I Didn’t Ask For It: A Look At Sexual Harrassment and Rape Culture

By: Rhonda Nemri

Whistling, blowing kisses, grabbing, touching, cat-calling, these are a few of the things that most people don’t realize that it is the same as sexual harassment, or sexual assault. Women from all over the world experience some of these forms of assaults.

This usually isn't the case for a woman's response. But this surely does exists in today's society.

This usually isn’t the case for a woman’s response. But this surely does exists in today’s society.

If not, then the worst case scenario is rape.  As I look at all the possible ways that women have been assaulted, it is apparent that society doesn’t do much about the safety of women. It is always easy to just tell a young girl, or a woman to be careful when she leaves the house, or walking to her car because a man might assault her. You hardly ever hear anyone tell a young boy or a man to not assault or rape women or young girls. Growing up, I always noticed this coming from the opposite sex, and it is something that always gave me anxiety going to public places where men are gathered, and standing together. Even though those men may not have an agenda to harass me, unfortunately it is something that gives me anxiety because it occurs so many times. Being afraid that when I walk passed them they will grab me, speak to me with disrespect, or just keep staring at me as if they were going to do something to me, is not something I want to put on my list of things to do during my day. It doesn’t only happen when women are alone, it happens when there are groups of girls/women as well. I am very sure that I am not the first woman to speak about such topics, but lately I have been noticing a lot more harassment and discussions about rape that lead me to write about this. Hence the current gang rape of a young lady in India. Which sadly enough to say, is not the first time something like this happens. The neglect and abuse these women go through is nothing new, and government officials are not doing much to help women in these countries who suffer from rape, domestic abuse, and honor killings.

It was a few years back when I was first indulged in literature dealing with sexual harassment. As I was reading I came across many instances that I can and cannot relate to, however it did remind me of my own experiences of harassment’s. I do not know anyone that has been raped, but I sure do know a lot of women who fear going into public places because of the potential of being assaulted. There is a possibility that I know someone who has been raped, but that person may have not spoken up about it. Most women who get assaulted in settings such as school, work, or in public hardly ever speak up about such matters.  There is this shame, or disgust feeling that’s left with her, because social norms has taught her to believe that she is disgusting, or she asked for it because of where she was at, or how she was dressed. If she were to get assaulted by her male boss, she may not speak up about it due to the possibility she may be terminated, or not given the opportunities to excel in her career. Therefor if she keeps quiet then she won’t lose her job, and she can get promoted rather than demoted.

Back in 1991 a woman by the name of Anita Hill, went public in the courtrooms describing her experience of sexual harassment.  In 1980 Anita Hill received her Law degree from Yale. “She began her career in private practice in Washington, D.C. Before becoming a law professor, she worked at the U. S. Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1989, Hill became the first African-American to be tenured at the University of Oklahoma, College of Law, where she taught contracts and commercial law. She has made presentations to hundreds of business, professional, academic and civic organizations in the United States and abroad” (The Leigh Bureau).

Anita F. Hill

Anita F. Hill

Her story sparked controversy, especially attention from feminist groups who supported Anita’s claims of sexual harassment in the office.  She testified her story in front of an all-male senate regarding her assault from Clarence Thomas. She was working for Thomas, who touched her, and had sexual vulgar language. Anita was questioning her ability to speak up about such issues because not many people would believe her story, and believed she had some agenda to gain something.  Statements from Senator Heflin such as, “do you see, coming out of this, that you can be a hero in the civil rights movement?” At this point they believed that her idea of testifying was going to make her a prestigious woman in the African-American community. Their responses to her statement were creating a much more defensive climate than a supportive one, and made Anita Hill look delusional.

“In 1991, 6,883 people were willing to file claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1998, the number was 15,618” (Doyle, 2011). At this point women in society began to feel a lot more comfortable speaking up about any sexual harassment.  This story of Anita Hill is very much looked back at today as a reminder that we are still in the same rut that we were in 20 plus years ago. Even though women all around the world have the courage to speak up now, there are still many who are left unspoken of these issues. Women shouldn’t have to be constantly told to be careful from people in public places because “they might rape you”, but rather men should be taught not thave predator-like characteristics towards women. A lot of today’s entertainment and musical industries promote objectification of women.  This helps perpetuate the idea of harassment, and becomes accepted by both men and women. I do not want to constantly walk in public thinking someone is going to follow me, or say something inappropriate. I shouldn’t have to walk fast trying to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or sit privately at a restaurant where no man will come by me and pressure me to talk to him as if I owe him this. A lot of women should speak up about such matters, and it is a lot harder for women in other cultures to speak up because being raped or sexually assaulted is a bigger controversy for her. Women who get raped in cultures such as the Middle East often get blamed for their rape incidents, or even tortured for not being “pure” anymore. This will leave her silent, and not speak up because she has more of a consequence to deal with, and that is whether she will be seen as human again or not. She will then live in a society that will often see her as trashy, a whore, or useless.

It is not always the case of what you wear that leaves men to think “she asked for it”. Women who are covered up from head to toe, or are dressed very decent get raped each day. It isn’t how she portrayed herself; it is how a man thinks it is his “nature” to take the opportunity to assault her. I am pretty sure there are men out there who do not have the “rapist” qualities, and that they respect women. This is great! But those are not the ones that we worry about. Rape occurs in many different ways, it happens when you are married, engaged, dating, not dating someone, strangers, friends, relatives, etc. People who often state “well they are men, they are supposed to act this way”, does not see the mockery in that statement. It leaves women in a place where she has to often secure herself, because of the possibility that she will be assaulted.

I’ve seen and heard stories about women who get followed into public places such as school, work, shopping malls, banks, etc. There are many issues that shadow the subject of rape. We need to answer the questions: What steps should we take when we hear someone has been raped? What views do we have of her after she has been harassed, or taken advantage of?  What kind of society do we live in that allows such statements as “she asked for it”? These are the question that we must find answers to, because if we continue to leave these questions unanswered, then we will always live in a society that constructs these gender roles of what makes a man a man, and what makes a woman a woman. A man shouldn’t have to feel masculine because of how tough he is, how many women he can sleep with, and how his nature is sexually aggressive because he is a man. Women should not be viewed as weak, frustrated, irrational, victims of sexual abuse, because “she deserved it”. No one deserves to be raped, abused, or assaulted, not man not woman. We need to remove phrases such as “Legitimate Rape”, and not create reasons that validate her rape experience as something “she wanted”. Let’s teach our young boys to not whistle at a girl as she walks, not to touch her if she doesn’t want to be touched, not to shout at her to come by him, and not to treat her as always a victim.  I often believe that even if we do not change these ways 100 percent right away, we can make progress each second, day, week, month, and year by changing the statistics of rape victims. If they are increasing as I speak, then we will live in a society whether American, overseas, or anywhere that will constantly allow rape culture.


Doyle, S. (2011). Twenty years ago, today. In These Time. Retrieved from http://inthesetimes.com/article/12136/twenty_year_ago_today/

The Leigh Bureau. (n.d). Anita F. Hill biography. Retrieved from http://www.leighbureau.com/speaker.asp?id=537


“Hey You Guys”: A Discussion on Gender-Neutral Terms and Language

A lot of things that I see in my life intrigue me. However, it all depends whether or not it struck my attention or left some sort of curiosity. As a teacher in the communication and creative arts department, I find myself becoming intrigued by a lot of what my students say or write. The content in the course I teach deals a lot with self-reflection and personal experiences. I am able to incorporate material dealing with technology, interpersonal relationships, media, marketing, and of course feminism. As a communication instructor, I know very well, that I want to create a learning environment, and allow students to speak their mind, and allow others to become engaged in what they say in class. Teaching an introductory college course can be frustrating at times, especially when I teach a required course (meaning all majors must take it). Therefore, students don’t want to be there because they were placed in there, or students don’t like the course because they hate communication in front of an audience. Sure, I can see the irony in that, however, I believe students realize different approaches to communication, and understand their self a lot more, compared to their outlook of the class during the first week of the semester. This discussion will focus on teaching; however, it will focus on my students and their outlook on gender-neutral terms used in today’s society. Just recently I lectured on verbal communication, and how language creates power or powerlessness. Since I teach three classes in the fall 2012 semester, it was interesting to hear the different perspectives from student regarding language. It is safe to say that not all courses I teach this semester are the same. Each class has a different and unique personality. Which works well, however, it can be frustrating when students are quiet, or are too shy to respond to a simple question such as how are you? First I want to discuss how students transition from high school to college, then I will briefly touch on verbal language, and finally I will discuss the use of the word “you guys” in our everyday language using the “you guys” article by Audry Bilger from Bitchfest. You Guys Article

Transition From High School To College

Students always have a sense of purpose when entering college. They want to be successful, and someday become an asset to a company in their choice of field, because that’s what they believe is necessary. Most of all students are put in many situations of different learning environments, and take courses that range from many departments such as the math and science department, or the liberal arts and social science department. Students that come straight from high school, are students who mostly leave some sort of reminder in my head that I was once them; sitting in a classroom and very scared of just being there, and most definitely unsure of why I am even there to begin with. Those students however, have a difficult time coping with the college atmosphere. They are so used to high school, yet left alone in college and ready to adapt to new situations. I tend to believe that most freshmen students are not quite ready to adapt to the college setting. Most are afraid of speaking up because they are very much used to raising their hands, or being called on. Some students ask to go to the washroom, or to get a drink of water. Their mind-set is still on the high school mode, and to still find the need to ask permission to do something. I find that okay, however, what I tend to cringe on is the fact that high schools do not very much prepare students when it comes to articulation and writing. I know I wasn’t, and I am very sure a lot of other people I went to high school with weren’t prepared for college as much as we liked. This then allows me to reflect on the many instances that occur in my classroom. Students are not sure what to do when asked to critically think, and some even have the greatest answers but still want to answer vaguely.  Surely those who do speak their mind always do, which is much appreciated in the classroom, but those who barely speak up or hate speaking up always find a reason to appear nonchalant during discussions. They are already afraid of being a college student, so I have now pressured them to speak up and possibly feel embarrassed. I sure did feel this way, and I always had anxiety when I was called on. I find that students need to find our place in the classroom, and definitely should speak up if they really have something to add to the discussion. I tend to get blank stares, or disinterest in the course, but that is because I believe they don’t believe communication courses are important.

Verbal Language

As the weeks move along during the semester, the material begins to become more intense, and thought-provoking. Unless, they still don’t care about communication. However, these students at this time begin to see the relevance of the material to their own personal lives. I do discuss verbal communication, and how it very much relates to our powerful messages, and relation to persuasion techniques. I also believe that verbal communication is a wonderful aspect in our lives. Language is constantly changing, people are changing, and overall society is changing. The connotations of many words are shifting to newer and newer connotations. Our society is making up words like “cray” (crazy), and passing it along, and soon enough it will end up in the dictionary. Language is so powerful it can make someone feel a certain way to push them to change their behaviors, or attitude about something. During my lecture I ask students to define the terms ghetto, feminism, home, love, and baby. These are words we constantly hear whether in our relationships, or in the media. Most students defined these words differently depending on how they view the word, or where they came from that allowed them to define those specific words. I really enjoyed the definitions of the word feminism, because the word feminism sounds like feminine. This automatically triggers them to believe that feminism means feminine or femininity. Their connotation of feminism was soft, weak, equality, women superiority, activism, pushy, man haters, etc. I expected these definitions because as a feminist I hear those definitions all the time. As we move on in our society, words made up become part of our everyday usage, and we begin to not really realize the etymology of the word. When we define words like “ghetto” some of my students begin to chuckle, or some get offended. I ask them what does the word “ghetto” mean to you? For some it is hard to define it without seeming too offensive. Some relate it to the upbringing of someone who lives in a community that is filled with poverty, or some simply say the word is whatever they want it to mean. For example, a student stated if someone were to use duck-tape to hang a mirror, then that is considered ghetto. The word ghetto comes from more of the urban life, and living conditions of those who do not have the abilities to live the life of the first or middle class. However, some African-American students may get offended because the word ghetto is often associated with African-Americans. I believe that each person has their own frame of reference and perception of what words mean to them. They have their own connotation because this is how they see the word whether offensive or not. They have adjusted to the word, use it in a sentence frequently, and find it impossible to back away from using words that may or may not be offensive to others.

 I find it interesting when students tell me about the different slangs they have created. I feel that something goes wrong when we begin to latch on to slang, and start using it frequently. Those who frequently use slang to communicate have diminished the proper way to communicate, using the new words, abbreviations, and acronyms as their only way to communicate.  I can understand why this is happening, however, what I don’t understand is how some believe these behaviors are acceptable, just because they believe it is acceptable. Technology has played a huge role in the creation of slang, acronyms and abbreviations, because it has allowed those who do use text messaging or chat to speak in a quick way, and to shorthand everything, causing this to be their verbal language as well. Informal communication has become formal for the current young generation, and the thought of changing something they have adapted to is like telling them to stop listening to Justin Bieber; it just won’t happen. Language is a beautiful thing, but when tampered with, it becomes confusing, and a barrier for those who have English as a second language. Those coming from different countries and live in the United States are left confused and not sure what has happened to the English language. Of course those who do come to the United States begin to adjust to slang, and improper pronunciations of words. However, this is what continues the use of improper words, and words that have negative connotations to them.

Using the Words “You Guys”

This brings me to my discussion of the phrase “you guys”. During my lecture on verbal communication I discussed generic language. When we think of generic language, we think of words that have generalized both sexes using words that speak to both genders, but are more specific to one sex. Sayings such as “you guys’ was the main discussion in my class. I had them

Picture Credit to Bowmanitis.com

read an article called On Language: You Guys, by Audry Bilger (2002). To sum up this article it basically gives the idea that using the phrase “you guys” when speaking to a group of both genders, has become an informal way of greeting people regardless if both sexes are present in the conversation or group setting. When we think about the problems in language we can say that the words “you guys” has been looked at, as a gender neutral word when greeting people, even if it is just a group of women and no men.  It also makes the claims that even as feminists we tend to use the words “you guys” even though we strongly believe in changing words such as fireman into firefighter, police man into police officer, and chairman into chairperson. Bilger (2002) stated that “during the same decades in which feminist critiques of generic uses of “man” and “he” led to widespread changes in usage-no mean feat- “you guys” became even more widely accepted as an informal and allegedly gender-free phrase (77).

I asked my students to read this article and answer some questions along with the reading before we met again. Of course some read, and some didn’t. I put my students in individual groups of 5-6 to talk it out. They were able to discuss it, while others surely didn’t see the relevance of this article to the course. Some of my students felt that I put them in groups so that they could agree on the questions and come to a consensus, so that they don’t have to critically think this out. Others actually discussed it and had debates back and forth about the usage of “you guys”. When it was time to debrief the article, some students were afraid to speak up. However, once the ball started rolling, it was hard to stop them from talking. What really brought me to discuss this was the fact that the majority of my male students still didn’t see why it would be a problem. Since I teach three courses, I would say overall out of the 70 plus students that I have, 50 of them are males. This semester is interesting because I am used to women being the majority in my class, and men the minority. Regardless of the amount of men versus women in the class, men will always try to dominate discussion in the classroom. Some men made some valid points however, they believed that because the term “you guys” is used frequently and in the dictionary, it makes it okay to use it. I agree that it will be hard to remove this type of language, but it isn’t impossible. Women in the class barely wanted to speak up because they felt vulnerable in this situation. They do not want to say anything that would harm their image, or make them look stupid or wrong. When they did, some of them were agreeing with the men, and other women were actually upset that they were referred to as a guy. One female student said something that stuck in my head. “Everyone is so sensitive about things like this, so I do not see it as a problem”. I believe that when we define the term feminism, we are often associated as sensitive, pushy, and emotional about wanting to be equal to man, or society thinking women want to be just like man.

My whole point of this discussion was not to force her to feel she needed to be persuaded to change by me, but to critically think about the language usage of “you guys”. I felt attacked by some male students when I stated “what if I called all of you girls and this was the way we communicated to both sexes, and it ends up in the dictionary?” Immediately some men said, in a high-pitched voice, “Well it’s not in there!” They were upset that I could consider calling them a girl, and not a guy. However, soon after, I stated that even though it may not happen, those who are called guys but are women and do not like it feel the same way as a male who is called a girl. I do not believe it is about sensitivity. I believe it is about proper language, and referring to both genders properly. The fact that it is used constantly doesn’t make it acceptable. I had a male student speak up, he was raged that I even assigned this reading, and thought that this article was a waste of his time to begin with. He really thought I would be offended. I wasn’t offended, however, I was offended that he didn’t take the time to understand my view-point, given the fact we have discussed frame of reference and perception in the course. He completely dismissed the point of the article just because he wanted to continue saying “you guys”. But in honesty, I would like to believe that when he does say the words “you guys”, he will refer back to what I stated in  the discussion, and think twice about the discussion we had as a class. I felt as if I were shut out by the majority of my male students, only because they felt I was trying to push them to think just like me. I am all for persuasion, however, I am more pushy for critical thinking than to think I just want to persuade them to change their language. Some even stated that calling someone “people” or using the term “you all” was weird for them. In each class, the discussions were different. Some had some great points, and others weren’t sure what they were trying to articulate. I believe articles like these highlight the fact that women are always looked at as the other. If both sexes are looking at the words “you guys” as not a problem, then our society is making clear way for other terms to be used to refer to women such as bitch, slut, whore, etc. The students that took the time to respond made interesting points about language, and how as a society we cling on to words, and continue using them, and soon passing them along. They were right on these points. But what I saw as a problem is that some students stated that using the words “you guys” should only be used in informal settings, and not formal. Saying this is like saying a four-year old can say the word bitch in front of family, but can’t say the word bitch in public in front of strangers. Whether informal or formal, saying “you guys” should not be used at all when referring to both sexes in a group setting.

If we keep convincing ourselves that it is okay, then we will continue to accept other objectification for women. I can admit I have used the words “you guys”, however when I do I am immediately conscious to what I just did, and I am not proud of it. What I surely hope to accomplish is that even when people use it, they still are reminded that they used it improperly, and that they will try to lessen the usage of those words.  I actually trained myself not to use “you guys”. When I do hear it frequently, I get irritated, even if it were women saying it. As a feminist, I am not trying to be so pushy about my ideas and thoughts about specific inequalities. My whole philosophy on life is to try to be as fair as possible. 


I wrote this not to vent, I wrote this to point out that we use a lot of words in the English language without really realizing the meanings, and whether or not it offends someone. What I wanted my students to get from reading this piece is that language is powerful. Language can hurt, it can satisfy, and it can intrigue. Being an educator is one thing that may sound easy, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult in the sense that not all students will understand, and not all students will like what you say to them. However, the whole point in education is not to push a student to think like the professor or instructor, it is to push the student to just think. Students and even teachers should think rationally, critically, and explore all meanings before making decisions. When words like “you guys” are used in the classroom or outside of the classroom, whether formal or informal, we create an invisibility of women, and make the usage of he, man, or guys as the norm, and only the norm. It is not to dismiss the male sex; it is to enhance the visibility of the female sex, and to let people see that women are people too. I know that may sound so sensitive, and peaceful, but it is what needs to happen in order to continue to become equal, or to become considered normal. After all, women have been fighting for hundreds of year for equality, why should we let the usage of the words “you guys” keep women from seeing that they are separate, and not a guy. If my students left class that day thinking about the words that debase women, and words that make women feel inferior to men, then I have done my job by enlightening them enough to think about the topic. We have the ability to stop obscuring women’s importance. Those who do not understand the word feminism or feminist will always have a negative connotation of what feminist want to reform, especially when reforming our language usage. As stated before language is powerful, and words in the English language seem to support male dominance, and is used to heighten male supremacy.

The thought that words like “you guys” doesn’t seem like a problem to some, is because this type of language has been accepted, and not seen as a change needed. Gender-neutral words have become part of our reality, and it needs to be reformed in order to create a new and supportive reality for women. A lot of people believe that if they support this type of reform, then they support feminism and become feminists, when they don’t want to be considered a feminist. To be considered feminists, one does not have to have any specific personality, physical characteristics, or hidden agenda. To be a feminist or pro-feminist, one has to accept that society creates unjust situations for women, equality has not been accomplished in all aspects, and that women or men believe that women should be able to have a voice and speak up, and to not be shunned by the world because she is a woman. I understand that my students are young, but that is no excuse to allow them to accept words that offend or insult. Even if people do not get insulted by the words “you guys”, it is still a negative way to address an audience full of women and men. These so-called “gender-neutral” terms are sexist, and are not just something to hide under the rug, and pile the mess.  I disagree with the fact that if women accept it, it is okay. The women that accept sexist language are the same women who accept objectification from men or society in general. There should be no difference between language and action. Our language is so important, because it is how we view society, how we share our thoughts, how we offend someone, and how we compliment someone. Language is action because it allows us to provide words that allow people to take an action, to change improper behavior, and to provide a better outlook, and opportunity for others.  Bilger (2002) stated that “feminist reform is an ongoing process that required a supportive community of speakers. The more we raise our voices, the less likely it is that women and girls will be erased from speech” (80). I am glad that some of my colleagues pointed out this article to me, so that I could engage my students enough to discuss their feelings and thoughts.


Bilger, Audry. (2002). On Language: You Guys. Bitchfest. p 76-80.