Friday FREAK OUT! Why Vaginas are Important

This year, students at Connecticut College are trying for a new angle raising awareness for their February 2014 production of the Vagina Monologues: men telling the world why they think vaginas are important.

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You can watch nearly 7 minutes of video with 100 Conn College men sharing their responses to the question, “why do you think vaginas are important?” They said things like…

Because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

They look good in cartoons but better in real life.

They are key in the process of consensual love.

Vaginas make the world go round.

They give women a power that no one else can have.

Vaginas are all different and beautiful and wonderful.

Vaginas are all about peace and love and happiness.

They are the original honeycomb hideout.

I care about people, and quite a few people have vaginas.

Vaginas are powerful.

Balls are weak, vaginas are strong

Vagina is the best thing ever made. Everyone should cherish vaginas.

Vaginas have stories to tell.

They’ve helped me to become an advocate, an ally, and a better man.

Thank you to all the vaginas!

And it’s working! The video has shown up in several places on the web, including Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Dailylife.com. Much of the commentary points out that the young men in the video often appear awkward and uncomfortable, however, by the end of the video it’s clear that they all became a lot more comfortable simply saying the word vagina- one big step forward for them, I bet. The exercise in and of itself helps normalize the use of female anatomical terms that are often considered taboo. (Although, I wonder if these young men know the difference between the vagina and the vulva.)

However, this video deserves a good freak out. Not because vaginas are something to freak out about (don’t get me wrong, we should FREAK OUT about a lot of body parts in lots of ways-good and bad), but because this video demonstrates that many young men value women. A lot of men get a bad rap for disrespecting women (especially college boys), and a lot of women are the ones hatin’ on men. It’s always a pleasure to see and hear men articulating the importance of women in their lives. I applaud efforts to recognize the importance of both men and women working to end violence, and respect each other. Violence is a societal problem, not a women’s problem. And until we can honor and respect anyone and everyone no matter their sex organs and gender identity, we will likely continue to face gender-based violence. It’s time for men to respect women, and women to respect men. Now, do you think there’s a group of students willing to make a video about the importance of a certain male body part?

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Friday FREAK OUT! Chris Brown

20131011-233601.jpgLast Friday, the Guardian published an exclusive interview with r&b pop star Chris Brown, who is best known as the violent abusive boyfriend in the Chris Brown & Rihanna ‘show’ from February 2009. This article shows a personal side of Chris Brown, and explores some of his childhood. In particular, the article reveals a significant milestone in Chris Brown’s life:

He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)

However, the article does not point out what many others have: That Chris Brown was in fact raped.

It does not seem as though Chris Brown sees it that way, but Virginia law is pretty clear about the definition of rape, where the age of consent is 18. And although his confession was an admission of victimization, this fact seems to be overlooked, possibly because so many people dislike him.

What is interesting is that Chris Brown uses this experience as a way to demonstrate his sexual prowess, rather than a way to gain sympathy or understanding. Which is maybe exactly what he needs. The truth is that men can be sexually assaulted, and raped by women, as is described in a thoughtful article posted on CNN. I am not by any means saying that Chris Brown be let off the hook for his previous acts of violence, but maybe he could use some support. I’m not sure that his court-ordered anger management program really provided that…

He says his court-ordered 52-week programme of anger management helped him learn to keep his temper. But then he adds, “I think the actual class I went to was a little bit sexist.” What does he mean? “It was beneficial because it made me cater more to a woman’s thoughts and a woman’s needs, and how to handle situations. But the class itself, no disrespect to the class, but the class itself only tells you you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

So what does this freak out, or non-freak out according to many, remind sexuality educators to do?
-Be gender neutral in your discussions of sexual assault when talking about both victims and perpetrators because anyone can be affected.
-Emphasize the definition of consent- both the legal definition and what it means in a sexual encounter.
-Encourage the examination of all sides of the story without getting into a debate.
-Focus on behaviors, which can be changed, rather than putting down a person.
-Be compassionate towards all individuals, even if it’s someone you dislike or disapprove of their actions.

If we are too preoccupied hatin’ on Chris Brown, we’ll overlook the support and understanding he needs. And we might miss some wise words that can be an important lesson…

“No, I’m not going to walk around every day of my life depending on the opinions of other people. Because if I do that, I’ll just be trying to please everybody and that’s not what I’m here for.”

Friday FREAK OUT! Miley Mania! Coming to a sex ed class near you

Miley Cyrus, formerly known for her character Hannah Montana,

20131004-003848.jpghas received a LOT of media attention lately, and has been largely criticized for what people are calling highly sexualized antics. A few examples that people cite include…(some links are not necessary safe for work-NSFW)

Twerking with Robin Thicke at the VMAs.

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Her video for Wrecking Ball, which shows Miley swinging on a wrecking ball in nothing but work boots (among other things).

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Her interview with Rolling Stones that got Sinead O’Conner riled up enough to write an open letter to Miley, in which O’Connor states,

“I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.”

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Most recently, Pics showed up on a blog that show her topless and doing sexually suggestive things with soda cans.

So why are people freaking out about Miley so much? In part it’s because she’s going to great lengths to change her image from a Disney poster child, to her own individual performing artist. It’s not easy to change how people perceive you- first impressions are often lasting impressions. Did anyone else look forward to going away to college so you could be someone different? I couldn’t wait for a fresh start with new people that didn’t have a picture of me with buck teeth as a kid!!

So the media captured an image of Miley as sweet, young, and mainstream. She’s now claiming an image as tough, mature, and edgy. And sexual. I think people are uncomfortable seeing Miley blatantly displaying her sexuality, especially when they have always seen her as innocent. I’m not necessarily in the Miley Cyrus camp, but I do think that the media attention is both encouraging Miley’s behaviors and judging a woman’s attempt to assert her individuality.

Miley Mania will likely end up in sexuality education classes, just as it has infiltrated the media. When it does, take a few moments to explore the participants’ perceptions of her. Ask questions such as,
– What do people say about Miley?
– What does it take to change people’s perceptions of someone?
– What kind of image do you think Miley wants to maintain?
– What messages do her performance at the VMAs and her Wrecking Ball video send about sexuality?
– Why are some people saying that the media is slut-shaming Miley?
– What do we need to consider in order to both accept Miley’s individuality but also hold her to high moral standards?
– If you had a conversation with Miley Cyrus, what would you want to talk to her about?

Just be mindful that as you engage in this discussion, if we judge Miley harshly, we potentially ostracize individuals who are in the Miley camp. Encourage the participants to think about all sides of the coin, and not just make a snap judgment.