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.

SAY NO to the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”

I haven’t written about this yet because I am just so f*cking angry that I see red every time I try to even think, let alone write or speak, about the GOP’s attempt to redefine rape.

I am speaking of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. A bill that, “seeks to revamp the current allowances for victims of rape or incest to use government funds to pay for abortions. Instead, the bill aims to limit the rape exemption to cases of “forcible rape.” Also, the bill would make it so that federal funds would only cover abortions in cases of incest if the woman is younger than 18-years-old.”

This act is terrifying because it leaves out women who are coerced into drinking too much and losing control, or blackmailed into having sex, or tricked, or are just too paralyzed by fear to even speak let alone put up a fight… but it is also terrifying because many times even rape achieved through plain old brute force does not qualify as forcible rape in our legal system. Sometimes, even if a woman says no and the rapist acknowledges on the stand that he heard her say no… well, that’s still not rape because she didn’t fight back hard enough (maybe because she was afraid of being beaten on top of being raped, or because she is paralyzed by fear? Just sayin.) The Republican party would have us believe that this woman hadn’t been raped, even though she was forced to have sex that she didn’t want to have and had to go through the same emotional responses and struggle that any other rape survivor has to deal with… how is this okay? Its not. It wasn’t when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court levied this decision in 1994, and its no more okay today in 2011.

There’s only one thing to say: we can’t let them do this.

When I think about this bill I don’t think about it in the abstract. When I think about this bill I think about the multitudes of wonderful, strong women who I have connected with through the Rape Crisis Center, both on the phone and in person. Women who have been violated by people with no respect for them, their independence, or their autonomy. When I think about this bill I see a reflection of that same disrespect that rapists have for their targets,  because it is a bill that seeks to take bodily autonomy away from the women who need it the most.

When I speak to someone who has been sexually assaulted in any way my main goal is simply facilitating them in taking back control over their lives. Part of that control for a rape survivor could very easily mean aborting a fetus that was produced as a result of their assault. To pass legislation that would make it even harder for a rape victim to regain that control, when she is already struggling with so much uncertainty and pain inside of herself, is absolutely reprehensible.

Please, please join me in writing and calling your representative to beg them not to do this. Say what’s in your heart but please, do what you can to make it personal because if we can just get them to understand that these are lives that they are dealing with, lives of people who deserve a break not to be broken down even further… if they realize these are lives that they are playing with, there is no way this bill can pass.

Some information to help us all fight back…

Democratic Representatives Who Support the Bill:

Dan Boren [D-OK2]
Jerry Costello [D-IL12]
Mark Critz [D-PA12]
Joe Donnelly [D-IN2]
Daniel Lipinski [D-IL3]
Collin Peterson [D-MN7]
Nick Rahall [D-WV3]
Mike Ross [D-AR4]
Heath Shuler [D-NC11]

A sample letter written by a blogger, use it to help you write one of your own! If you live in a district represented by one of the Senators listed above, or if you are represented by a  Republican (who is most likely supporting this bill out of party loyalty, if not personal investment) then please, please take the time to call or e-mail them to share your story and let them know that your support for them is riding on them voting against this terrible bill.

Sign the petition!

Join in the #DearJohn twitter campaign directed at Speaker Bahner.

Make your voice heard however you can because we cannot let injustice like this pass.

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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“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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Breaking my Silence

Working as a Rape Crisis Advocate can be frustrating at times. It’s hard to listen to so many heart wrenching stories, before jumping right back into my daily life, pretending like nothing is wrong because confidentiality regulations and basic respect for the people I speak with ensure that I cannot discuss the nature of my calls with anyone. It’s so hard to sit here, day after day, wanting so badly to tell people what I know so that they can be educated about what rape really does to people. Still, I do it, because in this situation my silence is important.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to get rapists, rape apologists, those who make rape jokes… everyone, really, to listen to the stories of survivors so that they could see just how much damage rape can do. If people knew how sexual assault really feels, how it often robs people of their power, makes them feel like strangers to their own bodies, causes nightmares and flashbacks,  leaves the survivor feeling alone and powerless, even guilty… if they knew all of that how could they still rape? How could they still make jokes about rape?

I will never share someone else’s story, but what I can do is break my own silence.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault. What happened to me was no where near as traumatizing as what many people go through, but still, it hurt. It took me over a year to stop blaming myself for what happened, and even longer than that before I started to feel safe again. To this day I still get anxious when I am alone with people I don’t know too well, especially men, but I survived. I will never be quite the same person as I was before my assault, but I survived.

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