As many people know, the anti-gay marriage laws DOMA (Defense of Marriage) and Proposition 8 have been up for review in the Supreme Court these past few days. Probably most of us wouldn't know about this if it weren't for the profile picture-changing phenomenon that has swept the country along with it (at least I'm assuming that it has swept the country- my Facebook friends are pretty localized on this coast).
I have heard or seen statuses regarding several polarized reactions to these innocuous pink and red equal signs showing support for gay marriage. One response could be summed up by the following: Do you seriously think your choice of stamp-sized, little profile picture is going to make a difference in the outcome of national policy?
This is a pretty understandable stance to take. Everybody remembers Kony, right? We are a famously self-important generation. Yet I would argue that we are not completely overestimating our influence.
Maybe our profile pictures are not going to sway the Supreme Court's concept of constitutionality, but we should be wary to undervalue the importance of cultural shifts. We could have demolished Jim Crow laws, desegregated schools and passed all the Equal Pay and Civil Rights Acts that we wanted, but without the accompanying cultural shifts toward acceptance and progress, racism would still exist to a much more extreme and blatant degree than it does today.
Within the context of our current technology-based society, and especially within our epically "cool"-reliant generation, such contemporary movements toward cultural change are often brought about by social media trends. This can mean anything from profile pictures to hashtags that are literally "trending" on Twitter.
Granted, we tend to use this power for less than the most high-minded of causes: Take grumpy cat, the Harlem Shake and those months when you're supposed to change your profile picture to a Pokemon character that looks like you, or something along those lines? But just think; we invented all of those! We made them worldwide phenomena.
Just imagine if "throwback Thursday" was "my favorite charity Monday?" Okay, so that's not the best viral campaign. I'll leave the brainstorming up to the masses. But you get the idea; we are the largest and most well-educated generation ever. We're bigger than the baby boomers and we have way more time on our hands. Even as an incredibly self-centered bunch of kids, we might actually be underestimating our ability to change some important stuff, through something as simple as a hashtag.
In some ways, it seems as though we are beginning to understand the power of our popular opinion more and more. These profile signs are a great example, as was the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) Internet blackout, when user-generated Wikipedia shut down for a day and many people turned their profiles black.
Let's not indiscriminately throw our full weight behind random campaigns that start on Tumblr (I feel the need to restate; remember Kony?), but let's also be intentional about giving them a shot. If we can create a collective consciousness about an issue, we can actually change our reality.
(Trigger warning) Probably the most urgent issue we can take on right now is rape culture. As a college campus, we really have the potential to be revolutionary about this.
There are some great things in the works right now that deserve a lot of credit on this front: Take Back the Night is fast approaching, which will be followed by a "Redefining Power" t-shirt campaign.
There is also a great WILL student project currently developing that works with the tagline "Consent is Sexy." Rape culture generally seems to be becoming a more widely acknowledged and discussed topic, which is fantastic. But I think we should, and can, do even more.
Let's start with some facts. According to One In Four USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to rape prevention, one in four women will be sexually assaulted in college. In 2000, 246,000 women survived sexual assault. That comes out to about 28 women every hour, keeping in mind that only 46 percent of rapes are even reported. Ninety-nine percent of rapists are men, and 60 percent are caucasian. Between 62 and 84 percent of survivors knew their attacker. Seventy-five percent of attackers were drinking or using drugs. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), out of every 100 rapes, three rapists will spend even one day in prison.
These are horrifying statistics, but very important to know if we want to change any of them. No one wants to talk about it, and no one wants to accept that they might know a rapist. We really don't want to accept that we might know someone who has been sexually assaulted, but the reality is that it would be impossible not to. The rates are just too high to think that this doesn't touch all of our lives.
Pretending that rape culture doesn't exist won't help anything. In fact, I would argue that silence about this is essentially tacit approval. So let's concentrate our collective consciousness, let's use our power and let's do something about it.
First, it would be good to be very, very clear about what rape is. I think we should get away from listing out every act that is rape, and instead just ask, is this consensual?
There are a million variations of sexual assault and only one simple way to provide consent: "Yes" (okay, "yes" or "oh yeah" or "bring it on"... but it's all the same theme). Predicating sex on consent is much safer than trying to go through the mental checklist of what qualifies rape, and it narrows down that gray zone. It's also not a mood kill at all to ask, are you into this?
A first step to changing the wider rape culture would be to stop glorifying rape. This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you actually pay attention to your music lyrics, popular movies, video games, even books ("Fifty Shades," anyone?) and everyday language, you'll see that it's everywhere. "Love the Way You Lie" by Rihanna and Eminem might be an outdated song at this point (and I'll admit I really loved it during some of my more tumultuous high school relationships), but the message is truly gross.
Instead of going on and discussing every other contributor to campus rape culture, I just want to return to my original point about the power of social media and Gen Y and encourage everyone to talk about it. Talk to your friends; talk about it in chapter. Tweet about it. There simply cannot be too many campaigns about it. Let's use our incredible power and make rape culture super uncool.