Join the dissent

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Do you agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Do something. Don’t stand by and watch women continue to be denied human rights. Tell Washington that the U.S. government is discriminating against women and that is not acceptable in America. Sign the petition from Planned Parenthood and please give money. If we all do something and take action, we can create change.

The letter from Planned Parenthood is pasted here, follow the links at the bottom to sign it and to give money.

Subject: JOIN THE DISSENT

To The Supreme Court:

To the five members of the Supreme Court who have given bosses — based on their own personal beliefs — the power to deny women coverage for birth control:

I dissent. Your ruling is an insult to the generations of women who have fought for control over their own bodies and their own futures. It is a step backward, and a threat to the future of women’s health and rights in America.

To employers like Hobby Lobby, who believe that their personal beliefs are more important than women’s fundamental rights:

I dissent. Religious freedom means that every person should be allowed to follow her own conscience, whether she owns a company or works for an hourly wage. Women earn health care coverage the same way they earn a paycheck — and they shouldn’t have it taken away because of the personal views of their employers.

To the politicians who support the Supreme Court’s decision — and want to go even further to deny more women access to birth control:

I dissent. I will continue to fight for the right of every woman to make her own private medical decisions without interference from anyone — not her boss, not politicians, not the Supreme Court. I call on lawmakers at every level to take immediate action to protect women’s access to health care no matter what their bosses say.

This is about our health and our lives. This is about our fundamental right to have control over our own bodies. This is about justice. And I’m not done fighting back.

Signed,
[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

 

Follow this link to sign the petition and to donate funds.

Religious orgs want exemption from LGBT hiring order

The Talking Point Memo reports:

The letter, first reported by The Atlantic, was sent on Tuesday by 14 representatives, including the president of Gordon College, an Erie County, Pa., executive and the national faith vote director for Obama for America 2012, of the faith community.

 

“Without a robust religious exemption,” they wrote, “this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”

 

The leaders noted that the Senate-passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act included a religious exemption:

 

“Our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations. While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability. There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy.”

 

This is exactly what I just blogged about would happen, should and must happen, because it makes no sense to discriminate against one group because of “religious freedom” and not be allowed to discriminate against any group.
Here’s what I wrote a couple days ago:

Pregnancy is a medical condition, birth control is preventative health care

Posted on

Pregnancy is a medical condition. I had an emergency c-section with my first child, not a rare end to a pregnancy in the USA. Pregnancy related diseases include ectopic pregnancies (also life-risking), blood clots, urinary tract infections, thrush, severe back pain, and the list goes on.

How is it that the Supreme Court of the USA decided today that businesses do not have to cover health care for women? Freedom of religion? Seriously? So why do Christian Scientist parents get prosecuted by our courts for not taking their children to get treatment? Why isn’t that “choice” freedom of religion?

Why is it OK for religions to decree that women cannot have health care but it is not OK for them to demand that gay employees or black employees don’t get health care? Female bodies are different than male bodies and require different medical treatment. Why is it OK to deny one gender the medical treatment that their bodies require? Is the reason that sex is optional, therefore the medical condition of pregnancy is optional, therefore preventative health care is not required by law? Putting aside the situation of rape (which is just “rape hysteria” anyway, right) are we saying that medical conditions created by optional behavior should not receive health care? So if I choose to go skiing and break my leg, I shouldn’t get my health care paid for by my employer? If I choose to go on a hike and get bit by a tic, my employer should not be required to pay for treatment for my lyme disease?

I am ashamed to be an American today.

(I’m still wondering about Christian Scientists, by the way. Why should a Christian Scientist business leader be forced to pay medical expenses for any employee? Especially one who would be willing to let her own child die for that belief?)

 

 

Fellows from conservative think tanks hold conference on rape “hysteria”

The conservative Independent Women’s Forum held a conference last week called “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault.”

I’m going to go through the press release, beginning with the opening:

The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…

 

Embraced is not the verb I would use. Do you know how hard it’s been and how many years we have been working to get the U.S. government to acknowledge that violence against women is epidemic is the USA?

The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…

 

Think the IWF put “first ever report” in scare quotes because it’s such a silly concept or because it’s so shocking that its taken until 2014 for the U.S. government to take note that its most honored educational institutions are not protecting female students?

“Push their policy agenda”? Which is…um… human rights for women?

But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…

 

Would that “silencing” be referring to George Will who questioned the stat in the Washington Post in his syndicated column that runs in newspapers all over this country, where he also called rape survivors “a coveted status that confers privilege”? About the stat, Will wrote:

The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent.

 

To which Jezebel responded:

Rape is underreported, here is how many women reported being raped, therefore rape is overreported. These reports are flawed! Can’t you tell by these flawed reports? Your honor, I rest my case.

 

Who reads Jezebel by the way? Same influential, power-playing crowd who reads Reel Girl? Unlike Will, Jezebel hasn’t won a Pulitzer yet, but I’m sure it’ll receive that international honored any day now. Continuing with this theme of “silencing,” a feminist responded to Will’s column, writing in the Huffington Post:

At its most basic level, as a scholar who has studied violence against women for 20 years, I’m struck that neither I nor any of my colleagues who have devoted decades to producing the best research on these issues has ever had the opportunity to tell the story in this way in such a prestigious outlet as The Washington Post. Instead we are relegated to the back pages of online outlets like The Huffington Post and Slate.com. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that my voice can be heard in these outlets, but I’m also painfully aware that millions more people, and especially people (men) with privilege, read The Washington Post than The Huffington Post blog pages…

 

But back to the IWF press release. Next line:

The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?

In 2014, we are still using the word hysteria around women’s issues? Hysteria, in case you don’t know, comes from the Greek word “hyster” for womb, the “ancient” belief being that women are crazy because they have wombs. A better word for America’s response to rape might be apathy.

So who is on the IWF panel? If you watch news channels or read news media,  you know these “experts” and the prestigious think tanks they’re affiliated with: Christina Hoff Summers is an author and Fellow of the America Enterprise Institute; Stuart Taylor is an author and a Fellow at the Brookings Institute; Cathy Young is a columnist for Newsday;  Andrea Bottner is a lawyer and a former director of the Office of International Women’s Issues for the Bush Administration. It’s great to know that Bush put someone in the USA in charge of international women’s issues who believes in rape hysteria.

 

Straight Talk Panel on “Rape Culture” and Sexual Assault – See more at: http://iwf.org/media/2794316/#sthash.GOGH0pTl.dpuf

Pregnancy is a medical condition, birth control is preventative health care

Pregnancy is a medical condition. I had an emergency c-section with my first child, not a rare end to a pregnancy in the USA. Pregnancy related diseases include ectopic pregnancies (also life-risking), blood clots, urinary tract infections, thrush, severe back pain, and the list goes on.

How is it that the Supreme Court of the USA decided today that businesses do not have to cover health care for women? Freedom of religion? Seriously? So why do Christian Scientist parents get prosecuted by our courts for not taking their children to get treatment? Why isn’t that “choice” freedom of religion?

Why is it OK for religions to decree that women cannot have health care but it is not OK for them to demand that gay employees or black employees don’t get health care? Female bodies are different than male bodies and require different medical treatment. Why is it OK to deny one gender the medical treatment that their bodies require? Is the reason that sex is optional, therefore the medical condition of pregnancy is optional, therefore preventative health care is not required by law? Putting aside the situation of rape (which is just “rape hysteria” anyway, right) are we saying that medical conditions created by optional behavior should not receive health care? So if I choose to go skiing and break my leg, I shouldn’t get my health care paid for by my employer? If I choose to go on a hike and get bit by a tic, my employer should not be required to pay for treatment for my lyme disease?

I am ashamed to be an American today.

 

‘The privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story’

Who gets to tell the story? Whose voice gets to be heard?

In the Huffington Post, Angela J. Hattery, a professor of gender studies at George Mason University, writes about the columns by George Will and Brad Wilcox about women, sex, and rape in the Washington Post:

 

I’m going to take a different approach and interrogate the simple fact that both columns illustrate yet another way in which privilege works; the privilege to have one’s voice heard and the privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story.

 

At its most basic level, as a scholar who has studied violence against women for 20 years, I’m struck that neither I nor any of my colleagues who have devoted decades to producing the best research on these issues has ever had the opportunity to tell the story in this way in such a prestigious outlet as The Washington Post. Instead we are relegated to the back pages of online outlets like The Huffington Post and Slate.com. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that my voice can be heard in these outlets, but I’m also painfully aware that millions more people, and especially people (men) with privilege, read The Washington Post than The Huffington Post blog pages…

 

Why, because a key element of privilege is the power to write the narrative and to write it in a way that reinforces the privileges of those who already have it, in this case white, upper middle class, professional men.

 

I write a blog about gender and children’s media. I started my blog because as soon as I had one daughter, and then two more, I was shocked and disgusted by how gendered their world was. Every day, being a mother, I continue to be amazed that this kind of gender segregation and stereotyping exists in a world created for children. I continue to be amazed that progressive and educated parents, in San Francisco no less, seem to be almost oblivious to the sexism focused on their children.

Today, I was at a house with a game room for kids. In the room were several arcade games from the 80s. I snapped some photos of all of the females I found on the games:

Simpson’s pinball:

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More Simpsons pinball:

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Ms. Pacman

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Donkey Kong:

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What is the story that is getting told here? Again and again and again?

Children learn through images, text, experience, and repetition. Brains get wired up when we’re little and those paths get harder and harder to change. Just one example: the other day my husband told my children that America’s diversity is a consequence of so many people settling here. My  children freaked out that he said “consequence” because, to my children, “consequence” is a negative word, it’s basically used like “punishment.” My husband and I talked about my kids’ reaction and decided that they were right, “consequence” is a negative word. “Outcome” is a more neutral word. But the point is that our language is charged, images are charged, and narratives are charged. The very best hope we can offer kids is diversity of stories, not repeating these same images and words over and over and over. It limits us, and it limits a new generation.

When and how are we going to untangle our reality from those who have been telling the story for so many thousands of years?

George Will has no authority to write about rape in the Washington Post. That he does, that this is “normal” and accepted in 2014 speaks to how terribly backwards we are in America when it comes to women and equality.

 

 

Pitt joins Jolie at summit against sexual violence

I’m posting this photo and headline (up above) because it’s inspiring to watch people acting together to make the world a better place.

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I am so grateful that Angelina Jolie gives her star power, her brain power, and her money to help women and girls around the world. I’m also impressed that Pitt has always supported her publicly. He never gives the impression that the conferences he attends are limited “women’s issues” that he condescends to be involved with. These conferences are about human rights. This couple– the images, text, and narratives that accompany them– make clear that women and men can love, support, and inspire each other, working to change the world.

One more thing this photo tells me: Don’t waste your time arguing with the backwards ideas of people like the “educated” and “brilliant” George Will. A while back, I posted parts of and commented on An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate from feminsiting.com. It’s a great post for me, because in the past, I’ve felt obligated to speak to people who drag me backwards. Writer Juliana Britto points out in the post– these are my words– that she doesn’t  have the time to make entertaining cocktail conversation for people about the ideas she cares about just for their entertainment. Talking about these ideas is emotionally draining. If I’m trying to get to Z, I don’t have time to engage with the people that want to keep me at A. Especially when, as Britto points out we’ve heard it all before for thousands of years:

Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth.

But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time.

 

Here’s to hoping all of us act, do, and give money instead of just talking.

Read the story about Jolie, Pitt, and the summit against sexual violence here.

Angelina Jolie tells BBC ‘Maleficent’s’ wing-cutting scene is ‘metaphor for rape’

Yesterday, in a BBC interview, Angelina Jolie said that the controversial wing-cutting scene in “Maleficent” is a metaphor for rape.

Yahoo reports Jolie’s quote:

“We were very conscious, the writer and I, that it was a metaphor for rape,” Jolie said of the harrowing sequence, in which Maleficent’s wings are stolen as she’s in a drug-induced sleep. “This would be the thing that would make her lose sight.”

Obviously, it’s no coincidence that Jolie is leading the biggest ever global anti-rape summit. Jezebel reports on the summit and Jolie:

UN Special Envoy Jolie has visited victims of wartime sexual violence in Bosnia and in the DNC. Her 2011 directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is set during the Bosnian civil war of the late twentieth century. During that conflict, experts estimate that 50,000 women were raped. According to AFP, Jolie was so moved by the plight of survivors there that she worked for two years to make this summit — the largest of its kind to date — a reality.

 

It was while doing media for the summit that Jolie addressed the rape metaphor in “Maleficent.”

Angelina Jolie spoke to BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour in a live broadcast Tuesday, June 10, where she compared one harrowing scene in Maleficent to rape. Addressing more than 300 government dignitaries at the London-hosted Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, UN Special Envoy Jolie was asked about the scene in the fairy tale fantasy film, in which the titular character’s wings are torn off her body by a childhood friend.

Fantasy meets reality meet fantasy. Thank you, Angelina Jolie, once again, for speaking up and taking action to make a difference for women and girls around the world. Hopefully, more female writers, actors, producers, directors, musicians, singers, artists etc will publicly tell their own stories, and the narratives we all experience will open up, diversify, and change. Then, the world we exist in will change as well.

I’m re-posting my last blog on “Maleficent:”

Does ‘Maleficent’ depict matriarchy vs patriarchy or world where gender isn’t destiny?

This is my fifth post on the fabulous ‘Maleficent’ movie which I saw with my three daughters and my husband last Friday. I’m obviously a little obsessed.

If you’ve been following my blogs, I keep arguing, contrary to what almost everyone else seems to believe, that when Stefan cuts off Maleficent’s wings, it’s not necessarily a rape metaphor. I’d like to set one thing straight given the comments I’ve received. Yes, everyone is allowed their own interpretation. My blogs, about how this scene is not rape, I am quite aware come from my own bias that I want to lay out for you here:

(1) I am 45 years old and exhausted with seeing women raped on screen. I just wrote about my fatigue regarding bell hooks’s forum: Are You Still a Slave ? Liberating the Black Female Body with a blog title borrowed from a hooks quote: “If I never see another naked, enslaved, black woman on screen, I’ll be happy.”

(2) I have 3 daughters ages 5, 7, and 10, and I am desperate for them to experience fantasy worlds where gender equality exists. This wish of mine probably goes back to my first point, that I am 45 and sick of seeing the “feminist” trope where the female struggles against the patriarchy. It’s not just that I’ve seen it one million times before, but that in order for my children to see a girl struggling to be taken seriously or be strong or powerful even though she’s a girl, first my kids have to understand sexism. In order to “get” the story, first they have to understand that the world believes girls are less than boys. I would prefer, certainly for little kids, that they be exposed to fantasy worlds where girls and boys are depicted as equal, where girls are not made fun of, put down, or limited because of their gender. I understand how important the narrative of the girl proving she’s “just as good as a boy”  is historically, I’m not asking for it to be obliterated, I’m just asking for more stories where there is gender equality. If we can’t imagine gender equality, we cant create it. At this point, The Hunger Games may be the only fantasy world I’ve read where gender is not an issue.

(3) There are several reasons I believed “Maleficent” depicts a fantasy world where gender isn’t destiny rather than matriarchy vs patriarchy. Everyone is allowed their own interpretation, author’s intention is dead, but it can still be a factor in understanding the movie. I believed that it was both the screenwriter’s and Angelina Jolie’s intention that the conflict in the movie was not male vs female but human vs Fairy. Here are the reasons why:

A. The narrator introduces the movie as one about two worlds, one human and one magical.

B. When Stefan is first introduced, Maleficent is curious about him because he is a human, not because he is a boy.

C. With most of the scenes between them being childhood ones, I experienced the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent as special because it was a friendship between two warring species.

D. This quote from the writer, Linda Woolverton:

I had to figure out what possibly could have happened to her to make her want to hurt an innocent baby. Something that would equal that act. In the animated movie, she had no wings. She just threw her robes open like wings. I thought, ‘Is that it? Did someone take her wings?

Maleficent’s wings defined her as a Fairy. These wings were cut. This violence had nothing to do with her genitals/ rape. Why must we assume that when violence is done to a woman, it must involve her genitals? When Delilah put Samson to sleep in her lap and his hair was cut, was that a rape metaphor? As someone on Reel Girl’s Facebook page commented, the Maleficent scene could be compared to cutting off the hand of a concert pianist or, I might add, cutting off the wings off a Fairy!

E. This quote from Angelina Jolie made me think she wanted “Maleficent” to depict a world where gender isn’t destiny instead of matriarchy vs patriarchy.

“Our movie has all this strength and all this feminism, but, what I think is so nice is that, sometimes, in order to do that you have to make the man an idiot. Instead, we have this very elegant, wonderfully handsome, prince who, in the end, is great. He doesn’t need to be less than to make us more than. We don’t have to simplify or cheapen the men, or to detract from one to make the other better. I think that’s a mistake that’s often made in movies.

 

But, here’s my new news. It’s been one week since I saw “Maleficent,” and now I realize, to my dismay, though I still love this movie, I agree with so many others: “Maleficent” is not a world where gender isn’t destiny but depicts the conflict of matriarchy versus patriarchy. So why my change of heart? Is it that I now agree the wing cutting is clearly a rape metaphor? That the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent is primarily romantic?

No. What’s made me change my perception is I’ve been dwelling on my one earlier disappointment with the movie. The human crowd scenes are populated by all male characters. Please, tell me I missed something, but from my recollection, the king’s army is comprised of all male soldiers. When the king sends his followers to kill Maleficent, wishing for an heir, the circle around him is all male. And when Stefan returns with Maleficent’s wings, the king says something to the effect of, “Take my daughter.” If the king had been surrounded by half women when he sends his minions off to kill, if the army had been half women fighters, if we’d seen Maleficent use her power to strike down women soldiers as well as male ones, this fantasy world would’ve been one where gender doesn’t matter. But we did not see this. Therefore, the movie is clearly about patriarchy vs matriarchy, thus, the rape scene makes perfect sense.

Still, Angelina Jolie may have intended for her movie to depict a world where gender isn’t destiny rather than matriarchy vs patriarchy. But, if this is the case, she should’ve made sure the crowd scenes showed men and women equally. The scene could be primarily males just because of Jolie’s– and the producer’s, writer’s, director’s obviously–  unconscious bias. But this is why author’s intention doesn’t matter, because viewers see things in the story that are there whether the creator “chose” to put them there or not.

The Geena Davis Institute does extensive research on gender bias in children’s films, coming up with two– just two– main ways to make kids’ films show gender equality:

 

Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?

Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.

 

It’s sort of like how someone said, I forget who it was, that we won’t have gender equality when female geniuses make it through the glass ceiling, when exceptional women break barriers, but when the mediocre, average ones make it into the power structure, just like all the average white men are up there. It’s all about the crowd scenes.

Alternative title for this post: What happens when an over-educated woman has three daughters and gets stuck watching way too many Disney movies? She blogs.

Update:  I’m getting comments on Reel Girl’s Facebook page asking if I still recommend Maleficent for kids. Yes, absolutely take your children to see this movie, rape metaphor or no. They will not get the metaphor. It’s only disappointing to me because, as I wrote, I would like children to experience fantasy worlds where gender equality exists, and I’ve come to believe that “Maleficent” isn’t one of those worlds. Still, the movie has a great female protagonist (rare in kids’s films) and shows other strong, complex female characters as well. All three of my kids and my husband enjoyed the movie. Read the last post listed below for my full review.

Reel Girl’s posts on “Maleficent:”

What if ‘Maleficent’s’ Stefan had been Stefanie?

‘Maleficent’ beats MacFarlane at the box office (and she didn’t even show her boobs)

‘Maleficent’ is not ‘a woman scorned’ so stop calling her that

Magnificent ‘Maleficent’ is for all the girls who always wanted to fly

Hey, George Will, is ostracization the ‘coveted status’ you’re referring to?

George Will has declared that being a rape survivor is  “a coveted status that confers privilege.”

Who’s George Will, you ask? A raving lunatic scribbling his words on on an asylum wall in some undisclosed location? Nope. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with degrees from Oxford and Princeton who’s been called “the most powerful journalist in America.” He’s well known for his patriotic love of baseball. These particular words of his appeared in the Washington Post where he’s a regular columnist. That’s right, in 2014, an educated and “brilliant” man is informing the public that women covet rape.

Salon reports:

There is an abundance of anecdotal and statistical evidence to show that most people never come forward about their experiences of assault, including most college students. According to national data, 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. So how does one go from that to a culture in which “victims proliferate”? Current data holds that only 12 percent of assaults on college campuses are reported. It seems like Will believes that hearing from any victims is hearing from too many victims.

As proof that women lie about rape, Will writes:

The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent.

Jezebel responds to Will’s logic succinctly:

Rape is underreported, here is how many women reported being raped, therefore rape is overreported. These reports are flawed! Can’t you tell by these flawed reports? Your honor, I rest my case.

I am so disgusted. It seems to me like George Will is getting nervous that women are going to start talking and that people might finally be listening.

I’m posting a link to rape survivor Daisy Coleman’s excellent post about what happened to her after she came forward in Maryville. Below this link is I post I wrote for Salon about how desperately we need to celebrate women who tell their stories of rape instead of hiding survivors away.

(Where do you think Coleman is enjoying her “coveted status?” That’s a serious question about her whereabouts, I haven’t heard about her or from her since this, but I’ll start researching where she’s enjoying herself now.)

Thank you, Daisy Coleman, for telling us shame belongs to rapist, not survivor
Posted on October 19, 2013
The Maryville rape has taken a new turn with this post on xoJane:

I’m Daisy Coleman, The Teenager At The Center Of The Maryville Rape Media Storm, And This Is What Really Happened.

Thank you, Daisy Coleman, for telling your own story.

Please read Coleman’s story and share it. And then ask yourself, what happens when women tell the truth about their lives? How could the world change?

Whether a woman tells her story or not is her choice, but how much of a “choice” does she really have? I wrote “The shame of rape” on this topic for Salon. Ten years later, in too much media and public opinion, shame still goes to the wrong person.

When will we learn to honor rape survivors as the heroes that they are instead of shaming them into silence?

The “shame” of rape

By Margot Magowan

When 7-year-old Erica Pratt was abducted on July 22 and tied up in a basement by her kidnapper, she chewed through the duct tape that covered her mouth, freed her hands and feet, and broke through a door to escape. Electrified by the young girl’s feat, the media celebrated Pratt with a prolonged blitz of coverage. She smiled luminously for cameras as awed police officers praised her bravery. Her photo graced the front pages of newspapers across the nation, and she was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Week.”

When Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris were abducted at gunpoint nine days later from a remote teenage trysting spot in Lancaster, Calif., they devised a plan to break free by stabbing their abductor in the neck. When one girl had the chance to escape, she didn’t take it for fear that the other girl — whom she hadn’t met before that night — would be killed if she abandoned her. These were brave and loyal girls — heroines who endured mind-numbing terror before police found them and killed their captor, who authorities believe was preparing to murder them and dump their bodies.

But Brooks and Marris were not honored by Time magazine or identified as heroes in other media outlets. Why not? What made their story so different?

Just as newspapers and the networks were scrambling to cover the story, they learned that the girls had been sexually assaulted during their ordeal. Because most mainstream media observes a self-imposed policy of withholding the names and faces of sexual assault victims, the coverage abruptly, and somewhat awkwardly, ground to a halt.

Newspapers and TV broadcasters explained the shift as a matter of courtesy. But in concealing the identities of the young women on the grounds that rape is so intimate and horrendous that they should be spared undue attention, the media helped to promote the unspoken societal belief that somehow, when sexual assault is involved, the victim is partly — or wholly — to blame, and should be hidden from view.

TV stations began digitally obscuring the girls’ faces. Newspapers like the New York Times rushed to delete the names and photos of the girls from the next day’s paper. Some publications, like USA Today, had already gone to press, and printed the story with photos and names on the front page.

The lopsided coverage was especially disorienting because early in the story, the girls’ identities were broadcast everywhere — constantly — as a means of saving their lives. The idea was to familiarize as many Americans as possible with the girls’ names and faces so that average citizens might assist in tracking them, and their kidnapper, down. And it worked. But once the teens went from being kidnapped youths to rescued rape survivors, their status changed. They were branded with the Scarlet R. They had been raped. It was suddenly better for them, and us, to contemplate this shame without fanfare.

In effect, the girls disappeared twice — once when abducted, and again when the media erased them.

The policy of hiding the rape survivor makes the media complicit in shaming and stigmatizing her. It reinforces the myth that women are too weak, traumatized and tainted to decide whether they want to tell their own stories — of victory, not victimhood. And this assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If raped women were granted the same status as Erica Pratt, there would be no reflex to make them disappear. Their survival would be cause for public honor and respect. Their rescues would be complete; their recovery would begin with heartfelt acceptance by everyone who prayed for their return.

Silence and shame protected the Catholic Church and one of its dirtiest secrets for years. And church officials made the right assumption: If you can’t see it, no one will believe it is happening and, more importantly, victims who are shamed and controlled will be quiet, silenced by a sense of complicity and sin. What if all those alleged male sexual assault survivors who went on “60 Minutes” and “20/20″ had their faces covered with a gray dot? What if no newspapers or magazines had been willing to publish their names? How much credibility or validity or power can you have when you have no face and no name? Would the public have believed these things had happened if faces had not been attached to the charges?

You can’t put a faceless woman on the cover of Time magazine.

Not all rape survivors take the media’s cue and withdraw. Many have told their stories as part of their recovery, most famously authors like Maya Angelou in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Dorothy Allison (“Bastard Out of Carolina”), and singers including Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. Current bestselling author Alice Sebold has said repeatedly in interviews that she could not have written “The Lovely Bones” until she wrote the story of her rape in her first book, “Lucky.”

With each of these acts of bravery has come further acknowledgment that rape is a horrible event and that everyone abhors it, yet hypocrisy — public and institutional — still exists. Rapists are rarely successfully prosecuted. For every 100 rapes reported in this country, only five rapists end up in prison. Sentences are relatively light, averaging just 10.5 years, and the usual time served is approximately five years.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft doesn’t support the notion that a raped woman should have the right to an abortion. And U.S. foreign policy does not include sanctions, even strongly stated warnings, against countries like Saudi Arabia where men are allowed to rape their wives, and married women raped by men other than their spouses are punished for adultery. In Pakistan, when a young woman was ordered raped by a tribal council as punishment when her brother was seen in public with a woman not in his family, the U.S. State Department took no action.

At the same time that it is no longer socially acceptable to blame or stigmatize a rape survivor for what has happened to her, it appears to be socially unacceptable to recognize her as a hero and honor her for survival. But that may be about to change, thanks, in large part, to Marris and Brooks, two rape survivors who demanded to be seen.

A day after she was rescued and her identity had been quickly masked in the media, Marris appeared on KABC, the local Los Angeles news station, to talk frankly, without embarrassment, about her ordeal. She revealed, among other details, the fact that she and Brooks had tried to escape by stabbing their abductor in the neck.

A few days later, Brooks and Marris both appeared on the “Today” show to tell the story of their capture and captivity, a gripping account in which they described being threatened with a loaded gun, smashing their abductor in the face with a whiskey bottle, and later watching him die.

When asked why they chose to talk about their experience, Brooks said that she wanted to do it, and came forward with the support of her parents, who braved some criticism about the decision. She and Marris, Brooks said, “want to get the message across to everybody to never give up on anything. If you ever give up, you’ve lost. Whatever obstacles you have, you’ve got to fight your way through it.”

 

‘An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate’

There is an amazing post on feministing.com titled: An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate. I am so thankful that Juliana Britto wrote these words. I am so fucking sick of people arguing with me just to argue, just because it’s fun for them. It drives me crazy that people act like I haven’t heard all of their arguments “proving” me wrong about one million times before. I mean, seriously, Western civilization is based on your arguments, and you really think I haven’t heard them before???? When people persist with me, frustrated that I’m not “into it” they often claim that I’m the one “censoring” them or “closing my mind.”  Britto writes about this issue much more eloquently than I:

Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth.

But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time.

 

Got that? Don’t want to hear it. I’ve already heard it, read it, seen it for my entire life. Britto makes another important point people who argue with me for fun don’t seem to get:

It is physically and emotionally draining to be called upon to prove that these systems of power exist.

 

Right on, sister. Please, don’t use me for your fun and entertainment. I’m interested in changing the world, not keeping you from boredom. Again, Britto is more eloquent than me:

 

Imagine having weights tied to your feet and a gag around your mouth, and then being asked to explain why you think you are at an unfair disadvantage. Imagine watching a video where a young man promises to kill women who chose not to sleep with him and then being forced to engage with the idea that maybe you are just a hysterical feminist seeing misogyny where there is none. It is incredibly painful to feel that in order for you to care about my safety, I have to win this verbal contest you have constructed “for fun.”

 

When I was 28 years old, I was a producer for a talk radio show. The host of that show gave me a gift that changed my life. He consistently– even if he disagreed with me– helped me figure out my thought process. When I was at Point A and I wanted to get to Point Z, he helped me get there. I would make a point and he would say, “Yeah, I get it,” and then give several reasons why what I said made sense or was true. It was a remarkable skill that helped me to develop and grow as a thinker and as a person. Most people, when you say something new, will argue with you at Point A, tell you all the reasons why what you’re saying doesn’t make sense or can’t be true, so you never, ever get to Point Z. That, or silence. Those responses can be soul killing, especially if you are young, a young woman not used to being listened to or taken seriously, with baby ideas that you’re trying to develop.

Read the whole Britto’s whole post here.

Facebook, why so slow to call ‘we hate against the subhuman species called women’ hate speech?

All day Reel Girl Fans contacted Facebook to ask them to remove hate speech from a page memorializing killer Elliot Rodger.

Here is what the page posted:

Shoutout to my boy elliot rodger. He did the best thing us men could do. And paid the ultimate price. Let his death be a memorial day in which we hate against the subhuman species called women.

 

Facebook replied to me and others:

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Reel Girl fans then contacted Facebook about the specific post, not reporting the whole page. They received the same message, that the post did not qualify as hate speech. Then, one hour ago, people who reported that specific post got a response from Facebook saying they revised their decision and removed the post.

We reviewed the photo you reported for containing hate speech or symbols. Since it violated our Community Standards, we removed it. Thanks for your report. We let Powerlifters Against Feminism know that their photo has been removed, but not who reported it. Facebook never discloses who submits a report.

So, I’ve got to ask:

#1 Why did Facebook only respond that they revised their decision to people who reported the specific post and not the page? There was just a mass murder by a misogynistic killer who was overlooked by police because misogyny was not a big deal to him? What if he’d been ranting about hating Jews or Muslims or blacks, would police have taken him seriously? Would the public? You’d think we would learn something but the day after, Facebook drags its feet, refusing to respond to people reporting hate speech, and then finally only responding when the report was done in a very specific way.

#2 Why did Facebook need to revise its decision? What is confusing, obtuse, ambiguous about “we hate against the subhuman species called women”?

If the first message, that the page and the post do not qualify as hate speech is computer generated, as some claim, a Reel Girl fan rightly points out:

If that is just an automated message that goes out, it should read, “Thank you for reporting this post. We will review it before a decision is made.”

Precisely. But that is not what Facebook replied. Facebook wrote:

We reviewed the page you reported and found that it didn’t violate community standards.

I can only conclude that in the USA it’s far too clear that we don’t take violence against women seriously. It’s just normal here. When will this cultural belief shift? What will it take?

From Half the Sky by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn:

More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day… life time risk of maternal death is 1,000x higher in a poor country than in the west. That should be an international scandal.

Why isn’t the violence against women and girls an international scandal? And why doesn’t America care about protecting the human rights of half of its citizens?

This Tweet from Charles Clymer put it succinctly:

Black guy shoot folks = thug. Brown guy shoots folks = terrorist. White guy guns down women = “nice guy who’s mentally ill”.

The Daily Beast reports:

If the Santa Barbara shooter had been Muslim, and left the same sorts of video screeds and more, our government and media would undoubtedly be labeling this incident as terrorism. Just as an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist sets out to kill American infidels simply because they are “American infidels,” the Santa Barbara shooter set out to kill women simply because they were women. You tell me the difference. To fail to label the latter terrorism suggests a politicized use of the term, one interested in defending Judeo-Christian Americans and values, but not women.

The fact of misogyny America is not an accident. It is as deliberate as the shooting in Santa Barbara Friday night.  Those who seek to perpetuate misogyny, to actively further the subjugation and suffering of women, are not just nut-balls but adherents of a very specific and very ugly social and political ideology.  And those who take up weapons and kill large numbers of people in furtherance of that ideology? They’re terrorists.

Read the first part of this story of my attempts to contact Facebook to take down hate speech here: Facebook refuses to take down hate speech page memorializing killer Elliot Rodger