This is Monica Bassili’s best. We have covered sexual violence before here and here. I think this is a solid acknowledgement of a significant issue in this society and you will agree with me that Monica did justice to the topic.
Women and Sexual Violence: A Story of Resistance and Resurgence
Daily expressions of anger and rage are common, indiscriminate, and impact all people walking this earth. An inconvenience to a threat to livelihood enables individuals to experience a spectrum of emotions. More often than not, women’s expressions of anger and rage are perceived differently than men’s. Current research points to race as a factor in how supervisors perceive and thus interact and evaluate employers. Race plays an instrumental role, particularly in workplace dynamics that different class employees are based on stereotypes and misinformation. However, irrespective of race, gender plays a more significant role in determining what men and women experience interactions.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a stereotype is defined as “a standardized mental picture” held by members of a group, demonstrating “an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Stereotypes widely vary by race and ethnicity, meaning their intersections are context-dependent and arise in situations of power imbalance. The inherent nature of workplaces, and thus their power imbalances, is narrowed when there are only two streams of gendered stereotyping: men and women. Concerning race, expressing anger and rage as a woman plays into a deeply rooted mistrust and disrespect in women’s experiences.
In brief dissatisfaction, women are deemed ‘moody,’ ‘judgy,’ and ‘bitchy’ to no end. Regardless of the validity laced in a woman’s expression of emotion, the dominant perception devalues female contributions. Specifically, in circumstances where women are burdened with proving injustices occurred, their responses can often be reduced to an ‘exaggeration’ of the situation. In sexual harassment and assault cases, women are characterized through a range of dehumanizing stereotypes that depict them as liars, manipulators, and deserving of their experiences.
For a long time, I believed this was the case. When confronted with abuse and harassment, I thought that my inherent ‘femininity’ clouded my judgement – invalidating my experiences. In this sense, everything that happens to an individual is deserved, regardless of external factors. Shifting the blame onto oneself negatively impacts the individual and fails to account for external actors who may play an essential role in the situation.
What data shows
One in five women experiences sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution and young women experience the highest rate of sexual violence in Canada. Framing this issue on an individual level is unconscionable. Each woman represented in these statistics is a daughter, mother, grandmother, and above all, a human being. An individualistic approach to sexual assault and harassment perpetuates stereotyping and mistrust in individual women who speak out. There is no situation in which one in five women on college and university campuses deserve what happened to them.
In a campus survey of undergraduate students at the University of Alberta, 21 percent of students reported having at least one unwanted sexual experience at some point in their life. Further, over one-third of those who experienced unwanted sexual experiences said their most serious incident happened while university students. Over one-half reported that it happened in their first year of studies. With this in mind, I argue that how women are perceived when voicing their experiences enables the current sexual violence crisis.
It is not a surprise that women profoundly experience sexual violence when studying at an institution. Young people are impressionable and sociable – if one friend is going for drinks, the group must follow. Yet, during the most foundational social interactions on campus, women can be put in great shame and guilt. These feelings partly arise since more than 80 percent of rapes on college and university campuses are committed by someone known to the victim. For a woman to speak truth to sexual violence experienced, her words need to be listened to and respected. Instead, most instances see women are the villain – attacking a friend or acquaintance for an assault the perpetrator denies.
With this in mind, it is easiest for women to hold these experiences within themselves, not shared under any circumstances. I have a hard time finding any women who openly and freely speak their truth regarding sexual assault and violence, and for a good reason. No one who has gone through trauma would put themselves in an environment where their trauma would be widely invalidated. As a result, women’s stereotypes and negative perceptions continue to manifest and develop in schools, workplaces, and broader society. Such manifestations have no place in institutions and workplaces that actively broadcast inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance.
Despite the sexual violence crisis and the issue of perceiving women negatively require a collective approach, the solutions must emphasize individual efforts. In any collaborative environment, whether work, school, or a social group, at least one person should challenge the presentation of women’s experiences in sexual violence. In this sense, irrespective of gender or race, individuals need to change the narrative and enable greater trust and respect for women who speak to their experiences. By challenging dominant discourses, individuals can empower themselves and their communities through meaningful conversations and mutual understanding.
Resist, Recenter and Redefine
Laced in these difficult and uncomfortable discussions are discourses of resistance and resurgence. First, resistance refers to the refusal of normative hierarchies, views, and stereotypes which characterize contemporary society. Then, resurgence relates to empowerment and restoration of justice, dignity, and respect for historically marginalized narratives. Second, having uncomfortable conversations is required to address sexual violence and many issues that intersect race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. With this in mind, when faced with thoughts of internalizing your own traumatic experiences – remember that this is not your burden. Resist the imposition of shame and guilt. Recenter yourself concerning the situation at hand. And, finally, redefine yourself as an individual who does not tolerate disrespect and injustice in all contexts.