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 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 jeans are a weapon? On Levi’s sexist, war-happy advertising…

Last week the Levi’s Dockers “wear the pants” ad campaign received quite a bit of feminist critique for its obvious sexism. (For example, see here and here.)

Not happy with promoting misogyny alone, Levi’s has another ad using Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers, O Pioneers” that promotes battle-happy manifest-destiny.

Wow, who knew pants could be such a rallying cry.

Using the text of Whitman’s poem, which celebrates Westward expansion and the American “children” who stomp their way across the globe, the Levi’s commercial celebrates wild, angry youth. They bang things against fences, rage against constraint, dance around raging fires, rip off their shirts and march west in triumph.

How ironic the commercial celebrates youthful rebellion and anarchy in order to ultimately promote conformity – conformity to buying into a corporate brand, a normative style, and into the idea that FIGHTING is the answer. Yes, buy your over-priced jeans and you too can “bear the brunt of danger” and celebrate American imperialism. Woo-hoo!
If you feel like writing a letter to Levi Strauss to tell them where they can stick their pants, go here.

For a letter campaign opposing the Docker’s ad, go here.

What if real women need babies? (On Kate’s “finest hour” in Lost season five)

A while back, I wrote the post “What if Lost time travelled to a feminist future,” noting that:

While Kate is back-tracking into the “problem that has no name” this season (re: Betty Friedan), Sun’s presence in season 5 could be hurtling towards a more feminist future. Unmoored from dad and husband, I am looking forward to where this season takes her.

Perhaps this season the show will break with the rather normative way it has presented gender thus far, with females being framed in relation to males and/or to their children (or desire for them).

Well, the season is not taking Sun in the direction I had hoped. Her character has been shoved to the background and, when she is focused on, she is ALL about finding her man.

The other lead females are similarly framed with the Kate/Sawyer/Jack triangle turning into a quad with the addition of Julia. And, on last nights episode (April 1), Kate and Julia teamed up to save a child. How mommy-esque! Problem is, this child they are saving is Ben Linus! Are their lady parts pushing them into maternal mode at the expense of rational thought? This is what the narrative seems to ask us to believe – that they have both forgotten who Ben is and what havoc he wreaks – that all they can focus on is “save the child.” I could not suspend my disbelief to swallow that one. I think the writers made a big gaff here – and a very traditionally gendered (re: sexist) one. If any character would save Ben it would be Jack – the softy surgeon dude with a supposed heart of gold – not the pragmatic Julia or the no-nonsense Kate.

Framing Kate’s decision in relation to her backstory made matters even worse. Drawing on the Freudian “baby as penis replacement” motif, Kate is depicted as trying to repare the great rift losing Sawyer brought about in her life with baby-love. As she coos to this child in his car seat and sings soppily as she cradles him, she seemed very out of character. Shortly after seeing her in ultra-mommy mode, Kate and Cassidy discuss Sawyer supposedly breaking her heart and Cassidy insists Kate “needed” Aron to replace Sawyer. She says “You needed him. Sawyer broke your heart. How else were you supposed to fix it?” Go with the Freudian analysis Cassidy! Replace that penis with a baby, that will fix all your problems!

While Jennifer Godwin refers to last night’s show as “Kate’s Finest Hour,” I think it was the hour I was MOST disappointed in her. I, unlike Godwin, don’t revel in the depiction of Kate as a “full-grown mama lion” – in fact, I take issue with the implicit claim such a description entails – that, in order for her to be the “profoundly magnanimous woman” Godwin claims she has become, she “left behind her selfish, childish petulance” to “become … a wildly competent mother.” Uh, why do none of the childish men have to ‘become men’ via parenthood? Why does it take a baby to make Kate a ‘real woman’? Could this be any more horribly dated and backwards-ass-traditionally-gendered-in-the-worst-way? Yes, let’s throw her in a tight short skirt and ultra high heels, make her run frantically through a grocery store searching for her lost toddler, THEN let’s have her do the whole streaming tears shtick over the sleeping child before showing emotional vulnerability with her “Bye Bye Baby” parting line. Yeah, THAT is what makes here a “magnanimous woman” NOT her bravery, indepedence, strength, courage, and bad-ass island-saving skills. Put her in heels and make her a mommy – finest hour my ass.

What if so called “truth warriors” put down their misogynistic weapons?

Some time ago, Visible over at Smoking Mirrors analyzed the corporate media (dis)information machine in a post entitled “The Hydra-Headed, Blood-Sucking Bitch Media” (not linked for reasons to be revealed below). The post covered media corruption and control, closing with “Every one of you is a warrior for truth… or should be.” Yet, problematically, the post suggested that truth warriors are male and the media is a hydra-headed, blood-sucking bitch.

Visible writes,”The most pervasive and insidious enemy of the people and the truth is Bitch Media. This is the control booth that forms mass opinion and precipitates the impetus that fires the engines of war.”

I agree that we no longer have a free media, and that our media is a “control booth” perpetuating massive disinformation while inducing consumerist apathy. However, I take issue with the choice of terminology. I said as much in the comment I posted to the blog:

“I agree with your analysis of the corporate dis-information media machine. However, I am wondering why you chose the terms ‘bitch’ and ‘hydra’ to describe it.

Bitch is a term most often used to denigrate females — or to insult men by equating them to the feminine.

Moreover, the hydra is often represented as a many-headed female water snake. Thus, both of your descriptors, ‘bitch’ and ‘hydra’ equate the media with a monstrous femininity.

Seems to me the ‘raping phallus media’ would have been more appropriate — especially as the media is controlled by those with penis privilege, rather than vice versa.”

Visible replied,

“I’m sorry professor. I should have a sign on my blog but I don’t. This is a ‘PC-free’ one. We consider PC thug action to be easily as bad as anything else faced by humanity.

I’m wondering if you get after the hip-hop and rap artists or are they allowed more latitude for the obvious reasons?”

Well, it would have been nice if Visible had addressed my question rather than merely informing me the site is “PC-free” in a comment dripping with sexism and racism. This tactic of dismissal by way of using the catch all idea that political correctness is “thug action” on par with say genocide or imperialism is an interesting (if unproductive) form of evasion. While I readily admit that what is known as political correctness has its limitations, I also would point out that most who condemn political correctness as a totalitarian mind control come from the far right, or that side of the spectrum that calls feminists “victims” and POC “complainers.”

Moreover, my comment resulted in an onslaught of hateful comments and threatening emails. The animosity and violence displayed in these missives was the worst I have experienced in blogland; hence, I purposely did not hyperlink the post as I really do not relish the idea of more emailed threats to my person.

As to the question posed above, whether I “get after the hip-hop and rap artists,” well, yes, I do, at least to those who promote racism, misogyny, and other forms of hate. The notion that latitude would be given for “obvious reasons” puzzles-is this meant to imply that obviously ALL such musicians are black and therefore I, as a VICTIM FEMINIST would give them a “get out of misogyny free card” ?

Others responded in the thread by calling me “Professor Dickhead” and told me to “Stop acting like a bitch.” Yeah, original. When you call someone out on sexist terminology, they use more sexist terminology to attack you with (without, I might add, one shred of analysis.)

I support the 911-truth movement (of which Visible is a part). However, I would prefer my 911-truth and truth-seeking without the misogyny. Unfortunately though, a hypermasculinist undercurrent seems to run through much of the truth-seeking blogosphere. When I read many of the blogs of this ilk, I find myself questioning why women writers and activists are hardly ever included. Instead, we have descriptions of women like those at Smoking Mirrors such as “bimbo with the short skirt” or quotes like “You are Charlie Brown. Lucy is Bitch Media and the truth is the football.”

Call me a victim feminist (or bitch) if you will, but I would prefer warriors for truth that employ non-misogynstic weaponry.

What if Desperate Housewives was flashing forward not only in years, but also in its representation of race, class, gender, and sexuality? (A review)

I don’t know exactly why I continue to watch Desperate Housewives. Perhaps it is because there are so few shows to pick from that feature smart, funny, capable female leads. There are even fewer that champion female friendship over and above ‘romance’ narratives. Plus, DH has often mocked stereotypes rather than perpetuated them. It has dealt with key issues in an entertaining and often thought-provoking ways (i.e. working mothers, stay at home dads, teen sex, homosexuality, illness, ageism, interpersonal violence, workplace sexism). It has walked an interesting line somewhere between comedy, drama, mystery, and night-time soap. Yet, while it never was the most feminist of shows, if the first two shows if this season are any indication, it seems to also have lost most of its quirky humor and screwball drama style.

Regarding it’s less than f-cred worthy bits:  its way too damn white, wealthy, heterosexual, skinny, and able-bodied (but it’s hardly unique here as most shows are populated by characters of privilege). Too many of the story lines revolve a woman’s ‘need’ for a man. The ads focus almost entirely on the ‘hotness’ of the cast as does the show (well, at least for the women – anyone notice how shabby Tom looks most of the time? And how Carlos is the only one who appears to have aged in the 5 year flash-forward with his graying locks? Apparently looks only matter for those with B&V’s – boobs and vaginas).

And, there is the usual myopic view on both class and race. Everybody is wealthy on Wisteria Lane – kind of like Friends but with picket fences. And, when a black character FINALLY moved to the street, guess what? She’s was a crazy who locked up her crazy son. Other than that, to my recollection, there is no racial diversity represented on the show – except for the light-skinned Latina beauty, Gaby, and the likeable (also light skinned) criminal Carlos – you know, cuz Latino women are “hot tamales” and Latino men are all criminals, regardless of how much money they have.’

The representation of sexuality is a bit better – the show did include the long story arc of Andrew’s homosexuality and Bree’s rampant homophobia quite well. I do wish the two new male homosexuals on the block would get a few story lines of their own though rather than living on the lane as ‘the gay ones who have an annoying sculpture in their yard.’ No lesbians to speak of, yet… And, while the show indicates it is fine for women to be actively sexual and have various sexual desires, it does present Edie as an oversexed, man-stealer.

So, yes, it’s hardly a show to go shouting about from the feminist rooftops. Yet, if the season premiere was any indication, it has sunk lower than ever. I may just have to strike it off my let’s-turn-off-the- brain-for-an-hour list. Every single plotline of the premiere was broadly stereotypical in the most banal of ways. Here is a quick summation:

Gaby – She has two kids now and has gone all frumpy. Her two biggest worries are 1) the loss of her beauty and 2) her four year old daughter Juanita’s body. The focus on the ‘fat kid’ plotline was particularly heinous, perpetuating the idea that anyone not fitting stick thin standards eats way too damn much and loathes physical activity (Juanita eats “half a sheet cake” – candles and all!).

Lynette – Bad mom who worked too soon and too much when her kids were little now has two really bad teenagers. Tom is more aloof to reality than ever, worshipping his shiny red convertible while his kids run a gambling ring. This narrative is insulting to both sexes equally – it has both the ‘blame the mother’ and the ‘boys will be boys’ theme in spades.

Susan – She can’t get over Mike. Poor Susan, so so many man troubles. She is fornicating the man painting her house, but is too emotionally damaged to commit. As per usual, she has the fluffiest storyline to go along with the ‘pretty but scatterbrained and emotionally inept female’ theme.

Bree – After losing her true meaning in life, controlling her children (and grandchildren), Bree gives birth to a ‘new baby,’ a successful catering business. She controls her catering ‘partner’ Katherine, taking all the fame and glory for herself. This narrative presents the typical “cat fight” scenario where women are out to get, rather than to support, one another.

Edie – She has a crazy new husband. He is more important than she is judging by screen time. He also has her under his thumb, controlling his ‘trophy wife.’
The second show of the season was no better. Gaby proves her class snobbery hasn’t abated, lamenting that “we used to be the help, now we are the help.” She also whines to Carolos about his work as a masseuse and informs him he needs to make more money because she misses shopping. How original. Susan is placed in a triangle with Mike and Jackson (the new beau) and the men share intimate sexual details about her. Lovely. Mike, in a make-a-feminist-vomit moment, intimates Jackson is ‘pussy-whipped.’ Lynette has an Oedipus style online exchange with her son. Yes, really. And, while the show supposedly has jumped forward in time 5 years, Bree’s plotline jumps back into the previous century with Orson out of sorts because her new cookbook has her last name on the cover, not his. In order to pacify his need for her to be “Mrs. Hodge,” she calms him with the promise of a pot roast. In the closing scene of the episode, she comes home after midnight from work to find Orson sitting at the table waiting for his meal.  After being menacingly reminded by him “You promised,” she dutifully goes into the kitchen to cook said pot roast. The closing image is of her crying in frustration as she chops carrots. Nope, not kidding.

Yet, according to Entertainment Weekly’s 10/17/08 issue, “This season, the Housewives aren’t desperate: They’re avidly ambitious, like the series itself.” Yeah, if you define ambition (as the magazine does) as having your “face and derriere …remolded with some state-of-the-art doll plastic” (Edie), or doing some jealous “flame-haired fieriest jousting” (Bree), or becoming “more interestingly heartbroken” (Susan).

It would be nice if the 5 year time jump was accompanied by a flash forward to present day feminist sensibilities. Would it be too much to have smart, funny, capable female (and male) characters that didn’t rely on outmoded stereotypes and live in such tiny gendered boxes?

Unlike the male reviewer at EW, I am not finding the show or the series “avidly ambitious.” Yet, I may have to keep watching to see how low the show can sink. If it sinks any lower, it just may make Palin’s debating skills look impressive.

What if the satirical was more common than the stereotypical?

 

Comedy often utilizes broad generalizations and relies on an extreme, in your face approach. However, some comedy does so in order to critique and undercut problems within society, some does so in order to bolster and promote sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.  Satire falls in the former category. It aims to show society its foibles, to mock them, to subvert norms. The latter type of comedy, however, does not have the aim of changing people’s minds, let alone society, but merely is out for laughs. It is the difference between Jonathon Swift and Andrew Dice Clay, between South Park and The Howard Stern Show, between Margaret Cho* and Esther Ku

Swift railed against racism (spefically of the anti-Irish variety) and classism, South Park satirizes homophobia, religious fanaticism, racism, Cho criticizes heteronormativity, gender essentialism, body image norms. Conversely, Clay and Stern promote and encourage sexism as fun and funny, Eshther Ku perpetuates racist attitudes and indicates stereotypes are TRUE, rather than problematic.

Yet, recognizing the difference between comedy that aims to shine a light on negative aspects of society in order to encourage those laughing to do something about injustices verses comedy that shines a light merely to suggest “ha, ha, isn’t injustice funny” can be tricky…

Take as an example ‘fat humorists’ – both those that are fat and those that do ‘fat jokes.’ Some fat comedy is satirical and aims to reveal our obsessions about bellies and everything else are inane (Joy Nash’s Fat Rants and Eve Ensler The Good Body come to mind), while some encourage the audience to laugh AT fatness and fat people rather than at our stupid societal bodily norms (John Pinette).

Sadly, the type of comedy/entertainment that does not aim to change our thinking or better society is the more common. Stereotypes ooze from every type of popular culture, suggesting that all black men are criminal, all Latinas are maids, all Indians work at mini-marts, all Middle Easterners are terrorists, all fat people are dumb, all gays love fashion, all poor people are lazy, etc, etc.

While stereotypes can be used in a satirical manner in order to try and reveal to the audience that their ways of categorizing the world are not only laughable, but dangerous, most popular culture bolsters stereotypical thinking rather than subverts it. Disney comes to mind here.

As the “man in chair” character of the post-modern musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone quips, “Audiences today are too sophisticated for broad racial stereotypes… Those have been banished to Disney…you know… for the kiddies to sort out.” As this line indicates, many like to think they are ‘beyond stereotypes’ or living in a post-racist society. Yet, as Disney (and every other MSM output machine) reveals, our entertainment is overflowing with racist/sexist/classist/homophobic stereotypes. The Arab thugs who will cut off your hand for stealing an apple (Aladdin), the backwards Asians who enforce arranged marriage and are war-mongers (Mulan), the black people as apes and whites as heroes (Tarzan), the Latino as lecherous, scroungy mutt (from Lady and the Tramp to the forthcoming Beverly Hills Chihuahua), the Native American as incoherent and backwards (Peter Pan) or as loving those who commit genocide on their peoples (Pocohantas).

In other media, we see Latinas as maids only (Will and Grace, Weeds), transgendered people as serial killers (Nip Tuck), fat people as stupid, lazy, and incompetent (Wall*E), Eastern Europeans as human traffickers and mafia thugs (Crash, Dark Knight)… We don’t tend to see disabled people at all… (except in those feel good narratives that frame disability as a plight to be overcome…) And, in general, anyone deemed as “Other” in any way are rendered either invisible or, if shown, are depicted in a negative way.

Due to the pervasiveness of comedy that aims only for laughs and not for any higher form of satirical catharsis, lots of people don’t even seem to recognize satire when they see it. For example, in their papers analyzing popular culture, my students often apologize for liking South Park, The Family Guy, Borat, Dave Chappelle… (and, to be fair, there are instances where these examples border on the merely comedic rather than the satirical). What these apologies indicate is a failure to recognize the satirical intent of shows like South Park. Yet, if the satirical intent is not recognized, does the comedy truly work as satire? If the audience doesn’t ‘get it,’ is the satire then only perpetuating the very norms it critiques?

I am particularly worried about this given some recent comments from students. For example, after watching Mickey Mouse Monopoly (a great documentary that takes Disney to task for not only its corporatism, but its perpetuation of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc), one student said (in reference to the ubiquitous representation of Mexicans as little, irritating dogs), “But Chiuahau’s are a Mexican dog! I don’t see the problem.”

When discussing racial stereotypes, I get the usual, “But they are true, all Asians are bad drivers” (by the way, this was said in one of my classes by a male student who had an Asian female student sitting directly in front of him). I asked her in jest, “So, did you nearly run him over on your way to school today?” He was embarrassed, as he should have been, and turning the tables allowed this student and others to talk about how hurtful such comments/beliefs are. Just yesterday, a student again argued  racial stereotypes are true and offered the example “all Indians really are cheap.” The audacity with which people share such blatant racism scares me deeply.

What I wonder is this:  if the satirical were more common than the stereotypical, would audiences (and my students) more readily be able to tell the difference between that which is offensive for laughs and that which offends in order to prompt analysis, rethinking, change…? If there were more entertainment that leaned towards the satirical, would we, as a society, lean more towards changing our problems rather than just laughing at them?

*Margaret Cho certainly walks a fine line between the satirical and the stereotypical. Lately, some of her comedy has leaned a bit too far towards promoting existing inequalites (woman as sex object) and racist stereotypes (Korean parents as overbearing). For two recent post that discuss Cho in this vein, see here and here.