Sexual assault in a sexualized culture

I’ve never had sex on a desk. Or in an airplane. When I told my grandchildren this, they shouted “Nana!” in embarrassment. I wanted them to know that loving sex between partners who respect each other is not a rip-her-clothes-off/push-her-against-the-wall norm.

Where would they get the idea otherwise? Everywhere.

Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken, members of Congress and their staffs, etc.etc. As of October 24, “Twitter confirmed to CBS News that over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” with 85 countries that had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/metoo-reaches-85-countries-with-1-7-million-tweets/)

Yes, women are speaking out. They’re disclosing the psychological injury of sexual assault. As a result, commentators are already claiming a “Cultural shift.” Now that powerful men are being confronted, either out of conscience or fear of getting caught, they’ll stop their abusive behavior.

I doubt it. The end of sexual violence against women would require a volcanic shift in media, where women exist for the benefit of men.

Like many Americans, males and females of all ages (my grandchildren included), I watch TV and movies. I like a good story. Readers who know me might be shocked at the kinds of movies I see. I’m sometimes shocked myself. Man meets woman; man desires woman; man f—s woman. Along the way a mystery is solved, a wrong is made right, love wins.

Let’s face it: we live in a highly sexualized society. Sex sells. Advertisers and the entertainment industry know that. It sells cars; it sells pharmaceuticals. Sex is on prime-time TV. Explicit sex. Aggressive sex.

Where do such messages lead? All men, not just men with political or social power, are led to believe they have a right to touch a woman’s breast, stick their tongue in her mouth, or do more.

I often wonder how young women are influenced by so much sex in the media. Have they been persuaded that male acceptance requires submission? I worry that my granddaughters, based on what they see in the media, will think they must give in to sexual advances.

Not that women don’t have hormones and needs of our own. In the 1960s we claimed our own sexuality and desires. But I’d wager that most want a sexual relationship with someone they know and care about.

Americans’ wishes are full of contradictions. We want services without paying taxes. We want cheap goods, yet they should be manufactured in the U.S.

We want men to respect women as equals in the work place. Yet everything men watch on their computers and TV screens shouts that women exist for male pleasure.

Can women, by speaking truthfully of our experiences, bring about a cultural shift? Only if the media quits portraying sex as an expectation of every encounter between a man and a woman.

And media, currently controlled by men, will never do that.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as  National Oral Health Month, March for Babies, National Occupational Therapy Month, Stress Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month. Jazz Appreciation Month, National Car Care Month, Facial Protection Month, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Youth Sports Safety Month, Cancer Control Month, and National Autism Awareness Month.

So many causes. So many people whose lives have been touched in ways that lead them to dedicate their energies and financial resources toward making a difference (though I’m not sure how National Car Care Month fits into this).

Why have I chosen to become involved in the domestic violence movement rather than Stress Awareness Month or Train Safety Month?

I have been influenced by real people, women and men of courage who have shared the pain of having been beaten as children. Women who have been raped, fondled by someone they knew. I have heard women and men speak of the lifelong effects of child sexual abuse, usually by a trusted uncle or priest, a father even. They have pictures of themselves taken before the abuse, their eyes sparkling with energy, smiles wide and engaging; pictures from afterward, eyes lusterless, shoulders slumped. I fear for my grandchildren and every child I meet who still trusts adults and loves life.

In 1999 United Church Press published a book I edited: Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse. One of the contributors, Marian (Et Al in the book), wrote about having been physically and sexually abused in childhood by her father. She told of the shame she felt, the vulnerability that led her to seek the counsel of her priest, who also abused her sexually. She became dissociative; that is she did not allow herself to feel the pain, the betrayal of trust. Several times she was admitted into psych wards of hospitals, the diagnosis being multiple personality disorder. Her career as a social worker was short-lived because of her fear that she might do harm to others.

Marian and I stayed in touch after the book came out. Six or seven years ago she wrote that her only close friend, Darrell, had died. A year or so after that I was among several people who received a letter from her telling us she planned to take her own life. Without Darrell, she no longer had the energy it took to keep her different personalities under control. She was tired.

Like other friends I tried to offer her reasons to live. But one day a letter was returned to me stamped, “deceased.”

Among my possessions are a small jar of sand Marian sent me from a trip to the Holy Land, a tea cup with the inscribed words, “You never know how strong a woman is until she’s in hot water,” and a photo of her as a little girl, a cheerful looking little girl with energetic eyes. On the back is written, “Before the abuse.”

Marian is one reason why I am committed to the cause of preventing child abuse and the sexual assault of women.