Tag Archives: rape

The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle I caused last week with my Role/Reboot latest. It was not my most sensitive or thoughtful work and I did some harm where I meant to only raise questions.

I often think that flipping pronouns is a useful way of analyzing the role that gender is playing in media coverage. We’ve looked at examples before, like coverage of Marissa Mayer or a story about a teenage heart throb’s virginity.

Last week, fed up with the excessive victim blaming that goes into coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases, like the recent piece on Hobart Williams and Smith, or Steubenville, I wrote an essay exploring what happens when we flip pronouns on the victims and imagine these cases if young men were raped instead of young women. Would we still say an 11-year-old boy “lured” men like a “spider,” as we did in Cleveland, TX? Would the “Princeton Mom” still say it’s “all on him” if a male college student was too drunk to prevent his rape? I don’t think we would, and I still think that there’s value in exploring how language can expose bias.

If_Straight_Men_Were_Raped_As_Often_As_Women__How_Pronouns_Change_The_Conversation_About_Victim_Blaming___Role_Reboot

But, I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was the title, which I suggested and my editor confirmed: “If Straight Men Were Raped: How Pronouns Change the Conversation About Victim Blaming.*” Do you see the problem? I kind of can’t believe I missed it. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men. In fact, as was pointed out by several readers, although women are assaulted far more frequently, one of the key reasons male victims don’t come forward (i.e. one of the reasons we have so many fewer media examples to refer to), is precisely because the stigmas on male victims are unique.

I did not intend to write an essay on those particular stigmas, as I don’t feel equipped or educated enough to do so. But I also did not intend to belittle or shame straight men that have been raped, nor to downplay the equally-horrible but differently-shaped reactions that those survivors get. Here are a few responses that better articulate the issue:

“A LOT of rape of men by men is disregarded because people think he must’ve given off some sort of “gay” thing that made him seem to want it. There are different ways in which male survivors have their rapes and SAs denied, mostly via homophobia. And god help you find support if you actually are GBT or Q. Obviously we know there are serious issues with GBTQ men who are sexually assaulted. I’d bet pretty much nobody is marginalized when it comes to sexual assault more than LGBTQ populations in general.” – from Joanna Schroeder, Good Men Project

“But where you say that you are merely trying to highlight inappropriate use of gendered language around victims, I contend that you are doing to male victims the very thing you are fighting against – namely grossly distorting and dismissing the realities that we live under. In effect, you are throwing male victims under the bus in order to make a point about female victims that no one in their right mind would argue against.” – From Chris Anderson, MaleSurvivors.org

I hope that the content of the article makes clear that I believe all victims deserve respect and that no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, should be shamed, stigmatized, ostracized, or blamed, for their assault. I also hope that Chris and Joanna’s responses help illuminate some subtleties that I missed in my first pass.

 

*We changed the title later to “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women….” – Better, but not great.

Related Post: “After donation regret” and other rape analogies

Related Post: Using pronoun-flipping on Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments.

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Game of Thrones and “Sex” on TV

cerseiIf you are all up in the guts of the Internet where TV and commentary collide, you have already read a novel and a half of haterade about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. For long, articulate, backed-by-evidence arguments, see Margaret Lyons at NYMag and Sonia Soraiya at AV Club

Before I tell you why I’m pissed, let’s back up:

Mother daughter conversations about sex can are awkward enough even if one of them, ahem, doesn’t write about it on the Internet. My mom and I are what you might describe as a classic second wave/third wave duo. We agree about 85% of the time, and usually differ, if only slightly, on sex-related topics like pornography and prostitution. In short, I usually err on the side of who-am-I-to-tell-her-what-to-do-with-her-body? and my mother usually errs on the side of contributes-to-a-culture-of-oppression-and-objectification. We’re both right, obviously, and one day we’ll find the middle ground.

So anyway, last week, my mom emails to complain about “sex on TV.” She lists House of Cards and House of Lies as two prime examples of shows that only feature what she describes as “I don’t even know what to call it, but sex from what I call a degrading position.” I often approach other people’s sex lives–even fictional other people–from a to-each-her-own, doesn’t-look-fun-to-me-but-who-am-I, anything-goes-between-consenting-adults angle, wary of condemning someone else’s good time lest someone try to rain on mine.

The problem as I see it is not that this specific type of sex is what we see on TV, it’s that this is the only type of sex we see on TV. Specifically, it is the only type of sex men see on TV. They aren’t watching Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, or Nashville, where sex is sometimes “animalistic” to use my mother’s word, but is also sometimes gentle, sometimes kind, sometimes romantic, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes between strangers, sometimes between lovers, and sometimes even features sex acts that most women enjoy.

But that is not what we get on TV that men watch. We get mostly rough sex. We get mostly condom-less sex. We get very little cunnilingus, very little foreplay, very few indications that female characters are enjoying themselves in the least. And while I do not in any way want to shit on the the specific kind of sex that any particular person is consensually enjoying (if that is your thing, knock yourself the fuuuuuck out), I do find it highly problematic that we get such a narrow sliver delivered to us with our HBO Go accounts and “prestige” TV.

[Spoiler Alert]

So. Game of Thrones.  In last night’s episode, after Joffrey’s gruesome wedding death, Cersei’s private moment of mourning was interrupted by Jaime, who, angry that she’d been cold-shouldering him, raped her on the floor of the temple where their dead son was displayed. As many others have said, I’m not outraged that a rape was depicted, if that’s what was intended for legitimate storytelling purposes, but I am very much outraged that some people, director included, don’t seem to think this was a rape scene.

What the fucking fuck do you think is a rape scene? To these not-a-rape-scene advocates, was that supposed to look like sex? Because it didn’t; it looked like rape. Kicking. Crying. Begging. Verbal “Nos”. Requests to stop…. Clue me in to which part of that looks like consensual sex…

And therein lies the problem. When depicted “sex” looks too much like rape, it makes some people–young people, dumb people, angry people–think that rape looks like sex. It makes them think that an initial “no” or “stop” or “I don’t want to,” will, with enough pressure, become a “fine, okay, I guess this is happening.” But that is not a yes, that is not consent. Are there non-verbal ways of giving consent? Absolutely. But “No, stop, stop, it’s not right,” as Cersei said, is not one of them.

This shit is all related. The American University Epsilon Iota emails that were released this week. Darren Sharp’s admission of “non-consensual sex”. The joke of a process that female soldiers have to endure to report assault. The fact that teenaged girls think that unwanted groping is just part of dating. The abhorrent Mixology joke about finding girls drunk enough to “smash out.”

It’s not all Game of Thrones’ fault, obviously, but as of 24 hours ago they are the latest guilty party. Rough sex and rape are not part of some gray area where we throw our hands in the air and yell “IT’S JUST SO HARD TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE.” Rough sex is something adults agree to and reinforce with positive words like “yes,” and “I like that.” Or they agree on safe words. Or they have conversations prior to getting busy about what they like and dislike. Though the play might be physically rough, they approach with a mutual respect.

Rape is where one person has sex with another person who does not want them to.

Why is this so hard?

Which is all to say, sometimes my mom is right.

Related PostGame of Thrones vs. The Wire

Related Post: Strong Female Characters? No thanks.

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Serena Part Two

I started writing yesterday about Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments through the lens of Jailbreak the Patriarchy and gendered assumptions about sexual behavior and entitlement.

Today, for Role/RebootI went down a slightly different. After the outcry, Serena issued an apology on her website, but it’s pretty thin. Here’s the apology I wish she had written:

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Related Post: Backing off Bieber when he made dumb comments to Rolling Stone.

Related Post: Serena and “feminine figures”

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Serena Part One

serenaDo you remember the moment you found out that Martin Luther King Jr. cheated on Coretta? I do, and it felt like the history rug was being pulled right out from under me. It’s hard to find out your heroes are just regular old humans who sometimes suck a lot.

Today’s heroine-undermining is brought to you by Serena Williams, my former favorite. For some reason, in a Rolling Stone interview, she commented on the Steubenville rape case and her comments were uber upsetting:

“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

BLURGH. Tomorrow I’ll be posting something more coherent on this, but for the moment, I thought it’s worth running this through my favorite plugin, Jailbreak the Patriarchy. Jailbreak flips the pronouns and gendered words in internet content to help us realize our own gendered biases.

Jailbroken, Serena’s comment read like this:

“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the boy, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. He‘s 16, why was he that drunk where he doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. He‘s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t a virgin, but he shouldn’t have put himself in that position, unless they slipped him something, then that’s different.”

It makes no fucking sense, right? We don’t tell boys not to take drinks from strangers. We don’t ask why 16-year-old boys like to drink a lot (because they’re teenagers and they’re stupid and they’re testing limits, same reason 16-year-old girls like to drink). The question of male teenaged virginity is one we’re never concerned with (as we shouldn’t be…) But mostly, the whole thing reads like gibberish.

Let’s push this to the extreme, just to test our hypotheses. Imagine it was a 16-year-old boy and he was raped by two other 16-year-old boys. Would we blame alcohol or poor decision-making? No, we would be appalled. It would be a crime. But the belief that women are supposed to be used for sex, and that they are responsible for protecting their bodies from being abused leaves us too addled to think clearly.

More tomorrow. Sigh.

Related Post: Other things we’ve jailbroken…

Related Post: On street harassment and catcalling

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Can We Take the Life Apart?

I’m going to retread a little territory here because it’s been on my mind and what else is a blog good for if not to document how one’s thought processes evolve over time? Call it the Chris Brown Question for contemporary relevance, but it could equally be the Roman Polanski Problem, or the Pablo Picasso Predicament. That is, how do we reconcile professional respect or appreciation (Who doesn’t like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?) without condoning some horrifying and harmful behaviors?

I just finished Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder, about a team of researchers investigating ethically controversial new pharmaceuticals in the Amazon basin. A husband and wife duo have an argument about a well-regarded scientist who was also a chronic philanderer:

Nancy: “I’m not saying people don’t have affairs, even very decent people, let us be so lucky as to fall into that category. But we cannot unbraid the story of another person’s life and take out all the parts that don’t suit our purposes and put forth only the ones that do. He was a great scientist, I will grant you that, and by all accounts a true charismatic, but he was also deeply unfaithful to two women and frankly that bothers me. It bothers me that the man you say you wanted to become was a lifelong philanderer.”

Alan: “We can take the life apart. We do it all the time. Picasso put out cigarettes on his girlfriends and we don’t love the paintings any less for it. Wagner was a fascist and I can hum you every bar in the opening of Die Walkure.

Les_Demoiselles_d'AvignonThis argument doesn’t quite capture the Chris Brown Question because infidelity, while personally painful, is not high on my list of “bad behaviors.” Compared to, say, beating your girlfriend, raping a 13-year-old, or putting out cigarettes on humans, it’s pretty mundane. That said, the language of this passage helps articulate how I think about this stuff.

There’s the bad behavior that makes one a lousy role model (infidelity, selfishness, etc) and then there’s the Bad Behavior that makes you a shitty human (abusing people, sex crimes, etc). Does that distinction hold up? I don’t know… abuse and violence stem from someplace…and where does redemption and rehabilitation fit in? Bah. Pesky humans and their complicated psyches!

And if you’re someone in that second category, the capital-B category, can I really appreciate your art/music/writing as separate from the Bad Behavior? I don’t know.

This has not been a productive post because I have no answers. What do you think? If you stop dancing when Chris Brown comes on at the club, do you also walk by the Picasso room at the art museum?

Related Post: Can I listen to Chris Brown with a clear conscience?

Related Post: Dove, pioneer or panderer?

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Guest Post: What Indian Girls Don’t Learn

Hila-MehrIt’s Friday and it’s been a long week and I’m thrilled to share with you a guest post from my dear friend Hila.  She lives and works with students in Hyderabad, India, and wrote a fascinating essay on some of the challenges specifically facing girls and teenagers:

With the media spotlight on the issue of rape, the taboo of menstruation, and the lack of women’s rights in India, I’m reminded of two unique conversations I’ve had during my time in Hyderabad, India, where I work in a low-income private school as a social enterprise fellow.

While working on a project with 8th class students, I bonded with several girls in the class. One day, I saw a girl rushed from the classroom, flanked by friends, fear on her face and those of her peers, and girls whispering with each other and the school’s administrative assistant. A former 8th grader myself, I figured I knew what was going on, but I decided to ask the girls anyways. “Why did she leave in the middle of the school day in a rush?” I whispered to them. At first they didn’t want to say, but then they finally told me: “Because of her function, Madam.” The girls in India call their period’s “functions.” This led to a long, enlightening discussion on menstruation.

At first these girls were in shock that I too have “a function.” It’s not only common among women in India, I explained; it’s something women all over the world have. The girls, I realized, had no idea what periods are, that it related to child-bearing, or what was happening physically to their bodies. While my progressive middle school started teaching about periods in fifth grade, these 13-year-old girls were clueless. I explained to them what menstruation is and means, and how girls in the United States manage them. They shared how their periods were painful; how they have to sit isolated in their home and not be touched; and how they have to take special baths with spices, and others who touch them while they are menstruating have to do the same. After a girl gets her period, her family hosts a party for her where pictures are taken and she wears a half-sari. One girl took me to her home, and proudly showed me the large photos and the half-sari she wore for her function ceremony. Most stressful, however, is that they have to stay home and miss school. The girl ranked first in the class, yet to start her period, is terrified of it because she doesn’t want to have to miss school.

One of the reasons these girls miss school, beyond superstitious and pain reasons, is because the nature of India’s sanitation infrastructure makes periods difficult to manage. While it’s fairly easy to find pads and some menstrual cups in India, tampons are virtually non-existent. Making matters more difficult, traditional Indian bathrooms aren’t designed for women dealing with periods. There are usually no trashcans or toilet paper, and in schools like the one I work in, where the toilet is a hole in the ground, water from a bucket is used to “flush” the contents. For my school of 530 students, approximately half of which are girls, there is only one girl’s bathroom on an upper floor with only a couple of stalls. The bathroom is so dark and dank, with a safety hazard of leftover construction pieces on the floor, that I refuse to step foot in it, too scared to see the inside of the stalls. And I’ve been to some disgusting pit stop bathrooms in India. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for these young girls to handle their periods during school hours.

A few weeks after my discussion with the girls, I had an interesting conversation with my school’s principal about a recent incident at school. The principal was watching the classroom TV monitors when she noticed a girl and boy in 10th class touching—either consensually holding hands or leaning into each other. When she informed them that their conduct was inappropriate for the classroom, the girl, not wanting to get in trouble, immediately claimed that the boy’s approaches were unwanted, and called her mother. Her mother arrived at the school and chastised the boy in public, enough for him to cry. He was also punished by the school with daily lunch-time detention. When I asked the principal about the incident, she said that she knew that the boy and girl had an interest in each other, but the girl didn’t want to get punished by the school or her mother, so claimed otherwise. On the one hand, we should be grateful that a young woman was acknowledged, believed, and protected, as has sadly not been the case in many instances of sexual assault in India. On the other hand, this boy and girl were just being teenagers in lust, but their public display of affection is essentially forbidden in their community. Regardless of this specific situation, more troublesome is that the school cannot discuss issues of dating, sex, or sexual protection, unlike sexual education courses in many American high schools. It’s considered taboo, and many parents would not allow it, and don’t educate at home either.

Crushes are natural emotions by 10th class—these students are 15 and 16 years old. But in India arranged marriage is still very much the norm; a marriage that is not arranged is called a “love marriage.” And a 14-year-old girl dropping out of school for marriage is all too common, and not just in rural areas. Another fellow in my program attended such a wedding for a young girl from her school. Besides what is shown in Bollywood movies—which can be surprisingly sexual and at times disturbing in their male-female dynamics—dating and sex are unspoken topics, leaving little awareness for protection and much to the imagination and naiveté. Since internet access is still uncommon in low-income communities in India, it is an unused resource for awareness and exploration. My school’s principal, an open-minded and educated Indian woman, agreed that discussions on such topics as dating, sex, and sexually-transmitted disease prevention are important, but that she was restricted by community practice and expectations.

I don’t share these stories to judge Indian culture or any parent’s decision to not share information about menstruation, sex, and dating. I decided to share these stories given their relevance to the on-going, important discussion regarding women and India. More importantly, I want to encourage more discussion about strategies for Indian youth to safely and freely learn about issues such as menstruation and sex. It’s very difficult to do, requiring immense community buy-in and trust. One beacon of hope is Voice for Girls, which is rapidly scaling across India. They teach English and girl’s empowerment through learning about topics such as menstruation and nutrition. Their program is definitely a step in the right direction towards raising awareness and knowledge for young girls and boys, whom are otherwise left in the dark about these life-changing issues.

If you’d like to read more of Hila’s writing on social entrepreneurship, gender, education, and innovation, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter

Related Post: Guest Post from Kim Green in Nashville on trust in unlikely places.

Related Post: Guest Post from Bryn on “sluts” and “players” in the queer world.

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Sunday Scraps 90

sunday90

1. HOLLYWOOD: It’s the piece everyone was talking about this week, so if you missed it, play catch-up with the Lindsay Lohan/James Deen/Bret Easton Ellis/”The Canyons” how-the-sausage-is-made essay.

2. INDEX: This is Indexed blogger/writer/drawer Jessica Hagy is interviewed for Fast Company about how she found her 3×5 sized internet niche.

3. WRITERS: The Rumpus interviews Zadie Smith about her novel NW, and why she doesn’t write autobiographically.

4. TINA + AMY: How pumped are you for tonight’s Golden Globes hosting-duo? Not enough? Get more so with NYMag’s recap of their friendship.

5. INDIA: I can’t even begin to describe how dead-on this opinion piece by Sohaila Abdulali is, so I’m just going to quote it: “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.”

6. FRIDA: A closet full of Frida Kahlo’s personal items has been locked and guarded for 85 years and has just now been opened and explored.

Related Post: Sunday 89: Avalanches, Mr. Wright, pickpockets and Matt + Ben Forever.

Related Post: Sunday 88: Russian gymnasts, the Rockaways, origins of “doubt”, Moloch

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