Signing Away my Assumed Ability as a Man that I Could Rape a Women if I Wanted to

In the second of two posts on sexual assault, Women’s Studies student Layn Abbott writes about his experience accessing one of the most shocking forms of male privilege: the assumed ability to take sex from women without consent.  Or as he puts it, to rape. You can find some background on masculinity studies in another of our blog entries, here.  I leave the floor to Layn.

–Alison Reiheld, Director of SIUE’s Women’s Studies program

Something shocking happened to me a couple of months back and I would like to share it, because I think it needs to be heard. I am transitioning from female to male right now and identify as a trans* man. I have been on testosterone for 6 months, I am a feminist, I love women, and I love equity for all.

Lately, I have seen slivers of privilege like “Joining the Boys Club”. Great for me, right? I can be a little overweight now and it is fine, I can be more negotiable with my salary offers for jobs that I am currently interviewing for, I am getting more of those jobs, men talk to me differently, and in all of this I pass as a man; which is a dream come true to me. For once, my identity and expression are synced with me both mentally and physically. I am a part of the boy’s club, but I come from the girl’s club so I don’t think that being a man is following gender norms. I feel like I have been gifted with a unique and enlightening perspective that I want to share.

Seems great, but I left out some details that keeps me up at night. Everything I have ever stood for with equity of gender has been scrambled for me. I feel like part of the problem and I sense that others now see me as part of the problem. I still have friends, family, and loved ones like my fiancé struggling to make it and telling me that I am going to eventually forget what it was like to be a woman or relate to daily struggles of oppression that I don’t face as much as my trans* women friends.

Do you want to know what the most painful thing is for me? I have spent two years of my college career diving into deep issues surrounding sexual assault, violence, and rape on college campuses. I have tons of training in prevention and conducted research for the University to advocate for a grant for programming. I have written many papers and encompassed my whole internship to the police department at SIUe to look further into these issues. I have taken countless classes on gender, sexuality, race, class, social inequality, social justice, women’s studies courses and serial rape. All of these things are engrained in my roots and now women fear that I might rape them.

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Should Universities be Seeking Awareness or Effectiveness with Sexual Assault Prevention Programs?

Layn Abbott has taken multiple Women’s Studies courses including an independent study this semester, the capstone project for which involves not just one but two blog entries for us. Abbott has worked with WMST faculty member Dr. Trish Oberweis on Sexual Assault Prevention research for the university and has done two independent study courses focusing on in depth research of issues surrounding sexual assault.  He will be graduating this weekend with a major in Criminal Justice and Sociology. Congratulations, Layn! Without further ado, I yield the floor for the first of Layn Abbott’s blog entries.

–Alison Reiheld, Director of SIUE Women’s Studies

It is assumed and expected that prevention programs should be reducing sexual assault, but the critical question that not many talk about is: Should the main objective be increasing awareness in the hopes that women will be encourage to report instead of focusing on reducing sexual assault or should the goal be to achieve both prevention and awareness? Is it possible to completely abolish sexual assault on college campuses? The massive amount of underreporting doesn’t support this. Universities like Southern Illinois University Carbondale received a bad rapport for providing effective programming when their statistics of reports go up after an academic year of improved programming. Is it possible that you can achieve both effectiveness and awareness, and is there a cap on how far steps can be taken for legislators, faculty, staff, and students to fix the proposed problem?

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Visibility & Piety

This blog entry comes to us from SIUE Philosophy professor Saba Fatima.  Dr. Fatima has published on social and political concerns as they pertain to the Muslim identity. Here, she combines her interest in Women’s Studies with her work on religion to reflect on an important topic: the presence of women in Islam.  Scholarship in history and in religious studies has long examined the role of women in Judaism, the Catholic Church, in protestant Christianity and in Islam.  Dr. Fatima joins that tradition by turning a careful gaze–one both critical and respectful–toward Islam and its varied forms. Being herself a Muslim, Dr. Fatima’s reflexive gaze comes from within  Islam.


 I have been thinking about writing this blog for over a year. My reservation stemmed from the fact that for as long as I can remember, there has been a plethora of negative misconceptions about gender & Islam in the Western world, and I would hate to add any fuel to the fire.

Just recently, at the Republican debate in Miami on March 15, Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, stated: “There is tremendous hate. Where large portions of a group of people, Islam, large portions want to use very, very harsh means…Let me go a step further. Women are treated horribly. You know that. You do know that. Women are treated horribly, and other things are happening that are very, very bad.”

Such rhetoric (and its tamer forms) has been historically used to justify imperialistic wars against Muslim men, women, and children and has made the American public complacent to war crimes committed by Western governments. For some Americans, part of bombing the Middle East until ‘the sand glows in the dark’ is for their own benefit. To kill indiscriminately, in order to save their women from their men…. Or so the thinking goes.

This is all to say that when minorities are critical of certain practices within their own frameworks, the criticism is almost always re-appropriated to alien contexts by the dominant political frameworks in order to justify larger systemic harm to that minority. As a Muslim American woman, such flawed logic makes me very apprehensive.

Visibility and Piety 1

Muslim Americans praying in front of U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC. Bodies kneel and bow, oriented toward the east face of the building looking over the National Mall, and thus facing toward Mecca.

That said, I also think Muslims have a lot to contribute to discussions on gender relations, and co-opting of internal-criticism by Western worldviews has often kept us, Muslims, from challenging the status quo; it has kept us on the defensive. However, if there are to be any challenges to the status quo, they have to come from an internal critical analysis. And I am Muslim, and I am a woman, and, yes, I do live in the United States. My critical outlook on issues that are systemic in nature and that I face, are situated from my particular social location. And thus, this blog appears in my university’s women studies program blog. The placement may appear as an external gaze, but I want to own my location as that of a Muslim, similar to if I had lived in a Muslim majority culture.

So what is it that I wish to write about, that required such a prologue?

I want to put some thoughts down about how much space women are allocated in the two most holy sites for all Muslims: Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

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Why we need to be talking about Black Lives Matter and local causes of inequality

In this blog entry, I (Alison Reiheld, Director of Women’s Studies at SIUE) summarize our recent Featured Speaker for the 2015-16 year and provide a copy of my introduction to her talk.  Both show why we very much need to be talking about Black Lives Matter and focusing on local causes of injustice.  

Ashley Yates at SIUE

Ashley Yates of Black Lives Matter and the Ferguson protests speaks at SIUE. Description for persons with visual impairments: She stands behind a modern lucite-and-white-plastic podium on which hangs the bright red banner of SIU Edwardsville, with letters in slim white font.  Bright sunlight shines through the windows. She wears a dark suit jacket and dark shirt. Her skin is dark brown, while her hair is shaved on the sides and back and naturally styled.

On April 13, Ashley Yates spoke to SIUE students, faculty, staff, and community members.  Her talk, “Pulling Out All the Stops: How Local Municipalities Stonewall Black Families,” examined  the unique features of North County and the municipalities surrounding St. Louis.

In part as a direct result of white flight from St. Louis and attempts by those who fled to draw boundaries around their communities that would insulate them from black and other ethnic minorities, there are over 90 municipalities and 10 unincorporated census-designated places.  Many are less than 1 square mile in area, with populations under or just barely over 1,000. Nearly all have their own municipal system including courts and law enforcement.  Many give vastly more tickets for traffic offenses than there are residents, funding their systems through penalties which seriously damage the financial and legal status of those on whose backs these systems are built. These backs are overwhelmingly black.  A person can run afoul of multiple police departments in a 10-mile stretch of Natural Bridge Road.  If that person  cannot pay the ticket fine, they begin to incur court fees. If they cannot pay these, a warrant may be issued for their arrest. Once arrested, they lose jobs, gain a criminal record, and sometimes lose the right or ability to vote.  This is a very real debtors’ prison.

Ashley Yates Q and A

In a lively discussion following Yates’ talk, students and faculty and staff shared  their experiences and questioned what methods might effect change. Description for persons with visual impairments: this image shows the audience with people in the foreground and background of a variety of skin tones and hair colors. Several individuals have turned to look at Morris Taylor, an African-American professor of Public Administration at SIUE, who is speaking.

Cycles of poverty, loss of money, loss of voting rights due to  felony convictions or loss of picture ID now required for voting: all of these disenfranchise voters who are, again, overwhelmingly black. As Yates said, over 60% of black men in St. Louis have lost the right to vote.  While more women retain this right, the pervasive sense that both black men and women are governed by systems over which they have no democratic control–due to literal inability to vote, or by law enforcement from municipalities other than their own having frequent control over their lives and finances–leads to a very real and often very correct sense that black folks in North County are not truly seen as citizens nor are they able to exercise their rights of citizenship.   How to engage with your own society, your own government in the face of losing traditional means of political citizenship?  Use others. Build cadres (Yates’ own word). Protest. Bring legal challenges. Use media. Continue when the cameras are no longer watching. Use social media. Repeat.

Yates did a masterful job presenting these realities, making effective use of excerpts from a documentary video which you may wish to view. These are realities that we have good reason to become and remain aware of, as I argued in my introduction of Yates, below.

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Art and Eating Disorders: A Self-advocacy Campaign Through Video Narratives

Sarah Pray is in her second year as the SIUE Women’s Studies Program’s Graduate Assistant. Her work has been invaluable. Pray is completing her M.A. in Art Therapy at SIUE. Here, she discusses her thesis project, a series of films about people using art to work through disordered eating, and provides links to some clips. She also provides further sources at the bottom for anyone interested in learning more.

During my second and third year of graduate school in the SIUE art therapy program, I became interested in the ways that advocacy, art, and one’s personal recovery from an eating disorder can intersect and support one other.  The question guiding the inquiry became “can video shorts of artists who have struggled with an eating disorder document authentic stories of recovery, provide a supportive and creative environment to the artists, and increase public awareness of eating disorders?” In collaboration with the Emily Program Foundation, an advocacy non-profit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, we initiated a pilot project called Art and Eating Disorders. Between August 3rd and 7th 2015, we recruited five artists to record their narrative and share related creative work. One of the artists provided a father’s perspective, a heartfelt testimonial of the experience of supporting his daughter through recovery. The recordings were then edited into short videos and full audio interviews that were implemented to The Emily Program Foundation website and presented at various events. In this entry, I present major themes that came out of this project as well as short video clips.

Personally, I was surprised to hear just how much impact the creative arts had on the artists’ experiences. Discussions about art did not feel like side notes, but rather an integrated and important factor in their stories. I was surprised, namely, because I had doubts about the importance of art within my own recovery story.  At times, I have dismissed my interest in songwriting because, in some ways, I had used it as an excuse to isolate when I was struggling.  In hearing others’ stories, I recognize that, while I may have used art destructively, art has also given me an identity and purpose, a space to express and understand my feelings, a sense of control, self-efficacy, and confidence. I consider their willingness to share their stories a gift toward understanding and accepting my own story as an artist.

The treatment of eating disorders has long suffered from a lack of understanding that has resulted in unsupported and even destructive insurance practices. Such misunderstanding about the serious nature of the disease breeds stigma and shame, impeding individuals from seeking treatment (Missouri Eating Disorder Association, n.d.).  Personal self-narratives have proved to be an important tool for decreasing stigma and increasing understanding of serious mental illness (Pandya, 2012). In conjunction, art-making and art therapy can offer individuals the opportunity to create an expressive and assertive voice while shifting blame from the self to the disorder.

The Artists                   

Deborah’s Story

Through her jewelry making and fiber art, Deborah has found a meditative and confidence-boosting practice that has helped her throughout her journey in overcoming an eating disorder.

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Feminist Songs…: Day 15, This Is Not A Feminist Song

Our final post comes to us from SIUE Women’s Studies program graduate,  and graduate student, Destiny Green.  Destiny is the 2014 winner of the Martha Welch Award, our program’s annual award to students who have demonstrated thoughtfulness and leadership in the context of women’s and gender studies. Her Master’s thesis work focuses on black masculinity.  Here, she reflects on the March 2016 Saturday Night Live song-skit “This Is Not A Feminist Song.”  If you wanted to know why we strove for a wide diversity in song choice, and why yesterday’s entry involved links to another diverse array of songs, this will go some way to explaining it. No one song could address the multiplicity of women’s issues. I leave the floor at last, and at the last, to Destiny.

–Alison Reiheld, Director of Women’s Studies at SIUE

The women of Saturday Night Live, featuring Ariana Grande, presented what they would consider to not be “a feminist song”—but yet they accomplished just that. They performed a song that served as a beautiful ball of Kimberle Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, Patty Collinsstandpoint theory, black feminists’ annoyances, and white feminist alliesanxieties alike.

Thank goodness for comic relief!

Though amusing and entertaining, these women captured real concerns in the realm of feminism in their lyrics:

Every woman has a struggle, and every struggle is real, but just try to write a song that captures every woman’s deal

Consider how many times you have to check yourself when writing in a heteronormative voice or when discussing women’s oppression, you somehow are never exhaustive enough (darn it, why do I always forget that every woman is not able-bodied??).

Overall, my favorite aspect of SNL is that they use their platform to discuss social justice issues and make them more palatable for viewers. Thanks SNL for welcoming everyone into our world (or worlds ;-] ) !

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Feminist Songs…: Day 14, O brave new world that has such people in’t!

We have been focusing on individual feminist songs nominated by folks associated with the SIUE Women’s Studies program or with me as Director. However, we are by no means the first–nor shall we be the last–to do a series on feminist songs. Today, on our second-to-last day of the series, I present links to other series on feminist songs from a variety of sources. These provide a knowledge of genres that goes far beyond the knowledge distributed amongst the folks who nominated songs for our series.  Enjoy!

–Alison Reiheld, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at SIUE

beyonce feminist

Beyonce performed at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards with this enormous sign behind her as sections of Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie’s speeches play in the background.

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Feminist Songs…: Day 13, I said I was a boy; I’m glad he didn’t check

Our post today comes to us from Kate Norlock, a feminist and philosophy professor at Trent University in Canada, where she holds the Kenneth Mark Drain Endowed Chair in Ethics. Kate is the author of Forgiveness from a Feminist Perspective She responded to my call for feminist songs by nominating singer-songwriter Dar Williams‘ “When I Was A Boy.”  I yield the floor to Kate to say a bit more about the song itself.

–Alison Reiheld, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at SIUE

Dar Williams is a pop-folk singer who was especially popular with LGBT audiences in the 1990s. (Since another song of hers is “You’re Aging Well,” I want to emphasize that she has produced many albums and is still working today!)

dar williams

Her song “When I Was a Boy” was an influential hit from her debut album, The Honesty Room (1993: Razor & Tie). Today it’s considered her signature song.

No quick sketch can do justice to the reasons so many of us are moved by this song, but I can safely state the main reason it makes many listeners and readers cry. The verses build to a first-person account of the harms to women and men of a sexist and masculinist culture.

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Feminist Songs…: Day 12, Riot Grrrls

Alyson Spurgas is an Assistant Professor in SIUE’s Sociology Department and has been involved in the Women’s Studies Program since her first semester here. She has written several blog entries for our program on injustice and within her specialty, medical sociology. Here, she discusses the Riot Grrrl movement and presents one of her favorite tunes. 
–Alison Reiheld, Director of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program
Bikini Kill is just one of the most integral bands within the “Riot Grrrl” movement in punk rock. Originally based in Olympia, Washington, the band consisted of Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail, and Billy Karren (the only male-bodied individual in the band). This all girl/queer band was one of many that turned the male-dominated punk rock scene upside down in the early 1990s.

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Feminist Songs…: Day 11, One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

My mother, Robin Crane, has been following our Feminist Songs series. She has already assisted once this semester with a Women’s Studies event and, I think it is fair to say, started me feministing at a young age: I distinctly remember the buildup to the 1980 presidential election, and watching politics on TV with my family because Geraldine Ferraro was the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic party.  Of course, Reagan won that election and the election after that. But it was a potential sea change and at only age 4, it was my mother who helped me see that. Not long after, she encouraged me to start a scrap book of women doing amazing things in the news. It was she who bought for me a much-loved early omnibus of 1940’s Wonder Woman comics, edited and introduced by Gloria Steinem. To sum, I don’t know if I’d be me without her.   

Robin Crane, born at the tale end of World War II, has suggested that this series consider two songs that were the first pop music women’s liberation anthems which many in her generation came to know as adults. I grew up listening to Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” (yes, it is such a big deal that the song has its own Wikipedia entry) on my home hi-fi system, and discovered Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” a little later (yep, this too has its own Wiki page).  I can still hear the base line for the latter whenever I think of it. Both songs share a sense of women in control of their own lives, broadly but also in their romantic/sexual relationships. My mother was in her early 20’s when Sinatra’s song came out, and just 30 when Reddy’s song was first released. Not only were they important to her but, as the Wiki entries point out, both were influential for the women’s movement at this time. If you don’t know them yet, I am sure you will be interested in them as both historical works giving popular voice to women’s worth and self-confidence, and perhaps even as songs you will come to know and love or already love and are glad to remember. Lyrics are below each song in case you want to learn them or cannot listen to the music for whatever reason.

–Alison Reiheld, Director of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program

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