Women’s Initiative unpacks “locker room talk”
Student Government hosts safe space for discussion on rape culture
Content warning: sexual assault, rape, denigration of women
Members of the AUSG Women’s Initiative “unpacked” the conversation around sexual assault in the media and society in its discussion, “Taking the Talk Out of the Locker Room” on Nov. 2, in light of lewd comments made by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a highly publicized video.
The presentation served as a guideline for open dialogue between those who came to talk in Ward 1. Maureen Smith and Deep Dhaliwal, event managers of the Violence Against Women group within WI, facilitated the discussion by providing questions and examples regarding Trump’s comments about women for the approximately 30 participants to consider.
Kendall Baron, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and executive director of the Women’s Initiative, said she hoped the event would break down any barriers that might prevent people from feeling safe to talk about issues of rape culture and sexual assault. Baron wanted participants to be in a safe space without the fear of being verbally attacked, and she thinks that having a conversation facilitated by students is unique on campus.
“It’s one thing to have other academics or professors saying [Trump’s rhetoric] is a bad thing, but to be validated from other college students I think is also important,” Baron said.
Baron hopes that by using Trump’s actions and rhetoric as the basis for these conversations, the group could break past political partisanship and focus on the problematic portrayal of rape culture and sexual assault in the media.
Dhaliwal and Smith explained key terms in rape culture, such as objectification (treating a person as a commodity or sexual object), invalidation (women invalidating experiences of other women) and the “romanticization” of sexual assault by the mass media. Television and movies often portray rape as one moment that ends in justice for the survivor, which is not often the case for survivors of sexual assault in real life, Smith said.
“Being able to have a discussion in a controlled environment where everyone is, for the most part, on the same page is really important, and frankly cathartic,” Becca Thimmesch, a junior in the School of International Service who attended the event, said. “I think a lot of women on campus have been feeling really uneasy lately.”
Thimmesch said that even though she did not know most of the members of the audience, the environment was extremely safe and inviting, and made her feel physically better afterwards.
The two-hour event took on systematic objectification of women in the media and consistent blaming of women for their own sexual assault, among other topics.
“Sexual assault isn’t something to be romanticized. It isn’t sexual, it’s about power,” Smith said. “So when we look at toxic masculinity, and how related that is to exerting force and to exerting power [and] having this dominance, I think it’s about unpacking that and trying to end that.”
Leaders of Women’s Initiative held the discussion because of the high volume of media coverage surrounding Trump’s comments about women and sexual violence in his campaign, Dhaliwal said.
“There [are] so many nuances to the conversation that we don’t necessarily see when we see people in the media talking about [sexual assault],” Dhaliwal said. “I think it was really important to present specific concepts about gender power dynamics…and sexual violence, but also at the same time making sure that as a student body, we’re engaging with viewpoints in a very productive way and we wanted to create that space, especially very close to the election, when it really, really matters.”