rape culture

Hot Town, Summer in the City

We here in the mid-Atlantic United States have moved straight from a harsh and unforgiving winter into hot hot summer.  You know what that means: out come the shorts, the tank tops, and the rampant sexism.

This week, I found inspiration in a flyer that, thanks to a mother who commented on my Role/Reboot piece, I now know was originally posted around Lakewood High School in Colorado.  Apparently, temperatures inside the high school had reached 80 degrees and in order to combat the heat, several girls violated the school’s dress code and were called into the office.

The strange double standards boys and girls face while dressing for summer are, as far as I’m concerned, directly connected to our sexualization of female bodies: Men freely walk around topless in the heat, but a mother breastfeeding on a park bench sends us into an uproar.  All of our lovely female curves are loaded with the implication that because they are on “display,” (never mind the comfort factor in sweltering temps), they openly invite criticism, deserve comment, or indicate a lack of self-respect. So absurd, but oh-so ingrained.

I’m happy to report that this piece now has over 3,000 “likes” which is a tremendous (and welcome!) surprise. I hope that some of you will share it around.

A Message to Teenage Girls About Summer Dress Codes — May 15, 2014 on Role/Reboot

How Jock Entitlement Breeds Rape Culture

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This article was originally published by The Good Men Project on November 18, 2013.  You can view it here.

Every spring, one poem resonates with students more than all the rest in my intro to literature course. That poem is A.E. Housman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young,” an elegy that commemorates a young runner who, after formerly being “chaired. . . through the market-place” after a big win, is later carried down the same road in a coffin. Everyone sits up a little straighter in their seats, chilled by the image of the boy dying in his prime and living on through his achievements.

 

Housman’s premise—the glorification of young athletes—is nothing new, particularly in small towns. High school and collegiate sports, like the annual “North-South” rival football game in my hometown, foster local pride and allow older generations to wistfully revisit past glories on the field. When our young heroes win, we celebrate. When their lives are cut short, we mourn, having lost one of our own.

 

And when our student athletes break the law, we are disappointed. But only sometimes.

Other times, like in Maryville, MO, we defend and even wear shirts in support of alleged rapists. We suspend the victim from her cheerleading squad, while the perpetrators go on to play for collegiate sports teams. We do all of these things because there is another side to the coin of jock worship—the surge of entitlement that grips hometown heroes and college sports stars, cultivating their belief and ours that certain rules weren’t made for student-athletes.

 

I wrote a piece for GMP last month on domestic violence in the NFL, working from the statistic that 21 out of 32 teams carried at least one player with DV charges on their roster last year. A few readers were correct to point out that the ultimate culprit behind domestic violence is mentality, and that changes to such attitudes should start much earlier at the high school and college levels. I got to thinking about jock mentality as a contributor to other forms of degrading behavior—in other words, the societal beliefs and assumptions known as “rape culture” that normalize and excuse sexual violence. So how does rape culture in sports manifest itself so early? There’s a lot to explore once we peel back the layers.

Verbal Abuse Among Coaches and Athletes

 

Images of ranting and raving coaches are nothing new in American jock culture. And they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon, what with the five New Jersey high school football coaches placed on administrative leave and the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice over allegations of hate speech just this year. “Come on, work through the pain!” and “Don’t be a sissy/pussy/faggot!” are both familiar warrior cries, but while the former is motivational, the latter is abusive. Furthermore, insults constructed around femininity and homosexuality are designed to make the recipient feel like “less of a man” by aligning his characteristics with demonized softness or emotion. The subliminal message at work? Femininity and softness are bad. Less than.

Verbal abuse breeds on campus practice fields and locker rooms until it finally erupts in places like NFL rookie Jonathan Martin’s voice mail. In addition to calling Martin a “half-n***** piece of shit” and threatening to kill him, Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito (whose coaches reportedly ordered him to “toughen up” Martin) and another unidentified player threatened to slap Martin’s mother and rape his sister. Specific insults laden with sexual violence toward Martin’s female relatives perpetuate the idea of rape and sexual dominance being representative of manliness, and that, by violating the women most precious to a man, you can cause him great pain.

 

Pain, of course, is sissy. Just ask the NFL players and staff who chastised Martin for not “manning up” and dealing with the situation on his own. Even among an all-male cast, victim blaming is alive and well.

 

Broken Lines of Communication Between Students and Staff

In an October 2000 article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Kansas staff members Barbara Ballard and Amy Perko uncovered that the athletic department downplayed a female soccer player’s alleged assault by two male football players. After the victim sought help from her soccer coach and then the football coach, she found that the two players were “merely [made] to do extra running” as punishment. “The coaches did not inform administrators at the time that they had knowledge of the incident,” Amy Perko says.

A year later at the University of Colorado (Boulder), four football players were accused of raping a woman at a party off campus. No charges were ever filed, and the men were permitted to play in the Fiesta Bowl the following month.

 

University of Connecticut student Rose Richi contacted campus administration last spring after being overpowered and raped by a football player in his dorm room, but the office never followed up with her.

 

Even more disheartening are the results of a campus survey Amy Perko conducted among female athletes, who overwhelmingly “said they would go to a coach if they had personal concerns or if they were abused by another athlete.” So what happens if the coach is one who jokes about rape?

 

Citizens’ Defense of Perpetrators

 

Nothing feeds a sexual assault cover-up quite like the pervasive idea that women are crazy for addressing bad behavior. Students in Maryville were quick to tell Charlie Coleman (the older brother of one of the victims) that his sister and mother were “crazy bitches” for reporting the rape. Among other messages sent to Daisy and her family: “Our boys deserve an apology,” “That’s what you get for being a skank,” and a hope that Daisy “gets what’s comin.” According to Daisy’s mother, one female student wore a shirt to a school event reading “Matt 1, Daisy 0.”

The underage victim in the similar, and much-publicized case in Steubenville, received similar messages, including death threats from angry classmates on the Internet. A female relative of perpetrator Ma’Lik Richmond tweeted, “You ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry. . . so when I see you. . . it’s gone be a homicide.”

 

The backlash against these victims wasn’t exclusively local. It soon spread through national news outlets like CNN, when reporters Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow bemoaned the “two young men [with] such promising futures. . . [who] literally watched as they believed their life fell apart” during the Steubenville conviction. Crowley and Harlow repeatedly referred to the perpetrators as “football stars” and “very good students,” cited the involvement of alcohol (because rapists don’t rape; alcohol does?), and shared video footage of Ma’Lik Richmond collapsing in tears at the trial.

 

Rape apologism at its finest, brought to you by “The Worldwide Leader in News.”

 

Alternative “Solutions”

 

Rape culture is all about directing focus away from the root of the problem and shifting it to other places. Here are two of my favorite recent “proposals” to combat sexual violence:

 

1. Tell college girls to stop drinking. Yes, Emily Yoffe believes that the matter of rape prevention lies with the victims and not the perpetrators. But whether she knows it or not, Yoffe’s idea is not revolutionary—it’s merely an extension of our existing tendency to place the burden of rape upon the victim while ignoring the root of the problem. Walking alone at night? Didn’t bring your pepper spray? Forgot to put on your anti-rape underwear? Well, what did you expect?

2. Deny that rape culture exists and shift sympathy to the falsely accused. While false rape accusations can and do occur, using this issue to circumvent the much larger problem of actual rapes being covered up as “proof” that rape culture is a myth is a red herring at its absolute worst. Caroline Kitchens also demonstrates that she does not understand what rape culture actually is—not just rape itself, but the downplaying of street harassment, the underreporting of sexual assault, the media-perpetuated myth that all rapists are strangers in dark alleys, and so much more.

~

 

“[Winning] your town the race,” as A.E. Housman describes, epitomizes the communal nature of high school and collegiate athletics—if the team wins, the town or university wins. Failure is also a communal effort. Cases like the Steubenville rape and its aftermath—coaches discreetly “taking care of it,” students posting disgusting commentary on YouTube (Warning: this video is graphic and may be disturbing to viewers.)—are a result of not only the abuse of power by violent perpetrators, but the refusal of witnesses, coaches, and administrators to seize their own power when necessary. Jock and rape cultures fuse together when young men come of age in a climate of “specialness,” leading them to dismiss basic boundaries like consent, prompting an outcry from victims, and thereby generating backlash from a community out to protect its heroes. The problem is cyclical. And shared.

 

After Steubenville last spring, Dave Zirin asked “whether jock culture. . . was a catalyst for this crime.” And then came Maryville. And then came the allegations against Florida State’s Jameis Winston along with the subsequent Twitter reaction: tasteless rape jokes and laments over squashed Heisman dreams.

 

How many times does Zirin’s question need to be answered before we get it?

The NFL and Domestic Violence

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This piece was published by The Good Men Project on October 8, 2013.  You can view it here.

Pittsburgh is a town that loves its sports. This is apparent on every flashing marquee, on the side of every bus, and in every restaurant—chain and independent alike. One night last spring, I caught sight of this love in the lobby of Patron, a Mexican restaurant in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, and lost myself in the autographed pictures hanging floor to ceiling of all the Steelers who have eaten there.

 

But I was also introduced to another kind of history. “This place was all over the news a few years ago,” my cousin told me as we slid into our booth. “Remember Cedrick Wilson? Receiver for the Steelers? He came in here and hit his ex-girlfriend in the face.”

 

A different story than the one told by those smiling photographs, for sure. Shortly after the assault, owner Dan Rooney issued the following statement: “The Steelers do not condone violence of any kind, especially against women,” and Wilson was cut from the team. Likewise, Steelers running back Chris Rainey was cut hours after chasing down his girlfriend and slapping her during an altercation in January 2013.

 

Other teams have demonstrated similar no tolerance policies—the Dolphins had no problem terminating Chad Johnson following domestic battery charges in 2012, and the Bengals’ release of Ahmad Brooks after he punched a woman in 2008 was highly speculated to be fueled by the team’s efforts “to rehabilitate their image.”

 

But consistency is key, and not all athletes and teams have been playing by the same set of rules. Ahmad Brooks was picked up by the 49ers shortly after his release by the Bengals—only to go on and assault a teammate this past July. Following a domestic abuse charge in 2011, Green Bay linebacker Erik Walden received little more than a slap on the wrist—a mere one-game suspension.

 

Linebacker James Harrison continued to play for the Steelers after agreeing to enter counseling following assault charges in 2008, sparking an underdog-overcoming-adversity spin that journalists like Harold Abend have given the story. Abend portrays Harrison as a sympathetic figure despite his long history of violent outbursts—“The bumps and bruises he has sustained on the gridiron…pale in comparison to what he has endured off the field”—as though James Harrison is a victim of unfortunate circumstance and not a habitual instigator responsible for his own conduct.

 

What do all of these violent incidents add up to? Two things.

 

1) Public outrage does not seem to amass until NFL violence escalates. We were shocked and horrified by the accusations surrounding Ray Lewis and, more recently, Aaron Hernandez. We were more than happy to weigh in on the Ben Rothlisberger rape allegations. And of course, there was the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide. Murder and suicide are horrific, but do not negate the terror living women (and men) experience at the hands of abusers.

 

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Normalizing and downplaying these incidents (It’s the couple’s private business; we don’t know the whole story) must end. Period.

 

2) The NFL has garnered a reputation for being THE professional sports organization with THE domestic violence problem. Sure, domestic violence appears in other sports (NBA star Jason Kidd’s assault charges; wrestler Chris Benoit’s double murder and suicide), but given that 21 of 32 NFL teams carried at least one player with domestic violence or assault charges on their rosters during the 2012 season, the NFL is in a unique position, to, as Churchill once advised, “see the opportunity in every difficulty.”

 

 

Individual players are already seizing the opportunity to speak out. Cornerback Brandon Carr joined former Cowboys Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach at a “Men Against Abuse” rally in Dallas last March. Ravens linebacker Chris Canty told USA TODAY Sports that “we’ve got to stop being silent about this,” after speaking at an April domestic violence awareness seminar in Baltimore. Canty’s teammate, defensive back Chris Johnson, is using his professional platform to share a very personal story: his sister, Jennifer, was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend in December 2011. After taking in his sister’s two daughters to raise them as his own, Johnson now travels to various women’s shelters to promote awareness. And check out Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s participation alongside other professional athletes in the White House’s “1 is 2 Many” PSA, in case you missed it last summer.

 

 

As wonderful and necessary as this activism is, we need more of an impact from the NFL as a whole. I propose the following:

 

1) Tighten up the policy. The NFL must revise their current Personal Conduct Policy so that it is clear and consistent regarding domestic violence and assault matters. All teams in the league should be required to uphold this policy regardless of which current or potential players wind up in the hot seat—no high school athletic favoritism here. Change.org has already put the wheels in motion to petition Roger Goodell.

 

2) Start an official campaign. The NFL currently has no official campaign (Play 60) or initiative (breast cancer; going green) specifically targeting domestic violence. A league-wide campaign would unite the good work that many players are doing individually and inspire more activism in American communities. October is upon us, which means pink on hats and uniforms all over the field in support of breast cancer awareness. Wouldn’t it be great to see some purple for domestic violence awareness, too?

 

3) Partner up. Innumerable organizations have devoted themselves to raising domestic violence awareness. A partnership with the NFL could generate more volunteers, funding, and publicity, as it has for over 35 years with the United Way. Here are just a few of the groups and charities dedicated to domestic violence and related issues:

 

  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
  • Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN)
  • Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA, Inc.)
  • Futures Without Violence (FWV)
  • Men Against Domestic Violence (DVS)

 

 

I didn’t know about Cedrick Wilson’s assault until I sat down to eat at the very scene of the crime. I didn’t know about James Harrison’s violent history until after we won the Super Bowl in 2009—after I donned his jersey and cheered my team to victory.

 

There is a picture of 21-year-old me sitting on a dorm room futon, pulling on the number 92. A friend snapped it moments after Harrison’s glorious 100-yard touchdown return, and reviewing the excitement on my face makes me long for the days of a more successful franchise. When I finally read up on the linebacker’s off-the-field reputation weeks after the big game, I felt palpable disappointment, the chest drop every fan feels when our biggest heroes let us down. I wanted to support my Steelers, but I did not want to support an abuser.

 

Being both a woman and an owner of Ben Rothlisberger and James Harrison jerseys has created a strange and troubling kind of cognitive dissonance for me, something that I haven’t fully figured out how to deal with. Perhaps the NFL could help. By doing its part to tackle the problem of domestic violence, the NFL would be taking a crucial step toward getting everyone’s heads back in the game.

The Real “Ick Factor” of “Blurred Lines”

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“For an instant she felt them, their identities, almost their substance, pass over her head like a wave. At some time she would be — or no, already she was like that too; she was one of them, her body the same, identical, merged with that other flesh…”

 – Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman

I remember a world before “Blurred Lines,” don’t you?  Before the “hey hey heys” and the catchy walking baseline?  It wasn’t so long ago.  But now, nearly six months after its initial release, you can’t swing a foam finger without running into Robin Thicke’s summer anthem. With a simple three-word suggestion, everybody gets up, bounces, and grinds to the retro beat. 

Robin Thicke has publicly come under fire for his song’s creepily coercive and, as a girlfriend of mine described them, “rapey” lyrics like “I know you want it,” and “The way you grab me / Must wanna get nasty.”  His defense was that “lyrics can get misconstrued” and that he was really aiming to parody the degradation of women in music.  After all, he’s married and has a child, and we all know that married men and fathers are automatically exempt from being creepy.  What Thicke doesn’t acknowledge is that in a world where many listeners readily buy into objectifying messages, the lines between parody and more offensive pulp to add to the stack are, in fact, blurred.

“Misconstrued lyrics” and shameless self-promotion aside (the hashtagged pop-up text got old after about thirty seconds), what really got under my skin about the “Blurred Lines” video (NSFW) was its display of women.  No, not the fact that they’re topless.  Women’s bodies are beautiful.  It was how these women are displayed – as nothing but bodies for the viewer’s consumption next to clothed men – that bothered me. 

Let’s climb in the DeLorean and travel back to 1988, when Robert Palmer released the video to “Simply Irresistible.”  Palmer stands in front of three rows of women whose clothing, hair, makeup, and dance moves are completely uniform.  They are linked together in a chain, moving as one being.  They wear identical expressions of boredom and passivity, rolling their eyes or dropping their lids to appear sleepy, their lips pursed in flat, indifferent pouts.  The camera frequently cuts to specific sexualized body parts – thighs, breasts, buttocks – whenever the women dance or gyrate in a way that simulates sex.  Male gaze, anyone?

Nudity aside, there isn’t much difference between the women in Palmer’s video and the women in Thicke’s.  They parade in front of their ogling male counterparts, strike mannequin-like poses, bat their eyelashes, and absentmindedly fluff their own hair.  They stick their fingers in their mouths.  They run their tongues across their teeth.  Yet for all this emphasis on the mouth, the women are silent barring the brunette’s brief “Meow!” after Thicke likens her to a “domesticated animal.”  Words, like clothes, are reserved only for the video’s male stars.   

In order for the male gaze to operate most effectively in popular culture, the woman must be disarmed.  The removal of clothing, loss of individuality, and split of the whole into fragmented body parts are all crucial in the transformation from human being to consumable object.  None of these processes, contrary to Thicke’s claim that the objective of his song/video is to “make people feel good,” are gratifying or empowering to a female audience.  You’d hope that a female director would have understood this. 

Of course, music videos are hardly the only medium guilty of disarming women for male pleasure.  Print advertisements, particularly those selling sexualized products like alcohol and weight loss supplements, frequently place products alongside passive, vulnerable women or their body parts.  Budweiser’s beach towel ad features women who have literally fused with an object – the towel – and uses an overhead camera angle to signify dominance.  Syntha-6 protein shakes are perched on buttocks and held between breasts, and I’ll let you guess at the not-so-subtle meanings behind the slogans “Shake Well,” and “Grab One & Enjoy.”

The promotions for acclaimed series Nip/Tuck were famous for featuring an array of doll-like, disfigured, or dead women dominated by the show’s two male protagonists, Christian Troy and Sean McNamara.  There’s the faceless woman in nothing but heels and briefs being stitched up like a stuffed animal by the male surgeons.  The faceless “fallen angel” who lies either unconscious or dead in the desert, skin scarred from where her wings used to be, while Christian and Sean look on from above.  The naked woman draped elegantly over an examination table while Christian and Sean, clothed in suits, rest their hands on her and stare menacingly at the camera, conveying ownership; predator conquering prey.

And we can’t forget album art.  Metalcore band Asking Alexandria’s From Death to Destiny cover depicts a naked woman trapped inside of a vending machine, an image that leads us to believe she is available for purchase, while a clothed man in the foreground walks freely past her.  Ted Nugent, himself no stranger to controversy, envisioned this image of a bound and gagged naked woman being served on a plate of food as the cover to his 2007 album, Love Grenade.  The picture was later swapped out for a far less offensive cover.  Eminem’s cover for The Slim Shady LP features a clothed man (himself) and a dismembered woman (only her foot is visible) – presumably the body of his ex-wife, Kim, whom he violently kills on the track of the same name.  The Slim Shady cover also bears a striking resemblance to this Jimmy Choo ad, in which a suited man prepares to bury the lifeless shoe model draped inside his trunk. 

At 3:19 in the unrated “Blurred Lines” video, one of the women dons a mask that covers her entire face.  I immediately thought of Pauline Réage’s 1954 erotic novel Story of O, the account of a young French woman bound in sexual service to various masters.  In the novel’s final scene, O is fitted with an owl mask and paraded naked before a crowd of party guests.  When a guest asks O’s master who she “belongs to,” the master responds, “you, if you like.”

The women in Robin Thicke’s music video belong to us, if we like, because they do not own themselves or their bodies.  And despite Thicke’s labeling “Blurred Lines” a “feminist movement,” lyrics like “I’m gon’ take a good girl” and “You the hottest bitch in this place”, not to mention his willing participation in Miley Cyrus’ VMA train wreck, write a far different story.

Want to satirize the degradation of women in popular media, Mr. Thicke?  Shoot a video that shows clothed, autonomous women reacting with disgust to the advances of their pursuers, not one that reinforces the idea of women as morsels for commercial digestion.  Melinda Hughes has already done so.  Your defense of “Blurred Lines” as parody clearly misses the mark, because no matter how many good intentions this road to hell is paved with, the solution is never found by perpetuating the problem.

Five Years Later, Ben Roethlisberger Rape Jokes are Still Not Okay

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This article was published by Role/Reboot on August 12, 2013.  You can view it here.

As a second-generation Pittsburgher who bleeds black and gold, my favorite time of year is the six-month block when I can cheer on the Steelers. It’s early August, football season is just around the corner, and recently I had the pleasure of attending my first Steelers training camp practice. The best part about the practice, other than meeting the head coach and getting him to sign a pair of black and gold knee socks I bought earlier at the merchandise tent? The complete absence of Ben Roethlisberger rape jokes.

I should explain. My father, a Pittsburgh native, relocated to central Maryland many years ago, where I now live—about an hour west of Baltimore. Baltimore is home to the Ravens, and the rivalry between the Steelers and the Ravens is one of the most heated in the NFL. Living in an area where fans of both teams mix and mingle (sometimes hospitably, sometimes not) means there is plenty of opportunity for heckling the opposition, and the “incidents” of 2008 and 2010 involving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have given Ravens fans no shortage of fodder.

In July 2008, Andrea McNulty of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, claimed that Roethlisberger had raped her in his hotel room and decided to file a civil suit against him. Despite the fact that McNulty’s co-worker delivered a statement swearing that McNulty bragged to her about having consensual sex with Roethlisberger, the insults from Ravens fans began to fly. “Rapistberger!” they shouted. “Stay away from my daughter!” “No means no!” The second sexual assault accusation against Roethlisberger in March 2010, which allegedly took place in a nightclub bathroom in Milledgeville, Georgia, added even more fuel to the fire.

A friend of mine, who is a die-hard Baltimore Ravens fan, made me a T-shirt for my birthday adorned with the phrase “No Means No,” and placed Steelers emblems inside the letter O’s. There is a photograph of me after I slipped the shirt on that night, grinning from ear to ear and giving the camera two thumbs-up. I was 21 years old at the time. Five years later, at 26, I am embarrassed by that picture.

I find that picture embarrassing because, at 21, I had not yet left my college dorm room to give my roommate and a boy I had assumed was her date some privacy. I had not yet come back to the room hours later to discover my roommate missing, and I had not yet been questioned the following morning by a detective from the city police.

At 21, I had not yet heard the shocking and painful stories of sexual assault from female friends and family members. I had not yet been in a situation where I was drunk and could have, depending on the setting and circumstances, been taken advantage of. I had not yet pushed a guy off of me who wanted to go further than I was comfortable with, and I had not yet felt the anger and helplessness associated with having to say “No” many, many times over before he complied.

But at 26, I have.

According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Many American football fans—jersey-donning, face-painting, chicken-wing-guzzling football fans—are women. So when you see the hulking 6’5” Steelers quarterback parade across your television screen and hurl phrases at him like “No means no!”—phrases often linked to a painful past for many women—whom are you really hurting?

Five years after the first incident, Roethlisberger rape jokes are still everywhere. Hopping off the stool at a sports bar where the Steelers game is being shown, I am often told to “be careful in the bathroom” by male friends who cheer for the opposition. Before trips to Pittsburgh to see my family, I am cautioned to “watch out for Rapistberger—avoid the public bathrooms up there,” especially if I’m “wearing a skirt.”

The fear of rape, assault, and harassment is a constant reality for many women. Dark parking lots, street corners, and enclosed spaces—like public bathrooms—are spaces that carry a threat for women that men simply do not experience. The advice “Don’t get raped,” passed off as a joke all in good fun reflects the central problem with our culture’s treatment of sexual violence: Rather than teaching boys not to rape, we teach girls not to get raped. It’s victim-blaming concealed as playful Sunday afternoon banter.

If the football fans who hurl taunts like “Rapistberger” are truly outraged by rape, they would take a stand against a serious issue, choosing to donate money or volunteer their time at CASA, Inc. (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused) or to join an organization like MAVAW (Men Against Violence Against Women). They would not use sexual violence as material to propagate a sports rivalry.

I don’t know if Roethlisberger raped those two women; he was never convicted, and I was not personally there to witness the alleged assaults. But one thing is clear to me five years after lightheartedly donning that “No Means No” shirt: Professional sports are not platforms to reinforce sexual objectification, victim-blaming, or other misogynistic points of view. Professional sports should provide occasions for both men and women to socialize and entertain, and to feel safe and comfortable while doing so.

So once football season starts this year, you can find me in a black and gold jersey, cheering for my home team. And if you’re genuinely concerned about what may or may not happen to me in the public bathroom, feel free to walk me there yourself.