Are Rape Jokes Ever Funny?

Like many of my friends, I am sick to death of being told that I have no sense of humor because I don’t find jokes about rape funny. I wanted to take a moment to clarify, once and for all, why jokes about rape are (generally) not funny. The best way to do that is by focusing, first, on the exception to the rule…

Click to watch The Daily Show: V-Jay Day

This clip from the Daily Show, that uses the word rape several times, is  incredibly funny (and thank goodness for that, because the source comments are so horrendous that I need Jon Stewart’s sarcasm to restore my faith in humanity just a bit.) This clip is funny because the butt of the joke is not the survivors of rape, it is the people who make light of rape and belittle survivors to make a political point.

Not funny? Jokes that make the SURVIVOR or the act itself, the punchline. For example…

The other day, through comments of a post on xoJane (a website that has published some POWERFUL posts about rape), I am directed to one of the editor’s twitter feeds. On her twitter is a rape joke that she tweeted the day before:

Here’s an article about the assault that this joke refers to. The woman in question was robbed, sexually assaulted, and then had her life and the lives of her loved ones threatened if she dared to report the crime. The LAST thing this woman needs, on top of everything else, is people joking about how she probably ENJOYED her rape. 

THIS joke is not funny. As someone who has spent countless hours supporting rape survivors I will never, ever be able to find a joke funny if the punchline is at the expense of the survivor of an assault.

Jon Stewart’s piece is funny because the punchline is making fun of the ridiculous individual who claimed that military women were being raped “too much” (as opposed to “just enough” rape?) In this context the idea of rape is seen as abhorrent, unacceptable, awful… as it ought to be.

In the instance of this tweet, however, the survivor of the rape is the joke.  This belittles the experiences of real survivors by telling them that their assault is funny and, therefore, their pain is invalid. This is what makes it so hard for people to feel empowered to report their rapes in our society. This is what empowers rapists to hurt people, secure in the knowledge that their crime will likely not be taken seriously at all. This is what makes me sick to my stomach.

So maybe I frown just a little more often than people who don’t care about rape jokes… I’d still rather frown than hurt another human being with my laughter.

Reclaiming Columbus Day for Social Justice!

I wrote this post for the Ramapo College Women’s Center blog but I wanted to share it here too!

For most people today is Columbus Day, but not for me. After reading about the atrocities committed by Columbus and his men in James Lowen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me I can no longer acknowledge the day in good conscience.

Despite my lack of aptitude when it comes to history, for the past ten years or so I have had some awareness of the fact that Columbus Day was a really crummy holiday. I mean, thinking about it logically it is easy to understand that Columbus didn’t discover anything, he simply took over a patch of land that was already inhabited by various groups of people. With this understanding I spent many years ambivalent, not thrilled about the reasoning behind the holiday but enjoying my day off all the same. Now, however, I am outraged. This excerpt from a post on commondreams.org is lengthy, but it sums up the horrible history behind Columbus’ expedition to the “New World” very well. It is a history that I, like many of my peers, was woefully unaware of until just a few weeks ago.

“If you fly over the country of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, the island on which Columbus landed, it looks like somebody took a blowtorch and burned away anything green. Even the ocean around the port capital of Port au Prince is choked for miles with the brown of human sewage and eroded topsoil. From the air, it looks like a lava flow spilling out into the sea. The history of this small island is, in many ways, a microcosm for what’s happening in the whole world. When Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492, virtually the entire island was covered by lush forest. The Taino “Indians” who loved there had an apparently idyllic life prior to Columbus, from the reports left to us by literate members of Columbus’s crew such as Miguel Cuneo. When Columbus and his crew arrived on their second visit to Hispaniola, however, they took captive about two thousand local villagers who had come out to greet them. Cuneo wrote: “When our caravels were to leave for Spain, we gathered one thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495. For those who remained, we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the island’s fort) in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount desired, which was done.” Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful teenage Carib girl as his personal slave, a gift from Columbus himself, but that when he attempted to have sex with her, she “resisted with all her strength.” So, in his own words, he “thrashed her mercilessly and raped her.” While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as cannibals, a story made up by Columbus – which is to this day still taught in some US schools – to help justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people. He wrote to the Spanish monarchs in 1493: “It is possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sell Here there are so many of these slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as good as gold.” Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves: it was a common reward for Columbus’ men for him to present them with local women to rape. As he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the sex-slave trade became an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote to a friend in 1500: “A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand.”

In order to draw attention to the controversy over this “holiday” at Ramapo Professor Gorewitz planned a “campus takeover to appreciate Native Americans.” This is the schedule for the day:

9:45 – Gathering
10:00 – Greetings from representatives of the Ojibwa and Lenape Communities
10:15 to 11:30 – Trudell by Heather Rae
11:30 to 1:00 – Powwow Highway, directed by Jonathan Wacks
1:00 to 2:00 – Drum Circle
2:00 to 3:30 – Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre
4:00 to 6:00 – The Business of Fancy Dancing, written and directed by Sherman Alexie

I’m in class and meetings for most of the day, but I did manage to jump back and forth between Ramapo Coming Out Day (more about that in another post) and the Drum Circle! The drum circle was lead by a Native American man* who spoke for awhile about the significance of the various instruments before leading the circle in a beat for a little while. * [Because I came in late, I missed where exactly he was from but we should all be aware that “Native American culture” is not a monolithic thing. Someone I spoke to told me the man was from Wisconsin, so I suspect he is Ojibwa based on the program and the fact that there is an Ojibwa reservation in Wisconsin. ]

In addition to the film festival, there has also been a petition going around to change Ramapo’s name for the day to it’s Native American spelling, Ramapough. This is the part of the event that resonates with me most, since so few people on this campus realize that there is a Native American tripe, the Ramapough Lenape people, living not twenty minutes from Ramapo’s campus. Even fewer people realize that the Ramapough Lenape people’s health and livlihood has been compromised for years now, at the hands of Ford Motors:

In 1983, the Ramapough homeland was declared an EPA-monitored Superfund site by the federal government. After 7,000 cubic yards and 727 tons of paint sludge and 61 drums of toxic waste was removed from the Upper Ringwood, New Jersey site from 1987 to 1990, and in 1994, the EPA delisted the site and declared it safe. In 2006, after many complaints by the Ramapough, Upper Ringwood was the first site in history re-declared a Superfund site and today the EPA admits that 80 percent of the toxins were missed in the original cleanup.

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Context is Everything

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that Donald Trump is a terrible businessman, a ridiculous politician, and just not a good person… I have been addicted to The Celebrity Apprentice this season. The Next Great Restaurant (and my enduring love of terrible reality television) already had me watching NBC on Sunday nights and, before I knew it, I was tuning in to the Celebrity Apprentice each week too. It’s a terrible show that rarely makes sense (why was tonight’s episode three hours long?!) but I enjoy the mental vacation it allows me to take so I continue to watch week after week.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I have a few things to say about tonight’s episode.

After losing their challenge this week Star Jones, Marlee Matlin, and Meatloaf were sent outside so that Trump could consult with his two advisers. While outside, Meatloaf and Star continued the argument they had been having in the boardroom. When addressing Star during this conversation (which was not friendly or positive in any way) Meatloaf called Star Jones sweetie. I immediately cringed when this happened, and I am so happy to say that T did as well, because we both recognized how condescending this interaction was.

Upon watching this my mind immediatley jumped back in time, to the job that I was working two summers ago. One day a Professor came in and needed help using the stapler, so I showed him how to do it. He most likely felt embarrassed that he needed help using the stapler, because once he was done he made sure to throw a big, “Thanks sweetheart!” in there. Now, I know this is one of those scenarios where I’m going to have people coming out of the woodwork to call me an angry, humorless feminist for being annoyed by this… but I was. In that context, with the tone that was used, sweetheart felt like a tiny reminder that I was still somehow beneath him. Even though I had just taught him how to use the stapler.

Maybe if I had known this man I would have felt differently.

Maybe if our interaction hadn’t been one that threatened his authority (just a little bit) by making him look silly, I would have felt differently.

Maybe if there were any kind of equivalent to this type of comment that men regularly deal with, I would have felt differently.

But as this situation stands, I was left (just a little bit) annoyed, feeling like I had witnessed another (tiny) instance of sexism that plays into the web of  (just slightly) frustrating events that build and build and build into the brick wall that is oppression.

The scenario on the Celebrity Apprentice was much less ambiguous than mine. Honey, sweetie, dear, darling… these terms of endearment are all lovely when used properly, in the right context. An argument, however? That is not the context. Meatloaf knew this, on some level, because in an argument when someone calls you sweetie the implication is calm down you silly sweet thing, you’re getting all riled up for nothing. Isn’t it?

A random tweet on the episode: Star Jones wanna get mad at Meatloaf calling her “sweetie” but they done called you “fat”, “turkey neck”, and “payless queen” before?

Clearly, the way to render feminism obsolete is to take the glass ceiling down and use it to replace all doors with automatically opening glass doors!

To me, honestly, sweetie is the most frustrating out of all of these. Why? Because other people will acknowledge that being called fat, or turkey neck, or payless queen is insulting. Getting people to acknowledge  that referring to you by a term of endearment when you are not close, and not happy with one another in that moment is not okay is a very difficult task, as we saw in this week’s board room. Trump layed into Star for being frustrated by this exchange, but still she stood her ground and ultimately got fired (for other reasons).

I feel the same way about the persistent door opening trope. If you’re opening the door for me because you got there first, or I was carrying something big and you’d like to be courteous… that’s awesome! Despite what you’ve been told about angry feminists, I am not going to get mad at you for helping me out regardless of your sex/gender identity. What frustrates me is the assumption that men must open doors, carry things, pay, etc. for women because women are the weaker sex and men are the providers.

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Does the Wage Gap Matter Anymore?

This editorial posted recently in the Wall Street Journal made me wonder, along with many other bloggers.

Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.

Upon reading this I didn’t know how to feel. Part of me was hopeful that this really was true because that would mean one less battle left for the feminist movement.

That hope was quickly dashed, however, as I remembered the chart that I had helped to make for the last Pay for your Privilege Bake Sale I had helped to run at my college: the wage gap doesn’t just exist across gender lines, its also firmly in place across lines of race, sexuality, and gender expression. Even if Carrie Lukas was right, and there was no longer a gap between men and women’s earnings, what were the chances that the wage-gap in regards to race/sexuality/gender expression had also gone away? (Not very high apparently.)

So there is still a problem but maybe, just maybe, there really isn’t a male/female wage gap anymore and that fight can at least be dropped. I was hopeful, yes, but another, bigger, part of me was doubtful… so I did what any good critical thinker would do: I went looking for that data myself.

Lukas’s first claim is as follows…

The Department of Labor’s Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.

I trust this analysis more than Lukas’ because this one actually includes a chart so that I can see the data, instead of making claims. The New York Times piece reveals that time actually does play into the wage gap, but not in the way Carrie Lukas claims…

As you can see, among workers who work at least 40 hours a week, men still significantly out-earn women.

But as soon as you drop below that 40-hour-a-week mark, the reverse happens: Most women make more than men who work equivalent hours, with the exception of workers who put in fewer than five hours a week.

Now this data is also flawed, as it does not control for the type of job worked nor does it have an even number of data points per category, only the number of hours, but it still casts some doubt onto the WSJ article in my mind. The NYT author hypothesizes that, since men are more likely to work full-time jobs it would make sense that they would be more likely to out-earn women when the hours were longer.

Lukas’ second claim is as follows:

Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.

Now this I found suspect, for a few reasons. First of all: to claim that women” gravitate” towards jobs that are more comfortable/less risky/etc. is at least a little bit disingenuous. Sure, plenty of women purposefully choose jobs that have these qualities, but there are also plenty of women who want to be lawyers, or doctors, or contractors, or other less convenient more stereotypically “masculine” jobs who face an incredibly tough road simply based off of their sex. If you’re constantly facing the assumption that you are less fit for your job, based solely off of the reproductive organs you posses, it stands to reason that you’d be more likely to give up and choose a career path with less struggle involved. Simply put: women (and men) don’t make decisions in a vacuum – since gendered expectations are a part of our every day lives, it stands to reason that this particular piece of social conditioning would play some role in the options that we perceive available to us and, thus, pursue.

Beyond that though, I have no idea where she is getting these numbers because she didn’t cite a single source.

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Successfully Confronting Privilege – Is It Even Possible?

I feel intellectually paralyzed today,  unable to write. Part of it is the ongoing coverage of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani [the link has information and a petition you can sign!] an Iranian woman facing death because she was accused of having an affair. Part of it is the new Time Magazine cover everyone on the blogs that I read is talking about. I want to write about what’s going on, obviously, because these are human rights issues that demand attention… but I honestly don’t know where to begin. As someone who has never lived in a society like that in Iran or Afghanistan, how can I even begin to speak about it? I’m not qualified. All I can do is read and hope that things get better; and by better I mean better based on what the women in these countries want, not necessarily based on Western standards and ideas of liberation.

Closer to home, part of my paralysis is the weight of the discussion that I participated in yesterday (mostly as a listener) at a Diversity Panel  at my college. As person after person brought up the challenges that they have faced as people of color or members of the queer community I felt my mind being blown over and over again. At first I was compelled to speak out, to make it known that although many white students at the school are clearly ignorant or just downright hateful, we were not all like that, I’m not like that… that instinct lingered for a few moments as I forced myself to remember, as I have many times,  this isn’t about me. The discomfort I was feeling was a tiny thing compared to the discomfort that many of my peers, sitting in this circle with me, face on a daily basis. My discomfort was voluntary, a result of confronting my privilege; their discomfort was not a choice, but rater a function of the same privilege that has allowed me to be ignorant for so long.

Basically: it was time to shut up and listen and learn just a small bit of what the classrooms we share look and feel like for some of my fellow classmates. I don’t know exactly what to do with this new knowledge just yet, but for now it’s enough to hold it and let it continue to create that discomfort in me so that I am constantly reminded that SOMETHING has to be done, so that I can’t just back down and hide yet again.

Finally, on a personal level, part of the paralysis stems from the silencing nature of fear; the fear of saying something wrong, something unintentionally offensive, something that makes me look stupid. Still, letting that fear silence me means letting my ignorance win and never growing, so I’ll write and talk and try to learn something.

I have confronted privilege before, but not very well. Sometimes I creep up on it, and talk a good game for awhile… but always I feel as if I am left standing there, unable to move, because what comes next after calling it out? Too often I feel as if I try to gloss over this issue and ignore it because I hate the way in which my privilege effects my activism, I hide from it rather than calling it to the center of my mind because being forced to stare it down leaves me confused and useless.

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What’s Wrong With “Normalizing” Teen Pregnancy?

Forever 21′s New Maternity Line Makes Teen Pregnancy Normal,” an article from the Ms. Magazine blog, makes me feel more than just a little bit uncomfortable. Here’s a short excerpt:

How about information on pregnancy options, counseling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes. The U.S. ranks number one among industrialized nations for teen pregnancy, and just 12th worldwide for post-secondary degree completion. Linda Chang, Forever 21′s senior marketing manager, can claim they’re simply trying to appeal to a new demographic, and not exploiting the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S., but the point is that a 20-something model in maternity clothes isn’t even shocking anymore. It’s an integral part of the “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” model that F21 has founded its business on. It doesn’t matter who’s shopping, only that they’re buying. […]

As a company whose audience is made up mostly of girls under 24, Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm. How about we offer proper sex ed to American youth? How about we talk about what it’s really like to be a mom–the money it takes, the time it takes, the effects on a young woman’s body–instead of making teen pregnancy a mere fact of life in the US with shows like 16 and Pregnant?

First of all, no amount of trendy clothing is going to change people’s perceptions of pregnant teenagers. Pregnant teenagers are still going to have to deal with the silent and vocal judgment, stares, and so on that we get glimpses of on shows like 16 and Pregnant. This sucks and if normalizing teen pregnancy means removing that judgment and stigmatization that these young women face then I am all for it… but I don’t see how a few more clothing options can do all of that.

Life is not a zero-sum game. Providing maternity clothing aimed towards young women is not going to somehow cut down on the amount of time and resources that schools, families, and other community resources put towards educating teenagers about safer sex practices. True, Forever21 is not hosting resources on their website or giving away condoms with purchases (though these are both cool ideas that came out of the Ms. blog article, and it’d be awesome to see Forever 21 implement them.) Still, I’d argue that this line has actually done something fairly decent by bringing more visibility to pregnant teenagers and inspiring news agencies to focus on the issue of teen pregnancy.

Wanting to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies does not require stigmatizing the young women who get pregnant. All stigmatization does is hurt women and make their pregnancies harder than pregnancy already is… that doesn’t seem like a very feminist goal to me at all. In fact, this whole thing just reeks of the kind of logic that feminist blogs have taken issue with time and time again when it’s leveled towards plus-sized clothing retailers accused of “normalizing” obesity.

Back to the topic at hand: this one comment, from user Nectarine, on the Ms. Blog provides some insight that I cannot give, and does a good job of summing up my feelings on this issue.

As a woman who WAS pregant at 19/20, I can tell you it would have been great to buy some maternity clothes that looked like my normal clothes, and that were in an affordable price range.

However, the fact that I was uncomfortably and unfashionably dressed did not make me regret being pregnant. I wanted my baby, and at 20, I was a capable young mother – NOT a teenage suffering from lack of education about my choices.

This post really missed the mark.

If Forever 21 wants to provide pregnant teenagers with familiar, comfortable clothing options, thus, making their pregnancy a bit less stressful… where exactly is the problem with that? Am I missing something?

** After this post was made the title of the piece was changed to “Forever 21′s Maternity Line: What About Corporate Responsibility?” I just want to make it clear that the title I referenced above was not written by me, rather, it was the original title of the piece (as evidenced by the URL where the piece is still located.)

Feminist-Friendly Summer TV

Today’s post is going to be a happy one to offset the fact that it is Monday (worse than that, it’s a Monday that I had to get up extra early to have blood drawn for some tests before work.) I write a lot about TV shows, movies, and other forms of media that I find problematic, but I rarely write about the shows I love. Here’s a quick list of awesome feminist-friendly TV. Please, feel free to throw your own recommendations up in the comments!

Huge is my new favorite show on television right now. I didn’t have high hopes for this show at first, but I was tentatively excited for a show that revolved around a cast of fat teenagers because it theoretically meant that we might be seeing realistic three-dimensional fat characters on TV for a change. The show has had it’s hiccups but for the most part it has been nuanced, realistic, and honestly entertaining for the first few episodes. It airs on Mondays at 9pm on ABC family. The most recent episode can be viewed on Hulu, or you can just read the awesome recaps on Fatshionista (they honestly may be more enjoyable than the show itself!)

King of the Hill. I HATED this show for no good reason up until T and I ended up watching it one night last year, for lack of anything else to do. I’ve been hooked ever since. The show conveys so many good messages, but it does so in an incredibly funny way and it never seems preachy. For instance, Hank and Peggy’s relationship is a true partnership; Peggy is pretty much a feminist and Hank totally supports her desires to work outside of the home and have ambitions. Even when she does things that he disagrees with (like teaching Sex Ed.) Hank supports her. The show features many strong female characters, but it goes beyond that in terms of feminism. My favorite episode, The Peggy Horror Picture Show, centers around Peggy Hill meeting a drag queen named Caroline while shopping for shoes at a specialty store because her feet are too big for most women’s shoes. Peggy and Caroline quickly become good friends but Peggy doesn’t realize Caroline is a drag queen [I say drag-queen instead of transgender person here because, from what I recall, that’s how she identified in the show], while Caroline assumes Peggy is a drag queen herself. This episode manages to depict the drag lifestyle in a favorable and humanizing light – it doesn’t make drag into a punchline at all, instead, it educates while being entertaining. King of the Hill airs weeknights at 10pm, 10:30pm, 2:00am, and 2:30am on Cartoon Network and weeknights at 1:00am, and 1:30am on Fox.

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