Tag Archives: sexual assault

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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Can Sex Positivity Be Negative?

Last week, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back wrote for Huffington Post about how the mantra of sex-positive feminism has actually been negative for her. She, like many people, had suffered sexual trauma, and the attitude that she perceived as “just have some more orgasms! orgasms for everyone! woohoo! sex!” wasn’t helping her. In fact, it made her feel guilty for not being a “good” feminist.

I really struggled with her essay, especially the portion that suggested we default to treating our partners like survivors:

Given the alarming prevalence of rape and sexual violence in our society, perhaps all of us, regardless of gender, should begin with the assumption that all female-bodied partners we have (and, realistically, quite a few of our male-bodied partners as well) are survivors.

To me, assuming your partners are survivors (or would like to be treated as such) deprives them of the agency to tell/show you how they’d like to be treated. I know that I, personally, do not want to be treated like a survivor, and I would resent someone who approached me with that attitude.

That said, Pflug-Back’s essay has prompted a ton of really interesting conversations about the limitations of sex-positive feminism and the shortcomings of the movement’s messaging. Check out more thoughts on what sex-positivity really means (hint: does not equal orgasm counting) in my new Role/Reboot piece.

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Related Post: Body positive NSFW tumblr

Related Post: Body Positivity doesn’t mean throwing skinny women under the bus

 

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Talkin’ Harassment & India on the Radio

tumblr_static_13_vocalo_tumblr__4_Yesterday morning I joined Molly Adams, Brian Babylon, and Siri Bulusu on Vocalo’s morning program to discuss last week’s brouhaha about the CNN iReport article on India and harassment culture. Remember that brouhaha? It was before the Miley brouhaha. We should make a calendar to keep all the brouhahas straight, don’t you think?

If you recall, the issue here is decidedly NOT questioning the author’s personal experience in India, but rather questioning the tone and context of her article. Questions to think about:

  • What are our obligations to contextualize our suffering on the scale of greater suffering? 
  • How much do we need to call out our own privilege to avoid sounding off on the “plight of the white woman”?
  • What can we do to condemn harassment, sexual assault and rape without stereotyping an entire nation of men?
  • How do we acknowledge the particular problems of one country while simultaneously recognizing that we have similar problems of our own?
  • Is it appropriating to relate the trauma of other people who do not have access to the megaphones we have in order to justify our own trauma? Is there a way to do that gracefully and justly?

As always, I enjoy my time with the Morning Amp crew and look forward to future discussions of tricky issues in gender and media.

Related Post: Discussing Lean In on Vocalo

Related Post: Discussing Jerry Lewis and the responsibility of celebrity on Vocalo

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Complicated Feelings about Tourism, Harassment, Gender, Other Buzzwords

Screenshot_8_20_13_1_24_PMI have been thinking about this essay [trigger warning] about a white woman traveling in India a lot. Have you read it yet?  It’s making the rounds, but because I share her alma mater, it’s been tearing up my newsfeed. The gist of it is that the author, a college student studying abroad, was traumatized by the culture of sexual harassment, objectification, and assault that she experienced first and secondhand during her travels. She has since been diagnosed with PTSD. A sample:

I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean– I had no chance of taking back everything they took.

I’m having all kinds of feelings, so let’s do it this way…

On the one hand… This woman is entitled to her experience. I have also traveled in India as a single white female. I had a very different experience than the one she describes. Although I also had my picture taken a million times, had inappropriate questions asked, was stared at, and received two marriage proposals (which I politely declined), I did not experience any physical harassment. I felt that the stares were primarily based in curiosity, at my looks and at the audacity of a woman of my status to travel alone, not objectification.

When I first read this essay, I was tempted to roll my eyes. That’s a lie. I did roll my eyes, and I am now embarrassed that I did so. Part of me wanted to tell her to toughen up, brush it off. I am embarrassed by that response as well. Her experiences were different than mine (as mine are different from yours) and even if they had been similar, she is allowed to feel differently about the experience than I do. This seems obvious as I type it, but as I was reading, I was having an immature, judgmental, condescending reaction to her words.

On the other hand…She’s not a soldier. She’s not an aid worker. She’s a tourist. She can leave, so leave. She has all of the resources to stop the source of her trauma. She doesn’t live in India. She is not a resident who contends with the threat of rape and assault on a daily basis without the benefit of a return flight. Her harassment might be amplified by her red hair, but as recent tragedies would suggest, Indian women and girls are in no way immune from the the treatment she received. She is now back in the United States receiving treatment for PTSD. Her essay doesn’t acknowledge that this is a perpetual state for many; is PTSD even an acknowledged illness in India? She is lucky, as am I. We get to globe-trot, we get to explore, we get to be the solo lady travelers. We live in countries where we can vote and drive and have sex without being stoned and wear what we want and live alone and call the police when we need help and work and so many other things.

On the other hand… Sexual harassment is never okay. When one travels, there are obviously customs that are different in the countries you visit and, within reason, it is healthy and respectful to try to observe them. You should not travel expecting to recreate your experiences at home wherever you go; a Big Mac is not a Big Mac in India, it’s made of chicken and it’s called a Maharaja Mac. There may not be hot water. There might be bugs. It will smell differently, etc. etc. etc. But, sexual harassment and assault are not acceptable, even if they are more common in some parts of the world than others. While a “When in Rome,” attitude is usually a plus, “When I’m in Rome, I’ll get groped on the train,” is not cool.

I’m ashamed that I shrugged at her experience. I almost threw her the most insulting, patronizing response to her trauma, “What did you expect?” WHOA, Emily, NOT OKAY. You’re wearing yoga pants, what did you expect would happen? You’re drinking and dancing, what did you expect? You’re pretty, what did you expect? The “What did you expect” is a close cousin of “You were asking for it,” and we know that you are NEVER asking for it and that that is a line for the weak and the cowardly.

On the next hand… I can’t help but think about my own experience traveling in India and elsewhere. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive with a few blips of shittiness here and there and consequently my instinct is to declare that this makes me a “better” traveler than the author. My second instinct is to call bullshit on myself. Differentiation–“she’s not like me”–is the classic first step in victim blaming. If she’s not like me, then she’s somehow responsible for what happened to her, which would never happen to me,  because we are fundamentally different, and on and on. It’s a common defense mechanism to help calm the fear that it could happen to anyone (because, intellectually, we all know… it could happen to anyone).

There are at least three other hands to consider … (please feel free to add in the comments!), but I’m tired of talking about this. I am sympathetic for her experience. I am irritated at the essay’s “plight of the white woman” vibe. I am even more irritated that I identify with it. I feel pretty helpless in the face of the level of harassment and assault in India. If I’m honest, I feel pretty helpless in the face of harassment and assault here at home too.

So yeah, there’s that. 

Related Post: What to do when you lose your wallet.

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Guest Post: The Problem With “Blurred Lines”

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Guest post today from my girl Bri, a fellow Chicago friend who had an epiphany about the controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”

Background: Thicke’s song received a lot of attention for being a tad rape-y and coercive with lyrics like, “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/I know you want it” and for his GQ interview in which he said, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.'” Other people claimed that “we” were reading too much into a damn catchy beat and looking to get upset (which, yes, sometimes we do).

Bri wrote an awesome post today on FB about a street harassment incident where a group of guys used these lyrics to intimidate and objectify. She makes some excellent points about how the “blurred” space between good times and sexual assault can be the most dangerous space because of the erosion of boundaries and the expectations that some people have about “good times.”  With her permission:

“I was walking from the red line stop to the green line stop. And, as feels inevitable at this point when walking anywhere, a group of guys verbally harassed me along the way, even following me for a bit at one point. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t really nervous/scared per se, since there were a ton of other people around, but it was still obviously obnoxious and embarrassing and shitty. So they’re yelling things like “that’s it, bitch! that’s my bitch!” which, whatever. (For men [or women I suppose] who maybe haven’t experienced this… it’s really not super out-of-the-ordinary for a lot of women in a lot of places… keep that in mind through the rest of this.)

But then they started singing Blurred Lines. Now, I understand that there’s both been a lot of people offended by Blurred Lines, as well as a lot of people totally confused by and antagonistic towards people who are offended by Blurred Lines. I was pretty offended when I first saw/heard the video/song. But as I talked through it with people, it was really hard for me to actually pinpoint a concrete reason that it made me so uncomfortable. It’s about a guy seducing a girl, and he’s using sexy language to do it – what’s so bad about that? I wondered what it was that made me uncomfortable. I read articles depicting the terms “good girl” and “I know you want it” as rape-y, which didn’t really seem fair. Sexually dominant? Sure. But that’s not a negative thing, people are entitled to be into whatever they’re into. So I set my discomfort aside and tried to enjoy this song that the rest of the world seems to love.

Until this event last week. 8-10 guys singing “you’re a good girl, you know you want it” at me cleared up very quickly why this song makes me, and many other women, uncomfortable, and why that’s totally justified, and why much of the world and Robin Thicke probably don’t get it.

It’s a trigger. Those words immediately trigger horrifying memories for a lot of women, myself included. A group of men singing those words at me brought back the EXACT sensation that I’ve had during horribly traumatic points of my life. “You’re a good girl” – instant horrible flashback. “You know you want it” – another horrible flashback, and the memory of someone justifying a terrible act they’re committing by convincing themselves that I want it.

And I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to say that not just mine, but a SIGNIFICANT number of cases of sexual assault occur when people are having a good time – at a party, being flirty, etc, after which things take a dark turn. So for Blurred Lines to be doing just that – blurring the line between a fun, upbeat, sing-a-long-style song that’s flirtacious and dirty and whatever, and a song that triggers such horrible, dark memories for me, is another trigger in itself. It totally mirrors some fun times that quickly turned into awful experiences.

The purpose of this post is really just to say: I understand more fully now why people are offended by this song, and I also get why people think people who are offended are totally overreacting. Because “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it” should just be sexy, dirty, fun, with-a-wink language. In a perfect world, Blurred Lines would be a fun, dirty, sexy song, and that’s it. But it’s not. To a lot of women, those words (and consequently that video too) don’t just mean that. That’s not Robin Thicke’s fault, and I understand why he and most men and a lot of women can honestly and thoroughly enjoy the song. I’m just saying that it’s okay, too, to not be able to enjoy the song. I get it now. And I’d hope that everyone might understand a little better why being offended isn’t necessarily an overreaction – it’s a reaction to something that really has little/nothing to do with Thicke and has everything to do with words that trigger memories of horrible things that people do to other people.”

If you want more of Bri, follow her on Twitter here

One other thing, the video for Blurred Lines has been “gender swapped” by  Mod Carousel. How do we feel about fully clothed ladies and gyrating naked men? NSFW:

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment and “Real Men”

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S(Monday) Scraps 105

Screenshot_7_1_13_1_49_PM-2

1. TEXAS: This is a long and beautiful piece by Amy Gentry for The Rumpus about abortion, body politics, and who we’re really protecting.

2. BADASS: Senator Claire McCaskill replies to James Taranto’s horrifying essay about how the fight against sexual assault in the military is actually a “war on men” and male sexuality. Taranto: 0, McCaskill: ALL OF THE POINTS.

3. TRAVEL: Fascinating essay by travel writer Simon Winchester about a tiny island of 300 people, Tristan de Cunha, and how he got banned from visiting for violating local customs.

4. HISTORY: In the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Slate has an example of the dizzyingly confusing literacy tests that were used in the 50s and 60s to prevent black people from voting.

5. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In case you ever forget what Planned Parenthood provides, a lovely essay from the blog What Are You Doing Here, Are You Lost?

6. CITIES: Chicago Magazine has an awesome series of panoramic shots of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, pre- and during industrial development.

Related Post: Sunday 104 – Books in pie-chart form, awesome ASL translators, what is a bro?

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Filed under Art, Body Image, Chicago, Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People