A Recipe for Challenging Rape Culture Through Language

Have you ever thought about how casually we use violent and derogatory language in conversation–or considered the impact that this could be having on our communities?

#ExpressRespect is an installation project that visually represents some of the dehumanizing ways we use language by compiling phrases that have been overheard on your campus. The purpose of doing this is to raise the collective consciousness of the impact that this language has on people, because it has become so normalized that we often don’t even notice it. Changing culture starts with challenging the idea that violence is inevitable or acceptable. It might seem harmless when you say that your friend “raped you at FIFA”, but we all need to hold ourselves accountable to making our communities more inclusive and being more considerate to our peers. My hope is that this recipe guide will empower you to see that you have the power and tools to educate your community and create culture change on your campus!

About the Chef

My name is Gloria Fortuna, and I’m from Long Island, New York! I am finishing up my sophomore year at Davidson College, where I am an English major and Gender & Sexuality Studies minor. On campus, I’m a member of the executive board of the Rape Awareness Committee and other student groups that focus on gender-based violence. I am so honored to be working with Breakthrough and to have had the opportunity to put together this action on my campus! Learn more about my action and my work with Breakthrough here.

Ingredients

  • Large blank poster board for your display
  • Smaller cards defining the words/phrases of your choice
  • Post-it notes – a lot of them!
  • Markers for people to write submissions on the spot
  • A short handout outlining the purpose/goal of the action
  • A resource sheet with a list of organizations that offer support or further information (including Breakthrough!)
  • An open wall or board, preferably in a spot that gets as much foot traffic as possible to maximize interaction with the installation
  • Volunteers who are willing to help set up the installation and work the table–it helps if they’re passionate about the issue, too
  • An online survey for anonymously collecting examples of violent and derogatory language that is used in your community

Prep time:

3-4 weeks, depending on how long you spend collecting your own examples.

Cooking time:

You should try and keep the installation open for 3 days, but that will depend on your own availability and whether your volunteers are available to help out while the space is open.

Recipe:

  1. Choose the words/phrases you want to focus on, and start collecting your own examples.
  2. Create a survey to send out to as many people as possible collecting submissions.
    • It helps to give some concrete examples in the survey itself to jog people’s memories.
    • Leave an open-ended section at the end for submissions that don’t fit into one of the categories you’ve provided – it’s nearly impossible to come up with an exhaustive list, and your action doesn’t need to encompass every instance of violent language, but it’s always good to make sure people still feel heard.
  3. Pick the space on campus you want to use for your action.
    • Try to pick a place that gets lots of foot traffic.
    • Contact whoever is in charge of the space you want to use and book it ASAP!
  4. Write up a short handout detailing your action that you can send out as you spread the word, and give to people who walk by your installation.
  5. Spread the word and collect examples!
    • Use as many social media platforms as you can. Where will you reach the most students in the most effective way?
    • Identify your allies- reach out to people in power who might be able to help you gain traction.
    • Try to find organizations on campus who will sponsor your action and can give time to help with your installation, provide funding for supplies, or push your survey on their social media platforms. Don’t make assumptions about which kinds of organizations will want to help – talk to activist groups and Greek life and sports teams too!
  6. Buy the physical supplies you need.
  7. Synthesize the information you’ve collected and start transferring it to cards and post-its to begin your display.
  8. Find some volunteers! Ask your friends, other student activists, student groups – you never know who will want to help. Once you have a team, put together a volunteer schedule.
  9. Set up! Take your posterboard, post-its, and all the other supplies to your location, and put it all together.
    • Hint: I used four separate pieces of posterboard that fit together like a puzzle to make it easier to transport across campus.
  10. Encourage people to take handouts and to post about it on social media to continue to spread the word, even after your action is already in motion.

Substitutions:

  • Can’t find a space to book for your action? Consider some public spaces around campus that are up for grabs without needing permission.
  • Want more submissions? Ask professors if they’ll send your survey out to their students (and maybe even offer extra credit for participation). Be creative about which departments you reach out to – Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies is a good bet, but so is Sociology, and what about Linguistics?

Helpful Hints:

  • Think carefully about the dates you pick. Plan around big events on campus, but also be sure to take care of yourself! You don’t want to end up scrambling to put everything together the same week you have 4 tests, 6 papers due, and a million meetings.
  • Get in touch with any groups or individuals on campus who are already working on gender-based violence. Activism is a team project!
  • Do your best to get survey answers from a wide range of people impacted by violent language, from the earliest stages of planning all the way through to the last day of your action. Intersectionality should not be an afterthought.
  • Do not be afraid to make noise and take up space on campus, and don’t let anyone try to intimidate you into backing down when you know you’re doing good work! If you’re getting pushback for your activism, that just means you’re doing something right. It’s important to think about where your criticism is coming from – is it coming from marginalized students who are most impacted by the norm you’re trying to change, or is it coming from people in power who benefit from keeping the problem out of the public eye? React accordingly.