If I blog about the gender of talking penguins, why wouldn’t I care about the gender of my president?

OK, let’s try this again.

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A couple days ago, I wrote a blog titled: ‘Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.’ As I stated then, I wrote that blog in part because every time I post about Hillary, gender, and power on Reel Girl’s Facebook page I lose fans, usually not before I’m admonished for voting with my vagina or told to stick to writing about the imaginary world. I ended that blog with this statement:

If you’re a Bernie supporter or a Hillary supporter, I’d love you to stay, but If you prefer not to see posts about Hillary and gender, this is probably not the blog or the Facebook page for you.

Apparently, some of you are still confused, so I’m re-posting here what you can see on Reel Girl’s Facebook page in the “about” section:

This page does not post trigger warnings. If you are offended by media stories that deal with rape, sexual assault, or abuse, and expect a trigger warning, please don’t like this page. I also post about politics (I am a Democrat) and reproductive rights. The goal of my page is to imagine gender equality in the fantasy world so that we create equality in the real one. I hope you join me on this journey but if you expect to only read stories about female comic book characters here, this is not the page for you.

To recap: the gender of characters in the imaginary world is important to me because the gender of characters in the real world is important to me. Capiche?

If you believe that Bernie Sanders is a better feminist than Hillary Clinton, I respect that opinion and I understand your reasons for making that choice. I get it.

On my blog, a couple days ago, I posted this quote from Bernie Sanders from the AP:

“No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have,” Sanders said. “I think in a presidential race, we look at what a candidate stands for and we vote for the candidate we think can best serve our country.”

I wrote:

Huh? Of course no one would say, “Hey guys, let’s stand together and vote for a man.” That’s just the assumption, a man is the default position. That Bernie would make that analogy shows me, once again, why I want a woman president.

That quote, as you can see if you go to the link, is not the headline, hasn’t been covered by any media that I know of, it’s simply embedded in the article, just like that point of view is embedded in a male candidate. To me, that quote says gender is not important and that men and women are the same and equal right now in America. That quote is just the latest one I came across as I was blogging that happened to show to me that Bernie doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a woman because he’s not one.

I want a female president. I wrote this in my blog:

 

Would I vote for Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Bachmann because they are women? No, of course not. I would vote for a woman who supports reproductive rights and women’s rights. Yes, I want a woman president. I don’t think women are better than men, more ethical than men, kinder, more emotional, or any of that bullshit. I still want there to be a woman who supports women’s rights to hold the highest office. I believe Hillary Clinton will make the world a better place for women and therefore men, as ultimately, we’re all connected and losing half the human race is missing out on a huge, untapped resource.

 

Is gender the only factor in why I’m voting for Hillary? No. Is it a strong factor? Yes.

So many people who are not supporting Hillary assure me that they’re all for a woman president, they just don’t want this woman. Elizabeth Warren, she’d be great! Jill Stein? Even better! I will tell you as I tell them: Neither of those women is in a position to be president, and that is not a coincidence. There could not be a female Bernie Sanders in Bernie Sanders’s position today– that angry, that vocal about a revolution. A woman like that would scare America right out of its pants. How do I know? Because she’s not in that position!

Here’s the good news. Since my post, I’ve actually gained fans on Reel Girl’s Facebook page. I have hope for us Democrats! Most of the comments I’m getting are much better and represent an improved and thoughtful dialogue, but I still feel like my point is being missed. Here’s one of those comments that inspired me to write this blog:

I have no problem with anyone supporting Hillary. I don’t agree with her and I find her extremely fake, but that’s my personal reaction and I understand that others react differently. I’ve never really had a problem with your stuff. I don’t agree 100% all the time, but that’s normal. I don’t know why we have to agree all the time or be huge ass enemies. What a waste of energy. The only thing I have to say about the representation of women in government is that, yes it would be amazing, but at the same time I don’t want to feel like I’m being shamed into voting for the vagina candidate. Know what I mean? But, well. The genitalia of a candidate has never really been my first concern. The issues are always more important for me. That being said, being told that WANTING a woman prez is sexist is an extreme. We want representation. That’s a normal part of being human.

My response:

Yes, we can disagree! The point I think is not to avoid conflict but to handle conflict ethically. When you write that you don’t want to vote with your vagina, that terminology feels kind of shaming to me. I respect that you don’t want to vote for a woman b/c she’s a woman, but when you write you don’t want to vote with your vagina, it makes me feel like you’re saying I’m doing something stupid or gross.

I swear if one more person tells me they’re not voting with their vagina or not to vote with my vagina….scrap that, because it’ll happen again hundreds if not thousands of times before this primary is over. I’ll take a deep breath. I’ll keep writing.

‘Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.’

I support Hillary Clinton for president.

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I also supported her when she ran against Obama.

I post about gender and power on my Facebook page, and every time I put up a post about Hillary and gender, I lose fans. I’ve always supported open discussion on my site and on my blog. I get why people are voting for Bernie, but I’m blogging now about the shaming and vitriol aimed at me when I express my support for Hillary. This happens, by the way, not just on the internet but in the real world. Most people I know are voting for Bernie. I’m told, in multiple ways, that I’m not hip, I’m not cool, I’m too privileged to see the light.

I just posted on Reel Girl’s Facebook page: It Is OK to Care About Gender on the Ballot on by Jessica Valenti in the Guardian, written a month ago, but I love the post.The quote I titled my blog with is in it. Here’s the typical comment I get:

Pfft. Not when she represents things that I’m completely against. I’m not just a woman, I’m a cis, queer, Latina born and raised from low SES. The women I’ve heard that support Hillary just because she’s a women are white women who have not faced an iota that trans women, woc, poor women, queer women, or disabled women have faced. At least vote because she’s going to make our life better. Privilage baiting Reel Girl

Reel Girl: I read this post, as I wrote in comments above, not about Bernie supporters but about not shaming Hillary supporters

 

When Bernie was asked about Killer Mike’s comment that a uterus doesn’t qualify someone to be president, he told the AP:

“No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have,” Sanders said. “I think in a presidential race, we look at what a candidate stands for and we vote for the candidate we think can best serve our country.”

Huh? Of course no one would say, “Hey guys, let’s stand together and vote for a man.” That’s just the assumption, a man is the default position. That Bernie would make that analogy shows me, once again, why I want a woman president. Would I vote for Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Bachmann because they are women? No, of course not. I would vote for a woman who supports reproductive rights and women’s rights. Yes, I want a woman president. I don’t think women are better than men, more ethical than men, kinder, more emotional, or any of that bullshit. I still want there to be a woman who supports women’s rights to hold the highest office. I believe Hillary Clinton will make the world a better place for women and therefore men, as ultimately, we’re all connected and losing half the human race is missing out on a huge, untapped resource.

Rebecca Traister wrote a great post about Hillary and Bernie, saying that no one likes to hear a woman yelling about revolution. No one likes an angry woman either. Or disheveled. Women are supposed to be the hard workers in the background, not the ones upfront.

As I wrote on Reel Girl’s Facebook page, I will continue to post about Hillary and gender. I’ve never posted or written based on how many fans I’ll attract, and I’m not starting now. I post about what I believe in and what makes me, and hopefully you, think. I believe people can passionately disagree on issues, but though I have a blog and write about controversial topics, I’m not someone who argues for the sake of arguing. I don’t have the time or energy to debate for entertainment. I’m busy, like we all are so I’m kind of shocked and amazed by how people I know personally and people I don’t try to pick fights and shame me for voting for Hillary. If you’re a Bernie supporter or a Hillary supporter, I’d love you to stay, but If you prefer not to see posts about Hillary and gender, this is probably not the blog or the Facebook page for you.

Margot

Open letter to Bishop Knisely about sexual assaults and cover ups at St. George’s school

This is an open letter from St. George’s alumna Jocelyn Davis to Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island and Honorary Chair of the school’s Board of Directors. St. George’s is a prep school in Middletown, Rhode Island where sexual abuse was covered up by those in power for decades.

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Davis emailed Knisely on February 16, and he has not responded to her yet.

If you would like to send your own letter to the Bishop, please feel free to cut and paste from this one if that’s helpful to you. The more voices he hears calling for change, the more likely he is to take action. The bishop’s email is nicholas@episcopalri.org.

You can find more useful information about how to contact the people in power about  abuse at St. George’s on rebootsgs.org. It’s important to write them because so many of those in power, such as Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice William Robinson are connected to the case.

If you’re not familiar with the St. George’s sexual abuse and rapes, you can find all of Reel Girl’s posts about the school after the letter.

Here is Jocelyn Davis’s letter.

Dear Bishop Knisely,

I am an alumna of St George’s School (class of 1980). I understand the school is chartered by the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Rhode Island, and that you are Honorary Board Chair. You therefore have an extra measure of influence over the governance of the school, and that’s why I’m writing to you.

I have learned of the past abuses with a dismay I’m sure you share. A number of my classmates were affected. My dismay deepens, however, when I read about the actions of school leaders—leaders still in place today.

Dozens of children were raped or molested over decades. School leaders have condemned the abuse and funded an investigation; well and good. But what about those leaders who until a few months ago (and in some respects up until now):

– Failed to report the abuse to Rhode Island authorities, as required by law
– Failed to notify institutions where abusers were later employed, even after being specifically asked to do so by survivors
– Quibbled about the reporting laws as a way to excuse their inaction
– Placed gag orders on survivors, telling them what they can and cannot talk about
– Were dismissive of those survivors who mustered up the courage to demand meetings
– Denigrated survivors as malcontents, gold-diggers, or substandard students
– Reacted to the news not with heartfelt apologies, self-examination, and personal ownership, but with facile reassurances that “all that was in the past and everything is fine now”
– Have been dragged kicking and screaming by attorneys and the press, every step of the way—and then have had the gall to complain about “unfair” lawyers and media

I am aware of the ongoing independent investigation, and I can appreciate that it is impossible for you to take action until it is complete. Nevertheless, I urge you to reflect on the above points. I further urge you to use your influence, as soon as possible, to help bring about a wholesale change of leadership at St George’s, so a fresh start can be made.

For a specific plan to that effect, please see the website www.rebootsgs.com , created by my fellow alums Chris and Philip Williams.

One last thought: In my senior year at SGS, we read Dostoyevsky’s story of “The Grand Inquisitor.” I’m sure you know it well. In the fable, Christ returns to earth and is arrested. The Grand Inquisitor, pillar of the Church, visits him in his cell to tell him the Church no longer needs him; indeed, that the Church rejects his message of “individuals first” in favor of Satan’s message of “institution first.”

I can’t help but wonder whether Christ is knocking at the door of St George’s School right now. Forty-plus individuals, courageous survivors of abuse, are standing at his side, calling for justice. I hope you will open the door and stand with them.

Sincerely yours,

Jocelyn Roberts Davis ‘80

 

 

Reel Girl’s posts about St. George’s are below. If you read them, you will see that as an alumna of the school, I started to write about the institutionalized sexism I witnessed at the school long before I learned about the rapes and cover-ups.

Why is a justice who argued against statutory rape laws on the R. I. Supreme Court?

St. George’s school continues to hold back information in sexual assault investigation

St. George’s releases report on sexual assaults at the school

St. George’s alumna creates fund for survivors sexually assaulted at school

Comments on petition asking St. George’s for fair investigation into assaults make me cry

St. George’s School continues to flub investigation into sexual assaults

Lawyer investigating St. George’s sexual assaults is partner of school’s legal counsel

‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’

Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school

Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

If I had time to write about Hillary, I would write this

Oh, the vitriol!

Here are two posts I love, love, love:

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Shakesville founder Melissa McEwan on the Inherent Misogyny of Sanders Anitestablishmentarianism

And this is what bothers me, this is the thing that has been itching at the back of my brain, about Sanders using this particular line of attack against Hillary Clinton. To continually assert that she is representative of “the establishment,” into the highest echelons of which women aren’t even allowed, is a neat way of obfuscating the fact that she is, in her very personhood, a challenge to the establishment.

Let me say that again, plainly: Sanders calls Clinton emblematic of an establishment that has never even allowed a woman to be seated at the head of the table.

Read the full article.

Gloria Steinem on the Hillary haters:

In living rooms from Dallas to Chicago, I noticed that the Hillary Haters often turned out to be the women most like her: white, well educated, and married to or linked with powerful men. They were by no means all such women, but their numbers were still surprising. Also, they hadn’t objected to sons, brothers, and sons-in-law using family connections and political names to further careers – say, the Bushes or the Rockefellers or the Kennedys – yet they objected to Hillary doing the same. The more they talked, the more it was clear that their own husbands hadn’t shared power with them.

 

If Hillary had a husband who regarded her as an equal – who had always said this country got “two presidents for the price of one” – it only dramatised their own lack of power and respect. After one long night and a lot of wine, one woman told me that Hillary’s marriage made her aware of just how unequal hers was.

Read the full article Why the White House needs Hillary Clinton

On to New Hampshire and then…the White House!!!!!

Why is a justice who argued against statutory rape laws on the R. I. Supreme Court?

If you’re a fan of Reel Girl, you know I blog about gender representation in children’s media and toys. For the past few months, I’ve been focusing all of my creative energy, mind power, and available time on finishing my book (a middle grade fantasy-adventure about two magical girls who save the world.) Apologies to those of you who want to know where my reviews are, including “Star Wars” (I LOVED it, so did all my kids) but I’ve got to finish this damn book. However, I’ve been pulled away from fairyland by a horrific story of sexual abuse and rape at one of my high school alma maters, St. George’s in Newport, R.I.

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Just yesterday, I blogged about how St. George’s continues to hold back information in its sexual assault investigation. The school will not release the name of the attorney who advised them not to report the rapist to child protective services. (State law requires that all persons must report suspected cases of child abuse to Rhode Island Child Protection within 24 hours “when they have, or had reasonable grounds to believe a child is being abused.”) It is possible that the attorney who recommended the school break the law is William P. Robinson, now a justice on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Robinson represented St. George’s in the 1980s when Anne Scott, a former student, filed a suit against the school. Though we don’t know if Robinson is the one who told the school not to report the perpetrator, court documents show he argued that if Scott, a 15 year old, had sex with Al Gibbs, the school’s 67 year old athletic trainer, it was consensual. When I blogged about all this yesterday, I asked if Robinson is a guy that we want on the R.I. Supreme Court, and this is the question I can’t stop thinking about. How did he get into this position of power with a public record of misogyny? I didn’t know about Robinson’s appalling argument blaming Scott for her rape and neither, most likely, did you, but whomever confirmed him to the court must have looked into his background and his case history. Probably multiple people checked him out. I don’t think it’s a fact that could’ve been missed or overlooked as Robinson didn’t just argue against statutory rape laws, he was publicly admonished for doing so. After Robinson suggested the sex was consensual, The Providence Journal reports the response was furious:

U.S. Magistrate Jacob Hagopian chastised Robinson:

” … Now you explain to me under the criminal laws of the United States, or of any state of this Union, or of any civilized country, where the element of it being volitional or non-volitional, or voluntary or non-voluntary, has anything to do with this type of detestable allegation made by a person who is not of age of consent, can you explain that to me?”

When Robinson tried to explain, Hagopian cut him off, stating, “It’s impossible. It violates the criminal laws of the United States.”

So why was Robinson allowed to be a judge on a state Supreme Court when he argued fiercely against the laws of a civilized country? Because he’s changed? He’s grown, come to his senses, and realized he made a mistake? Apparently not. When Robinson was asked if he was the attorney who advised St. George’s not to report the rapist to child protective services, he responded with this statement:

“In the 1980s, while engaged in the private practice of law, I represented St. George’s School in certain litigation in the federal court which has recently become the subject of interest in the media. I represented the client as an attorney must, zealously, ethically and to the best of my ability. I do not believe that further comment is necessary or appropriate.”

So in 2016, Robinson claims that his past argument against statutory rape was ethical. He says: “I do not believe that further comment is necessary or appropriate.” Is that OK with you, America? That a justice on a state’s Supreme Court argued against statutory rape? Do you think justices who share Robinson’s view are on your state’s Supreme Court? Do you want your country to take rape more seriously? Do you care about stopping this national epidemic?

in 2014 the federal government released the names of 55 colleges and universities that are under investigation for their handling of sexual violence or harassment complaints. Under Obama, there has been more of an attempt than ever before to make ending rape a national priority. Still, Washington Post columnist George Will and others ridiculed the action and questioned the 1 in 5 statistic of women raped on campus, calling all this attention “rape hysteria.”

Rape is rampant in the USA because as a culture, we allow the violence to happen again and again. We punish and shame the survivor by elevating those who collaborated in silencing her. I don’t know how Robinson secured his position on the Supreme Court, but he shouldn’t be allowed to stay there.

Read my previous posts about St. Georges:

St. George’s school continues to hold back information in sexual assault investigation

St. George’s releases report on sexual assaults at the school

St. George’s alumna creates fund for survivors sexually assaulted at school

Comments on petition asking St. George’s for fair investigation into assaults make me cry

St. George’s School continues to flub investigation into sexual assaults

Lawyer investigating St. George’s sexual assaults is partner of school’s legal counsel

‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’

Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school

Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

Awww, look at that cute, little fetus on the cover of Newsweek!

Newsweek’s cover story “America’s Abortion Wars” is illustrated not with a woman, but a digitally enhanced picture of fetus.

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Elle critiques the image:

Nine out of ten abortions take place inside the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, meaning that the Newsweek fetus represents the upper end of the range, not the average; in many cases, the embryo being removed is less “futuristic Gerber baby,” more “lentil-sized clump of cells.”

This is objective news, the so-called liberal news media? Covering reproductive rights by showing a cartoonish looking baby picture? Sadly, this bias against women is not unusual for newsweekly covers. Here are 2 previous images from Reel Girl’s Hall of Shame.

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Can Anyone Imagine a Gender Reversal For This Cover?

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Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

After I was on Fox News Saturday morning to discuss Amazon dropping its girl/ boy filters for toys and games many of you asked about Tucker Carlson’s intro of me as his high school classmate.

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Yes, it’s true! Tucker and I went the same boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island, St. George’s, though I was expelled sophomore year. Tucker, on the other hand, went on to marry the headmaster’s daughter in the school chapel.

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Here’s a blurry pic from the 80’s at a Grateful Dead show. I’m in the front and Tucker is to the left wearing glasses. Jerry Garcia, young, skinny, and two dimensional, is a cardboard cut out.

I don’t know if Tucker was better behaved than me at St. George’s –I was suspended for smoking a cigarette in the dorm and then kicked out the following year for drinking alcohol— or if he, like a lot of boarding school kids who made it to graduation, was just more skilled at appearing to following all those rules (including, for boys, wearing a tie daily.)

If you watch the  Fox video, you can see I vehemently disagree with Tucker on Amazon’s decision– and most issues along with probably all of the other hosts on Fox News. Still, at least the network had me on to speak. I got a national platform to address about an issue I care about which is more than CNN or MSNBC has offered me recently.

I’ll leave one with one more nugget of prep school trivia. Julie Bowen, then known as Julie Luetkemeyer, the actress from “Modern Family” (and from kidworld “Planes: Fire and Rescue”) was in our class as well. As brilliant and beautiful then as now, she was probably the smartest kid in our class.

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Finally, I didn’t get a chance to mention it in the 3.5 minutes I was on TV, but Amazon didn’t fully drop its filters. Read the details in my update on sexism at Amazon here.

 

 

 

Sometimes yoga pants make me uncomfortable. Am I bad feminist or just old?

Yoga pants have been going through some tough times. Lululemon’s founder got in trouble for implying his clothes are only for skinny women, schools have created sexist policies focusing on what girls wear, and now Rep. David Moore of Montana, like some kind of American Taliban, wants to make them against the law.

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A few years ago, back when I didn’t know what yoga pants were, I got into an argument with my 7 yr old daughter about them. She wanted to wear what she called “soft pants” to school. I explained they went under clothes, that their real name was “leggings.” I’m 46 and that’s what we called them. We wore them with skirts or maybe a super long sweater. My daughter argued that they’re comfortable, and all her friends wear them “just plain.” I didn’t believe her, not because I was thinking about sexualization but to me, it felt like wearing pajamas to class.

Once I started to pay attention, I saw yoga pants everywhere. All the girls in my daughter’s class were wearing them. You know how when you learn a new word, you start to see it constantly? “Yoga pants” stories kept popping up on my Facebook page. News alerts reported schools were policing what girls wear (usually for kids older than my daughter.) Once again, the bad behavior of boys was getting blamed on girls. Why not focus on male behavior, teach them not to harass or rape instead of instructing women how not to get harassed or raped?

Everyone wears yoga pants now. I live in California, so maybe it’s more trendy in the mild weather and casual vibe here, but I’m totally surrounded. I get the sexualized issue when I see women and older girls wear them. I admit, it’s taking some getting used to on my part. I still feel like everyone is in pajamas, not finished getting dressed. That also seems appealing to me: cozy, comfortable, casual. Sometimes, I feel like people are outside in their underwear. I’ve noticed in myself the opposite, though equally biased reaction, from the Lululemon founder. I may silently cheer on a heavier woman but roll my eyes at a skinny one with lots of make up. But here’s what’s obvious to me: Whether my reaction is because of my age or that I’m a bad feminist, whatever complex conditions and training got me to this emotion, my reaction is mine. Women and girls shouldn’t choose what to wear based on how I feel about their outfit. It’s about me, not them. That Rep David Moore thinks he has the right to put women in prison because of how he feels about their clothing shows how backwards the mentality of a male dominated world can be.

Orthodox Jews photoshop Merkel out of solidarity photo because she’s a girl

Want to know what’s wrong with the world? Here it is, a picture paints a thousand words as they say, so here are three:

#1 A solidarity march for Charlie Hebdo. Do you see German Prime Minister Angela Merkel front and center? Can’t miss her, right? Elbows linked with other marchers who are marching for the right to free speech, the right not to be censored.

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#2 Here’s how the photo appears in the orthodox newspaper HaMevaser. Merkel is photoshopped out along with two other women Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The names of these three women are also not printed in the paper.

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#3 Here’s what the photo looks like with the women shown and the men disappeared. I don’t know who created this photo but I saw it on Soraya Chemaly’s Facebook page.

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Lori Day comments on Soraya’s page:

The secondary benefit of this photo, to me, is showing how few female leaders we have. Look at that empty street. PROBLEM.

Is this the march that the White House is apologizing for not sending a higher level official to? Why is that story headline news while this sexism is under the radar, something I didn’t hear about until I checked my Facebook page? Why does the world sit by and allow sexism to happen again and again and again?

HaMevaser, this is a visual assassination. The world is waiting for an apology for your sexism and misogyny, for falsifying news, for using censorship to supposedly cover a story censorship, for using religious extremism to cover a story about religious extremism, for being hypocrites and liars.

 

 

‘Rolling Stone issues despicable, victim-blaming apology for its own shoddy journalism’

I couldn’t agree more with U. C. Berkeley professor Bryan Wagner when he calls out Rolling Stone magazine for its “despicable, victim-blaming apology for its own shoddy journalism.” Have you read this bullshit? What makes me so frustrated is that we live in a culture where rape survivors are so shamed that they usually choose not to tell their own stories publicly using real names and real faces. Therefore, survivors are easy prey for high priced lawyers punching holes, for not knowing, say if the rapist was a member of the frat or if the rapist just happened to be at the frat that night. I mean, really, who doesn’t get her facts right about her rapist’s recreational habits? And for these discrepancies that Rolling Stone should have fact-checked, the survivor gets her entire experience discredited. It makes me sick. Once again, it is us, the culture that needs to change so rape survivors can feel safe coming forward and naming their attackers. I’m reposting something I wrote for Salon in 2002 about the media’s role (and the public’s role) in shaming survivors.

The “shame” of rape

Why does the media hide rape victims who fight back instead of honoring them as heroes?

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.”