Archive for the 'Feminist Issues and Activism' Category

Raising the Bar: How Some Downtown Flagstaff Bar Owners are Combating Sexual Assault

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

While students understand the events that mark Tequila Sunrise as the most widespread college drinking weekend of the year, where participating bars open their doors at 6AM, to coincide with Homecoming events at Northern Arizona University, less realized is that this weekend is also commonly characterized by an increase in sexual assaults.

This year was different because the spike never quite subsided. People, mostly women, were being drugged and sexually assaulted throughout the month of November. Stories about what Myra Ferell-Womochil, director of community education at Northland Family Help Center, refers to as “non-alcohol drug facilitated sexual assaults” continue to be circulated across town.

“We are basing the increase in non-alcohol drug facilitated sexual assaults purely from word of mouth and informal disclosures …Women are simply coming forward and telling us or telling someone who is close to them, who then shares with us, that they have been drugged while being at a bar.”

Flagstaff DJ Emmett White, who spins regularly in many bars downtown, comments on how widespread sexual assault is. “A majority of the people I know in this town, including myself, have been drugged and/or targeted for sexual assault, and that’s not confined to the bar scene. It happens at house parties, it happens on campus, it happens at restaurants.”
While Mr. White regards the recent increase in sexual assaults stemming from downtown bars as cause for concern, he believes it is also a good opportunity to engage bar owners and bar staff, as well as patrons, in these issues.

Northland Family Help Center, Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault and the Flagstaff Police Department have been working together for the last three years to assist the bars in making sure they have the tools they need to meaningfully address a few realities.

1) Alcohol is the most commonly used substance to facilitate date rapes and sexual assault.
2) Sexual assaults can and often do happen at any bar in town, all year round.
3) As bystanders to the potential for violence, bar staff who have been trained in prevention strategies can play a critical role.

This past Tequila Sunrise marked the third year in a row where NFHC offered sexual assault prevention training to local bar staff, and through their partnership with NACASA and the Flagstaff Police Department, also delivered posters to bars for the event with sober messages about watching your drink, looking out for your friends, and the popular “in your hands, you hold the power to stop rape,” which is intended to be placed above urinals in the men’s bathroom.

The Green Room was the only bar in town that had these posters hung up in the bar on the morning of Tequila Sunrise. Community educators for NFHC, Ms. Ferell-Womochil and the author of this article surveyed patrons on their reactions to the posters. We wanted to get a sense for how these messages were being received.

Despite one very intoxicated guy who was upset by the messages, slurring, “I don’t come to bars to have to hear about this kind of sh*t, I come to get my rape on,” most people appreciated the messages. Women shared stories of being drugged, harassed, and assaulted. Many men were appalled it happened it all. “If people feel the need to hang these posters” said one guy, “it is clear there is a problem, and that is really sad.”

When owner Rand Jenkins heard word his bar was being victimized, his response was “Shock and dismay, the typical ‘I never thought this could happen to me’ response. Then anger and frustration with the world, followed quickly by problem solving and crime fighting.”

Ms. Ferell-Womochil praised the bar for what it already does and his commitment to have his staff trained by NFHC’s community education staff. “Rand is really trying hard to create a climate within his bar that is not conducive to sexual assault. He is re-educating his staff.”

Says Mr. White: “There seems to be a sort of silent inaction on the part of most bar staff and owners when it comes to this, I think because they are afraid that addressing it will affect their business, and also because it requires a sea change in the mentality of people that work in the bar.”

At 1PM on February 28, The Green Room is hosting the first of three sexual violence education and prevention trainings given by community educators from NFHC. The trainings are specifically geared toward bar staff to meaningfully and appropriately combat sexual assault, highlights the important role bars can play in creating a safe space for their patrons, and are open to the public.

“I think that this education will hopefully start some conversations, raise awareness, and dramatically reduce the chance of this happening,” says Mr. Jenkins. “One of the biggest reasons why I decided to go into business for myself was the belief that I could help the community.”

As a DJ, Mr. White understands the role he plays in setting the mood, and recognizes the responsibility he has as a bystander with a microphone. “Some guys in particular think it’s cool to stand in groups at the edge of the dance floor and ogle the girls as if it’s a show or something, or to continue to pursue a dance or conversation after someone has said ‘no.’ All of these things contribute to an atmosphere I don’t want to be a part of, so … I’ll change the music, play something you can vogue to, that can do the trick.”

“If the creep factor in the room gets too high, you can feel it, something shifts in the air. I’ve been known to stop the music and point ‘em out, and remind people that they don’t have to be sleazed upon, that if someone is being creepy or predatory, to let me or the bouncers know, and we’ll get them out of the bar, no questions asked.”

It is important that men become active bystanders to the potential of sexual assault. Says Mr. White: “I’ve witnessed people trying to take advantage of the most clearly wasted woman in the bar. In this situation I’ll intervene and ask the woman if she wants this person around and if her friends are nearby, or if I can get her a cab.

“In cases where the person is too drunk or maybe even drugged to be coherent, I’ll try to get the perpetrator 86’ed or at the very least make sure the bouncers know not to let them leave together. These situations are tough because sometimes they are too out of it to even remember their address. For this reason and more, I hope people adopt and stick with the buddy system.”

Mr. White continues: “Men, join The MARS Project* (men against rape and sexism) on campus. Talk to other men about consent. Don’t be afraid to take things seriously and stand up for what’s right. Know that these problems are not going to disappear anytime soon, but if we don’t continue to talk and implement effective and creative ways of dealing with them, they will stay the same or get worse. To affect cultural change takes decades, and knowing what is right, educating yourself and others, and sticking to your guns can make it happen.”

• Someone cannot legally give consent if that person is intoxicated. Legal consent can only be given if it is: Verbal, Sober, and enthusiastic.
• If someone is intoxicated and “accidentally” rapes someone, that person is still accountable for the rape. It is not an excuse.
• Most drug-facilitated rapes involve alcohol, despite what is happening in the bars now.
• Most sexual assault victims personally know the perpetrator; most sexual assaults do not involve strangers.
• It is never a victim’s fault for being raped.
• Friends don’t let friends sexually assault someone. There is an important place for the bystander.

Northland Family Help Center (24-hour crisis hotline): 928/527-1900 or
Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (NACASA): 928/213-6112
Flagstaff Police Department: 928/774-1414
NAU campus Police: 928/523-3611

*women can join the MARS Project too!

Why I am Protesting the Appearance of Dirt Nasty at Northern Arizona University, and Why You Should Too.

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness month. To celebrate the meaningful gains that many groups and organizations have made on NAU’s campus and in the Flagstaff community, concerning the awareness and prevention of sexual assault, domestic and relationship violence, the University is using student funds to pay for a performance by Dirt Nasty.

Normally, when I come across someone that is an offensive counterweight to the positive growth so many people have helped to cultivate in our community, I do my best to ignore them. However, the idea that a public university concerned with the safety, well being, and personal growth of it’s students, as well as a vested interest in the community of Flagstaff, would use student money to fund the proliferation of sexist, racist, and homophobic messages, is intolerable to me.

Troubling of all is his trivialization of sexual violence. Putting a gun to naked woman’s mouth, punching a woman to the backdrop of lyrics promoting rape, and sexual assault are not uncommon in Dirt Nasty’s lyrics. Sexual abuse of mentally handicapped women, wanting to have sex with extremely young girls like Hannah Montana, lyrics promoting images of graphic sexual violence such as “I tear up her pussy like a savage beast” and “Take off your top bitch” are not uncommon themes in songs such as “Nasty as I Want to Be,” “Rape Somebody,” and “Suck My Dick.”

Some might argue in his defense that he is raising awareness on these issues, or that he’s being sarcastic; he’s just poking fun. If that is the case, his approach is way lost on me. What I see is an attempt to normalize sexual violence and sexual assault through a sort of sexism that conflates violence with sexuality. Some might further argue that his messages are so over the top that most people know it’s a joke. But some will not. I’m concerned about those people, however small their numbers are.

Again, this show is for college-aged students, a time in many people’s lives where ideas about morality, values, and identities are constantly being shuffled and renegotiated. Also, during this time between 1 and 4 and 1 and 6 women will be assaulted and/or raped. I dare you to ask those women if Dirt Nasty’s rape jokes are funny.

I’m further concerned that many men, particularly those with developing sexist and homophobic tendencies (which is unfortunately, quite common at this age as most NAU instructors know), will feel validated by Dirt Nasty. The real question is, how will they perceive and treat the real men and women in their lives?

Having Dirt Nasty perform is furthermore a slap in the face to organizations, clubs, infoshops, and coalitions that have, often with the help of ASNAU funds, worked hard on very limited resources to counteract sexism and violence in our community. It is a ridiculous waste of ASNAU’s resources to fund the proliferation of sexism and violence, then turn around and fund organizations trying to stamp it out. Considering how painfully slow it takes harmful cultural norms to be extinguished, these organizations have it hard enough.

The primary function of the dominant, consumer driven culture is to sell us products, but it also sells us ideas about sexuality, and among much more, ideas about what it means to be a man in this culture and what it means to be a woman. In Dirt Nasty’s world, these roles are polarized, whereby men are sexually aggressive and women are, well barely women at all. Quite literally this culture conditions men to be sexually predatory, and women to be submissive and to perceive the men in their lives as potential rapists. After all, it is established that 80% of all rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances – that is, most women are being raped by their friends, people they trust, people perhaps likely to accompany them to see Dirt Nasty. Most men, straight men anyway, will never know what it is like to know that the friend sitting next to you, cheering on Dirt Nasty, is likely imagining raping you.

Of course, most men are not rapists. Most men, in fact, are disgusted by the idea of rape and violence against women. Many men love women, deeply and meaningfully. We love our moms, sisters, aunts, and cousins; we love our friends and girlfriends for the absolute singularity of who they are, rather than how society would have us think of them, that is, as body parts and orifices to be used and abused as it suites our most selfish and narcissistic self interests. There is a growing number of men, like me, who are deeply disturbed by the idea that the women in our lives are conditioned to think of us as potential rapists. Many men are fed up with the tired and outdated, yet culturally acceptable idea that men must be violent, dominant, homophobic, and sexually predatory in order to be a “real man.” These stereotypes are not only harmful to men and women in terms of how we view one another but, frankly, in 2010 these stereotypes are embarrassing.

If it is Northern Arizona University’s goal to facilitate a safe atmosphere that promotes intellectual growth among students and local communities, it is in the University’s best interest to prohibit Dirt Nasty from receiving student resources to perform. If you cannot cancel the performance, perhaps, at the very least, we can invite Dirt Nasty to a forum where these issues can be discussed in an equitable and meaningful way.

Kyle Boggs
these are my personal opinions, and should not be associated with all MARS Project members or Northland Family Help Center….although, they would all likely agree :)

UPDATE – October 13, 2010 -
The first twenty comments (starting from the top) of this were what I thought was a reasonably respectful debate during the week prior to Dirt Nasty’s appearence at NAU. The next 150 comments or so are those I subsequently received within the next 24 hours. And it should be pretty apparent that any comment past the twentieth, claiming to be me, isn’t.

I’m keeping these comments up because this is a tremendous example of what cyber-bullying looks like, and I’m hoping this post might be used as a good teaching tool for those inclined to use it. Further, it is a clear example of what feminist theorists call “compulsory hetersexuality,” where insecure men are overly-concerned with having to “prove” their heterosexuality in a way that denigrates other men and women. It is also proof of a kind of “cyber-homoeroticism” where men bond and find allegiances through hyper masculinity and the verbal subjugation of women. Other than that, Dirt Nasty believes what he does is satire, yet it is clear from the comments that his biggest fans – those who came out of the cyber-woodwork from all over the country to defend him – clearly don’t get the joke. And in fact, the comments reinforce everything I wrote in this post originally. Dirt Nasty would do well to consider these realities and take responsibility for the influence he has.

Pedaling for Big Mountain, Where Resistance is Self-Defense

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I count 35 sheep, which means one is missing from the herd. I quickly retrace the tracks in the fresh snow that fell the day we arrived, pausing to scan the snowy landscape. Squinting through sagebrush, veering from one juniper to another, zigzagging through narrow washes and frozen ponds and beyond to where it all culminates to a thick dark green line on the horizon. It is here, at the intersection of green trees and pink sky that I pause to listen.

There is a dark cloud billowing from the easternmost edge of Black Mesa. Today, like every day I’ve been here, Peabody Coal Company is blasting. I cannot hear the explosions, but as I stand in hoof tracks, the plume in the distance reminds me of why I’m here and with whom my solidarity lays.

In 1974 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 93-531, which required the forced relocation of more than 14,000 Diné and hundreds of Hopi families from the lands they have occupied and honored for more than a thousand years. In fact, there is evidence that native people occupied this particular mesa for 7,000 years.