If Only These Lips Could Speak of Respect
Issue   |   Wed, 04/11/2012 - 02:11
Photo by Joyzel Acevedo ’14
Organized by the Women of Amherst, “If These Lips Could Talk” allowed students to share personal stories of trauma and strength to raise awareness about gender violence.

Let’s face it. Even without knowing anything about “The Vagina Monologues,” the fact that it is about vaginas is enough to know that we are dealing with some heavy topics here. It seems like the concept of femininity, of womanhood, is incomplete without a conversation about sex. And when we say sex, we mean sex as power, as rape and abuse, as tangible proof that women are still being treated unfairly.

Yet facing these truths is often too difficult, too depressing, and ultimately too awkward for us to talk about. It is within the more structured situations like the student performance “If These Lips Could Talk” that we find the courage to acknowledge that not only does rape happen, but it happens among us.

“If These Lips Could Talk” was a show inspired by previous performances of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Students wrote their own pieces based on those performances, the Women of Amherst compiled these experiences to create a uniquely Amherst script and voila! “If These Lips Could Talk” was born. Proceeds went to the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT).

Deftly navigating the dark waters of injustice and helplessness, the show raised some questions and answered others. The questions that were answered — that people were raped, sexually disrespected, shamed and lonely and hurt — were sobering to admit. Even more sobering to realize is that as liberal, progressive and isolated as Amherst is thought to be, the College is not safe. The questions that were raised – of what we can do and why these things happen – were an invitation by the “If These Lips Could Talk” cast to start a meaningful and critical discussion to do something positive about it.

It would be incredibly easy to dismiss the show as feminist (and therefore angry and man-hating), but those negative connotations ignore the fact that these “bra-burning” feminists have a point. There is something very wrong in the way our society shames rape survivors and ignores sexual disrespect. Sexism is real and ugly and here. Everyone has seen it happen — and everyone has ignored it at least once.

And there we go — “If These Lips Could Talk” as a springboard for potential action, full of politically charged ideas. But even as the show traverses the boundaries of sexism, racism, socioeconomic classism and other “isms,” it brings to mind that diversity doesn’t apply just to labels. Amherst has a diversity of experience, some of trauma but also of strength.

But “If These Lips Could Talk” is not about rape or blame. And as the central theme of talking suggests, the show was not primarily about the questions. It was about women sharing their secrets and having others listen. About having other people care, about finding solidarity with those that share the same experiences. It was about building a community — a community that works to prevent future events of sexual disrespect but is in no way defined by it.

Yet, I’m quite aware of how difficult that is — even as easy and “kum-ba-ya” it sounds. In our academically competitive schedule and success-oriented lifestyle, it seems trivial to think critically about what it means to be a young woman at Amherst. Or, for the men, to think about what it means to live and interact with young women at Amherst. But it is a crucial part of our identity, especially in a patriarchal world (as much as we may pretend it isn’t). Patriarchy affects the way we think and the way we act, and when small acts of disrespect add up, they explode into unforgivable acts of abuse.

So let’s take it from the examples given to us by the “If These Lips Could Speak” writers. Let’s think critically about sex, gender and how those two are expressed. Let’s go beyond the theoretical and ideological and into the personal, subjective and meaningful. In the discussions we have, we might find support, a friend and maybe even a sister or brother. But we can only do this if we talk and act — and unfortunately, “If These Lips Could Speak” is the exception, not the rule. Pessimistically speaking, this kind of solidarity isn’t going to happen, not in our politically inactive, happy-go-lucky, awkward Amherst bubble. The only way it will is if we want to change that.

Do we? I’m not sure, but in the meantime, let me tell you about imagination. It is beautiful and full of potential. It is life-affirming and wonderful and the stuff that dreams are made of. It is pretty words and marvelous pictures and maybe even hippies. But all of that doesn’t matter if that’s all it is.

A feminist (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/11/2012 - 12:10

"It would be incredibly easy to dismiss the show as feminist (and therefore angry and man-hating), but those negative connotations ignore the fact that these “bra-burning” feminists have a point."

I hope the author didn't mean to imply that the stereotype that all feminists are "angry," "man-hating," and "bra-burning" is even the slightly bit valid. Not only is this stereotype patently untrue (no bras were burned, not even in the '70s; most feminists don't hate men at all; and if feminists are angry, it's because they kind of have a point--wouldn't you be angry if you knew that you lived in a world where you or your friends could be raped and the rapist would get away with it scot-free?), but also it is used as a way to silence arguments that make others uncomfortable. Someone tells you that you benefit from gender inequality at their expense? Call them a feminist and you think you've effectively ended the discussion. But 'feminist' isn't an insult. It shouldn't be used to dismiss valid arguments.

I don't think the author meant to imply that these stereotypes have any merit, but the wording was just a little confusing, and I just wanted to emphasize that being a feminist is not a bad thing, and that shaming feminists is just another way of trying to keep quiet uncomfortable truths, like the realities of rape and sexual assault on this campus.

Finally, a huge thanks and congratulations to the Women of Amherst. This performance was truly a courageous act, and I wish to applaud each and every performer.

An anti-feminist (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/11/2012 - 23:41

The problem is defining "hate". In the eyes of many self-proclaimed feminists, a person who expresses even the slightest disagreement with mainstream feminist beliefs (for example, on the issue of what constitutes as "rape"), will be decried as a "misogynist", i.e. a person who hates women. If someone doesn't fully believe the typical "slaughtered saints" narrative that women were brutally oppressed and completely powerless for hundreds of years under patriarchy, that is enough to denounce him/her as a "misogynist". Even someone merely being sympathetic to men's rights activism is enough to be called as a "woman-hater".

Hence based on this standard, the majority of feminists should justifiably be called misandrists, i.e. they are haters of men. Otherwise we have a blatant double standard.

Kristin Ouellette (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/12/2012 - 11:30

I think that it would be more constructive to have a discussion about the definition of rape or the traditional roles of women in society than closing off the discussion before it has even happened. Productions like the Women of Amherst show are not meant to hate or put down men, but to facilitate discussion among students about things like rape and power.

Kristin Ouellette (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:39

I agree with the above commenter. Based on the tone of the rest of the piece I don't think the author meant to use the word "feminist" in the way that it appears. It becomes very difficult to organize a movement for political and social change when the most self-evident label for the movement is rejected because of how it has been distorted over time. As the Men's Initiative founder Jareb Gleckel stated in his letter in the Women of Amherst program: "I am an environmentalist because I love, value, and respect the environment. I am a feminist because I love, value, and respect women." Feminism is as simple as that.

I am a feminist and I like wearing bras. I am a feminist and I love women and men.

If you are interested in reading a complete review of the Women of Amherst show, you can check out the article on shebomb: http://www.she-bomb.com/2012/04/08/women-of-amherst-2012-if-these-lips-c...

an anti-feminist (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/12/2012 - 00:08

You know - I wonder. Back then (perhaps a few decades ago or so) the slogan that "all men are rapists" was largely popular. Now the question is,
1. How strongly do you agree/disagree with the statement?
2. Would you readily denounce and not associate with those who do agree with it?
3. Do you think such a statement could qualify for the adjective "man-hating"?

Kristin Ouellet... (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/12/2012 - 11:09

Several decades ago there was a radical but very small group of feminists that burned bras to fight the patriarchal hegemony. Several decades ago there was also an environmentalist group called the ELF that invoked economic sabotage and guerilla warfare to stop the destruction of the environment. Several decades ago the Black Panthers used violence and military tactics to support civil rights, and several decades ago the KKK was burning crosses and attacking/intimidating blacks. Several decades ago was a rough time in American history, and a lot of people did a lot of violent and aggressive things to protest what they felt was wrong with the world.

The historical precedent of an activist group of course has an impact on the modern conception of the organization. Most people feel a certain way about the Black Panthers or the KKK due to what happened several decades ago. However, I would argue that broad terms like 'environmentalism' and 'feminism' represent an ideological base that rejects the sort of radicalism that you mention. Today, many people label themselves as environmentalists without the need to justify the actions of the ELF. It is a great deal harder to label oneself as a feminist because of the continuing aggression from people like Rush Limbaugh, whose oversight of what the term actually means causes many people to be afraid of using the word.

To answer your questions:
1. Of course all men aren't rapists. Most men aren't rapists. Because a little something called love exists, whether familial, romantic, or platonic, most men do not feel the need to commit violent acts against women (or vice versa). Among whom was this statement largely popular? Were housewives in grocery stores shouting this slogan at the top of their lungs? It was probably a group of young and impassioned women who saw no other way to make their voices heard. Several decades ago there was a much stronger culture of silence surrounding sexual violence and sexual harassment.
2. If I could speak to that person, I would try to listen to their story––there is probably a reason why they distrust men as a general category, and it probably stems from the actions of one or a few individuals. I would urge them to speak openly about their experiences, and I would help them to create a constructive outlet, whether seeking legal action, telling their story, or becoming politically involved.
3. I think that the statement "all men are rapists" does qualify as man-hating, and I apologize on behalf of the person who said that to you for saying something so hateful. However, the best way to resolve gender issues is not to condemn feminism as a whole, but to promote conversation around the sensitive issue. So, thank you for responding with your perspective.

Contemporary feminism is an ever-changing movement, but now more than ever it has focused on the ways in which men are also oppressed by the rigid social structures. The Women of Amherst show actually features a piece in which 'man-hating' was discussed, and regarded as an awful way to promote gender equality.

You may be interested in becoming involved with the Amherst Men's Initiative, which promotes this type of discussion on campus between men and women. http://www.facebook.com/groups/298133396923682/.

Also, this article from the NYTimes talks about how the feminism of the future is as much of a men's movement as a women's movement: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/world/europe/23iht-letter.html?_r=1&pa...


Kristin Ouellette (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/12/2012 - 11:10

I agree with the feminist

Clara Yoon (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 00:46

Hi, I didn't mean to say that feminists are man-hating, bra-burning as a whole or even as a valid generalization - I criticize the act of dismissing feminists as such. That's why the phrase "bra-burning" is in quotes and why I then go on to criticize the trivialization of rape and gender issues.

oh jesus (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 02:20

"All men are rapists" is a very classic misquote of what radical feminists during the 70s were actually trying to say, which was a powerful and biting critique of power relations in sex and "feminist consciousness." They never meant that all people born with penises are inherently rapists: rather, they were talking about the difference between consent and meaningful consent and whether meaningful consent is even possible in a drastically unequal world. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, it is an intelligent and stinging critique of sexism and not misandrist in any way, nor implying that all men are rapists in any way.