Plights of women: race, rape, prostitution

Studies show that females, by virtue of not being male, are systematically and oppressively silenced.

Seventy percent of the world’s illiterate are female. Worldwide, more than 50 percent of women over the age of 15 cannot read or write.

Students Mecca Hughey, Marianna Cuevas and Leah Converse gave a voice to these women, and all others, during a student panel discussion as part of a celebration of Women’s History Month. The event was hosted by Living Proud, Program Board and the Gender Studies Minor Committee.

Hughey, a communication junior, first spoke about the intersection of race and feminist movements. She argued that conventional feminism is oriented towards white women, leaving out a significant portion of women: those of color.

“Black women are the lowest on the totem pole. No one is more misunderstood than a black woman,” she said.

Hughey then discussed the issue of race in a classroom context, drawing from personal experiences of instructors asking her for a race-specific verdict on particular topics.

“When race is brought up, I’m expected to speak for the entirety of one race. I can’t do that – I can only speak for myself,” Hughey said.

In response to those who claim that they are “color-blind,” that they don’t see race in an attempt at eradicating racism, Hughey asserted that those people are the ones further fueling the fire.

In failing to acknowledge a difference in complexion and all of the cultural, social and personal nuances that accompany it, they are insulting people of that race. Those people are claiming that what separates them from another person, what constitutes their historical and modern diversity, does not exist.

“Your ‘refusal to see race’ is an insult to me,” Hughey said. “If you don’t see my race, you don’t see me.”

Cuevas, a social work sophomore, focused on the all-too-common sexual assault of women.

As president of the Sexual Assault Prevention Team on campus, she began with a statistic: one in four college-age women will be raped before receiving their diploma.

Cuevas then oriented the conversation around dispelling a common myth associated with sexual assault.

In a courtroom simulation of her own creation, she invited audience members to act out the trial of a man accusing another man of robbery.

Instead of questioning the man accused of robbery to determine if he was innocent or guilty, lawyers interrogated the robbed man.

“How long have you been financially active?” they asked. “What were you wearing when you were robbed?”

Cuevas said that this victim-blaming, while uncommon in a case over alleged robbery, happens all too often in sexual assault cases.

She then discussed the history of rape, once considered a crime of property theft from the woman’s husband.

Now, in modern times, many people are desensitized to the word ‘rape’ and use it in colloquial situations as a joke.

Cuevas then brought up another issue: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Law, nicknamed “rape insurance.” Recently passed in Michigan, this law entails that, in cases of rape, special insurance must be proactively bought to cover abortions.

Because of this, she argued, women must expect to be raped and they must plan for it.

However, as a result of her efforts in educating the Saginaw Valley campus about sexual assault and her volunteer work in preventing it, she hopes “we’re creating a legacy for future generation of women.”

The last speaker, Converse, a sociology freshman, discussed her volunteer experiences in the county of Alajuelita, located in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is considered the safest country in Central America, where prostitution is entirely legal.

Converse’s mission while abroad was to learn about the problem of sex-trafficking, and attempt to amend it with proper education.

The number of women and children trafficked into this sex economy, according to some estimates, are as low as five hundred thousand, or as high as two million.

“It became very real, very fast,” Converse said.

She said that this coercive prostitution is part of the culture in Costa Rica, so educating their people to see the problems with trafficking these women and children against their will was difficult.

This Costa Rican view of coercive prostitution contrasts severely with the glitz and glam associated with prostitution in the United States. The way to fix this coercive prostitution, according to Converse, is through education.

“It seems really irrelevant to us, but any support we can offer will be more than helpful to the women and children who don’t have a say in the matter,” Converse said.

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