Final Reflection: A Post on Society & Sex

Upon being asked the question of what the most important and influential concept to understanding the relationship between sex and society covered in this semester, I began to think about all the different concepts talked and read about in class. When thinking about everything, I began to see connections between different terms that came up throughout the semester that were discussed that I had never seen before. The concepts are all fairly different, yet are all still related in some ways because of the manner that society has been formed over the years. Agents of socialization, sex education, social constructions, and heteronormativity have all become interconnected, creating an environment of hostility towards people who do not identify as heterosexual.

The agents of socialization people are exposed to impact their views on everything in life. However, their views on sex are affected more so than some other aspects of life are. The socialization of sex and sex education has a more prevalent impact on how a person forms their ideas and views on sex. The environment a person was raised in, their religion, schooling experience, family, friends, and the media all heavily influence the formation of what sex means and should mean to a person. But, this can be dangerous- with the amount of societal constructions (such as what “good” or “normal” sex is, gender, etc.)  that exist today, it is easy for the manner in which a person was socialized to negatively affect their views on sex or gender. For example, many religions do not condone homosexuality, so if someone is raised in that environment, it is likely they would judge and discriminate anyone who is homosexual.

SInce gender is a social construction, it easy to stereotype and discriminate against those who do not fit into the gender binaries that exist today (boy and girl). So, those who appear as  lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, or transgender are easily stereotypes and judged. The heteronormative ideals that are held by the majority of the people in this country also lead to stigmas and discrimination. When people who have other sexual orientations other than heterosexual, they are often mistreated by society and can even be susceptible to violence, sexual violence in particular (as seen in the video of the transgender man who used the bathroom of a New York McDonald and was beat for it by the manager, yet was charged for a misdemeanor when in actuality he was the victim ).

Over the years, this problem has perpetuated. It has become easier for discrimination and violence to occur without any repercussion on the perpetrator. The connections between these terms and these societal constructions and manifestations all lend to why society is as it is today and why people discriminate, act violently toward, and outcast nonheterosexual people. Having a good understanding of all these terms allows for a person too see the interconnectedness and understand why these horrible things occur. It allows for people to be aware of  the problem and not lend to it or be an enabler.

Project Safe for a safer campus

On November 17th this semester, our class welcomed a presentation from two guest speakers from Project Safe. I found this presentation to be one of the most influential presentations that we have witnessed thus far. The two women were extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to their roles in Project Safe and were extremely passionate, which provided for an enticing and engaging presentation. Project Safe, as defined by the guest speakers, is a center for sexual misconduct prevention and response. The mission of the center is to “provide information, support, referrals, and education about power-based personal violence (including sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking), as well as consent, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality to the Vanderbilt University community.”  Vanderbilt has been affected by many reported incidents of sexual assault and personal violence and so this presentation was extremely relevant to this campus and at this time. The guest speakers explained how the center serves as a resource for victims that can assist in finding he or she proper support through resources such as counseling and/or legal matters. The women described the issue of sexual assault on the campus by providing statistics regarding the number of personal violence incidents that have occurred on campus while respecting the confidentiality of the victims. The guest speakers provided insight on how crucial this center is to the campus in giving an idea of just how many victims they are approached by and how their jobs require availability for long hours of attending to and providing emotional support of the victim. A beneficial aspect of this presentation was the energy of the two women that spoke. Their dedication and passion that they have for Project Safe was obvious and inspiring. The women were also extremely helpful in answering questions that our class had for them at the end of the presentation. Our class asked questions such as about the rape scandal that occurred within our Vanderbilt Football team and the prevalence of the emails that we receive reporting sexual assaults on campus. I was especially curious about the emails that we receive about reported sexual assaults, as I wrote my op-ed piece on this topic. These emails are alarming in quantity and I wondered how many of the reported sexual assaults are represented in these emails and the criteria that an incident fits into in order for it to be sent out in an email to the campus student body. A limitation of this presentation might be that the two women could have provided an example of an incidence of sexual assault that had occurred on campus that might have been especially heinous in order to express the immensity of the problem that personal violence signifies in general. Although it is not necessary for the presentation, it might have added strength to the power of the audience reaction.

A connection that I made from this presentation was to many of the previous content we have covered involving sexual misconduct and sexual violence. This presentation reminded me of the exhibition, “I am Unbeatable” photographed by Donna Ferrato that we viewed in October in the Fine Arts Gallery. Seeing the images that portrayed acts of abuse from that exhibition left me with an unsettling feeling and an obvious disgust for this type of abuse. Project Safe aims to prevent acts of violence such as the ones exhibited by Donna Ferrato and provides a resource for victims of personal violence. With both the raised awareness by Donna Ferrato’s photograph and creation of this exhibition and the Project Safe center becoming more well-known and utilized, our nation can attempt to eliminate violence like this and emphasis the disgust that characterizes sexual and power-based personal violence.

An example that I felt related to this presentation of Project Safe is this image that I came across on the Internet.

This image is very informative and covers a wide range of statistics that are related to sexual violence and assault specifically at the University of Texas in Austin. As mentioned during the presentation and during many classes, one in five woman are sexually assaulted while in college. Many of these statistics are alarming and shocking. Eighty to ninety percent of assaults on college campuses involve victims that know their assailants. This relates to the question that the guest speakers addressed about the emails from VUPD that the student body receives informing us on sexual assaults on campus. Both women notified us that many people do not pay close enough attention to the wording and content in the email and should be aware that many emails specify whether or not the assault was considered an acquaintance or not. This might influence the perception of sexual assault on campus and may alleviate some fear that might stem from the fear of being assaulted by an unknown person wandering on campus. It also might promote wariness about those around us and to not trust all of our acquaintances and to be more alert on campus in general.  A key statistic in this image was that less than five percent of survivors report their crime. This statistic is one that is consistent with the guest speaker’s presentation and implies that the emails that the student body receives only accounts for reported assaults. With such a small percentage of assaults being reported, one can assume that sexual assault occurs quite a bit more frequently than we would infer from those emails.


Do you feel safe on this college campus?

Why do you think such a small percentage of survivors of sexual assault are actually reported?

Do you feel as if Project Safe would be a resource you would utilize if this situation arose for you?

The Power Exchange

Women’s bodies are exchanged in a way during transnational exchange that is very similar to that of international affairs. During this, women are frequently subjected to lives of discrimination, abuse, stereotype, objectification and many more. While trying to find identities in new countries, migrant workers tend to be more inclined to being objectified as women; in a world where surviving is the most important thing, how far will women allow themselves to be sexualized and objectified to stay alive?

A prime example we saw of women’s bodies being a source of exchange was in the Rape in the Fields video we watched in class. This documentary portrayed young undocumented workers coming to the United States in search for a job, yet finding themselves mistreated and abused in more ways than one. These female workers come to find a job, desperate for money they are willing to do whatever it takes to support their families. However, in the process, they are forced into nonconsensual sexual exchanges with their bosses. There is an informal power exchange occurring because these women do not feel as if they can stand up for themselves due to the positions they’re in. They have no real choice or autonomy over their bodies. In exchange for a job, female undocumented workers feel as if they need to surrender to the abuse and violation. It wasn’t until within the last ten to fifteen years where one woman decided to stand up for herself, her body, her dignity, and for women all over who don’t have a voice. She went to court to file charges against her boss. This was one of the first times the court systems responded to this sort of cry for help.

One may argue that anonymity gives women a chance to reclaim their sexual lives, but in the case of undocumented workers, anonymity makes them more vulnerable to abuse and violation. In Gonzalez Lopez’s article, the concept of capital femenino is discussed. And what is capital femenino you may ask? This notion views virginity as a commodity. Lopez introduces this term to explain how women and men assign higher or lower value to woman’s premarital virginity depending on the socioeconomic context in which they grow to maturity. Similar to the body of women, virginity of a woman is seen as an article of trade that helps women acquire a higher or lower value. As a result of this, women’s choices begin to be something that is overlooked and undermined. No longer do women have a say in how people perceive them and their decisions. Sex is what defines someone as a “woman”. During this, people’s expectations are not met and even worsened by sexual oppression. Although different from the power based violence we see in the Rape in the Fields video previously talked about, this concept of capital femenino and the notion that women’s bodies are up for exchange can also be seen as a power exchange. The power is now in outsiders to put forth their opinions and expectations on young females. They have the power to judge, accept or deny the bodies of a young woman. When women feel they have to be a certain way or obtain certain things to please those around them, power based objectification is taking place.

In Lee’s article of Filipina women in Lebanon, we once again see an exchange of power in this culture because other people are in control over Filipina women’s sexuality. There is a dispute where the ideas of “binit” versus “sharmuta” is juxtaposed. “Binit” is the “virgin” perception, whereas “sharmuta” is the whore perception. This creates an integral double standard which is intensified for the Filipina migrant workers. In this culture Filipina workers are highly sexualized, yet, their objectification is seen by them not being allowed to leave their home except on Sundays. On Sundays, however, they are finally allowed to leave their homes…but during this time they take the opportunity to over sexualize themselves. In a society of being told what to do, power is seen through exchange of control. These women are being controlled, told what they can and cannot do, and thus feel the need to over sexualize themselves.

We live in a world today where men’s absolute fixation on women’s bodies undermines their ability to see women as anything other than objects for their consumption. Talents, interests, achievements of the female is overlooked and we’re allowing men to get away with it. On a global scale we see how often women’s sexuality is seen as a source of capital. Sexuality is bought, sold and exchanged although sometimes not consensually. We see how body and race plays a part in sexuality and work through the lives of undocumented farm workers, Filipino workers in Lebanon and women all around the world. In transnational exchange of women’s bodies, we see how they are traded in a way similar to international trade and we see how women are objectified, abused, violated and discriminated towards as a result.

Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Sexualities

Women who identify as members of a diaspora culture in lieu of a member of the host nation are subjects of discriminatory treatment based on race. Racial hierarchies and hierarchies surrounding the idea of virginity are constructed to control these women through their sexualities. In a few cases, immigrating has provided these women a heightened state of sexual subjectivity and freedom. For the majority, however, moving to a new area (especially for labor purposes) makes these women subject to sexual harassment and violence. Some diaspora bodies, particularly Filipina and Latina women, are historically viewed as more desirable than others, which in turn causes them to be more regulated than bodies of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Filipina live-in maids are viewed in a different sexual lens than their Ethiopian and Sri Lankan counterparts in Lebanon. According to Cynthia, a Lebanese madame interviewed by Hayeon Lee, “There are people who prefer a white girl… and the children aren’t afraid of them.” By “white girl,” Cynthia is referring to a Filipina woman. By equating the Filipina ethnicity to “whiteness”, these bodies are thrust upon a pedestal and are therefore more desired than many other races of women in Lebanon. In Lee’s article, a Lebanese employer known as Muhammad confirms this by saying, “In Lebanon, they say they [Filipinas] are [sexually] easy.”

The idea that Filipina women are “easy” allows the Lebanese madames and employers enforce strict rules to ensure that these bodies are controlled, thus minimizing the sexual subjectivity of these women. Lee’s article talks about how the majority of Filipina live-in maids are refused the right to go out on their days off. Madames and employers claim that this is for the safety and protection of the maid, and by extension, the entire household. They assert that they know about the tendencies of Lebanese men, and fear that, if they let their Filipina live-in maids go out on their own, they will eventually return pregnant or with an STI. This assumption is not only unfair to the Filipina employees, but it promotes stereotypes that these women are hypersexualized beings that would only desire leaving their home for the thrill of sexual promiscuity.

Hispanic women in the United States also face extremely increased risks of sexual assault. The documentary “Rape in the Fields” explains that their superiors are sexually assaulting an unprecedented number of female migrant workers. These women feel as though they are unable to report their rapes for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is due to their fear of deportation. A majority of these women are undocumented workers. If they make their presence known to American authorities, they run the risk of being sent away. A far more immediate reason almost all of these women stay silent about their rapes is that their rapists threaten to kill them if they report. Their assaulters most likely know about their illegal status and can surmise that they are likely alone in the country, and use that power to their advantage.

What is so troubling about the “Rape in the Fields” documentary is that, in my opinion, sever human rights violations are being committed, yet justice is almost never served do to the low status of these women in the United States. As members of a diaspora culture, Hispanic women have no support system to turn to in the all too likely event of sexual assault. The fact that these women are scared into silence is creating a completely counterproductive culture and further alienating them as second-class people in this country.

Ethnicity and racial hierarchy play an important role in determining the sexual subjectivity of women identifying with a diaspora culture. Because Filipina women are viewed as the “white” alternative to some other ethnic communities within Lebanon, they are often characterized both as the “best” type of live-in maid, yet also the most sexually promiscuous (and thus, a liability). The label of a liability allows Lebanese employers to enforce harsh restrictions on the activities of their Filipina maids, which in turn lessens the prospects of mobility within their communities. In a similar manner, the sexual subjectivity of Hispanic women, especially agricultural migrant workers, is almost non existent. The American legal system’s complete oversight of sexual assault among Hispanic women as created an extremely hostile work environment where their bodies are only viewed for pleasure.

What can the American legal system do, if anything to protect the rights of Hispanic women? How can Filipina women in Lebanon be seen as equal in the eyes of the patriarchal country?

What’s Sex Got to Do With… Janay Palmer Rice

Since that fateful elevator ride on February 15, 2014, Janay Rice has been at the center of a national discussion about domestic violence and, more specifically, how high profile cases are dealt with. I will provide a quick history of her and now husband (fiance at the time of the incident) Ray Rice’s assault case. Both Rice and Palmer were charged with domestic violence after a video was released of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an Atlantic City elevator (2/15/14). The Baltimore Ravens tweeted that the charges were “serious”. Rice was indicted on charges of third degree aggravated assault (3/27/14). Rice and Palmer marry (3/28/14). Rice is suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season (7/25/14). Additional footage released by TMZ shows Rice punching Palmer (9/8/14). This footage may or may not have been available to the NFL the entire time. The Baltimore Ravens release Rice from his contract and he is suspended from the NFL. Rice wins an appeal and is eligible to sign with any NFL team (11/28/14). The suspension and reinstatement through a technicality could be the subject of an entire post itself, but one of the often overlooked components of this case is the apology that Janay Rice had to give.

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