Not Just a Vagina Monologue

Not Just a Vagina Monologue

Naked except for a small bikini bottom and the juice of a fresh mango flowing down my chin onto my chest, onto my hands, onto my arms. That is the image I conjure when I think of my childhood. I remember the baby blue bikini I loved with little bees printed all over it, and I remember it was my uniform for the pool, the beach, and mango season.

I remember standing on stage for a summer performance and having the only two-piece swimsuit; I remember the first time I had to buy a one-piece swimsuit for a swimming class; I remember the awkward tan lines; I remember feeling too shy to wear such small bikinis during puberty; and I remember never deciding what swimsuit to wear based on other people.

I don’t know about you, but I believe we should pick our swimsuits (and other clothing) based on what we think about it, not what others might think. I believe that it’s okay to go topless at the beach, and I believe I will never be okay with doing that myself.

When we go to the beach or the pool we don’t say that people shouldn’t wear such big bathing suits because they cover too much, or such little bathing suits because they cover too little. I might laugh at the guy with the potbelly in the speedo running down the beach with leathery skin, but that’s not because he’s doing anything wrong it’s because it’s unexpected and makes me laugh from surprise. I might blush at the woman tanning on the sand with a g-string bikini and her top undone to avoid tan lines, but that’s because I’m shy. And I might look an extra second in surprise at the families that are at the beach fully covered in dark colors because of their faith or beliefs, but that’s my problem not theirs.

So why does this matter?

It matters because I can walk down the beach in what are effectively undergarments without a problem, but walking down the street in skinny jeans and a crop top puts me in danger. It matters because I have heard too many times that I should take steps to avoid becoming a victim of assault (sexual and otherwise) with my wardrobe. It matters because I have been sexually assaulted twice, sexually harassed, followed, demeaned, and otherwise harassed too many times to count. It matters because I have found myself checking to make sure my appearance isn’t too “sexual” everytime I walk out the door. It matters because too many people have told me that being harassed is probably my fault because of how I dress, even when I’m in oversized clothing and travelling (which let me tell you is not a good look). It matters because being a victim isn’t a crime, and it matters because women are not the only victims.

The rhetoric that surrounds sexual assault is like a broken record. Statistics keep getting thrown in our faces, conversations about how women need to protect themselves and men need to be more respectful are repeated until they lose meaning.

This needs to stop.

The idea that women ought to learn self-defense to protect themselves from assault is a flawed concept. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should learn self-defense if they’re interested in it — I grew up taking martial arts classes. However, the reason behind taking a self-defense or martial arts course shouldn’t be because you will be assaulted and need to protect yourself, it should be in case you are in danger or for self-betterment. We also need to recognize that while men are typically the ones portrayed as criminals by the media, you might be fighting a woman if you are attacked and knowing how to fight any assailant for any reason is better than just concerning yourself with a single happenstance.

We also need to stop making it a man’s job to establish consent. First, it is heteronormative to think that a woman will always be engaging in sexual activities with a man. That fact alone means that as we teach young people about consent as the man’s onus, we are excluding far too many scenarios. Additionally, even in heteronormative sexual engagements the man is not the only one who has the responsibility to get consent. Women also need to get consent from male partners. A man who is blackout drunk cannot consent to sex any better than a woman in the same situation. We need to acknowledge this more. We need to teach men and women (and non-cisgender people) to get consent from their partners, in heterosexual and non-heterosexual situations.

There’s also the issue that victims are consistently blamed for their situation. “She shouldn’t have worn such short shorts;” “He could have just pushed her off;” “S/he shouldn’t have had so much to drink.” The myriad of excuses that we give to the culprits of these crimes are invalidating to anyone who is ever a victim of sexual assault or harassment. No person should have to suffer that, to lose your own self and then be blamed for it, that’s just cruel.

The only thing crueler is the publicity that comes with being a harassed or assaulted. Even if it’s just street harassment, then you still lose any sense of security while in public. Whether it’s being followed, being aggressively approached by strangers, being touched without consent, all of these actions mean that you publicly lose your own sense of self-ownership. When we consider sexual assault, though, that’s when the publicity really becomes absurd.

We publicly accuse people and plaster the faces of victims across media. We forget the concept of innocent until proven guilty, we forget the right to privacy, we forget everything about the fact that the parties in a sexual assault are people. While I dislike admitting it, even those accused of sexual assault deserve privacy, and a fair trial. Even more so, the victims of sexual assault deserve that. Someone who has been sexually assaulted shouldn’t have to be forced through the court of public opinion, and they shouldn’t have to see the public question and invalidate what their assailant has done. Those who are sexually assaulted should be able to report the crime, and receive justice without fearing the public response. People who have been sexually assaulted are already living through a loss of self-ownership, to lose even more of themselves to the general public, their peers, it’s unfair and unjust.

We need to address all of these issues, in our rhetoric, in our actions, in our teachings. As a society, we need to teach people consent through respect, not just as a formality. We need to change, and that change starts with individuals, with how we speak about the problem, how we handle the problem, and how we teach future generations.

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