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Guest Opinion: Greater conversations to be had

BY GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Last week, an opinion piece written by Joseph Dobrian was published in the Press-Citizen. The piece, titled “Feminism Does Not Empower Women. It infantilizes them,” started a series of conversations on campus and throughout our community about sexual assault and feminism. We wish to offer a different opinion, one based on more accurate and intelligent understandings of feminism, sexual assault, and rape culture than the ones advanced by Dobrian.

Rather than responding point by point to Dobrian, thereby legitimizing his views, we believe that there are greater conversations to have. We seek to address the fundamental misunderstandings that motivate these comments. We wish to seize this opportunity to both educate the community and stand with our feminist brothers and sisters to create an inclusive and safe environment.

The first misunderstanding we want to call attention to is the concept of feminism itself. The “feminism” Dobrian speaks to in his comments is not an accurate representation. Feminism is a movement with many branches and a deep history, but the unifying theme is that women and men are unequivocally equal. Feminism is a positive response to outdated, harmful, and isolating concepts of gender and sexuality, and it improves the lot of men and women on this campus, in this community and far beyond. Feminism has empowered millions of men and women who would have otherwise suffered from dehumanizing social conventions. An idea that has had such an effect is undeniably a positive one and one that a thinking and caring community will rightly embrace.

The second misunderstanding deals with nonconsensual sex. Nonconsensual sex is rape. Period. Furthermore, blaming a sexual-assault survivors because they have been drinking is dangerous, irresponsible, and morally wrong. It is a fundamental legal and moral principle that the only person responsible for sexual assault is the perpetrator. When people choose to ignore this and claim that survivors are somehow responsible for the sexual crimes inflicted upon them, this legal and moral principle is undermined, and the whole of society suffers for it.

This brings us to the third misunderstanding, regarding the existence of rape culture. Rape culture — defined as a culture that normalizes and tolerates rape — clearly exists. We can see rape culture in the very fact that some segments of society still believe that survivors of sexual assault are responsible for their suffering. We can see rape culture in that, according to the Department of Justice, fewer than 5 percent of all rapes are actually reported for fear of shaming and victim blaming. We can see rape culture in that, according to the same Justice Department study, one in five college-age women and one in 16 college-age men will experience sexual assault. The existence of rape culture is not up for debate, and claiming otherwise is deeply offensive to survivors of sexual assault and the thinking, caring communities that they are part of.

With these points in mind, we want to help move the conversation forward. Whether we choose to see it or not, all people are negatively affected by sexual assault and a culture that tolerates it. We are confident that a community as vibrant and progressive as ours will be both willing and capable of working with us to create a safe, inclusive environment for all its members. We do not seek to lecture or scorn; rather, we seek to work constructively and effectively with both university and community leaders in order to effectively address the very real issue of sexual assault. We stand in solidarity with the thousands of compassionate and rational people in our community who know that feminism is about equality of the sexes, who recognize that non-consensual sex is always rape, and who are aware that rape culture exists and needs to be corrected.

We are confident in the ability of this community to swiftly identify and then effectively intervene in situations that may lead to sexual assault. We encourage all members of the community to take advantage of university educational programs such as Take Back the Night and It’s On Us, as well as the plethora of city resources such as the Crisis Center. Working together, we can end the problem of sexual assault and create a safe, inclusive, and tolerant society for the benefit of all.

It’s On Us, Iowa City.

By Oliver Hidalgo-Wohlleben and Kyra Seay on behalf of the UI Student Government. They thank Evan McCarthy, Rachel Zuckerman, Yeltsin Rodriguez, and all the members of UISG for their support and input for this opinion piece.


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