A student author published an article in the Minnesota Republic on Oct. 3 entitled “How the Bridge’s Vandalism Mirrors Rape Culture” that equated the following two experiences:
– Navigating the societal reality of “rape culture,” in which sexual violence is commonplace for women and others with marginalized identities, and in which this violence is both normalized and excused due to the messages and understandings perpetuated around gender and sexuality.
– Spending a morning putting paint that you got for free on a wall that you do not own, and then having someone write a message that counters your original message over it.
I have a real problem with that. And I think our campus and all those whom experience the fear and pain that rape culture breeds deserve public discourse that is better than that.
Just a few weeks ago, this same author published a piece in that same publication that stated, “We as a university — as people of all races, genders, and ethnicities — need to check our own privilege.”
I’m giving him an open opportunity to take his own advice and do just that.
When you wrote your article, did writing the words “rape” make you shake and feel nauseated because of the associations and memories that such terms conjure? Does writing — or reading — the words “rape culture” force you to confront memories of your own physical violations, memories that you work so diligently and actively to suppress every single day in order to simply navigate public spaces, to learn, work, exercise, and otherwise try to live your life?
Did you fight back tears, having to yet again defend your lived experience to the loud, incessant voices that consistently try to minimize, erase or deny it?
Pondering publishing your words publicly, were you met with memories of the numerous times when anonymous individuals — who could easily be classmates, neighbors or others in close proximity — commented on your articles that you deserved to be raped to be “taught a lesson” when they dissented with the opinions you espoused?
Did you consider if choosing to publish your words, and insert yourself into the public sphere, would put you at a real risk of bodily harm, and know that statistically and biologically, there are many individuals in this world who pose a physical risk to you and could likely harm you if they chose to? Did you feel an inherent vulnerability simply because you know that many people who share your gender identity are regularly harassed and physically threatened for choosing to call out topics including but not limited to “rape culture?”
As a woman and a survivor of sexual violence — as well as a former newspaper columnist whose ten fingers cannot total the times I received threats for my content via emails or the comments section — that was my experience in reading your article and in crafting this response.
I’m not going to bring rhetoric about safe spaces and political correctness into this piece. I already know how that approach goes (I’ve seen your activity in comments sections). I’m sharing my experience with you to give you the opportunity to consider your own male privilege and contemplate how this position might influence your perspective. I’m asking you to consider how this privilege shows up in your decisions, including the decision to compare what you view as a disrespect of your political beliefs with the experience of ultimate violation — having your body stolen from you, an experience that your classmates, friends, family members, current/potential partners, etc. are suffering from every single day.
If you went through that process and truly acknowledged the privilege that you hold, I wonder if you’d choose this metaphor again.
University of Minnesota Employee
Editor’s Note: The author of this letter requested that their letter be published on the condition of anonymity, we are respecting their request. This letter has been edited for style and clarity.