Archive for the ‘Sex & Gender’ Category

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Inappropriate application

July 3, 2011

I just want to flag this as one of the clearest examples I know of a public policy being used for something completely different than what it was intended for.

I don’t have a lot to say beyond “this is a really terrible way to approach the problem of women using drugs during pregnancy,” so I’ll keep it short: most states have, in recent years, passed fetal homicide laws.  They were intended to be applied to third party attacks–most often by abusive male partners.  Instead, several states are using them to press criminal charges against women who use drugs during their pregnancy and miscarry.

Read it here.

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Gotta say it

February 5, 2011

In an earlier comment, I wrote that:

we tend to view history through dual lenses of linearity and progress, forgetting that many of our greatest fights suffered deep, deep set-backs–even after we thought they were won.  Given the turn in our nation’s politics as evidenced by last November’s elections, studying up on the South’s reversals after Reconstruction seems unfortunately timely.

I wasn’t expecting rape to be up for redefinition.

For those who missed the uproar this past week, House Republicans introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, the aim of which is to ban federal funds from being used to subsidize abortions, with a few exceptions.  While not a policy move I agree with, I can respect the effort.

The exceptions are the normal ones–incest, life of the woman is in danger, or forcible rape.  Wait, what?  Forcible rape, you say?  What’s that?

Does that mean that statutory rape or coercive rape–when the victim is underage or unconscious or it can’t be proven that she fought back “quite hard enough”–are no longer always considered “real rape?”

Yep.  But thanks to the quick response of many organizations and individuals from all over the country, the modifier on “rape” has been dropped from the bill.  But the fact that it was up for debate at all is a wearying reminder of the non-linearity of progress.

Rape is defined by lack of consent.  Period.  We shouldn’t ever need to return to that discussion.

The effort by this bill’s authors to create a hierarchy of rape in their attempt to limit abortion is completely unacceptable.

Work on the legislation you feel like you need to work on, friends.  But find another way to do it.  This tactic is not ok now, and it never will be.

Jonas

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A Step-by-Step of Hayes’ letter

October 22, 2010

Flying Whale has asked me to explain my take on Hayes’ letter in a bit more depth–both what makes it great and what keeps it from being even better.  So here goes:

On the good side:

The unqualified apology in the first sentence.  She doesn’t apologize if the cartoon offended anyone, she apologizes for publishing it.  Period.  And then at the end, she writes:

We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.

She rehashes what the cartoon depicted without spin and writes that the problematic interpretation of the comic is an “easy” one, about as far away from accusing those who complained of “reading too much into things” as you can get.

She doesn’t offer those defending the comic a blank check of gratitude.  Rather, she challenges them to learn from this experience alongside the paper they were defending, writing:

And to those defending us: While we appreciate some of your arguments on our behalf, ladies and gentlemen, suggesting that someone was “asking for” rape is misguided and precisely the problem here.

And, best of all, this segment:

Women are so often told vicious little cautionary tales: “Don’t go walking alone in the dark, or you’ll get raped.” “Don’t wear short skirts, or you’ll get raped.” “Don’t get drunk, or you’ll get raped.” None of the women I know were raped because of something they did or didn’t do; they were raped because someone they trusted betrayed that trust.  Now, I’m angry with myself because [it’s] as if I’ve betrayed them and every other survivor of sexual assault.

First, an Amen to calling out those “vicious cautionary tales.”  But beyond that, the act of rape isn’t what creates a culture of rape.  It’s all the other seemingly less extreme things that–to use Bruininks’ words–condone or encourage sexual violence.  Here, Hayes’ makes that rhetorical connection, using the exact same vocabulary to describe men who rape and her actions in publishing the comic.  Rhetorically, she acknowledges that they’re connected to one another.

So let me emphasize one more time how great I thought the letter was.  But since you asked, there are a few things I didn’t like quite so much.

Hayes’ writes:

I am particularly angry with myself …While I’ve never been raped or sexually assaulted, one of my close friends was raped about two years ago.

The implication here is that she should have seen why the comic was problem because her good friend was raped.  There are a lot of reasons why that comic should never have been published.  Whether or not the editor personally knew someone who had been raped is not one of them.

In continuing to talk about her friend’s experience:

She never ended up reporting the incident to the police. I will never be persuaded that not reporting it wasn’t a mistake.

Hayes knows the details  the situation and I don’t.  But I don’t think its helpful to imply that a survivor should always go to the police.  There are lots of really really good reasons not to that don’t have anything to do with being in denial about whether or not you were raped.

And saving the worst for last, Hayes writes:

I’ve always been fortunate in that my male friends, coworkers and acquaintances are and have always been decent people. None of them would consider forcing themselves on another person.

I doubt that’s true.  Statistically, it’s unlikely.  And besides, it’s foolish to think that Hayes would even know whether a friend or coworker–never mind acquaintance–had ever perpetrated a sexual assault.  But more importantly, she’s saying that sexual assault doesn’t happen in her community.  But we know sexual assault happens in every community.  To say it doesn’t is to commit the same act of denial she accused her friend of in the paragraphs prior.

So.  That was a quick and incomplete run through, but I hope it makes my thinking a little more transparent.  Additions or challenges welcome.

Jonas

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Taking a moment to celebrate progress II

October 22, 2010

It’s hard to celebrate progress in the struggle against the rape culture of college campuses when a fraternity at Yale takes their pledges past women’s dorms shouting “no means yes, yes means anal” and university newspapers obliviously (?!) bring rape into their sex position of the week, but I think this apology is a really, really good one.

Maybe I’m naive, but I think real learning happened here.  Overdue learning, but learning nonetheless.

Read the whole apology.  Again, like Bruininks’ letter, it isn’t perfect.  But we’d all do well to bring that much humility and learning to every apology we make.

Jonas

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Taking a moment to celebrate progress

October 22, 2010

This is a heavy post to jump back in with.

The opening of the semester at the University of Minnesota saw three sexual assaults at fraternity houses in the first three weeks of school.  The letter that President Bruininks wrote was, honestly, better than I would have expected.  Excerpt below:

The recent allegations of sexual assault in the University community underscore both the awful impact of these actions on the victims and the responsibility we share for ensuring the safety of all our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. As president, I am deeply concerned and saddened by these reports, and my heart goes out to all who have experienced the physical and emotional impact of such violence. The University of Minnesota does not tolerate violence of any type anywhere on its campuses, and we will continue to take swift and decisive action, not only to investigate all such allegations, but also to provide support services to all those affected by sexual violence and make clear to everyone that sexual violence in any context is unacceptable.

We should acknowledge the existence of this problem in our culture—but we should also acknowledge the programs already in place to address it. The University’s Aurora Center provides support services and sexual and relationship violence education and prevention programs to all members of the University community. The Star Tribune recently highlighted the admirable efforts of a student group called Men Against Gender Violence, which seeks to communicate that most men do not participate in sexual violence, to confront those who do, and to address the behaviors that may passively condone or encourage sexual violence.

I want to personally thank all survivors of sexual violence who have exhibited incredible courage and reported their assaults.

Honestly, the letter surprised me.  I’ve come to expect a certain script from these kinds of letters–which often obligatorily acknowledge isolated incidents of sexual assault, but refuse to acknowledge the larger trend they are part of.

But to Bruininks’ credit, he didn’t.  He acknowledged how hard it is for women to report assaults.  He didn’t ask the university community to withhold judgment until law enforcement had time to investigate.  He didn’t implicitly blame the survivors who came forward by suggesting that women should use caution when drinking at parties (which several of the media stories did).  And he highlighted a student group whose founding is based on the fact that sexual violence is primarily perpetrated by men.

That’s four points in my book.

It’s not a perfect letter.  He acknowledged that sexual assault is a “problem in our culture,” but certainly didn’t dwell there long.  And he didn’t name that all three assaults were reported to have happened at fraternity houses.

But part of stubborn hopefulness is naming progress when we see it.

Jonas

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“Sexual repression + Capitalism + Sexism = Vajazzling”

March 12, 2010

I offer this without further comment, but it pretty much must be shared. From the excellent blog The Sexist, an unmissable discussion about “vajazzling”:

AMANDA: Yeah. My theory: Sexual repression + Capitalism + Sexism = Vajazzling

SADY: Right. It’s this very basic deal, as expressed by the fact that the Washington Monument is not an ovoid hollow in the ground, whereby penises are super and vaginas, although necessary, are basically H.R. Giger shit that would freak any reasonable person out. So you have to make them… like, really, REALLY infantilized, like to the extent of making them pink and sparkly and Lisa Frank binder-looking, to signify that they are female in the “harmless” sense rather than the “oh my God aaaaiiiiieeeeeeee” sense.

Flying Whale

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The Atlantic 50

September 20, 2009

Based on influence, reach, and web engagement, they are the “all-star team.”

These are the most influential commentators in the nation, the columnists and bloggers and broadcast pundits who shape the national debates.

We conducted surveys of more than 250 insiders – members of Congress, national media figures, and political players – asking respondents to rank-order the commentators who most influence their own thinking.

I clicked on the link.  I was curious to see how mainstream my sources of information and commentray are.  As I skimmed through I found it to be more or less the list you’d expect.

But by the time I got to twenty, I was paying attention to something else.  You have to scroll down to number thirteen before you find someone who isn’t a white man.  Among the fifty, there are only nine women to be found, and only two men of color.  There isn’t a single woman of color in the list.  Not a single one.

I don’t mean to overstate the importance of this list.  And demographics certainly aren’t everything.  But to those who think equal opportunity has been achieved, I’d ask what the chances are that the overwhelming whiteness of the group is merely coincidental.

Jonas

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Double bind

September 18, 2009

Turns out, being a victim of relationship violence counts as a pre-existing condition in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you’re more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it’s a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

Economic and healthcare consequences if you stay.  And often, economic hardship if you leave.

And that, dear readers, is a double bind.

Jonas

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Woman Enough?

August 25, 2009

Following in the vein of Flying Whale’s post yesterday, I’ve found another instance in which it’s appropriate to say: “the way we look at these issues is just as important as the fact that we’re looking at all.”

Folks are in an uproar about Caster Semenya, a gold medalist at the World Championship in the women’s 800 meter from South Africa.  The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) is investigating whether or not Semenya is woman enough to be the champion of the women’s 800.  Unfortunately, as the New York Times reports, “It is unclear what the exact threshold is, in the eyes of the I.A.A.F., for a female athlete being ineligible to compete as a woman.”

Whenever we’re forced to bump into our own insistence that sex is binary, I sit up and pay attention.  Largely we don’t know what we’re talking about and we certainly don’t know how to talk about it.  And because of that, we end up with quotes like this one from defeated Mariya Savinova of Russia, “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

An unbelievably muddled statement, no?  The female pronoun.  The assertion that Semenya is a man.  And the “these kind of people,” which could be interpreted in all sorts of ways, none of which are good.

Even today, we struggle to talk about folks who are not clearly male or female—whether that’s their sex or their gender presentation.  And even more problematic, even the New York Times, which is careful to emphasis what it calls the “fuzzy biological line between male and female,” also labels instances in which people have characteristics (genetic or otherwise) that are both male and females disordered.

Regardless of what one thinks about sexual orientation, the societal role of a given gender, or whether or not someone with elevated testosterone levels should compete in a “women’s” event, it’s amazing to me that we continue to ignore—in our speech and in our understanding—the biological reality that folks who have both male and female characteristics are not weird or rare.  They’re actually astonishingly commonplace.

Jonas

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Unfortunate framing

August 24, 2009

I promised myself I wouldn’t do this too much, but I just wanted to draw attention to this excellent post over at TAPPED, Empowering the World’s Women. In which the author rightly takes exception to the New York Times Magazine headline, “Saving the World’s Women,” and says, “Just to be clear, I am thrilled to see global women’s issues brought to the forefront. However, the way we look at these issues is just as important as the fact that we’re looking at all.”

Flying Whale