By Grace Gardner, 11th Grade Student at the Watkinson School
I carry a whistle with me wherever I go; it hangs shimmering on my keychain, beside my house key. In ninth grade, a fellow student laughed when he saw my whistle, playing with it in his hands. Not understanding the significance of it, he asked “Why do you need a whistle?” I’m sure he didn’t mean harm, but his ignorance hurt. It introduced me to the bitter world where women’s issues concerning safety are disregarded, muted, or worse: unnoticed. Not all of this came from one stinging laugh from a classmate, although, from then I became aware. I have since been exposed to the expansive fear, and the subsequent silence, that is practically forced upon women.
The rape whistle: humorously said to be used only if “it’s actually happening.” Mocked in television and movies, the rape whistle has turned into a joke, despite its effective power for women. These jokes dismiss the severity of the fear women experience daily, as well as the safety many feel with a whistle in hand. Fear and danger are prominent on college campuses, but often are not addressed sufficiently. It is estimated that between 20-25% of women become victims of completed or attempted rape over the course of a college career (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). One in four women will experience this while attending college. Looking to the future, many young women, myself included, continue with a silent fear. A fear not only for ourselves, but for each other. One out of every four of us will encounter and suffer through this, but 65-85% of us will not report it because we are afraid of the outcome (MCASA).
One great challenge in informing the public of the reality of rape is the currently accepted stigmas around rape culture. Women who do come forward are brushed aside and ignored due to clothing, atmosphere at the time, and other outrageous “validations”. Media coverage is a main influence on the public’s views of rape, and one of the reasons sexual assault is perceived as it is. In the recent rape case at Stanford with assailant Brock Turner, many of the articles that were written on the attack resonated with the title of The Washington Post’s: “All-American swimmer found guilty of sexually assaulting unconscious woman on Stanford campus”.“All-American swimmer” not “rapist”, not even his name in the headline.
The first words reference this man’s irrelevant accomplishments, wrongly conveying that this is important. It does not matter what sport the attacker plays, how much money he has, or if he holds any power in society, he is still responsible for the dehumanization of a woman. A person. Accomplishments do not justify any malicious actions, although this is what seems to be conveyed in the news. When cases are introduced to the public, media focuses on the life of the perpetrator; The Washington Post’s article focuses on the crash of Turner’s promising career, rather than the gravity of his attack.
This theme of silencing victims and focusing on the insignificant and unrelated details to justify the attacker continues through cases outside of the college setting as well, allowing for the vast dismissal of assault victims. Turner’s case is just one instance that offers a glimpse into the fear of women: the fated silence.
There are many issues worldwide that affect the everyday life of women; sexual assault is just one. However, the way that media and press manipulate information surrounding rape can be transformed in the hands of young women wanting to make a difference. This takes work, yes, but it is attainable. This work will aid those recovering from attacks, as well as prevent attacks in the future. Specifically, on campuses, young women should be able to focus on their education and grow into their identities. Young women, such as myself, shouldn’t be afraid to come forward due to fear of how a case will end. We should not have to carry rape whistles to feel safe, let alone be laughed at for having one. We should speak out so fiercely that the sounds of our voices are as alerting and urgent as the blare of a whistle; we should feel safe armed with only our words.
This blog post was an entry into Young Women Rising’s annual essay contest in which 11th grade students were asked, “What is one of the most important issues facing young women today and how do you see yourself having an impact on that issue?”