Tag Archives: gender: violence

The Banal, Mundane Sex Lives of College Students

Cross-posted at the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

In an Op-Ed article on hookup culture in college, Bob Laird links binge drinking and casual sex to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, confusion, low self-esteem, unhappiness, vomiting, ethical retardation, low grades and emotional inadequacy. “How nice of The Times to include this leftover piece from 1957 today,” snarked a reader in the online comments.

Fair enough, but Laird is more than out of touch. He also fundamentally misunderstands hookup culture, the relationships that form within it and the real source of the problems arising from some sexual relationships.

Laird makes the common mistake of assuming that casual sex is rampant on college campuses. It’s true that more than 90% of students say that their campus is characterized by a hookup culture.  But in fact, no more than 20% of students hook up very often; one-third of them abstain from hooking up altogether, and the remainder are occasional participators.

If you do the math, this is what you get: The median number of college hookups for a graduating senior is seven. This includes instances in which there was intercourse, but also times when two people just made out with their clothes on. The typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college. Half of all hookups are with someone the person has hooked up with before. A quarter of students will be virgins when they graduate.

In other words, there’s no bacchanalian orgy on college campuses, so we can stop wringing our hands about that.

Laird argues that students aren’t interested in and won’t form relationships if “they are simply focused on the next hookup.” Wrong. The majority of students — 70% of women and 73% of men –report that they’d like to have a committed relationship, and 95% of women and 77% of men prefer dating to hooking up. In fact, about three-quarters of students will enter a long-term monogamous relationship while in college.

And it’s by hooking up that many students form these monogamous relationships. Roughly, they go from a first hookup, to a “regular hookup,” to perhaps something that my students call “exclusive” — which means monogamous but not in a relationship — and then, finally, they have “the talk” and form a relationship.  As they get more serious, they become more sexually involved (source):

1

Come to think of it, this is how most relationships are formed — through a period of increasing intimacy that, at some point, ends in a conversation about commitment. Those crazy kids.

So, students are forming relationships in hookup culture; they’re just doing it in ways that Laird probably doesn’t like or recognize.

Finally, Laird assumes that relationships are emotionally safer than casual sex, especially for women.  Not necessarily. Hookup culture certainly exposes women to high rates of emotional trauma and physical assault, but relationships do not protect women from these things. Recall that relationships are the context for domestic violence, rape and spousal murder.

It’s not hooking up that makes women vulnerable, it’s patriarchy. Accordingly, studies of college students have found that, in many ways, hookups are safer than relationships. A bad hookup can be acutely bad; a bad relationship can mean entering a cycle of abuse that takes months to end, bringing with it wrecked friendships, depression, restraining orders, stalking, controlling behavior, physical and emotional abuse, jealousy and exhausting efforts to end or save the relationship.

Laird’s views seem to be driven by a hookup culture bogeyman. It might scare him at night, but it’s not real.  Actual research on hookup culture tells a very different story, one that makes college life look much more mundane.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Rape Culture Round Up

The phrase “rape culture” refers to a way of thinking that systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.  We’ve collected over 60 concrete examples at our new Pinterest board and we thought we’d share some additional examples that readers have sent in recently.

(1) Topping the list, Clair let us know that University of Maryland students successfully organized to oppose a hand stamp used at a local bar.  The stamp reads “Shut Up and Take It”:

1

Jesse Rabinowitz set up a change.org petition opposing the stamp to get the bar’s attention. In response, management has agreed that the stamp is inappropriate and has pledged to run a public apology and do some sexual assault awareness education, perhaps including the introduction of a “consent is sexy” stamp.

(2) Dolores R. pointed us to a RiotMag screenshot of a Fox News broadcast.  The main story features a headless Hooters “girl” while the news scroll at the bottom pointed to the very serious issue of sexual assault in the military.  So sexual assault is subordinated to sexual objectification (it reminds me of this titillating coverage of a video game allowing players to simulate rape).

Screenshot_1

(3) Sent in by V, a Rohypnol gag coffee mug (the substance is famously used to drug targets of sexual assault into unconsciousness):

 2

(4) Dominos Pizza joshes about sexual assault with their play on the reminder that “no means no” (thanks to Dolores R. and YetAnotherGirl for the tip):

1

(5) Katrin sent in a British anti-rape poster that blames the victim, holding her responsible for preventing “regrettable sex or even rape.”   “Don’t leave yourself more vulnerable,” it explains:

1

(6) In 2011, the Exeter University’s Safer Sex Ball ironically included this piece of humor in it’s leaflet (thanks to hp for the image):

3

For more examples of rape culture, visit our rape culture Pinterest board.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Naming the Perpetrator: Language and “Violence Against Women”

1In a really fantastic post at Shakesville, Time Machine argues that rape jokes are problematic, even when uttered by people who would never assault anyone, because they signal to actual rapists that their behavior is acceptable and normal.

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?  Rapists do.

So, when someone drops a rape joke and people laugh, the small percent of men who are rapists think that they’re surrounded by like-minded friends.  Speaking to the joke-teller:

That rapists who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

What’s interesting about this observation is that it reminds us that we need to be more aware of the impact of our words not on victims (as the usual argument against the rape joke goes), but on perpetrators.  This is a much-needed re-framing of the problem that we call, passively, “violence against women,” but should really be called “men’s violence against women and men.”  While both men and women are victims, the vast majority of interpersonal violence is committed by men.

The need for a shift in frame — from the survivor to the perpetrator — is also a theme of this TedTalk by anti-violence educator Jackson Katz. He uses another really interesting way of showing the linguistic erasure of men in this discussion (at 4:08).

He also dismisses “sensitivity training” because it, too, centers the survivor of the violence instead of drawing our attention to the perpetrator (sensitivity to who?).  Instead, Katz argues, men need to step up and be leaders in the fight against men’s violence against women and men.  Because violence is not a “women’s issue,” it’s a men’s issue.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Social Networking and the National Movement to “Know Your IX”

I absolutely love this photograph of a collage on the wall of an activist in the rather new national movement to hold colleges and universities accountable for sexual assault.  Referencing Title IX and the “bigger picture,” it documents cross-college efforts to use the amendment to ensure that sex crimes on campuses don’t interfere with women’s rights to equal access to education.

1

What is exciting is that this is a national movement. The many college names pinned to the board are just some of the schools that have filed, are filing, or will file Title IX complaints with the Office for Civil Rights. “Oxy” is my school.

I’ve been somewhat involved with Oxy’s role in this movement — the credit goes to Drs. Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks and the dozens of survivors who, as part of the coalition, have publicly and confidentially shared their stories — but I’ve had the pleasure of talking to journalists about our case.  Regarding the national movement, they often ask me “Why now?”

Why Now?

This is a tough question to answer and, first and foremost, credit goes to the extraordinary people at the center of this fight, such as Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, Dana Bolger, and Alexandra Brodsky at Know Your IX.  As Margaret Mead famously said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Screenshot_2

Importantly, though, the efforts of this small group have been greatly enhanced by the internet and, specifically, social networking sites.  Students (and sometimes faculty, staff, and administrators) are no longer confronting these issues alone.  They are reaching out across campuses and talking with each other; they are teaching each other how to file federal complaints; they are building and sharing templates; they are sharing stories of institutional foot dragging and spin and developing effective resistance and protest strategies.

For example, Annie Clark, who filed federal complaints against the University of North Carolina, helped Profs. Dirks and Heldman at Occidental College file their complaints: “Over the past few months,” she writes:

I have spent countless hours with them on Skype and the phone in order to share information and help the[m] write their complaints. Yet, six months ago, I had never even heard of Occidental College — and many of the 37 women there who filed had not yet heard about Title IX protection against gender discrimination beyond athletics.

These coalitions are creating both activist networks and fast friends. This is a picture of students at Swarthmore (Swat) showing their love for students at Occidental (Oxy). Both campuses filed Title IX complaints on the same day:

1

As Prof. Dirks explains, this collaboration is a big deal:

[L]earning the stories of other survivors who are actively pushing their colleges and universities to create safe and equitable learning environments has opened the floodgates of what students now feel empowered to do.

This is all possible, of course, because the internet is still at least a somewhat democratized technology. You and I are equals on the internet, at least in principle.  So we all have the opportunity to produce content.  In contrast, other forms of media — TV, radio, movies, magazines, books — typically offer us only the opportunity to consume.

The activists in this movement have a platform and a megaphone, then, metaphorically speaking.  The technology — and our regulation of it in ways that preserve its democratic nature — is helping enable this movement.  Just as the TV made a huge difference in shifting popular opinion about the Civil Rights Movement.  Accordingly, we need to remember this when corporations fight to own and control the internet and its distribution.  For reasons like this one, we should be fighting back with the goal of making the internet a public utility.  Democracy depends on it.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hooking Up at Occidental College… at Occidental College

1This past semester I had the genuine pleasure of giving my talk about hook up culture to students at my own institution, Occidental College.  This was a treat — and also a little bit scary — not only because I was talking to my own community, but because many of the students in the audience had been part of the two studies that informed my talk (here’s one).  I wanted to do them justice and make them feel good about their contribution, even if they had  mixed feelings about the stories of theirs that I was telling.

In the end, it felt like an incredible catharsis.  The students, who I adore, seemed genuinely thrilled that I was there to bring their experiences into the light; whether they were a part of the study or not, they knew that on some level this was about them.  Their response was overwhelming.  So I post this talk — with relatively bad video and decent audio — but an amazing audience response, as evidence of how receptive college students are to interesting analyses of their lives by (relatively) impartial analysts.  And, also: I love you, Oxy!  Y’all are my favorite!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Women as Targets of Misogyny, Literally (Trigger Warning)

Cross-posted at The Ethical Adman.

So it turns out there’s this company that makes “zombie” targets for gun enthusiasts. They have clown zombies, nazi zombies, “terrorist” zombies, dog zombies and even a green zombie named “Rocky” that has Barack Obama’s ears.

And one woman.

1

Here’s their explanation:

The Zombie virus does not discriminate and neither does Zombie Industries.  We take preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse seriously, which is why we strive to have all groups of undead monsters represented in our product selection.  In addition to the Ex Girlfriend Zombie, we currently sell 15 male zombies, 5 animal zombies & 2 aliens… to discriminate against Women by not having them represented in our product selection would be just plain sexist.

Each of the zombie targets has a story.  Here is the story of “The Ex”:

Be warned, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but a man scorned is nothing to mess with! A young gent from Louisiana, we’ll call him André to protect his identity, was deeply committed to his one true love and her to him, or so he thought. While partying with her friends during one particular Mardi Gras, she took several suitors over the course of the festivities. André felt something odd indeed, so he paid a visit to his great aunt, Marie, who helped him see the truth. With a few eggs, candles lit and kiss upon his forehead, her voodoo curse was set in motion. Late each night while lying in bed, a smile would appear across his face, for a slight breeze would travel through a cracked window bringing with it, a faint whiff of decay and a unnatural cry of regret.

That’s right. In this narrative, a man kills a woman for cheating on him, and has her turned into a zombie. Which you, bro, are now invited to blow to bits.

2

Despite the game-like zombie theme, it is notable that the single human female representation has been created specifically as a target of violent male anger towards a woman’s ownership of her own sexuality.  And “The Ex” is portrayed in a highly sexual way, with what seems to be a bare lower torso and busting out chest.

Policymic writes, “Every day, at least three women are killed by an intimate partner in the US alone.  Let’s make sure those numbers go down, not up. Let’s make sure companies like Zombies Industries know that we’re not buying it.”

Some people, however, are buying it. And this is what’s most troubling.

From the product reviews:

This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School, My LMT LM308MWS should put a stop to the undead bring them on !!! Later Party till you drop Corvette forever !!!!!

And:

I love that this target looks like Britney Spears and it bleeds when I shot it.

And from YouTube:1

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.

Occidental College Faculty Vote “No Confidence” in High Level Administrators

Cross-posted at BlogHer, VitaminW, and The Huffington Post.

At about 1:00 Monday, a quorum of the Occidental Faculty overwhelmingly voted No Confidence in the campus attorney, Carl Botterud, and the Dean of Students, Barbara Avery. I was among the faculty in attendance.

The votes are in response to a belief that these high-level Occidental employees have mishandled sexual assault education, reporting, and adjudication in ways that have harmed individual students and campus culture.

While the motions are symbolic, such measures are quite rare. It is a very powerful statement coming from a faculty united in defense of survivors of sexual assault and their allies. We now wait to see how the College President, Jonathan Veitch, moves forward. The two are currently still active employees at Occidental (that is, not on administrative leave) and Avery continues to chaperone students through the reporting and adjudication process. We are told there is or will be an internal investigation into their conduct.

The vote of no confidence comes on the heels of two federal complaints filed by a coalition of students and faculty and a set of lawsuits filed by Gloria Allred. It is the next step in our personal fight for a better campus, but part of a nationwide movement involving dozens of campuses across the country.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Verbal Consent to Sex and The Vampire Diaries

1Research has shown that college students largely think that asking for sexual consent — “Do you want to have sex?” — “ruins the mood.”  This is partly because it violates their sexual script, the norms and expectations that guide sexual encounters.

If explicit consent violates the sexual script, then students are left trying to discern consent from more subtle and implicit verbal and non-verbal cues.  I did a research project to determine how they do this, interviewing 19 college students about their perceptions of sexual consent in popular television programs. 

I discovered that students often interpreted the same scenes dramatically differently. For example, I showed them this scene from The Vampire Diaries (0:04 to 1:27):

Eleven of my 19 respondents brought up the issue of verbal consent.  Five said the verbal interchange in the scene indicated consent; six said it did not.  Their contrasting perceptions focused on the male character’s statement, “Let’s get out of here.”  The five students who saw the scene as consensual were inclined to classify the declaration, “Let’s get out of here” as the moment where verbal consent is given.  For example, Hannah said:

…like I mean he doesn’t outright say “do you wanna have sex” but he says “do you want to get out of here” and she’s like “yes.”  That’s like the only one where there’s like an actual yes! [giggling] I mean like a verbal yes.

Hannah said the scene indicated consent because she equated “getting out of here” with sex.

In contrast, Natalie and five others disagreed with Hannah and those who considered the verbal exchange between Tyler and Caroline to be a form of verbal consent:

No, I would say, there was like no talk of consent, really… In the Vampire Diaries one, by him saying like, “let’s get out of here,” there might be an assumption associated with that and then her saying, “Okay,” like could be consent, quote, unquote.  But, I don’t really think that qualifies, either.

Natalie believed there was a correct way to obtain verbal consent.  When I asked her what would make this scene consensual, Natalie replied, “Basically saying ‘Do you want to, do you want to go through with this?’—something like that.”  Obviously, Natalie viewed consent as a different kind of verbal question.

The differences in these responses to The Vampire Diaries scene are striking. While verbal consent is often held up as the gold standard, I found disagreement as to exactly which statements constitute consent.  This disagreement sets the stage for serious miscommunication about students’ sexual intentions.  Some students interpret a phrase such as “Do you want to leave?” as “Do you want to leave this party and have sex at my house?” while other students believe that only a phrase such as “Do you agree to have sex with me?” communicates sexual consent.

Nona Gronert will graduate from Occidental College this May with a degree in Sociology and Spanish Literary Studies.  She aspires to become a professor of Sociology.