Long before the accusations that would ignite the flame of the social-media-based wave against sexual harassment in the film industry, the idea of #MeToo was born.
#MeToo’s real origin story begins long before 2017, in 2006.
Tarana Burke coined the term in 2006 and created a MySpace page for the movement that same year. The term Burke intended to be a slogan of solidarity between black women who’d faced sexual assault would later be co-opted by white celebrities and countless women nationwide.
This is somewhat bittersweet. The rallying of so many women against a problem that’d been prevalent but unspoken for so long was moving and certainly necessary. However, it also overshadowed the work Burke had been doing for years to help black women fight against overpowering forces.
And then there’s the better known origin of #MeToo; the name that started it all, that woke anger and fear and unrest in so many women’s minds.
On Oct. 5, 2017, Ashley Judd levied heavy, atrocious accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein, and was quickly corroborated by other female celebrities who had similar claims — that Weinstein had used his position of power in order to take advantage of vulnerable women for his own sexual gratification.
This outcry was followed by some vague sentiments made by industry professionals that this sort of thing was an unspoken but factual reality of the entertainment business — that these abuses of power had been going on for ages, that Weinstein was not the only one, that there were others. And it could’ve stopped there.
But it didn’t.
Women who’d carved out their careers in this toxic environment used every ounce of the power and influence they had gained to make their voices heard, and the list of names grew longer: Oct. 29, Kevin Spacey; Nov. 10, Louis C.K.; Jan. 11, James Franco; Jan. 14, Aziz Ansari.
Suddenly men who had taken their power over women for granted were forced to consider the consequences of abusing it. Their wealth and status were no longer enough to keep them untouchable. In a day, as the case with Weinstein exemplified, their comfortable standing could be torn out from under them by one woman’s voice.
There was something equally exhilarating and sickening about the weeks the names poured out. Many of us, more than once, got out of class only to check our phones and find out some household name we’d heard of from a friend or in a commercial was now inextricably linked to a disgusting sexual crime and inexcusable abuse of power.
But those are celebrities. What about everyone else?
“Incidences are highly underreported,” said Jasmine Louie, a sophomore at UW and officer of the Greeks Take Action initiative.
“Even when we do hear about it through the UW Alert, we don’t really hear any follow up. It’s really brash, in a way. You read it, and then you forget about it. They don’t really include resources for victims or how to be a good ally.”
Greeks Take Action has instituted a point system for all houses in the Greek community, intended to keep track of how compliant members of each house have been with attending, participating, and cooperating with anti-sexual harassment instructions and lessons and seminars.
“Our goal is to have the points be public, so as people are deciding to join these fraternities, they can be like, ‘Oh, this house really cares about assault prevention,’” Louie said.
A link to the list can be found here.
“Even if you’re not committing sexual assault or you don’t think you are, it could be your friends or your [fraternity] brothers,” Louie said.
“I have a friend who, it wasn’t until this Me Too movement that she realized something that happened in the past was sexual assault,” Louie said. “It took a while, just because she thought everything was normal and that it was normal to feel uncomfortable, which it really isn’t supposed to.”
But she acknowledges the #MeToo movement is still not perfect.
“I think another challenge of the Me Too movement is distinguishing between legitimate sexual assault cases and just ‘I was uncomfortable,’” Louie said.
Dr. Nancy Kenney and Tomás Narvaja are studying the gray area of compliance and unwanted but consensual sex (i.e., when one party agrees to have sex when they don’t really feel like it in order to please their partner). Their survey, which opened at the beginning of January, already has more than 2,000 student responses. You can fill it out here.
Even those who have their doubts about the longevity of the movement must acknowledge that it’s started conversations we should’ve been having a long time ago.
“Things happen not gradually, but in these really amazing steps, and to have a topic like sexual harassment in the workplace being talked about so publicly as it is now, even six months ago it wouldn’t have been that public,” Kenney said. “You might have been able to talk about it with your friends but it’s not on the front page of the New York Times every day.”
And with social media, the number of participants in these conversations is larger than ever. #MeToo has made it impossible to turn a blind eye to these atrocities and has removed the ability for skeptics to claim these experiences are less prevalent or severe than the feminist killjoys would want you to believe.
“It’s only when you have so many cases of similar individual experiences that people start to go, ‘Maybe that’s not an anecdote, maybe that’s a real thing,’” Kenney said. “It’s no longer going on behind closed doors, it’s out there. People are like ‘Woah! That’s a lot of “she saids” out there.’”
While the majority consensus seems to be that the #MeToo movement has been a promising step, the opinion on whether this will lead to more strides forward is divided.
“It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Since the ‘80s, this has oscillated back and forth between this sort of outing men and firing men and getting men expelled and back to ‘nobody really cares,’” Narvaja said. “Then these really high profile cases [come up] and then it becomes another movement, whether it’s ‘no means no’ and next time it’s ‘yes means yes,’ and this time it becomes ‘me too.’” Narvaja said.
It’s yet to be determined whether #MeToo will have the staying power to result in a permanent change in attitudes.
“I’m concerned that before things change, people will get bored with it,” Kenney said. “It’ll just be another one of those. Don’t we know that all men are like that already? I’m really worried about people getting bored with it before coming up with an actual plan about how to fix it.”
“What’s happened is a massive shift. Where’s it going to go? I don’t know,” Kenney continued.
I don’t know for sure whether we’ll remember this movement in a year. Whether or not, in a decade, I’ll be able to recall why the name “Weinstein” makes me mildly nauseous.
But we don’t have to let it fade. Now comes the hardest part: keeping the movement alive and relevant, keeping the consequences for sexual harassment at the forefront of every potential harasser’s mind.
Reach Arts & Leisure Editor Cameron Eldridge
A plethora of forces contribute to a collectively screwed up understanding of sexual expression. From the porn industry’s depiction of sex through an artful “gang-banging cum shot compilation” to the social construction of female virginity, modern-day sex reflects a cis male-centric pleasure paradigm, a social phenomena clearly illustrated in the orgasm gap.
The orgasm gap refers to a societal privileging of male pleasure during sexual encounters. According to a survey of American adults, this gap means men have three orgasms to every one a female has.
“Even in wanted, mutual desired sex, male satisfaction is central,” Tomás Narvaja, a recent graduate from the UW’s gender, women & sexuality studies bachelor’s program, said. “Oftentimes, there’s this view that sex ends after the male orgasms.”
Generally, the orgasm gap is justified by the idea that women’s bodies are somehow bad at orgasms; the clitoris is seen as shy and complicated to operate. These anatomic mischaracterizations of male and female pleasure play a huge part in normalizing the orgasm gap. However, there’s actually nothing natural about the discrepancy between male and female orgasms.
While female orgasms are biologically more complicated than male ejaculation, studies have shown that women who sleep with other women have significantly more orgasms during sex than heterosexual women reported. Women also reported having no trouble orgasming during masturbation, and these same women said they have significantly less orgasms with a male partner than during masturbation.
Finally, in another comparative study of orgasms, women were shown to take an average of about four minutes to reach climax during masturbation, about the same amount of time it takes for a man to orgasm during intercourse.
The orgasm gap, therefore, is not simply a biological difficulty, it’s an issue that sits at a powerful sociopolitical intersection of gender inequality. My conversation with UW professor of gender, women & sexuality studies and psychology Nancy Kenney shed some light on just how representative the orgasm gap is of the current gender dynamics that surround us.
“The orgasm gap, to me, is the end result of all the other gaps: of the power gap, the gender role gap, the gap in understanding who is allowed to be sexual, in all of the sexual scripts that we have,” Kenney said. “You can’t fix [the orgasm gap] without fixing everything before it.”
According to Kenney, these sexual scripts are woven into our cultural fabric through the centuries of conditioning that have taught men to be the subject of sexual encounters and women to be the object to the male subject’s desire. In other words, women are taught to define their sexuality in relation to male sexual desire and pleasure, and therefore exist in sexual encounters to please their male partner.
In Narvaja’s own post-graduation research on gendered sexual encounters, he argues that “in order for a script to manifest into behavior, scripting has to occur at multiple dimensions: the cultural, the interpersonal, and the intrapersonal.”
The repression of female sexuality, therefore, doesn’t lie in the hands of men for prioritizing their own pleasure, but instead reflects a fracture that resonates with all parts of society.
“Responsibility and ‘response-ability’ is expanded to everyone and everything,” Narvaja said, arguing that to even begin the conversation of closing the orgasm gap, there must be a shift in understanding how each person, male or female, contributes to determining the existence of the gap in sexual satisfaction. “It’s not something you figure out, but it’s something that we are producing every day.”
In other words, the orgasm gap is created and perpetuated by both males and females during each and every heterosexual intercourse experience, a perspective that gives both males and females the power to both create and close the gap.
With this understanding in regards to female sexual expression, there is no longer the condition of helplessness when it comes to male-dominated sexual encounters. Rather, there is a new possibility that comes with understanding one’s own sexual needs and desires.
The sexual liberation of women is, of course, a movement that has been happening since the 1960s, a history lesson for another time. Vital to the conversation of closing the orgasm gap, however, is the push toward women understanding their own bodies’ sexual desires and responses. In understanding what one requires to reach an orgasm, there no longer is an acceptance by the female that there’s a one in three chance that she will orgasm during a sexual experience. Instead, there’s an agency: to know what she wants and to ask for it.
“Until you reach the point where you can be secure in yourself and say ‘I want to have sex and I want to have sex in these circumstances in this way,’ I don’t think we’re going to solve the orgasm gap,” Kenney said.
And in realizing that everyone plays a role in the orgasm gap, men are then able to consider how the gap resonates with them, perhaps considering the roots of one’s own learned expectations of sex, and what’s at stake when there’s a privileging of male pleasure over female pleasure.
Kenney emphasizes the need for America to normalize sex as a natural drive and to not be afraid to talk about what we want and how we feel during sex. Beginning the conversation with your friends, with your partner, and with yourself about what beliefs have led us all to accept sex as an unbalanced experienced rather than as a joint venture between two equals is key to turning gendered sexuality around.
Not only would orgasmic mutuality benefit female populations, but it would also hugely benefit male sexual expression and connection. When all parts resonate with the whole, any attention given to understanding the fracture will move us all closer to a more fulfilled whole.
Reach writer Mira Petrillo at email@example.com. Twitter: @mirap
From the Victorian era to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the societal take on the idea of virginity has certainly shifted, and it hasn’t always been taken as lightly as it can be today. In fact, the concept of “virginity” has a complex history in the West that is intertwined with gender politics, feminism, religion, and oppression. Throughout history, the concept of virginity has taken on a wealth of different connotations.
For hundreds of years, women have been expected to be quiet, delicate, and pure until marriage in order to be considered decent. If you strayed away from this expectation you were scorned as the town floozy, a harlot, morally (or otherwise) “loose” — just ask Hester.
Even the mother of Jesus wasn’t exempt from society’s watchful eye — biblical times were judgmental, too. The story had to be that the birth of Jesus began with the Immaculate Conception because Mary having sex would have been downright unthinkable. Such a holy figure could not be born from such disdainful sin. For women, sex has always been frowned upon and considered worse than it was for men, so of course Mary’s a virgin. Sex has historically devalued women in a nearly irreparable way, and so a nonvirgin could not be held in such high regard by the Catholic Church.
The lasting and shameful mark of sex has impacted marriage too. Back in the day, marriage wasn’t quite the romantic affair it is now. It was more of a business transaction, if anything. The father gave away his daughter to the wealthiest man of good standing that he could find, and in return he received an upgrade in social status, the peace of mind that his daughter wouldn’t become a burdensome spinster, and even money.
Marriage was strategic. Forget love, if the man or woman was beneath the other’s class, the union likely didn’t happen. Of course, there were exceptions, and Liz and Darcy could tell you all about it, but they weren’t very common. The point of marriage was to increase your reputation, wealth, or property ownership (hence, the tradition of the woman taking the man’s last name, to label and designate property). As such, if a woman wasn’t a virgin at the time of the wedding, she was worth less. She was considered ruined and immoral and was of little value to a man or society.
But with the 20th century began a movement, a cultural shift toward greater freedom for women. Politically, they gained the right to vote, but societally they gained more independence as well. First, it was the flappers in the roaring ‘20s, with their short, “boyish” hair, heightened hemlines, and dramatic makeup (the real sign of a promiscuous gal). These ladies smoked, drank, danced, and — gasp — maybe even kissed men and did a little more. In the ‘60s, the decade known for love, the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation movements began. Women fought for greater access to contraceptives and abortion, a battle that continues, but not without the sting of “Slut!” or “Whore!” hurled in return.
Even today women can’t escape this taunt. If a woman likes sex and has a lot of it, she’s a “slut”; if she hasn’t had sex much or at all, even if she just doesn’t want to, she’s a “prude.” The top Urban Dictionary entry for “virginity” is, “What women are proud to have and men are ashamed of.” The disparity is blatant, indisputable, and unfair. And pair all that with the complexities and nuances of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and the concept of virginity becomes a convoluted and oppressive mess.
So, with such a history, why do we continue to use the word “virgin” and let it still carry such weight? It comes with baggage, and still to this day causes trouble for people of all genders. Whether it’s the embarrassment of having it, like in McLovin’s case, or the shame of not, as Olive Penderghast unrightfully experiences, it affects almost everyone at one point or another.
So many young people have high expectations, fear, and anxiety surrounding what they anticipate to be a momentous occasion. If you ask me, that puts far too much pressure on two people, on one moment. So why not lift some of that weight off? It doesn’t have to be “losing your virginity” (even the terminology itself suggests something negative), but it could just be “your first time,” simple as anything else. As complicated or uncomplicated as you want it to be, as big or little a deal you want it to be. The only thing it has to be is positive and consensual. The difference now is you define it.
Reach writer Kiley Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kileyabeck
We hope you’re enjoying our annual Sex Edition. While this special lines up with Valentine’s Day, we believe that it’s important to talk about sexuality, and all it entails, year-round. One of the best ways to practice sexual positivity is simply to talk about sex. Use this edition as a jumping-off point for discussion and further education.
Have fun, and stay safe!
Reach Special Sections Editor Alyson Podesta at email@example.com. Twitter: alyson_podesta