Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ed Schultz, the NYPD, and the Burden of Victims

Three fairly prolific things have happened in the past three days that I found to be misogynistic, sadly unsurprising, and deeply troubling. They all incorporated the ways in which women are attacked in the public eye, how the media shapes the representation of female victims, and what we think are crimes worthy of solving and what kind of help is worth giving.

Let’s start with Ed. Given the obviously hard liberal bent of this blog, I’m guessing most of you have already determined that my views are aligned with many on MSNBC, despite not usually watching TV for my news (I prefer to read my news, because I hate commercials and because I’d rather get the straight facts than deal with a sensationalized version of a story with a reporter’s personal opinion bending it one way or another). This past week, Ed Schultz referred to Laura Ingraham as a slut.

This frustrated me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t care about Laura Ingraham’s sex life. I don’t care how many people she’s slept with, who they are, or what they’ve done. Why does Ed? Why does anybody? To use that as a platform of attack is insulting, crude, sexist, and entirely irrelevant to the argument. Schultz was angry and wanted to be mean – and the best way to be mean to women in America is by calling them out as sex-crazy animals. It’s a double shot – you’re calling them dirty and you’re calling them immoral. Is that the way we’re mean to men in America? No. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Secondly, just take a quick, cursory look at Ingraham’s website. There are…so, SO many things that I would rather have had Schultz tackle regarding Ingraham’s absurd political ideology than calling her a slut. Without even clicking through, I can see about ten things that Schultz’s usually incisive wit and on-target analysis would have been better poised to take on. The last thing I want someone like Ingraham getting is an increased audience size due to sympathy culled because a TV personality called her a bad name. I would much rather have her getting an increased audience size due to a TV personality calling out her intense and callous right-wing agenda and seriously out there hard-core conservative rants against what she sees as Obama’s socialist agenda. He could have killed her mission with facts. Instead, he propped her mission up with an insult.

Next up – the acquittal of the two NYPD officers charged with raping a woman in her East Village apartment in 2008 after supposedly “helping her home.” The officers were called to escort a woman home who was apparently so incapacitated that she could not manage on her own. They entered her apartment, supposedly helped her into bed, and then faked 911 calls multiple times through the night so they could return to her apartment, “talk to her” and “cuddle with her” when she wasn’t wearing underwear. In their words, they were “checking in on her” and one of the officers even said he was “counseling” her on her alcohol use since as a former addict himself, claiming to recognize she may have a problem with alcohol. She reported that she awoke to a man taking off her tights and penetrating her. He said all he did was “cuddle” with her. When a conversation that she had taped became public – she went to his precinct to confront him and ask him if he had used a condom – he back-peddled and agreed that sex had occurred but that it had been consensual. He said, as quoted on the tape, that “yes, I used a condom, you don’t have to worry about diseases or anything.” She insisted on an answer to this to protect her health because she was too drunk to knowingly consent to sex. A story change like that alone – going from “we just cuddled” to “actually, we did have sex” should make one highly suspicious of his defense. It is not the job of an NYPD officer to decide that he should be counseling a woman he was called to escort home. Why, if you were so concerned with her safety, would you fake 911 calls to go back into her apartment? You could have easily reported that you were concerned and noted that you felt there was a need for her to be checked in on.

Ultimately, all the cops were found guilty of was “official misconduct.” Faking 911 calls and repeatedly entering a woman’s apartment without her consent and “cuddling” with her while she wasn’t wearing underwear? How will this precedent serves those charged with rape on the stand in the near future? If a man enters my apartment and crawls into bed while I’m not wearing underwear to “cuddle” with me while I am too incapacitated to agree to it, “misconduct” does not describe how I would categorize those events. More like…breaking and entering and assault. The defense of the officers was insulting – they claimed that she was way too drunk to make it home on her own, but that she was sober enough to consent to sex. Seems like a woman can’t win.

When a few people on the jury were asked how they came to this conclusion, one man said that they “just didn’t believe the woman’s testimony” when it was read back. They also said they felt there were holes in both her and the cops’ stories. Yet they chose to not believe the victim. I understand the concept of reasonable doubt, yes – but, in this case, we had the testimony of a cop whose story had holes in it because he was trying to cover up his actions, and the testimony of a woman whose story had holes in it because she was drunk. If she was too drunk to have a cohesive testimony, what makes one think she is sober enough to consent to sex? It seems that this definition makes people more uncomfortable than the act of the non-consensual sex itself. An NYPD officer, above all, should know this (they go through sexual assault training – did he forget?), and should be in the position of protector. I simply cannot get beyond the idea that if one thought she was so drunk, so utterly incapacitated that you needed to check on her over and over again throughout the night, why – I just have to know – would one think she was in any state to have sex?

And lastly, news recently hit that New York, undoubtedly tight on funds, has proposed cutting the special victims unit teams at hospitals that serve women who were recently sexually assaulted and raped. SVUs are the group of professionals equipped to deal with the aftermath of an assault. They gather forensic evidence from rape kits, which collect DNA and have helped track down and identify many assaulters in the past. (There are already backlogs of hundreds of unexamined rape kits in many U.S. cities, something that rightfully angers and frustrates advocates who point out that these kits are often the most reliable evidence one has in linking an attacker to a victim.) They also provide the essential mental health support for women immediately after a sexual assault, and also help connect her to services that can continue the necessary ongoing mental health support in the future. It seems like a no-brainer that these services should be offered.

These three distinct stories are each, in their unique ways, indicative of one perspective that desperately needs to change – people hate women who have a sexual identity. They blame them for being sexually active and sexually expressive; if a woman has historically had a lot of sex partners, they make sure to bring this to light during a rape accusation and claim that she must have agreed to it, it must have been consensual because she loves sex so much! When they want to insult women they use terms that are charged with implications of having too much sex (Schultz doesn’t actually care how much sex Ingraham is having – he was furious with her political idiocy, and instead of calmly articulating that and making a much needed point about her fact-less rantings, he chose to sling a comment that he thought would be more hurtful – that we socially have decided is more hurtful – one that charged she was sexually ravenous), and use that to delegitimize her. Ingraham lobs a lot of softballs for liberals; why not attack her weak political ideology instead of attacking her supposed sexual proclivity?

Why cut the services that are so obviously needed for women who, after an assault or rape, feel incredibly vulnerable, angry, confused, and scared? Why would you not want a forensic team to gather evidence that could help arrest and implicate a rapist? Why would you not want a team of mental health professionals to support the victim immediately, to help her process it, to continue to help her process it, decreasing the likelihood of her struggling with depression, chronic fear and fatigue, incredible anger, and a serious lack of faith in the criminal justice system? All I can think of is that these people…don’t believe these are real issues. They don’t believe the women who are assaulted and who try to seek justice and healing after their attacks. It seems as thought the burden of being assaulted rests on women here just because they are women. It’s much easier to denounce having sex than have to go after someone who assaulted a woman. But what these people need to remember is that rape isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power over the victim. And these three stories offer up sensational examples of how the greater social power structure perpetrates this dynamic and supports and fosters the rape culture. By acquitting the NYPD officers we’ve shown that those in power will not be questioned, by removing SVU services we’ve told women that they are losing the resources that would have helped them regain personal power and that would have legally stripped their assaulters of theirs. And Ed, who thankfully apologized, showed that those who have a handle on the media, and who are lucky enough to have their voices projected farther than most, can still knock a woman (even those who are ostensibly on their same level in terms of exposure) down by calling her a slut.

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Turns Out, Rape Isn’t Funny. Surprise!

Feministing posted about the opening skit of SNL’s season finale yesterday, and thank god they did because when I saw this sketch on Saturday I sat there thinking “I can’t be the only person who thinks this is totally not amusing.”

But yes, I feel like it needs to be pointed out that rape isn’t funny no matter who is getting raped or doing the raping. Joking about prison rape really negates the very real trauma people who are raped in prison experience and feel the repercussions of for the rest of their lives – like all rape victims. It delegitimizes the fight against sexual assault. When people rightfully denounce the deplorable actions of DSK and then turn around and joke about how hilarious it is to think about him being raped in prison, you lose the validity of your argument. You lose your audience who then go on to think that since it was so easy to mock the attack of someone else – however villainous he may in fact be –  it’s actually not a huge deal, and hey, if you change your perspective, it can be kind of funny. It’s not hilarious when a sex worker is raped, it’s not hilarious when a girl someone thinks is wearing “slutty” (whatever the definition of that now is) clothes is raped, it’s not hilarious when an attacker is then raped him or herself. That kind of eye for an eye retribution should be long out of style. Let’s try to truncate the cycle of hate, not add to it even by jokingly assuming that it would be funny for an assaulter to know what it feels like.

I once saw a comedian who made a rape joke and was rightfully (but very mildly) booed by part of the audience. After her performance, someone tentatively brought up the fact that she had made light of a very serious, very traumatic issue. I myself had been concerned about the possibility of rape victims being in her audience, who may have relived the trauma and felt fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion rise in their gut as they recalled an assault they may have experienced, while the comedian on the stage just laughed it off. The comedian’s response was that she felt “everything should be able to be joked about,” that everything can be funny. Well, I obviously disagree; in that response there seems to be a lack of awareness, a lack of respect, a lack of empathy. I don’t think rape jokes are funny, because I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t take their experience seriously, and I don’t want them to think at all that any part of their attack could be seen as worthy of a snicker. I don’t think AIDS jokes are funny because most of the people I have worked with as an HIV/AIDS educator don’t find their painful condition very funny, nor the circumstances (cost of medication, treatment options, co-morbidities, shortened life span, loss of friends and family) very funny. If you’re a good comedian, a good writer, a good actor – you must be able to come up with material that doesn’t cover the grounds of assault, no?

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Filed under Health Education, Media, Public Health, Rape and Sexual Assault, Violence

Beyonce: A Word.

Last night, Beyonce apparently put on quite the show at the Billboard Awards. This is not an awards show I watch (or remember exists), but it’s gotten so much attention that I checked it out.

I’ve never been a big Beyonce fan or a big Beyonce hater – I’ve always thought she had a solid voice and I liked that she wasn’t dropping lbs. in a rate directly correlated to her rise to fame. I have a couple songs, no albums; have taken cursory glances at her interviews, but was never really drawn in.

However. A few things popped into my mind this time around. The first and most obvious was, of course, that girls don’t run the world. By any stretch of the imagination, [especially] not here. This part has been dissected by bloggers and vloggers since her performance, so I just wanted to reiterate that point.

But this wildly off-base claim also made me think of two things near and dear to Beyonce’s heart. Her clothing line and her husband.

Remember when the ads for her company’s line of kids clothing came out, and there was an appropriate uproar? Let’s tackle this one first. This is not how girls should dress:

Photo courtesy of Dereon

Those are not natural little girl poses. Look at the stiffness of the stance of the one in the red, glittered heels. Frankly, she also looks a bit confused. To me, this kind of pedophilic sexualization, promotion and presentation of small young girls, encouraging them to be seen as someone ready for a life and experiences a decade before they are developmentally capable of understanding what those experiences mean, is scary and very risky. Here is how I see them in ten years:

Courtesy of Celebrity Pics Blogspot

Or, if not yet pregnant:

Photo copyright WireImage, via Daily Mail UK

If I am not mistaken, she is not running the world. If I recall correctly, she’s had a few public breakdowns and made more than a few startlingly poor life decisions. Which I feel pretty sure had something to do with how she raised and managed. And she wasn’t even dressing like Beyonce’s kiddies (though she as encouraging dudes to hit her one more time, which may have had something to do with her outcome), this is how she looked at 16:

Photo courtesy of Jive Records

Here is a picture of someone I see as actually ruling the world:

Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department

Aaand, here’s another:

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Government

I could be wrong. But I don’t think they were doing or wearing the same things when they were 8 years old as Britney and the toddlers-in-tiaras in training in the Dereon ad. They were probably doing things that got them into and prepared them for Wellesley, Princeton, and Yale. That then prepared them for the careers that launched these two superstars into actually ruling the world. A different path than girls who…I don’t know, rule the catwalk?

Now we can address Jay-Z. This will be quick. But, for as much as she loves herself some Jay-Z, I feel pressed to ask Beyonce how these girls can rule the world if her hubby keeps dismissing them as bitches, as problems to be “dealt with,” even if he does concede that they aren’t one of his 99. Just to make sure that’s hammered home, you are really into girls running the world, but your husband thinks they’re bitches, sees “2 Many Hos” as a real hindrance to his big pimpin’ lifestyle, instead of seeing, as exemplified above, seriously brilliant folks who have a shitload of skills to offer and should be looked at as partners in progress. But Jay-Z is more on this side: “Catch me in the parkin’ lot / Hollerin’ at bitches, parkin’ lot pimpin’.” (As an aside, pimping them out is also not the best way to prep girls for ruling the world.)

Also, while I don’t think lying about the current state of girls and women’s leadership is the way to change the status quo, I also don’t think championing one gender’s supremacy over the other as the ideal power dynamic is good – whether it’s all men or all women. Let’s shoot for striking a nice balance. Maybe have the rally cry of “Who Run the World – A Group of About 50% Women, 50% Men, Who Support Nationalized Healthcare and Public Education and the Funding of Social Programs That Benefit Even Those Who Don’t Run the World.”

Too political for pop, I know. But let’s try to avoid the “if we say it, it’s true” and “sex is power” and “girls are bitches and problems to be dealt with” roads as well.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Pop Culture

China Cuts HIV Transmission and AIDS Mortality

Great news reported by the NY Times yesterday – China, by distributing antiretroviral medications, to nearly 63% of those who need them, has cut their AIDS mortality by about two-thirds. Not only have they done a great job of drug distribution, but as I wrote in an article in 2006 for my alma mater’s magazine (p. 9), they actually did a noteworthy job of forming partnerships between hospitals, government agencies, and educators. This full-scale effort is important to note because it’s not just drug distribution – though that is undeniably, emphatically essential, particularly in light of recent studies showing that ARVs drop viral loads to such a low level that they are nearly undetectable and prevent transmission from HIV+ to HIV- partners – but it’s a concerted effort on all fronts, reaching at-risk populations through educators, healthcare providers, and even as governments.

When I wrote my article in 2006, we used figures that had been reported from 1999 – 2003, and the projected HIV+ population of China (at its infection rate increase of 30% a year in 1999) if it went unchecked, with no interventions of any kinds, was in the millions. Instead, since implementing these policies, it has held steady. This just goes to show how important these kinds of interventions are, and how effective they can be – literally saving millions of people from infection. Just imagine Well done, China.

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Billy Bush: Stop.

I had never seen an episode of Access Hollywood before this February, when my schedule totally changed because of my qualifying exams. I would be at the gym and to ignore the sometimes searing calf pain, I would watch mindless television – Access Hollywood. HOW….is this show still on? I had no idea there was an hour’s worth of celebrity bullshit to cover every morning.

This morning, Mr. Bush (1st cousin of Dubya – what a range of expertise this family has!) tackled the Schwarzenegger affair/love child. Unfortunately, I can’t get a video clip of this gem of journalism since AH doesn’t post their entire show on their website (and thank god for that), but as the “breaking news” unfolded, here’s a summary of what the great BB said:

“One thing that I’m surprised by, in looking at the picture of this housekeeper, is that, you know….I mean she doesn’t look like this little hot Scandinavian-looking, tall, blond-in-a-cute-little-French maid’s outfit with a little feather duster…you know, not like this person who the man of the house just had to get his hands on…it means Arnold has a deeper problem, there’s a bigger issue here.”

OH MY GOD. Yes, Arnold certainly does seem to have a problem with infidelity, but WHAT, pray tell, does it have to do with the fact that YOU don’t find this housekeeper attractive? WHY does your assessment of her unattractiveness indicate that his problem is of a more significant nature? If she were, as you so eloquently put it, some “hot Scandinavian-looking, tall, blond-in-a-cute-little-French maid’s outfit with a little feather duster,” you would think he didn’t have much of a problem? That it was more understandable, that he just couldn’t resist, that everyone must see he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bed this little tart?

Also, now we all know that this is your dream woman:

Ms. Featherduster courtesy of Disney.

So, Billy, please stop talking.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism

Is This How You Feel at the Gym?

Ok, for real. Remember when Equinox came out a few years ago with those controversial gym ads, and everyone was like, what the hell does this have to do with me gritting through 45 minutes on a treadmill at a 2.5 incline?

Well, they’ve done it again. Example uno:

This back bend is burning a lot of calories.

And example dos:

WTF?

This it totally what happens at my gym. Jealous?

Am I missing something? Does Equinox have secret basement rooms where their best-looking members take Polaroids of one another and drape them seductively over their half-naked bodies? Are they transported to some kind of gawdy nouveau riche balustrade bordered chlorine paradise, where they can engage in dips of delight?

Seriously, I understand the point of trying to sell a lifestyle. But who believes belonging to Equinox will either introduce them to these people (I got news for you – these people do not go to Equinox) or make them look like these people (more news – these ladies are a bit too scrawny for me to believe they actually exercise as opposed to keep their calorie count below 800 a day)?

While we’re at it, if someone wears a full face of make-up to the gym and actually DOES work out, they look more like this:

Attractive, no?

Update – the Equinox ads were done by Terry Richardson. Well. That explains a lot.

Images courtesy of Equinox. And Terry Richardson, obvi.

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Glenn Beck Strikes Again

I’m not usually surprised by anything Glenn Beck does in the sense that it generally falls into the realm of idiocy, and it’s best to just brush it off and remember that most people (well…those that I know and choose to spend my time with) also think of him as a joke. However, his most recent act of offensive stupidity deserves some serious commenting.

Beck decided to ridicule Meghan McCain (who, despite she and I having different political ideologies and opinions, does seem to share my opinions about Palin, albeit more nicely) because she appeared in a skin cancer PSA in which she seemed to be nude. The ad was not gratuitous and the message was clear – cover up with sunscreen and protect yourself from the deadly rays. Beck, of course, decided to completely ignore the message of the ad and instead chose to focus his efforts on butchering McCain’s body. I can’t even get through his entire juvenile, absurdly sexist rant, as it goes on for well over the amount of time I can suffer Beck; but how helpful he was, taking a health education announcement that tries to bring skin cancer’s prevalence and dangers under the spotlight and turning it into an assault on a woman’s appearance! Not only does he deftly ignore the important and legitimate message, he skillfully points out how a male ignorant radio host who is losing his job (read: influence and respect) due to constantly putting his foot in his mouth, is somehow still the judge of what makes a woman attractive, appealing, worthy of giving respect and listening to. And what makes her worthy, of course, what her most significant characteristic is, is her appearance and her weight – not, for some reason, her very worthy goal and effort to educate people about this preventable disease. Bravo, Beck. I will take the high road here and refrain from making any comments about his body and stick to his just-as-easy-to-target immature tirades. I will give a shout out to McCain’s other public efforts, notably her fighting for everyone to shut up about women’s bodies and rightfully wondering why it is still fodder for public debate.

Side note, why is McCain the one he focuses on? No love for the other ladies, GB? I’m sure they’re devastated. I can’t wait till this man no longer has access to a microphone.

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Revisiting Trump’s Creepy Sexism

So, I realize that I wrote an intro to this blog and then disappeared for about two weeks, which sort of defeats the purpose of relevant culture commentary. Blame it on finals and what feels like never ending testing in this program! A lot has happened in the past couple weeks – Trump’s ceaseless and creepy sexist, racist attacks (but he is “totally cool with minorities“) and generally baseless raving about people who are understood by….everyone…to be smarter than him (“but all of these people have less money than me!”). (Seriously, I would rather be in conversation with pretty much any of the people at whom he’s heaving irrelevant insults. Even Palin. Trump is looking as orange as Boehner these days – yum – and I don’t think I can look at that for too long.)

This collection of posts are a few months dated, and since then of course he has been roasted by Seth Meyers and Obama, his birtherism has been (somewhat) silenced by Obama’s long form being released, and he has (finally) slipped in the polls as a Republican candidate from his terrifying top perch in March. But to me, the above examples – and each subsequent story and tidbit they reference as well – paint a very disturbing picture of what Americans consider to be quality leadership or desirable characteristics of a potential POTUS. Not only that, but I’m pretty amazed that the coverage of these issues haven’t been given more attention. He has no relevant foreign policy experience, no political leadership, a record of slinging crass and degrading insults, and multiple bankruptcies which somehow became considered smart business moves. Really — we would elect a guy who noted that his daughter had a “great body” and would date her if he were not her father? Not only does that creep me out, but it’s pretty sad that the thing he chooses to publicize about his educated and actually respected businesswoman daughter — who seems to be making more of a deserved name for herself than Donald Jr., who merely regurgitates his father’s wildly inappropriate remarks with no discernibly thoughtful or relevant comments of his own (let’s keep talking about Star Jones’ weight) — is her “great body.”

What I found particularly interesting about the incident of Trump making the Miss USA participants parade in front of him and separating those who he found attractive from those he does not – is that these women, these Miss USA contestants (who take pains to look as blandly and generically attractive as possible), are so heartbroken at the thought of being considered unattractive by….Donald Trump. By this guy. I mean, what? This is the person who is now the judge of all that is attractive and sexy? These women have been so socially conditioned to appeal to power and money that they are judging their self-worth based on this guy’s ten second visual appraisal of whether or not he’d bed them. Again, this guy. Has Trump ever said anything about women that leads us to believe he has an appreciation of their intellect, their political savvy, their innovation, their opinions? I consider myself lucky to have had the family and education that would make me laugh that ridiculous routine off (assuming I ever entered a Miss USA pageant) – but other women aren’t so lucky, and other women do experience the panic and anxiety, as Ms. Holmes’ article pointed out, of having what they see as their only relevant virtue – their looks – tossed aside glibly by the man who represents the very power, wealth, and status they have also been conditioned to see as the preeminent signs of leadership and worthiness.

Trump doesn’t trust women to make their own decisions about their bodies (“what does privacy have to do with anything?”), he thinks they’re crazy for wanting to address terms that are diminishing to their abilities (“what? I’m sure you’ve been called worse”), and he always, always, always comes back to asserting that a woman’s most important role is one of decoration and service. Rosie is a “disgusting, big, fat pig,” and “an animal,” and a business savvy woman on The Apprentice was dismissed while being told she’d make “a really good wife.” Most notably, we cannot forget his shocking verbalization of why he is so embraced by so many Americans: “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” We sadly have proved him right.

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