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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Raise Your Voice panel discusses sexuality, transgender resources, rape culture

Editor’s note: This article includes discussions of sexual abuse. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre DameSaint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

The ongoing Raise Your Voice symposium at Saint Mary’s College held a panel Friday discussing research on sexual violence. The panel featured junior Clarissa Espinoza, senior Sarah Louth and 2021 graduate Grace Maher.

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Grace Maher (left), Sarah Louth and Clarissa Espinoza presented class projects and papers for the Raise Your Voice Sexual Violence Symposium Friday.


Espinoza, a gender and women’s studies and communication studies double major, presented first. For her presentation, she read an essay she wrote for a feminist theory class about the shifting discourses of women’s sexuality.

The essay focused on two opposing authors, Katherine MacKinnon and Carole Vance. Espinoza dove into the different arguments of each.

MacKinnon, Espinoza explained, views a woman’s sexuality as being gendered, meaning that male dominance is sexualized as well as a woman’s submissiveness, which in turn causes a woman to be controlled by the man.

This argument, Espinoza said, is restrictive towards women’s sexuality. Vance, however, makes gender and sexuality more distinct, she said.

“This also causes the conversation to move from danger to pleasure,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza said the discourse, despite having strong, opposing views, was important.

“Although the authors’ arguments are so different, they still provide important information about sexuality,” Espinoza said. “Sexuality is a very complex concept, and the authors reemphasize that complexity by creating discourse that allows room for the conversation.”

Louth, who also double majors in gender and women’s studies and communication studies, spoke next about her advocacy project to provide support and resources for the transgender community. Her central claim was that “sexual violence doesn’t discriminate, nor should our support resources,” referring to the lack of resources for the transgender community.

In her presentation, Louth discussed her internship with Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services (TREES) this spring.

“As an intern, I created a brochure dedicated to finding resources in the Midwest, specifically for transgender sexual assault,” she said.

But the limited nature of resources despite shocking statistics of transgender struggles, Louth said, was “disheartening.” She said the transgender community needs multi-pronged support, coming in the form of medical care, healing support, legal support and allyship.

Maher, who graduated from Saint Mary’s with a degree in gender and women’s studies and humanistic studies, concluded the panel portion of the event with a presentation on rape culture in America. Her presentation was a modified version of her senior composition project that she wrote with the Gender and Women’s Studies Department.

In her presentation, Maher argued that 21st-century America perpetuates and, in fact, actively contributes to rape culture through media representation and inadequate legal protection of victims.

“With the emergence of the digital age, rape culture has taken on a new and increasingly accessible form,” she said.

Maher dove into attempts to represent rape culture in the media, analyzing the impacts of movies like “Bombshell” and “Hustlers” as well as television shows like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Unbelievable.” These portrayals mostly fail to “do no harm” because they perpetuate harmful notions of victim-blaming and questioning, Maher argued.

In exploring the perpetuation of rape culture from the legal system, Maher pointed to public sexual assault allegations and cases such as those involving Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, former president Donald Trump and movie producer Harvey Weinstein. These cases, Maher argued, failed to hold public figures accountable, allowing them to live above the law.

“This inability in our legal system to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions excuses crimes and forces victims back into the shadows, despite the bravery to come forward in the first place,” Maher said.

To fight rape culture, Maher said a total, collective effort is needed.

“The 21st century can work to eradicate rape culture, but this will take the work of everyone, not just victims or survivors, not just those in the gender and women’s studies or similar fields, not even just women, but everyone,” she said.