The following is written by Natalie Camastra, one of the most passionate women's advocate on the Berkeley campus and a dear friend of mine. Her op-ed was published in the Daily Cal after the repeated sexual assaults that took place in Berkeley. It is her response to the skirt rally and the serious need for us to break the silence surrounding sexual violence.
I am worried. I am worried that the Skirt Rally that took place yesterday on the steps of Upper Sproul Plaza will be remembered as just another typical Bezerkeley protest- just another display of quirky activism from the bra burning types who are desperately trying to make a statement. I am worried that our community does not take this recent wave of violations against Berkeley students seriously. I am worried that we are increasingly becoming a culture of violence where Chris Brown’s repeated and forceful beatings of his partner Rihanna, and statements such as “Now I really am going to kill you” are met with Kanye West’s suggestion that we give the man a break. I am worried that a video game - whose objective is to rape as many women as possible and encourage impregnated women to seek abortions - is defended by the video game company because it passed “domestic ratings of an ethics watchdog body’. I am worried that no one cares about the violence anymore – that the violence has become so pervasive that it is muddled in silence. And we all know that silence is deadly.
As an organizer in the Skirt Rally, I can tell you that the ‘point’ of our protest was not to demonstrate that “Leggings under skirts” is “the latest defense against a serial molester”. Our message instead is that what we wear should have no bearing on our safety. Reporting what women wore at the time of the attack is completely irrelevant. As we saw last weekend, the molester attacked women in pants. He only discriminates on the basis of one thing, and that is sex. And all too often women are blamed for the violence that was inflicted on them. Why was she wearing that? She was drinking, right? Why was she out so late at night? Um, she was asking for it. Of course we all have to be responsible and aware of our surroundings. However, just go to CNN and we see “Woman raped in such and such”. Already the emphasis is on her and her actions, not those of the perpetrator.
The violence in our community is not about one pervert, one molester, one perpetrator. It is about the violence that takes place every day on our streets, behind closed doors and in the bedroom. It is about telling people what they do not want to hear; that every two minutes a woman will be sexually assaulted, that 60% of sexual assaults are never reported, that only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail, that domestic violence affects 25% of all US households.
I realize that men face violence too. Men are much more likely to be victim of assault in their lifetime than a woman although women are 12 times more likely to die from intimate partner violence from a partner than men. However, I believe that just as women have been oppressed by gender stereotyping- the separate spheres ideology that defines the role of women are strictly mothers and wives, men to have been suppressed by the gender constructions of masculinity; of masculinity as inextricably linked with violence and aggression (sexual and otherwise). Just last year, a member of our community, ChrisWootten’s life ended tragically in a violent confrontation.
Many people have asked me recently if I knew how to prevent or stop violence against women. All I know is that as a country, we have not yet engaged in a national conversation about violence OR sexuality. Both violence and sex saturate our media, yet we are not comfortable discussing either within our own homes. How many of us received comprehensive sex education from our parents? How many of us are comfortable discussing violence, especially the violence against women? As a friend of mine once told me, when we do not discuss safe sex, teens face sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. When we do not discuss consent, people get raped. As a community in Berkeley and as a nation, we must face the difficult questions surrounding sex and violence.
The Skirt Rally was about starting to address some of these issues as situated in our community. It was about breaking the silence surrounding sexual violence. My only hope for Berkeley is that people give a care.