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.

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What if elementary schools resisted pornification? Or, why not to wear heels to school when you are eight…


Picking my daughter up from school today, I saw what looked like a 3rd or 4th grader trying to navigate her walk home in high heel black fuck me pumps. Her dad trotted obliviously behind her. With parents so blissfully unaware of the hyper-sexualizing of their daughters, can we really be shocked when sexualized violence is so rife in our communities?

Turn a child into a sex object (or anyone into an object) and you make it easier for her/him to be treated as a THING. If such fashion “choices” occurred in the context of a just, non patriarchal world, that would be one thing. But, given our pornified culture which constructs violence as sexy AND younger and younger girls as sexy AND females as “booty” to be “tapped,” such a shoe choice seems very poor judgement.  Get that girl some friggin’ tennies. Sheesh.

Sadly, this pornified footwear is not a unique occurrence. At the talent show a few weeks back, two 5th grade girls gyrated stripper-style to a hip-hop song with “do me” type lyrics. Um, did the talent show crew really think this was acceptable “talent”? How sad that shaking your ass to degrading lyrics is considered a-ok for a K-5 event.

This pornified vibe is also evident in the comments I hear as I wait for my daughter after-school (“that teacher is hot” said by a boy who was perhaps 10), in t-shirt logos (“Boy candy”), and in the sexed-up walk of some of the girls who seem to have learned that our culture views their most important “talent” as the ability to attract male attention. I shudder to think what my daughter’s 5th grade graduation will be like – if my son’s was any indication, likely there will be many unfortunate fashion choices and too much flashing of the class privilege (a teacher shared with me that last year one boy was picked up in a Hummer limo and took a handful of friends off to a day of 5th grade style debauchery at Boomer’s).

How many kids are aware of how wrong this all is or have parents that help them navigate the crazily violent, consumerist, and hyper-sexualized worlds of elementary and middle schools? I wish all of them did. More to the point, I wish elementary could be a place of learning, fun, and friendship, rather than a place to “shake that thang” and flaunt your assets – be they bodily or monetary.

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 you are fond of Fonda? (On Jane Fonda’s continuing feminist and peace activist work)

Well, despite my best intentions, I didn’t post too much on Women’s History last month… So, now that the month is over (!), I wanted to include at least one post devoted to a woman still making history – Jane Fonda. I have chosen her for a number of reasons – because I recently wrote about her for an encyclopedia of women in military history, because she has been in the news quite a bit lately regarding her plans for world fitness day, because she continues to be an important feminist activist even though she is often overlooked by our youth obsessed culture (which includes a rather youth obsessed feminist movement as well…), and, lastly, because she has personal relevance for me given my dad loathes her as “a traitor” and I have long loved her not only for her “feel the burn” antics but also for her life-long devotion to feminism.

I knew of Jane Fonda first as an actress and aerobics guru . I loved On Golden Pond, and my sister and I regularly popped her workouts into our Beta-max player to “feel the burn.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned of her anti-war and feminist activism. My dad, like many former military peeps, still views her as a traitor.

Now 72, Jane Fonda continues to fight the good fight and remains active both literally – she will launch world fitness day on May 1 – and intellectually/politically through her continued devotion to empowering girls and women, critiquing militarism and patriarchy, and working to eradicate violence globally.

Born December 21, 1937 in New York City. Fonda is a well-known actress and anti-war activist who rose to fame in the 1960s. Known in the 1980s for her exercise videos, she is now perceived as an anti-war icon by some and a traitor by others.

Conflicting views of her anti-war activism stem mainly from her longstanding and very vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Though she devoted years of her life to educating herself about war, its effects on soldiers and civilians, and worked tirelessly with GI’s, peace activists, and leaders, she was often framed as “just an actress” who had no business speaking out about the war. The response to her work was gendered in the extreme – and remains so to this day.

Fonda became a well-known opponent of Vietnam War in the early 1970s, especially its reliance on civilian bombing. From 1970 to 1975, she used her celebrity status to raise money for various anti-war groups. She traveled across the United States in 1970 visiting GI coffeehouses run by veterans and civilians.  Her reputation for strong antiwar speeches and generosity in funding antiwar causes soon resulted in large crowds at public appearances.

During this time period, Fonda made significant contributions to the United States Serviceman’s Fund and formed the “Free the Army Tour” with Fred Gardner and Donald Sutherland. Free the Army toured through1972 and was then made into film titled F.T.A. Fonda played a major role in the Winter Soldier Investigations into war crimes. She raised funs for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), founded the GI Office in Washington D.C, which provided legal aid for draftees, and helped to establish the Indochina Peace Campaign, an antiwar education organization.

Credited with helping connect the Vietnam antiwar movement with the cultural mainstream by some, Fonda was vilified and attacked by others. A large part of the attacks stem from Fonda’s 1972 trip to Hanoi, a pivotal moment in her anti-war activism. While in Vietnam, she spoke out against the war, highlighting the mistreatment of civilians, calling the war a lost cause, and condemning both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. She argued the war was for the benefit of U.S.businessmen and not in the interests of American citizens generally. Her speeches and talks emphasized the tolls of war on individual families, on children, and on poor or underprivileged communities both in Vietnam and in the U.S.

Fonda is often credited with publicly exposing the strategy of bombing the dikes in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fonda also visited American prisoners of war and publically claimed the POW’s assured her they had not been tortured. This resulted in much animosity towards Fonda. In the years following her Hanoi visit, many accusations Fonda had caused POW suffering and torture circulated. The infamous photo of her seated on an anti-aircraft battery used against American pilots fueled her future characterization as “Hanoi Jane.” Fonda apologized for this photo sixteen years later in an interview with Barbara Walters. Directing her comments  to the soldiers who served in Vietnam, Fonda carefully crafted her apology so as to only include the photo incident and not the rest of her antiwar activism. In a 60 Minutes interview on March 31, 2005, Fonda reiterated she did not regret her trip to North Vietnam in 1972, with the exception of the anti-aircraft photo.

Named in 1999 by ABC News as one of 100 most imp women of 20th Century, Fonda continues her work as a peace activist. She has continued to place particular emphasis on war’s impact on women, often iterating that war is rooted in patriarchy and acts as one of the greatest threats to democracy. In 2002 she visited Israel and demonstrated with the Women in Black against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. More recently, Fonda has argued that the so-called War on Terror will result in more terrorist attacks and an increased global hatred of Americans. Fonda and George Galloway organized and anti-war bus tour for 2005 but postponed the tour to focus on to the relief operations in the Gulf Coast necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Fonda participated in an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Currently, Fonda remains active in feminist and peace activist movements, focusing in recent years on war in the Congo and violence against women.

References:

Burke, Carol. Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight. Boston: Beacon, 2004.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon. New York:  The New Press, 2005.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s Words of Politics and Passion. New York:  The New Press, 2006.