Friday, July 26, 2013

Feminist Reading List Part I

Since I've been moderating the Guerrilla Feminism page, I've found that there is some need for a Feminism 101 syllabus or primer.  As I am looking back on my own academic feminist education, I am recalling some fantastic (and not-so-fantastic) texts that I read.  I would like to start some reading lists on my blog that I can link people to when they ask for a primer on a particular subject.

Today I am going to tackle the Feminism 101 issue.

My very first feminist theory text was Feminist Thought by Rosemarie Tong.  This text lays out all of the different feminist movements.  She covers the history and context of each of these movements quite well as I recall.

I also took a Women's History course in which I read The History of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner.  This book was simply fascinating.  I couldn't put it down.  This is one of those texts that you realize you've highlighted almost every line and, thus, decide to stop highlighting altogether since every word is so delicious and important.

To begin understanding that gender is a social construct, not a natural act, Simone de Beauvoir's canonical text, The Second Sex, is really the best. 

Sexual Politics by Kate Millet is another canonical feminist text.  My faculty advisor at UWM gave me her tattered, used copy when I graduated and I still consider it one of the best gifts I've ever received. 

Whenever I get asked for a recommendation for an introductory feminist text I invariable suggest bell hooks.  She has several texts that are easy to read and accessible that explain intersectionality and feminism.  I would start with Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics and then move on the Feminist Theory From Margin to Center.  I also love Black Looks: Race and Representation and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.  I will definitely bring those up when I write about critical race theory, womanism and black feminism.  Really any text hooks has written is insightful and useful.   

To begin to understand the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality I recommend Angela Davis' Women, Race and Class.  This is another book that I had to put down my highlighter with because it is just chock full of useful historical information.  This book made me look at feminism in a wholly different way and for that I am incredibly thankful. 

Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider is a collection of essays on various topics that I just love to read and re-read.  Her writing is poetic, beautiful, powerful and healing.  Lorde also writes about the intersections of race, sexuality and gender. 

One of my all-time favorite feminist texts is Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.  This text helped me to begin thinking about feminist media criticism.  It also explains how women have deeply internalized our own oppression and how damaging that has been for our physical and mental health. 

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi really helped me to understand the concept of backlash and the history of American feminist movements.  This book is very factual and well-researched. 

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women in the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy is a pop feminism classic that I actually think is very useful.  Normally I try to stay very far away from pop feminism but this is worth a read through.  It is definitely contemporary and doesn't take intersectionality or context in to account as much as it should but it is definitely useful in a feminism 101 series.

That is just a start.  I hope to keep updating this piece and adding different feminist reading lists.  A few topics I think I'll touch on are critical race theory, radical feminism, and queer theory.  Stay tuned!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reddit Has a Sexism Problem

I really love Reddit.  It is a great way to learn new things, look at cute puppy pictures and chat with interesting people from all over the world.  I love finding new subreddits and joining new communities.  However, I have noticed that Reddit has a real sexism problem.  There are, in fact, a few subreddits created just to address the problem of MRAs hijacking feminist pages.  One of the biggest problems feminists seem to be talking about is how r/feminism is trolled by MRAs who downvote feminist content into oblivion while upvoting their own sexist crap onto the main page.  This is very frustrating when you go to a link to see comments and all of the top comments are full of hateful vitriol. Also frustrating is the simple fact that r/feminism has 19,000 supporters while r/mensrights has 67,000.  That just depresses me so much I almost don't ever want to return to Reddit.

It has gotten so bad that I generally avoid anything related to feminism on the whole website and just stick to news stories, puppy pics, knitting and other innocuous subreddits for my own mental health.  Of course, even then I still see a lot of sexism.  Which led me to an experiment.  I've posted lots of comments on Reddit and as long as they aren't overtly feminist they usually stand and even get a few upvotes.  Anything that clearly identifies me as a feminist has gotten downvoted until it disappeared from the page.  So just for kicks, I posted something kind of anti-feminist.  Not too overtly or offensively, just suggested that if a man hits a woman who hit him first, he isn't totally in the wrong.  I'm not sure I believe that, I just posted it to see what would happen.  To date, it has been my most highly upvoted comment yet.  What gives?

So, I assert, Reddit has a sexism problem.  It isn't as bad as 4chan or some of these other male dominated troll spaces, but it is still pretty bad and I think it needs to be addressed.  I've written before about using the internet as a space for feminist liberation and I still believe the internet has that potential.  And I haven't given up on Reddit because I still think there is hope.  I still believe that there are some people who don't want it to be an anti-woman, anti-feminist space.

Friday, December 21, 2012

As I'm sure you've noticed, I haven't really been posting much on this blog.  If you are still interested in following me or my writing, I've been contributing to Guerrilla Feminism on Facebook and Tumblr.  My posts are initialed "CA" or have my name. 

I will still update here from time to time, but that will be my more regular place to post news, interesting items, and blog posts.

Happy holidays!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

This video of a mother whose child was born with clefted eyes and several other serious health problems has been making the rounds on Facebook.  The website that is hosting the video provides this description:
 People ask her why she didn't choose to abort her boy. They stare at both of them. They talk behind their back. But none of that matters because this mother knows that her boy is beautiful just the way he is. What a great video.
And a lot of people reposting the video are saying that this is a perfect example of what the pro-life/anti-abortion movement is all about.

I find this position to be very odd because I think that this video actually perfectly exemplifies the importance and the relevance of the pro-choice movement.

This young mother lives in a time when she had a choice (however limited) and she chose to give birth to her son.  She chose the right time to get pregnant and she chose to proceed even after receiving devastating news.  I think it is wonderful that her son will know she had a choice and she chose him.  I think it is wonderful that she was presented with all of the information and was able to make an informed choice about what was best for her and her family.  I think it is wonderful that all women have that choice and I would love to live in a world where every child is wanted and loved as much as Christian is wanted and loved.  That is the pro-choice dream in action right there.

Go watch the video and tell me what you think.  It is a very moving piece. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Favorite Andrea Dworkin Quote


I love Andrea Dworkin.  I know she is a contentious feminist scholar and there have been a lot of fair criticisms of her work (and plenty of unfair ones).  But I find her work to be endlessly useful to me.  When I first read Pornography: Men Possessing Women, it made me very angry.  It awoke something in me that I had no idea was there.  It cemented my slow transition from fun, liberal, pro-sex feminism to radical, militant feminism.  Whether I like what Dworkin is saying or not, in most cases, I know it is true and that can be really, really hard to swallow.  This lengthy quote has been a favorite of mine for a long while.  Enjoy. 


“It is the naming by decree that is power over and against those who are forbidden to name their own experience; it is the decree backed up by violence that writes the name indelibly in blood in male-dominated culture.  The male does not merely name women evil; he exterminates nine million women as witches because he has named women evil.  He does not merely name women weak; he mutilates the female body, binds it up so that it cannot move freely, uses it as a toy or ornament, keeps it caged and stunted because he has named women weak.  He says that the female wants to be raped; he rapes.  She resists rape; he must beat her, threaten her with death, forcibly carry her off, attack her in the night, use knife or fist; and still he says she wants it.  She says no; he claims it meant yes.  He names her ignorant, then forbids her education.  He does not allow her to use her mind or body rigorously, then names her intuitive and emotional.  He defines femininity and when she does not conform he names her deviant, sick, beats her up, slices off her clitoris (repository of pathological masculinity), tears out her womb, lobotomizes or narcotizes her (perverse recognition that she can think, though thinking in a woman is named deviant).  He names antagonism and violence, mixed in varying degrees, ‘sex’; he beats her and names it variously ‘proof of love’ (if she is wife) or “eroticism” (if she is mistress).  If she wants him sexually he names her slut; if she does not want him he rapes her and says she does; if she would rather study or paint he names her repressed and brags he can cure her pathological interests with the apocryphal ‘good fuck.’  He names her housewife, fit only for the house, keeps her poor and utterly dependent, only to buy her with his money should she leave his house and then he calls her whore.  He names her whatever suits him.  He does what he wants and calls it what he likes.  He actively maintains the power of naming through force and he justifies force through the power of naming.  The world is his because he has named everything in it, including her.   She uses this language against herself because it cannot be used any other way… Men, because they are intellectually and creatively existent, name things authentically.  Whatever contradicts or subverts male naming is defamed out of existence; the power of naming itself, in this system, is a form of force. (17-18)"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When I first read about the premise for the show New Girl, I was very concerned.  I imagined it would be one of those woman-bashing shows about a woman who prefers the company of men because women are too something.  But I was curious and wanting a new sitcom to enjoy so I checked it out.  I've waited to write about it because I kept waiting for the plot line I had expected.  I'm very happy to say it never came.

Zooey Deschanel plays Jess who went through a bad break up and needed a new place to live.  She chose a lovely loft apartment with three men.  The part I love most about the show is how her strongest relationship is with her best friend Cece.  In fact, all of the women on the show have very strong female friendships.  The men in the show have their own struggles but the focus is always on Jess's growth and struggles.




Friday, January 6, 2012

12 Extremely Disappointing Facts About Popular Music

This might make me pretty un-hip but I am just going to go ahead and say it: I don't care that Celine Dion's album “Falling Into You” sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record.


You all know how much I love Nirvana and I am certainly no h
uge Celine Dion fan. However, I think that what we consider to be "good" music is subjective and unstable. It changes from person to person, from decade to decade. It is very difficult to compile any sort of comprehensive list of definitively "good" artists.

In my thesis I talked a lot about what it means to be authentic in popular music. When we look at what is considered to be good music, we often see the word authentic thrown around to describe artists that are "cool" as opposed to artists that are tragically uncool and in-authentic.

What I noticed about this particular list (and rock/grunge/punk music in general) is that women are the inherently uncool, inauthentic, un-hip. On this Buzzfeed list there is not one single female artist on the positive side. AND quite a few artists on the negative side are either women or they are artists that are predominantly enjoyed by women, especially young women.

As always, I maintain, the arbiters of music taste are sexist.



Friday, December 17, 2010

I Quit

Maybe this comment was just the straw that broke the camel's back but I think that this rant has been a long time coming. A friend made a comment on my facebook wall as a response to this post about rape and dog fighting. I am seething with rage over the comment and it isn’t even remotely close to the worst thing a friend has said to me or that I’ve read in my cyber life. But I am pissed and I need to get some things off of my chest.


Women’s Studies, academia and feminism have taught me very well to be critical of the world around me. So well, in fact, that I see the violent, diminishing, smothering hatred of women everywhere I look. This is not because I look for things to be mad about or because I want to see it so I do, this is because that shit really is everywhere. I am made to feel stupid constantly by people in my life who think I am too sensitive or that I am just an angry feminist who shouldn’t be taken seriously. And on my really down days, I start to believe them.


I am angry because around every corner I see evidence that men hate women and am told that I am crazy because I see it. And for once I am not going to qualify that statement and say “some men” or “institutional systems of oppression.” I am just going to say that men hate women because that is sure as hell what it looks like a lot of the time.


If I were to list examples to prove my point I’d be here until I die and that isn’t even an exaggeration. I’ll just give you an example from this week. One of my good friends and fellow bloggers sent me an e-mail with at least 20 tweets she had received in just a few days from a man who felt the need to terrorize her for no other reason than that she had the audacity to be female and to have a voice.


Here are some highlights from that diatribe:


“The better question is what good is a woman without a bruise and a mop.”

“You don’t need a psychic to tell you that you’re a cunt… you’re a cunt.”

“Fair-trade gifts…hmmm. My cock in your mouth in exchange for your femmy silence… fair enough?”

“Your writing is so boring your family would skim your suicide note and kick your bled out corpse for wasting their time…cunt. ; )”


And here is a recent comment I deleted from my own blog (this isn't even a contender for the worst I've gotten either):


“The quote is not ‘Get away from me or I’m going to carve a fuck hole in your torso.’
It is ‘Get away from me or I’m going to carve ANOTHER fuck hole in your torso.’
Also, you left out my personal favorite from this movie: ‘You may be able to vote and drive, but you will never be equal.’
Although this one also deserves an honorable mention: ‘...Women belong chained to a stove with just enough slack to reach the bedroom because those are the only places that your rib-stealing gender is worth a damn.’
I will leave you with these parting words. It is, and will always be, a man's world. Get used to it. Oh, and make me a fucking sandwich, bitch.”


That is just from this week. I can only ignore that shit for so long before it really does start to do something to me. I am angry and I am tired of being angry. But how can I not be angry when male violence against and hatred of women is a constant symphony playing in the background of my life? And that is just the little comments, the hilarious jokes and the shit my friends say on my facebook wall that I supposedly take too seriously.


I can’t even get into the news or popular culture because that would be another chore that would last a lifetime. I hope this isn’t news to anyone but I am sure it is and that is why I have to even write this post: when it happens to other women in other places, it happens to me because it is just the luck of circumstance that it wasn’t me that time. When Michael Moore diminishes the claims of a rape victim, it is just luck of circumstance that he isn’t talking about me. When Larry Smith says that dogfighting is worse than raping a woman he is talking about me. He is saying that my bodily autonomy is not taken seriously in this culture and that it is just a matter of time before it is me. I live everyday of my life aware of that fact and so do most women whether they fully realize it or not. And the saddest damn thing of it all is that one need only look at rape prosecution statistics to see that he is right.


So, do I think young women should study feminist theory? I don’t even know anymore. Maybe if I didn’t know I’d be happier and, frankly, life is just too damn short to be this angry all the time. Maybe other women have better outlets for the frustration and the feeling of being on the defensive all the time.


I am really tired and angry and tired of being really angry. That is why I don’t have the energy to blog anymore. I really do feel like I am trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon and for now, I give up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today I Wear Purple

Today I am wearing purple.

I am proud to tell my colleagues, friends and strangers on the bus that I stand in solidarity with my queer brothers and sisters.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the cultural narrative of "coming out." Events like Coming Out Day and the great meaning that is placed upon that moment of announcing one's sexuality to friends and family come to mind immediately. I am sure I am not saying anything that queer folks or feminist scholars haven't already heard, but I think that the epistemology of the closet is deeply problematic. (Of course, I pay homage to the amazing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the use of my language here).

Our cultural understanding of queerness and of homosexuality is based on the notion that they are inherently dishonest unless they are announced fully and openly. In order for one to "come out," one first must be "in." This narrative constructs "the closet." There is a distinct dichotomy set up in this process, wherein one must be either gay or straight. Our cultural understanding of sexuality is either/or. Gay or straight. Boy or girl. In or out. That is it. And of course that is troubling as it leaves no room for anything else, anything in between, anything queer.

Can one be understood to be both in and out, boy and girl, gay and straight? These combinations are deeply confusing to Americans because, even in the language itself, they are contradictory and nearly impossible to reconcile. Still, people do live in those grey areas and sometimes in those combinations. To ask someone to come out is to assume that they are in and that being out is better.

What I hope to say here is that I understand Coming Out Day and I understand the It Gets Better campaign, but I don't know how helpful they really are.

I wish I could tell all of the queer youth in the world that life gets better and people become more tolerant, but that is not always the truth. I know some amazing gay men and women who have overcome seemingly impossible odds to become happy, healthy, successful people. But I also know people for whom it has not gotten easier: people who stay "in" out of real fear for their lives, people who have lost their jobs and their families, who faced public ridicule. And the people who don't easily fit into any of the available categories have no meaningful way to "come out."

These are complicated issues which deserve deeper investment and understanding. I don't know if it will get better, but I fight with every fiber of my being for the day that I can say that it is safe to be gay or straight or anything in between or completely outside.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hey Baby

I've finally come across something about which I feel compelled to write: a video game that offers "feminist commentary." As illustrated in the great Grand Theft Auto debates of 2008 (which remains the most viewed, commented on and spammed of all my posts), I am no great fan of video games. But this I had to see.
Finally, there is relief for women plagued by catcalls hollered from speeding car windows, unsolicited innuendos offered by complete strangers, and proverbial one-liners greasy enough to make you gag.
Most women experience street harassment at one point or another. I can imagine feeling some pleasure at virtually kicking some ass, especially since it doesn't have the same consequences of hollering back in real life. However, a game like this does little to address systemic issues like gender based oppression, violence against women, commodification of feminine bodies or race and class issues that inform street harassment.

As you may know, I am the moderator of the Chicago Hollaback site so I do have some authority to say that street harassment is no laughing matter. A game like this exists for a reason. As Karen Garcia says in the above mentioned article, this is something that we should be talking about seriously.
As much as Hey Baby is ostensibly a shoot ’em up gorefest, there’s way more to it than that. It’s art, activism, and social commentary operating under the novel guise of a recreational pastime, and despite its in-your-face presentation, its underlying message is meant to be discussed seriouslyand it should be.
I hope that this game does create a dialogue, that would be a magnificent result. I fear it is just going to lead to more misrepresentation of feminism as some sort of violent man-hating cult. I also do not like the idea of combating violence with more violence, even if it is virtual violence. I want to have a public dialogue about how catcalling a woman can make her feel terrified, objectified and/or violated. We should talk about how men who harass seem to pleasure in the sense of powerlessness that catcalling can instill in a woman, if only for a moment. And we really need to talk about how power is distributed in society as a whole to understand why certain people are harassers while others are harassed. It is no coincidence that women (or feminine people of all genders) are usually the victims of this harassment. This is all about power.

I have not played this video game, but I have a feeling power is not discussed in that particular way. It leaves a lot of things ambiguous. What is the gender of the shooter? Does it matter? Why is the harassment sexual? What are the implications of class and racial identity when it comes to street harassment? And, perhaps most important, why do some men publicly harass women on the street at all?

I sincerely hope that this game does create a public discussion about these topics. If it does not, than it is just another violent video game.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Real Meaning of Marriage

I keep this blog pretty much to work out the things that stick in my craw and sometimes I feel like I shouldn't post certain things because I know I am going to be accused of looking for stuff or nitpicking.

But, damn, sometimes I just have to say something! Right now I am annoyed because of the comments on this post at A Cup of Jo. I like that blog; it is light, it is cute, it is fun. But it is sorely lacking in any sort of feminist critique. The post in question is about bridal veils. Maybe I spend too much time on feminist blogs but I went to the comments section fully expecting someone to say that veils represent women's subordination and commodification; that they romanticize rigid gender roles.

I got none of that of course, but what I did get was a whole lot of women (I believe) talking about how lovely and romantic veils are. I especially love this gem:

"The veil is so beautiful and wearing it over the face is just so romantic!"

Also, apparently, when talking weddings "old fashioned" is a good thing.

"That is quite romantic and old-fashioned. It seems like veils covering the face at weddings have slowely (sic) been phased out - I still adore the sentiment!"
This one is my favorite:
"This is so moving and beautiful. It really does remind us of the real meaning of marriage. Stunning."
These comments had me thinking about how some women romanticize the wedding ceremony. I am not going to go into all of the different traditions and what they mean because I just don't have the energy. But I am led to wonder how so many commenter's on A Cup of Jo can, without a trace of self-examination or critical consciousness, say that a bridal veil is romantic.

Old fashioned, yes. Traditional, yes. But let us look at that tradition that these commenter's wish to romanticize. On a website for bridal veils, they describe the tradition as such:

"In medieval times...the veil was used to protect [the bride] from 'the evil eye' and was a symbol of purity, chastity, and modesty.

Others say the the origin of the bridal veil was due to the circumstances of an arranged marriage. In days past, men bargained with an eligible young lady's father for their hand in marriage. AFTER the ceremony, the veil was lifted to reveal the brides features. This was to keep a groom from backing out of the deal if he didn't like what he saw.

Some say that the veil was used in days past as a symbol of a bride's submission and willingness to obey her husband."

Remember, this is a site that sells veils! That these traditions actually do represent the "real meaning of marriage" is perhaps the best argument I can think of against marriage.

It really bums me out that women don't think more about the meaning of the traditions that they are upholding in their weddings. And if they do think about it and then uphold them anyway, well that is just terrifying.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mutilated Women as Entertainment or Why I am Over True Blood

First things first, I apologize that some comments got stuck in the queue for a really long time. I usually just publish them directly from my Gmail account but I must have missed some and I saw them on the blogger homepage waiting to be read today. So if your comment got stuck, it wasn't because I don't like you!

Speaking of comments, I have gotten some really awful ones lately. I haven't posted in so long I really don't know how these people are finding me and feeling the need to attack me using viciously misogynistic rhetoric but they are and, I admit, it really got me down for a few weeks.

Unfortunately, the world does not stop being a woman-hating sort of place just because I don't feel up to blogging.

Which brings me to today's topic. I am deeply disappointed and, frankly, disgusted with True Blood. I watched and enjoyed the first season. I found the portrayal of the innocent, blonde virgin waiting to be taken by the scary dark vampire to be problematic but I was willing to wait it out because the writing was pretty good and I got sucked in (no pun intended).

The second season dragged a little but it was not necessarily anti-feminist. In fact, I really liked the Maryann character because she kicked so much ass. She was, by far, the most powerful character on the show at that point and she was unapologetic about it. Sadly, she was killed off. I held out hope upon realization that the leader of all vampires was a queen. I also, really like that two of the main characters are women. And of course Lafayette is endlessly amusing.

There is a lot to like about the show. It is complex and unafraid to delve into social issues.

Lately, though, there has also been a lot to dislike. I went in to the third season very hopeful because the second had culminated so dramatically. All of the season's loose ends were tied up and a few new cliff hangers were introduced. The introduction of werewolves this season has brought with it an astonishing amount of sexual violence. Perhaps the increased ratings, the increased need to titillate, to top the previous over-the-top seasons, has caused writers and producers to find sexual violence to be a vital plot device but it is finally getting to be too much for this feminist.

The second episode of the third season ended with a brutal rape scene between Bill and his maker Lorena. The opening if the third episode leads viewers to believe that Lorena actually quite enjoyed the brutal rape, which included Bill twisting her head all the way around. (You can see it here if you are so inclined but please do not take my serious trigger warning lightly.) If she were human he would surely have broken her neck. I get the feeling that if they were human in the show, this would never have been allowed to air. Bill would have raped the woman to death and I can only hope that we are still in a place were that isn't considered great television. Since they are vampires and she supposedly likes it, it not only airs, but is critically acclaimed!

I stopped watching after that episode but I was goaded by friends to give it another chance, I was assured that it got better. So finally last night I endeavored to watch more of the third season. I was rewarded with another scene of brutal sexual assault and more violence than I personally care to see. The werewolf bar scene featured a young woman having her clothing ripped off and then her flesh torn open (I looked away at that point so I am not quite sure what happened next, but it was bloody). Again, this is called sexy by many viewers and television critics.

Another great example of how sexy = sexual violence on True Blood is the fact that the redheaded baby vampire, Jessica, is a perpetual virgin and experiences pain and injury every single time she has sex.

Sex with vampires on this show is always a mix of pain and pleasure, as if pain is essential to pleasure. The person in pain is usually a woman and there is NOTHING revolutionary or edgy about that. I don't know how often I have to say it.

I think my friend David says it pretty well:

"I've been saying this since I was halfway through season 1....everybody hates me for it. By the finale of season 2, I've come to this conclusion: men are murdered because they're threats...women because they're expendable.... I refuse to watch season 3."

And in case you are thinking that sexual violence isn't intended to be taken as a joke, remember that producer Alan Ball calls all of this "fun." He wanted to do something light after Six Feet Under. I wish he hadn't. I enjoyed Six Feet Under a lot, this is just blatant violence against women as entertainment wrapped in a 'sexy' vampire shell.


Monday, June 21, 2010

My Two Cents

Well readers, it is my birthday and what better way to spend the day than discussing the insidious marriage of racism and sexism?

I expect by now all of you have heard about the incident in Seattle in which a young woman was punched in the face by a police officer and some bystander caught the whole sordid event on videotape. Here is said video:



And here is the first article I read about it from Komo News. Don't read the comments there, seriously. It is not a productive endeavor.

There is not much I can say that hasn't been said about about this already. Melissa at Shakesville wrote a good piece about it and the comments section there is also a must read. They did a great job of weeding out trolls and racists and I think the discussion was really interesting. Today I also read a great piece by Latoya at Racialicious. She noted something that I mentioned in an argument with a friend about this as well.

As a teacher in a Chicago Public School, I often faced students who were angry with me or in general, I often saw students behave in ways that were out of control and there were even times when I feared for my own safety. I once had a student get in my face and scream at me that she hated me. But it never, ever crossed my mind to hit this child. Even though she was as tall as me and probably stronger and even though she looked like she might hit me, I never touched her. Teachers cannot hit their students. It is not permitted. Even when a student might well hurt you or did touch you, you cannot hit a student.

As Latoya said, this is because of the power dynamic that is at play in a school, especially one where all of the students are black and many of the teachers are white. This makes it even more vitally important that teachers never hurt their students. How is a student to learn, to feel safe and supported, in an environment where their physical safety is threatened by the very people put there to protect them? The answer is that they don't and that is why teachers must not use violence in their classrooms.

This same sort of logic is somehow absent when it comes to police protection. The people that I have argued so fiercely with about this incident believe that the officer had some sort of right to protect himself but they fail to recognize that he had all of the power in this situation, he could have done many things to deescalate this situation and he chose not to. He chose not to call for back up when he was surrounded by people who were seemingly hostile. He chose not to just let it go because he wasn't equipped to handle it alone. A friend argued that if he let it go others would think it is okay to jaywalk, to which I say, fine. He was not equipped to do much else and the girls (and yes, they were girls, 19 and 17) did not pose a danger to anyone. They had committed a minor traffic violation and did not possess any weapons.

I understand this girl's immediate apprehension about being stopped by an officer in the first place and her desire to flee, that is what Latoya discussed so well in her piece.
"Police are all over the city, but are reluctant to respond to crime calls in certain precincts…it’s a recipe for mistrust. In order for the police to do the best work in our communities, the relationships cannot be adversarial. Harassing people over non-violent offenses (like the jaywalking charge that led to the punching situation) is a bad use of that discretion, and one that erodes community trust."
We are in bad shape when the people who are hired by the community to protect said community are inflicting harm like this onto certain citizens at their "discretion" in the name of protection. Who was this officer protecting?

Alas, all of this has been said in the links I provided. What I really wanted to talk about here is the sexual undertone of this exchange. I brought it up in the comments section at Shakesville and I wasn't sure if it was just me, maybe I am too sensitive, maybe I look for things, etc. But others noticed it too.

That he punched her in the face is bad enough, it is obviously violent and totally uncalled for. Police have much better ways of restraining people. What bothered me just as much is the way he threw the other girl back onto the cop car and pressed himself on her, she managed to wriggle herself free and he held her arms back and groped her body to the point of actually pulling her shirt up and exposing her bra. And as bad is when he threw her down on the police car with his crotch pressed firmly against her bottom and held her down as she struggled. You could see the fear and terror on her face as this escalated and she could not get him to stop touching her. It did not look to me like she was trying to hurt him, only that she was trying to get out of his grip.

Her pleas to get him to stop touching her fell on deaf ears. The overall effect was eerily similar to sexual assault. I am sure plenty of people will say that was not his intention, I believe he might even say he was not attempting to be sexual with her, but the video does not lie and I know what I saw. I think that video would be incredibly triggering to victims of sexual assault and I can very clearly see why.

Black bodies have a long history of exploitation at the hands of white bodies. I am left to wonder would this police officer have felt it appropriate to touch, manhandle even, the bodies of two white women in broad daylight with camera-wielding witnesses? I know that if he had touched me the way he touched her I would have reacted the exact same way. I cringe at the thought of being touched that way. I am so deeply sad for that girl because I can imagine all too well what that is like.

And as this was happening how many other women and men were standing there, not in any way posing a treat to this officer, idly watching as this woman was, in my estimation, being sexually harassed and physically assaulted at the hands of someone who is supposed to be protecting her. I would like to point out again, because it hasn't been done enough, that this is a child in the eyes of the law. She is 17 years old, she cannot vote, she cannot buy cigarettes, she cannot do a whole lot of things without her parents' permission and yet this officer didn't see fit to adjust his behavior or perhaps try a more age appropriated tactic (not that what he did is appropriate at any age).

I am reminded of a story a co-worker once told me. She was hanging around outside with some friends when she was a teenager. A police officer approached them to tell them to stop loitering. Being teenagers, they were less than acquiescent, so the officer grabbed her, pushed her against the police car and threatened to arrest her. She immediately started sobbing because she was afraid and she had done nothing wrong. The officer felt badly about it and let her go. That story was just one of many I have heard from friends, co-workers and classmates that just remind me constantly that the police represent something very different to black people than they do to white people; this video is just further evidence.

I think that anyone who wants to be a police officer should have to take the Implicit Association Test first.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Can You Spot What's Missing?

I was just looking for some statistics on the RAINN website and I noticed that something was missing. They provide a lot of useful information including a breakdown of victims of sexual assault by gender and age, a list of effects of sexual assault on victims and society, the frequency with which assaults happen and with which they are reported and then the provide information about rapists.

Here is what they provide:

Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.
73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
28% are an intimate.
7% are a relative.

He's not Hiding in the Bushes

More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occured within 1 mile of their home or at their home.

  • 4 in 10 take place at the victim's home.
  • 2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
  • 1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.

43% of rapes occur between 6:00pm and midnight.

  • 24% occur between midnight and 6:00am.
  • The other 33% take place between 6:00am and 6:00pm.

The Criminal

  • The average age of a rapist is 31 years old.
  • 52% are white.
  • 22% of imprisoned rapists report that they are married.
  • Juveniles accounted for 16% of forcible rape arrestees in 1995 and 17% of those arrested for other sex offenses.
  • In 1 in 3 sexual assaults, the perpetrator was intoxicated — 30% with alcohol, 4% with drugs.
  • In 2001, 11% of rapes involved the use of a weapon — 3% used a gun, 6% used a knife, and 2 % used another form of weapon.
  • 84% of victims reported the use of physical force only.
Rapists are more likely to be a serial criminal than a serial rapist.

46% of rapists who were released from prison were re-arrested within 3 years of their release for another crime.

  • 18.6% for a violent offense.
  • 14.8% for a property offense.
  • 11.2% for a drug offense.
  • 20.5% for a public-order offense.

They do say "he is not hiding in the bushes" but that is the ONLY reference they make to gender. They were very interested in gender when it came to victims but that information is strikingly absent when it came time to discuss perpetrators. They mention the age of perpetrators, the race and even the marital status but not the gender!

I came to the site looking for information on how how often women commit rape to compare to how often men commit rape. That information cannot be found. If someone else has that information (or can find it elsewhere on this site) please do let me know.

I do not wish to castigate RAINN, I think they do amazing, necessary work. I just wonder why they left that rather important, even crucial, detail out? I believe that they assume that we will assume that the perpetrator is a man. It is such a commonly understood fact that men rape and women are raped that it goes without saying on one of the best resources for victims and researchers alike. So entrenched are we in rape culture that we do not even need to be told that men are the most likely offenders even on a website dedicated to providing statistics about those very crimes. But beyond that, it misses an important opportunity to highlight assaults committed by non-typical offenders like women against women and women against men and in so doing, erases the experiences of those victims.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

All too often, seemingly well intentioned people create anti-sexual assault or anti-harassment ad campaigns that just don't get it. Like this one. And in case you don't get why that campaign is ineffectual and has the potential to cause more harm, read this post.

That being said, I really like this new ad campaign airing in Wales. It is right on because it depicts the damage that repeated harassment causes. One comment, one grope, one stare, one catcall; they all seem like no big deal. But as I have said repeatedly, women live in a state of constant terror because we deal with those seemingly little things constantly throughout our ENTIRE LIVES. And beyond that, they contribute to a culture that does not respect women as full human beings who have a right to not be assaulted.