The public nature of women’s bodiesBy Samantha Rudelich | 02/02/2016 10:06am
I am a woman. I am a person. The latter always seems to be overshadowed by the former. It’s always that I am a woman, so I should do this or I should be that rather than something else. I am a person, so I should do or be whatever I choose.
My body does not belong to me. It is publicly assessed and consumed. Women’s bodies are constantly criticized for being too thin or too skinny or too unideal, to the point where I believe that the ideal does not exist. Sometimes I forget, just for a second. In the midst of attempting to be a good student and friend and sister and daughter, I forget that my body is not my own. I forget about the one in five women who are assaulted on college campuses. I decide to walk home alone at night and then once I settle into my walk, I finally remember. I spot a group of boys stumbling carelessly through the street and my breath hitches. I think of my family and how angry they would be if they knew I was alone. The boys’ thoughtless meandering reminds me that my body is not my own and that, if they so choose, they can reclaim what is theirs.
My mind goes to the 90 percent of sexual assaults that are committed by someone who the survivor knew beforehand. While that comforts me momentarily, I worry if anyone I know would be capable of committing that violence against me. I question if I can trust those around me and cut anyone out of my life who shows signs of putting me in harm’s way. This seems a largely ceremonial way for me to reign over my body and my life, but it provides some comfort.
I realize that taking these precautions and attempting to protect myself is futile. I can cover my body to shield it from the public. I can stay in my room after dark and avoid being outside. I can fail to meet the typical beauty standards shoved down our throats. All for the sake of avoiding the gaze of the public. But no matter what I do, I will be at risk if I am in the presence of an attacker. Of someone who sees me not as a person to be respected, but as a woman to be had.
The solution starts with education. It begins when we start teaching a comprehensive sexual education that includes what consent is. A sexual education that brings the entire class together to discuss sex and consent in an open and honest way. When we start educating everyone about sex and consent, we stop victim-blaming. We start holding the perpetrator of an attack accountable, instead of criticizing what a survivor has done to contribute to their attack. At the end of the day, the question should be “Did you say yes?” If the answer is “no,” that should be the end of the interrogation. No one is ever “asking for it” if they are not specifically consenting.
Though I am a woman and that, statistically, means that I am more likely to be sexually assaulted, I am still a person. I take risks and make mistakes because I can’t sit in my room and hide. I choose to come out of hiding and demand more. I fight back because, otherwise, I don’t want to sign away my body for the public to twist for their own pleasure. More than just hoping for change to come, we must demand it. By supporting our Women & Gender Resource Center, by to “It’s On Us,” by doing more than just changing our profile pictures, we advance once we collectively decide to stop being bystanders to the public consumption of women and their bodies.
Samantha Rudelich is a junior majoring in business management. Her column runs biweekly.