How to Organize!

So you want to join in this awesome movement, but don’t know what to do? Cool! All organizers start somewhere. You don’t have to be big, or loud, or extra powerful to be part of what we’re doing. Every little bit matters. So if you are so mad you’re ready to “can even” just pick an action and get on it!


Going out in a group:


1.) Find everyone you know who would be interested in the cause. A good way to do this is social media, but you can also network with your local Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the Democratic Party, other local activist groups to get people on-board. Organizing is pretty much just networking. Talk to people, let them know what you’re up to, and there will always be people willing to support the cause.


2.) Pick a good date, and before that date, scope out the nearest adjacent public sidewalk to your location. Different municipalities will have different protest permit laws, but generally, as long as your sidewalk is facing a street, and so long as you aren’t blocking or impeding foot traffic, you will be well within your constitutional rights. More information on what does/doesn’t fly as far as ordinances go can be found at the ACLU website. Check with your local city hall for additional information.

ACLU website:


3.) Get out there and be strong. You may see counter-protesters. You may see rain. You may get tired. That’s okay. Just know that you’ve done your part by taking a stand against an injustice for a couple of hours.


Things you may not want to forget:




Comfy Shoes


Trashbags/Ponchos (if over 30% chance of rain)


Any necessary permits



Individual Activities:


But what if I am really, really, really the only one?  Well, that’s cool too. There are ways you can express your displeasure all on your own–even if they may not seem as powerful as they might in a group. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.) Mail it in:

Write your local/state/federal government representatives and let them know what you stand for. They can’t necessarily overturn this ruling, but they can create and maintain local policies that support your reproductive rights. Bitch magazine has some awesome ideas on how to make a vintage postcard to let your representatives and senators know you won’t let them take you back to 1959.


2.) Shop and Drop:

If you really can’t find anyone in your vicinity who wants to stage a protest, or are blocked from doing so, you can always enter your local Hobby Lobby and pick out several things you would buy if the Green family weren’t out to take your rights. Walk it up to a register. Flash enough cash to show you’d buy the stuff, and say “This is what I would have bought today if you weren’t after my/my uterus having friend’s reproductive rights.” Then walk off.


3.) Shop everywhere else:

Buy an awesome craft haul! Take a picture of it and your receipt, and tweet that at Hobby Lobby.


And it doesn’t end there. There are so many things you can do. Just scope out the resource links below to get more ideas on how to make your protest an effective one.




How to Protest


40 Best Protest Signs


How to Organize a Protest – Occupy Together


How to Publicize an Event


How to make a Press Kit


Reproductive Justice Fight!


Are you so mad at the recent SCOTUS rulings that you literally can’t even?
Are you filled with rage and don’t know what to do with it?
Well start to Can Even!
Join us, as we Lobby Hobby against Hobby Lobby!



Through out the month of July, we are organizing local protests across the United States outside Hobby Lobby Stores.
We will pass out pamphlets explaining why we’re there. These pamphlets will also have a listing of other crafting stores
in the area, as well as information about activities in August.



In August we are planning “shop-ins”. We will go to Joanne’s, Michael’s and other crafting stores and buy crafting supplies
for the September activities. We will have new pamphlets made for August to hand out to customers and employees explaining
our August activities and upcoming September activities, and also inviting them to join us in D.C. in October!



September is the month we get our craft on!
Glue, knit and decoupage your rage into a package/letter to send to your congressperson and Supreme Court justices!
Let them know we’ll be in D.C. in October, we’re pissed and WE VOTE!


This is the day all of our work comes to a head. We will rally together in D.C. outside the Supreme Court and our voices
will be heard! Speakers and events for the day are in the works right now. Drive, ride, walk, or bike to D.C. and have the
chance to have your voice heard!

If you want to be involved or volunteer, join the facebook event at:

Plan local protests for July and post them to the page. Then plan local shop-ins and post those as well. Get together with
friends for crafting in September. Share ideas and stories and give support. Invite friends to the event!

We need your voice! We want your voice!

Spread the word, use: #JoinTheDissent #ChallengeScotus #BeTheBuffer #LobbyHobby

Trigger Warnings Are Not New

Can we all just stop acting like trigger warnings are outrageously complicated? I keep seeing scare-tactic articles from main-stream and feminist blogs trying to have a Very Serious Discussion about whether trigger warnings are warranted or have “gone too far”. And you know what? I’m not even going to dignify this “debate” by pointing out why trigger warnings are simply a reasonable accommodation for people who have been through traumatic events. There are already shit-tons of articles about it. Instead, I want to talk about how trigger warnings have already existed long before the terminology, they just went unnoticed by people who didn’t need them.


We’ve all watched a TV show that began with a “Viewer Discretion is Advised” disclaimer. And while I personally might think a warning about something like The Simpsons is a little goofy, it doesn’t harm me at all for them to give other viewers a heads up. I haven’t been inconvenienced by it, and by the time the episode is over, chances are good I’ll have forgotten all about it. And that’s my point. Trigger warnings (or advisory warnings or content notes or whatever you want to call them) don’t exist for the people who don’t need them. They exist  for the people who do need them.

Most forms of media have an industry-enforced and regulated rating system of some kind firmly established. Movies, television, comic books, and video games all have some kind of rating that can be found before viewing or purchasing, and most even have little details about what warrants that particular rating (although some would argue they need to be more specific, which I think is valid). So it’s no surprise that blogs developed their own form of ratings system. Most blog providers like WordPress or Blogger allow you to mark your content as “mature”, but the feminist blogosphere went one step further and began giving specific heads up when the content being discussed was something that might trigger traumatic experiences of their readers. But unlike the industry ratings mentioned, which have historically been imposed by only one organization founded by big-name publishers  and thus, carry some valid concerns about when ratings are a form of censorship to punish indie publishers, trigger warnings are voluntarily given by the creators of their blogs.

I've never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have "gone too far".

I’ve never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have “gone too far”.

And hey, confession time, I don’t always include a trigger warning on my blog posts. If I think my title sufficiently explains the topic at hand, I figure that’s a good enough heads up for my readers. But if one of my readers or friends says, “Hey, I think this needs a trigger warning,” then I apologize and put up a fucking trigger warning. It takes like two seconds for me to edit a post and add one. So why would I waste more time complaining and debating about it when it shouldn’t even bother me in the first place?

So now let’s talk about the latest scare going around, that trigger warnings are moving into the classroom. This is another one of those issues that mainstream media is making out to be new even though it’s been going on for quite some time. Every class I’ve ever taken, both at my feminist university and at my previous community college, has issued a trigger warning whenever an upcoming lecture was going to discuss abuse or rape. Because sadly, a significant proportion of women (who make up a slight majority of college students right now) have experienced abuse and/or rape first-hand and therefore, probably would appreciate a heads up about it.

I’ve been triggered before, and it is embarrassing and extremely vulnerable and not something I would ever want to happen in public if I could avoid it. And thankfully it has never happened from participating in a class with a trigger warning. Why? Because the fucking trigger warning gave me a heads-up so I wasn’t blind-sided!

“Oh, we’re going to discuss abuse next week? Alright, well I better build up my emotional constitution that day so I can handle it, because I want to be able to help others in that situation in the future.”

“Oh, we’re going to discuss rape tomorrow? I don’t think I can deal with that right now, so I’ll ask my friend ahead of time if I can copy her notes. Thank glob I don’t have to divulge personal information to my professor in order to not be viewed as an irresponsible student.”

One line in the syllabus, one nod from the professor before the next lecture. Not. Fucking. Difficult.

The only trigger warnings I notice are abuse, rape, and sometimes dieting/weight/body issues because those are relevant to me, but over time I have learned to include other common triggers through my interactions with others, such as suicide/depression, slurs/hate speech, pregnancy/birth, and drug use. And I think this is the root of what makes people get butthurt about trigger warnings they don’t need. In order to include trigger warnings that are not relevant to me, I have to think about how something I’m writing might affect someone negatively. And that involves checking my own privileges, which we all know makes people defensive and uncomfortable. But my discomfort from being wrong is minor compared to someone else being triggered. So I pull up my big girl panties and correct myself. Because that’s how we improve the world for everyone: admit when you’re wrong and correct your behavior.

Honestly to me, complaining about trigger warnings in classrooms or anywhere else is like complaining about wheelchair ramps or signs written in braille. It’s mean-spirited and a waste of time complaining about something that, obviously, does not concern you. So move on with your life and find something that’s actually worth debating and fighting over.

What, she gets her own interpreter? This is PC gone too far. I can hear the professor just fine!

What, she gets her own interpreter?! That’s outrageous! I can hear him just fine!

#Bad for the movement

Dirty Nerdy here!

For those not “in the know”, I went on a twitter rant last night. Basically I saw in the course of three days multiple friends get told by others that certain personal choices they were making were “bad for the movement”. In these cases, the movements they were referencing were either feminism or queer rights, and not, as it happens, movement of bowels or a self-contained part of a musical composition.

Although I imagine this argument originating from a bowel movement

“Girls, stop telling men you have boyfriends to get them to leave you alone…BECAUSE OTHERWISE IT’S BAD FOR THE MOVEMENT”

There are many iterations of this. Pretty much any feminist who says that a woman must stop using [insert survival tactic here] to avoid or deflect harassment is falling for the #badforthemovement argument. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of day-to-day choices that individuals have to make that could be construed as bad for whatever movement they are involved in, and I have no problem with analyzing these choices and explaining what is problematic with them and how they might perpetuate sexism. HOWEVER criticism should be extended to the system that creates these awful choices in the first place, not to those who are forced to make them.

This argument also comes from certain MRAs who espouse that lying is always wrong and should never be used, therefore women are horrible lying liars who lie to men all the time. The liars.

Heina Dadabhoy wrote a great piece exploring this particular argument. READ IT NOW!!!

Feminists: you know you’re doin’ it wrong when your argument aligns with MRAs

“Gays/bisexuals stop playing pronoun games and be COMPLETELY OPEN about your sexual orientation all the time…BECAUSE OTHERWISE IT’S BAD FOR THE MOVEMENT”

Ok, so while the first example I gave is an argument put forth by fellow feminists (albeit still of the middle to upper-class white variety), I’ve never heard this argument from fellow queers. I’ve only ever heard this argument used by straight cis people. It’s almost always in a “you should be educating people” tone. It takes a special kind of privilege-blind ignorance to tell a queer person that they should not only be in charge of educating all those poor straight people about queer issues at all times, but that they should also do so openly as a queer person. While there *is* some research that says bigots become slightly less bigoted after being around the object of their bigotry for some time, there’s even *more* research that shows queer people (especially queer people of color, and ESPECIALLY trans women of color) are at higher risks of being violently assaulted and/or murdered when bigots find out about their queerness. Aside from the terribleness that is straight cis people telling queer people how to activist, this is just terrible advice.

This type of argument isn’t only relegated to the choices that feminists and queer people make. You can find this kind of #badforthemovement advice in pretty much any social justice movement. And pretty much every time it’s trotted out, you will hear me say: Fuck the movement. Your personal safety is more important. If anybody ever tries to say you have a “moral obligation” to the betterment of an activist movement, and that “moral obligation” will potentially put you in danger, then THEY are the ones doing it wrong. Not you. I’m not saying that we should never do anything that might put us in danger or our livelihoods on the line, but it should not be demanded of us. If somebody is demanding you do something “for the good of the cause” that directly conflicts with your personal safety (or with your personal ethics), then just run away. Run far away from that person.

If you’re interested, you can see my twitter rant on this topic by searching #badforthemovement . Fair warning: there are poo jokes

To fund more twitter rants aimed at assholes, please click the button below to donate:

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Redefining Abortion

Many of you know of the recent court case of Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius, in which Hobby Lobby executives claim that their religious freedom trumps the medical needs of their employees. What many people don’t realize is that Hobby Lobby has said they’re not against all contraception; they are mainly protesting the mandate that includes Plan B and other emergency contraception. This is because they have followed the lead of the wider anti-choice movement and redefined abortion to include emergency contraception. Here is a helpful graphic to explain why emergency contraception is not, in fact, the same as abortion:

Helpful graphics are helpful

Helpful graphics are helpful


Let’s ignore for a moment the ridiculous notion that how I use my insurance is somehow an infringement on my boss’s religious freedoms and focus on their argument that emergency contraception is an abortion. After all, the entire reason they claim it’s against their religious beliefs is due to the fact that their particular religion forbids abortion. Therefore, if emergency contraception is the same thing as an abortion, then it would be against their beliefs to use it. If emergency contraception is not an abortion, and works similarly to how other contraception methods work, then it is not against their beliefs (or at least not against the ones pertaining to abortion, which is what their primary claim is).

Now, the reason they claim emergency contraception is abortion is because they believe that life begins at the fertilized egg and that any deliberate “killing” of a fertilized egg is an abortion. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that the medical establishment has a much more stringent definition of abortion and run with their definition. How does emergency contraception work? Does it “kill” a fertilized egg? The answer is no.

There are two kinds of FDA approved emergency contraception: levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate. The only known, proven, mechanism for how emergency contraception prevents pregnancy is that it delays ovulation. This means that there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize. However, there are a few other mechanisms that are suggested by the available evidence (that have not been fully studied to determine the veracity of the claim) such as  “interference with corpus luteum function; thickening of the cervical mucus resulting in trapping of sperm; alterations  in  the tubal transport of sperm, egg, or embryo; and direct inhibition of fertilization.”

How do we know that the mechanism is a delay in ovulation and not the destruction of a fertilized egg? The best line of evidence is the fact that emergency contraception’s effectiveness goes down after ovulation has occurred. If you take it before you’ve ovulated, it has a high rate of effectiveness. If you take it after you start ovulating, the effectiveness goes down for each day after ovulation started. This suggests that the primary mechanism is a delay in ovulation.

Of course, that leaves the question open as to what the other mechanism(s) could be. The high effectiveness rate of emergency contraception overall suggests that there is a separate mechanism. The anti-choice movement (and Hobby Lobby) wants us to believe that the other mechanism is the destruction of a fertilized egg by preventing implantation. The claim is that emergency contraception causes cervical mucus to thicken which prohibits the implantation of an egg. There have been studies that suggest this in the past, but the most recent studies designed specifically to test this hypothesis show no effect on the endometrium or other endometrial receptivity biomarkers. In other words, it doesn’t prevent implantation. So there is no conclusive evidence that emergency contraception prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. There is another problem here. If emergency contraception were preventing implantation, then we wouldn’t expect to see a drop in effectiveness after ovulation starts.

So, what is the other mechanism? At present, scientists aren’t sure. One promising study showed that taking levonorgestrel (Plan B) increased the concentration of glycodelin at the time of ovulation. Glycodelin is known to inhibit fertilization, so this is seen as a valid hypothesis for the secondary mechanism. Of course, more study is needed on this question.

You can go here to get a more in depth discussion of emergency contraception, how we know it works and how it works.

Now I want to get into the discussion of how the medical establishment defines abortion and pregnancy. The medical definition of an abortion is: Expulsion from the uterus of an embryo or fetus before viability (20 weeks’ gestation [18 weeks after fertilization] or fetal weight less than 500 g). A distinction made between abortion and premature birth is that premature infants are those born after the stage of viability but before 37 weeks’ gestation. Abortion may be either spontaneous (occurring from natural causes) or induced (artificially or therapeutically).

Now, we can get into the more philosophical definition which is the termination of a pregnancy, which doesn’t necessitate the death of the fetus if it occurs after viability. But the medical establishment typically defines the expulsion of a healthy fetus as premature birth – which seems to be more accurate anyways if you’re focusing on the effects of the pregnancy termination on the fetus.

So what is the medical definition of when pregnancy begins? Well, this gets a bit fuzzier when looking at what doctors have to say about it. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnancy begins only after implantation is complete. This has been the medical establishment’s view for decades, and federal policy is built around this definition. However, there are individual ob/gyns who disagree and believe that pregnancy begins with egg fertilization. Recent surveys have shown that the belief in fertilization as the beginning of pregnancy is highly correlated with religiosity and the ob/gyn’s personal moral stance on abortions. This leads one to conclude that the impetus for claiming pregnancy begins earlier is wrapped up in religious and political stances that have little to nothing to do with the actual biological processes.

Now, the implications for this could be huge. Redefining when pregnancy begins, in the medical literature and in law, would have lasting effects on women, especially low income women. The Hyde Amendment for instance states that public funds will not be used to provide for abortions for low income women who need them, but public funds can be used to provide contraception, including those that act by preventing implantation (some inserted IUD devices *do* work this way). Redefining pregnancy, on a federal level, to start at fertilization would mean that this funding could be blocked.

The other implication obviously has to do with regulating abortions and further regulating women’s bodies while they’re pregnant. Since the anti-choice movement had little success in outright banning abortion, the movement has decided to instead slowly chip away at abortion access, while broadening the definition of a legal person, what constitutes abortion and when pregnancy begins. One of the strategies they use to restrict access is to make abortions illegal passed a certain week. Pregnancy is not detected at the time of fertilization, but later sometime around/after implantation has happened. This can be up to a week or two after the egg was fertilized. This means that a woman who needs an abortion and thinks she’s at only 18 weeks, might actually be at 20 weeks if the start of the pregnancy is measured from the time of fertilization. Should important medical decisions really be made at the whims of arbitrary cut-off dates based on dubious definitions of biological processes? If a pregnant person is beholden to the “person” growing inside her, when does that begin? Does it begin at fertilization? Does it begin at implantation? Does it begin at viability? Some states have already started arresting women for actions taken during pregnancy that may or may not have resulted in a stillbirth. If pregnancy is defined as beginning at fertilization, what will happen to women who use IUD’s? Will the expulsion of a fertilized egg carry the same legal weight as a still birth?

Even if the current case is decided that emergency contraception doesn’t cause abortion because it doesn’t prevent an implanted egg, it could still have drastic effects on women if the Supreme Court concedes to the new definition of when pregnancy begins. Do we really want courts defining medical terminology in such a way that it would effect legislation that already interferes in women’s health decisions? How far do we want the government to go in defining medical terminology based on partisan political and religious beliefs? Even if we win this battle, the war for women’s reproductive freedom could take a huge blow if the Supreme Court continues its habit of declaring illusory victories for the pro-choice side.

Don’t fall for Hobby Lobby’s gambit*. You don’t get to redefine medical terminology to fit your religious beliefs in order to deny more medical choices to women.

*I see this as a gambit for the anti-choice side. If they win the case, then they can successfully use “religious beliefs” to deny contraception to women. If they lose, they could still convince the courts to redefine when pregnancy begins. Sacrificing the ability to deny women medical care now through employer insurance for the possibility of denying women medical care in the future through strict legislation.

Help the Shethinkers have more abortions! Donate today!

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I made a tumblr

Recently a friend of mine on facebook had a long thread that started out about scary stories of women having cancer and not being diagnosed/treated for it until it was too late. The thread quickly morphed as every single woman involved in the discussion had a story about a doctor/parent/teacher/boss ignoring and minimizing their serious health problem – especially if it seemed remotely related to menstrual pain.

Alas, I was inspired. Send me your stories. Did your boss refuse to let you go buy tampons/pads/pain meds when your *worstpaininyourlife* period started unexpectedly? Did your doctor tell you that your pain is normal and ignore symptoms of a serious disease because s/he assumed it was period related? Were you ever forced/coerced into enduring an unnecessary test because they were *sure* your pain was related to being pregnant and/or your period because “woman in pain = pregnancy/period”?

Your name/email/identifying information will be kept anonymous unless otherwise specified. If you would like your story shared on the Secular Shethinkers podcast, please let me know when you submit your story(ies).

Go to to submit your story!

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

ComeOut1Today is the 25th annual National Coming Out Day, a day for every queer person to come out to somebody they care about (assuming they can safely do so).  As I’ve been out of my closet for at least half a decade now, the list of people I care about who don’t know I’m queer as a three dollar bill is fairly short, if not non-existent.  I guide and mentor queer youth for a living, and I’m training to be a counselor specifically for the queer community.  I’m out and loud and proud, baby!

I’m sure that plenty of you are the same in your lives.  Not just out of the closet but you burned the closet on your way out to make sure no one could force you back in.  So what do people like us do on National Coming Out Day?  Assuming we’re already out to the people we care about, I think the next step is to come out to the people who represent us.  I’m talking about our elected officials.  They need to be reminded that they represent all of their constituents, and many of those constituents are queer.  So I’ve included my letter to my elected officials below.  Feel free to copy, paste, and modify it as you see fit.  Below the letter you’ll find the means to finding out who represents you in congress so you can tell them you’re out, proud, and voting.

Dear [Elected Official],

My name is Dorian Mooneyham and I am a resident of [your district, city, state, etc.].  I am writing to your office today to wish you a Happy National Coming Out Day.  As you may know, this is a national holiday in which members of the LGBT community “come out” to people who are important in their lives.  As an elected official who represents me in political matters, you are one of those people important to my way of living.  So I would like to come out  to you now.

I’m Dorian Mooneyham, and I am a bisexual and transgender woman.

What does this mean to you, my elected official?

It means I expect my representative to be supportive of equality, something I expect for all demographics, not just LGBT.  I consider equality one of the lowest possible standards for humanity.  It’s a founding principle of our country, best summed up by the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Originally “all men” only applied to white, male, land-owners but we have thankfully expanded that to included men and women of all classes, all races, all creeds, and all religious affiliations.  No doubt each of the times we expanded that definition, there were those who cried that we were granting “special rights”, but the American people have always seen through that smoke screen eventually and wound up on the right side of history.  I’m asking you today to remember that many of your constituents do not have the same rights as others.

I myself am getting married to my fiancé in two years.  But because of my transgender status and the ambiguous nature of marriage equality in our country today, he and I are not even sure if it will be legally binding, despite the fact that we are a opposite sex couple.  Until sex discrimination is eliminated from marriage, we will be forced to take expensive, redundant, legal steps to make sure that we are each other’s medical proxy.  That we are the recipients of insurance and other financial matters if one of us should die.  That both of us will be considered legal guardians when we adopt children.

I also work with LGBT teenagers for a living as part of a large non-profit organization.  And I’m concerned about whether the bullying many of them face on a daily basis will be taken seriously in the legal sphere.  Whether transgender students will be able to use the bathroom that is safest for them.  Whether they will be able to secure a job or housing or education as they get older.  Whether they’ll be protected from harmful and ineffective “conversion therapy” that their parents might attempt to force them into.  Whether they will grow up in a country that accepts them as the productive, proud, outspoken, and passionate citizens they are destined to be, or if they will continue to live in this country as second class citizens.

LGBT citizens are productive and active members of American society.  We deserve the same respect and rights as all straight and cisgender citizens.  We are not asking to be treated any differently than anyone else, we only ask to be treated fairly.  Regardless of what your personal views of LGBT identities may be, the overriding theme of American history has been equality for all.  I only ask you to continue with that theme.


Dorian Mooneyham

Click here to find out who your elected officials are.  Personally mine are Ted Cruz (Boo) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Yay!).  Whoever you come out to today, I hope you have a wonderful and productive Coming Out Day.  Just in case you need some inspiration, I’ll let Harvey Milk take over from here:


How Do I Ally?

Editor’s Note: Because I’m all hopped up on Dayquil and throat lozenges with a wicked sore throat, Dirty Nerdy and I wrote this article together.   So you could consider it “Justified Ginger & Tranny Rage”, except we’re not really raging.

Step 1. Don’t call yourself an ally.

“Ally” is not a self-identified label; it is a label marginalized groups will give to you if they perceive your behaviors to be allied with their interests.

Step 2. Sit Down!

It’s not your turn to stand up right now.

HowDoIAllyStep 3. Listen!

Maybe their personal experience just might outweigh your second-hand experience.

Step 4. Say,”I support you!” and then ask questions.

Ask questions at this point–questions that are specific, cannot be learned from 10 seconds on Google and that are not accusatory.

Good Question: What can I do to make this environment more inviting and open for [insert demographic here].

Bad Question: Why are all you [insert demographic here] so angry?

We’re angry because of bad questions like that!

Step 5. Listen more!!

You can’t ask questions if you’re not going to listen to the answers.

Step 6. Do your own goddamn research.

If you are interested in supporting a marginalized group, research their history. Learn, on your own, what sorts of privileges you might have over that specific group. Learn common microaggressions so you may try to avoid those same mistakes.

If you somehow still manage to upset a marginalized person with a bad question or other microaggressions, and that person is not willing to educate you in the moment, go do your own research. Look at what other people in that group have said about behaviors similar to your own. Always remember: Sit and listen!

Step 7. Be prepared to admit you’re wrong.

When stepping into the spaces of marginalized groups, you will make mistakes. We all do. Be prepared to accept that you have hurt somebody. Remember the rules for apologizing. Marginalized groups can tell when you’re not offering a sincere apology.

If at any point you find yourself using the phrase “But I have a [insert demographic here] friend,” you’re doing it wrong!


Being an ally is not about your feelings. Being an ally is not about your personal interests. Being an ally is about being able to set aside your own personal feelings and interests for a while and caring about other people’s feelings and interests for a change. Do not, under any circumstances, talk about your personal privileged feelings in discussions pertaining to the oppression of marginalized groups!


In discussions of race, if you are white, do not talk about that time somebody called you a “Cracker” and it made you feel sad.

If you make a mistake, and members of the marginalized group express anger at you, do not try to turn this into a discussion of your feelings. Remember, this isn’t about you.

Step 9. Do not expect cookies, or praise.

Being an ally is about being a decent human being. Nobody deserves cookies or praise for meeting the lowest possible standards of being a decent human being. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for that marginalized group, or how many nice things you’ve done in the past.

Step 10. Speak up among other privileged people.

When you spend time in spaces dominated by privileged people, speak up against hurtful language and behaviors. It means more coming from you because you are part of the privileged group (psst! That’s one of your privileges!).

Step 11. Do not dismiss identities.

If at any point you use the phrases “we’re all just human,” “we all bleed red,” “labels don’t matter” just be quiet. Labels don’t matter to you because you’re part of the privileged group. Your label is automatically seen as “neutral” or “natural.” Members of marginalized groups don’t get to avoid racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/ableism/ageism or other discrimination because they cannot stop being a member of the marginalized group.

It’s very easy for a man, or a white person, or a straight person to go through life never “seeing” discrimination and thus thinking that oppression is over. Those of us who are part of marginalized groups don’t have that privilege. We are oppressed on a daily basis. So, no, labels aren’t useless. They are the concepts that allow us to talk about our experiences. Please respect that.

Step 12. Learn the difference between Oppression and A Minor Inconvenience.

Telling somebody to “lock their door” in order to lower their risk of being burgled is not the same thing as telling women to wear certain clothes, not go out after certain times, not walk around outside alone, not be at home alone, etc in order to potentially avoid being raped*. Locking your door is a minor inconvenience, radically changing your daily habits and routines in order to possibly avoid a violent attack on your person is oppression.

Oppression is something that radically alters your life and often comes in the form of a double standard where you cannot win no matter how you alter your behavior. A minor inconvenience is a one-off happenstance that may have slightly annoyed you but otherwise does not significantly affect your life.

Examples of Double Standard: Madonna/WhoreGhetto/OreoDeceiver/Pathetic Stereotypes

Step 13. Repeat Steps 1-12.

You will never fully understand what it is like to live as the marginalized group (even if you are a member of another marginalized group). To act as an ally, you must continue to be willing to sit down, listen, learn, research and speak up when in privileged spaces.

*These things don’t actually prevent rape though, so there’s that.

This post has been brought to you by Dayquil.

This post has been brought to you by Dayquil.

Rape Culture Vs. Consent Culture

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media sites that purport to teach women how to protect themselves from sexual assault. I tend to re-post them and then explain why the “advice” is either not needed or doesn’t work or both.

For instance this rape prevention check list from the Mississippi State Department of Health. I could write another whole article just on this list alone (in fact I might).

Seeing these frequent lists that span the range from “completely useless” to “I already do/know this” to “how the hell am I supposed to lead a normal life if I have to do all these things to not get raped?!” inspired me to create my own “check list” for rape prevention aimed at the perpetrators instead of would-be victims.

Alas! Somebody already did that.

So instead, I’d like to talk about the culture surrounding rape–the culture that allows serial rapists to operate seemingly undetected and the culture that blames victims for their assault. Many feminists have dubbed this “Rape Culture.” I know, I know, nobody wants to hear or talk about the ways in which our culture might encourage and legitimize rapists. This article is not about whether or not you believe we live in a “Rape Culture.” You can read more about that here if you’re so inclined. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to the present culture surrounding and informing our attitudes toward consent, sex, rape and rape prevention as “rape culture.”

So, if the rape prevention check lists that are commonly spread around are inadequate for actually preventing rape or addressing the causes of it, then how are we supposed to prevent rape? How are we supposed to address it without assuming that rapists will simply stop raping or putting all the onus of prevention on potential victims?

I propose that we change the culture. Let’s move from a “Rape Culture” to a “Consent Culture.”

In a Consent Culture sexual predators will stand out because they will be the ones violating small every day boundaries:

I had a group of friends in high school who all hugged each other. I was usually ok with this, but there was one guy who joined our group that sort of creeped me out. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but I still felt uncomfortable with the idea of hugging him. One night I was doling out the usual “good bye hugs” to my friend group, and I skipped him. I didn’t make a big deal of it. This wasn’t some sort of overt ceremony. Nobody noticed this hug-lapse. He called me later to berate me for not hugging him, and I explained that the fact that he’s yelling at me now for not wanting to hug him makes me even more uncomfortable around him. He asked if I would grant him a hug next time, and I gave him an unequivocal no. The next time we all hung out, he was leaving first. He made an obvious move to hug me in front of our group of friends. I had to make an obvious move to avoid it. He went off on me about how I was embarrassing him in front of our shared group of friends.

Rape Culture, How my friends reacted:

They all ganged up on me. They got angry with me for asserting my autonomy. They said I was mean for not wanting to hug him. They didn’t listen when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, that he already knew I was uncomfortable hugging him and he tried to do it anyway. They didn’t care. I was still the one who was wrong. I was forced to apologize to him. And he continued trying to hug me.

Consent Culture, How my friends reacted:

They all ganged up on him. They got angry with him for not respecting my autonomy. They said he was acting entitled and mean for yelling at me simply because I refused a hug. They listened to me when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, and they understood that he knew I was uncomfortable hugging him. They cared. He was forced to apologize to me. Even though I don’t think he learned his lesson, he did not continue trying to hug me.

I don’t know if this teenager ever went on to sexually assault somebody, but I can say I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He demonstrated to me that he could not, or would not, respect explicit boundaries. He demonstrated that he would try to punish me for asserting or attempting to maintain boundaries. That’s enough for me to not trust him in the future. How peers react is key though. In the Rape Culture scenario, the friends put all the blame on the one attempting to assert and maintain boundaries. They made it clear to the victim and to the perpetrator that certain physical touching is owed in some cases. They made it clear that they would tolerate at least some violation of boundaries. In the Consent Culture scenario, they made it clear that they would back the victim. They essentially told the perpetrator that boundary violations would not be tolerated. So, even if the perpetrator did not change his mind about it, he is still forced to respect boundaries in order to be socially accepted. I’m not saying that everybody who violates small boundaries is a rapist or sexual predator. I am saying that if we stop tolerating the violation of small boundaries, then it sends a clear message that consent is not a grey or muddied area, and that violating larger boundaries will also not be tolerated. Sexual predators test the waters. This is how they operate. They start by violating small boundaries and testing reactions. Depending on the reaction (either from the victim or from peers), they will continue upping their violations. As of right now, ~95% of people are not rapists, however, the vast majority of people violate small boundaries without thinking about it. This gives predators a place to hide. In a consent culture, the vast majority of people would not violate small boundaries, thus exposing the predators early on.

In a Consent Culture, a woman’s “no” would be enough. She would not have to back up that “no” by showing she’s already possessed by a man, and she wouldn’t have to apologize or give excuses for saying “no.” 

A few years back I was the proud owner of a gym membership. I usually liked to go when I got off work, sometime between 9 and 10 pm. Sometimes I went with the (now ex) boyfriend, and sometimes I went alone. There aren’t very many people at the gym at that time of the night, so I got to know the faces of the regulars, but I hardly ever talked to anybody. One night I happened to be working out by myself. As I walked in and surveyed the gym before beginning I saw a man there who I vaguely recognized. Our eyes met for a split second. He smiled. I nodded. I had seen him before, but we had never spoken, and I wasn’t about to change the dynamics of our relationship that night. Apparently, he had other plans though. An hour and a half later I was wiping down the elliptical and the man was on his way out. He waved and said “Bye” as he passed me. I was a little bewildered by this, but I was polite and waved back. He left about a 30 seconds to a minute before I did, so I was very surprised to find him standing on the middle landing of the steps on my way down to the locker rooms. He had been waiting for me.

“Hey sweetie, you been working hard?”
“Yep,” and I tried to walk past him. He followed me.
“I see you here sometimes. Maybe we can be work out buddies?”
“No thanks, I prefer to be alone.”
“Ah, come on. We should work out together. We could even get a bite to eat after we change and figure out our schedules.”
“I don’t really want to do that. I just want to go home after this.”
“What? Are you married?”
“No. I have a boyfriend though.”
“So, you’re not married. So it’s ok. We can get something to eat, and we can work out together.”
“No, it’s not ok. I don’t want to do that.”
“Ok, ok” (he said this in a patronizing “no need to freak out on me” kind of way) “Hey are you going for a swim tonight?”
This part was especially creepy. I normally did swim and get in the hot tube for a few minutes after my work out. It was my “cool down.” As soon as he asked me though I made up my mind not to go to the pool that night.
“No. I’m too tired tonight. I’m just gonna change and then go home.” I avoided using the word “shower.” I didn’t want him to get any idea that I wanted him to picture me naked.
“Ok, see ya later then.”

When I got to the locker room, I changed my mind about the pool. The pool was my reward for working hard. It’s what kept me going when my muscles screamed for me to stop. I didn’t want some creepy dude restricting my access to my favorite part of the pool. Before I changed though, I looked out at the pool to see if he was there. He wasn’t, and there were more people out than usual. I did my normal leisurely laps and then got in the hot tub. I happened to sit between a man and a woman, but still far enough away from both that we all knew nobody wanted to touch or talk to each other. Then the creepy guy showed up. The hostility flowing from him was palpable, but he tried to keep his tone light.

“I thought you said you weren’t swimming tonight.”
“I changed my mind.” As I said this, I inched myself closer to the guy on my left. This got his attention so he was able to hear what creepy guy was saying.
“But you said you weren’t swimming. I waited for you out in the lobby, and you didn’t come out. So then I checked over here and saw you. By the time I changed into my suit, you were already in the hot tub.”
“I didn’t ask you to wait in the lobby. I told you I wanted to go home.” It was clear he was upset that I had “lied” to him. I actually hadn’t lied to him. When I told him I wasn’t going to swim, I had every intention of not swimming that night. I just changed my mind.

Rape Culture, how peers/staff reacted:

The man in the hot tube clearly heard the conversation, but did not involved himself. He ignored my subtle movement toward him as a silent cry for help. In fact, he left the hot tub before the creepy guy walked away. Others in the hot tub also ignored the situation. Nobody suggested I get help from the staff, and nobody offered to be a witness should I choose to report the guy’s behavior to any staff. I got out of the hot tub, and left the pool area still dripping wet. I was obviously upset and on the verge of tears. I was afraid to go to the locker room alone or walk out to my car alone. Before I had a chance to explain to the staff at the front desk what happened, they berated me for leaving the pool area and quoted rules at me about how one is supposed to leave the pool. They did not listen attentively as I explained the situation to them. They looked at me condescendingly the whole time. When I finished, they just smirked and said that guys are like that sometimes. I told them I was fearful of going to the locker room alone, but they did not offer to send any female staff into the locker room with me (there were female staff present). Instead they only offered to have a male staff member stand outside the locker room door while I got dressed, and they said they would watch me walk to my car from the front desk. I decided never to go to the gym alone again at that time of night, even though it was my favorite time to go and I had to restructure my homework/study schedule in order to go at different times when my (ex) boyfriend couldn’t go. This resulted in my not being able to work out for as long as I wanted to and so I just stopped going as much.

Consent Culture, how peers/staff reacted:

The man in the hot tub clearly heard the conversation, and noticed my subtle movement toward him. He turned around and stared the guy down after he heard me say “I wanted to go home.” He then pretended to be a friend of mine, introducing himself to the man and making it clear that we are at the gym together “often.” This man and the woman next to me both talked to me after the creepy guy left. They offered to come with me to talk to the staff. One of them even knew his name. Having their support calmed me down enough that I was calm enough to dry myself off before leaving the pool area. We walked to the desk together. The staff listened to my story intently. They looked concerned for me. At the end they apologized for my experience. They said this wasn’t the first complaint they had received about this particular man and promised to speak to the manager about to proceed next, since the man had clearly violated the gym’s established harassment policies. I don’t know if they banned him, but I never saw him again. One of the female staff, and the woman from the hot tub offered to go to the locker room with me. When I finished changing, the man at the front desk and the woman from the hot tub walked me out to my car. I felt safe knowing the staff and fellow gym members had my back.

There is a stark contrast in the effects between these two scenarios. In one, the harasser is allowed to continue his behavior because of the silence of his peers, and the staff create a situation where harassment is not addressed and women feel unsafe to go to the gym at certain times. In Rape Culture, the behavior of the harasser was minimized and ignored, and my reaction was belittled and sneered at. When the concerns of victims are ignored, they do not feel safe. In Rape Culture, the gym did not have, or did not follow, any kind of harassment policy. They had no way of knowing how many women had been harassed by this man. Not only that, but women who are not supported by their peers, or do not think they will receive support, are less likely to report harassment and assault.

In Consent Culture, the harasser was shamed for his behavior and possibly punished (membership revoked/probation). I was supported and consoled. When I got out of the hot tub with my supporters, I was calm enough to remember the rules of entering and leaving the pool, so I dried myself off. The staff acknowledged the problem and were able to inform me that 1) they have a harassment policy and 2) they use their harassment policy (since they knew he had been reported before). They also did everything they could to make me feel safer at their establishment. Also, if we lived in a true Consent Culture, I would not need to qualify my “no’s” with apologies, excuses or appeals to a boyfriend. I’m not saying this would have stopped him from confronting me in the stair well. However, if we lived in a Consent Culture, he probably would have expected to be shamed and punished for his behavior if he followed me, by waiting in the lobby or going to the pool (there were people in the lobby as well, so if I hadn’t gone swimming, there still would have been witnesses for the second confrontation). If we lived in a Consent Culture, I probably would have felt justified enough to go to the staff before he confronted me a second time, and I would have been taken seriously. I wouldn’t need to show that he egregiously violated my boundaries in order to be taken seriously; I would have only needed to show that he violated my boundaries once (because in a Consent Culture, normal people just don’t do that). This goes back to the first point: in Consent Culture, small boundaries matter.

Now I’ve said something on small boundaries and harassment, I want to move on to assaults.

In Consent Culture, sexual assault by young boys or teenagers would not be minimized.

My breasts did not go into full development mode until I was a freshman in high school. Throughout seventh and eighth grade I was sexually assaulted by fellow students. Male students found it hilarious to come up to me in the hallway and grasp my chest to check and see if I had grown more. Sometimes they would grope my shoulder blades and then loudly exclaim “Oops wrong side!” before proceeding to my chest. This happened to me for almost two years before I got fed up with it and went to a teacher near the end of eighth grade.

Rape Culture, administration’s reaction:

The teacher told me not to worry about the unwanted touching. She said that boys will do that and eventually they will grow out of it and realize it’s wrong. When she saw I was still upset, she suggested I go to the school counselor and said it was fine if I missed her class (the bell was about to ring). So I went to the office with a note to see the counselor. While I was waiting to see the counselor, the vice principal walked past me. I was the only female student in the office. Even though he appeared to have been busy and heading to his office, he immediately wheeled around and performed an impromptu “dress code check”. All the students were made to stand up while he scrupulously checked all of our clothes. When he got to me, he ordered me to raise up my arms and turn around several times. I did as I was told. Then he said I wasn’t raising my arms high enough; he made me raise them higher than I would ever be expected to raise them outside of gym class (in which I wear different clothes anyway).

I was clearly upset and felt uncomfortable and exposed, he took this to mean that I was nervous I was about to get caught, not that I didn’t want to expose myself like this in front of a bunch of boys (some of whom were friends with the ones who were assaulting me). When I did as he asked, he made me turn around several more times. He spotted less than a half-inch of skin and announced that my shirt was out of dress code. I had to wear a ridiculously large school shirt the rest of the day. After this humiliating show for the boys in the office (they were all snickering at me), I was allowed in to see the counselor. By this time I was even more upset. I couldn’t talk without crying. The counselor listened to what I had to say. She defended the vice principal’s actions as “just enforcing the rules” and repeated the line that my teacher said about the boys. I asked her if it was against the rules for them to be grabbing me in the hallway, and she said it probably was but I shouldn’t make a big deal about it. I was angry. They had just made a big deal about a half-inch of skin showing while my arms were stretched inhumanly higher than they ever are while doing school-related activities, so by god they were going to make a big deal about my being groped.

I demanded to speak with the vice principal. When I told him what was happening, he said the same thing: boys will be boys and I shouldn’t expect them to not grope me. But, he said, groping is against the rules, so if I have a witness next time, then he will try to do something. Nobody called my parents to inform them that I was assaulted. I did not report it to my parents either. I was already ashamed and embarrassed. I had already lived through the ordeal now three times having to re-tell it to three different authority figures. None of them took me seriously, so why good would it do to tell my parents?

Word got out that I had told a teacher (a TA was in the classroom when I tried to *quietly* speak with her and apparently she told one of her kids, who goes to the same school, about what happened). Soon even more boys were groping at me, but they made sure not to do it when teachers were around. None of the other girls would help. They didn’t want the boys to start targeting them. The teachers never said a word about it in class. There were no school assemblies held to address sexual assault. The school effectively ignored the problem and left it to me to deal with it. One day I got fed up, the first boy that touched me was slapped hard across the face. The boys stopped after that. None of the boys ever got in trouble. I did, however, receive demerits for the dress code violation.

Consent Culture, administration’s reaction:

After I told my teacher, she was very concerned. She could tell I was really upset, so she told her TA to take over for a few minutes so she could escort me to the counselor’s office. I didn’t have to wait in the office lobby to give my note to the secretary. Instead my teacher took me straight to the chairs outside the counselor’s office and we waited together. I heard the vice principal do the impromptu dress code check, but none of the boys were made to spin around or expose themselves.

My teacher stayed long enough to explain to the counselor why I was there, but she had to get back to class. The counselor talked to me about the assaults and harassment. She helped console me. She told me it was not my fault, and that boys should be able to learn how to respect boundaries. She said she would speak with the principal and vice principal about it. She didn’t want me to have to relive the experience by telling it over and over again. They also called my mom and explained to her that I had been assaulted. They said they would investigate and find out who it was, and they said they would be launching a new awareness program about sexual assault and abuse.

Over the course of the next few weeks, teachers gave speeches about respecting boundaries. There were multiple assemblies held. Posters went up in the hallways admonishing students that “No Means No” and unwanted touching is assault and is punishable by law. At one of the assemblies, the assaults were mentioned. Apparently, the boys were doing it to so many girls that nobody knew who had originally come forward. The other girls being assaulted felt empowered to come forward as well. Once about 10 girls had come forward, all with the same complaints about the same group of boys, the boys were one by one sent to in-school-suspension. I did not know that they were doing this to other girls. I had thought I was alone. Now I knew I wasn’t. The assaults did not escalate. In fact, many of the boys came to me and apologized. There were a few, the ones who would probably later grow up to be full-fledged sexual predators, who seemed to want to flaunt the new attention assault was getting and tried to do it even more. But now they were being watched–and not just by teachers. If they wanted to assault somebody, they couldn’t do it in front of their buddies, who no longer thought it was cool or funny. They couldn’t do it in front of any other girls, who were no longer fearful of being targeted. Not only that, but they were deterred from doing it again, even when the girl was alone, because they knew the administration would take his victim seriously if she reported it. The predators had nowhere to hide, and most of the assaults stopped.

We can’t expect kids or teenagers to automatically understand consent or understand what assault and abuse look like. I don’t expect to be able to teach grown adults who already commit rape that rape is bad, or to respect boundaries and always get consent. But I do expect to be able to decrease the amount of young people who turn into grown adults who rape by teaching about consent and boundaries from an early age. There are many ways to do this, even with toddlers, without having to explicitly talk about sex and/or rape. One example is to stop tickling a child when they tell you to stop, or not to force your child to kiss or hug relatives when they don’t want to. Right now a small portion of the population (about 4-6%) commit the vast majority of rapes. This means that most rapists are serial rapists. They do it again and again and again and they don’t get caught. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: serial rapists are able to do this because they are able to hide their incremental boundary violations within the norms of currently acceptable behavior. There were some boys in the Consent Culture reaction who had assaulted girls in the past, but not realized how harmful it was. They thought the girls were “in” on the joke too. Once they saw that this behavior was victimizing the girls and also not tolerated by the authority, they quickly changed their tune, and in some cases even apologized. Some of them might still go on to become adult sexual predators, but they will no longer be able to hide behind their assaults as if they are jokes. In a society where sexual assault is taken seriously, and not minimized, sexual predators can be rooted out faster. They can be punished before their behavior escalates to more violent assaults and/or rapes.

In Consent Culture, women can go to parties, and live life, and know that her friends and peers will be looking out for her best interest, and not the interest of predators.

(In the former examples, I split up the reactions into “Rape Culture” and “Consent Culture” but did not inform exactly which reactions actually happened in my life. My friends’ actions to protect me during this incident deserve to be highlighted and will be recounted as accurately as possible. Their actions are representative of Consent Culture, whereas the tertiary reactions I got from people who heard about the incident later are representative of Rape Culture.)

I turned 18 toward the end of my senior year in high school. Through extra-curricular activities, I had some older friends. One of them, Tommy, was turning 21 the day after I turned 18. He decided to throw a big party at his apartment. At this point in my life I was pretty naive. I only ever drank when I was with my siblings, and I had never been drunk before. I was going to go to my first real college party. Another school friend, Jenny, was going with me, I knew most of the people who were invited, and my friend offered the couch for me to sleep on so I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere later. This felt like the best possible scenario for me to drink around other people and feel safe.

The night started out pretty good. I had some sort of sweet mixed drink. I talked a lot, after a few drinks I got a little bit flirty. But it was our birthday party. I wanted to let loose a little bit. I wasn’t interested in hooking up with anybody. I just wanted to get drunk for the first time and enjoy myself. I even openly flirted with a girl for the first time in public. Yeah, I was a wild one. I don’t remember much of the night, but I do remember one particular guy having a great interest in me. No matter what group of people I was talking to, he would suddenly show up. At one point I remember talking to him out on the balcony, and I remember he offered me a drink from his flask “just to taste it.” Some part of my mind must have been not completely soaked in alcohol yet, and I declined. My high school friend told me a few days later that I had told her the guy was creepy and made me feel uncomfortable, but I don’t remember saying this to her. Eventually somebody convinced me to do shots, and that was my event horizon of drunkenness.

What follows has been pieced together from the bits I remember and what I was told from other people:

Jenny, Tommy and Tommy’s friend Jake decided I needed to go to bed. I wasn’t feeling very good, so Jenny accompanied me to the bathroom and we hung out in there for about 10 minutes. She says I never threw up though. When I started to try to fall asleep on the bathroom floor, she made me get up and Tommy and Jake helped her get me into Tommy’s room. Tommy left to go deal with drunken party madness, so Jake and Jenny stayed to get me in bed. Jenny was going to make Jake leave so I could change into shorts (instead of my jeans), but apparently I insisted that he stay because he was gay. Jake left anyway (because he’s a decent person). After helping me change, Jenny said she was going to get me some water. I think I fell asleep at this point, because next thing I know Creepy Guy was sitting on the bed next to me. He was in mid-sentence, apparently attempting to have a conversation with me while I was passed-out. I remember him reaching over me. I honestly can’t remember if he was touching me in any way. Everything was wobbly and shaky and I really just wanted him to leave. I’m pretty sure I told him to leave (but again, my memory is shaky). In any case, I was barely conscious. Creepy Guy stood up suddenly when Jake walked in. There was some shouting. Creepy guy left, and Jake stayed. Then Jenny came in with the water. They told me the next day that Jake had seen Creepy Guy walk into the room after Jenny left and that Jenny and Tommy had warned him about Creepy Guy. When he didn’t come back out he got a bad feeling about it and decided to walk in. Jenny stayed and talked to me until the party died down and I fell asleep. The next time I woke up was because Tommy had come into the bedroom. Remember, this was Tommy’s bedroom. I was a barely conscious drunk girl sleeping in his bed, and I’m fairly certain I had even told him earlier in the night that I had a crush on him. Also, I had recently turned 18, so there’s that. Here was a situation where, in my inebriated state, I probably would have said yes to Tommy if he wanted to sleep with me. He didn’t wake me up to try to have sex with me though. He woke me up to ask for one of the pillows that I was sleeping on. Then he got a sleeping bag from his closet and made a palette on the floor. We talked for a little bit, and then we both fell asleep.

Consent Culture, friends’ primary actions at party:

This is how peers can prevent rape. Creepy Guy was a sexual predator. Creepy Guy had probably done this before, if the statistics behind rape and sexual assault have taught us anything. My friends, and one acquaintance, were able to stop him because they recognized his predatory behaviors and they listened to me. Tommy and Jenny recognized that he was paying a lot of attention to me and that I needed to go to bed. Tommy enlisted the help of his friend Jake to get me to go to sleep because he knew I felt comfortable around him. Jenny barely left my side in order to keep me safe because she was alerted to the danger of Creepy Guy. Tommy and Jake did not brush away her concerns. They listened when she told them how Creepy Guy was acting. She listened to me, and they listened to her. Imagine a whole world of Jenny’s, Tommy’s and Jake’s. Imagine a whole world that takes victims (or potential victims) seriously and works to protect them. Imagine how hard it would be for serial rapists to operate when people are paying attention to whether or not he’s following a girl around, offering to get her more and more drinks, trying to get her to drink unknown substances. Imagine what it would be like if every girl knew that if she simply told a friend while they were out partying “Hey, that guy is creeping me out” that she would be taken seriously instead of hounded for “over reacting” or accused of making “false accusations.” That is Consent Culture.

Rape Culture, tertiary reactions:

A few days after the party, I was talking to a bunch of people who were there and some who were not. Somebody mentioned that I was really drunk and told everybody about how I flirted with him a lot. I laughed and thanked him for not trying to take advantage of me and then started to recount what happened with the Creepy Guy. I told them that Creepy Guy kept coming on to me the whole time and following me around the party and that he came into the bedroom later when I was alone and he was only stopped because Jake walked in. The group of friends all laughed at me. They said I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. They said I shouldn’t have flirted so much. They said I must’ve been “all over him” since I flirted with other people as well. Even when Jenny spoke up and pointed out that I tried to get away from him the whole night and that I had specifically told her that night how creepy he was, they still said I brought it on myself because I gave him the “wrong idea” by openly flirting with a lot of people. Then they told me I shouldn’t even talk about it because they know Creepy Guy and they know he would never try to rape anybody. I must be lying or remembering wrong. My face flushed. I wanted to cry right then, but I didn’t. I just sat down, hunched over and stopped talking. The subject was quickly changed to something else. I learned my lesson: don’t drink at parties (even though there were plenty of guys getting drunk and plenty of other women there getting drunk), don’t flirt (even though there were other girls flirting, the guys are flirting with you and if you don’t flirt back then you’re labeled a “prude, stuck-up bitch”), don’t talk about your experience later because you could ruin his reputation (even though talking about it hurt my reputation more than it hurt his).

According to Rape Culture, if I flirt with one person, that automatically means I want flirting/sexual attention from everybody (not just the person I’m flirting with). This is a gross misapplication of the concept of consent. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person B. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A at This Time, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person A at Another Time. Consent can be given and revoked. The people who reacted in this way tried to make it seem like Creepy Guy was just confused. They tried to convince me that I had somehow led him on, and even though I never told him yes, he thought I “wanted it.” However, they didn’t know that I already had the counter-example brewing in the back of my mind. Tommy. Tommy knew I liked him. I had specifically flirted with Tommy that night, and he had flirted back. I was sleeping in Tommy’s bed. Tommy knew I probably would have said yes to him if he wanted to have sex (although, the “yes” was still stemming from my lowered inhibitions, since at the time I was still suffering from sexual repression, it took a while for me to be able to consent to sexual acts without the use of alcohol, but that deserves a whole post on its own). But Tommy didn’t ask. Tommy didn’t even try. He saw a girl sleeping in his bed, and decided to sleep on the floor. See, because even if Tommy was confused about whether or not I wanted it, even if he thought I definitely did want it, he was decent enough to wait until I was of sound mind to truly consent. He was decent enough to wait until he knew for sure that my “yes” wasn’t based on being intoxicated and not knowing what I was doing. Creepy Guy was not decent. He was not a “nice guy” who was simply confused about what I wanted. This is what Rape Culture tries to teach you: that consent is some grey ambiguous concept that anybody can make a mistake about and accidentally become a rapist, but that’s not how it actually works. Nice guys don’t accidentally rape people. Rapists pretend to be nice guys, plan out their assaults for when the “rape script” fits into the areas that society has deemed “grey,” and rape with impunity because they know the victim will be silenced and shamed if xe speaks up.

Consent Culture teaches that consent should be easily recognizable and if it’s not, then you should stop what you’re doing. Consent Culture does not have “rape scripts” that must be followed in order for victims to be believed.  Consent Culture does not teach that boys and men are somehow naturally rapists (they’re not) or teach girls to avoid rape as if it’s a natural disaster that just happens (it’s not). Consent Culture does not allow victims to be silenced and shamed when they speak up.

For further reading (some of these are linked in the post):

Rape Discussions: When to intervene in a situation
Meet the Predators
Predator Redux
The “Why I Need to Call Some Men Creepy” Linkdump
Legal Consent, Morning-After Regret, and “Accidental” Rape
Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Abuse
The Day I Taught How Not to Rape
Rape Culture 101
I’ll Stop Citing My Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering
We are the 95%

A Letter to My Future Son

Dear Leonard,

Because you were born with male sex organs, Dad and I have used male pronouns since we adopted you with the full understanding that you may very well articulate a different gender identity when you are able.  That being said, since there is a 97 to 99% chance that you do, in fact, identify as a boy I would like to talk with you about masculinity.

No doubt you will get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to “be a man”.  While Dad and I have done our best to raise you in a gender neutral household where we split the housework and financial burdens as equals and are not afraid to speak our minds or show our emotions, you have probably noticed this is not “normal”.  While you might enjoy playing house with your sister or helping Dad vacuum or helping me bake cookies, most of the other boys you’ve seen on TV are probably playing “war” or shooting guns or wrestling and rough-housing, you probably like playing those games too.  While your father and I are pacifists, we understand that all of those things can be a lot of fun.  We’ll probably even play video games with you when you’re older where the primary focus is to shoot things.  We all play games like that because they’re fun, but it’s important to know that being manly has nothing to do with hurting people.

Being a man is complicated.  There’s no wrong or right way to be a man or a woman or a girl or a boy or anything else.  But a lot of people like to tell you there’s only one way to do something.  Sometimes a teacher might tell you that a story means one thing, while you think it means something else.  Being a man is a lot like that.  Some people think being a “real man” means that you don’t tell people how you’re feeling, that you act tough and don’t cry even when you want to, but Dad isn’t afraid to tell me about his day or ask for help if he’s in trouble or even to cry if he’s having a rough time, and he’s a man.  Some people think being a “real man” is about being angry or violent or rough, but that’s not what Martin Luther King Jr. or Harvey Milk or Bayard Rustin believed.  They changed the world by standing against violence with love and peace, and they were all men.  There’s no such thing as being a “real man”, son.  Men come in all different shapes and colors and have different ideas and attitudes and none of them are any more or less “real” than the next one.

However you decide to act as a grown man will be up to you, but Dad and I sincerely hope that you remember the lessons we’ve tried to teach you.  That each person is a human being that deserves respect and love no matter who they might be.  That equality and rights should be extended to everybody and not just a select few.  That most people are doing what they think is good, even if that doesn’t match with your idea of good.  That families come in all different shapes and sizes, but what really matters is they love each other.  That communication and non-violence can accomplish much more than war and violence.  That emotions are normal to have and it’s okay to express them in healthy ways.  That diversity and new ideas are what make the world interesting.  That questioning ideas and authority is a good way to make sure you really believe what you say you do.  That sex is a mutually consenting and enjoyable experience regardless of the number of partners or their genders and you should never feel ashamed about it.  And, most importantly with this letter, the ways people “do” gender are all equally valid and that includes they way you decide to do your gender.  It shows a lot more strength and courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially if it’s unpopular, than to just follow the crowd.  No matter what you decide to do with your life or who you decide to love, as long as you keep these principles in your heart you will always be a “real man” to me.