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Presentation at SMC addresses victim blaming

| Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Catharsis Productions, the theatre group responsible for bringing the informative production “Sex Signals” to both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame first-year students, returned to Saint Mary’s Carroll Auditorium on Tuesday evening for an interactive discussion titled, “Beat the Blame Game: Silence the Snark – How You Can Be a Voice and Speak up for Victims of Rape.” The talk comes as part of the Belles Against Violence Office’s week of activism and the #YesallBelles campaign, addressing victim blaming and rape culture.

Amber Kelly from Catharsis Productions led the audience of students and faculty in discussion, beginning with the underlying societal forces that prevent a supportive culture for rape victims and how many people tend not to realize the impact of sexual violence when it occurs.

“Not only does victim blaming put the responsibility on [the victim], but we are also supporting some abusive and horrible behavior,” Kelly said.

Kelly first projected an example of victim blaming from radio personality Bill O’Reilly, showing a transcription of his commentary on the topic of the rape and murder of teen Jennifer Moore. She then invited students to examine the text and decide who O’Reilly was really blaming for the rape and murder — the audience collectively agreed on Moore herself.

Kelly then gave a brief overview of the Just World Hypothesis, the cognitive assumption that a person’s actions are ultimately destined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, Kelly said.

“The Just World Hypothesis is when people believe the world is a just place,” Kelly said. “Have you ever heard, ‘Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people?’ When people victim blame, the first thing people attack is character. ‘This thing that happened is bad; therefore, this is a terrible person.’”

Kelly also led the audience in an interactive exercise in which she asked what adjectives people typically use when describing a woman who has sex. She then asked them to do the same for men.

“‘Girls’ is negative,” Kelly said. “‘Boys’ is positive. How do guys feel about being called these things? Proud, good, confident. On the other hand, I don’t think you have any friends who want to grow up to be a ‘slutty thot.’”

Variations of many terms determine their usage in culture on different genders, Kelly said.

“‘Man whore’ is a good example,” Kelly said. “If you just say ‘whore,’ what list does it go on? The women’s list. We have to put a modifier in front of the word for the man.”

An important element Kelly highlighted was the fact that not all men are defined by the words society and popular culture associates with them, such as “player,” “stud” and “the man.”

“I will argue that this doesn’t actually define all men,” Kelly said. “What does this say about men? How often do they have sex? All the time. How do they feel about those women who they’re having sex with? They couldn’t care less. It gives a really limiting and negative perception of men in general.”

Derogatory terms such as “slut” and “whore” are often thrown around carelessly without consequence, Kelly said.

“Why do people still use [them]?” Kelly said. “[A slut is] … a girl who sleeps with anyone, on the first date, with multiple people. What’s the number of times a woman has to have sex to cross over into that area of ‘slut-dom?’ Four? One? Zero? We use these to create the bad category, and it’s not just men using this language on women. It’s women using this language on women. If we kept going, we could have gotten variations of these words like ‘town bikes’ and ‘door knobs.’”

“Here’s the thing, I’m sure you guys have heard ‘don’t objectify women,’” Kelly said. “What is the job of a whore? To have the sex. All I asked for [were] words that describe women who have sex, not negative or objective.”

Not only does consent from both parties make for a more enjoyable time for people, but the point of it is to respect another’s boundaries, Kelly said.

“People think that asking people to have sex is awkward, like asking a chair for permission to use it,” Kelly said. “When we use this language, we’re valuing people less, and we really want to get rid of this, because this is the way we attack people in our current culture.”

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