Right now women’s issues and civil rights are very hot topics, especially within the United States. Tensions are high and there are a lot of expectations for women to stand up and fight against what appears to be a new patriarchal reign.
Issues range from sexual harassment, rape, and catcalling to gender wage gap, child care costs, abortion/birth control rights, and maternity leave. These are all very large issues that affect all of us, and yet it can be difficult to see how an average everyday person can make a difference or see how these issues affect them.
Here is some background on me:
I am in my late twenties. I have rent a relatively affordable apartment and yet I still live paycheck to paycheck. I am starting graduate school while working fulltime and am single. I was very fortunate and lucky to have been able to get a job in my field after graduating college, and am very progressive and proactive in achieving the career goals I set for myself.
I also am unfortunate to have fallen through the loop hole where I did not get to stay on my mother’s health insurance until I was 25. Due to my mother’s medical issues, I have needed to provide my own health insurance since I was 21. Because of this, I have become more aware of jobs with benefits, of wage gaps, and what I need for care as a woman.
This background is important because I find myself incredibly invested in many women’s issues that many of my peers are not…yet.
How does family planning issues affect you?
Here’s the thing, if you hear the phrases ‘women’s maternity leave,’ ‘child care costs,’ and ‘birth control coverage’ and think, ‘I don’t have to worry about that yet,’ then you need to reevaluate – these issues do affect you.
Women’s health care is incredibly important regardless of your age: do you want to start a family? Do you want to wait to start a family? Birth control coverage, prenatal care, child care costs and maternity leave policies are all issues now that are affecting you now. If you are young and know you do not want a family yet – your birth control coverage is important; your ability to get annual check ups, free birth control, and care is at risk. If you know you want to have a family in the future, then you need to pay attention to your job’s policies on maternity leave; is it paid? How many weeks are offered? Is your vacation accrual combined with your sick leave? What does your health insurance cover for prenatal expenses? Childbirth expenses? Have you looked at the average childcare costs in your area? What is the wait list for child care for infants? One year? Two? Do you have programs that assist with childcare? How are policies affecting their ability to remain stable?
If you are not satisfied with these answers than to make a difference for when you are ready, you need to start fighting for them now. Change does not happen overnight, and if you wait to address childcare costs, maternity leave, sick leave, and prenatal coverage for when you are ready – then you will be very disappointed. It is important to note that these issues also affect men who want or don’t want to be fathers. Do you get paternity leave? Do you want your partner at home for the first 6 weeks or 3 months of your newborn’s life? These issues affect all of us.
What is rape culture?
This seems like it is an obvious question with an obvious answer; unfortunately, it is not. For those who see the phrase and do not necessarily understand what it means, rape culture is when violence, sexual violence, harassment, and patriarchal systems are normalized, ignored, trivialized, or turned into jokes.
There are several points about rape culture that need to be recognized:
- Rape culture is a mindset
- Rape culture blames the victim
- Rape culture traumatizes the victim
- Rape culture perpetuates these issues:
- women objectification
- women’s ‘status’ or ‘role’ in the home
- patriarchal glorification
When I say rape culture is a mindset, I mean that both men and women often perpetuate rape culture subconsciously. When someone says, ‘that exam just raped me,’ that person just used one of the most invasive sexual violent acts in a normalized context. When a song says ‘you don’t have to tell your friends/ kiss a little more, think a little less’ or ‘why you playin’? You know you want to?’, the concept of non-consent is perpetuated.
When I say rape culture blames the victim, I mean that by saying a woman who reports rape is ‘unreliable’ because she was drunk, you are putting blame on her. It was her fault she was drunk and could not say no. Why is it so unrealistic to believe that a man can take advantage of a nonconsenting woman when she is drunk? Why is it easier to believe that alcohol loosened the woman’s judgments? Why are men held to less accountability for their actions when drunk than women? When a judge releases a convicted rapist because of his potential to succeed in life, there is a rape culture. When media highlights convicted rapists accomplishments, rather than highlighting their heinous crime, there is a rape culture. This is called patriarchal glorification. When a president calls talking about non-consent as ‘locker room talk,’ this is normalization of sexual assault.
“Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 2 out of 3 go unreported.1” This statistic would be alarming if it wasn’t in the context of a victim-blaming rape culture. Women are taught to cover up and be careful, as opposed to men being taught to not rape. This also means that when you walk down a street full of 20 women, 13 of them have experienced sexual violence in some form or capacity. That’s why a normalized rape joke can be so harming – you never know if the person you are talking to is a victim. This is called trauma-informed care, and I will dedicate a whole post to that in the near future.
Commercials and advertisements that include a ‘nip slip’ or ‘tasteful side boob’ is normalizing women objectification. Monopolizing on sexual innuendos to draw in men, is treating sexuality and women as something to be used. It is important to note that nudity and objectification are the not the same thing. Women’s bodies are beautiful, and in artistic formats can be wonderful to show in all stages of undress. However treating a woman and her parts as an object to be ogled is completely different.
If I am not a victim, how does rape culture affect me?
When rape culture heightens the qualities, potential, and capabilities of a man – it is lowering those for a woman. Rape culture affects women’s abilities to move up in a company; it affects men’s view of how a woman should dress and look; it can even affect how a woman’s role is viewed in the home. “Go make me a sandwich” perpetuates the thought that a woman belongs in the kitchen, even if it is said with a light-hearted tone. It comes from the very real history that it is quite recent that women have left the homemaker role. When you walk down a street and you are leered at or catcalled, rape culture is affecting you.
What if I want to be a homemaker? A stay-at-home mom?
This is something that frustrates me often in the world of feminism. There are a lot of feminists who really focus on the woman’s right to childcare, full-time work, and equal wages. I focus on these issues myself. However, these same women can make it seem like it is not acceptable to want to own the role of staying at home. Sometimes feminism makes it seem that being a stay-at-home mom is shameful.
This is important: you can be a stay-at-home mom and be a feminist.
This is important: you can not want to have children or not be able to have children and still support women’s choice, maternity leave policies, and access to childcare.
This is important: feminism is about ALL women’s rights and choices.
This is important: any person can be a feminist.
How can I make a difference if I am not in a position of power?
Women who are not in a position of political power sometimes have more power! Sometimes, a person in the position of power and influence does not have the ability to make change because they are one person representing millions of people. They are one voice. One voice can do a lot, and it can only do so much. The average man or woman can make a difference by offering their voice and support in a number of different ways. Write postcards to your senators, governor, mayor, etc. Make phone calls. Say out loud: I do not agree with this! By adding your ‘average’ voice to the voice of someone who is influential, you are providing a wider base of support for the change we are fighting for.
Do not be afraid to call others out! Especially if they are friends. This is the smallest way to make a bigger impact on rape culture and social norms. If I am around someone who makes a casual rape joke or makes a comment on how another woman should look – I call them out on it. If they are truly my friend, they will respect my voice. I do not allow anyone to speak about rape casually in front of me. I do not find it remotely funny in any context. I have raised awareness in my friends that it is not acceptable to discuss casual rape in front of me – and that awareness may rise to ‘why would I talk about that anyway?’
For those where a list is easier to follow:
- Make phone calls to your representatives
- Write postcards to legislators
- Post on public forums and social media sites
- Be educated and informed on issues – do your research
- Call out others when they perpetuate rape culture
- Write about it
- Use your voice! It’s your biggest tool
- Talk about it; have discussions with colleagues and peers
- Attend open forums and ask questions
- Be aware of your own actions
In short, feminist issues exist because they are real and they affect all women regardless of their age. They affect men. Feminism is a political and social movement. Feminism encompasses civil rights of all people. We are working to change a mindset and culture. It’s okay to enjoy life and not think about these issues, but do not be disillusioned into thinking that they do not affect you because you are not dealing with them right now.