Penetration 101

I realize this is an old debate (in that feminist years ago spent countless hours weeding through it all), but I want to share some thoughts about rape education.

The reality is that residential colleges – especially U.S. residential colleges – are ripe for sexual assault and rape. The reasons for this are quite numerous, but I think a quite obvious and important reason why this is an issue is because of laws about alcohol. You see, when it’s illegal to drink alcohol even though it’s cultural practice to drink it at parties in schools, you create unregulated spaces for students. Administrators are given a choice – either heavily police all forms of alcohol consumption, or enforce unspoken rules about when alcohol consumption can be consumed (meaning, it can be consumed unless you get caught).

In college I was involved with a sexual assault and rape prevention group that had an administrative liaison from the school to work with us. We struggled to think of how to do this effectively. Our student body had a pretty conservative and intense gender divide. And at orientation, the men and the women had separate sessions for residential programming (because students lived in single-gender buildings). In a place where gender differentiation is at the heart of the community, how do you find a common ground for students to talk about sexual assault and rape?

One interesting attempt to educate has been done by a group called One in Four, a traveling rape education program that largely boasts its “for men by men” program for colleges. I thought this was actually an interesting idea when I was in college and considered applying to work with the group for a period of time. Then I found out that an integral part of their program is showing a video that teaches men to “learn what rape is” via a male-on-male rape situation.

So I get the point. Show people who will probably never in their lives experience a penetrative violation what that could be like. Except the only way to do this, following the logic of sexuality I guess, is by showing male on male rape. While not explicitly gay, the problem here is that as it stands, we see anal sex as the way gay men have sex. It’s hard to explain to some people why gay men might find that offensive – to me, it reads as a stigmatizing way of dealing with the fact (or problem) that straight men generally do not experience sexual penetration. Logistically, if you’re trying to reach out to a group of men that lack education about rape issues, I think it’s pretty likely that they also lack education about gay issues. It feels to me like trying to address one problem at the expense of another.

Anyways, my ramble here is basically summarized in the fact that I think rape is a very serious issue on campuses and in the great beyond, and I think there needs to be some more careful work done to try and address this stuff. I personally think it comes down to evaluating spaces on campus and what kinds of activities are encouraged or discouraged, creating climates that allow men and women to stop seeing themselves as inherently different from one another, and encouraging dialogue of all sorts. Oof.

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