To be clear, I don’t work at Amherst College, but I do work with the Amherst College folks. I know they’ve been going through a review process ever since the OCR’s Dear Colleague letter came out, with information about applying Title IX to sexual assault. It’s not my campus though, so I don’t know any details.
So anyway. Women were clearly an important target in the debate, and it seemed to me that it was a debate between a guy who basically Gets It when it comes to women’s rights and a guy who has to have a binder full of women placed into his oblivious hands (mirror from the Wheaton, in case that link is unhappy) before he remembers that people with vaginas also have brains. Or, between a guy who looks at his daughters and sees future leaders and a guy who looks at those same girls and sees… little girls.
And while I know “binder full of women” will be many people’s major women’s-rights takeaway, I wanted to squeak out my own little note of agony and hope, in the context of sexual assault on college campuses.
It would be facile – specious, indeed – to say that we’ll have gender equality in the workplace when everyone, regardless of their genitals or gender display, has equal choice in whether and when to have children, and everyone has equal access to workplace support for childrearing. The fact is, some of us are capable of giving birth and nursing, and others are not. And the person who gives birth and nurses has different needs than the person who doesn’t. And that fact will slow down the process of granting equal access to parenting needs and workplace needs.
But it goes beyond that, even. Women are disproportionately targets of sexual violence, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and other forms of interpersonal trauma, and men are disproportionately perpetrators. And being a survivor of trauma dramatically changes (PDF – and trigger warning) a person’s relationship with the world, whether it’s their campus or their workplace or their family, shifting their logic from that of a person who has not been traumatized to a person who has been.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has talked about the importance of asking the right questions. “What’s the square root of a pork chop? At what temperature does 7 melt?” Examples of the wrong questions.
I think, “Can our women employees get home in time to make dinner?” is a wrong question. Of course it is.
I think, “Is our workplace trauma-informed in its policies and practices?” is a good question. I think, “Is our culture aware of the role of gender and objectification in violence?” is a good question
To be a woman is, in some ways, to be a survivor – a survivor of a culture that objectifies and controls your body, that puts your physical self in the public domain, proscribes rigid rules about what is or is not an acceptable use of your body, and shames you for violating those proscriptions.
We know that to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, we need to increase access to safe, effective, affordable contraception – the president talked about that; we need to increase economic and educational opportunities for women – the president talked about that; and we need to increase comprehensive sexual health education that talks about the good things about sex, including women’s sexual pleasure and including conversations about consent and about recognizing the precursors of interpersonal violence and knowing what to do to interrupt – the president didn’t so much talk about that.
And we need institutionalized practices that create space and support for trauma survivorship, until we no longer have a culture full of women – mothers, grandmothers, daughters, students, faculty, staff – carrying the burden of trauma in their bodies, like a stillborn child.
Asking the right question sometimes makes the answer obvious. But the barriers to asking that question are the same barriers that make implementing that answer slow and agonizing.
I have hope, because we have a president who said “Planned Parenthood” at least three times during a nationally televised debate. I have hope because that president has a mother and a wife and two daughters whom he views as people, as leaders, as forces to respect and listen to. I have hope because that president has made the connection, live on television, between economic equality and reproductive health care. I have hope that the incremental movement toward an understanding of women as people, of their bodies as their own private property, and not objects in the public domain, will gradually move us to an understanding of trauma survival as a powerful influence on a woman’s experience in a workplace, on a campus, and in their families.
I do have hope. As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the binders and the other mathematical pork chops of social justice.
PS – I’m blogging less often because I am actually WORKING ON THE BOOK. Honestly! 20,000 words down, 30,000 to go!