Sex Talk in Song Then and Now: What Do You Remember Hearing?


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This is the first semester of my doctoral studies at Emory University and I have the good fortune of serving as a teaching assistant for Religion & Sexuality. This undergraduate-level course is all about, you guessed it, religion and sexuality and the many ways they are related. Students study the main religious traditions perspectives on sexuality, significant thinkers in the disciplines, media coverage and pop culture. Keeping in line with the latter, yesterday the professor started to dive deep into this discourse by focusing on Freud and Foucault. But, so as not to completely lose the students due to the denseness of these two thinkers matter, he offered a more contemporary resource to help them understand what is at stake in discourses on sex by using, wait for it…

Yes, Salt-n-Pepa’s 1991 hit supplemented a discussion on Foucault’s discourse on sex in the Victorian age and I was here for it. But as the video played and I surveyed the room to observe its reception, I saw many of the students just staring at it blankly. It hit me that no one in the classroom except for me, the other teaching assistant, and the professor, was born when the song dropped. I was 11 when the song came out and I remember it as the first song I’d ever heard that explicitly talked about sex. The students in the class weren’t even zygotes in 1991 and I realized that, to them, a song that explicitly talks about sex could mean something entirely different.

When I say “explicitly talked about sex” I mean that sex talk in song was direct and not reliant on the oftentimes hyper-aggressive, hostile, violent, and sometimes rape-y sex talk in songs today. The students’s experience of sex talk in song is most likely different from my experience of sex talk in the songs that I came of age to such as Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up,” and TLC’s “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” all songs which spoke about sex in plain terms–although the argument can be made that these songs were pushing boundaries at the time. These songs were still tame in nature, didn’t use potentially harmful language, and promoted safe sex either explicitly in the lyrics on in their corresponding videos. This, however, is probably not the reality for young people who were born in 1994–the approximate year I believe most of the students were born in–because by 2005, the sex talk in song sounded something like this,

I’ll take you to the candy shop
I’ll let you lick the lollipop
Go ‘head girl, don’t you stop
Keep going ’til you hit the spot (woah)
I’ll take you to the candy shop
Boy one taste of what I got
I’ll have you spending all you got
Keep going ’til you hit the spot (woah)

That is an excerpt from 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” a song that was number eight on Billboard’s 2005 Year-End list. But this still might not be the first song with sex talk that they’ve heard. There may have been something earlier or later but I’m curious about what they first heard and how that formed–or didn’t form them. And now I’m curious about what many people first heard and how that formed–or didn’t form them. So I’m throwing the query out to readers,

What is the first song you recall hearing sex talk in or the first song you heard that was all about sex? How did the song make you feel? What did it make you think about sex? Also be sure to include the approximate decade in which you were born and when the song came out. I may or may not be using this for research.😉

So…Let’s talk about sex!

Zack Anderson, the Statutory Rape Exception?


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***TRIGGER WARNING**** The following may or may not trigger victims of sexual violence. The news story that follows is not meant to support sexual offenders as we know that, but to generate a conversation about the laws surrounding particular incidents involving sex.

zackandersonThis is Zack Anderson, a 19-year-old from Elkhart, Indiana who was recently placed on the Sex Offender Registry in Indiana and Michigan. Problem is, Anderson doesn’t belong on the sex offender list.

Anderson landed on this list after an encounter with a young woman he met on the dating app “Hot or Not.” The girl lived just across the state line in Michigan and posed as a 17-year-old. Anderson and the girl met and had consensual sex but afterwards it was discovered that the girl was 14-years-old which means that Anderson, unbeknownst to him in the moment, committed statutory rape. (Statutory rape laws in Michigan state that, “Third-degree criminal sexual conduct is sexual penetration with someone between age 13 and 16.” Statutory rape laws for Indiana state that, “Sexual misconduct with a minor if a person at least age 18 engages in sexual intercourse with a child between ages 14 and 16.”)

Now Anderson faces a 90-day jail sentence, five years probation and placed on both Indiana and Michigan’s sex offender registry for the next 25 years. The girl and her parents attended his court date and declared that he shouldn’t be punished for her wrongdoing but the law remains. To top it off, the judge expressed disdain for the fact that Anderson used the Internet to meet girls saying, “That seems to be part of our culture now. “Meet, have sex, hook up, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.” Those of us who use the Internet to connect, platonic and romantically, know that there is more than an excuse, there is a reason for this method of communication and meeting, but that is neither here nor there at the moment and the judge probably could have withheld his opinion on that. The real issue at hand is what to do in a statutory rape case when your victim lies and she–or he–comes forward to confess that lie and there is evidence of that lie–in this case maybe there is evidence through archived webpages of her dating profile that show her misrepresenting herself and her age.

Lying about one’s age on a dating app is an occurrence as old as time. So what are the consequences for lying about one’s age in a situation that could do harm and damage to the other person’s life? (And really, though Anderson is the only one being explicitly punished, I’m willing to bet that the girl may endure another kind of punishment if only through guilt.)

Nevertheless, because of this young woman’s lie Anderson’s life will never be the same. He has the jail sentence, the probation, the sex offender registry, and he can’t live or go near his parent’s house because he has a 15-year-old brother all because of a lie. I’ve been wracking my brain to see how this might be justified but I just don’t see it. Even as I write this I’m thinking, “But what if this is all I setup? What if his parents paid hers to come forward and state that she lied?” On one hand I want to believe this young man’s account because I want to believe that not every young man is a factory of raging hormones looking for a release by any means necessary–a nod to a Camille Paglia. On the other hand I’m fully aware that with our culture, a culture where rape culture is persistent and men get away with all manner of evil while we either silence or shame the women involved, the alternative storyline that I’ve conjured in my mind could also be possible. But I want to look at this case considering the evidence we have before us which is, literally, the testimony of Anderson and the girl’s admission and apology.

Say we take Anderson’s account at face value as well as the confession of the girl.

Say all of it is true.

Should the statutory rape law be upheld? Why?

Should there be an exception to the law if the victim confesses to deceitful behavior?

Should the victim be punished? Why? How? 

I’m very curious to hear perspectives across the board.

In a few days I’d like to follow-up on a few other issues that I can’t yet cover in this post which will include results from the questions above as well as the poll attached and why I am actually against the sex offender list in general. Until then, I look forward to sharing dialogue with people on the present case.

#TheEmptyChair: The Numbers Behind NY Mag’s Cosby Accuser Cover


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cosby-nymag-cover-1Last night the cover for New York magazine’s issue featuring the stories of 35 of the women raped by Bill Cosby dropped and it left many, myself included, shaken to our cores. The black & white cover, pictured below, features the 35 women and an empty chair symbolic of the women who have yet to come forward. I only read two of the accounts before turning away from it because it was just too heavy but I couldn’t escape it as #TheEmptyChair became a trending discussion on Twitter last night.

There are so many empty chairs. Not only the empty chairs in the Cosby situation but empty chairs in general for the countless number of women who have yet to come forward, report their rape, and share their story. To put some weight on an already heavy story I’d like to share some numbers that, once I saw them, I could not unsee them.

A Department of Justice report on rape indicates that for every white woman who reports her rape, five don’t and for every black woman who reports her rape, 15 don’t. Taking those numbers and applying them to this cover to determine the potential number of empty chairs we would end up with approximately 220 empty chairs. That’s 220 unreported incidents of sexual violence against women. 220 stories never told. 220 women still bound by their captors even though their captors have long left them. The trauma that women face after sexual violence remains with them long after their abusers have left the side of the bed, room, the dark alley, the bathroom, and every other domain where sexual violence occurs. Even a story told does not remove the memory and the trauma but for those who are brave enough to come forward it starts them on the process toward healing. But there are at least 220 empty chairs out there that may never be filled which means there are women who may never find any semblance of peace, healing, and wholeness. Though we can proclaim that they are not what happened to them it is what happened to them that is keeping them silent.

It is my hope that women who have yet to sit in the chair will be encouraged not only by the 34 women on this week’s cover but that they will also be encouraged by the scores of people, myself included, who believe and support them. Even though I don’t see you, I want you to know that you are seen. Even though you haven’t spoken, I hear you. Until then, I pray for peace in the midst of this storm and for your courage to come forward at the right time for you. Know that there is no statute of limitation on your freedom and recovery so whenever you do come forward–whether within the ridiculous limits of our legal system or not–freedom and wholeness are there for the taking. Also, until then:

And for those of you have who have come forward, particularly those who were courageous enough to come out on the cover, I will honor you and read your story. Thank you for your courage.

Bill Cosby, Christian Silence, and Rape Culture Perpetuation

Recently I was in search of inspiration and I needed to start my day with a word of inspiration or at least a couple of good songs. So I turned to the local gospel station to find the Yolanda Adams Morning Show in full swing. Adams, like many over the past few days, talked about Bill Cosby’s deposition, in which he confessed to purchasing drugs to drug women for sex. Adams, instead of talking about how problematic Cosby’s action were, asked why a woman would go to a married man’s hotel room. She tried to deflect by saying that she wasn’t condoning what Cosby did but that it still remains that the women shouldn’t have visited the room of a married man in the first place. Following her comment others on the show chimed in to talk about what they felt were the missing pieces in the situation and one man even remarked about how, when he saw Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine years ago, he was just so inspiration. After they finished bloviating they moved on and so did I. My hope for inspiration was dashed away by everything they didn’t say and so I turned my attention elsewhere, specifically to Big Sean’s “Dark Sky Paradise.”

I didn’t turn on the radio to hear what Yolanda Adams and friends had to say about Bill Cosby but since they decided to speak, I hoped they would speak correctly about the situation. I haven’t even talked much, publicly, about Cosby because I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s an expedient use of my time and voice. But as the days wear on and more information is revealed and I see how people are processing it, I realize that I can’t remain silent. I can’t remain silent because there are so many women who remain silent and even now their silence is being eclipsed by those who choose not to see situations, such as the one we are currently watching unfold with Cosby, as a cause for concern. Silence is a huge part of the issue of hand with Cosby, scores of sexual abusers, and the abused.

When you do a search for Christian websites who have covered the latest news on the Cosby situation you come up with nothing. They aren’t talking about the fact that he confessed to purchasing the drugs; they aren’t talking about the fact that he used the drugs and his power to sexually abuse women; they aren’t talking about the problem with the people who, only now, believe he raped the women because of the deposition; they aren’t talking about anything. Yet, these same sites that are quick to talk about the implication of the SCOTUS’s same-sex marriage ruling. They are also the same sites that publish endless articles about pre-marital sex and other people’s sex and sexuality, but given the opportunity to talk about sexual violence they remain silent on the issue more often than not. They fail to realize that sex is an issue of social justice  which means that sexual abuse is a stifling of that justice. Christian silence on the matter suggests that the only sex we ought to care about is consensual sex between married and unmarried people or non-consensual sex between pastoral authority figures and those under their care; i.e. Catholic priests, youth pastors, senior pastors, and others in roles of power. Yes I said it. There’s no problem publishing articles on these men, but usually in doing this, the women, the victims, are left behind. Christian silence on Cosby, also suggests that maintaining the pristine image of the fictional figure of Cosby in American consciousness deserves more attention than the heinous crimes he committed.

I’ve heard some people remark about the loss of one of America’s greatest father figures and, as most of us know, Cosby’s confession has led to several networks pulling “Cosby” and “The Cosby Show” off the air. My problem with this is that it isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I will suffer the loss of a fictional figure if it means that, in reality, a woman gains her wholeness back. Since the allegations against Cosby started, many questioned his victims accounts. I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess that, initially, I was skeptical about the veracity of the multiple victims’s claims. I understand that for many it was hard to believe that our fictional father, the lover of Jell-O pudding pops, the funny guy with the ugly sweaters, was guilty of raping countless women. He has lived as a moral exemplar in our consciousness for so long–for at least as long as I’ve been on this earth. So, for at least 34 years, Bill Cosby has been a moral exemplar for dads all over the world and his family has been the template for every wannabe perfect black family.

So I get it, given this it was hard to strip him of his illustrious title when the allegations broke. But this is also the problem with our culture, we exalt public figures to god-like status and sometimes conflate their fictional selves with their actual selves if they’ve graced our television screens for long enough to leave a mark.

(SN regarding the show: What we ought to grieve, if we grieve anything connected to the show, is the fact that people are so blithely unaware of the affirmation of patriarchal values implied in taking the show off the air. By this I am suggesting that taking the show off the air communicates that the most important person on the show was Bill Cosby/Cliff Huxtable and it discounts the power and value of the influential female leads. Personally I learned a whole lot more from Claire than I did Cliff, so I hate the idea of killing Claire with Cliff. I believe her legacy in black consciousness is just as strong and worth keeping the show in syndication.)

Back to the lecture at hand: To grieve the loss of Cosby the fictional dad before you part your lips to say a word about the matter of rape culture that pervades this entire situation is to idolize the man and sin against your brother and your sister. The idol must be destroyed and the people, the victims, must be built up. But first, people have to admit that rape culture is the most important issue at hand here and that it must be talked about.

A few people got the Cosby story right by calling it what it is, “Rape Culture.” In this context rape culture is, as public intellectual Marc Lamont Hill states, “NEEDING Cosby to admit he’s guilty before we believe it.” Rape culture is more news headlines saying nothing about rape in their coverage of the Cosby case. Rape culture is putting a statute of limitation on the amount of time a woman has to report her sexual assault before no legal action can be taken or it won’t be taken seriously. Rape culture is every action that gives more power, even if only rhetorical, to the rapist over caring for the victim. And finally, rape culture is every Christian who is silent on this or thinks that the discussion of rape culture within the context of Cosby case is a distraction. I’m here to say it is far from a distraction if you consider the sheer volume of sexually abused bodies that line church pews Sunday after Sunday. Given this, talking about Bill Cosby without talking about rape culture is the real distraction. And continuing to be silent and/or talk about the wrong thing in cases like these will only serve to further wound the wounded.

Defending “Descent”: On Cinematic Rape and Retribution


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Disclaimer: One, SPOILER ALERT: The conclusion of Descent starring Rosario Dawson is given away here so if you’d prefer not to have this spoiler you may want look away now, but I encourage you stay for it is that conclusion which paves the way for my broader analysis. Two, TRIGGER ALERT: This post touches on the topic of rape which may be touchy subject for some because of their direct or indirect experience with this form of violence. I encourage you–if you can–to stay and read and add voice to this discussion so that it may be full and not lacking in perspective. Three, this post was from a year and a half ago but my perspective on the matter still remains, for the most part. Thank you for reading.

This weekend I watched a man get raped by another man and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was in a film entitled Descent in which Rosario Dawson plays a college woman who gets raped by a man whom she thought was a potential suitor and exacts revenge by planning for the perpetrator to get raped by another man. I watched the film with a close male friend whom, during the rape scene between the two men, turned  to look at me a several times and each time my eyes were glued to the screen. He couldn’t draw my attention away from it. It was 10 minutes of violent thrusting, name-calling, and shaming and I could not be moved to either talk about how excessive it might have been or turn it off all together. After the film was over I sat on my couch in silence with my eyes still hooked on the television screen. My heart was beating quickly and my mind was running a million miles per minute. My friend commented on how excessive he thought the rape scene was and all I could remember saying is that it made sense. He repeated that he felt it was excessive for the film and still I repeated, “It makes sense.”

My logic throughout the 10 minute rape scene and in conversation with my friend was that for decades we have watched women get raped in film and on television. I watched Kristy Swanson’s character Kristen get raped in John Singleton’s college campus drama Higher Learning. In the second season of a Different World Freddie Brooks almost gets raped by her date Garth Parks. I watched Buffy almost get raped by Spike. In Gossip Girl I watched Chuck Bass attempt to rape two women in one episode. In For Colored Girls Only, Yasmine/Yellow gets raped by a man whom she thought was a potential suitor. There is the rape scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange which is edited out in most versions. I also hear that there is a rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in which the main female character gets raped through sodomy. When I saw each of these movies or television shows I didn’t anticipate having to sit through a rape scene, but alas I did. And sadly, these movies don’t add up to even half of the movies with rape scenes in them.

Countless are the movies and television shows in which women get raped or are in another way sexually assaulted. As a woman, I am almost too used seeing other women get defiled in the media either through the dramatic portrayal of rape, sexual assault, or through the popular coerced or voluntary objectification of women in music videos. But when I watched the rape revenge in Descent I felt something. Maybe it was redemption for all the years of women being raped in cinema and real life. To be clear, I don’t believe in this type of personal retributive justice, because in the end it most likely will not resolve anything. This is illustrated in Descent‘s final scene as Dawson turns toward the man raping her assailant and, with tears in her eyes, silently conveys that this is no revenge at all. One reviewer of the movie, called it a demagogic feminist exploitation revenge drama, but to do so is to misunderstand the project of feminism which is not employed well in this film. For it to be a true demagogic feminist exploitation revenge, the movie would not end with the man in power but would end with Dawson’s character reclaiming herself. I believe the true feminist revenge is to not let rape define and shape you into anything other than a woman who reclaims herself–but maybe I have just been reading too much Camille Paglia and the movie does indeed represent feminist revenge.

But, lest I get too far away from my original point, I do think watching that scene, unwilling to turn my eyes away from it, made me much more certain that personal retributive justice is not what I believe in. I derived no pleasure from the scene but in refusing to take my eyes off of it, even when my friend tried to divert me, was me implicitly saying, “Sit through this, get comfortable with it,” because I have gotten comfortable with rape over the years. And yes, I admit that is part of this, that I wanted a male to sit through a scene of another male getting raped without averting his gaze, I wanted him to be comfortable with it. The day after I asked my friend if his maleness affected his ability to accept the prolonged rape scene to which he said it didn’t, he just believes that it was excessive in film and not right in reality. We also had a conversation about the possibility of females being a little more open to watching it unhindered because it could serve as cinematic redemption to the pervasive rape culture. We have no answer to the aforementioned query.

So maybe my reaction was my own and not representative of what many women might find agreeable, but I am curious to know if there are any women or men out there who may find this type of revenge dramatically portrayed helpful or harmful to rape culture as we know it? If you have seen Descent what might you suggest as an alternative ending? If you are a feminist or a womanist–because I can’t neglect that a part of this film was the power dynamic between this white man and Dawson’s “ethnically ambiguous” self which he insulted during the rape–what is your response to this film? And, generally speaking, what do we make of the rape in cinema, its prevalence, its portrayal of the act, the power dynamic, etc?

Previously published on my mixed topic blog, The Intellectual Wallflower.

Video: How to Stay A Virgin


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Things have been fairly heavy on Sex & the Sanctuary so I figured I’d lighten things up a bit on this Humpday. Earlier this week I asked on Facebook how people who have committed to abstinence, either as a premarital principle or for another reason, maintain that commitment. I wanted to know the practical and impractical measures people take to remain chaste. Unfortunately only one person responded with the tip that she stops shaving and waxing “the naughty bits.” I was disappointed because I know I have friends who are practicing abstinence but another friend alerted me to the fact that my question might be a little more complex than I realize–and also that people might not feel comfortable answering that question in a public space. Point taken.

Interestingly enough though, a response to my question landed in my inbox yesterday. Granted this isn’t a direct response–I don’t know this guy in real or virtual life–and he is addressing a young woman who is a virgin, but I do appreciate his advice to her. It isn’t the Evangelical Christian clichés rattled off to young people about remaining chaste–which means it isn’t full of that rhetoric. It’s real, practical advice guided by one person’s experience and a good sense of humor.  So here it is:

What do you think? Are daytime dates and unshaven naughty bits what you would suggest to someone? If you or someone you know is abstinent or celibate, how is that personal commitment maintained? What are the practical measures taken to remain abstinent if such a lifestyle is chosen? (There is no wrong answer, additional I’m not an undercover agent for Purity Culture or Pro-Abstinence, I’m just a writer/researcher interested in the topic and what people really do when they are abstinent.)

Rape Culture, Rape, and the Privileged Voices, Pt. 2


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In part one I used Total Sorority Move’s article entitled, “Is It Possible that There is Something Between Consensual Sex and Rape” to discuss what I have observed as something of a trend in rape culture discourse. I explained how race may color one’s interpretation of sexual assault and alluded to the privileged voices that have dominated in the discussion. In this, part two, I will discuss the alluded to privileged voices and the problem with said voices, highlight work being done to give marginalized voices some capital in the discussion, and share my suggestion for another way.

Lena Dunham is Not That Kind of GirlThe second article that was the impetus for this discourse is actually several articles all about Lena Dunham’s account of a sexual assault in college which appears in her memoir “Not that Kind of Girl.” In her retelling Dunham arrives at a party drunk and high and meets a “creepy guy” whom she manages to give her address. She leaves the party and runs into a friend in the parking lot who attempts to dissuade her from going home with the guy but she refuses. According to Dunham, when she gets home she tries to convince herself that she is willingly having sex with the guy and starts to have sex with him until she realizes that the condom that was supposed to be on his penis was instead hanging from a decorative tree. At the sight of this she flees to her couch, tells him to go and that was the end of it. The next morning, when she tells her roommate about the situation, her roommate lets her know that she was raped. Dunham laughs it off but then it settles in for her, changing everything she thought she knew about rape and now it is contributing to the discourse about college campus sexual assault. This account from her memoir has been making its rounds:

“Why It Matters that Lena Dunham Wrote About Being Raped in College”

“Lena Dunham’s Story of Rape is a Must-Read”

“Why Every Feminist Needs to Read Lena Dunham’s Description of Her Rape”

“Lena Dunham: Not All Rapists Are Straight-Forward Villains”

“Lena Dunham: I Was Raped By a Republican”

“Lena Dunham Discovers Ambiguity”

And the list goes on.

I saw Dunham’s story within minutes of reading Total Sorority Move article mentioned in part one, so this may have influenced my reading. But here I was again reading about a young white women caught in a precarious situation with a man, trying to convince herself that she was either comfortable or willingly having sex with him. Unlike the Total Sorority Move story Dunham took action and told the man to get off her as soon as she realized that he wasn’t wearing a condom. Dunham also stated that the man was sexually aggressive toward her–although I will be honest that I’m not sure how you can discern that when you are both drunk and high. I’ve been drunk a few times and high once and I can say, under either circumstance, I wasn’t always sure what was going on around me. Being drunk impairs physical and mental faculties and being high alters your state of consciousness, so being drunk AND high and still discerning someone’s intention/actions toward you seems questionable. Nevertheless there are some facts in Dunham’s story that could render it true and a case of rape as we have come to know it in campus sexual assault incidents, but there are also some facts that make me question the story’s veracity. I wonder why–if she could sense that this guy was creepy and sexually aggressive and a Republican–she denied the help of a friend who tried to stop her? Was that not her ram in the bush? And had she not seen the condom hanging from the tree would she have continued in the encounter? Again I’m confused by the details of the story, what exactly makes it rape, and further what makes narrative accounts of this kind stand out in the public consciousness. Indeed we must be made aware of the sexual violence against women, but it seems that there is a privileging of narratives and those narratives that we lift up also happen to be from, primarily, from white women.

White women’s voices have long been privileged and the catalyst for change as well as, unfortunately, great hostility and violence. History proves this with the case of Emmet Till who, on a family visit to Mississippi, spoke to a white woman, was accused of flirting with her, and then was beaten and shot by her husband and his half-brother. The story of the Rosewood massacre has Fannie Taylor who had a domestic violence altercation with her husband that was heard by the neighborhood but she accused a black man of raping her. The cinematic portrayal of the Rosewood massacre, “Rosewood,” had Fannie run out of her house screaming, “It was a nigger!” This set the town against their black neighbors and caused tensions to flare to violent, destructive levels. Even Tyler Perry has illustrated the power of white women’s voices when, in his 2007 film “Daddy’s Little Girls,” Monty (played by Idris Elba) a single father is haunted and socially stymied by a rape accusation made against him in high school by a white girl whom he was having consensual sex with. I bring these examples up not to accuse white women of lying about their accounts of sexual assault but to illustrate the power their voices have had and have for a long time. Their word is bond before it is ever wrong. We know a white woman claimed to have started the #bringbackourgirls campaign and was believed without question when it was actually a global campaign that originated in Abuja, Nigeria. But far from highlighting negative accounts, there are also the positive accounts of white women coming to the defense of black people being discriminated against in public places–there’s an Upworthy video for that. White women’s voices have power for both good and evil, and while I respect the power wielded for good, I also want the world to recognize, hear, and acknowledge the voices that have been marginalized. Room must be made for a multitude of voices as we continue these discussions about rape culture and non/consensual sex. In this, black voices must be heard because black female bodies and the narratives of their sexual assault matter just as much as that black male bodies being taken nearly every day by force.

black_women_and_violenceIn almost any context sexual violence is hard to talk about, but it is black women who bear a particular burden with the issue because of the manifold ways in which our bodies have been exploited, objectified, and subjugated. In a 2012 article on entitled, “Black Women, Sexual Assault, and the Art of Resistance,” a statistic from the Department of Justice was shared that stated for every white woman who reports her rape, 5 don’t but for every African-American woman who reports her rape, 15 don’t. There are manifold reasons for this silence, many of which are connected to long-held, unhealthy cultural traditions. For example, some of us live under the “it’s family business” regime and therefore we keep our stories to ourselves lest we throw family members, friends, and others under the symbolic bus. Or there are the manifold cases of young women abused by family members who confess to their mothers, grandmothers, aunts or other female guardian only to be told they were lying, “fast-tailed” and then are summarily shipped away. But it is important for us to reveal and tell our stories not just for our freedom but to add color to a largely monochromatic discourse. There is (at least) one group doing just that.

In August, writer, performer, storyteller and teaching artist Michelle Denise Jackson knows a lot of black women whose lives revolve around some account of sexual assault in their childhood or during young adulthood and how black women’s sexual assault narratives are profuse but it is not a part of the larger discussions we have regarding sexual assault. Last Tuesday on, Jackson returned to the subject of Black women’s experience with sexual assault to promote the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an organization established by the black feminist organization Black Women’s Blueprint, to focus on rape/sexual assault and its effects specifically on women of African descent. The BWTRC is aiming to collect 1,000 stories from black women about how sexual assault has impacted their lives on every level and the impetus for this new initiative is precisely because the many dialogues about sexual assault fail to account for the specific ways in which the crime affects black women. And this is not the only group that is providing space for black women to share their stories of sexual assault and survival nor is it the first time a black woman’s group is stepping up to the anti-rape debate. Black women have been at the forefront of anti-rape activism and can count amongst their leaders, Rosa Parks, who did work to lead African-American women’s public protests that galvanized local, national and even international outrage and sparked larger campaigns for racial justice and human dignity. We need to get back to the place where black women’s voices on this matter have as much strength and credibility as their white female peers.

My desire is that discourse regarding sexual violence, from rape to nonconsensual sex and the areas in between, would be an inclusive dialogue. That every time we come to the table to talk about sexual assault, a multitude of voices would be present that represent the diversity of women’s experience with this crime. The Lena Dunhams, white sorority girls, and white women of the world can’t be dominant in sexual assault narratives, and the narratives of black women can’t be relegated to the margins. The establishment of the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is surely a start in the right direction, but we also need to work on forming multicultural alliances that facilitate a more in-depth understanding of how sexual violence affects women in the broader sense so that policies created touch those women and not just answer the cries of the privileged. We can no longer work with the assumption that all sexual violence is experienced the same (which, I understand may also bank on me acknowledging that the accounts from Dunham and the white sorority girl are valid because those are particular experiences of sexual assault that took something away from those women.) There are cultural differences that influence understandings of sexual assault and those differences need to be brought to the forefront for everyone to acknowledge and understand. We need an alliance that explicitly calls for the integration of women’s stories of sexual assault that will both reveal and allow for cross-cultural understandings of the many faces and experiences of sexual assault. It’s time for us to make clear space for women of all races and ethnicities to come together and share their stories in ways that refuse to privilege any one story. Because if any decision is going to be made about women’s bodies all women must be taken into account.

For more information on organizations that focus on rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, and other sex-related crimes visit:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

The Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Page


Rape Culture, Race, and the Privileged Voices, Pt. 1


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Disclaimer: I understand that by writing this many may interpret this work as me victim blaming and/or shaming, that isn’t my intention. My intention is to start a dialogue on an issue that has confused to me, namely how we define rape and nonconsensual sex in the midst of a society consumed by rape culture. My impetus for this discussion are two stories that I came across in recent weeks which made me question not only what I understand about rape and non-consensual sex but who is dominating those discussions and shifting perspectives on the matter. I will take up this discussion in two parts, the first of which is below and the second which will be published tomorrow–I promise.

**********TRIGGER WARNING**********

The first article entitled “Is It Possible That There Is Something in Between Consensual Sex and Rape…And That It Happens to Almost Every Girl Out There?” details a sexual encounter between two people who had spent a substantial amount of time drinking together. The young woman went home with the young man, in the morning she ended up in his bedroom where they had a heart-to-heart discussion, and then things went seemingly downhill from there. While they were talking the young man said, “I feel like you want me to make a move, just so you can turn me down.” And following those words they began to make out and making out escalated into sex. Here is how she describes it,

Before I even had a chance to decide if he was right, we were making out. In my state of extreme intoxication, my mind was racing in search of a decision. This was exciting. This was fun. But this was also really, really weird, and ultimately, not a road I wanted to go down. I couldn’t decide if the excitement and lust in the air would win over the pit in my stomach. It wasn’t until he grabbed a condom that I really knew how I felt. I was not okay with this. I did not want to have sex with him.

But I did.

She goes on to describe the internal conflict she had throughout the entire encounter, wrestling with the fact that she was uncomfortable with the situation but conceding to it. She says,

It was easier to just do it. Besides, we were already in bed, and this is what people in bed do. I felt an obligation, a duty to go through with it. I felt guilty for not wanting to. I wasn’t a virgin. I’d done this before. It shouldn’t have been a big deal–it’s just sex–so I didn’t want to make it one.

It is in retrospect that she realizes that what happened to her may have been a violation to her. She struggled with this because there are no clear words for what happened, it wasn’t rape but it wasn’t consensual sex either and thus it is complicated. She is telling her story to shed light on something that she believes happens all the time to women and as she states in the article, many women replied in the affirmative that they had similar experiences with men. Thus she concludes with this,

It happens to us with consistent hookups, first dates, boyfriends, and one-night stands alike. We have sex with guys, because sometimes it’s just easier to do it than to have the argument about not doing it. But no one talks about it. Talking about it makes it a big deal. It makes us feel like we’re whining. It makes us feel like we’re being dramatic. And we don’t want it to be dramatic. We don’t feel entirely violated. It doesn’t affect us forever. We just feel like we got the short end of the stick, and that sometimes, we have to do something we don’t want to do, out of politeness or social obligation. So why bring it up? Why risk wrongfully tagging a guy with a serious, heavy label he doesn’t deserve? And more importantly, why risk being wrongfully tagged as “the girl who cried rape,” when we’re not trying to say it was rape at all? We’re saying we don’t know what it was. We just didn’t like it. But by refusing to acknowledge the existence of these rape-ish situations, we’re continuing to subject ourselves to them indefinitely.

Having read this article several times I remain confounded by it and its implications for women and men. To establish this space between rape and consensual sex is confusing to me. What does this continuous expansion of the definition of rape and nonconsensual sex mean in the long run? Who is given the authority to expand definitions of rape and consensual sex? Who are the women and men who are allowed to talk about their experiences most widely in a way that has impact on the general perspectives of this issue? What is the cultural impact of these discussions? The latter question is based on my reading and interpretation of this as a black woman who has observed rape culture and nonconsensual sex discourse as one that is dominated, primarily, by white people–particularly in the public spotlight and spaces.

I thought about if I were in this woman’s shoes and wondered what my friends, most of whom are black women, would say. Having talked to a few of them and explained this article in detail they all believed that it wasn’t rape and it wasn’t non-consensual sex, it was a woman making a mistake and expressing regret. Given this, it seemed to me that interpretation and response may vary based on culture and certainly there is a longstanding tradition that exists. For so long I have watched society set white women up as vestal virgins and blameless persons whose sexuality must be protected while women of color have constantly fought to protect their bodies and their sexuality while being labeled as hypersexual and animalistic by those same protectors of white womanhood. I’ve not had the good fortune of being a part of a race where it is assumed that I am good and pure even as a black Christian woman. I am a part of those darker women who, when their bodies are thrown off an overpass and it is discovered that they were strippers the stories goes, largely, untold. Meanwhile the white sex workers who face a similar fate have their stories plastered everywhere. I see the many ways in which white bodies are protected or how, within their narratives, there is an implicit expectation that someone should protect their bodies for them and thus they give up agency while my sisters and I must always protect ourselves. To be clear, I’m not arguing for the chance to give up agency or claim victimhood, I’m sharing an observation about the highly politicized nature of the black body versus the highly praised white body and how either is protected or not. This leads me to a brief point about perceived lazy womanhood and taking up agency.

The young woman in the aforementioned story embodied what I call a “lazy womanhood” indicated by her giving up agency in favor of surrendering to a man’s needs, particularly in a situation that seemed ripe for her use of agency. Her account suggests that there was room for her to voice her concerns during the encounter but out of fear of disappointing the man she chose not to. Furthermore, when she points out that many other young women had similar experiences it further perpetuates this notion of placing male desire and lust above female need and security. But this can’t be our womanhood.

We should always feel we have the right to say “No” in a sexual encounter, based on what we need and never based things on disappointing someone else. In campus sexual assault situations that are growing more ambiguous than they are obvious it is important for women to believe and know that they still have an upper hand in the situation. Sex is not something that just happens to women, we are not a refuse or mere pleasure hole for men’s pleasure-seeking missiles, we are full-bodied people who should often and always speak up and say “No.” I reiterate this especially in the wake of these beginning gray areas between rape and non-consensual sex. There must be some recourse for women and it cannot be that anytime we enter into a sexual encounter our defenses are down and we become victims before we learn to be conquerors. Especially in these newly exposed gray areas, women need to be as vigilant and outspoken as ever for it seems that this might actually be a case where, more often than not, they could stop an uncomfortable encounter before it starts. Again, I don’t want to be interpreted as shaming or blaming this young women or women like her, I do want us to take a more critical eye toward what we are claiming when it comes to discussions of rape and non-consensual sex and who we are allowing to dominate these discussions.

The story that has grounded this post came from a young white woman and it is also indicative of a trend–or maybe the norm–of these being the stories that dominate discussions on rape and nonconsensual sex. I’m concerned about the influx of these narratives and the way in which they are privileged, shape definitions, perspectives and even policies, all the while coming from white women. Women waving the feminist banner but not evolving beyond the age-old feminist practice of neglecting race and class in their struggle for gender equality. Herein lies the segue for the second article…

Tomorrow I will continue this discussion with the second article in question which further proves the “privileging of white female voices in sexual assault narratives” argument, will highlight work being done among black feminists to give capital to black women’s sexual assault narratives, and finally I will offer a third way of fostering dialogue.

Throwback Thoughts: Protecting Your Vulnerable Position


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It turns out I’ve been thinking and talking about sex for some time but experience and reason have changed the way I look at scripture and tradition on the matter. (Whether it is for better or worse is still to be determined.) Nevertheless, Thursdays here for the next few weeks will be for Throwback Thoughts–posts on sex and sexuality re-published from my old blog which was active from 2007 to 2010–and Fridays I will share where I currently stand on the issue(s) taken up in Thursday’s post. Let me tell you, 4-7 years makes a difference, whether it is for better or worse is still to be determined. So without further delay, here is a post from October 21, 2008 about my trip to the gynecologist which prompted a reflection on vulnerability and purity. See you tomorrow and enjoy or be confounded by the me of yesteryear.


This afternoon I incurred the wrath of the speculum. It was my annual “special woman doctor” appointment. I don’t ever, ever, ever look forward to these appointments.

This is not me.

This is not me.

So there I was laying on the special recliner and mentally freaking out at the sight of the stirrups. They were menacing and the thought of putting my feet up in them and spreading made me sick. The moment had arrived when I was told to scoot down and put my feet in the stirrups. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is the moment when I am at my most vulnerable, feel most scared and all my defenses are let down all because of the way my legs are positioned and my life is exposed.” I thought about the profound implication of being in this position.

This is the position we assume when we are creating life, the position we assume when life is coming out of us and the position we assume to make sure our life is secured. This position is based on our lives as women and yet so many of us take it for granted and freely put our legs into hypothetical stirrups for people who can’t even guarantee us anything beyond that moment. It’s such a serious matter and in that moment I acknowledged the importance of protecting my womanhood and my purity at all costs. I found it interesting that though this woman was being paid to examine me and ensure I am healthy I was still spazzing out as if she were a rapist coming to take it by force. I was open in front of a perfect stranger and although I knew she meant no harm, I couldn’t help but be nervous and scared. But it also spoke volumes as to how much more we put ourselves in danger when we offer such an intimate and sacred part of ourselves to people who God hasn’t ordained or even deigned for us to be with.

There’s always a scripture that comes to mind for me when I consider purity. Psalm 5:16, “Why spill the waters of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Never share it with strangers.” (NIV) I always think about that scripture when I hear about the countless numbers of men and women, believers and nonbelievers alike, who see no problem with spilling their waters into the streets. It’s just another past time. Some think they are entitled to it. Some think it’s impossible to abstain from it. Some think you’re a prude if you won’t even entertain the idea of spilling your waters. I think about this scripture when I think about myself some behavioral traits from my past that I had to let go of in order to step into a better and right relationship with God.

In considering all of this, I just feel very convicted and felt compelled to share with anyone who might read this that it’s of the utmost importance that we protect our purity. Everyone may not believe in abstaining from sex until marriage or even keeping themselves away from fornication, but I believe that for the livelihood of our spirits, we must. The temporary pleasure of operating in impurity just because you can is just that, temporary. After you’re done feeding your flesh and taking your feet out of the stirrups, the sweet taste in your mouth will turn as bitter as gall. And unfortunately, you’ll be left with a part of the person you gave yourself to and they will have a part of you, that you can’t get back.

My being in the doctor’s office, in those stirrups scared me (and maybe it’s because I tend to be a naturally scary person) and made me realize that I cannot ever afford to be caught in that position with the wrong person doing the wrong thing. Inasmuch as you can make it possible, see to it not to find yourself in hypothetical stirrups spilling your waters in the street to people who are here today and gone tomorrow. See to it that the only time you find yourself in the vulnerable position is when you must submit to your practitioner or to the person who God has joined you together with.

Playing the THOT: A Reflection on a Moment of Dress-Up


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Last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, I was in Miami for my best friend’s bachelorette proceedings. There was plenty of indulgent eating, drinking, partying, and of course a bit of scantily clad dressing because that is de rigueur in Miami. But there was one night that would raise the eyebrows of many, a themed night called, “So You Think You Can Dress…Like a THOT.” To quickly fill you in, THOT stands for “That Hoe Over/Out There” and has swept the nation for the last year or so. You can pretty much consider “THOT” the millennial slut. She is classified as such by her questionable and high quantities of men, “ratchet” behavior, too revealing and tight clothing, and even her teeth. I decided that since my bride-to-be best friend loves dressing up–she met her soon-to-be husband at a Halloween party and she loves dressing up for galas, parties, etc–it would be fun to have the group compete in a THOT dress-up contest complete with prizes for “Most THOTful outfit. I also figured that the act of dressing up  this way would be ripe for social commentary and ethical reflection. What can I say, I love a good social experiment and I’m a slave to my research interests.

I was hesitant about this idea at first because I didn’t know if it would offend the sensibilities of a group of young, professional black women. Surely we have enough odds stacked against us that donning our THOT apparel may not help us. But, much to my surprise, the group was for it. The original plan was to dress up the night we went to Miami’s–and possibly the nation’s largest strip club, King of Diamonds, but a last-minute change of plans resulted in us modeling our outfits for an impromptu photo shoot in the lobby of our hotel. Alas my social experiment was axed but it still left me with something to think about.

Days before this themed night I spoke with a close friend about it and asked her what she thought about my posting the pictures on Instagram. Immediately she told me that it would be a bad idea because it would be a conflict of interest with my professional life. She suggested that the photo might fall into the wrong hands and I may be judged harshly for it. A few days after it was all said and done, I told another close friend that I wanted to post one of the pictures on Facebook to which he said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He suggested that someone from work might see it and I might get in trouble. To the latter friend I responded that I wish I would get in trouble for posting a picture of myself in a revealing outfit when they know who I am as a person. I am confounded that this would even be an issue and that, once again, what a woman does with her body–independent of harming anyone else–would subject her to judgement.

We all know that the advent of social media makes it more possible to get in trouble for the things we do in our private time. We also know that photos of women in revealing clothing subjects them to harsher judgement than their male peers regardless of what is known about them personally. And of course, over the last few weeks, we have come to know that at this time people’s computers can be hacked and nude photos released for public consumption without permission. So the reality is, women are damned if they don’t and damned if they do. Our reputation can be put on the line for having scantily clad fun–or for being fully dressed because that’s what fashion critics do–or it can be put on the line during the involuntary release of photos of ourselves. We have no control over whose hands photos fall into and what people will think about those photos when they receive them. Right now it is my prerogative to release a photograph of myself in revealing clothing worn for fun. Conversely, it is another woman’s prerogative to release pictures of herself in revealing clothes that she wears because that is what she likes wearing. Neither of us deserve what could be coming to us in the way of condemnation, judgement, termination from jobs, lascivious attention, rape etc. I had to throw in the latter because before the themed night someone also suggested that we will get unwelcome attention from men and it may be dangerous for us to dress like this. I am personally tired of policing myself based on men’s lack of impulse control–thank you Daily Show’s Jessica Williams for that word. It is rarely other women we have to deal with but men who think they are entitled to certain behavioral outcomes because of the way a woman dresses or men who determine what is respectable and what isn’t. And this leads me to my concluding point, the politics of respectability.

At the end of the day politics of respectability is what this all boils down to. A woman perceived as a THOT or a woman in THOT clothing is not seen as respectable because she doesn’t conform herself to society’s–better yet, the patriarchy’s standard for women–and therefore it is assumed that she doesn’t deserve our respect. But this disregards the humanity of women and their right to choose for themselves whom they will be or in the case of this discussion, what they will look like, and still maintain full integrity of their being. Is a woman not more than the clothes she chooses to puts on her back? Or is she not more than what she chooses to do for money? I am well aware that I speak with a certain privilege because I wore my outfit for entertainment purposes only and I have a certain reputation established, but most of the women we categorize as THOTs don’t have that luxury. And to take it one step further, the term “THOT” was contrived in the minds of men so isn’t it about time the women destroy it somehow? I’m with Madame Noir writer Veronica Well who said,

…as you may imagine the term was originally used to describe sexually promiscuous women. Of course that’s problematic and misogynistic because, once again, women are being punished for being sexually expressive while men, who behave similarly, are given a pass and a pat on the back.

I want to argue for a woman retaining her power regardless of how she chooses to dress. That we all owe women and girls that respect and I say this as a lesson I am teaching myself because I will not act like I haven’t seen a women questionably dressed and not judged her. Hell, I saw plenty of questionably dressed women in Miami, I’ve been appalled by Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” I’ve stared in disbelief as women got paid to dance on top of bars in little to nothing or pole danced…I’ve questioned the content of many a woman’s character for how they dressed or acted. Many are the judgements I’ve waged against those women and the pity I’ve had for them, but these women chose that for themselves with the assumption that they would still be treated with respect, just as much respect as the women who came out of the house or the hotel with respectable clothing on, and I get it. I get it. A few minutes of one night that I chose to dress as a so-called THOT, I expected to be respected and taken seriously because I know who I am at my core. This is what all women expect and are entitled to regardless of how much or how little clothing they are wearing because they too know who they are at their core.


Same woman, different clothes, respect regardless.