Category Archives: Violence

Think Domestic Violence is Funny?

A whole slew of people who aren’t afraid to admit that they think domestic violence is a total joke made it clear last night when the Twitterverse erupted during Chris Brown’s performance. Other writers have well articulated the reasons why I was upset to see him perform, much less have him so vocally supported – a standing ovation? Really?  Frankly, I was surprised that there was restraint in showing Rihanna’s reaction to his numbers.

Despite the outpouring of affection for this man, I was still shocked to see the responses of women watching around the country. Trigger warning for abuse – here are some responses to his performance via Twitter:

“I’d let Chris Brown beat me up anytime ;) #womanbeater”

“Like I’ve said multiple times before, Chris Brown can beat me all he wants…I’d do anything to have him oh my”

“chris brown can beat me all he wants, he is flawless”

“Chris brown.. please beat me ;).”

“I’d let chris brown beat me any day ;).”

“I’d let chris brown punch me in the face”

“I don’t know why Rihanna complained. Chris Brown could beat me up anytime he wanted to.”

What do we gather from these tweets? (Full list here, again, trigger warning.) These go beyond the lack-of-filter in-the-moment tweets that often get people in trouble because they show that these people have a clear understanding of his actions – no one here is pleading ignorance to his abusive history or denouncing it while commenting on his performance. They are doing just the opposite, celebrating and glorifying his violence. Taking it further, they sexualize it as they coyingly ask him – instruct him – to beat them whenever he wants as an acceptable, warranted, and defensible act for being lucky enough to be his partner. The winky smiley faces, the promotion of his supposed flawlessness, the admission that they would suffer innumerable beatings just to be with him, capped off with the dismissal of Rihanna’s rightful decision to report him as a mere “complaint” – we have a major problem here. Combined with a collective short-term memory problem (all those rallying screams at the Grammy’s last night), these messages serve to tell domestic violence victims that they are overreacting, that they should not “complain” if their assailant is considered talented and desired by so many women, that abuse is entirely excusable when perpetrated by a superstar with mass appeal, and very disturbingly, that violence is, of all things, so so sexy (“i wish chris brown would punch me!” begged one tweet). The claim that they would “let” a man punch them in the face does nothing but support the dangerous stereotype that women want to be beaten, that it turns them on.

What a way to let Chris Brown forget about what he’s done. Not only does he get to say that he supposedly regrets his actions, but if he ever felt a creeping of guilt or was actually on some path to understanding what he’s done and why it’s so disturbing and utterly unacceptable – you know, the tough mental work that is required to be rehabilitated – all he’d need to do is head over to Twitter and type his own name into a search. He’d be greeted by plenty of women and men not only excusing his actions, but praising them, supporting them, begging him to repeat them. We’ve got a really long way to go, here.

Update: Charmingly, Chris Brown responded to his critics on his on Twitter page, before it seems his handlers thought it best he stay silent on the issue.

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Filed under Pop Culture, Violence, Violence Against Women

Ready for 2012?

I certainly am! In case you’re interested, here are some interesting stats for INTY for 2011:

Top Five Posts of the Year:

Good Riddance, Paterno

Duke Nukem – Seriously?

Beyonce – A Word

Yes, Summer’s Eve Has Bad Marketing. Oh, and the Product is Not Good for You

I Still Don’t Think Yoplait Gets It

An interesting mix, indeed! Check them out if you missed them. And for kicks, my favorite Google searches that brought people to my blog:

* “does summer’s eve cause yeast infections”

* “disney feather duster” (which brought them to the Billy Bush post)

* “self-image”

* “i think i’m a feminist” (yay!)

* “consent”

* “abortion”

* “feminism does not necessarily mean hating men”

* “equinox advertisements jealous” (which brought them here)

* “eating disorders”

* “miss usa”

* “eroticization of girls”

* “sexualization of girls”

* “sexualized advertising”

* “advertising desensitization”

* “advertising and behavior”

* “real housewives ignorant” (the RHOBH post did get a lot of comments)

* “gay stereotypes in reality television” (Zel’s guest post)

* “gender identity”

* “adolescent/human development”

* “mitch albom accept who you are and revel in it” (which took them here…showing Albom not reveling in it)

And some creepy and disturbing searches that hopefully led searchers to this blog and perhaps taught them something:

* “how to get any woman to drop her panties”

* “how do young girls get hotter”

* “funny rape jokes”

* “sexy women lying on train tracks”

* “in duke do you need to use the vibrator on the woman”

* “how to take a feminist down a peg”

* “how to take a woman down a peg”

Well, that about sums it up! Looking forward to many more conversations in the upcoming year!

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Education, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Health Education, Media, Politics, Pop Culture, Public Health, Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexism, Violence, Violence Against Women

Not That I Necessarily Expect BravoTV to be Educational…

But nonetheless, the way the domestic abuse issues in Taylor’s marriage were drawn out and discussed on last Monday’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills merits a bit of a chat.

I don’t want to do any scolding because I tend to think there’s a lot of misinformation about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and the women of this cast seem to be trapped in the bubble of the misinformed. The entire episode was pretty hard to watch (nothing new there – look at what I put myself through just so I can analyze media!), not least of all the immensely uncomfortable tea party scene. It started with Adrienne and Paul (I’m sorry I can’t stop to explain every character, if you aren’t as fascinated by this as I, see bios on the BravoTV site), having a celebratory dinner and Adrienne broaching the subject of Taylor’s fragile state. The sincerity of this concern is hard to gauge, as is the sincerity of anything on these shows, but she seems to wonder why Taylor seems to be on the verge of a breakdown 24/7, and tentatively brings up that Taylor had told some of the other ladies that her husband, Russell, was physically abusing her. The revelations are, of course, greatly illuminated by Russell’s suicide this past summer, after which his history of abuse became more prominently displayed above the fold of tabloids. Paul’s response to this was “Nah…I know Russell. I just don’t believe it, he’s a great guy, he wouldn’t do that.”

The speculation continues at the tea party, which was so unsettling in no small part because it truly appeared to be the pinnacle of Taylor’s undoing. She seemed exhausted and overwhelmed, very much on the edge. She was breaking down, and it was painful to watch.

The women kept saying they didn’t know what to believe because they had never seen the abuse, they had never seen Russell hit Taylor. But moments later, Camille exclaims that they all knew of her injuries – at whose hands did they assume her jaw had been broken or her face smashed in, as they referenced? Not the man with two restraining orders against him from former wives and girlfriends, and with a record of beating his first wife when she was pregnant?

People generally don’t witness domestic violence. People generally don’t witness rape. We know they occur. Abusers frequently seem like charming, engaging, or friendly folks to the outside world. So do many criminals. This is a kind of control tactic, in which the victim’s testimonies can be negated by the public reputation of the abuser. Ted Bundy’s neighbors testified that he was a generous family man, but whoops, in his spare time he brutally kidnapped, raped, and murdered over 30 women. Appearances can be deceiving. We all know this, and we must get past the assumption that someone who presents themselves publicly in one way can’t have an entirely different private persona. Russell seems to have quite a violent history, and abuse allegations are rarely isolated. Personally, the footage of Russell I’ve seen has made me uncomfortable, as it always seemed controlled rage was simmering just under the surface. He didn’t like to leave Taylor with her friends, and I recall last season that when they were on a trip to Vegas he had her leave with him when he wanted to remove himself from the party instead of allowing her to socialize. Seemingly small actions like this can often be part of a larger orchestration of control that the abuser holds over the abused – particularly in regards to isolating them from their networks.

The tea party mock intervention continues, as Adrienne then claims she can’t get her head around someone who just doesn’t leave a man who is abusing her and putting her daughter at risk. She says this in a frustrated tone, as though Taylor is weak, weaker than them, because she didn’t stand up and walk out. She says, in fact, that she doesn’t understand where Taylor’s “willpower is.” This shows grave misunderstanding of the dynamics of partner violence; Adrienne is certainly not alone in thinking this.

People don’t leave because they’re terrified. Because they are not financially and economically independent. Because they’re worried the abuser will find them and the abuse will be even more intense, more vicious, possibly result in their death. Because they’re embarrassed and humiliated or are worried about more people discovering the truth. Because they have survived by protecting themselves with rationalizations and forms of denial, and leaving means confronting an overwhelmingly scary reality that often induces post-traumatic stress and requires a steady, uncompromising support system. Because they are used to a cycle of violence, followed by intense proclamations of love and dedication from the abuser, followed by manipulation, followed by violence again. Because they feel trapped. Because they have often been isolated by the abusive partner from their friends and family.

Taylor likely felt all of these things. She herself expressed that she had been a child in a home rife with domestic violence, and we know that children who witness abuse are more likely to have it replicated in their own marriages. She was married to an extremely powerful man in Los Angeles, and was likely worried that his status would aid in making her independent search for a job, home, and new social circle, exceedingly difficult. She appears to have no significant familial relationships to which she could reach out and seek refuge, her group of friends don’t have the reputation of being particularly warm and welcoming. She probably worried about what would become of her daughter – what if her daughter was targeted by Russell when they left? She may have been embarrassed, that’s not uncommon. She may have wanted to avoid being called exactly what some people seem to already assume – weak. She may have worried that people would wonder about her character and why she had chosen this person if he was abusive. She may have worried that, very sadly, she deserved it. Especially if it was a behavior she was used to witnessing as a child. She may have thought, concerningly, that no one would believe her. People aren’t believing her now, which likely confirms her earlier concerns; she may have thought she would be worse off if she were traversing a world by herself, 5 year-old daughter in tow, with everyone thinking she’s a liar. She probably was lured back into the relationship by the very cycle of domestic violence so many victims and survivors are familiar with.

Perhaps some individuals think if they were in Taylor’s shoes that they would be “strong” enough to leave. The reality is, domestic violence is a deeply complex issue, and it is very difficult to assume how one might handle the situation given how complicated it is.

An egregiously irresponsible “article” snidely remarked that Taylor didn’t want to lose Russell’s money, and that’s why she didn’t come forward. I’m the first to point out the materialism of this series franchise, but in the case of an abuse victim, it has less to do with fear of losing one’s jewels and furs than it does with fears of losing one’s life. And concerns about caring for a child on their own, concerns about the community siding with the abuser and icing her out, concerns about getting a protection or restraining order, concerns about being stalked. Her coming out and being more explicit with the abuse details after his death is indicative of how terrified she likely felt. If she had previously come out as publicly as she recently has, I’m sure she felt that the consequences at the hands of Russell could have been far greater.

In short (or not so short), this episode could have come with a Bravo TV PSA after its airing. But then I wouldn’t have been able to write this.

Thoughts? Follow me on Twitter.

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Filed under Education, Health Education, Mental Health, Violence, Violence Against Women

Good Riddance, Paterno.

After watching the appalling, immature response to the rightful firing of Joe Paterno last night, I had difficulty sleeping. I could not reconcile in my mind how people were so willing to further discard these children who were victimized, further negate their trauma and reduce their suffering to something negligible and less important than the football trophies lining Penn State’s halls. I’m not introducing the main characters of this post, because by now I’m sure you all know them.

In situations like these, you don’t even have to say “I’m on Paterno’s side,” which is just what all the screaming rioters on Penn State’s campus and outside his home are doing. By bemoaning a lost season, a coach’s supposedly truncated career, a football team’s interrupted success, you are contributing your voice to the chorus of people who think this isn’t such a big deal. That the interruption of Penn State’s stellar season is actually what’s pretty sad! That a coach with such success deserves to be forgiven for some things! And they were awful things, but they happened years ago! And he reported it to the Athletic Director, so he did his job!

If you’re a rape or sexual assault victim, that chorus can sound mighty deafening. And ceaseless.

So, I’m here to tell you that this is a big deal. A really $&%/!*$ big deal. And I can’t help but cringe anytime I hear a comment on this issue that hints at anything otherwise. That Paterno didn’t have this in his control. That reporting a criminal act and the victimization of a child to an administrator with no follow-up was sufficient. That marching his ass down to the closest precinct wasn’t something he unquestionably should have done, and ensured that Sandusky didn’t get within a hundred yards of a kid ever again. We are told that we should do the best we can with what we know; Paterno and McQuery did nothing of any consequence with what they knew. They moved at a glacial pace and took actions that were of minimal requirement. They worked at a university and with students, whose well-being is ostensibly the greatest concern of any educational institution. In case anyone doubted that the cash cow athletics of some colleges is what is of greatest concern, I give you this sick and disturbing example. There is quite literally no excuse, no “explanation” of the multiple failures of multiple leaders, that doesn’t rest on the fact that compromising a winning and money-making football team was in no way an option, that this team would not be brought down by ANYthing, not even the physical, emotional, and mental sacrifice of children.

Do I sound pissed? You bet I am. You should be, too. Let’s try, for a daring second, to re-prioritize the issues of our country. Let’s move “college football” from its precious perch and consider the prevention of rape and sexual assault to be of greatest importance. The swift punishment of the criminals who perform these acts to be the first order of business, not falling behind the next desperate grasp for a game win, a series win, a university parade.

I don’t care much what happens to Paterno and the other members of a coaching or admin staff who have had blessed careers and public lives rife with success. What I care about is the little boys who suffered rapes, forced oral sex, molestation, tried to negotiate the fear, humiliation, anger, and physical ramifications of these. Who did not leave the locker rooms, living rooms, camping trips or tents with any swollen bank accounts, any buildings or stadiums named after them, any hordes of fans claiming that they supported them no matter what. Yep. I’m on their side.

And to those screaming Penn State students, knocking over news vans and co-opting an act (rioting) reserved for disenfranchised populations (of which you are not) to demonstrate their subjugation, I’m going to bring this down to as personal a level as I can. I ask of you this: You have a father. Or a brother. Or a son. Or a boyfriend. Or just a close friend. Someone you love and care deeply for. Imagine they had been anally raped in the Penn State locker room, and someone had walked in and seen it and done nothing. Walked right back out instead of saving him. And that the very man you are crowing about knew of it. And turned his head. And your father/brother/son/boyfriend/friend was ignored, his pain deemed not important or relevant, his subsequent suffering that you would have witnessed first hand dismissed and cast aside. Now picture him standing in front of this narcissistic crowd, and asking you to tell him to his face that his raping isn’t as important as your beloved football coach keeping his job. If you can easily do that, then we are in even more depraved trouble than I thought.

After the absurd riots started following his firing, Paterno said that he appreciated the outpouring of support but to please “remain calm and respect the university, its property, and all that we value.”

Respect the university! Nothing about those boys, still, who I knew were raped and assaulted, nothing about respecting them and their pain and ordeal. Respecting the university doesn’t appear to have been on Paterno or McQuery’s mind when they covered up rape, abuse and molestation cases that would ultimately be forever associated with the university and debase its reputation. They showed no respect for the little boys who lives were forever marked by the despicable actions of their buddy Sandusky. They created a chain of administrators and coaches who failed time after time to immediately stop and fix this. So, no, Paterno, despite that your plea was directed at your supporters, I’m pretty riled up and have lost respect for much of Penn State myself. Remain calm and respect the university? – that’s a mighty tall order. Don’t think I can fill it.

He followed his statements with this claim: “With the benefit of hindsight, I should have done more.”

How hollow that rings.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Politics, Rape and Sexual Assault, Violence

The DSK Decision and the Definition of Consent

I have held off writing about the DSK case being tossed out because honestly, I can’t really bear it. Plenty of other news sources and bloggers have reported on the reasons why I feel this is a catastrophic blow to victims of sexual assault, and reiterating it would likely only upset me and readers even more. However, a news story reported in my hometown paper, The Chronicle, got me thinking about the definitions of consent and what it means to be a person worthy of a trial, and I thought I’d tie these two instances together.

According to the DSK decision, if one has lied in the past they are considered unworthy of a trial in the eyes of the DA – whose goal seems to be focused solely on winning as opposed to determining if in this particular instance one is lying. Let’s look at the specific lies in question – namely, the reason behind Diallo’s asylum in the United States and her recounts of the story.

First, the defense is claiming that since she allegedly lied on her asylum application about being gang raped in her home country, she cannot be trusted in this accusation of DSK. Had she lied? Yes, she admitted to that. Does that matter in this specific case of DSK assaulting her in the hotel room when a forensic examination, including a medical exam, proved to be consistent with her story? No. When she lied on her asylum application – as many, many people do (an interesting and poignant piece in the New Yorker recently profiled this in a case example) – she did so to escape a country in which she felt constantly at risk and in danger and wanted to protect her daughter from the same fate. Should the fact that many people do this – and lie about repeated gang rapes in particular – immediately excuse the lie? No. But it does put it in the context of a reality that should not go unexamined. While lying in previous instances can make a case harder to win, and isn’t something I’m championing or condoning, when you look at her reasons for a falsehood on her asylum application, it make no sense that she would then risk a job she was grateful and proud to have gotten as a hotel housekeeper, raising in her daughter in New York, by having what the defense claims was consensual sex in the middle of her cleaning duties.

In regards to the changing of her story, it is well known and understood by trauma experts that women who have experienced sexual assault (and not just sexual assault, but any traumatic event, for both genders) often recall the order of events differently and clarify them as time goes on, due to the effects of the shock, denial, and the coping mechanism of blocking out of painful incidents. This does not mean that the assault didn’t happen, particularly since this reaction has been seen and understood many times over by many other rape and assault victims.

What I also find interesting in these cries about credibility is how gendered they are. DSK has a notorious history in France of being too forward and sexually aggressive with women; in my mind this causes some credibility issues for him as well, as he claims in this instance it was only consensual. It also reminds me of the fact that one of the NYPD officers acquitted this summer had a history of sexually harassing women, unsubstantiated arrest of a woman and blocking the filing of a report of the woman whom he sexually harassed – yet this was not seen as hampering his credibility. Nor was the fact that he made false 911 calls that routed him back to the apartment of the East Village victim and denied ever sleeping with her and then promptly changed his story to one of doing so but using a condom and assuring it was consensual. If we’re saying Diallo has credibility issues, I’d say these two need to join her on that wagon.

In the San Francisco case, we are confronted with a similar – though not the same – situation; one of assessing the validity of the accuser based on previous actions or claims. A SF lawyer (who specializes in sexual harassment cases, interestingly) is accused of raping three women, ages 19 – 36, whom he met over Craigslist while searching for partners interested in dominant-submissive rough sex. Two of the women had consented to having sex with this man on previous occasions before filing specific incidents of assault and rape. The man’s attorney has used this as evidence that the women were consensual partners, interested in engaging in sex and agreeing to what the man proposed in his post.

It seems we need a reminder of the definition of consent.

It does not matter if a woman is a prostitute. It does not matter if a woman had sex with you consensually in the past. It does not matter if in an email a woman expressed interest in specific sexual roles, positions, and activity. What matters is if in the specific encounter at hand, both parties have expressed the desire to go forward, and that if one withdraws that consent at any point it is the responsibility of the other to stop. The women could have easily agreed over an email exchange to engage in dominant-submissive sex, arrived at the man’s home still agreeing to it, and agreed to it right up to the minute they were to begin. But if in that minute she decided she no longer wanted to do this or was hesitant and unsure and wanted to wait, and he went ahead anyway – then it becomes rape.

Rape and sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult to try. They are usually he said/she said situations, at best aided by forensic evidence. Each case is unique, each has elements that are often not introduced or examined until a trial begins – this exemplifies the importance of scrutiny and juries who devote days to understanding the nuances and details of cases that are not reported or perceived by the media.

Setting the precedent that previously engaging in sexual activity, lying, or expressing interest in sexual experimentation eliminates your chances for a fair trial regarding the specific assault case at hand pushes us into the realm of implausibility. It is also worth noting that despite outcries of false accusations, the most frequently repeated results of studies regarding false claims and filings of rape show that the real rate of these is between 2% at its lowest and 7% at its highest (American Prosecutors Research Institute). But the media sheds so much light on the false claims that people presume it is much higher. The vast majority of rape and sexual assault charges never see the spotlight – perhaps because they aren’t dangerous enough or don’t involve high-ranking political figures or people whom media isn’t able to coin as gold-diggers and attention mongers because of their social or socioeconomic status. The bottom line is that each story deserves to be closely and carefully examined, and not discarded because a DA thinks he can’t win the case. District Attorney Vance is quoted as saying “If we don’t believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot expect a jury to.” I would venture to say that given the outcry over his decision, many people would like to hear the full story (and who do in fact think that the issue of reasonable doubt is in question) from both sides, with all the available evidence and fleshed out arguments. The issue of the truth, and seeking it, should take the precedence over one’s doubt at a courtroom victory.

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Filed under Feminism, Media, Politics, Sexism, Violence

How Images and Ads Impact Self-Image and Human Development

I got a lot of traffic and messages about my recent post regarding Duke Nukem. People in the gaming community condemned it for its lack of originality, how it strayed from the original premise of apparently ostensibly mocking the ’80s action-hero genre, and how it overall disappointed those who are used to more complex and engaging videos. Some replies also included people needing to “get over it” when discussing images of coerced sexual activity or the game’s encouragement of merging violent and sexually explicit content together (I don’t post comments that are condescending or don’t encourage dialogue), something I found…disturbing. My initial argument, however, did not change – that is, that the imagery and the actions the gamer supposes in this video are tragically abusive and in fact detrimental to both men and women.

Many gamers also respond that they know when they are playing a game, and that their non-virtual socializing is not impacted by the game’s content. This, along with the recent news that the American Medical Association finally condemned the use of photoshopping in advertising campaigns and photo shoots, got me thinking about what repeated exposure to images and actions actually does to our brain and with who and what we identify.

A well-known study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that repeated exposure to images and advertisements ultimately were processed in people the same way actual experiences were processed. That is, if you see or watch something enough times - in a video game, in a fashion magazine in which models are photoshopped to near obscurity, in a parent abusing your sibling – you begin to process it as though it was you yourself experiencing the act and identify with the “player” (model, game character) you are watching. You see enough pictures of a model like this:

Courtesy fashion-o-lic.com

And you begin to think you are supposed to align yourself with her, that this image is what is normal (the image on the right was criticized heavily in 2009 for being so drastically photoshopped). After so many exposures, you begin to mold yourself after her, to think that since this is how we project women for adoration in our culture, that you should begin appropriating yourself to match her image. Just like a gamer, after so many exposures, can begin to mold themselves after the image of the character they are impersonating in a game. And while they may not go out on a shooting spree, they are desensitized to the effects of that reality, just as they are desensitized to the effects of coerced sex in a game, which can lead to difficulty distinguishing that from a healthy sexual relationship.

As I have also discussed in previous posts, a foundational theory in behavioral science and education is the Social-Cognitive Theory, which has informed educators and psychologists for years in explaining that people learn by watching, and that even one observation of a behavior can influence perspective. It also importantly points out that while full on adoption of behaviors witnessed may not occur, the more we see, the more our attitudes and beliefs about them change. This can be good and bad. It can make us more accepting of others’ opinions and outlooks, and it can also desensitize and normalize the opinions and behaviors that are harmful.

We’re humans. We learn by watching, by then mimicking and imitating what we observe. It doesn’t happen all at once, which is why fashion moguls or game designers claim they have no real impact. Are girls entering periods of self-mandated starving as soon as they open this month’s Vogue? Are adolescent boys heading to the hills for a sawed off shotgun fight after the first round of Duke or stealing cars after playing the new Grand Theft Auto? No, of course not. But can it impact their sense of compassion, affect their interpersonal relationships? Can it make violence seem less threatening, less damaging, and less impacting than it is? Yes. Can that change the way people behave, from nuance to imitation? Sure. Even researchers who admit that it won’t necessarily turn children violent admit that’s likely true (and, interestingly, still disallow their children to play). Human development takes time – language acquisition, understanding of and the processing of visual messages, being able to comprehend meaning from a block of text – these are all cognitive functions that take years to develop and perfect, and their influence lies in the words and actions of children’s families, friends, teachers. Unfortunately, messages of gender have been largely commandeered by the media. And the repeated exposure, over years, to these specifics of models’ physical appearance has resulted in the erosion of self-confidence that many girls and women – and boys and men – experience as young children becoming adolescents. And the repeated exposure, over years, to the specifics of war, sexual violence, and the presentation of hyper-masculinity, can also result in the erosion of what kind of impact violence truly has, as they become desensitized, and what a healthy understanding of and relationship with the opposite sex is (as opposed to its portrayal in my Duke Nukem piece). As the study articulated, it’s about changing people over time, it’s about how perceptions and perspectives change when a new definition of the norm that is not contested or dissected – a Ralph Lauren model, a Duke Nukem – enters the picture. Women who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia, while not blaming the fashion industry, have emphatically articulated that it certainly has had an impact as it normalized this destructive self-image and behavior.

I think it’s also relevant here to bring up the Supreme Court’s decision about a week ago to shoot down California’s attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to children. Timothy Egan, a Times columnist, had a great commentary on this, noting how ridiculous it seems for there to be a perpetual ban on nudity and sexually explicit images, but not on virtually dismembering a human or sexually assaulting a woman. It does seem…well, more than troubling, that a game in which a player can simulate murder and rape is protected by free speech but a bare breast is the height of vulgarity. (I found a great post from a female gamer about this kind of sexual violence in video games, and I agree with her assertion that sexual expression can in fact exist without it also involving violence and degradation.) I don’t think any of the representations of sexuality that I have seen in video games are appropriate for children because they overwhelmingly associate it with abuse and/or coercion (I’ve done a lot of viewing in the past couple days after my Duke Nukem post). To say that sexuality would have a more harmful impact than violence seems questionable, when representations of both are equally unhealthy.

It should also be said that I am far from someone who believes nudity and sexuality itself is vulgar. I celebrate and support healthy (and protected!) sexual expression in any way the individual consents and desires. I firmly believe that discussions of sex and sexuality should be brought up early on, so children can ask questions, be informed, protect themselves when they do engage in sex, and have an understanding of what a respectful, consensual sexual relationship is. I also believe that when these discussions in families don’t take place, and when sex is a taboo topic, that it is a disservice to these children, and that any confusion they have about sex or uncertainty about what a healthy sex life actually is will be magnified by the messages the media sends them.  I’m an advocate of early onset, comprehensive sexual health and reproductive health education. Sex shouldn’t be confusing, and it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Sexual violence, however, and a misappropriation of the presentation of sexual relationships that are abusive, coercive, and violent, should be condemned.

This is also why a diversity of exposures is important. It’s important to not be inundated with the same message over and over again. Advertisers know that repeated exposure is key to getting people to buy what they want to sell. If you see an image of a Coke bottle once, it won’t register with much impact. If you see it every time your favorite TV show breaks for commercial, when you’re leafing through the pages of a magazine, when you’re driving down a freeway and it’s up on a billboard, when you’re listening to the radio and it breaks for the Coke jingle – it adds up, as do afternoons in front of a game console, as do hours reading “women’s” magazines and fashion spreads, as do episodes of spousal or child abuse, (which we know increases the likelihood of the child being in an abusive relationship him/herself and hampers healthy development - the others are logical extensions, to a lesser degree). We have to have enough positive images, positive games, positive and healthy discourse about relationships to not just equal the stream of negative imagery and messaging, but to overtake it. Positive, healthy messages, not abusive, harmful, violent messages, have to be in the majority. The norm. It’s nice that the docs finally said so.

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Media, Mental Health, Pop Culture, Public Health, Sexism, Violence

Duke Nukem – Seriously?

I don’t play video games. I’m sure this comes as no surprise. The few times I have played a game it involved a furry animal working his way through some kind of tropical forest and the most violent it got was when he hit a villanous turtle on the head with a coconut. So, I am not familiar with Duke Nukem.

Of course, one Google search tells me he is a supremely popular, freakishly over-muscled, machine gun-wielding, hyper-aggressive action “hero” who is literally described in the Wikipedia entry as “frequently politically incorrect.” (Hilarious. And accurate.) His character profile also claims that when he was first introduced, he was a CIA operative hired to save Earth from Dr. Proton. This would maybe imply that the game involved some kind of strategy, particularly of the secret intelligence kind, and also perhaps had something to do with taking down an evil scientist who has discovered some kind of new microbe that could destroy the planet, or, you know, blah blah blah whatever. Because the point is, in my brief and terrifying foray into this video game’s website, I saw no evidence to suggest that this kind of thinking went into the development of this franchise, and that it’s just what you’d expect. A guy who looks intensely devoted to his steroid regimen, has a penchant for unloading 50 rounds into anything with tentacles, and who appears to live in a post-apocalyptic  land which is somehow still able to generously supply women with fetish outfits, bikinis, and manicures. Exhibit A – what greeted me as I came out of the subway this morning:

Thanks for this offensive shot, Gearbox Software!

I apologize for the blurriness factor – but in this image, our man Duke Nukem is sitting in a throne (of course, of course) while two women in schoolgirl outfits sit at his feet. The caption? “This game has bazookas. Both types.” Weapons, breasts, and a throne! What else could dudes possibly ask for? Well, actually…

In a video promo for the game on YouTube (if you’re going to watch this, take a deep breath – and I personally would say NSFW) it gets even worse. There are shots of Duke on a shooting rampage interspersed with what appears to be him walking into a room and seeing a switched-on vibrator skidding around the room. The nicest touch? A hazard sign is on the vibrator and we’re treated to a voiceover that says “You know you want to touch it.” This could be an over-analyzation (no), but I’m going there – a hazard symbol perhaps because Duke Nukem, for all his hyper-masculinity, is terrified of female sexuality? Terrified of the idea that a woman may be sexually satisfied without him? Afraid of anything other than the hetero-normative/man in power/man’s desire satisfied/woman as vehicle of this desire – kind of sex?

He then encounters two women – again in schoolgirl outfits – who at first seem like they might be fighting but then drop their weapons of choice to touch and caress each other in sexually suggestive ways. Duke is watching this while pointing a gun at them, and saying, “allll right, time for my reward.” What is the reward here? Watching two women engage in sexual activity? Shooting the women engaged in sexual activity? Keeping your weapon out and pointed at the women to ensure they continue engaging in the sexual activity? Many other reviews of Duke Nukem have also pointed out its violent sexual imagery and encouragement of sexually violent behavior towards women.

Let’s quickly discuss the schoolgirl outfits. Perhaps the most tired cliché of all, they hearken to this video game’s weakening of any strong female identities by putting them in little girls’ uniforms to negate any chance of adult agency. They also, disturbingly, speak to the pedophilic aspect of the schoolgirl craze, the sexualization of the vulnerable - children. Why do people who go after this fad not see how creepy it is? You are using a child’s outfit to turn you on.

So, just to tally up:

1) Fetishizing women in outfits meant for children = pedophilic sexualization of grown women and increasing one’s perception of their vulnerability

2) Referring to their breasts as “bazookas” = at once equating a woman’s body part with an anti-tank military weapon and objectifying women using an offensive antiquated slang for large breast size

3) Displays of a lesbian encounter that has nothing to do with a healthy, respectful relationship that happens to be between two women = everything to do with stereotypical exploitation and eroticization of lesbian relationships for the titillation of an armed psychopath

4) Pointing guns at women = ….pointing guns at women

5) Claiming that watching women engage in sexual activity with one another, encouraging women to engage in sexual activity with one another, threatening women with weaponry to continue engaging in sexual activity with one another, or forcing them to engage in any kind of sexual behavior with you is your reward = You deserve it – you deserve to be sexually gratified however you wish because you shot a bunch of Men in Black rejects. (Here we have voyeurism, sexual assault, physical assault, and manipulation – impressive, Duke!)

6) And…a vibrator skidding around a room. Because, you know…vibrators are always on the loose!!!

I do not need to sum this up any further. I think it just concludes on its own. With a WTF.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism, Violence