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Jessica Valenti hopes to redefine what rape really means

Rutgers alumna and feminist Jessica Valenti speaks about women and gender issues at Trayes Hall at the Douglass Student Center last night. – Photo by Tianfang Yu

A Rutgers graduate with a master’s degree in women’s and gender studies, Jessica Valenti, who founded the online community “Feministing,” is one of The Guardian’s 100 most inspiring women.

Valenti addressed an almost-full Trayes Hall in the Douglass Campus Center yesterday during her presentation, called “Yes Means Yes: Battling Rape Culture and Moving Towards a Positive Sexuality.” The goal was to spark a dialogue about battling rape culture and overcoming negative stigmas.

An author and columnist, Valenti has written four books on feminism, politics and culture, according to her website. She is a frequent media commenter and has appeared on various television shows and networks such as The Colbert Report, CNN, MSNBC, PBS and the TODAY show.

Valenti’s books include “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women,” “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know,” among others. “The Purity Myth” was made into a documentary and won an Independent Publisher Book Award.

Her books illustrate modern issues that women deal with regarding their sexuality. They also deal with topics like sexual assault and rape.

“I am a feminist this month because a student and activist Emma Sulkowicz carries around a mattress to all of her classes in protest until her rapist is kicked out of her school,” Valenti said.

Valenti hopes to redefine rape, saying that the word has been so distorted that it makes it difficult for sexual assault survivors to admit and report rape. She added that society tends not to believe victims.

The new definition of rape, she said, must include the acknowledgement of inequalities and discriminations in society, support of an enthusiastic “yes” and not just the absence of a “no,” and that the responsibility of the attack is on the rapist, not the victim.

“I have hope because now Emma Sulkowicz does not carry the weight of the mattress around campus herself. Just as Emma got help carrying the literal weight of her rape around, everyone has to help carry the weight of gender inequalities and rape culture,” she said. “Nobody should have to carry it on their own.”

Valenti described that a cultural shift is what needs to happen in order to reach equality. She brought up the fact that when those working in legislation say something wrong, they are held accountable.

Simmi Singh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said feminism should be important to everyone.

“I am from India, and the feminism is obviously very different there, but the values are all universally the same,” she said.

Annie Batt, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, felt connected to Valenti.

“I feel like I learn more from someone who is younger and more relatable, like Jessica,” Batt said.

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