I am a recent graduate of Colgate’s student-developed Yes Means Yes Seminar, a 5-week program that discusses issues of positive sexuality and rape culture through the medium of Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s book, Yes Means Yes.
I didn’t always recognize the feminist inside me. Before this semester, I knew very little about these issues and cared even less. What prompted my learning were my experiences abroad in India last semester. For the first time in my life, I lived in a culture that had recognizable gender stratification.
I was limited in what I could wear, when I had to be back home (before dark), where I could go and what I could and could not do. Don’t get me wrong, I loved India, but it chal-lenged my identity in ways I didn’t know possible. It also made me realize that a) I take for granted the posi-tion of women in American culture and b) I don’t think about these issues enough. When I returned to campus this January, I tried a little bit harder to process the ex-perience. I performed in The Vagina Monologues and signed up for Yes Means Yes. Through both of these ex-periences, I realized that maybe the position of women in American culture is not as great as I thought, even if it’s better here than elsewhere. I also realized I need to care more about these problems.
Issues concerning the rights of women are increas-ingly relevant today, particularly in the political realm among the Republican primary candidates. If you ask me, I think we have taken a giant leap backwards in women’s rights thanks to them. Abortion, contracep-tion and a woman’s right to her own body and her own decision-making are in the newspaper everyday.
On campus, these issues still matter as well. Most of us are familiar with the results of the Colgate Campus Cli-mate Life Survey and how the “hook up culture” mani-fests itself. I suppose what I have come to realize now is that everyone, no matter what we do physically with any other individual on this campus, is part of the hook up culture whether we like it or not.
The personal is political. We create the environment in which we exist. It starts with the decisions that each of us make. These decisions aren’t merely college ones either, but ones that shape our identity as individuals and our values as a community. There are a few important points I came to rec-ognize through this introspective learning process, and I wish to share them with you, the reader.
First, anyone who believes that women should have equal political, economic and social rights in this world is a feminist. In fact, anyone who believes that discrimina-tion based on race, class, gender and sexuality is wrong is also a feminist. So, hopefully this is most everyone on this campus. Congratulations!
Second, there is a way to embrace the hook up culture that exists and to make it better. If positive sexuality teaches us anything, it is that we should be proud, not ashamed, of our bodies and our actions. This, of course, necessitates more of each of us, as it requires taking the time to realize what we want from our relationships with others physically and non-physically. By knowing what we want, we learn what we don’t want as well, and can own up to our decision-making.
Third, if we don’t want to embrace what already exists, we can rethink the status quo. Uproot it and turn it on its head. Yes Means Yes teaches exactly that: Yes means Yes, not No Means No. While “No Means No” can be a useful tool to engage with the culture we are currently all swimming in, the No Means No paradigm lends itself to sexual violence. With Yes Means Yes, one has to be invited into the boundaries of another, not merely stopped before reaching some unspoken threshold.
Here is the take-home message: we are all responsible for the culture that exists at Colgate. My experiences in Yes Means Yes, The Vagina Monologues and just speaking among friends are proof that there is improvement that needs to be made.
We need to heighten our awareness and widen our consciousness. I ask everyone to consider what it means to be in the gender role that they perform. What things do we do just because societal norms make it that way, and what of those norms conflict with our wants? May-be taking time to consider this will shape the filter with which we analyze our lives, question our norms and debate our politics.
Perhaps, together, we can come to an understanding of what positive sexuality should look like at Colgate and find ways to alter our social fabric to make this place better for everyone.
The movement is picking up speed yet confronting growing obstacles, and it is in all of our best interests to be involved.
Contact Becca Friedland at [email protected]