Sexual Violence, the Patriarchy, and the Government Shutdown

Sometimes current events that don’t seem related begin to overlap and parallel in weird and uncomfortable ways. Earlier this year I wrote about a string of oddly connected stories in Connecting the dots: Nice Guys™, MRAs, mass shooters, and aggrieved entitlement. I discussed how the thread of aggrieved entitlement (an unfortunate product of a deeply patriarchal culture) underlies the Nice Guy™, MRA, and mass shooter phenomena. This time, the release of a groundbreaking new study on young people and sexual assault, Chris Brown’s childhood rape, and the government shutdown feel eerily connected.

This week, a groundbreaking study on sexual assault among young people was published in JAMA Pediatrics.  The study found that 9% of young people have committed sexual violence: 8% reported that they kissed, touched, or “made someone else do something sexual” when they “knew the person didn’t want to”; 3% verbally coerced a victim into sex; 3% attempted to physically force sex; 2% perpetrated a completed rape. (The numbers don’t add up because some perpetrators admitted to more than one behavior.)

Perpetrators reported having higher exposure to violence pornography (non-violent porn had no correlation to sexual violence). They also found that 98% of perpetrators who committed their first perpetration at 15-years-old or younger were male, whereas by the time they reached 18- or 19-years-old, perpetrators were more evenly split between men (52%) and women (48%). Perpetrators who began perpetrating later in life were also less likely to get caught. To top it all off, 50% of all perpetrators said that their victim was responsible for the sexual violence committed against them.

On October 4, Chris Brown (notorious for his violent assault against his girlfriend Rihanna) told the Guardian about “losing his virginity” at age 8 to a teenage girl. Many outlets have appropriately acknowledged that this is rape. Olivia A. Cole deftly explained why Brown’s framing of the event is problematic: “Chris Brown was raped, but to hear him tell it, that experience was positive, healthy. Something to brag about. “At eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it.” Cole writes:

Can you imagine being sexually abused and then growing up being told that this is a good thing? That your sexual potency has been enhanced? That rape was a “head-start” into the wonderful world of sex? The damaging system that tells girls they are worthless after rape has a disgusting flip side for boys: you have worth now. This violence has made you a god.

Then we have the government shutdown. The Tea Party and their conservative Republican friends are being the worst kind of sore losers — the kind that decide to flip the table over rather than play the hand they were dealt. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is law, and shutting down the government is not a rational, reasonable, or in my opinion, legal way of trying to “undo” a law whose constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Robert Parry suggests that this is about more than Obamacare. He places the debate over Obamacare within the historical narrative of federalism vs. state’s rights, which was, notably, a big deal when the country was divided over the constitutionality of slavery. He writes:

The relevance of this history to the present is not only that the ideological descendants of the Confederacy are now up in arms over the election and reelection of the first African-American president but that they are insisting on the slaveholders’ distortion of the Constitution, over its truly “originalist” interpretation and the plain reading of its words.

The overwhelmingly white Tea Party, with its foothold in the overwhelmingly white Republican Party, has now developed a new variation on the theory of “nullification,” asserting that the Tea Party’s Confederate-style interpretation of the Constitution must be accepted by the rest of the nation or the country will face endless political extortion.

Through this lens, the Tea Party’s hostage-taking stance is, in effect, a tantrum over the looming loss of privilege and power for white men.

So where is the connection?

A small but significant percentage of America’s young people are perpetrating sexual assault at alarming rates. They are most commonly using verbal coercion (including threats) and manipulation to do so, all the while while believing their victims were responsible for their assaults. A small but significant percentage of America’s adult leaders are using coercion, including threats, to shut down our government – an action resulting in harm to our nation’s most vulnerable populations. Populations that these same adult leaders believe to be responsible for their own poverty or vulnerability.

Chris Brown’s story reminds us of the role that aggrieved entitlement has to play here.

Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man. Aggrieved entitlement is a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.

Patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women by eliminating any space for men’s victimization. It does not allow male victims to let themselves feel victimized, or allow the rest of us to take men’s victimization seriously. Instead, it teaches men to get revenge by victimizing others.

Unfortunately, sexual coercion has become a “normal” part of teenage sexuality. Aggrieved entitlement flourishes in a culture that treats sex like a commodity: we teach men to measure their worth by how much sex they “get” from women, while conversely we teach women that their worth is determined by what they “give away.”

Likewise, the patriarchy teaches men that their worth is derived from power. It does not teach young men how to share power, or how to put the needs of others before their own. It teaches men to lash out in revenge when they lose power. Today it seems our Tea Party politicians are fighting — the way they learned in the backseats and bedrooms of their adolescence — to regain their power through coercion, threats, and ultimately, the victimization of others.

It’s generally not a good idea to use “rape” as a metaphor, but in this case, the comparison is disturbingly apt.

What Ron Paul meant when he said “honest rape”

CNN’s Piers Morgan challenged Ron Paul about his position on abortion in the case of rape, asking “You have two daughters. You have many granddaughters. If one of them was raped — and I accept it’s a very unlikely thing to happen — but if they were, would you honestly look at them in the eye and say they had to have that child if they were impregnated?” In his wavering response, Ron Paul used the phrase “honest rape,” implying that only some rapes are valid — or as Whoopi Goldberg would say, “rape rape.”

Ron Paul used “honest rape” as code for rapes that fit the prescribed, social narrative of rape: When an innocent, attractive, young woman is attacked by a criminal stranger in a dark alley. Of all the rape narratives that actually exist (incest, partner violence, date rape, acquaintance rape, etc.), this is the only one in which predators “look like” predators and victims “look like” victims. When our predators look like choir boys or world leaders or women, the Ron Pauls of the world are less likely to believe the rape was “honest.” When our victims are not pure and chaste, or young and beautiful, or women, they are less likely to believe the rape was “honest.”

Of course, this is bullshit.

All rape is “honest rape,” no matter who perpetrated it, no matter the victim is (or what she was wearing or drinking), no matter where or how it occurred. The idea that some rape is more valid than other rape is a device used to preserve the false notion that some victims are “asking for it.”

Ron Paul seems to believe that “honest rapes” are rapes that are reported right away. But anyone who knows anything about the reality of rape and sexual assault knows that the majority of rapes go unreported. Why? Because the very idea of “honest rape,” the very same that Ron Paul is propagating, deters victims from coming forward.

Victims worry that their rape might not be taken seriously because they knew their attacker or because they don’t have physical injuries. Sixteen percent of victims say that they fear reprisal, while about six percent don’t report because they believe that the police are “biased.” Biased by what?  The idea that only some rapes are “honest,” and therefore only some victims are credible.

One more thing.

Just as there is no such thing as an “honest rape,” there is no such thing as an “honest abortion.”  You don’t need to be raped–”honestly” or otherwise–in order to deserve the right to terminate a pregnancy. (#justsayin’)

Rape culture? I’ll show you rape culture.

The following is an excerpt from a comment recently left on my post, “Can Women Really Get Laid Whenever They Want?

For good looking guys, lets say, you approach someone in a club (CONSIDER YOU DONT GET HER REALLY DRUNK). it will take you atleast 1 week to get laid! or lets say 3x of meeting with her :) )))))))),

It is a different story tho if you keep her drinking lotsa alchohol….if she is totally drunk (With tequila, and she pass out in the club, you could get her easy = this is one tactics those players are using!).

BUT KEEP IN MIND, It wont also work if you see this beautiful girls with their guy friends (you might end up in a fight with the GUYS….. LOOOL)

IN CONCLUSION, girls want it, but sometimes they are too shy, and guys need sweet talks if they want the sex :D

[sic]

“Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging” on Huffpost

Today my op-ed on shame and blame in health campaigns was published on the Huffington Post. Check it out!

Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging

A solemn black and white poster shows a picture of an obese girl with copy that reads: “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Another poster displays a woman’s naked legs with her panties around her ankles and the word: “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” The first is part of the Georgia “Strong 4 Life” campaign to prevent childhood obesity; the other is part of the Pennsylvania “Control Tonight” campaign to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. Though the campaigns are unrelated, they have one thing in common: disregard for the effects of shame and blame — the frequent unintended consequences of health campaigns.

The promotion of health and social welfare is one of those noble causes that attracts people who want to “do good.” Physicians are taught to “First, do no harm,” but health communication professionals take for granted that their work is “doing good” without considering that it might cause unintentional harm. For example, stigmatizing sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention messages may make people with STIs too embarrassed to seek treatment or too ashamed to tell their sexual partners. Not only can health promotion messages lead to such negative health outcomes, they can also promote destructive social values, like fat stigma and rape culture.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Why we need more earnest letters to men, and women, about the problem with rape jokes

Let me start by saying that I am tickled by how many people have shared and commented on my letter to guys about the problem with rape jokes. I am humbly grateful for all of the feedback and I wanted to address a major criticism about why my letter was directed to guys, even though women also tell rape jokes, and even though men can also be victims of rape.

James Landrith, like many others, called out my letter and the original Organon letter as sexist because of the choice to focus on men who tell rape jokes. Landrith argued that the letters were based on the assumption that only men promote rape jokes. He also argued that the letters minimized the importance of male survivors compared to female survivors. It’s tough to read that because I consider myself a fighter-of-sexism and I actually do agree with Landrith and support everything he is saying.

It IS important to recognize that women also tell rape jokes. It IS important to recognize that men can be victims of rape, and not just prison rape. It IS important to call out woman-on-man rape jokes, like in the movie Horrible Bosses, as despicable. It is so important because so few people recognize it as a serious issue and because we, as a society, have way too many fucked up ideas and misconceptions about masculinity and male sexuality. I hear that and I’m with you. But I still chose to write my letter to guys who don’t see the problem with rape jokes.

The goal of the letter was to reach a particular audience. It wasn’t written for every male-identified person in the world. It was written for a certain type of guy: the kind of guy who doesn’t get why rape jokes are a big deal — the guy who thinks that the only reason people don’t want him to tell rape jokes is because they don’t have a sense of humor or because they’re just prudes who are trying to make everybody “PC.” These are guys who actually might want to fight rape (or who are probably against rape, at least) but don’t yet recognize or understand the connection between rape and rape culture.

The letter wasn’t intended to be a manifesto on rape or a report on rape statistics. It wasn’t meant to cover all bases or speak to all the issues or players involved in the perpetration of rape culture. It was a letter, to a certain type of guy. It was designed to try to open his mind by presenting an argument that has nothing to do with political correctness, which he would most likely dismiss as over-sensitivity. I think what’s so powerful about the letter is that it reframes the issue by saying it’s not about “offending people,” it’s about unintentionally validating and normalizing the actions of rapists.

It was also written to address a certain aspect of guy culture — the kind of “bro on bro” socialization that’s all about demonstrating your masculinity, virility, whatever. It was directed towards men inhabiting the kind of all-male cultural spaces identified by Jessica Bennett and Jacob Bernstein in the Daily Beast that, like the Catholic Church and Penn State football, seem to promote or at least tolerate abuse. It was meant to appeal to the side of masculinity that’s protective and heroic, to say: “You guys have the power to shut down rapists, kick them out of your circles and protect the people around you who may be more vulnerable.”

That was what my letter was about. But we need more letters.

We need letters to all the different kinds of women who make rape jokes, as well as letters to all of the other kinds of men who make rape jokes. We should ALL be writing letters – personalized letters to our individual friends, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, teachers, coworkers, classmates, local representatives, and anyone else who doesn’t get why rape jokes are a problem.

I just wrote one letter.

To whom will you write yours?

An earnest letter to guys about the problem with rape jokes; It’s not about being PC

A letter to “all those men who don’t think rape jokes are a problem” has been circulating on Tumblr. I think the point it makes is brilliant and critically important, but it’s not really written for the men it needs to reach. It’s written using the classic style of self-affirming snark commonly found on feminist blogs. Don’t get me wrong. I love the snark. But it’s not the most effective way to talk to people who don’t already agree with you. So here’s an earnest letter to men who don’t get why rape jokes are a problem, snark-free.

Dear guys,

I’m writing to tell you why joking about rape is a bad idea, and it has nothing to do with being PC or offending anybody.

I know a lot of guys feel like feminists are hyper-sensitive or quick to take offense, especially when it comes to off-color or edgy jokes. I don’t entirely blame them for feeling this way. The reality is that people embrace feminism in their own way and some are more likely to be offended than others. Unfortunately, much of the “work” of feminism is done within the context of offense, written in the language of outrage and accusation. While I don’t begrudge anyone the right to be angry or express their rage (I do it myself) I don’t think it’s always the most productive way to create change. Especially when we’re asking you guys to join us and become our allies in preventing rape.

The reason rape jokes are a bad idea has nothing to do with offending feminists or rape victims (although purposefully offending a rape victim is a pretty shitty thing to do). It’s not about how women react to the joke; it’s about how other men react.

The sad truth is that some men really are rapists. And they aren’t just the crazy serial-rapist-killers you see on Law and Order SVU or Dexter; they’re just guys. According to Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called It Rape8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, but they don’t usually think of themselves as rapists. Other studies report this number is as high as 15%. This shit is happening, and the guys doing it aren’t freaks or psychos. They’re your classmates, they’re on the football team, they’re in your WoW guild, they were at your last party.

The problem with rape jokes is that these guys — these guys who seem normal but are actually rapists — hear the jokes and interpret them as a secret wink and nod that you approve of what they’re doing and that you would, or are, doing it too. Via Organon:

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

That is why you shouldn’t tell rape jokes. That is why you should stand up and call out your friends when they do it. Not because you need to worry about being PC or offending feminists, but because you’re actually helping prevent rape. By changing the “culture of rape” from one where rape is something normal and/or expected to one where rape is treated like the crime it really is, you can make a difference.

And it’s not like I’m asking you to be hyper-sensitive about every single joke. I think there’s a difference between jokes that make fun of rape, or rape victims, and jokes that make fun of rapists. I even made a handy flow-chart to help you figure out which rape jokes are validating rapists and which are shaming rapists. But those jokes that do validate rapists, those are the ones you need to do something about.

I know it’s asking a lot to expect someone to stand up to their friends or strangers. It really is, and it’s usually not fun. But think about it. Do you really want those guys out there — those secret rapists who look just like everybody else — to think you’re on their side? That you support what they’re doing? That you’re doing it too, or would be if you could get away with it?

A lot of guys say they would step in and stop a rape if they saw it happening. Heroic as the idea is, it doesn’t happen very often because rape doesn’t usually happen directly in front of you. But the rape jokes that encourage rapists to think that all guys think rape is funny or okay or not a big deal? Those do happen in front of you. And you can do something about that.

And if you do, it’s not because you’re the “PC police.” It’s not because you don’t have a sense of humor. It’s because you actually care about preventing rape, protecting women, and letting rapists know that you are NOT their comrade, their ally, or their bro.

***Edit 12/2/11: Please check out the follow-up post: Why we need more earnest letters to men, and women, about the problem with rape jokes.

Women have a right to dress slutty on Halloween, and to feel safe doing It

Would that there were more occasions to wear catsuits!!!

This is a post I wish I didn’t have to write. But the LA Times found this op-ed by Charlotte Allen somehow credible enough to publish, and so I have to. This is a post in defense of dressing slutty on Halloween. It is a post arguing that dressing slutty, for Halloween or any other occasion, is not an invitation for rape. This is an argument that really shouldn’t have to be made in 2011, but sadly, here we are.

Charlotte Allen juxtaposed dressing slutty with Halloween and the Slutwalk movement. She argues that feminists (all feminists – ’cause we’re all the same, apparently) are hypocrites because we rally against slutty Halloween costumes, yet bare all at our Slutwalks. Then she goes on to say that feminists are in denial of the “reality” that visual stimuli somehow makes men’s brains tell them to rape, and that rape is linked to hotness, or youngess, or something. Basically she’s saying that dressing slutty invites rape and women should know better and if it happens, it’s probably your fault for being an idiot feminist in denial.

(Did I just put words in Allen’s mouth? Sorry, I couldn’t help it. As my friend Simone said, “I want to punch this op-ed in the face!” Read it for yourself if you want to check the accuracy of my interpretation, but fair warning, it may make you feel stabby.)

Here are some points that Allen missed about feminists, Slutwalks, and sexy Halloween costumes:

1. Not all feminists feel the same way about dressing slutty on Halloween or Slutwalks. Not all feminists support Slutwalks.

2. Feminism is – in the most basic terms – about being free to make choices. Feminists write angrily about sexy or offensive Halloween costumes for women not because they don’t believe women should ever dress sexy or slutty on Halloween, but because the proliferation of sexy costumes is so great and so overwhelming that it’s difficult to find something that isn’t a sexy version of a regular costume. There are very few CHOICES for women outside the sexy/slutty genre. Being angry that 99% of costumes offered for women (and even young girls!) are “sexy-something” costumes is not only rational, but not the same thing at all as telling women they shouldn’t dress slutty on Halloween.

3. When feminists share ideas for non-sexy Halloween costumes, they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) trying to encourage women to “cover up” or shame women who choose to dress slutty; they are simply helping women who choose not to dress slutty come up with some ideas because non-sexy ladies costumes are few and far between.

Here are some points that Allen really doesn’t understand about feminism, rape culture, and a woman’s right to dress slutty on Halloween:

1. Allen wrote, of Slutwalks, “Women get another chance besides Halloween to dress up like prostitutes!” Well, yeah! I would argue that women don’t have enough opportunities to dress up as prostitutes, or anything else. For those of us who aren’t actors or burlesque dancers or LARPers, socially acceptable opportunities to dress up – in ANY costume – are rare. I don’t think I need to hash this out, but for many, dressing up like a slut is FUN. People who enjoy dressing slutty do it because it makes them feel sexy. For most, Halloween is a once-a-year chance to channel our inner sex kitten. Dressing slutty is a choice that women should be empowered to make for themselves. It would be anti-feminist to suggest otherwise, or shame a woman for dressing in a way that makes her feel good.

2. Dressing slutty is not an invitation to rape. Ever. Seriously. Period. Rapists will rape no matter whatever the fuck their victims are wearing. Dressing conservatively will not protect anybody from rape. Suggesting that men are susceptible to “visual stimuli” and therefore unable to control themselves around sexy-dressed ladies is supremely offensive to men.

3. In a perfect world, women should be able to feel safe wearing a sexy costume. They also have the right to feel safe walking down the street bundled up in a winter coat but the reality is that often, they aren’t safe. Not because they’re wearing the wrong thing or “sending mixed signals” or whatever the fuck, but because of op-eds like Allen’s, that continue to place the blame, the shame, and the responsibility on women instead of working to prosecute rapists and educate would-be-rapists.

What Allen truly misses about feminist responses to dressing slutty is this:

We are about breaking down rape culture, not breaking down women who want to wear catsuits on Halloween.

Fighting rape culture at Yale makes women unworthy to be Navy SEALs, apparently

Sterling Memorial Library

Image via Wikipedia

Today someone brought Heather Mac Donald’s article Sisterhood and the SEALs: How can women join special forces when they can’t even handle frat-boy pranks? to my attention. Do forgive me if I’m misinterpreting something, but as far as I can tell, Mac Donald’s argument is that the feminist response to the sexist and rapey behavior of Yale frats (“No means yes, yes means anal,” etc.) deems women unfit to serve in the special forces. To boil that down further, Mac Donald seems to suggest that fighting rape culture at Yale proves that women are too, well, “hysterical,” to become Navy SEALs.

Mac Donald’s piece is a response to Anna Holmes’ column in the Washington Post arguing that the ban on women in the special forces be overturned. Anna Holmes’ discussed the realities of overturning such a ban. There are legitimate issues to consider, including both the stigma and taboo against the idea of women serving (and possibly coming home in body bags) and the fact that male and female bodies have differences that affect physical performance. She does not, however, mention the Yale controversy. In fact, it’s difficult, even after reading Mac Donald’s piece, to see the two issues as related.

Mac Donald clearly does not agree with or approve of the federal civil rights complaint filed this March by 16 Yale students and recent alumni arguing that the rape culture at Yale (as demonstrated by recent events) constitutes a violation of Title IX. But her attempt to use this example to demonstrate how women are not worthy of becoming Navy SEALs is just ridiculous. She reasons that members of the special forces must have mental stamina, aka the “fortitude to withstand threats, verbal and physical abuse.” Apparently, the feminist reaction to rape culture at Yale proves that women are unable to do so. Mac Donald writes: “Anna Holmes claims that women are fully capable of the self-abnegating warrior ethos, willing to bear up stoically under crushing physical and mental adversity. The Yale fiasco suggests otherwise.”

If I’m following Mac Donald’s logic to its end, it would seem to suggest that if women want to serve, they should shut up and suffer through direct woman-hating, rape-encouraging demonstrations in order to prove they have the “mental fortitude” to withstand the sort of verbal and physical abuse that occurs in the military? That’s just all kinds of wrong.

As Mac Donald divulges midway through the article, she is a graduate of Yale and clearly has personal issues with what’s going on there. Her love for her alma matter comes through, and though it is sortof sweet, it presents a clear bias through which she interprets this issue.

I graduated from the college in 1978. If ever there were a trace of sexism there, it should have been in that first decade of coeducation, before the rise of an increasingly feminist-dominated bureaucracy and professoriate. Not once, however, did I receive anything other than full encouragement from my teachers and the other adults in authority. Since then, the college has added a seemingly endless number of administrative offices, faculty and student organizations, working groups, and academic programs explicitly dedicated to the advancement of women and so-called women’s issues. The idea that Yale could have become less female-welcoming than in the 1970s is preposterous.

In more than one way, Mac Donald misses the point. The offenses of the Yale frats are offensive because they promote and support rape culture. Rape culture exists as strong today as it did in the 1970s, regardless of how far women have advanced professionally. The two are not one in the same.  And Mac Donald’s personal experience at Yale, however charming, is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Mac Donald clearly sees the fight against rape culture at Yale as an overreaction, which is certainly a valid opinion. However, the snarky and patronizing way she describes this so-called overreaction is outright insulting to feminism, feminists, and anyone who has ever been personally hurt by rape or rape culture. Here is a sample of the language she uses (emphasis added):

Not only has the rise of women to positions of power and control in American society not dented feminist irrationality, it seems to have exacerbated that irrationality.

But according to the Yale 16 and their supporters, female students simply cannot take full advantage of the peerless collection of early twentieth-century German periodicals at Sterling Library, say, or the DNA sequencing labs on Science Hill, because a few frat boys acted tastelessly. Thus the need to go crying to the feds to protect you from the big, bad Yale patriarchy. Time to bring on the smelling salts and the society doctors peddling cures for vapors and neurasthenia.

But the basic principle of feminist domination is: “If we use crude, sexualized language, it’s ‘strong women celebrating their strong bodies.’ When a hapless man uses such language, it’s ‘crippling assault and harassment.’”

One might also legitimately object to the frat chants as unchivalrous and disrespectful of female modesty—in another universe. For feminists, however, the moribund concept of female modesty is just another sexist oppression designed to keep women down—except when we want to take offense and claim to be wounded by being treated as the sexual objects that we present ourselves as.

If Yale really were the “hostile learning environment” that the complainants allege, girls would be shunning the college for the numerous alternatives available to them. Instead, alumni mothers who have been through the alleged gauntlet of Yale sexism inexplicably pull every string they can to get their daughters into a place that, according to the complainants, will prevent them from getting a full education.

The Yale legal action is a stunning example of the fevered unreality of modern feminism, desperate to assert victimhood, thin-skinned to the point of hysteria.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but this type of language (“hysteria,” “irrationality,” “fevered unreality”) is northing more than the old-fashioned anti-feminism of someone who thinks that women should not only be banned from serving in the military, but should accept the “boys will be boys” answer to rape culture and sexual aggression.

Call me crazy, but I believe that fighting rape culture on college campuses is a good thing. I also believe it has absolutely no bearing on the discussion of whether women should serve in the special forces. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the high rates of sexual assault that occur in the military, not to mention how cases are handled and the healthcare (including abortions) withheld from servicewomen who are raped by fellow service members in active duty. But using the fight against rape culture on a college campus to demonstrate women’s lack of “mental fortitude” to serve in the military is illogical and highly offensive, especially to the dedicated and sacrificing servicewomen we honored yesterday on Memorial Day.

Abortion riders: Just another way to support rape culture

Earlier this month, this happened (from the McPherson Sentinal, Kansas):

And Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, questioned whether women would buy abortion-only policies long before they have crisis or unwanted pregnancies or are rape victims.

During the House’s debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?”

Bollier asked him, “And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?”

DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, “I have spare tire on my car.”

“I also have life insurance,” he added. “I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for.”

It’s true. Sometimes it’s important to plan for the worst. Flood insurance, life insurance (though it really should be called “death insurance,” don’t you think?), car insurance – these things are important because shit happens. When I say “shit,” I’m referring to freak accidents or forces of nature that cannot be prevented or predicted. Things like getting struck by lightning, a tsunami, a freak accident where something falls out of the sky or runs in front of your car. Yes, these things happen and they aren’t preventable, controllable, or anybody’s fault. It’s important to plan for them because they could happen at any time, and there’s nothing we can really do about it.

But you know what IS preventable, controllable, and definitely somebody’s fault?

Rape.

When we say “shit happens,” we are absolutely, positively, NOT referring to predatory, criminal acts like rape. Rape is NOT something that we must accept as a statistical inevitability, nor is it a freak occurrence. Rape, and abortion coverage in case you become pregnant as a result of rape, is not something you plan ahead for.

Rape is a social illness supported by a culture that sexually objectifies women and children and portrays men as hormonal cavemen. Rape is preventable through cultural awareness, education, legislation, and social change.

An “abortion rider” purchased separately from your health insurance is NOT equivalent to carrying a spare tire or buying life insurance. It’s a much more comparable to buying torture insurance, just in case you end up getting tortured by a fellow human being.

Flat tires happen. Death is inevitable. We can tolerate them as unfortunate realities of life. Crimes against humanity like rape and torture are illegal because we refuse to tolerate them – a moral absolute that is fully contradicted by the idea of an abortion insurance rider.

Sweat-free isn’t good enough

American Apparel

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Four more women have sued Dov Charney, CEO of clothing retailer American Apparel, for sexual harassment. This now brings the total number of women who have accused Charney of sexual harassment or rape since 2004 to twelve. TWELVE. Because American Apparel employees sign arbitration and confidentiality agreements when they’re hired, none of these charges seem to stick. But really, enough is enough. It’s obvious that Dov Charney is a sexual predator who uses his influence to prey on young, female employees. So why aren’t we boycotting American Apparel?

Even though the company is sortof on the edge of bankruptcy, a lot of people like shopping at American Apparel. For two reasons, as far as I can see.  The first is that they make plain, colorful and trendy hoodies – a staple wardrobe item for fashionable young people.  These are very popular. The second reason is that the clothes are all made in the U.S.A. and sweat-free.  They are the only sweat-free clothes available to customize through Cafe Press, so socially conscious organizations often choose to print on American Apparel t-shirts rather than a t-shirt made in a sweatshop somewhere.  But by buying American Apparel, you are supporting the company’s history of misogynistic advertising and employment policies, not to mention a sexual predator with no respect for women who fires employees for being fat.  Yes, it’s important to buy sweat-free, but we have to look at a company’s full ethical profile.

It isn’t enough for a company be moral on one issue and it isn’t enough to base consumer choices on one issue.

With all that’s been going on in Wisconsin, occurring conveniently amidst the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Americans are thinking a lot about labor. And clearly, labor is an important issue and worthy cause. But labor activism should not outweigh or preclude other sorts of activism. For example, it was frustrating that MoveOn.org organized a huge rally to support Wisconsin for the same date and time as the rally to support Planned Parenthood, which had been planned weeks in advance. Progressive activists had to choose between labor or Choice. For one glorious moment in Boston, MA, the rallies came together and chanted something like, “Same Struggle, Same Fight” (I can’t remember exactly).  But the point is that these aren’t separate issues; they are layers that overlap and intersect. Fighting for one while ignoring the other is simplistic and ineffective.

It frustrates me to no end that socially conscious shoppers choose to shop at American Apparel because of their labor practices, disregarding the company’s outrageous anti-feminist policies and the criminal, predatory behavior of its CEO.

Twelve women in five years have come forward about being sexually harassed or raped by Dov Charney. How many more were silenced by the company’s arbitration and confidentiality agreements?

Enough is enough. It’s time to boycott American Apparel.  There are plenty of other places to buy a hoodie.