October 8, 2015

HERMAN | She Doesn’t Want Tea

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), intended to connect advocates nationwide and raise awareness for women and their children as victims of domestic violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime,” and “1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.”

The statistics are appalling, but the gravity and frequency of the issue hits home when you discover the reason your friend doesn’t go out anymore or upon learning why police shut down the frat party you attended last night. College campuses are not as safe as parents would hope; women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by a partner.

Those who are familiar with Cornell crime alerts can recall the e-mails describing “forcible touching.” I’ve always wondered what exactly this means… Is the university merely afraid to use the terms “sexual harassment” or “rape” because of the negative connotation associated? Are administrators worried that statistics might emerge from these crime alerts citing regular occurrence of sexual assault on campus, which would tarnish a reputation of safety and respect?

Sexual assault also occurs more commonly amongst acquaintances than strangers, which is attributed to the blurriness of intoxication and alleged mixed signals. Perhaps because of this, many often forget that domestic abuse can involve many forms other than obvious physical violence. Guilt-tripping a partner into having sex despite clear, voiced opposition with phrases such as “You wanted it last night” or “You can’t leave me like this after getting me excited” counts as a form of emotional abuse.

There’s also my personal least favorite: “But I’ll get blue balls if you don’t!”

That’s quite subtle manipulation. Whether sick, tired or simply having changed his or her mind, nobody is obligated to give a green light without feeling comfortable.

For those who may still be slightly unclear on the definition of consent, a Youtube video clarifies any misunderstandings with a beautifully simple analogy to making tea.

“They might say ‘Yes please, that’s kind of you,’ and then when the tea arrives, they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to all the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea; now they don’t. Some people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s okay for people to change their mind, and you are still not entitled to watch them drink.”

Videos like these revolutionize the way we can discuss often-taboo topics such as sexual harassment, consent and sex. And the first step to initiating change is to open the discussion.

The second step, maybe in adjunct with the first, is to change our language. Girls grow up being told, “Don’t wear too short a dress,” or, one I personally find frustrating at school, “Don’t walk home alone at night.” Cornell University is my home, the campus my extended backyard. Why should I have to feel unsafe traipsing home from the library across my snowy lawn of classmates and peers?

A sardonic poster I found on the Internet describes “10 Top Tips to End Rape” to counter advice generally prescribed to women as safety tips. The list satirizes society’s tendency to instruct individuals on how to avoid getting raped as opposed to teaching the necessity of consent and the value of respect.

Instead of reminding a woman not to walk alone, the poster offers, “When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.”

Society instructs girls and women on how to protect themselves from the apparent inevitability of rape. Punitive school dress codes punish girls for distracting males and teach them from a young age that they are responsible for restraining and repressing themselves to shape male behavior positively. These rules are often generally promoted to foil student distraction rather than to prevent discomfort of objectification.

Mitigation of gender double standards and early consent education can go a long way in raising consciousness of rape culture. Remember, even if someone is intoxicated or wearing revealing clothes, if he or she says no to the tea, do not force them to drink the tea.

Heather Herman is a senior in the college of Human Ecology majoring in Human Biology, Health and Society. She’s a self-proclaimed animal whisperer and can often be found scooping up after the puppies in Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She also enjoys volunteering at a maximum-security prison and wants to live in South America after she graduates. Heather’s posts appear on alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].