Guest Op-Ed: Streaking is Not Sexual Harassment

If you haven’t heard the buzz about Senior Streak at Seattle University, here it is. It is a timeless tradition where seniors share their excitement about their amazing accomplishments and have a bit of liberated fun. I remember being pleasantly surprised at the end of my freshman year to see happy, naked seniors dancing around on their last day of classes, and I was so excited to one day have my turn freely share my achievement and excitement with the community. Three years later, on the eve of my last finals week at Seattle University I started asking around and doing my research to find out what the deal was with Senior Streak. I found out that it was an entirely student conceived and organized event that has been going on for over 20 years. Unfortunately an email was sent to the seniors by the Dean of Students, warning us of the “serious connotations and consequences that call for [Senior Streak] to end”, namely that “streaking creates a climate for sexual harassment.” I am writing this to not only express my frustration about the scare tactics and oppressive response of the administration at Seattle University to this “prank,” but to also to explain how this message exemplifies a pervasive climate of body shaming and rape culture in our society. To say that Senior Streak promotes sexual harassment is to say that our bodies are exclusively sexual objects that are inherently alarming and offensive. This is an assumption of rape culture and body shaming. This thinking affects everyone. Condemnation of streaking distracts from the very real and pressing concerns of sexual assault, rape culture, and body shaming. The objective is jubilation, not vulgarity. Legally speaking, Senior Streak is not indecent exposure and public nudity is not illegal in Seattle. I must inquire; Why are dancing naked bodies obscene? Who was affronted and alarmed? This event is in no way intended to offend anyone. This event isn’t even sexual. Part of rape culture is the “objectification of [women’s] bodies…thereby creating a society that disregards [women’s] rights.” (Marshall University Women’s Center) Bodies are not inherently sexual, and sexuality is not something shameful. Yet we propagate rape culture by degrading bodies to sexual objects, even when the context is not sexual at all. This mentality obscures the complexity and beauty of bodies. If some people want to celebrate their bodies in an innocuous way, more power to them. While some people may find nudity to be offensive, this is a product of our socialization that we need to challenge and reconsider. Showing our bodies in a respectful way should not be criminalized. I think we need to see more of this kind of positive body expression in order to degrade the walls of oppression surrounding nudity. We have the right to peacefully and joyfully express ourselves in public, and this right was threatened. Senior Streak is not sexual harassment, nor does it promote a climate conducive to sexual harassment. In fact, I would argue that it was not the streak itself but the message sent by Seattle University that equates a beautiful celebration of empowered students with sexual harassment that feeds into a “climate of sexual harassment”. Sexual harassment as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Wikipedia’s definition: Sexual Harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Assuming that onlookers are at risk of becoming victims of sexual harassment is definitely a stretch. As I have mentioned, this event is not intended to be sexual. Considering that the legal definition of a sexual advance is a gesture “with the aim of gaining some sort of sexual gratification,” Senior Streak is not a sexual advance. There are no sexual favors, bullying or coercion, or promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Dare I suggest that the nudists are at risk of sexual harassment? If so, I am thoroughly distraught at the taint of victim blaming and suffocating weight of trivializing sexual harassment and sexual assault. The assumption that nudity equates sexuality is limiting. Propagating the idea that bodies are offensive and disgusting (Dictionary.com definition of obscene) is in conflict with body positivity. Some art is considered offensive, yet artistic expression is protected and celebrated. Images from Pro-Life protesters can be offensive, yet they are permitted in public. Some people’s dance moves are considered offensive, yet a grinding, pelvic thrusting, or twerking in a Flash Mob is not indecent exposure. I am affronted that nudity is so sexualized and vilified that it is considered more obscene and indecent than any of these other forms of public demonstration. Rape culture perpetuates body shaming by limiting our idea of nudity to naked sex toys. The objectification of bodies detracts from the promotion of body positivity. We need to look beyond the narrow-minded prejudice against naked bodies and recognize that we can be naked in a non-sexual, non-threatening way. Kudos to the students who were motivated to #ReigniteTheMission Senior Streak (w/ Clothed Allies and Twitter Blast). I think that is a great idea to show the administration that we are invested in social justice and we are willing to speak up and challenge the community to continue moving forward. I hope that we can continue to make positive changes by thinking critically about the world around us and leaning in to tensions as they arise.

Here is some further reading if you are interested in rape culture, body shaming, and sexual harassment:

Alora McGavin, senior environmental science and Spanish major

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  • Was interested to read what you have to say here. It has certainly given me some interesting information to consider. I’m also interested in reading what others have to say on the subject matter and will check back soon.