Democratic strategist, writer, commentator, and activist Zerlina Maxwell made an appearance at the University of Pittsburgh to talk to students and interested citizens about rape culture, sexual assault, sexism, and patriarchy.
Invited by the University of Pittsburgh underground feminist publication, “Slutciety,” over the course of one hour, Maxwell gave a presentation titled “How We Can All end Gender Based Violence” in the Pitt Union Ballroom,
In a presentation that included statistics, problematic ads, videos, and at one point even a shirtless picture of rapper Rick Ross, Zerlina Maxwell challenged the audience to stop thinking of rape and gender violence as something inevitable. Most importantly, she said to the audience before she began with the slides, “If you learn nothing else from me when you leave here, if a girl ever comes to you and tells you they’ve been raped you will simply believe them. Because that should be the default answer–not asking them what they were wearing or if they were drinking.”
Taking an educational approach, Maxwell chose to explain and define what many feminists and activists call rape culture is, and with troubling statistics she told the 200 students in attendance some troubling realities that go along with being female–particularly a college-aged female.
“It’s dangerous to come to college as a woman,” she said. She went on to explain that, “Rape culture is a spectrum.” A spectrum that starts with things that, at first glance, may seem harmless, such as rape jokes, street harassment, and violence against women. She noted that things that trivialize such serious crimes contribute to survivors not getting the justice that they deserve.
Maxwell drew from popular culture and current cases unfolding in the media–like Bill Cosby, for example–to discuss the “revictimizaton” and demonizing of women who come forward after they have been raped.
She asked those in attendance to think long and hard about why we live in a world where when rape victims seek justice, they tend to receive more shame and judgment than the men accused of raping them.
Although, the presentation focused mostly on sexual violence against women, men played a role some might not expect. After she was introduced, Maxwell voiced to the audience with obvious delight how great she thought it was that there were so many young men in attendance,“because it’s not just a woman problem.”
In regards to rape prevention, Maxwell–in person and in video form via a clip from Fox News–made it clear that she believes that men can prevent rape and the conversations about “rape prevention” put the burden of prevention on those victimized. She also stated that “toxic masculinity” and narrow expectations of manhood are a part of rape culture.
As opposed to telling women to not drink or wear short skirts or to always carry a gun, she said, “We need to teach boys about consent before they even start having sex.”
“I’ll let you guys in on a little secret: if you ask and communicate with your partners you will have better sex,” she added.
Maxwell received applause; however, when she has previously voiced such views in a debate on The Sean Hannity Show, in the aftermath of the Steubenville Trial last spring, she received a great deal of backlash. Backlash occurred mostly on social media, some of which included rape and death threats that she shared with the audience in her power point.
Maxwell noted that this is a very common occurrence for women involved in social justice movements. There were so many questions from audience members that the event which was intended to only last an hour went over, but in parting remarks she again urged her audience to, when dealing with someone who has been assaulted or raped, always ask not what they were wearing, but if they are okay.