Women have come a long way since the 19th century, when they were considered to be property of their husbands. But in many ways, they still lack control over their bodies.
There is no doubt that women have made advancements in society. In 1920, women won the right to vote. In 1972, Title IX prohibited the discrimination of women in education programs. In 2016, the Democratic Party nominated Hillary Clinton for the presidency – the first female to be nominated by a major party. Despite these advances, women still face obstacles that men do not – and this inequality manifests itself in many areas of life.
Oversexualization: Monitoring Women’s Bodies Starts Young
“Have you been wearing that all day?” She turned her head to see her school’s vice principal examining her outfit. Kendall Floto, an 18-year-old Angola High School graduate, remembers she felt good in what she was wearing. It was spring, it was hot, and she took the opportunity to pull a sundress from her closet.
“That is not dress code.” The dress, dark blue with flowers adorned, went down past the length of her fingertips—a common aspect of appropriate dress code. It wasn’t the length that was the problem. It was her shoulders. The sleeveless dress, although the strap length was more than four fingers wide, put Kendall’s shoulders on display.
Angola High School has a dress code like any other public school. And like any other school, the dress code is in place in attempt to create the best learning environment for students. Specifically written on its website: “Items that would be considered detrimental to the learning environment or potentially a safety issue are not permitted. Chains and spiked jewelry are not permitted. Sunglasses, hats, bandanas, and other similar headwear are not allowed during the instructional day. No dark or colored glasses are permitted unless prescribed by a physician or optometrist.”
Kendall was not specifically violating dress code, she said, and she wasn’t, according to the handbook. However, a clause of the dress code states that what is deemed appropriate is left to the discretion of those above her. It reads: “We believe students can dress comfortably within these guidelines. School administrators, faculty and staff reserve the right to determine if a clothing item or accessory is appropriate for school.”
In this case, that discretion was left up to her vice principal—and her exposed shoulders were deemed unacceptable.
Kendall said that she was told to go and get a jacket to cover her shoulders. Otherwise, she would face consequences. She obliged, but had to call her mother to bring one to her. Walking back into the office to pick up the jacket, she ran into her vice principal again. This time Kendall said she was furious that she still did not have the jacket on. “If I knew you would have to have one brought to you, I would have written you up then,” Kendall remembers her saying.
Simply being a female in a space with other people, makes her a sexual object. Whether she is in class, or simply walking in the street, Kendall said she has been made to feel that her body is always provoking those who might be sexually attracted to her. Women are oversexualized in many areas of society – even an exposed shoulder in a classroom can be deemed a distraction.
About to be a college student at Indiana University, Kendall may experience oversexualization and objectification further. Oversexualization excessively sexualizes her body. Objectification makes that body an object.
Sexual Assault: An Epidemic Across College Campuses
*Jane Doe is a pseudonym granted to protect her identity. At the instruction of her attorney, she cannot use her real name because of her pending lawsuit against Northern Kentucky University. Jane filed the lawsuit in response to the way the university handled her sexual assault case. Although the school barred her attacker from certain areas of campus, Jane said these conditions were not adequately enforced.
In college, many roommates create a code for when the other should not walk in. A sock slung over a handle. A rubber band stretched across the brass of the knob.
A piece of clear Scotch tape covering the key hole.
These are nonverbal cues that many college students understand. Don’t come in. I’m having sex.
Pushing himself off the mattress, he walks over to the door. Sticks the tape over the lock. The nonverbal cue: Don’t come in. I’m having sex.
From the mattress she whimpers. Because he’s not having sex.
“No, no, no,” *Jane Doe remembers saying as he walks back over to her.
The verbal cue: This is rape.
One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime according to the annual National Crime Victimization Survey by the Justice Department. And according to that same research, college women that are between the ages of 18 and 24 are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than the average woman.
This problem is widespread, and Ball State University is no exception.
This past year, nineteen sexual assault cases were reported to the Ball State University Police. From 2015 to 2016, one hundred twenty-one complaints were filed regarding sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating/domestic violence, or stalking to the Associate Dean of Students, who is also the Title IX Coordinator.
Jane is filing a lawsuit against Northern Kentucky University because she says her case was mishandled.
Her freshman year in college, Jane met a boy during an early move-in program. In the beginning of that semester, he had asked her to help him with homework. She obliged.
Carefully looking over problems together, she felt his presence a couple inches away from her. Both sitting on the twin mattress of his dorm staring at the notebook page. She felt the shift in weight on the bed. He moved an inch closer. Rocking onto her hip, she put the space back between them.
Again, he moved. The mood became flirty. But it was one-sided.
“You’re looking really good right now,” She remembers him cooing into her ear, bridging what was left of space between them.
Most sexual assaults and rapes are carried out by a family member or friend in the victim’s life. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, three out of four rape cases are committed by someone known to the victim.
His advances toward Jane continued. She would move, and try to turn his attention back to the homework.
He became more aggressive, saying, “Come on,” as he pulled at her arms and waist.
“No. I’m here to help you with your homework,” she said.
And then suddenly, he was off the bed. He flipped her. She lay on her stomach as he grabbed both of her wrists and clenched them between one of his fists. She couldn’t move.
She kept saying no. He said nothing.
Instead, he yanked at the hem of her jean shorts, pulling the fabric off her hips. And the rest is a memory Jane has done her best to forget.
The most prominent memory is one of pain. The pain in her wrists once he released his hold. And how he rolled over on his side, clasping his hands behind his head. How he asked in shock where she was going when she felt like she could finally leave the prison of his dorm room. How she went home every weekend of her freshman year thereafter, just to get away from him and Northern Kentucky University—the institution that is now the defendant in her lawsuit.
After she reported the rape, she said he would still appear in the same places as he. The same places the university barred him from.
According to the court documents, Northern Kentucky University believed that Jane had been assaulted as she described. The same documents state Jane took steps to ensure that she wouldn’t have to see this man again.
But, he crossed her path on more than one occasion.
In one instance described in the court documents, Jane’s attacker visited her cafeteria and walked around her. Jane explained this as him circling around her lunch table to intimidate her, before finding a seat close by. This gave her anxiety attacks, an inability to sleep, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—all of which are described in the documents.
Other stories like Jane’s have surfaced recently – such as the Stanford rape case. Brock Turner, the convicted rapist, was released from jail on September 2, 2016, after serving three months of his six month sentence.
Jane’s attacker was also granted leniency, according to the court documents. Although barred from certain areas of campus, he could ask permission to enter the forbidden areas, doing so on several occasions. Jane was never notified of these instances. He also attempted to contact her through social media, despite a no contact order.
Jane’s story is one that happens more often than it is heard. On average, only twelve percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses report the assault to law enforcement, according to a 2014 report by the White House Council on Women and Girls.
But, some women still view statistics as a number that they can’t imagine being included in. “I never thought that it would happen to me,” Jane said. “You always hear about it. But you never think it is going to happen to you.”
Like being sexually assaulted, being verbally and physically abused by significant others is another statistic women don’t think they’ll ever be a part of. But to be exact, the National Domestic Hotline says one in four will.
Domestic Violence: A Cycle of Control and Abuse
“That’s normal, Amy,” Kiah Beeman, Amy’s friend, couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Amy Swanson gushed that her new boyfriend, Jack, had texted her that he missed her. Amy was ecstatic that her boyfriend would text her to tell her she was beautiful, and that he hoped she was having a good day. “That’s a normal thing for a boyfriend to say,” Kiah told her. But to Amy, who had just gotten out of an abusive relationship, these typically normal responses from a significant other seemed so foreign to her.
Her past relationship had started off well—really well. She remembers finding herself thinking he was the one. But things slowly changed. Moments that felt uncomfortable are now seen as “red flags” she ignored.
It wasn’t that she didn’t see them, she admits. She just didn’t want to.
It started after a year of being together. Together for a total of six, the abuse continued for five. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“I don’t want you hanging out with her.” Amy said this was becoming a regular fight for the couple. He became more controlling, she said, constantly telling her what she could or could not do. Friends Amy had for years, she now had to stop seeing in order to avoid a fight. And new friends of the opposite sex had to be put into her phone under a female name—even if they were just texting each other notes from class.
Jack, Amy’s current boyfriend, said his speaking to Amy had to be in secret. Even though he was simply a friend at the time. If her past boyfriend happened to look at her phone and see a boy’s name pop up with a message, Amy knew it would be trouble.
This was only the beginning. The signs she did her best to ignore became more and more alarming.
The first incident, detailed on the restraining order states: “He hit me, spit on me, and pushed me up against the car…”
The second occurred in fall of 2014. The restraining order reads: “He pushed me up against the wall, covered my mouth while I begged him to stop and threw me on the bed and smacked me.”
The third and last incident described on the restraining order was April 17, 2015. She remembers this as the moment she could no longer ignore how she was being treated.
After an argument at Ball State’s spring carnival, Amy got angry. She came home, slammed her door, and locked it behind her without even thinking. Soon her boyfriend began pounding on the door. He violently shoved himself against it, and eventually broke the whole door down. He proceeded to cover her mouth, hold her down, and choke her, as the restraining order details.
Either I’m going to be with him for the rest of my life, or he’s going to kill me, she thought.
Her father said he never realized her relationship with her past boyfriend was abusive. Although never fond of her former boyfriend, he never suspected his daughter was being smacked, spit on, and choked. Once details of the abuse came out, he said the biggest pain is knowing that she didn’t feel comfortable telling him.
Amy finally told her father, her mother, and Kiah. Her restraining order prevents any contact between her and her former boyfriend. She encourages other victims to recognize the “red flags” she ignored for so long before it is too late.
According to the FBI, 11,766 American women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends between 2001 and 2012.
As of 2016, whether women are being whistled at on the street, assaulted at a party, or silenced by the pressure of a lover’s hands around their throat—the obstacles women face in today’s society can be fatal.