Unity Amid Plurality: Towards Inclusive Theories of Sexual Violence
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For most Kalamazoo College students, their study abroad experience is not one they will soon forget, and I am no exception to this rule. My time in Ecuador was incredible and tumultuous, spanning spectrums of mood, emotion, location, and personal development. Unfortunately, some of my most vivid memories involve sexual harassment, from those things visual (a rape scene depicted in graffiti on one of the main thoroughfares in the city), to aural (the countless whistles and propositions on the street), to physical (the inappropriate closeness and touching on crowded buses). As a woman with strong feminist beliefs, these experiences infuriated me, but looking for local support and/or justification for my rage only left me feeling more hopeless. Not only was my Spanish vocabulary insufficient for communicating my experiences but my knowledge of Latin American culture was as well. I left Ecuador not knowing how to talk about sexual violence and women's rights within the context of another culture. Upon my return to the USA, I found the support system I needed to process my experiences, and I started researching the most pressing question I had brought back with me: how does one talk about feminism and sexual violence in a cross-cultural context. While I was reading about Nicaraguan peasant women articulating feminism (Randall 1995, p.l47) and upper-middle class women from the Dominican Republic expounding on the differences between themselves and their US counterparts (Randall 1995, p.l 05), I noticed something about my support system and to whom I was talking about these issues. It was a very homogenous group, the overwhelming majority being white, middle class women. With this discrepancy between interest and practice noted, I started noticing more about the schisms present within feminism in the USA in the literature I was reading; theoretical differences which I knew about but never really understood. So I read on and learned that women who are dealing with the triple oppressions of race, class, and sex are 1. 7 times more likely to be raped than their white counterparts (Ross 1982, p. 41) and that a man raping a white woman gets an average of ten years in jail (when convicted) versus five years for violating a latina woman and two years for a black woman (Crenshaw 1990, p.801). And I learned that there are many parallels between the oppression of women by men and that of women of color by white women within the feminist movement (Pence 1982, p.46). As I kept reading, I realized that I was ignoring the multicultural dialogues about feminism taking place in my own country. If I wanted information about cross-cultural theories on sexual violence, home would be a good place to start. This line of inquiry and discovery lead me to the most fundamental questions of my Senior Individualized Project: within different feminist communities, what are the theories of sexual violence in current dialogue? And, ultimately, what are the necessary components of multi-culturally salient theories of sexual violence? I do not claim to have the full answers to these questions in the following pages as I do not view this project as a finished one. It will take a lifetime of learning and inquiry to answer these questions as completely as they deserve. What does follow is my preliminary research into a topic that becomes larger and larger in scope with every article and book that I read. Although I recognize the complexity of the situation, my scope was necessarily limited. My focus will be on theories of origin (i.e. why rape happens) and the articulation within these theories that rape is only one end on a continuum of sexual violence. I have decided to focus on three major, gender-based works that were written within the first two decades of the second wave of feminism and then the critiques of these works and theories mainly, although not exclusively, by black feminists.