember and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who have followed in his powerful footsteps to speak truth to power and hold allies accountable.  We dream of a better future without violence of any kind and we commit to holding our movement accountable to that dream.