Not all men are rapists. Not all men rape virgins because they believe that doing so will cure them of HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases. Not all men ravage the bodies of women and girls because they view women as tools of war. Not all men physically or verbally abuse women.
But there are men who commit these crimes against women all over the world, including here in the good ol’ United States of America. Violence against women is no joking matter.
Last week, as part of a speech she gave on the House floor advocating for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) told her colleagues that “Violence against women is as American as apple pie. I know, not only as a legislator, but from personal experience. Domestic violence has been a thread throughout my personal life, up to and including being a child repeatedly sexually assaulted, up to and including being an adult who's been raped.”
Additionally, she told her colleagues that debate over the reauthorization of VAWA brought back memories “of having boys sit in a locker room and sort of bet that I, the egg-head, couldn't be had. And then the appointed boy, when he saw that I wasn't going to be so willing, completed a date-rape and then took my underwear to display it to the rest of the boys.”
This week, the editor of Boston University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Free Press, ran an April Fools’ Day edition that made a “joke” of rape by putting Disney characters in sick situations.
The “joke” edition is horrendous. The lead story details seven frat dwarves being arrested for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting “the fairest of them all.” The article detailed the imaginary assault, writing, “The girl with the raven black hair and bright red lips, Hook said, woke up wearing no clothes with seven BRO dwarves laying naked in bed with her. She called BUPD immediately and was sent to the Far Far Away hospital in Never Ever land.”
Other stories include Alice in Wonderland on a “bad trip” after taking LSD supplied by fraternity brothers and Cinderella getting caught up in a prostitution ring.
Recently, there have been very real and very not funny reports of violence against women at Boston University. Two men’s hockey players are accused of assaulting women and there have also been reported “Peeping Tom” incidents.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the editor-in-chief of the school paper was a woman.
After a furious uproar over the edition, the publisher of the student paper justifiably asked editor-in-chief Chelsea Diana to step down from her post, which she did.
It is especially worrisome to see young women making light of violence against women. After all, they are so often the victims of such acts. The State of Virginia recently convicted former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely in the beating death of his sometime girlfriend. Not too long ago, a 31-year old Maryland woman was set on fire after her estranged husband followed her around the store at which she worked dousing her with gasoline. Too many women have similar stories, as Rep. Moore reminded us.
That Diana thought such an edition was printable and even funny says a lot about the state of feminism today. To think society has advanced so much that we can make light of such acts is completely ignorant. After many battles, in 1994, Congress adopted VAWA. It is incredibly sad that just 18 years later, not only are members of the 112th Congress questioning reauthorization of the act, a young woman chose to make light of violence against women. Despite the many gains that we have made as a nation in the fight for women’s human rights, it is clear our work is not over.
When we get too comfortable, we neglect to discuss and continue to raise awareness of the fact that there is still very real violence against women happening at home and abroad today. We cannot look the other way or become less vigilant.
As Moore said last week, “Violence against women in this country is not levied against just Democrats, but Republicans as well… not just rich people or poor people. It knows no gender, it knows no ethnicity, it knows nothing.” There are some young men and women out there today that should remember those same lessons.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.