On Louis CK, Rape Culture, & ALMOST “Getting It”

Its been awhile since I’ve blogged on here – life seems to keep getting in the way – but I feel compelled to put my two cents in on some recent drama. I expect most of my readers are already more than aware of the ridiculousness that got us here (click, in case you’re not) so I’m just going to jump right in…

The whole Daniel Tosh scandal honestly didn’t get me much at first because, well, look at the source… did I expect better from the man responsible for this segment, [Serious, serious, trigger warning if you click that link] making fun of an actual sexual assault caught on video? No, no I did not.

I did, however, expect better of Louis CK and of the feminist blogosphere as a whole. I’m willing to give Louis the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really didn’t realize what was going on when he tweeted Daniel Tosh, but I can’t give a pass on the rest of this.

 I am sick and tired of seeing this piece of his Daily Show interview quoted out of context:

“I think you should listen. If someone has the opposite opinion as mine, I want to hear it so I can add to mine. I don’t want to obliterate it with mine. That’s how I feel. Now, a lot of people don’t feel that way. For me, any joke about anything bad is great. That’s how I feel. Any joke about rape, the Holocaust, the Mets, whatever.

But now I’ve read some blogs about this whole thing that enlightened me to things I didn’t know. This one woman said how rape is something that polices women’s lives. They have a narrow corridor. They can’t go out late, they can’t go in certain neighborhoods, they have to dress a certain way. And that’s part of me now that wasn’t before.”

This is a great statement – something that shows growth, and insight, and… oh… there’s more? How about we read the rest of the quote:

“…But now I’ve read some blogs about this whole thing that enlightened me to things I didn’t know. This one woman said how rape is something that polices women’s lives. They have a narrow corridor. They can’t go out late, they can’t go in certain neighborhoods, they have to dress a certain way. And that’s part of me now that wasn’t before. And I can still enjoy a good rape joke so I have both now.

I’m not saying that Louis CK is a bad guy… but I have lost a decent amount of respect for him in all of this because he came so close, SO FREAKING CLOSE, to getting it… before losing it all in that last sentence. What Louis (and many many people weighing in on this) don’t seem to realize is that many people don’t have the privilege  of “having both now” and those people are the ones who are hurting right now.

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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.

Rape Culture, Moore, and Me

I’m not going to do a long post on this, because I am in the midst of moving home for winter break but I just want to publicly voice my support for every single person participating in the #MooreandMe protest. This remark by Sady Doyle, creator of the protest and awesome feminist, sums up my feelings about the  situation:

“In an early post, I said that I was more likely to believe women who report rape, including the Assange accusers, than to disbelieve them. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this one, over the past few days, and honestly? At this point, I don’t know whether Assange is guilty or not, but I’m damn sure that it doesn’t matter. Because what matters is the right of women to report crimes against them, YES EVEN THE CRIME OF RAPE, without expecting that they will be harassed, smeared, bullied, threatened with murder, having their names leaked by the media, lied about, and misrepresented until the harassment and trauma is so intense that they can’t continue their cases any more. Get that? I don’t know whether Assange is guilty. I don’t CARE whether Assange is guilty. What I care about is the media’s accountability, and ALL of our accountability, for making the world unsafe for women and rape victims who report rape and try to have a fair, reasonable trial before a jury of their peers.” [Source. Emphasis mine.]

I used to have respect for Moore and Olbermann, I even referenced the work of both men on this blog from time to time… but no more.

I am horrendously dissappointed in both individuals for willfully endangering women’s lives by spreading the names of both survivors further. It doesn’t matter that their names had been published elsewhere first, every person responsible for making sure more people know these women’s names is responsible for the harassment that is taking place.

I am also horrified at the level of misinformation Olbermann was willing to report, and that Moore was willing to perpetuate (on Olbermann’s show and elsewhere).

“Keith Olbermann provided all of his 166,533 followers with the name of one of the accusers, via link, in a Tweet that was so widely linked as to exceed even that alarmingly large number of readers and potentially dangerous people. And, yikes, okay, Keith Olbermann also repeated the spurious and unprovable allegation that the accuser (who he indirectly named, thus exposing to potential harm) worked for the CIA, which would undoubtedly rile up any potentially dangerous people reading him. And yeah, sure, Keith Olbermann mis-stated the facts of the case, alleging that consensual sex with a broken condom could be considered rape in Sweden, and not retracting this statement — which, again, reached at least 166,533 people — when it was proven false.” [Source]

ALL that we want is an apology. An acknowledgment that not correcting the misinformation you report is WRONG when you are a f*cking journalist and people are relying on your for the truth. An acknowledgment that breaking journalistic ethics and publicizing (though twitter) the names of two women who are simply trying to report a crime commited against them, thus opening these women up to threats and attacks, is wrong and was something that you shouldn’t have done. And yes, we are hoping Moore (when he finally acknowledges the “frenzy” of badass activism going on) will donate $20,000 to a charity that helps survivors of sexual assault; considering he contributed that much money to bail Assange out, this doesn’t seem like an irrational request. Essentially, we want Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore to do their jobs as journalists which includes admitting when you massively screwed up, and then taking steps to make it right instead of throwing tantrums, blocking people on twitter, or ignoring us in the hopes that we will go away (Moore is sadly silent through all of this).

The saddest part of all of this is that Moore and Olbermann are simply a small (high profile) piece of the much larger issue of victim blaming. People who survive other crimes don’t seem to deal with this sh*t. I mean, victims of robbery don’t have to wonder if they will somehow be blamed for their own victimization if they go to report. People who have been mugged don’t have to worry about their names being whispered about in their community (or raked through the media, depending on how high-profile their attacker) if they stand up for themselves and try to get justice. No other crime victim has to worry about their entire history – their employment, beliefs, sexual past, etc. –  being aired in the public sphere (not to mention in the courtroom) regardless of its relevance to the crime committed against them.

Not only has this case made two specific women’s lives much, much harder than they ought to be… but it has sent a message to millions of people who have been sexually assaulted. A message that stops far too many people from getting justice because they believe, and rightfully so, that if they are to report the crime that took place against them they’d better be ready to air out their private lives in detail. They’d better be ready to receive criticism, comments, and doubt from all angles. They’d better be ready to have their reputation called into question. They’d better be prepared for threats from the people who think their rapist is just such a nice/important/attractive/whatever person… so they clearly couldn’t have done this. They’d better be ready, essentially, to go through hell for the slim hope that maybe they can scrape together enough evidence  to get their attacker behind bars for a few years… knowing all the while that, most likely, their attacker will walk free. [Check this post out for a more  personal and in-depth look at the idea of victim blaming.]

Mr. Moore and Mr. Olbermann have contributed to a climate that silences survivors and allows rapists to walk free through their breach of journalistic ethics and common decency… this is NOT ACCEPTABLE and we’re not going away, not until these men do their d*mn jobs and make amends.

ETA: This is how it all ended!

Victim Blaming with the Best Intentions

We all know that victim blaming – like “No wonder she got raped, look at what she was wearing” – is wrong. But do we always recognize victim blaming when we see it? Recently I got into a conversation with two people who I greatly respect and admire. Over the course of this conversation they both expressed a desire to protect the women on our college campus by advising them to do things that could protect them from sexual assault like avoiding revealing clothing (because many college men, unfortunately, cannot control themselves) and keeping from drinking too much, etc.

I was shocked and incredibly unsettled to find myself disagreeing with these people who I don’t think I have ever disagreed with before… but honestly, I couldn’t help it. I understand now, as I did then, that their hearts were totally and completely in the best place possible. I understand now, as I did then, that they would never ever blame a woman for her own assault but still… their words unsettled me.  Now, two weeks later, I still find myself wrestling with the idea that we should be advising women of ways to lessen their chances of being assaulted. I honestly want to understand where these two wonderful people are coming from, and be able to agree with them… but I just don’t think I can.  Their intentions, and the intentions of everyone who makes these statements in an honest attempt to reduce rape, make me so hopeful… but I want so badly to be able to channel those beautiful intentions into something that can actually make a positive difference!

I wrote a (not so good) post about how so much of this advice is not even practical once before, when I first started this blog two years ago (!), but now I think I am ready to take it one step further to say that these statements actually go beyond being useless, and are actually harmful to the very people that the people who make them are trying to help.

Let’s take a generic well meaning helping statement as an example:

“Many men are pigs and simply can’t/won’t control themselves, which is why it’s important to help women to defend themselves by not dressing in a way that it overly provocative.” (On top of everything else, it makes me sad that people have such low opinions/expectations from men. I,for one, expect a bit more!)

A woman listening to this may feel empowered. She might leave that room thinking that she is safe because now she knows how to make “wise” choices, how to not attract the attention of rapists. That woman may never stop feeling empowered, she may live her life repeating this advice to friends and family members that she loves, maybe even pulling out news stories about women who were less careful, less prepared in order to learn from their mistakes. She could go her whole life feeling safe and powerful thanks to that advice.

Unless she gets raped, and she very well might because the sad and sorry truth is that rape prevention advice aimed at women does not work.

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A Pathetic Excuse for a Blog Post

I’ve taken a tiny break from blogging because I have 15+ hours of work a week, plus 12 hours of class, and a whole day of commuting to NYC to intern with the Margaret Sanger Papers Project… very simply put there is no time for me to blog here anymore. Luckily for me (and you!) blogging is an integral part of what I am getting paid/getting credits to do this semester! I’ll continue to cross-post anything I write for the Ramapo College Women’s Center Blog here. Also, feel free to check out the posts that I’ve started writing with the Margaret Sanger Papers Project… they’re a very different style because my writing in the past has not been nearly as academic/history based, but I am loving the chance to expand and adapt to a different style of blogging!

On a completley unrelated note, I want to direct you to read a particular post at Angry Feminist Doc in which the author lists out all of the ridiculous ways that women are blamed for their own sexual assaults. This is a list I have actually started myself many times, and simply not been able to finish due to time/emotions/etc. Her’s is way more detailed than my half-finished drafts anyways!

“Sometimes” does not give rape culture enough credit. “Sometimes” underestimates the ways in which rape culture diminishes sexual assaults and holds survivors responsible for them. They were drinking, they don’t get someone to “watch them”, they “[sit] on people’s laps”, they are crazy and on anti-psychotic drugs, they walk home alone at night, they walk home alone in the afternoon, they leave alone and may even announce that they are leaving alone, they wear skinny jeans, they wear bikinis, they’re “scantily-clad”, they are seductive and look like adults, they consent to other forms of sexual activity, they initially consented to this sexual activity, they have fantasies about group sex, they are prison inmates, they are married to their rapist’s brother, they regularly frequent the location at which they are later raped, they “failed to exercise due care for [their] own safety and the safety of [their] children and proper use of [their] senses and facilities“, they are sex workers, they may “visit footballers’ hotel rooms late at night“, they do not behave like “virtuous women“, they do not “dress properly“, they are “not really women”, they reported their rape and it didn’t result in convictions, they shoplift, they form a legally binding “sexual partnership”, they had not formed a legally binding sexual partnership, they fight back, they don’t fight back, they are “known for sleeping around, smoking weed, throwing wild parties, stealing liquor from her parents, getting drunk, giving liquor to neighborhood teens, participating in orgies, performing oral sex, engaging in group sex, gay sex, public sex and cyber sex“, they were DRUNKWHORESLUTTHEYDESERVEDIT.

I have a million things I want to write, as soon as I find the energy so I hope you’ll keep checking back!

“Nobody Asks to be Raped, Ever.”

This PSA from Rape Crisis Scotland is great! I don’t really have much else to say, it’s pretty straightforward, but I wish we could see more campaigns like this everywhere.

The information supplied with the video on youtube is also very well done. Here’s an excerpt:

“The advert was launched on Monday 28 June, and was broadcast for the first time that night during coverage of Brazil’s World Cup match. It will continue to be shown over the next 9 weeks on STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

[…]

Recent research reveals that almost one in five Scots believe a woman is partially to blame for being raped if she is wearing revealing clothing – a survey of 1,040 Scots carried out by Cello MRUK in February 2010 for the Scottish Government found that:
• 23 per cent think a woman can be at least partly responsible if she is drunk at the time of the attack
• 17 per cent thought that a woman bore some responsibility if she wore revealing clothing
• 15 per cent say there should be some burden of responsibility for rape if the women is flirting
• 8 per cent think rape can be the woman’s fault if she is known to have had many sexual partners

These attitudes can make it difficult for women to speak out about being raped, because of fear of being blamed for what has happened. There are also significant concerns about the impact these attitudes might have on rape survivors’ ability to access justice, in terms of attitudes which jury members might hold.

Although many people genuinely believe they wouldn’t judge a rape victim by what they wear, how drunk they were, or if they had been flirting all night, they often actually do; particularly when sitting as a juror in court. Not Ever wants to prompt people to keep their judgments in check and to remember that there’s only one person who is responsible for rape and it’s not the victim. It doesn’t matter what you wear, how many sexual partners you’ve had, or if you’re out getting drunk with friends – no one deserves to be raped – ever.”

Check out the campaign’s website, facebook, and twitter for more information!

Avoiding Rape: Basics of Consent

I’m writing this post out because I’ve wanted something like this to exist for a while. Here’s a quick primer on how to make sure that the sexual activities you engage in (from kissing all the way to wherever your dirty mind can take you) are consensual. I don’t mean this to be condescending at all – I honestly believe that, in a world where consent is rarely taught in detail, posts like this are necessary to educate people on what it looks like and how to obtain it because, honestly, so many of us don’t know.  So, here we go, let’s learn how to avoid rape by learning how to avoid being a rapist!

Part One: What Consent Looks Like

Consent in Positive Terms: All participants are of a sound state of mind, unaltered by drugs and alcohol. There is no power dynamic between them that would influence anyone’s decisions about what they feel comfortable engaging in. All parties express enthusiastic, vocal consent. All parties engage in any activities with the understanding that, at any point during they interaction, they are free to bring things to a stop for any reason without suffering any negative consequences. [My own definition, based on various legal codes, common sense, and a fair bit of optimism about human kind.]

To put it more simply, everyone involved should be enthusiastically involved because that’s how they really feel, not because any substance or relationship is messing with their thoughts.

How to Have Consensual Sexual Interactions
(Applicable for any and all sexual encounters –  from kissing to the stuff you don’t discuss in “polite” company!)

Step One: Make sure your partner(s) aren’t drunk/drugged/feeling threatened. If they are not then move on to step two.

Step Two: Ask if your partner(s) are consenting. This can be done in a formal way, or in an informal (even sexy) way. Tell them what you’d like to do, ask them how they feel about it… use your imagination, consent can be fun! If everyone is on board, move on to step three.

Step Three: Have a good time!

These guidelines may seem like a buzz-kill to some but, you know what? I don’t really care. Decent people realize that being a bit inconvenienced when attempting to have sex is worth it, when that inconvenience is preventing rape.

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Part Two: What Consent DOES NOT Look Like

Now that we know what consent looks like and how to go about obtaining it, let’s look at situations that (very often) are looked at as acceptable or borderline and see if they actually are 100% guaranteed sexual-assault free.

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