From Girls to Women

I have to be honest. Being under twenty-five and engaged gets me some weird looks – and not for the reason you think I’m getting at. People don’t judge me for being in my early twenties and getting married in a year and a half. I get weird looks because people automatically assume I’m 16 or 17 and get freaked out when they see the ring on my finger. It’s only with a full face of makeup on that I actually look like I’m in my early twenties. It takes lipstick and some sharp-as-knives eyeliner for anyone to seriously consider me an adult. As though lipstick can make a woman.

When I go to the dentist, doctor, hair dresser, they all make the assumption that I’m still in high school. On my last dentist visit in December – prior to the proposal – the dentist actually asked me what high school I went to when I had just been discussing with the hygienist my living situation and had very clearly stated that I am finishing my Bachelor’s degree and live with my very committed significant other.

This is not only problematic because it annoys the hell out of me, but because it perpetuates the habit of calling women “girls.” I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve been called a “girl” or found myself referring to a woman with a full time job and kids as a “girl.” Girls do not pay bills, mother children, or get married – at least I hope they don’t.

I know that I am not the first to say this but: Stop calling grown women girls. These words are not interchangeable. You wouldn’t refer to a clearly adult man as a boy. You would be accused of infantilizing the man in question and insulting him by insinuating that he is not responsible, capable, adult, etc. Yet, no one cares if grown women are called girls despite that being an action with the exact same inferred consequences as calling a man “boy.” How’s that for a double standard?

I’ve been thinking a lot abouta video that Mayim Bialik posted on Youtube a couple of weeks ago called “Girl vs. Woman: Why Language matters” and an article I recently read on Feminist Current  called “You’ve heard of rape culture, but have you heard of pedophile culture?“.  I highly suggest watching the video and reading the article as they both provide very valid points as to why this habit of calling grown women “girls” is an epidemic in our society.

The biggest connection that I can make between these two sources of media is that “pedophile culture” sexualizes young girls, which we can all agree is wrong, but calling grown women “girls” feeds into the distorted fantasy because “in pedophile culture, we casually refer to grown women as “girls.” We have a word specifically for attractive female teenagers: jailbait. Women are sexualized as chicks, kittens, and babes” (Grey, 2017). We need to stop this habit now. We need to stop referring to women as children and sexualizing them at the same time. It takes agency away from the woman in question and introduces sexually charged language in reference to young girls thus creating the illusion that lusting after an adolescent is socially acceptable.

This is an all too common problem. It not only exists in how we refer to said women, but how they feel compelled to present themselves. The culture we live in promotes anti-aging creams up the wazoo, surgeries proclaiming their ability to “reclaim your youth!”, and an omnipresent media that markets youth and beauty as though they are the ultimate goals of a woman’s life. This culture makes it feel as though women need to present themselves as children in order to be accepted as women. Seems kind of counter intuitive to me.

The most prominent and relevant example that I can think of is Ariana Grande’s media image. Up until fairly recently – in the last three years or so – the now 23 year-old singer was being marketed as a sexualized 14 year-old. She was dressed in either mini skirts, cropped shirts and thigh high socks with her long hair styled in a childish high ponytail or retro, calf-length dresses with her signature ponytail. Her makeup was always natural looking and she had a very subdued demeanor when in the media spotlight. She was seen performing in a mixture of outfits that looked like a young girl’s dance recital costume or grown-woman-ish looking dresses with childish hair pieces. Her ever-present high ponytail and innocent doe-eyed expression created a childlike illusion but was paired with highly sexualized outfits and a sexy-leaning stage presence. This conflicting image presented to the world turned Grande into an objectified version of herself. She appeared to be an adolescent but at the same time, clearly was presenting herself in a somewhat sexual manner. This signalled to the men who were watching her that it was okay to fantasize about Grande – despite her childlike image. So, many men did just that and weren’t shy about it.

Grande’s age and clothing were in complete discord with one another. She was being sexualized by magazines and fans right and left, yet her marketing team chose to preserve this image of childlike innocence through how she was dressed for public events. The way that she was being perceived by the media was entirely beyond her control and only perpetuated by the way she was presented to the public by her own image team. She was being viewed as a sexualized child by the vast majority of the world. If we want to end this culture – the culture that sees grown women but prefers to view them as “jailbait” – we need to stop calling them “girls.”

Let a grown woman be an adult. Let her age. Let her step outside of the gaze that has viewed her as an object since she was pubescent. Refer to her with the correct language. It may not seem like it has an immediate impact, but changing your language can help change your perspective. You never know, someone you know may pick up the habit from you and pass it along in a wonderful butterfly effect. It could wind up helping to move us all from viewing women as girls and give women back the agency they have so rightfully earned.




Let’s Talk About Consent

I struggled with deciding whether or not I would write this piece – or should write this piece. But, the events of the Stanford Rapist’s trial have really cemented it into my mind that this is necessary. I need to share with you all why the discussion about rape and rape culture is still an important issue – when many think that it shouldn’t be.

In summary, the Stanford Rapist (Brock Turner) was arrested on Jan. 18, 2015 after two graduate students at Stanford saw him “aggressively thrusting his hips” into an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside of a frat party.

But the point of my writing this is not to recount the events that have been plastered all over the news since the trial began. My purpose here is to emphasize a few kind of really important things about the language that has been used by the people who have spoken up for Brock Turner in this trial and the effects that such language use has.

A couple of days ago I came across a story where the letter written to the judge by Turner’s father was referenced. This letter was in response to the upcoming (now past) sentencing of his son. In this letter, he writes that giving his son jail time – the typical sentence for convicted rapists is 6 years – instead of probation was “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life“.

This brings me to problem #1: the phrase “20 minutes of action”. Was Brock competing in a swim meet? Was he saving a kitten from a tree? No. Then the phrase “20 minutes of action” isn’t even remotely close to what happened that night. That night, a rape took place. But, if we’re arguing semantics, what is a rape? What does the word “rape” mean?

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“Or with a person who is…. incapable of valid consent”.  

If the victim didn’t verbally say yes at any point, that “20 minutes of action” is what is called a rape. And a rape – no matter the length of time it took – is still a rape. It doesn’t matter what your son did up to this point, Mr. Turner. He raped a woman. He raped an intoxicated woman. He raped an unconscious woman. He raped her.

People, especially those who want to defend Brock Turner’s rape of this young woman, don’t seem to grasp the definition of consent. Let me spell it out for you:

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Notice the word “agree” in the definition. Both parties have to be in agreement about whatever is about to take place – be it sharing a sandwich or having sex.

I know some people will read all this and say, but she was drunk! She could’ve said yes and then passed out! But, I would like to remind you a lovely little thing called consent laws. Now, every state is different. But California has it explicitly written in their Affirmative Consent law that affirmative consent “means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity”. There are some problems with this definition as it is really broad. In reference to the statements at the beginning of this paragraph, yes she could’ve consented and then passed out. However, in the state of California the voluntary consumption of alcohol can negate consent. The Shouse California Law Group writes that one bullet point under the umbrella definition of rape is: “A man having sexual intercourse with a woman who is passed out drunk“.

Since we’ve established that the victim in the Brock Turner case was unconscious from consuming too much alcohol, I think it’s safe to say that he raped her. He raped her. And rape is illegal, punishable, and inexcusable.

Another issue that I’ve been having is the focus on the phrase “sexual promiscuity”. This is another phrase written in Dan Turner’s aforementioned letter and then echoed by his son in his defense letter. He writes that we need to educate young people “about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity”. But, he’s missing the point.  The victim herself responded to this in her impact statement saying,” It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of “promiscuity”. By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction”.

“Sexual Promiscuity” or lack thereof is entirely irrelevant.

There has also been an issue with the court tiptoeing around Tuner’s feelings; treating him like he’s the victim about to get his life ruined by jail time.  Author Jon Krakauer said, “that happens over and over again where we think, ‘Oh my god, you’re ruining this poor boy’s life,’ … No one thinks about the victim. No one thinks about her life, which has already been ruined.”

So many people miss the point that it is not only the rapist that will be affected by the sentencing. His victim is already affected. She details in her letter that she no longer trusts people, has trouble sleeping, and has had to quit her job due to emotional trauma from the event. Just read her letter, published in full on Buzzfeed. This woman has been affected more than Turner, I’d argue, as he still won’t admit to what he did.

The reason that Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him so lightly is that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” And that’s exactly the point of prison. The reason that offenders go to prison is to punish them; to teach them that what they did was wrong. And for rapists like Turner, I’d argue that this is even more important. He won’t own up to raping an unconscious woman and sentencing him to jail would teach him that he can’t get away with it. But the sentence he was given teaches the opposite. By giving him such a lenient sentence, this boy will never learn that what he did on January 18, 2015 was wrong. In fact, it reinforces his notion that he wasn’t at fault. That this woman, who can’t remember anything about the events of the rape, is just someone he can manipulate. It teaches him that rape is okay; that sexual coercion, assault, and sex crimes of any kind are okay. This teaches him that she is worth less than he is simply because he can get away with raping her.

What kind of future does this set up? What kind of world does this create? One where we teach young men who, arguably, should know better if they have any sense of morality whatsoever that they can rape without consequence.

The point of my writing this was that it needs to be emphasized that rape is wrong. It doesn’t matter who did it or under what circumstances. Whether or not alcohol was involved, rape is wrong. Whether or not the person in question was flirting with their future attacker, rape is wrong. Whether or not the victim initially gave consent and then revoked it, rape is wrong. Rape is wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across this study at work:  Sexual Coercion Practices Among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes. The first line of the abstract reads, “Prior research shows that male intercollegiate athletes are at risk for perpetrating sexual violence”.

Brock Turner was a collegiate swimmer before his conviction.

Our focus needs to be on educating about rape and consent. Not victim-blaming and perpetuating this world of rape culture that we live in where it’s not the rapist’s fault but rather the victim’s. It was what she wore to the party; it was how much she had to drink; it was the amount of fun she decided to have with her friends, not the rapist that caused the rape.

This frame of mind is wrong. There is no other word for it. It is wrong. The victim is never at fault. No one decides to get raped. It is those who make the decision to rape that are at fault. The decision to rape is exactly that: a decision.

We need to teach consent in schools. We need to teach what educated, informed, affirmative consent looks like. That is the way to prevent rape. We won’t stop rape by blaming the victim or giving the rapist a lenient prison sentence. We won’t stop rape by ignoring the trauma that comes with sexual assault. We won’t stop rape by discouraging victims from reporting and pursuing justice. In fact, through that, we encourage it.

The victim wrote:

“You said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life”.

“Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. …

“You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

Her pain is valid. Her trauma is valid.

Brock Turner is a rapist.