This post comes to us via a generous contribution from Nina Gloster (@boninaapplebaum on Twitter), a friend of 40 Acres who is a filmmaker, a graduate of Spelman College and a phenomenal advocate for women, especially women of color.
A few weeks ago, news hit social media about a rape that gained public attention and caused nothing short of a nightmare for a young high-school girl. 16-year-old Jada went to a friend of a friend’s house party. She recalls little of what went on that evening, as she told CNN, but does however, remember passing out and waking up the next morning at another friend’s house with her clothing askew. Weeks later, she received text messages showing photos of her unconscious and undressed that appeared to have been taken at the party. Soon, those photos spread on social media, with Twitter users mimicking her passed-out pose and adding the hashtag, #jadapose.
There are several things problematic about this, despite the obvious. Let’s start with the rape, itself; Sexual intercourse without the consent of the other party. The fact that these young men thought it would be acceptable to drug this young woman’s drink in hopes to take advantage of her has been so incredibly normalized in today’s society. Not long ago rapper Rick Ross came under fire for the “U.O.E.N.O.” lyrics, “Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it.” He repeatedly tried to apologize, but called the lyrics a “misunderstanding” and a “misinterpretation.” When pop culture perpetuates such a sickening act, the consequence results in sending the harmful message that women don’t have the authority to choose. An unconscious or drugged person can never consent to sex! There can be no misunderstanding or misinterpretation about this fact.
Furthermore, the concept of sex as violence plays a big part in today’s society through language. The way in which slang is used for sex is extremely dehumanizing, violent, and demeaning. Take a listen to the music on most popular radio stations and find lyrics like “Beat that Pussy Up”, “Knock That Pussy Out Like Fight Night”, “I bruise her esophagus” or “Stop signs won’t even stop me”. The list goes on. If we can change the language of sex in pop culture, it would trickle down to changes in gender relations.
Right now we are blatantly sending a message of hate to our young women and permissibility to our young men.
Representing women in hip-hop culture as hypersexualized products creates a dangerous notion that it makes it “impossible to rape” these victims. The sexist representations of women in hip-hop are more damaging to black women than to any other group because hip-hop often forms the sole representation of black women in pop culture. Through the lens of misogyny in the media, we are seen as a “commodity.” In the situation of rape, this representation serves as justification for treatment of black women as a whole. From the very beginning of colonization, one of the first loci of power was domination over black women’s bodies. Black female bodies have been fetishized and identified with heightened sexuality and deviance and therefore, have been widely excluded from dominant culture’s celebration of beauty and femininity. People also tend to use appearance and circumstance to provide reasoning for sexual assault. The hesitation to ever identify with the victim, but instead blame the victim by asking questions such as, “why was she dressed like that?,” “what message was she trying to send?,” or “why was she there that late?” Must I even add alcohol to the equation?
Changing the perception of masculinity and manhood in our culture is also extremely imperative. Womanist scholars have coined the term “cool pose,” which is described as “a mask to conceal vulnerabilities that is characterized by detachment, control of emotions, aloofness, and toughness.” This particularly hollow notion of masculinity is detrimental because it usually results in the degradation of women and reluctance for young black men to mature and embrace a broader and more holistic definition of manhood that is complimentary of womanhood, not adversarial. It is an artifact of and a facsimile of colonialist attitudes towards black women and their bodies. In the words of Audre Lorde, “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Rape victims are often times plagued by feelings of guilt and shame, especially young girls. The fact that Jada was strong enough to speak out about her situation was bravery at its finest. Sadly enough, Jada’s story has brought not only national criticism against her “failure to prevent” such occurrences, but even further the humiliation of young men and women recreating the photos and videos via social media. Cyber-bullying is an injustice. Child pornography is a crime. Only in a world where our communities too often protect the offender would a suspect of this heinous act come out and tweet “That hoe forced, snitched, and still look like a fiend”?
How backwards of a society do we live in where a rape offender is made to feel more comfortable about this situation than the victim?
I can’t help but wonder if the victim had been a young Caucasian girl, would the offenders be so bold?
As a victim survivor of sexual assault, I no longer have the simple right to peace of mind when I’m out in public, especially in the evening. It was robbed from me. I acknowledge that as a woman and especially woman of color, that right is a common one that is stolen from us at some point. Whether it’s street harassment, sexual assault, stalking, this “right” to our own bodies becomes more apparent to be non-existent. The fact that we teach our girls how not to BE RAPED instead of placing emphasis on teaching our young boys how and why NOT TO RAPE is a testament to the backwards nature of our gender expectations. We teach our girls how to dress in order to avoid arousing a man, what weapons to keep, to learn self-defense. We are told not to wear long ponytails, to stay out of environments that “women aren’t meant to frequent”. By giving women guidelines about things that can be done to stay safe takes away their ownership of their bodies and instead keeps them living in a constant state of fear. It shames them and often makes them feel like avoiding rape is all about having women act “the right way,” and that if they make a misstep, it is basically their fault that they were raped. It didn’t matter that I was on my way home from class and not coming home from a party. It also didn’t matter that I was dressed in over-sized jeans and a crew neck instead of a scantily clad dress. What mattered was that this man’s gun gave him the ultimate power over my body. In the case of another young 13-year old girl victim, her offender (a relative) used comments like “you don’t look your age” to justify the unwanted attention, as if therefore, it was DESTINED for her. If that isn’t disheartening enough, when she finally decided to put it in the court’s hands, they completely failed her after two years. Lawyers even went so far as to suggest “more appropriate hairstyles” when she was in court in order to somehow further validate her story.
Often situations of rape such as Jada’s are easier to silence because of the fact that society thinks that rape is only constituted by beating and aggressive force along with sex without consent.
A common myth is that if a woman doesn’t fight back, she must eventually want it and therefore, it couldn’t possibly be rape.
White supremacy and patriarchy normalize these situations by specifying and creating a stipulation to the term rape and creating their own definitions. It is easy to maintain this oppression in the black community because there are few interventions or mechanisms to stop the violence. Most times, families in these communities are told to ignore it because it “isn’t their business”. It is so normalized that young black men fail to recognize this behavior as violence. The consequences of this shame and invisibility by the social construction of women’s racial and gender identity as less deserving of less attention, and as an “other” over whose body males hold entitlement rights. As a result of this, women also start to feel defenseless and feel a lack of safety even in communal ties. We can’t keep continuing to let our girls down. If we don’t stand by Jada now, who will?