Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Because football is not rape

I had a Feminist Moment during econometrics this morning.

In my program, the first-year econometrics lectures are in 2-hour blocks, so we generally take a 5-minute break in the middle of class.  During the break today, a couple of the guys were talking about football.  We'll call one of them Classmate A and the other Classmate B. (Thankfully, Classmate A does not actually belong to my cohort, meaning he's taking my class but not in my program.)

So they're talking about football, and Classmate A says, "Stanford got raped by Oregon this weekend."

At which point I cut in and said, "that language is not acceptable."  But he pointedly ignored me, and Classmate B let him continue the conversation (which really disappointed me, since Classmate B himself is incredibly respectful of women, and I think self-identifies as a feminist, and his saying something would have gotten Classmate A's attention a lot faster).  And then class started again very soon after, so there was no opportunity for me to say anything else.

At this point, I was going still with rage.  For pretty much the entire second half of the lecture.  I mean, I know that that terminology is pretty widely used by some young guys, that it didn't come from nowhere.  But that does not make it okay.  The fact that something is common does not keep it from being sexist, or racist, or homophobic, or anything.  It just means that it's prevalent.

Language matters.  College football is a consensual activity.  Both teams chose to go on the field and play.  The players chose to be there.  A team may lose, and may lose badly, but they are still willing participants in the game.

Rape is not consensual, by definition.  Rape victims don't choose to be violated.  I'm tired of living in a culture where we blame the victims and/or trivialize their pain.  Comparing a football game to rape implies that the victims had some choice about it, in the way that a team chooses to take the field.  It trivializes what rape victims experience by equating rape with only physical violence and a blow to the ego, ignoring the sexual violence aspect completely--dismissing it as insignificant.

And all that is ignoring the current context of Penn State and the riots there and the horrible implications about misplaced priorities.  Which kind of make it worse, if that's possible.

So at the end of class, I put away my things early, which I almost never do. And the second class was over, I was standing over Classmate A's desk, before he had a chance to get up.  Feet spread, hands on my hips, blocking him from getting up or leaving.  Much more aggressive than is natural for me, or really than I have ever been before in my life.  And speaking steadily but forcefully, I said something like this:

You said something really offensive. I'm pretty sure you didn't realize that it was, but it was. Language matters.  Football is not rape. I don't care if a team loses a football game 56-3 when facing the third- and fourth-strings for the entirety of the fourth quarter, that is still not rape. It is not acceptable to call it that.

To which he said "okay" in a very quiet, kind of stunned voice, and then I walked away.

I kind of hated doing it.  Physical dominance is not my style, and it's not comfortable for me.  But it was the best tool I had under the circumstances to make him listen, and he'd ignored me when I tried to make my point gently.

I think I've finally found the point where I will not let things slide, where I will not be quiet and let everyone go on being comfortable.  Because I found I just couldn't.  As much as I disliked being that forceful, letting it go would have been far worse.

I am just too angry about how we ignore sexual violence in our society.  Too angry on behalf of the victims who get blamed for wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place or otherwise not being sexually-repressed virgins living quiet and confined lives.  Angry on behalf of friends who've told me what it did to them, personally, and on behalf of women (and men) halfway around the world whose faces I will never see.  Angry that repeated allegations and/or evidence of sexual violence rarely seem to harm men's careers, from financiers to sports figures to bishops.  Angry that we allow sexual violence to be trivialized to the point where it can be equated to losing a game.

So I did what I did, and said what I said.  And while it was scary and hard and felt horrid, and was all but shaking for nearly two hours afterward, I'm glad.  Because while I have no guarantees that it will change the way he thinks, I certainly got his attention.  And maybe, if I'm lucky, he'll think about it.  Or one of the other five guys sitting around him will.  It's up to them, now.

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