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“Men’s indifference to learning about contraception and to taking any responsibility for it is a theme that emerges from many reports of projects that have attempted, and failed, to reach and educate men. One of the most successful programs of contraception education for men, a Planned Parenthood project in Chicago, abandoned its attempts to reach men over the age of twenty-five when it was found that these men simply would not participate, even when offered beer, sandwiches, free condoms—and “stag” movies. Instead, the project targeted a younger group, and as part of its research the project conducted a survey of over a thousand men aged fifteen to nineteen:
• These young men were asked whether they agreed with the statement “It’s okay to tell a girl you love her so that you can have sex with her.” Seven out of ten agreed that it’s okay.
• They were asked whether they agreed with the statement “A guy should use birth control whenever possible.” Eight out of ten disagreed and said a guy should not.
• And when asked, “If I got a girl pregnant, I would want her to have an abortion,” nearly nine out of ten said no, they would not want her to have an abortion. These teenage men agreed: Deception to obtain coital access is okay; male irresponsibility in contraception is okay; but abortion is not okay—“because it’s wrong.”
Largely because of attitudes such as these, one million teenage women—one tenth of all teenage women—become pregnant each year, and two thirds of their pregnancies are not wanted.”
—John Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man
They already have these beliefs at such a young age!
At Last has become arguably the most popular song in the U.S. for weddings, Valentine’s Day, or other kinds of bourgeois events calling for cheap sentimentality—despite the fact that James’s powerhouse vocals and phrasing actively work against the sentimentality of the song’s arrangement, as it does in most of her work covering jazz standards during that period.
But her vocals weren’t the only place James was working decidedly against a safe “jazz singer” image. She worked in her personal life and her styling to embody the kind of black urban street culture in which she was immersing herself:
“I [was] serious about turning little churchgoing Jamesetta into a tough bitch called Etta James…. I wanted to look like a great big high-yellow ho’. I wanted to be nasty.”
James ascribes the blonde-yellow hair and black eyebrows that she adopted early in her career to being closely associated with street-based sex workers and drag queens at the time. That’s who she was emulating.
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so. And while many men punished for sexual assaults each year, countless others are able to commit rape and other crimes against women because we so often blame the victim instead of the guilty party.
Holding women and girls accountable for preventing sexual assault hasn’t worked and so long as men commit the majority of rapes, men need to be at the heart of our tactics for preventing them.
Let’s stop teaching ‘how to avoid being a victim’ and instead, attack the culture that creates predators in the first place.