Tag Archives: violence against women

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

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

Abortion Isn’t That Simple, Mr. Douthat

Ross Douthat, one of the NY Times conservative columnists whose pieces I occasionally force myself to read, wrote an article yesterday about sex-selective abortion. In short, he claimed that the reason 160 million women were “missing” (that is, the reason they were so outnumbered in many countries like India and China, as well as other nations in the Balkans and Central Asia) was because they were “killed” via sex-selective abortion. In his words, the women weren’t “missing,” they were “dead.” (He also claims that the author of the book he cites, Mara Hvistendahl of the book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” appropriates the issue to one of patriarchy, of greater social issues and inequities – which I agree with. He then says that “the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence,” saying that she is more upset by the idea of abortion itself than she is about the issues surrounding abortion. Don’t you think that’s for her to decide? And doesn’t it seem she’s already decided what she thinks based on her book?)

Douthat, however, manages to contradict the crux of his argument near the start of his column.

He begins by saying “female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less.” He then quotes Hvistendahl as saying “women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,” because male offspring bring higher social status. In countries like India, sex selection began in “the urban, well-educated stratum of society,” before spreading down the income ladder.

If this were the case – if in fact women had become truly empowered in their respective lands – culturally, politically, economically – then why would they be aborting based on the opposite – that men in their communities are still holding the cards? Are they imagining that men still hold positions of power and wealth in their countries, or are they living the ramifications of that painful reality everyday? Women do have some increased autonomy in many of these regions. But guess what? This autonomy has likely served to highlight the still very real inequities and disparities that exist in their communities, which contributes to the rates of sex-selective abortion. If women see which sex has the higher status, and one of the few autonomous decisions they can make is to choose the sex of their baby – they are likely going to choose the one with more status. This upsetting power dynamic shows just how far away true empowerment is for many of these women and their communities. If they felt their children would have the same opportunities if they were female than if they were male, the sex selection abortion Douthat decries would actually decrease. It is not the responsibility of the female fetus to ensure she is treated with the same respect and equality as the male fetus. Douthat seems to really care about female fetuses – but seems less interested in addressing the massive social, political, and economic issues that create so many difficulties for them once born. (His colleagues Paul Krugman and Nick Kristof seem to have handles on that. Too bad they were off yesterday.)

It seems that Douthat wants to push for the feelings of regret and remorse about abortion itself, separate from the issues surrounding it. Does sex-selection abortion sadden me? Yes. Does aborting a fetus that indicates it will have Down Syndrome sadden me? Yes. You know what else makes me sad? That a woman cannot afford a baby because she is single and has no familial or community support; because she has an abusive partner (homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant women); because she has a low-wage hourly job that offers no maternity leave which could help her stay well while carrying the baby if needed; because she has no health insurance meaning she can’t access quality pre-natal care to make sure her baby would be healthy since we are systematically closing down those facilities that offer services for women who are uninsured (and also help provide birth control to prevent pregnancy!); because she has no way to pay for day care and she may have to quit her low-wage job to care for her baby; because she would then have no money for all the supplies, food, and developmental tools her baby would need to thrive which can lead to malnutrition, behavioral problems, child depression; because she could then become part of the 29.9% of families in poverty that are headed by single women, and her child could become part of the 35% of those in poverty who are under 18 years of age - the poverty rate for households headed by single women is significantly higher than the overall poverty rate.

We’ve cut child welfare services that aid women by the tens of millions in the past few years. Georgia alone cut over $10 million in Child Welfare Services. We’ve also cut subsidies that support adoption agencies – the organizations that help women find families that may be able to care for her baby were she to carry it to term – and who make sure these families are actually fit to do so! TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) provides women and families with aid so that children can be raised in their own homes or with relatives, instead of being placed in foster care and becoming wards of the state. How much have we cut from TANF? 17 of the poorest states, with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, have already stopped receiving funds.

Birth control, one might say? Sure – birth control is expensive, so if she doesn’t have health insurance, she isn’t likely to be able to afford birth control (hey, Planned Parenthood can help with that, too! Seeing a pattern?) And if her partner refuses to wear a condom? If she is in an abusive relationship, if she fears leaving her partner, if she relies on her partner for added economic security – she’s much less likely to argue with him about the condom use. Or even feel that she has the agency to begin a negotiation discussion at all.

These facts make me sad. And all of these facts might lead a woman to decide she can’t have a baby. And many things not listed here may lead a woman to decide that she will not have a baby. And that she will have an abortion. Is it my decision? No. It’s not. It’s not yours or Ross Douthat’s, either. Again, Douthat represents the contingent of pro-lifers who want to make it seem like pro-choicers are cheering the performing of abortions right and left. What we are cheering is the right for women and respect of women to make their own decision based on their very specific personal circumstances. And given the fact that the medical establishment has not agreed with the pro-life camp in claiming that fetuses before a month into the third trimester can feel pain (reacting to stimuli does not equal pain, to reiterate, and pain without a cerebral cortex is seen by physicians as not possible), which has most recently become the pro-life camp’s wildly off-base rationale for preventing a woman’s right to choose, and given the fetus’ place of residence in the woman’s uterus as a part of her body, not as a human, these issues that Douthat sees as “sideline” are actually very much at the center of the argument. Bottom line – it’s the woman’s body. It’s the woman’s choice. She will be the one carrying it, she will be the one birthing it. No one else. So why should anyone else decide?

Additionally, it is not a crime for a woman to not want children. Since she is able to give birth, it is her decision as to when and how that will happen. Everything about her life and future will change once she has a baby. So she needs to be sure she is ready for that. How can one disagree with that? Douthat may not like it, but “the sense of outrage that pervades his story” (see what I did there? ;) ) seems to me more rooted in his anger and frustration with his opinion not being considered by women in these decisions and not being able to control what a woman decides to do about what is going on in her body.

All of the things I listed - the job issues, the healthcare issues, the family and community issues, the issues that arise when a child doesn’t have access to food, clothing, and developmentally appropriate stimulation - are the causes. So why don’t we start figuring out how we can mitigate those facts and issues instead of attacking the effect – the abortion – which is a decision women come to after weighing all of those facts and issues just discussed. Douthat’s fear tactics of talking about female fetuses strewn across Indian hospitals is scary imagery. So is this:

Photo thanks to ehow.com

And this:

Photo via Captain Hope's Kids Blog

And this:

Photo property of streetkidnews.blogsome.com

Want less abortions? How about providing health insurance, that covers both birth control and pre-post natal care? How about equal pay for equal work, so women are more financially and economically secure, providing them with the resources to stay out of poverty and keep their children out of it, too? How about child care in work environments, helping women who cannot afford day care can stay in their jobs and remain a part of the economy? While we’re at it, how about great public schools and clean community centers, so women know their children are being intellectually fed and socially stimulated in safe environments that help keep them out of more dangerous and potentially life-threatening social circles? How about comprehensive sex education so men and women know how to protect themselves not only from pregnancies but from diseases that can endanger a fetus and create complications during birth and cause health issues for them and their children – creating more expense, particularly if one has no health insurance.

Let’s talk then. And how about you follow me on Twitter?

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Feminism, Health Education, Mental Health, Politics, Women's Health

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.

If you aren’t following me on Twitter, why don’t you start here?

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

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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