Braving rain and cold, roughly 50 people joined the Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League to “Occupy Sexism” next to Burnside Park yesterday afternoon. The rally, which featured speakers from a broad range of organizations, tackled reproductive health care, the media’s negative effect on body image and the Republican Party’s “war on women.” Unlike last year’s Slut Walk movement – the impetus for the founding of the Anti-Sexism League – yesterday’s meeting confronted sexism directed at members of the LGBTQ community as well as at women.
After listening to speakers, protesters headed up College Hill for a reception featuring discussion workshops and food at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. Chanting “right to life, your name’s a lie, you don’t care if women die,” “whatever we do, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no” and the slogan of the Occupy movement – “the people, united, will never be defeated” – on the march up the hill, the group received vocal support from passers-by.
Featuring speakers and poets, including some from University-affiliated organizations, the rally addressed a broad swath of issues relating to sexism. Malcolm Shanks ’12, a former opinions columnist for The Herald, spoke about his experience confronting two forms of discrimination as a queer black man.
“Whether it’s because my jeans are too tight, or because I’m wearing a hoodie, both of those are now – as they’ve always been – things for which I might be murdered for at any moment,” Shanks said.
Paul Hubbard, a representative of the International Socialist Organization, condemned sexism as a biproduct of a broader capitalist system. The nuclear family, with its subordination of the wife as an unpaid servant, is sexist, Hubbard said.
Hubbard focused his criticism on Ann Romney – the wife of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney – who rebuffed a Democratic strategist who said Ann Romney had never “worked a day in her life.” Ann Romney did not face the difficulties confronted by most mothers, who cannot afford to pay for nannies and cooks, and universalizing her experience demeans the struggle of those working class mothers to balance a job and responsibilities at home, Hubbard said.
Lindsey Goss GS provided several examples indicating that “law enforcement is not a girl’s best friend,” including the incident that inspired the Slut Walk movement – a Toronto police officer saying that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The example of the Toronto officer “clarified the fact that we cannot, and therefore should not, expect the police to offer any protection against the sexism women face on a daily basis in any of its forms, because the law enforcement system … is fully part of the problem,” Goss said.
The culture of victim-blaming, pervasive in law enforcement, can interfere with a woman’s decision to report sexual assault and her expectation of justice once the case goes to trial, Goss said. “Questions like what were you wearing and were you drinking are standard accusations,” she added.
The police also mistreat and ignore sex workers’ claims of sexual assault, Goss said. “To gather evidence of a crime (committed) against a sex worker, the cops first have to take it seriously,” Goss said, paraphrasing an anonymous sex worker. “If we go to the police, we’re made fun of, and we’re told you deserve it,” Goss said of the prevailing attitude among sex workers.
Goss also lambasted a New York Police Department policy that allowed officers to infer that a woman is a sex worker if she had condoms in her possession. This kind of assumption not only disincentivizes sex workers’ use of contraception but creates further distrust of the police, Goss said, adding that it is no surprise that no women came forward to help police in their search for a Long Island serial killer.
Chris Murphy condemned the U.S. armed forces’ treatment of women. Though representatives of the military claimed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would liberate the women of those countries, “the military that fights for imperialism and occupies countries does not liberate women,” Murphy said. The military still backs tribal warlords who “are responsible for the rape and murder of women,” he added.
“Sexual assault in the military is not a new problem, it is a systemic problem – soldiers rape civilians, and soldiers rape soldiers,” Murphy said. The Pentagon estimates that though 3,000 assaults are reported every year, between 80 to 90 percent of attacks are never reported, he added, pointing to a statistic stating that a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.
Not only is rape pervasive, but the military also does not do enough to punish assailants when incidents are reported, Murphy said. “According to the Department of Defense’s own statistics, 74 to 85 percent of soldiers convicted of sexual assault leave the military with honorable discharges,” he added.
Nancy Sant-Germain attacked the Republican Party for propagating a “war on women,” citing Arizona legislation requiring women to have trans-vaginal ultrasounds if they want an abortion. “This legislation is a model for other states,” she added.
Nicole Parrish ’12 performed a spoken word poem opposing a culture that tells women who have been victims of sexual assault to be ashamed for having experienced an attack. A speaker also addressed the presence of HIV/AIDS in Rhode Island.
Some Brown students opted to skip the tail end of the Spring Weekend festivities for the rally. Ian Georgianna ’15, a member of the Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League, said defeating sexism is not just a women’s fight. “An injury towards one group … is an injury to all groups,” Georgianna said. “I don’t see being pro-woman as being anti-man.”