Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance pose with Jessica Valenti and at meet and greet dinner for cosponsors of the lecture.

Feminist Icon Who Went to Rutgers Addresses Rape Culture in Talk at Alma Mater

NEW BRUNSWICK—Rutgers aluma and self-proclaimed “professional feminist” Jessica Valenti visited her alma mater and delivered a lecture on rape culture and positive sexuality Thursday September 17.

Valenti, who was named one of the Guardian’s 100 Most Inspiring Women and founded the popular news website Feministing.com,  spoke to a room full of Rutgers students, alumni, and New Brunswick community members in the Douglass Student Center.

“It’s always really fun to come back to Rutgers. I love the unity here. I love how forward thinking the students and the Women’s and Gender Studies program is. It’s always fun to come back and talk to students and feel like I’m coming home again and am part of the community,” stated Valenti.

Valenti received her Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University and soon after founded Feministing.com, which the Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.”

She is a columnist and author of four books on feminism, politics and culture. Her third book, "The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women," won the 2010 Independent Publisher Book Award and was made into a documentary by the Media Education Foundation.

Valenti is also a frequent contributor to television programs, having appeared on shows such as The Colbert Report, CNN, MSNBC, PBS and the Today show.

Her lecture entitled, “Yes Means Yes: Battling Rape Culture And Moving Towards a Positive Sexuality,” talked about dismantling ambiguous definitions of rape, combating victim blaming, and battling the stigmas that are associated with feminism.

My reasons for calling myself a feminist change every month, Valenti told the crowd.

This month, she says she calls herself a feminist for several reasons, including:

  • the National Football League's decision to revisit its two-game suspension of Rutgers alum Ray Rice only after a video was leaked that depicted him striking his then-fiance in a casino elevator
  • girls being considered a distraction for boys in school for showing to much skin
  • Emma Sulkowicz, who has vowed to carry her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is no longer at the school
  • the fact that people still argue that feminism is dead, despite Beyonce’s display at the VMA's.

Valenti also stressed the impact that language has on rape culture, and societal views about sexual violence.

She talked specifically about “grey rape” which is a term made up by journalist Laura Sessions Stepp, and published in an article called “A New Kind of Date Rape” in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Grey rape is defined as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what,” according to the article written by Stepp.

Valenti dismantled the credibility of this term stating that it is not a term that is acknowledged by experts, and talked about its detrimental effects on our culture by delegitimatizing the rape of survivors.

Valenti stated that there are no grey areas when it comes to rape, to alleviate the misunderstandings that people like Stepp perceive in instances of sexual assault, adding that educating our culture about enthusiastic consent is a way to ensure that consent for both parties engaging in sex is clear.

She also talked about societal expectations of female sexuality, and how it is looked down upon for women to be sexually liberated.

Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance pose with Jessica Valenti and at meet and greet dinner for cosponsors of the lecture.

Sara Stern, a senior at majoring in Social Work major at Rutgers said she had a good experience attending the lecture.

“It was so affirming to hear Jessica Valenti talk about rape culture, campus sexual assault, and what we can do to transform the culture. I was glad that she liked my definition of ‘slut’, which is a Sexually Liberated Uninhibited Thinker.”

The Rutgers University Programming Association, Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA), Douglass Residential College (DRC), and several other student organizations co-sponsored the event.

“We were excited to bring Jessica Valenti to campus because we know that she really makes the idea of feminism and being a feminist accessable to all of our students, even people who are questioning ‘Am I really a feminist?’ or ‘What does it mean to be a feminist?'” stated Laura Luciano, Assistant Director at VPVA.

"She is very approachable as a person and makes feminism approachable too"

For Douglass Residential College students, having read Valenti’s work in the required course titled "Knowledge and Power: Issues in Women’s Leadership," the event brought their experience about feminism and women’s issues full circle.

“I really enjoyed [the lecture] because I was introduced to Jessica Valenti in my Knowledge and Power class. We read a passage from her book 'He’s A Stud, She’s A Slut.' Seeing the person who introduced me to feminism as a first -year, four years later was really incredible”, said senior DRC student Elisa Mendez.