Political Professor Tackles Issues Of Sexual Assault in ASM

“When a survivor comes forward, the very first thing that you say to them is, ‘I believe you.’ ”

This is the one idea Dr. Caroline Heldman, Chair of Political Science at Occidental College, hoped students would take away from her address on rape culture and sexual assault during Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM).

“If you fit the popular box of masculinity or the popular box of femininity, then you are buying into normalized coercion. If you are raised in our culture and you are a heterosexual male, you’re taught to be what I call a pusher… If you are a girl or woman raised in our culture, you are raised to be a gatekeeper; you’re raised to be disinterested in sex,” said Heldman in her presentation.

Dr. Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, and Carolina Artacho-Guerra, Instructor in Physics and a faculty member of the Brace Advisory Board, decided to bring Dr. Heldman onto campus as a way to continue teaching Andover students about healthy sexual relationships.

“We [have been]… educating the community about rape culture and about toxic masculinity and  gender based violence and sexual assault for more than two years now… This is part of this ongoing effort to educate the community,” said Vidal.

Some students were glad that the ASM shed light on sexual assault and appreciated that Dr. Heldman also reinforced previous learning in other programming such as the Personal and Community Education (PACE) and Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) seminars with new statistics.

“I thought the presentation added onto what we learned during last week’s ASM about toxic masculinity, unhealthy gender norms, and rape culture. Although we’ve gone over many of the core themes in dorm chats and during PACE and EBI, it was still shocking to see the horrifying statistics,” said Margot Hutchins ’20.

According to Heldman, her motivation to research and speak about sexual assault and rape culture comes from personal experiences.

“I have been an activist around this issue for two decades because it affected a lot of people in my life… Trying to get to the bottom of why it exists and why it’s so persistent and why we don’t talk about it became a big focus of my academic research,” said Heldman.

In addition, Heldman recently came forward as a victim of sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly, and she has also offered support to a fellow victim and friend, Perquita Burgess.

“I knew as a liberal commentator no one would believe me, and it would have ended my media career. I think, in retrospect, I was absolutely right. No one would have believed me,” said Heldman.

Heldman continued, “I think there might be some pressure to shift the way women are treated in the entertainment industry [based on current allegations of sexual assault], but I also think that just having awareness of the issue equals accountability,.”

During her talk, Heldman recognized that rape culture has also infiltrated Andover’s campus and is one of the factors responsible for giving rise to its hook-up culture.

“The thing about hook-up culture is that men and women don’t like it. What we know is that men benefit from it reputationally but don’t like it emotionally. Women don’t benefit from it reputationally or emotionally. But students… engage in what’s called pluralistic ignorance, where they think, ‘Oh, I must be doing something wrong because everyone else likes it,’ ” said Heldman.

In terms of minimizing hook-up culture at Andover, Heldman had a few ideas. One was more communication during sexual intercourse.

“Hookup culture leads to bad sex, and the best way to prevent that is to communicate a lot before, during, and after sex about pleasure, about consent. Consent actually leads to better sex. The more verbal communication you have during a sexual interaction, the more pleasure both parties will get from the sex,” said Heldman.