Are Women Human?

I once saw a question raised related to violence against women that questioned: “Are Women Human?” Seems like a superfluous inquiry, doesn’t it? However, treatment of women, whether it be through actions, attitudes and/or expressed values demonstrate that we are not. Historical roots and traditional customs offer deep roots to a negative response to this question. Instead, we are often seen as objects rather than subjects. We are seen as subservient rather than equal to men.  It seems to take the shocking conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush to clarify the reality of the status of women or at least to, once again, promote discussion/debate.

Studies sponsored by both the UN and the World Health Organization make it undeniably clear that violence against women is a global problem of staggering proportion and urgency. . .women are a risk both at home and in society, in intimate partnerships, the workplace and major institutions large and small.Margaret Farley, RM., Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics, Yale University Divinity School

This topic is critical to the growth and well-being of both women and men. It must be taken seriously by both individuals and institutions – corporate, educational, service, religious, families, social.

For this month’s blog, I offer you what I consider a significant column first published in the New York Times.  Below are major excerpts. The full article is available online.

Trump Recording Narrows Divide on Sexual Assault

By AMANDA TAUB 10/22/2016

“Of all the silver linings one might have expected from this whiplash-crazy election, a new national understanding of sexual assault would have been quite hard to imagine.  Until two weeks ago.

One three-minute recording of Donald J. Trump boasting about how his stardom gave him license to grope women’s private parts appears to have prompted the kind of change in public consciousness that usually takes decades.”

This is a moment of transition,” said Estelle B. Freedman, a Stanford University historian who studies the evolution of laws and norms surrounding sexual assault. We are having a national conversation about new rules,” she added. “We are nationally trying to rethink issues of sexual assault.”

One three-minute recording of Donald J. Trump boasting about how his stardom gave him license to grope women’s private parts appears to have prompted the kind of change in public consciousness that usually takes decades.

The lewd and aggressive comments by Mr. Trump, the Manhattan tycoon turned Republican presidential nominee, revealed a generational divide in the way many Americans understand sexual assault and consent. But, remarkably, the widespread outrage and outpouring it unleashed, with millions of women speaking out about their own experiences — appear to have narrowed that gap.

While the Trump tape and its aftermath feel like a turning point in the public understanding of sexual assault, Alexandra Brodsky, a co-founder of Know Your IX, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence on college campuses, believes that “it’s actually a reflection that we are already past the turning point.”

Dr. Freedman sees this moment as the culmination of decades of change. Until the mid-20th century, her research shows, sexual assault and rape were viewed primarily as crimes against the honor of women’s husbands and fathers, not themselves. As women gained new rights to control their own property and legal decisions, sexual assault began to be considered a matter of consent, not honor. But there was little agreement about what consent meant, Dr. Freedman said. Many people believed consent could be implied or presumed by the way a woman dressed, for instance, or even her decision to accept a job with a male boss. By the 1990s, feminist advocacy had begun to push the idea of “no means no.” Antioch College in 1991 adopted a code of conduct requiring students to affirmatively opt into sexual activity starting with a kiss.

The widespread backlash to Mr. Trump’s comments, experts say, was fueled in part by the growing view, among people in their 20s and 30s, of affirmative consent as a guiding principle, not a lofty ideal or extreme demand. “I think that affirmative consent is an imperfect legal concept,” Ms. Brodsky, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, allowed. “But it’s a powerful normative concept.” But old beliefs about honor and consent persist.

Mr. Trump’s bragging in the video that women “let” him kiss and grope them because he was a star, for instance, seems straight out of the implied-consent era, in which anything other than a clear “no” could be seen as passive acquiescence.

Younger women in particular are becoming more willing to protest sexual assaults that once might have been deemed too minor to merit reporting. And that, in turn, may be affecting the way older generations of women perceive episodes from their own pasts. It certainly worked that way for Emily Hoffman, 25, who works in the television industry in New York, and her mother, Amy Plummer.

“I really don’t want to post this,” Ms. Hoffman wrote on Facebook on Oct. 10, a few days after the Trump tape was aired. But she went on to reveal to her 1,326 Facebook friends what for seven years had been one of her most private secrets: that she had been assaulted by a senior male colleague while an 18-year-old intern at a film promotion company. He attacked her in a deserted stairwell, Ms. Hoffman announced, kissing her, groping her breasts and genitals, and then forcibly masturbating against her. “My experience mimicked what Donald Trump described in those tapes,” she said in an interview. “It was very upsetting.”

For Ms. Plummer, who is in her 60s, seeing her daughter’s post was transformative. “When Emily felt brave enough to put her experiences down was when I specifically started to think about my own experiences,” she said. “And I realized I would not have had the courage she had to say it publicly.” But she also realized she had things of her own to share. She still felt that some of her experiences were too “explicit” to discuss. But she shared others with her daughter. How in junior high, for instance, her male guidance counselor told her that she should “consider a career as a Playboy bunny.” And how she left graduate school without her master’s degree after a professor told her that she would not be able to pass her oral exams “unless I was ‘nice’ to him.”

The pressure not to name names can be strong whenever the perpetrator is someone the woman knows. An accusation forces everyone who knows the two people to choose a side: accuser or accused? Choosing the accuser often means going against the broader group or community. In her work on college campuses around the country, Ms. Brodsky said, she has observed that “peers and friends are much more inclined to be sympathetic to victims if they don’t make anyone’s life more complicated.”

But according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 60 percent of sexual assaults are committed by an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance. So the pressure on individuals not to name names can add up to widespread impunity for perpetrators. Nancy Erika Smith, a New Jersey lawyer who has represented victims of sexual assault and discrimination for more than two decades, said she recognized that asking people to identify who had harmed them was in many ways an unfair burden.  “Don’t do it for yourself,” she said. “Do it for all of us. Speak up.”