September 21, 2013 § 4 Comments
This was written in response to an open letter that circulated a few weeks ago, written by a mother of boys to their friends who are girls. Please read that here first.
Dear Mrs. Hall,
I’m going to guess you’ve had a tough week. Here you are, a small-time blogger (like I am) and one of your posts blows up in your face. I’m not going to lie – I have very mixed feelings about you, the open letter you’ve written, and the support/backlash you’ve undoubtedly received as a result. I’m not sure either the praise or the e-lynchings are entirely called for (although I tend to side with the critics on this one) but, hey – that is the risk we take when we write an open letter to the internet public and hit publish.
I’ve never met you, and my only impression of you is this one FYI letter you wrote to the girls in your sons’ lives – just like you have never met some of the girls whose photos you check out, and to whom you address your public letter. I can see from your blog you’ve received hundreds of comments in support, that you’ve got THOUSANDS awaiting moderation (just do yourself a favor, and close the comments) and that you will delete comments you consider rude. Since, however, you have become an internet phenomenon by doling out unsolicited advice, I can only assume you, yourself, would be open to unsolicited advice from a fellow mother, woman, and writer. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 24, 2013 § 3 Comments
Well, folks, it’s June 24, 2013, and I’d like to welcome you to a little feature I call “Rape Culture Round-up.” Progress on the War on Women front? Let’s just say any moves have been lateral at best, rather than forward.
We can start with this little gem from conservative talking head Laura Ingraham. When discussing how Plan B (emergency contraception) will likely soon be available over the counter, she opines thusly: ” It’s a good deal for pedophiles, a good deal for people who commit statutory rape against young girls.” Right. Because rapists and pedophiles are FIRST AND FOREMOST concerned about the consequences of their actions for their victims. And the mentality of a rapist is such that he’s worried if a pregnancy results from the rape, he might have to stick around and raise the kid. Let’s completely ignore how the availability of Plan B (aka the “morning after” pill) might actually help or empower a person who’s the victim of a rape or pedophilia. Don’t mention that, Laura. Instead, let’s introduce one of my favorite techniques (employed by both sides of the debate, by the way) the…drumroll, please…the false comparison.
“These girls can’t get their ears pierced, they can’t take an Advil at school without parental permission. Yet, they can go into a pharmacy in this Brave New World of women’s equality and — quote — reproductive health — and get a morning after pill…I think it empowers men who want to abuse women.”
Allow me to enlighten this debate by sharing that while girls can’t take an Advil at school without parental consent, they also can’t take the morning after pill at school with or without parental consent. If and when girls CAN go into a pharmacy and buy the morning after pill without consent, so, too, can they buy Advil without consent. I’m not sure Ingraham understands this, but a school is a different place from a pharmacy. They operate differently and under different rules. It’s complicated, I know.
Here’s another little factoid for those fans of false comparisons. Girls and women get their ears pierced and take Advil for different reasons than they might take the morning after pill. So, for example, if a 38-year-old woman finds her birth control has failed, and for whatever completely legitimate reason she has (which, frankly, is none of your damn business) she is not likely to take Advil to prevent the potential pregnancy. Neither will a 15-year-old rape victim, battered, bruised, in shock and traumatized decide the solution is to run to the mall to get her ears pierced so that she doesn’t become pregnant. We take Advil when our back hurts from too much volleyball. We get our ears pierced for fun and fashion. We take the morning after pill to prevent a pregnancy for a variety of reasons (which, again, are none of your damn business.)
Furthermore, the concern Ingraham and the others at Fox News show that the availability of Plan B emergency contraception may “empower men who want to abuse women” is, shall we say, disingenuous. If they were truly concerned about empowering men who abuse women, they’d be talking about the following things in today’s Rape Culture Round-up:
1. The Anonymous hacker who helped expose the Steubenville rapists might get more jail time than the actual rapists. Let’s hope not, but way to discourage disclosure and reporting of rape, justice system!
2. Facebook’s misogyny problem. Thanks to the highly publicized social media campaign that threatened to lose FB some big advertising dollars, Facebook is finally tiptoeing around the notion that pages entitled, “Raping your Friend Just For Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she Won’t Make you a Sandwich” might constitute hate speech, rather than humor. Pictures of women who have been pushed down the stairs, with the caption “Next time, don’t get pregnant” might not be permissible free speech. DON’T, however – DO NOT – post a picture on FB of a woman breastfeeding. It will be taken down because it is “indecent.”
3. At Microsoft’s conference last week, one of the producers of (surprise, surprise) an extremely violent video game saw fit to make a rape “joke.” In front of thousands. To a woman. A woman he was absolutely destroying and pummeling in this violent video game. Yes, friends, he told her she liked it. She said she didn’t. He said, “Just let it happen. It’ll be over soon.” Hm. The one bright spot is that this joke was not well-received by the audience, and the producer was quickly called out for it on Twitter – by a fellow Microsoft producer, and a male one at that. Yes, in this case, the fact that the fellow producer was male is significant. Makes it more of a Sister Souljah moment.
4. Lindy West, a feminist and a comedian, spent a few minutes on a show discussing why comedy is not the most welcoming place for women. Please click on this and watch the short video of her reading the responses she’s gotten for this in a post entitled, If Comedy Has No Lady Problems, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?” Please do it. I will wait.
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?
5. Republicans in Congress continue to bring the crazy to the debate on abortion laws making exceptions for women who are victims of rape and incest. Yes, Trent Franks. You’re right. Chances of getting pregnant from rape are practically non-existent! My unicorn agrees with you. Now excuse me while I run to the store to pick up my light saber that has been repaired. Have to slay those dragons, you know!
Now, if any of you are hearing Fox News covering these stories in ways that demonstrate genuine concern for women and the appropriate derision towards rape culture, please let me know. Somehow, though, I doubt I’ll be hearing from many of you racing to Fox’s defense.
I will leave you, though, with an absolutely brilliant response one woman had to her personal experience with rape culture. She received a full frontal naked picture of a man wanting to date her. She took screen shots of the picture and resulting conversation. And sent them to his mother. Please click on this to see it. Please do it. I will wait.
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?
So, this ends today’s Rape Culture Round-up, folks. While I hope I’ll never have to do another one of these, I know I will. For as long as our society downplays the threats to women and enables rape culture, while simultaneously and perversely denying women the means to cope with the aftermath and/or control their reproductive lives, there will be a need for columns like this one.
This post originally published on The Broad Side on June 14, 2013.
March 18, 2013 § 29 Comments
Apologies in advance. This post will contain foul language, grammatical errors and abuse of parenthetical statements, and a really poor drawing of a gavel. I am sorrier for the grammatical errors and abuse of parentheses.
(If you have trouble with my using the word bullshit and other profanity, I have the okay from Norman Lear. Good enough for me.)
I wanted to do a post entitled “I Call Bullshit” last week, and here’s what I wanted to include:
1. Upworthy and Nicole Sherzinger. Here’s the link to a video and commentary on Upworthy. Normally I really enjoy Upworthy posts, but this one made me roll my eyes. In it, NS is being interviewed on Conan O’Brien wearing a dress out of which 3/4 of her 8th Wonder Of The World breasts spill. Upworthy gives her “props” for “matching wits” with Conan, by reminding him to focus on her face. Gimme a break. She not only didn’t match wits with him, he gave her EXACTLY what she deserved. I’m not saying she was asking to be abused, but she sure as hell was asking for attention to be paid to her breasts-o-magnificence by EXPOSING most of them. Even *I* couldn’t take my eyes of those orbs. Please.
2. ESPN. Here’s the link to a Deadspin article detailing the firing of an ESPN executive for sexting a stripper. A STRIPPER. A single man. Sexting a STRIPPER. The stripper and her boyfriend tried to extort Scott Sassa, and he refused to pay up. So the stripper and her boyfriend forwarded the texts to an ESPN colleague, and ESPN FIRES Sassa. ESPN is owned by Hearst publishing company, and justified the firing thusly:
“Hearst ‘prides itself on being a very ethical, clean-cut company.'”
HAHAHAHAHAH. Journalism as a rule is so ethical and clean-cut. Especially at Hearst, the inventor of yellow journalism way back in the 20th century. Especially SPORTS journalism, wherein the very nature of the culture of professional sports involves sexualizing and objectifying women. If sports journalism was so concerned with ethics and cleanliness, how about banning Go Daddy and Cialis ads instead of giving a shit if one of their single (or married, for that matter) partners was sexting privately with some woman (and apparently her boyfriend) who takes off her clothes (and apparently is into extortion) for a living? How is this ANY of ESPN’s business? How about capping salaries at slightly less than obscene rates and charging a little less for beer?
Since I’m a big believer in lists having at least three items on them, I didn’t publish the above. Until now. Why? Because the universe dropped the biggest opportunity to call bullshit in my lap over the weekend. Steubenville. Now I have three. Cue the thunder and lightning and bats and maniacal laughter from the Count on Sesame Street.
3. Awwwwwww. Those poor boys. Can Mommy come wipe your face with a tissue as you cry remorsefully about having TAKEN PICTURES of the girl you raped and dragged around to various parties for people to witness said rape???? You pieces of SHIT? How dare anyone, ANYONE , let alone CNN express the tiniest iota of sympathy for these “boys?” How dare they??? Have they even SEEN this video where drunk onlookers are laughing at how dead and raped she was? What do DESPICABLE, lower than slime, pieces of fucking shit like these kids deserve but derision, dismissal and jail? Now, I’m sorry, but being drunk doesn’t turn you into a different person – I firmly believe that in most cases, it turns you into more of the person you already are. And these boys are sociopaths.
When this video was leaked, a friend on Facebook urged us to show it to our daughters. I didn’t – she’s already got a healthy terror in her about losing control of her senses and actions via alcohol, but I sure as hell showed it to my son. My son who is in his first year of high school, and entering the world of high school sports. I watched him come to the computer happy, and walk away sickened. I didn’t make him watch all 12 minutes. It went without saying (but I said it anyway) engaging in any type of sexual activity with a girl this drunk was rape, and while I’m not worried he’d perpetrate such an act, I want him to be aware he might witness and/or hear of something like this going on. And if he does, for god’s sake, get the hell out of there and get help for the GIRL. Make use of the technology in your hands to HELP HER. Text the address to 911. Take a snapshot and forward it to the police. Get the hell OUT OF THERE and get her help. Or, even STAY THERE and help her. Believe me, kids are as susceptible to peer pressure to do good as to do evil. And if anyone, ANYONE gives him a hard time about doing the fucking right thing, they will suffer my wrath – so help me fucking god, I will have his back.
What do all three of these instances of bullshit have in common? Well, dear readers, they all have the effect of making women harder to take seriously. They reinforce the sterotype of women as sexual objects above all else. Nicole with her peek-a-boobs, the stripper with her extortion, ESPN and Hearst with their hypocrisy. But the CNN coverage of Steubenville is the worst, because it perpetuates the culture of victim blaming in cases of rape and sexual abuse. It distorts beyond recognition the notion that bullies are victims, too. Oh, how SAD to see these promising young men have their lives ruined. What about the ACTUAL fucking victim??? How about being ENCOURAGED that the two most blatantly responsible for the VICTIM’S potentially lifelong nightmare are being held responsible??? Where is our sense of justice?
I once read (and I cannot remember who wrote it – apologies for that, too) that the advancement of a civilization is directly proportional to its treatment of women. Well, it would appear we have a lot of goddamned work to do.
January 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
I sat down today to write about the heinous, inhuman and grotesque crimes committed by a group of teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio – two of whom “allegedly” dragged an incapacitated drunk girl from party to party to be sodomized, raped, urinated on, and mocked online. For some reason, I’m coming up blank. Thanks, Brent.
Yes, I’m talking about famed sports announcer, Brent Musburger, and his televised comments about Katherine Webb. Musburger admired (at length and repeatedly) the beauty of Ms. Webb. She is Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, and, well, a BEAUTY QUEEN. Miss Alabama, to be exact. The camera was on her for a prolonged period of time during his inappropriate…um…commentary. ESPN has since apologized, and I think rightly so. Even though Katherine Webb wasn’t offended (of which I am glad,) millions of viewers (some of them male, if blog commenter IDs are accurate) were uncomfortable and creeped out by it.
There were predictable cries about the PC Police gone mad, and outrage that ESPN apologized. I agree with them. And I don’t. Frankly, I’m conflicted about it in a way that I am, of course, NOT conflicted about Steubenville. Maybe that’s why when I was experiencing writer’s block, and began jotting down stream of consciousness notes about it, my paper looked like this:
Why is there outrage about this apology? Are people sad they might be deprived of creepy imagery of old men who want sex? I don’t think they have to worry. I mean, if Cialis commercials aren’t enough to creep you out while you’re watching football with your 8-year-old, I don’t know what is. Are they concerned about Brent Musburger being deprived of his 1st Amendment rights? I doubt it. Might they be pissed that Mr. Musburger is being called out and reprimanded for behavior in which they themselves engage? Now, we might be getting somewhere.
Like so many human behaviors, expressions of appreciation of another person’s appearance is wide in range and acceptability. Hardly black and white. On one end of the spectrum, we have “What a beautiful young lady!” which imparts appreciation coupled with respect. On the other end, we have “That chick is so hot!” My friend, Shoshana, articulated many of my own feelings about this perfectly when she wrote,
“When you call someone hot or HAWT, as forty-year-old men who are acting like teenage boys text it, you aren’t saying “Wow, that is certainly a beautiful woman. Look how lovely her dress is.” You are saying, “Man, I want to drag that chick on the floor and fuck her brains out and not have to see her again in the morning….shhhhh…don’t tell my wife.” The second the word HOT comes out of your mouth, you are announcing to the room your intention to fuck. And I mean fuck. To say it means anything else is a boldface lie and a plot testosterone-fueled men thought up because they thought they were being tricky. Guess what? You’re not.”
So, where was Musburger on that spectrum? In my opinion, he was hovering around the middle. How do we judge? And more importantly, how can we teach? It’s fuzzy, and of course, highly dependent on the setting, delivery, body language, relationship, and a myriad of other factors that sometimes, understandably, leave some men wondering “What did I say? What was wrong with that? I was just saying something nice! Isn’t that a compliment?”
I’d suggest the following guidelines.
1. Consider the reaction of the person about whom you comment. Are they uncomfortable? Scared? Repulsed? In this case, Katherine Webb was not offended and thinks we should cut Musburger some slack. Granted, when one pursues the life of a beauty pageant queen, complaints of objectification and being recognized for one’s looks would ring hollow. Either way, though, the important thing is Ms. Webb, by her own account, is and will be just fine.
2. Consider the reaction of others who heard the comment. Were THEY uncomfortable? Concerned for the safety of the person about whom you commented? Were THEY grossed out? In this case, the answer to at least some of those questions was “yes.” As ESPN broadcasted to millions of viewers that highly anticipated college football game, they were right to issue an apology that Musburger used poor judgement and made loyal fans get a second, less pleasant taste of their gametime snacks by publicly lusting over a woman 1/20th his age.
3. Consider the daughters. Whether or not you have them. If you are in the habit of making such comments in public to and about people, ask yourself this: What would your gut reaction be if another man – of any age – said that about your 13-year-old daughter? I think this is a good guideline because if you imagine you wouldn’t like it, you probably should keep it to yourself.
I’m still struggling, though, with what this incident represents on a larger scale. Why did I sit down to write about Steubenville and find myself instead writing about these relatively low-impact comments by an addled old sports guy? Maybe because in both cases, the question screaming out is, “What are we teaching our boys?” Maybe I felt it was easier to start with the less heinous of the two stories – the one lives weren’t shattered. Perhaps I’m finding it painful to draw the connection between beauty queen culture and rape culture. I feel certain, though, that a connection is there, and I also feel a responsibility as a parent to explore it. So, stay tuned.