Recently The White House released a short PSA about rape. It is aimed at men, and explains that the responsibility for ending sexual harassment lies with them, not with women. It’s a great, important film, with some men I really admire in it, and I’m glad that Barack Obama himself takes part. However there’s something in there that makes me wince, an oversight that highlights the subtle, insidious nature of our sexist culture.
“It’s happening to our sisters, and our daughters, our wives, and our friends”
No, it isn’t. Its happening to people. I’m not your sister, your wife, or your daughter and probably not your friend either. Are you still responsible for helping me in a situation where my safety is being compromised by someone stronger than me? Of course, you are. Not because I’m another man’s daughter. Not because other men out there consider me their friend. Because I’m another person, and you have the power to help me.
It’s a narrow, possessive way of talking about us. The intention is clear – it’s a method of humanising women in men’s eyes. Think of your sister, you love her right? You wouldn’t want her to get hurt? Well there’s another woman over there who’s in trouble, you better help her then! Men shouldn’t need to think that way, but constantly reiterating this ‘wives, sisters, mothers’ thing just pushes it further into everyone’s minds. I find it jarring to hear. Partly because while I am a daughter, and a friend, I’m no one’s sister and I’m not romantically attracted to men. That shouldn’t matter at all, and yet here, in a discussion about stopping the sexual harassment of my gender, are two descriptions that I can’t identify with. And the other two? Well there are plenty of women who don’t have fathers, and plenty of women who aren’t friends with any men, for whatever reason.
This language implies that men have very limited views of women – that we can’t just exist in and of ourselves, but we must be here for something. I think its very telling that we live in a culture with a huge rape problem, and this kind of language still slips through in a film that’s actively, and sincerely, trying to change that.