What if Barbie went for a swim? Thoughts on the “Drown the Dolls” Project

“For decades, Barbie has remained torpedo-titted, open-mouthed, tippy-toed and vagina-less in her cellophane coffin—and, ever since I was little, she threatened me,” writes Susan Jane Gilman in her article “Klaus Barbie.”

This sentiment towards Barbie, one Gilman describes as “heady, full-blown hatred,” is familiar to many females (myself included) – but, so too, is a love of Barbie and a nostalgia for Barbie-filled memories.

Feelings towards Barbie often lie along a continuum that shifts with life’s passages –as children, many love her, then as tween and teendom sets in, she is tossed aside, forgotten about her for many years, and then later, when children come into one’s life – through mothering or aunty-ing, Barbie once again enters the picture. For feminist women, the question of whether or not Barbie is a “suitable” plaything for the children in their lives often looms large as they navigate the toy-fueled world of early childhood.

“Drown the Dolls,” an art exhibit premiering this weekend at the Koplin Del Reio art gallery in Culver City, California by Daena Title continues the feminist tradition of analyzing Barbie, this time with an eye towards “drowning” (or at least submerging) the ideals of femininity Barbie embodies. In the video below, the artist explains her fascination with Barbie as “grotesque” and how her distorted reflections under water mirror the distorted messages culture sends to girls and women about feminine bodily perfection.

Title’s project and the surrounding media campaign (which asks people to share their Barbie Stories in 2 to 3 minute clips at You Tube), has garnered a lot of commentary. Much of the surrounding commentary and many of the threads have focused on the issue of drowning as perpetuating or normalizing violence against women. For example, this blogger at The Feminist Agenda writes,

“When I look at the images… I don’t so much get the message that the beauty standard is being drowned as that images of violence against women – especially attractive women – are both acceptable and visually appealing in our culture.”

Threads at the Ms. blog as well as on Facebook include many similar sentiments. While I have not seen the exhibit yet, the paintings featured in the above clip are decidedly non-violent – they do not actively “drown” Barbie so much as showcase her underwater with her distorted image reflected on the water’s surface – as well as often surrounded by smiling young girls. As Title indicates in her discussion of her work, it is the DISTORTED REFLECTIONS of Barbie that captivate her – as well as the way she is linked to girl’s happiness and playfulness – a happiness that will be “drown” as girls grow into the adult bodies Barbie’s plastic body is meant to represent.

The reactions thus far of “drowning” as violent focus on the project’s title alone, failing to take the content (and context) of the paintings into account – they are not a glorification of violence but a critique of the violence done to girls and women (and their bodies and self esteem) by what Barbie represents.

To me, Title’s work is in keeping with the earlier aims of the Barbie Liberation Organization who infamously toyed with Barbie’s voicebox to have her say GI Joe’s line “vengeance is mine” rather than her original “math is hard!” Her work adds to the tradition of feminist work on toys, gendering, and girls studies – a tradition that is thriving and continues to examine new and old toys alike (as here and here).

The negative commentary regarding Title’s work as perpetuating violence seems to me a knee-jerk reaction – one not based in critical reading of her work. While maybe Barbie (and the bodily perfection her grotesquely ABNORMAL body represents) SHOULD sink, Title’s work – and the critiques of Barbie it is fostering, deserves to swim…

What if there were more feminist journalists? I bet substituting the word “sex” for “rape” would be a lot less common, that’s for sure…

This excellent post from Cara at The Curvature details a story of a fifteen year old girl raped while she was dying. Yes, you read that correctly – RAPED while she was DYING.  Though the newspaper reporting on the piece uses the word rape in the article’s title, in the body of the piece, the rape of Kierra Johnson is called “having sex.” Further, one of her rapists is described as having “unprotected anal sex with Johnson.” That phrase indicates consent — it indicates Johnson was conscious – which she was not. You cannot have sex with an unconscious person — that is called rape.

As Cara further details, the news story goes on to to do a fair amount of racialized and class biased slut-shaming, pointing out that Johnson “should have been in school.” Hear that girls? If you cut class, you deserve to be raped.

Reading Cara’s post reminded me of another sad fact I read earlier today – that at the Washington Post, 19 out of 27 columnists are white males. As Monica Potts details, “Out of 27 total columnists and reporters [at the Washington Post], three are black men and three are white women. The rest are white men. And if you don’t scroll past the fold, white men are all you see.”

Now, while some of these white males may certainly be feminists, whoever wrote the piece at the Philly paper is NOT. These two stories may seem unconnected, but how stories are reported is vital. Word choice is key. Calling rape “sex” happens all the time in the mainstream media and I know this would be far less common with more feminist journalists penning stories and columns. This is why organizations like The Women’s Media Center, The Op-Ed Project, and Women in Media and News are so important. This is why publication like Ms. Magazine and Bitch are vital. This is why the feminist blogosphere matters.

Calling rape sex is just one small part of the battle we are up against – but it is a hugely important one – one that matters greatly to the story of Kierra Johnson – and the untold thousands of girls and women like her – who are not “having sex,” who are being regularly and all too often raped. Journalists and newscasters who hide such crimes via their word choice should be ashamed – they are guilty of maintaining, perpetuating, and condoning the rape culture in which we live.

What if you prefer your monsters fictional? (On violence, war, hate crime, etc as more human than monster…)

(This post originally ran at Womanist Musings. It has since been updated to reflect the comment thread from the original posting and my subsequent rethinking of this topic. As always, I am thankful for those who take the time to comment, to open up the dialogue, and to help me question/refine my own thoughts.)

I am beginning to wonder – have we become less like Frankenstein’s monster, who was horrified by his own monstrous reflection, and more like traditional vampires, who could not see their own reflection? I am in hopes the monstrous acts of violence, war, hate crime, etc will  lead us to contemplate our collective reflection in that largest of mirrors – our society – and to become horrified by our own monstrous acts (as well as our monstrous inaction).

As pointed out in a comment from Sparky (of Spark in Darkness), designating people as monsters and their acts as monstrous allows a distancing — as if what she/he/they did is profoundly Other, not human, not us, not a reflection of our society.  As Sparky points out, this shuts down analysis and allows for the writing off of certain acts as an aberration. “I hate it when we describe criminals as monsters. Because I think it is used to AVOID showing and AVOID examining. It is used as a simple closing word, a dismissal, and avoidance,” he writes. We certainly saw this phenomenon with the Abu Ghraib torture and the writing off of Lindsey England as a “bad apple,” a monstrous women.

We also see it in the labeling of Sarah Palin as a monster (as many pundits do and as one comment in the thread named her). While I am no fan of Palin, I think labeling her as a monster demonstrates Sparky’s argument. Palin is a product of U.S. culture and politics — in fact a creation that mirrors in many senses what is expected of a powerful woman. It is our society that is monstrous, evil, greedy, sexist, racist, etc — humans like Palin are the products of this, the modern Frankenstein “monsters” that SHOULD reveal to us our insanities and injustices. By labeling her a monster we instead Otherize her, discounting how she is a logical product of U.S. empire.

When I posted a few weeks back at my Seduced by Twilight blog on “What does a monster look like? someone commented as follows in the thread:

“I think REAL monsters are those that don’t look like monsters at all. The most innocent looking, quiet ones that wait in the shadows and kill young women are today’s monsters. Monsters are violent and relentless but not always obvious.”

While I agree that real monsters are scarier than fictional ones, I am intrigued about the way we use the word monster both to designate creatures of the imagination – vampires, zombies, dragons, etc – as well as to designate people who act in ways defined as monstrous, cruel, and evil.

The etymological roots of the term monster come from “monere” (to warn), “monstrum” (that which teaches), and “monstrare” (to show). As noted in this essay on monsters, “The theme of teaching or guiding is thus implicit in the etymology, with the English word ‘demonstrate’ turning out to be a cousin of ‘monster’ in that the Latin ‘demonstratum’ is a past participle of ‘demonstrare’, which means ‘to point out, indicate, show or prove’.”

These etymological roots indicate that monsters (both those we create in our fictional worlds AND those that inhabit our societies) teach, warn, show, prove, and indicate.

Though I agree with Sparky’s points that labelling some as monsters can lead to a lack of analysis, I do think that the etymological roots of the word provide us with a critical lens with which to examine today’s “REAL monsters” (as they are referred to in the above comment). The daily acts of rape and murder should WARN us that our society condones and perpetuates violence. These monstrosities of war should TEACH as that war is not the answer. The prevalence of hate crime should SHOW as that we are not in a post-racial, post-feminist, or post-heterosexist world. All of these different acts of human monstrosity DEMONSTRATE, INDICATE, and PROVE that our corporate capitalist heteronormative patriarchy breeds monsters at an alarming rate.

Those we generally consider monsters – those that kill/torture/abuse indiscriminately and repeatedly – do serve as a warning – a warning that our society not only allows such monsters, but actively creates them. Are not such monster indicating that our world breeds violence? Do they not point out that the main modes of societal organization – patriarchy, corporate capitalism, militarism – is perhaps the perfect conditions for monsters to thrive? Does not their existence – in exorbitant numbers and in all branches of society – priesthoods, schools, sports, government, media, etc – PROVE that we may be creating more monsters than we can slay or contain, let alone eradicate?

I am focused on such so-called REAL monsters for reasons close to home. Last month, a 17-year-old female from my town was raped and murdered while jogging alone in a local park. This past weekend, on Easter Sunday, the attendance secretary from my son’s school was shot in her home, as was her husband, by a disgruntled neighbor who decided the best way to solve their long-standing disputes over a parking space was with a shotgun.

I am also focused on such REAL monsters due to a slew of hate crimes on the campus where I teach – crimes that have largely been ignored by campus administrators as well as the local media.

I know that such incidents are far from unique. I know such monsters lurk in every neighborhood, on every campus, in every corner of the globe, and certainly in many governments, religious organizations, and law enforcement teams. But, somehow, the warning seems more urgent when such monstrous acts become so common as to be expected – as if daily violence, rape, murder, and hatred – not to mention never-ending war – is par for the course.

What if the soldier-as-rapist is not an aberration?

(Cross-posted here at Ms.Blog)

Fort Bragg soldier Spc. Aaron Pernell, 22, an indirect fire infantryman who has served two tours in Iraq, was charged with sexual assault in February. Pernell appeared in court Tuesday on 13 charges including rape and attempted rape. What’s unique about these charges are that they were made at all: thousands of other military rapists have escaped punishment in the past fifteen years, according to the Denver Post in its excellent investigative series [PDF].

As the Ms. Blog recently reported, a new Pentagon study confirms that militarized sexual violence (MSV) is on the rise. Yet, while crimes such as those Pernell is charged with are all too common, perpetrators regularly escape punishment and often re-enter the civilian world with no criminal record.

Since one-third of women who join the military are raped or sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers, we must recognize that the soldier as rapist is all too common. Given that rape and sexual assault rates rise in the civilian world during wartime, we must also recognize that militarized sexual violence is trickling down into our communities. As more soldiers return home, we can expect more crimes like those Pernell is charged with.

In fact, areas surrounding military bases have already seen increasing numbers of sexual assault. Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, calls this “collateral damage,” writing:

In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.

The practice of granting moral waivers–which allow people to enlist who have records of domestic violence, sex crimes, and manslaughter–may also exacerbate rates of MSV. Further, as Professor Carol Burke documents, many soldiers enlist as teenagers to escape troubled or violent homes. Since such abuse (if not addressed) tends to be cyclical, filling our military ranks with abuse survivors without addressing childhood trauma, offering psychological counseling, or implementing anti-abuse training, is a recipe for continued violence. These factors, in conjunction with the prevalence of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) in returning soldiers, which has been linked to enacting violence, likely means that rates of MSV will not be going down anytime soon.

Though Pernell’s case is a horrific one, sadly it is far from unique. To read more on this subject, watch for my feature article in the upcoming Spring issue of Ms. magazine.

What if she SHOULD be able to run/walk/hike alone? Thoughts on the rape and murder of Chelsea King

(Cross-posted at Ms. blog here.)

Of all the news I have heard in relation to the recent sexual assault and murder of Chelsea King, a 17-year-old from my community, one quote keeps reverberating in my mind: “She should not have been running alone in the park.”

When my son shared that this was the message passed on to him during a teacher’s discussion of the local tragedy, I bristled. Why is it that we focus blame on the victim? Why are we suggesting she should have been more careful rather than emphasizing he should not have attacked her?

Yet I must admit that this quote reverberates  because it was one of the first things I thought when I heard a young girl was missing after going to run alone in a local park. Living in a rape culture which blames the victim, I recognize that even I, a feminist scholar and teacher, have had a “she should have” commentary beaten into my brain on a daily basis.

Chelsea King (and all humans for that matter) should be able to run in the park without fearing sexual attack. More generally, girls and women should not have to live via a rape schedule, which Jessica Valenti argues is “essentially like living in a prison—all the time.” But our culture does not seem to care much that females have to constantly worry about their safety. Instead, we question the victim’s actions and demeanor, while not focusing nearly enough on perpetrators.

That’s why, I surmise, so many  news stories emphasized that Chelsea was a straight-A student and great athlete. Such descriptions and accompanying photos stressed she was a “good girl,” thus suggesting that some other girls are not so good; some may even “ask for it.” Simultaneously, the perpetrator was framed as a “bad apple,” a repeat offender who should be locked up for life.

What about directing some focus on society itself? Is not patriarchy the underlying culprit here?  As noted in a 2004 Amnesty International study, “Violence against women is one of the most pervasive and ignored human rights violations.” Yet, rather than focus on this rampant societal problem, we might blame a 17-year-old for jogging alone and judge her assailant as a sick anomaly.

Sexualized violence is no anomaly, so displacing the blame from a patriarchal society that encourages and perpetuates such violence to the individual victims and perpetrators only guarantees that such violence will continue. Violence does not happen in a vacuum, nor is it the result of a few bad people (as the work of Erica Meiners, Angela Davis, Jodie Lawston and so many others makes clear). It results from the privilege/oppression matrix and a society that glorifies power. Locking up individual perpetrators and creating sexual offender registries does nothing to address these issues, instead it gives a false sense of security and furthers“stranger danger” myths. As Davis argues, our prison-happy culture is merely “a way of disappearing people in the false hope of disappearing the underlying social problems they represent.”

The alleged murderer of Chelsea King, John Albert Gardner, no doubt is an individual manifestation of the rampant sexism in our society that frames women as objects. But his actions need to be considered in relation to a wider glorification of violence. Locking him up will do nothing to punish the larger perpetrator–the accomplice, the enabler–which is society itself.

What if we aimed Haiti relief/aid efforts with gender in mind? Or, It’s not about hating men, it’s about helping Haitian women

If one can wrangle any positive shards from the rubble that now pervades Haiti’s landscape, I would say that it would be the tremendous outpouring of concern and aid. Unfortunately, such concern tends to aid and aid donations shrivel once the media moves onto its next story.

Once the Haiti earthquake is merely a blip on the mental desktop of most Americans (like Hurricane Katrina before it), the situation for the majority of Haitians will not have changed for the better. Rather, especially for women and children, the situation is likely to be even worse. This is why some organizations are targeting their aid at women and children.

As reported by Tracy Clark-Flory, the “women and children” first aid model some organizations are taking makes sense due to the fact that women and children “are typically the ones most vulnerable in the wake of a catastrophe.”
Before the earthquake, Haitian women were already dealing with extreme poverty, lack of adequate healthcare, high rates of HIV/AIDS, and huge infant and maternal mortality rates. They live in a country that only made a rape a criminal offence in 2005, where at least 50% of women living in the poorer areas of Port-au-Prince are raped. And, as reported by the UK’s Times Online, in post-earthquake Haiti, rape is rife in the makeshift camps in and around Port-au-Prince.

Haiti also has a serious child trafficking problem and huge numbers of girls working as domestic servants. The number of women and children trafficked from Haiti will likely rise post-earthquake. In fact, the UN reports children going from hospitals in Haiti, suggesting trafficking as the likely cause.

Even before the earthquake,  Haitian mothers, as detailed by the International Childcare organization, had to “cope with the fact that one in eight Haitian children never live to see their fifth birthday due to infectious disease, pregnancy-related complications, and delivery-related complications. In Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, many parents cannot afford to send their children to school, give them proper medical care, or even guarantee that their children will have safe drinking water.”

For all of these reasons, Haiti needs what Lucinda Marhsall calls “Gender-Responsive Aid.” As she notes,“there are needs that are specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new babies and the need to address the added vulnerability to violence that women face when government infrastructures are dysfunctional.” Yifat Susskind of MADRE  confirms this argument, noting “”One of the things we know is everywhere there’s this kind of disaster there’s a stark rise in violence against women in…When men deal with very, very difficult stresses, one of their outlets is violence against women.” In addition to the tendency for increased violence against women in the aftermath of a disaster (as also noted here), women are already economically disadvantaged in Haiti (due in large part to what is commonly known as the feminization of poverty).

As noted by MADRE,

“…women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters.

Because of their role as caretakers and because of the discrimination they face, women have a disproportionate need for assistance. Yet, they are often overlooked in large-scale aid operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line. When aid is distributed through the “head of household” approach, women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male relatives.”

Further, to make matters even worse for Haitian women, when the earthquake hit, Haiti’s Ministry of Women was holding a meeting. Almost everyone there was killed or injured. So the very people interested in helping Haitian women were lost to the community. (For the full story, see here).

However, despite the fact women and children were ALREADY disproportionately disadvantaged in Haiti, despite the fact that Haiti has lost numerous women’s rights leaders, men’s rights activists have taken up the “you all are a bunch of man-haters” rallying cry.

For example, Robert Franklin suggests that calls like the one made by Clark-Flory “ignore men or boys in need in favor of women and girls.” Accusing her of misandry, he makes similar arguments to those put forward in the “Amidst Haiti Disaster, Women’s Groups Seek to Deny Relief to Men” article at Spearhead. Claiming that “women’s groups are heading to a disaster area with the same anti-male agenda with which we are so familiar,” pieces such as these ignore the gendered realities of our world – realities that put women at greater risk.

Such articles also ignore the fact that women get pregnant (current reports estimate that the earthquake has put at least 63,000 pregnant women at risk in Port-au-Prince alone) and also (as humorously pointed out here) fail to recognize that menstruating women require tampons and pads.

For the global mamas in Haiti, for the women and children of this, the poorest country in the Western world, we need to ensure that aid organizations are aware of gendered realities. It’s not about hating men, it’s about recognizing a gendered response to this disaster is necessary.

What if you’re in love with a beast?

Thanks to His Golden Eyes I was alerted to this spoof of New Moon recast as Beauty and the Beast:

(cross-posted at Seduced by Twilight)

This mash-up seems particularly fitting given the message of B&B – that if your love is strong enough, good enough, you can tame the beast. As argued in the excellent documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly, this Disney film teaches young girls (and others) that “beasts” can be turned into “princes” if only WOMEN will love them enough. Twilight, as well, has this message in spades.

As Dr. Carloyn Newberger, who specializes in family violence argues, when you view Beauty and the Beast as an allegory depicting domestic violence, the beast’s “behavior is, without question…abusive.”  The same can be said of Gaston (or Edward in the above mash-up). I think we can also safely say the same of Edward and Jacob. Yet, the New Moon spoof above does not seem to be critiquing these dudes as violent parntners. (There are many posts addressing Edward’s violence, for ex see here, here, or here. There is even a Facebook page entitled Edward Cullen: Abusive Boyfriend.)

I don’t get a sense from the spoof that portraying Jacob as the beast was meant to highlight the racialized replaying of men of color as beastly either. (For once, couldn’t we have people of color NOT associated with animals? Yes, I am thinking of you Avatar.)

So, I enjoyed this spoof, but I longed for an indication that the filmmaker was critical of the violent masculinity the saga romanticizes, as well as of Jacob’s depiction as beast. And, if you ask me, Edward is portrayed as the real “beauty” in the text – though, since he is male, he does not have to “tame” Bella, he merely has to use those golden eyes to transfix her into the simpering, love-struck girl worshipping at the altar of his beautiful bod. Ugh.

What if you don’t scream? Is it still rape? (And other idiotic comments by school officials)

Rape in California (and everywhere else) is rife. From the Richmond gang rape to the 14-year-old about to be tried for raping a 12-year-old in a middle school stairwell, rape is so ubiquitous it’s to the point where it’s not even news anymore. Horrid.

We live, as so many have documented so well, in a rape culture. (For a great piece on this, see Rape Culture 101 by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville).

Regarding the case at the middle school, the Contra Costa Times ran a story quoting a number of school officials.

One said, “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream?…Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody’s down there?”

This person obviously has not read Rape Culture 101, which teaches that “Rape culture is the pervasive narrative that there is a ‘typical’ way to behave after being raped, instead of the acknowledgment that responses to rape are as varied as its victims…” Or, not everyone is going to scream!

Another school employee in need of a 101 lesson said “I know for a fact that that girl could’ve knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.”

Oh, how my feminist head hurts. The stupidity and arrogance of these commentators! Yet again, they are blaming the female – she should have screamed, she should have hit him.

Will this never change????

In regards to the 14 year old boy, Jessica at Feministing brings attention to the language of rape culture where rape isn’t really rape it’s just “hormones gone wild.”

As reported at by a Bay Area news station and posted by Jessica, the School Site Supervisor said

“They’re calling it a rape when it wasn’t really a rape,” Portola Middle School Site Supervisor Mustapha Cannon told reporters Tuesday morning. “When this is all over with I want to see if I can get a public apology for my principal, who is my friend, and my vice-principal, who is my friend who aren’t at work right now. Some kids are not as popular as other kids. You have a girl that’s not as popular as some of the girls. You have a guy who is not as popular with some of the guys and the girls. It was hormones gone wild.”

Seems like people are all too ready to jump on the Whoopee Goldberg bandwagon when rape is not really rape but “rape rape.” Truly stomach turning.

And the fact the Shitty-ass Supervisor frames the “it wasn’t really rape” claim around issues of popularity??? Holy fuck, where do they find these people that run our schools???

In all of these comments from school employees and in many of the news reports, the tone indicates that this is a false accusation – you know, like that 12-year-old really wanted it and know she is crying rape because she is having second thoughts. This false accusation narrative that spreads through the media is a virus that refuses to die. As McEwan notes, false rape reports are LESS COMMON that false reports of auto theft – or about 1.6% of reports. Yes, people, MORE people report false auto theft reports than false rape ones and yet how often do you hear about those in the news?!?!? Instead, the MSM leads us to believe 99% of rape reports are false – ya know, cuz women can’t be trusted. And they ask for it. And sometimes they drink. And they wear tight clothes. And they have multiple partners. And, well, they have vaginas. That right there is asking for it.*

*yes, men get raped too, but the media does not frame them in the same way as it frames females

(For good book-long takes on these issues see Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape or the more recent Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape)

What if you are an artistic rapist? Better that than a microphone stealing musician! (On Roman Polanski vs. Kanye West)

The way that we codify and react to rape in the U.S. is utterly bizarre.

I do a classroom activity in my Intro to Women’s Studies classes where students read different crime scenarios and then debate who is to blame, who is innocent, if the blame is shared and by how much, etc. Invariably, in the rape and sexual assault scenarios, a majority of students partially or fully blame the victim, especially if said victim is female.

In contrast, in the scenario in which a man has something stolen from his car after leaving the doors unlocked, students more often place all or most of the blame on the thief. Sometimes I hear comments to the effect “It shouldn’t matter the doors were unlocked. It’s a matter of trust.” Why do I rarely hear comments of this ilk with rape scenarios? Why not “It doesn’t matter that she flirted/kissed him/was drunk/ etc…It’s a matter of trust”?

Another interesting factor is that in relation to the car story there is a tendency to espouse the idea that you should not steal or destroy someone elses “property” regardless of whether the opportunity arises.  Yet, in contrast, a woman apparently does not own and control her own body (as so cogently made clear in the battle against reproductive choice)—rather, her body is up for grabs. She, according to the parameters of patriarchy, “belongs” to men (and all the more so if she is young, a person of color, a sex worker, etc – as rape cases repeatedly show, blaming  the victim goes on hyper-drive the further a woman is from the “ideal” white, hetero, middle to upper class ‘good’ woman).

This cultural context of framing women as booty (and some as property for all while some as private property) is why, of course, the term “cock blocker” is so well know and so often used, with hetero males framed as if in virtual cock fights over who will “tap that.”

Now, the Polanski rape referred to in the title occurred before the term cock blocker was part of the cultural lexicon, but it too revolves around the premise that men have some sort of right to women’s bodies, and moreover, if they are talented, artistic men, we need to overlook their “faults,” even when those faults involve raping a child.

In reading around a bit, I have come across numerous comments to the effect “but he makes wonderful films” or “he is just a tortured artist, we need to cut him some slack.” Or, in a different vein, “it was a different time; we can’t judge him by today’s standards.” Oh yes we can, and indeed we are. We are judging him by the rape apologist ideology, the rape myths, and the blame the victim strategies that are our standards – or, more aptly, that reflect our lack of standards when it comes to preventing, punishing, and eradicating crimes of sexual violence.

Tellingly the 13 year old Polanski raped, a woman now in her 40s, is derisively framed as having had aspirations to be a model, as if wanting to be famous or successful is the equivalent of “asking for it.”

Now, imagine if Catherine Hardwicke had drugged and then sexually assaulted 15-year-old Taylor Lautner. The reaction would be much different, no? As the infamous Lorena Bobbitt case so forcefully clarified, we react far differently to female violence, and particularly when it is perpetuated against men.

To consider another contrast, let’s take the Kanye West microphone stealing incident. In the September 25 issue of Entertainment Weekly, 93% of people polled said they do not forgive Kanye. And yet, people are falling all over themselves to excuse Polanski.  So, insult a fellow artist and block her acceptance  speech and you are beyond reproach, but drug a 13-year-old, rape her, and then abscond from the country for decades to avoid punishment and that’s just fine. Cuz, come on, he’s an ARTIST and that Piano film was just super. (Plus, unlike Kanye West, he’s a white dude and we tend to forgive white dudes far more readily…) I’m not saying what Kanye did was alright, but it was a FAR cry from drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. How sad that we seem more able to forgive a rapist than rapper…

What if you refuse to be seduced by violence?

(With great homage to the brilliant bell hooks*, I offer these thoughts. They come from a brief speech I gave this week at my campus at an event aimed at eradicating violence.)

The rape, sexual assault, and interpersonal violence that plagues our culture  are by-products of our patriarchal, militarized, and commodified world. Yet, such violence could not continue if we did not allow it

We like to act as if violence happens out there, beyond our control, yet violence is a part of most of our lives. For some of us, it happens regularly in our homes; for all of us, it happens in our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities, our nation, and our world. And, while US culture is good at convincing us we are powerless to change this, we are not – in fact, a key hope for change lies within our daily acts of resistance to violence

One place to begin the process of eradicating violence is within our own desires.

If as heterosexual women desire violent, aggressive men, we are perpetuating violence.

If as men, we are turned on by power, control, and domination, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as parents allow our children to achieve addictive adrenaline rushes by playing grand theft auto and other such games that glorify murder and rape, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as citizens accept war as an answer to world problems, we are perpetuating violence

One place we can begin to change our own immersion in violence and our attraction to it is in our response to popular culture – we can begin by examining how intertwined violence and sexuality are in contemporary society.

We, as citizens of the united states, our turned on by violence – yet, this need not be the case.

Currently, an entire army of 10 to 14 to yes even 40-year-olds are immersed in the Twilight book series, a series that romanticizes violent masculinity and presents sexual assault as proof of love. Vampire and werewolf legends are of course dripping with thinly veiled references to rape, violent sexuality, and sexually motivated murder – they are also predicated on a championing of violent masculinity. Yet, the messages about sexuality and violence these rabidly popular books contain are far from unique – the Hostel film series and other such pornified horror films repeatedly make violence seem sexy while simultaneously presenting violent sex as an extreme turn on.

When youth our encouraged to desire werewolves who sexually assault them (via books like Twilight) and teens are encouraged by Eminem to think homicidal misogyny is cool —and those of us who watch television are so inundated with violent sexuality that we become immune to it, we should not be shocked that our culture is one of extreme violence

We, as largely apathetic bystanders to this violence, must realize that we are actually not bystanders but accomplices- for if we, like bell hooks suggests, fail to refuse to be seduced by violence, we our culpable for all the violence that occurs in our culture.

A first step that we all can take is this – we can vow to be seduced by violence no more.

Whether that means refusing to enjoy films that glorify sexual violence or choosing  not to play video games where you get extra points for committing gang rape, whether that means refusing to stand idly by while the ROTC plans to set up camp on your campus or whether that means intervening when you witness violence, whether it means refusing to listen to songs that construct women as rape targets, hoes, and tricks,  or whether it means reshaping your own desires so you are no longer attracted to violent people, ALL of us can play a role in this – and I encourage all of you, from this day forward, to actively refuse to be seduced by violence.

*hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More,” in Transforming Rape Culture, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993).

Published in: on April 9, 2009 at 9:49 am  Comments (18)  
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