When Rape Culture Infiltrates Summer Camp

If you know me well, you know that I had a life changing experience at summer camp. I worked there for four years — first as a junior counselor, then as a counselor, then as an administrator. I made the most incredible friendships, learned to be a leader, and found the strength I needed to be confident in myself and my beliefs. I have no doubt that I would not be the same person today if it were not for my time at camp.

Summer camp is also where I learned to be proud to be a feminist and where I first came face to face with socially enforced rape culture. I was 20 during my final year at summer camp, and I was working with the most extraordinary group of women. All four female administrators were under age 30, and we worked together with a 40-year-old man who was camp director.

In my previous years at camp, I’d come to know it as a liberal and progressive environment, in which everyone was accepted and listened to. This particular year, we had decided as a staff to take a hard stance on bullying — any reports of bullying or harassment and you’d be kicked out of camp immediately. We’d already expelled one camper after a controversial incident, so it was obvious to all of the administration that we weren’t going to tolerate bullying of any type. Or so I thought.

It was a sunny afternoon when a counselor came to three of us — the youngest three administrators — and told us one of her campers needed to talk to us. Sally*, the camper, was on the oldest girls floor, which was comprised of 15 and 16 year olds. She sat on the bed in her room and told us that one of the teen boys on the opposite floor, Thomas, had grabbed her butt during a game of four square. We were stunned. We told her we’d deal with the situation and immediately went to find Thomas’s counselor, Luke. Luke said he’d talk to Thomas about the incident, then send him to the main office.

When the two administrators and I spoke to Thomas later that day, he was in tears. He had no idea what we were talking about. He swore up and down that he had no recollection of the incident. He wasn’t a particularly conniving or clever kid, so we tentatively believed that he was baffled. We told him that he needed to be more aware of his actions and watch his body more carefully, since he was making girls feel uncomfortable and unsafe. We made our stance on bullying and harassment clear to him and explained that even unintentional actions could count as harassment. Thomas apologized profusely and told us he’d be more aware. We didn’t bring the issue to the camp director because Sally wasn’t comfortable with him knowing.

Two days later, another girl, Mackenzie, approached us and said that while standing in line during a camp BBQ, Thomas had cupped her butt. The three of us were outraged. We informed her that we took her report very seriously and would handle it immediately. We called a meeting with the camp director and the other administrators and office personnel.

“Thomas’s parents need to come pick him up,” we told the other administrators after we explained what had happened. The women nodded in agreement, and the office manager began searching for his file. Our male director, who had blown the previous bullying incident out of proportion, didn’t seem to be on board. He asked to hear the accounts of what had happened multiple times before responding, “Well, boys will be boys. He’s only 16. I’ll have a stern talking-to with him.”

The women in the room were dumbfounded. We simultaneously started spewing information about sexual harassment and assault. One at a time we barraged him with our own stories of teenage harassment, trying to convince him that yes, it was a big deal, and yes, we did need to do something about it.

Actions have consequences, we told him, and both the butt-toucher and the teenage girls needed to know that. If we do nothing, we told him, the girls will see that even in a liberal and accepting environment, boys can get away with whatever they want. If we “give him a stern talking-to,” we explained, he’ll understand that harassment gets you a slap on the wrist, and the girls will understand that their comfort and safety doesn’t matter. If they, god forbid, get assaulted down the road, they won’t tell anyone. They’ll think that silence is safer and speaking out does nothing. They’ll tell their friends, and the cycle of institutional rape culture will continue.

For 40 minutes, our boss argued with us, claiming that this wasn’t as severe of a situation as we were making it out to be. Eventually, we wore him down. He called Thomas’s parents. Since they lived 4 hours away, though, and camp was ending the next day, he agreed they could just come get him at the normal scheduled pickup time. As a punishment instead, Thomas wouldn’t be allowed to attend the final dance, our boss told us.

There was clearly nothing we could do to change the situation, so we told the director that Thomas would need to sit in the nearby lounge so we could keep an eye on him. “Well that’s not fair,” our boss responded, “he’ll feel like a zoo animal being watched by all the other campers.” Again, we were shocked — Thomas was already barely getting a punishment at all; the least we could do was put him in a place where the staff could see him and Sally and Mackenzie could know that he wasn’t going to bother them. Our director thought that Thomas’s embarrassment was more important than the girls’ fear and discomfort. We finally got our way, but we fought tooth and nail every step of the way.

This was the first taste I got of the fight I’d need to face anytime I spoke out about sexual assault and harassment. It’s a fight we women see every single day. There has been an outpouring of stories about sexual assault and harassment in the news recently, but it’s important to remember that this is something all women — whether they’re famous or not — deal with every single day.

*All names have been changed

Featured Image: Flickr / Petra Bensted

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There’s A Difference Between A Catcall And A Compliment

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When women walk down the street, no matter what they’re wearing, they are always ready to be catcalled. You might think I’m being dramatic, but I promise you I’m not.

Every day as I walk down the street, I stare straight ahead. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new place or my block at home — I always know it’s possible that a guy will decide to comment on my body. I regularly walk around with my middle finger at the ready and “go to hell” on the tip of my tongue. I try hard to stand up for myself and yell back, but I also have to think first and foremost about my safety.

One of the biggest arguments that men (and sometimes women) like to make about catcalling is that women should take it as a compliment. They say, “it means they think you’re hot,” or they try to explain that “they don’t mean it to be intimidating, they just want you to know that you look good.”

But here’s the thing: I’ve been complimented and I’ve been catcalled and they are NOT the same thing.

Let me explain.

Walking from the subway to my last office, I would walk by a lot of men who were hanging out on the street. A lot of them were construction workers, delivery-people, and drivers. I’m not trying to generalize blue collar workers because I have definitely been catcalled by white collar workers as well, but because they were the ones standing on the street more often, they were the ones who harassed me most.

I became so used to the stares of these men that I was always prepared to be catcalled. I heard everything from the normal “hey sexy” and kissy noises, to “mmm show me a smile baby” and “damn, girl.” I didn’t get any particularly creepy catcalls there, but keep in mind that I heard most of these at 9:00 in the morning.

So you might be thinking, “So what, they were just telling you that you were sexy.” But that’s not the case. Those men were taking advantage of the street space they hold to make me feel uncomfortable. At this point in time, all men know that catcalling makes women feel uncomfortable, if not unsafe. So men catcall women entirely to get a rise out of them.

And here’s the difference between that and a compliment: One day on my way to work, I stopped to cross the street. While I was waiting for the light to change at the crosswalk, a man approached me and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that your hair looks really nice in the sun right now.”

That is a compliment. And you know how I responded? I didn’t flip him off, I didn’t yell “f*ck you” at him, and I didn’t tell him to go to hell. Instead, I said, “Oh, thank you,” and I smiled at him. I didn’t walk away feeling degraded and off-put; I walked to work slightly happier.

So, men, if you want to see a smile, don’t shout “show me a smile,” say something that might actually make someone smile. And don’t scream “hey sexy, nice hair,” mention in a non-threatening way that my hair looks nice in the sun.

I’m sick of people trying to convince me that catcalls and compliments are the same thing. I’ve experienced both, and I’m here to tell them that they’re wrong.

An Open Letter To My Little Brother Before He Enters College

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If I told my brother the same things I was told before going into college, people would probably think I was giving him strange advice.

The first pre-college “gift” I received was a rape whistle (it was from my little brother). While it was a practical gift, I guess, it was also weird – it essentially told me that the first thing I should know about college was that it was a dangerous place for me to be. For the record, I never once used that rape whistle (or the variety of other anti-rape products I received during my years in college). I didn’t even take it out of the package. I went to a small liberal arts college and I never really felt unsafe. While I’m not by any means claiming that my college was perfectly safe (as the many sexual assault victims at my school could tell you), I myself never feared for my safety.

Thinking about it now, I may have never even opened the rape whistle, but I also didn’t get rid of it. Why? Because it seemed like something I could at some point need. It’s still sitting in my living room in my apartment in New York City, untouched, in one of the drawers of my coffee table. But if I had given my brother a rape whistle last Christmas, as I considered doing, it would probably also remain in the package – but it would probably also sit in his desk at home, or the back of some closet – he wouldn’t bring it with him to college and always know exactly where it was, despite not using it. He would probably forget about it. And that would be fine.

When my best friend, a guy, started college, his dad sent him a box of condoms. Again, a practical gift, but the message my friend received at the start of his college career was that college would be the time to have sex. We essentially received the exact opposite messages – I learned that I should be vigilant about unwanted sexual advances and he learned that society expected him to have sex. More basically put, men should seek sex, while women should fear it.

So I want to change the message. My brother, almost eighteen years old and a high school senior, is getting ready to embark on the “best four years of his life” (I would definitely say that description of college is up for debate). But as a feminist, a college graduate, and most importantly his sister, I have some advice of my own for my little bro.

Hey Buddy,

I can’t wait for you to go to college (hopefully on the east coast *cough cough* so we can be closer together). You’re going to have so much fun, learn so much, make so many friends, and become even more yourself. I truly can’t wait to see the person you become throughout your college years. But before you go, I want to give you some advice:

  1. Be yourself. When I got to college, I wanted to reinvent myself – I thought I could make myself into someone who was completely different than the person I was in high school (aka cooler, friends with more “popular” people, invited to the best parties, etc.) – that didn’t happen, and I’m so glad it didn’t. Just be you; don’t worry too much about what everyone else thinks.
  2. Be someone people can count on. Stick up for what you believe in, stand up for your friends, and stay strong.
  3. All that peer pressure stuff. Don’t give in to peer pressure and don’t pressure anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Whether it’s drinking, drugs, or anything sexual, don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with (and don’t make anyone else feel uncomfortable).
  4. Listen to your friends. If your friends tell you something is wrong, listen to them. Don’t discount them. Especially your female friends – if they talk to you about being catcalled, or someone making them uncomfortable, or anyone taking advantage of them – listen. Believe them. Be there for them.
  5. Don’t rape. Not that I believe you ever would, but for the number of times I was told how to not get raped, I think it’s fair that I tell you once how not to rape: If someone says no (or does not say yes) to your sexual advances, stop.
  6. Don’t let your friends rape or be raped. If you see a friend taking advantage of someone else or being taken advantage of by someone else, step in. Don’t be a bystander. Do something – it’s always better to have a friend be mad at you for a day for “cock-blocking” than to have someone be traumatized for life by a sexual assault.
  7. Be the feminist I know you are. Don’t shy away from the term “feminist” because of the negative stigma that is still associated with it. Think about all the strong women you know – me, Mom, your teachers, your camp coworkers – and remember that we are only this strong because of other women and men who aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists.

Love you always,

Your big sister

The Time I Was “The Other Girl”

(I wrote this post almost three years ago, before I even had a blog, and I wasn’t ready to share it with people until now. For the most part, I haven’t updated anything I wrote, aside from a few grammatical and syntactical errors. I hope you enjoy this peek back into my life – and my writing – three years ago. I’ll be writing a follow-up piece soon about my take on this pseudo-relationship now, so stay tuned for some “everything is clearer in hindsight” shit coming your way soon.)

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Original Title: I Should Probably Feel Worse Than I Do

Let me just preface this by saying that I do actually have morals, I promise. But I went on vacation for a week, and apparently so did my morals. The story begins spring break  my sophomore year of college. I had been planning a Habitat for Humanity trip for almost an entire year with another girl, and we were finally on our way to Florida. There were seven kids from my school and eight kids from another school staying in the same house.

Upon entering the house, I locked eyes with Chris (*name has been changed). I immediately thought he was cute, in a rugged kind of tall, dark, and handsome way. We flirted for a few days,  cuddling and watching movies all squished on the couch with our new friends, but I knew something was up. He was a total flirt, but for some reason he was holding back. Everyone could tell there was something going on between us, but for some reason Chris wasn’t making a move. Half way through the week I was totally invested in making something happen between us – I knew we were both attracted to one another, and it felt comfortable (for the first time ever). He didn’t make me feel awkward or self-conscious, and I could look into his eyes when we talked without feeling out of place. It just felt right, and it was the first time ever that something felt like that for me. Of course, once I had fully committed myself to the idea of putting myself out there, the truth came out.

He had a girlfriend at home. I was disappointed, but it didn’t make me want him any less. I decided at that point, all morals aside, that if I couldn’t have him, I would just tease him – after all, he had waited until we were in way too deep to tell me he was otherwise engaged. So, I dressed nicely, I flirted up a storm, and, needless to say, it didn’t make me feel any better. Teasing him didn’t help me feel any less teased to begin with. Shocker. The night after he told me about his girlfriend, we watched a movie with everyone. We cuddled, per usual, and if the sexual tension was butter-knife-ready before, it now could have been cut with a shoe, or something equally as dull. I had a hard time sitting next to him without jumping him. This was when I decided to pull the “is this as hard for you as it is for me?” card, figuring I was still just teasing him. His aggressive kiss on the cheek told me my teasing had gone a bit too far. We were screwed. It was all down-hill from there. Later that night we decided it was time to talk, and after admitting that he wanted to kiss me, we chose not to do anything – neither of us wanted to mess up his relationship with his girlfriend. I told him I thought we made the right decision; he told me he didn’t. I knew we were in over our heads.

Fast forward 24 hours to us making out on the couch. Clearly we lost our resolve. It wasn’t very strong to begin with. Our morals, along with our decision to “just be friends” went out the window. You’re probably thinking I’m a terrible person, or that he’s a terrible person. We are both better than our actions that week, and yet we still did what we did. Do I feel bad? Without a doubt. Do I think it was the wrong thing to do? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not even a little bit.

Before you judge me too harshly, give me a chance to explain myself. Actually, feel free to judge me all you want, I deserve it, just don’t hold it against me, and don’t let it define your opinion of me. If you had asked me before that vacation if I would ever do something like this, my answer would have been no. Ask me now if I’d ever do it again, my answer is still no. Here’s the thing, though, when you’re a lonely college sophomore who has never been told you’re beautiful by a boy, and has never kissed someone you actually want to kiss, your morality line might become a bit blurry when these options present themselves to you. Chris made me feel wanted, and special, and important. He made me feel like I mattered. For someone who has never been told they’re wanted before, that feeling is intoxicating. Chris was charming and sweet and he cared about me. I needed that. I don’t regret doing what I did because it was an experience I’ll never forget. I don’t regret it because both Chris and I can learn from it. I don’t regret it because I won’t ever forgive myself for hurting not only his girlfriend, but also the two of us. And I don’t regret it because I learned a lot about myself.

(Follow-up: In case you’re wondering, Chris and I kept in contact after our time in Florida, and talked a lot about what to do in the following days. My friends disapproved of me talking to him, and they had a point – we couldn’t really keep the flirting to a minimum as we should have been able to. He decided to tell his girlfriend what happened. She forgave him. So while it might be easy to say, “well, I dodged that bullet” to becoming a home-wrecker, finding out her reaction really didn’t change my opinion of the event. It was still wrong what we did. I don’t know her motivation for letting Chris get away with cheating on her, but it doesn’t really make a difference. Whatever her reason, it doesn’t just let us off the hook – Chris and I have both agreed to never do this again. Hopefully we’ll both stick to our decision this time.)

Feminist Fairy Tales in Fifty Words or Fewer (Part 1)

My most recent brain blast was a few days ago in the shower, when I realized that all the mothers in fairy tales are dead, all the step-mothers are evil witches, and all the daughters are naive girls who need a man to save them. I’m far from the first person to realize this, and certainly not the first to comment on it, but as a writer, I knew I had to share my opinion on it. Instead of just ranting about the gender inequality illustrated in fairy tales (that we share with our children at very young ages), I decided to take on a new project: Feminist Fairy Tales in Fifty Words or Fewer. Below are my first two, Snow White and Cinderella – they are adaptations of the traditional fairy tales (as we grew up with them – a.k.a. generally the Disney version, though I did research many of the other versions as well).

SNOW WHITE:

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CINDERELLA:

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Sometimes I Wear Tiaras, Even During My Own Graduation (What Tiaras Mean to Me)

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As you can see from the photo, my graduation cap bore my signature tiara, complete with sparkles and the color pink. Maintaining this blog for the past two years has dramatically changed my outlook on life – probably more than any college class, this blog taught me what I wanted to do with my life. That is why, for my final moments of my undergraduate career, I decided I couldn’t be complete without a tiara.

It wasn’t about the tiara itself, in fact, for those of you who don’t know, “princess” is not how I would ever describe myself. I like pink and sparkles and glitter and all things girly, but I still don’t think of myself as a princess. I was never a princess-obsessed little girl, and I am not a princess-obsessed grown woman. Tiaras, to me, mean confidence. They mean self-assurance and strength. Tiaras are a blatant symbol of womanhood, and womanhood is a beautiful thing. Tiaras mean beauty, elegance, and smiling even when you’re upset. Tiaras mean being strong when all eyes are on you and being strong when you’re alone. Tiaras are about mothers, daughters, sisters, and feminists.

For everyone who thinks “Sometimes I Wear Tiaras” is just a silly blog title, you’re wrong – for me, it’s so much more. This post was originally going to be about me wearing a tiara on graduation, but it’s turned into more than that; just as my blog has turned into more than a place for me to put rantings and personal stories. “Sometimes I Wear Tiaras” has opened so many doors for me and shown me where I might want to go in life. And tiaras aren’t just accessories, they are a way of life.

Why Jenna Marbles Should Be Your Beauty Icon

If you don’t know who JennaMarbles is (have you been living under a rock since 9th grade?), then you should immediately look her up. She’s a popular YouTube vlogger who posts videos about a variety of topics, like how to do your makeup drunk, what girls and guys think about during sex, and the infamous “face” video; her videos are hilarious and she’s totally the voice of our generation (okay, maybe not our generation, but definitely the voice of broke twenty-somethings who are trying to get their lives together but still like getting drunk on wine). But beyond being an internet sensation, Jenna Mourey is freaking gorgeous. She usually rocks perfect makeup (and pretty heavy amounts of it), but once in a while she goes au natural and seems totally comfortable like that too. Most importantly, Jenna isn’t afraid to try new makeup and beauty trends (gray hair? She wore that months before it became big). Her videos may be iconic, but her beauty is pretty iconic too; check out the pictures below if you need to love with JennaMarbles even more than you already do.

Most of the time, her makeup looks something like this (heavy mascara, natural-looking blush and lip color):

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But she’s also totally comfortable going without makeup (and with silly faces):

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She absolutely kills it with funky hair colors:

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She called this one her “silver fox” look

She makes crazy lipstick colors look reasonable (I may be running to the store to buy bright blue lipstick as soon as I finish work today):

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And she hits the nail on the head with the most important beauty mantra of all:

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(images via tumblr.com and Instagram)

Why “You’re Secret Hot” Is An Insult, Not A Compliment

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Last week, a man told me I was “secret hot.” What does that mean, you ask? Well, it means that I look pretty average until I put on makeup and a fancy outfit. Then I look hot. He explained that I look normal when I’m at work (in my dining hall clothes), but then I put pictures on Facebook of me with more makeup and tight dresses, and then I look hot. I think he was expecting me to say thank you, but mostly I was offended.

Here’s the deal: I don’t need random friends of mine to validate my looks. I’m perfectly fine with my boyfriend being the only guy to tell me I’m hot. Apparently when I wear jeans, converse, and a t-shirt, I look pretty plain. SHOCKER. When I’m working at the dining hall, I’m not trying to look good, I’m trying to do my job.

I truly think the guy who told me this was trying to compliment me – but honestly, I’d much rather be complimented on my ideas, my work, or my writing than on my appearance. Sure, it feels nice for people to tell you that you look good once in a while. But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need to be reassured about my appearance on the daily. And telling me that I’m “secret hot” is a very backhanded compliment. But you know what? My boyfriend fell in love with me wearing a nasty purple baseball cap, black nonslip shoe covers, and a gross green apron. So I’m not “secret hot.” I’m just hot.

Virginity Doesn’t Define You

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Tonight I was walking home from work, texting my friend Lisa,* and I realized I didn’t know whether or not she was a virgin. Until about 3 years ago, I had tabs on all my friends’ sexual activity – I knew that Kate had been only ever had sex with her boyfriend, that Caroline lost her virginity at sixteen, but hadn’t slept with anyone in a while, and that Rebecca liked sleeping with anyone who made her feel special. I kept tabs because I truly thought it mattered. Somehow, virginity and sexual experience seemed to define people. Which meant that I was naive, inexperienced, and unknowledgeable.

What I realized today was that none of it matters. I don’t know whether Lisa is still a virgin or not, and I don’t care. She might be, she might not be, but who gives a damn? Virginity does not define you – it doesn’t make you a good or bad person, it doesn’t make you smart or stupid, it doesn’t make you beautiful or ugly. Your participation in a specific sexual encounter says nothing about who you are. Nothing.

For a long time I thought losing my virginity would be a big deal – that it would somehow change me. News flash: it didn’t. I woke up the next day feeling exactly the same as I had the day before (maybe just a tiny bit more sore). The world didn’t stop spinning, I didn’t get invited to join some special club, and I didn’t feel “mature” all of a sudden. Want to know why? Because I was already the person that I am, with or without the intangible concept of “virginity.” Sex is a big step for a couple and you need to trust, respect, and be comfortable with the people you sleep with – but sex doesn’t need to be a big deal. It’s just another step in a sexual relationship. And it doesn’t need to involve anyone outside of the people who are participating in it. Because honestly? It’s just sex.

*All names have been changed.

Reina’s Story: Her Disappointment With Skidmore’s Administration, Her Journey, And Her Newfound Activism

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On Monday night, I sat at a small table in the dining hall with my computer set up in front of me, quickly jotting down questions in a word document. I was waiting for a fellow student, Reina Kiefer, to join me for an interview. She didn’t know this, but it was my first in-person interview and I kind of had no idea what I was doing. Moments later, Reina and her friend Katie, a former mentee of mine, joined me at the table. I had met Reina many times in the past, but none of our conversations were as involved as I knew this would be.

Upon meeting Reina, a bright and bubbly college student, you would never know what she has been dealing with for the past ten months. In April of 2014, Reina was sexually assaulted. She went to the school, the police, and lawyers, but has still not gotten the validation she deserves. Her assailant was found responsible by the school and was suspended for a year, but is being allowed to reapply to Skidmore and could come back to join her graduating class. Despite Reina’s clarity with the college that she is not comfortable with having him here, the administration has not made any noticeable attempts to comply with Reina’s request. Reina is planning a peaceful protest in order for Skidmore students to show the administration that we as a community are not okay with sexual assault and we do not want rapists at our institution.

When I sat down with Reina to talk about the protest, I had no idea where our conversation was going to go. I read Reina my disjointed questions and before I knew it, the story was pouring from her lips.

“I’ve been reading a book called Dear Sister, which is about sexual assault, and there’s a quote in it that says ‘If you are questioning what you did and how you survived, please stop. Whatever you did to survive was the right thing.’ There is so much shame associated with [sexual assault]. I couldn’t help but think Why did I go out that night? It was a Thursday, I never went out on Thursdays. Why did I go? What if I hadn’t? What if I was too tired? My intention that night was to go out, have one beer, go home, sleep in my own bed, wake up in the morning, and get a tattoo later that day.”

That isn’t what happened. Reina only remembers pieces her assault because she was entirely incapacitated after a certain point. The night is a blur and clearly hard for her to think about; she tells me that her after waking up with her head on a toilet seat, her assailant picked her up off the bathroom floor, carried her into his room, took off her clothes, and had intercourse with her. Throughout the entire event, Reina was coming in and out of consciousness. She never consented to any of it. Even if she had, it wouldn’t have been effective consent, because she was unconscious… Earlier in the night, she had even told him that she was abstinent – she never planned on going home with anyone that night, let alone him. When she woke up in the morning, she was beyond confused. She tried to normalize the situation with her assailant, but left as soon as she could think of an excuse. Reina explains, “The second I left, I went to my best friend’s room. She asked if I was okay and I don’t think I said anything right away. It wasn’t until I heard myself tell the entire story that I asked, somewhat horrified, ‘is that rape?’ She slowly nodded and softly said, ‘yeah, kinda.’ I was in complete shock. I just went about the rest of my day – I even got my tattoo, like I had planned – but if I hadn’t run into the specific people I ran into that day, I wouldn’t have done anything. I wouldn’t have reported the assault, I wouldn’t have gone to the counseling center, they wouldn’t have sent me to the hospital to attempt to get a rape kit, I wouldn’t have told my brother or my mom. If those very specific events hadn’t happened, he’d still be here.”

I asked Reina about the difficulty of reporting and she told me, “I understand how hard it is to report. I didn’t want to report my assailant right away. I told people ‘I don’t want to get him expelled, I don’t want to ruin his life. I can’t ruin someone’s life.’ It took a lot of convincing – people really had to push me to report it. That was really hard. But if there’s anything I can say, it’s report, report, report. It’s so important. It’s not the survivor’s responsibility, and you’re not a bad person if you don’t do it, but it is important to at least try. Yes the school has failed me, but he would still be here if I hadn’t reported it, and that’s something. He would be here and I probably wouldn’t be.”

And how does she feel about the incident and her assailant now, ten months after her assault? “I don’t hate this guy,” she explained, “I feel really bad for him. I’ve gone through such a journey with my feelings towards my assailant – first confusion, then fear, intense anger, deep sadness, hurt – and now all of that has transformed into pity. I feel bad for him. As I heal, it gets worse for him. I feel more empowered; I have a voice, I’m being heard. But he’s facing expulsion, criminal charges, losing friends, and he should be facing pretty serious psychological problems. People have told me, “You’ll get to a point where you forgive him, in some way,” – I’m not there yet and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I think pity is a pretty good step. He did something awful, but I don’t need people to hate him, I just want them to support me. The administration has an opportunity to fix this, he doesn’t. I don’t think I will ever get an apology or an understanding from him, but I should be receiving protection from my school.” That’s Reina’s biggest problem with the way her assault has been handled – that the school has disappointed her so many times throughout this whole process.

Reina insists that she isn’t a sexual assault activist (yet), but her actions speak louder than her words. She began by creating a Go Fund Me account to raise money for t-shirts. Then she made the Facebook event for the protest. Reina initially invited only 114 people to the Facebook event, but within 24 hours there were over 1000 invites and 250 people attending. Now, she’s totally overwhelmed by the positive response she’s received. Reina has gotten so many messages from people who have told her that the same thing happened to them and many other messages from people who want to help. She said, “It’s been amazing and so empowering. The support I’ve gotten from the community is incredible. It’s also overwhelming and terrifying.”

When I asked Reina about her new role as an activist, she said, “It really only turned into activism a few days ago. People keep asking me what’s next and I have no idea. I’ve been realizing that this is going to be part of my life – I’m passionate about this issue. I have so many ideas for changes that need to happen and I want to pursue them. It kind of makes me want to quit school and go change the world. As far as the protest is concerned, there’s a fine line between advocating for myself and speaking for everyone. To be honest, this isn’t a campaign; it’s an event. That being said, I definitely feel the pressure for it to become something greater. But really, this just started with me being pissed off and hurt and wanting to make a change. It’s taken me a long time to see what was so obvious to other people – what happened to me was wrong.”

She continued, “Mostly I’m just in shock that this is all happening. It’s tough, I realize people don’t necessarily agree with me; everyone’s experience with sexual violence, direct or indirect, is different. Some people may not want their assailants expelled, for whatever reason. And I respect that. I’m not trying to speak for everyone – I hope that by speaking out, other people will feel like they can speak out. The most surreal part of this is the publicity it’s gotten. It’s overwhelming, for sure. You know, haters gonna hate [she chuckles]. There are going to be people who say negative things, but I guarantee that whatever they’re going to say about me is not nearly as horrifying as what happened to me. They’re misinformed. They simply don’t know the whole story. I’m not the type of person who is quiet, ever. I’ve always been this way. That being said, I’m a completely different person than I was ten months ago; my assault was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s also been the most important.”

And Reina is taking big steps to show people just how important the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is. Reina describes herself as a “lucky” survivor – people listened to her, supported her, and believed her story. She will do anything to get her message across to the administration. People all over have been recognizing Reina for her strength, her courage, and her bravery. Despite all the compliments Reina has received over the past few days, Reina remains as humble as ever: “A lot of people tell me ‘I could never do what you’re doing’ with the protest, but I could never do what I’m doing. You don’t know what you’re capable of until a force drives you to face it.”

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“You Are Beautiful”

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As some of you may know, I was 19 before anyone outside my family and close friends told me I was beautiful. People had told me I was pretty or that I looked hot, but nobody had ever called me beautiful. The word gained so much power for me because it was so underused in my life. All I wanted for a long time was for a guy to tell me I was beautiful.

But this isn’t about my lack of love life or the concept of beauty, it’s about three simple words: You are beautiful. Those three words take less than a second to say, but people don’t say them. And for anyone out there suffering from insecurity (aka all of us), those words can mean the world.*

Today, tell someone they’re beautiful. Think about all the people in your life who you consider beautiful human beings, and ask yourself how many times you have actually told them they’re beautiful. My guess is that number is pretty low. It is for me. And think about how you would feel if someone unexpected told you that you’re beautiful. So now tell them. You can explain it, you can confess your love, or you can just say the three words: You are beautiful. It’s that simple. I dare you. You have no idea how much they’ll appreciate it.

And you, reading this right now, you are part of the reason I have more confidence in myself, and that makes you absolutely beautiful.

 

* For the record, when I talk about beauty and the word “beautiful,” I am not solely talking about physical attractiveness. To me, “hot” and “pretty” describe someone’s physical appearance; “intelligent,” “kind,” and “interesting” describe someone’s internal being; the word “beautiful” encompasses both internal and external amazingness. Beautiful is a powerful word that is one-of-a-kind. I hope that by understanding my definition of beauty, you can understand the kind of impact it can have on people.

Let’s Sexualize Halloween: Costumes 101

TGIFs Halloween Rachel McAdams
Though it’s only the end of September, Halloween is right around the corner. To start off the Halloween season, I thought I would share a costume comparison with you. Notice anything? Perhaps that the women’s costumes have about a tenth of the amount of material as the men’s costumes. Does that seem a little weird to you? I don’t have a problem with women wearing skimpy clothes, but why shouldn’t men show off their bodies too? This year, mix it up a little. I dare all women to wear something more modest and all men to wear something a little more scandalous. Fight the sexualized expectations!
Men vs. Women

A Fraternity Flagged “Hot Girls” at a Party to Make Sure They Got Roofied Drinks

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In case you don’t understand how serious of an issue sexual assault on college campuses is, please read this article about a fraternity that flagged “hot girls” to make sure they got roofied drinks at the frat party. Sexual assault is terrible and is an epidemic that is sweeping the country. I am a sociology major and am currently researching sexual assault at public and private universities around the United States. One thing I’ve already learned is that over 30 sexual assaults occurred at Harvard University alone last year. OVER 30. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ll be posting information from my senior thesis at the end of the semester. Stay tuned!