Overview effect: “refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.” (Wikipedia)
There is a lot left to say about the Steubenville rape case, its verdict, and the media and public reaction towards both the case and the verdict. There’s also a lot to say about attitudes towards sexual assault and gender violence against women on this campus.
So I want to talk about why I think that funding NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and other such agencies around the world is part of the fight against gender violence and sexism.
Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of female role models to look up to in terms of what I could do as a career. Outside of “celebrity” professions, that is: pop stars, actresses, and so on the number of visible professional women was limited; however, there are two who clearly come to mind. The first is Dr. Roberta Bondar. The second is Julie Payette. Aside from gender, what do they both have in common? They’re astronauts, and were heroes to thousands of girls and boys across Canada in the 1990s. Astronauts are symbolic of being able to go for whatever it is that you want to go for, the value of education, overcoming fears and facing danger, and the wonder of curiosity. Space exploration may have started as a race in the Cold War, but look where we’ve come: the U.S. and Russia are working together now within and across boarders to launch a few people into the black is only the result of immense cooperation—what better example is there to set? There is so much divisiveness and, more often than not, a complete refusal to cooperate in politics, and conflict is glorified on “reality” TV, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that a bunch of teenagers didn’t collaborate to stop a heinous act, but instead participated in (or watched) the hate, violence, and violation.
On YouTube there’s a 2012 video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson making a case before the U.S. Senate Committee to increase NASA’s funding. He was articulate and compassionate as always, but he also made the argument that funding NASA will make America richer and is an economically sound choice. But here’s the thing. Funding agencies like NASA, who are watched around the world by children and dreamers alike, is an investment in the health of our collective human psyche.
When I hear about cases such as the Steubenville case, I wonder. What would have happened if those rapists had grown up with dreams? I don’t mean just football dreams (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that), I mean collective dreams for humanity. Perhaps they did, but perhaps those dreams fell by the wayside—none of us can know. I don’t have a problem with sports as a whole, but I do have a problem with the culture that privileges and excuses athletes for sick behaviour; this is the culture that places the importance of winning the big game or making the big leagues above the well-being of the surrounding community. Steubenville is not unique in this matter. This is why we need a greater collective goal: the more we are exposed to humanity doing good for the whole, the more we see each other as complete people: subjects, not objects. When a person is objectified they are dehumanized—and dehumanizing is the first step towards violence.
We need goals and innovation to allow our next generation of female heroes to prove that celebrity isn’t the pinnacle, that gender and achievement aren’t correlated, and to provide the example that girls can follow their passions and are not passive objects to be ogled at. Girls and women are not victims or as media, institutions, and safety campaigns would have us believe—victims waiting to happen if we don’t follow the rules.
When the latest sexual assault of a VIU student happened just off campus and VIU sent out their alert email I was upset both for the victim and for what this institution is telling us: walk with a buddy, be safe. They didn’t call it sexual assault in that email. They didn’t say that the criminal did wrong (or that what happened was a crime). They told us what to do so that we don’t become victims. Knowing how to defend yourself is important, but presenting self-defense as the biggest tool in the fight against sexual assault is insulting towards all of us. This“solution” places a band-aid over a knife wound that has cut to the bone of our society and then tell us that it will be okay. There are women and men around the world who speak to these issues more eloquently than I ever could, but that doesn’t really matter, because the volume of speech and action needs to step up, and that action has to come from two sides: direct solutions and indirect solutions.
We need more than one or two remarkable role models. Humanity is not sick, but it is showing symptoms. I like to imagine that humanity chasing big dreams with women as equal participants will lead to a cross-cultural intolerance towards slut-shaming, sexism, and victim-blaming. These kind of endeavors don’t provide the direct education that we so sorely need, even as to the very definition of rape—which is clearly, profoundly misunderstood—but these actions encourage curiosity, education, and empathy. It’s empathy that prevents these things from happening. We need to experience the overview effect more than anything and we need it soon.