Bystander Education is Not a Silver Bullet

Bystander intervention education is great. I really believe in its power to make the world a better place, and to make college campuses safer and more welcoming for all. But I also believe that bystander education won’t do much to prevent sexual assault until we agree that sexual assault is a gendered issue, and that sexism is still a big, fat, effing problem.

Let me explain.

Bystander education teaches students how to step in and intervene when they see or hear something that’s not okay. When they witness someone in trouble. But it will never be effective at combating sexual violence or harassment if we can’t even agree on the basic premise that yelling at women on the street is not okay. Or that having sex with a really, really, blacked-out, drunk person is not okay. If that’s where students are stuck, then bystander education is a waste of everyone’s time. Those students don’t need bystander education. They need Sexism 101.

But do students get taught Sexism 101? Ever in their 12 years of grade school? Nope. Not one bit. Why not? Because we – the adults – can’t even agree that sexism still exists.

DESPITE THE FACT that most women experience street harassment on a daily basis. DESPITE THE FACT that most women would love to “Lean In,” except for that whole bit about how it so often backfires because nobody likes an assertive woman in the workplace. DESPITE THE FACT that most women have experienced being groped by a stranger at a dance club. DESPITE THE FACT that even the supposedly-feminist “girl’s” toys are pastel pink. DESPITE THE FACT that news about women is a separate category on news sites as if women were a special interest group instead of half the population. DESPITE THE FACT that intimate partner violence is a leading cause of death for pregnant women. DESPITE THE FACT that Game of Thrones Director Alex Graves thinks a textbook rape scene isn’t rape. DESPITE THE FACT that rape-threats and death-threats are “just another day at the office” for female bloggers. DESPITE the wage gap, slut shaming, “BLURRED LINES,” and multiple pro-rape Fraternities, we still can’t reach consensus that women are marginalized in America.

Hades angry gif

Despite all evidence to the contrary, respectable, educated people still argue that sexism isn’t a thing anymore. That we are living in a “post-sexist” America. (Just like we are living in a “post-racial” America, amirite?) But not only are they arguing that feminism succeeded and we’re fine now, they’re giving space in publications like the New Republic to voice the concerns of MRA’s who think that men are now the primary targets of gender discrimination, and who have been known to harass, stalk, and bully feminist writers and activists to further their cause.

really

Some college students respond really well to bystander intervention education. They recognize the problem and want to help. Other college students think that bystander education is unfair and “biased” because sometimes men are the aggressors or perpetrators in various scenarios.* Try telling them the truth – that even though most men do not rape, 99% of rapes are committed by men – and they argue back that that’s one-sided. Biased. Unfair. Demonizing. The only sexual assault prevention education they’re interested in is one in which men and women are “equal,” regardless of the reality.

Equal?

tumblr_madf8iTGSD1qcp1zx

*The scenarios I use feature men, women, and the gender-neutral “Jamie” as aggressors, yet that special minority of students will still accuse me of bias against men.

As an educator, you have two choices. You can pretend that men and women are “equal” when it comes to sexual assault, thereby validating this inverted thinking and perpetuating the fallacy that women are just as likely to rape men as men are to rape women. And you can rationalize it by telling yourself “Well, if that’s what I have to do to get them to come to the table and talk about this stuff then it’s worth it.” You could do that. But you’d be wrong.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not equal. They are not even. They are not fair. They are gendered issues. Who are most likely to be victims? Trans people and women. Who are most likely to be perpetrators? Men. Sorry. That’s the reality.

Am I suggesting that men are evil? That men are hardwired to be horrible, violent, abusers? No. Not even close. Men and women are shaped by the society they live in, and our society is one that tells young men that women are asking for it, that drunk women are “DTF,” that women lie about being raped because they regret having sex, and that real men want sex all the time no matter what. That a boy being raped by a woman at age 8 will help him grow up to be a “beast” at sex. That being offended by homophobic slurs makes you a “pussy.” That the worst thing you can ever be accused of is being feminine – or gay, because it’s basically the same thing.

And even so, men who grow up in that society, espousing those hideous, sexist beliefs, usually don’t rape people. Except for a small few. But those hideous, sexist beliefs of the majority allow the violent few to rape with impunity. Because who would ever believe that drunk slut anyway, right? 

All the bystander intervention skills and techniques in the world won’t make a damned bit of difference to a student who won’t accept the simple premise that rape is real, and it is gendered. That “false rape accusations” are not happening as frequently as actual rape. That sexual harassment is actually harassment, and not a compliment.

The White House recently created a Sexual Assault Task Force and handed down a bunch of new mandates for colleges under VAWA and the Campus SaVE Act and Title IX. One of those mandates is bystander education. And I think that’s good and right and important. But nowhere in that recent White House report did it say anything about addressing sexism. Nowhere is anti-sexism education mandated. Some colleges have Women’s Studies programs and Women’s Centers and those are amazing. But plenty of schools don’t. And at those schools, no one is standing up and acknowledging that sexism plays a major role in campus sexual assault. No one is mandating that first year students take an anti-sexism seminar.

What about primary and secondary education? Grade schools have taken up the anti-bullying flag, but still, no anti-sexism flag. It’s okay to talk about being an active bystander and standing up to bullies, but it’s not okay to talk about sexism because the grown-ups still can’t agree that it exists.

Until we start teaching anti-sexism, bystander education can only do so much. When it comes to primary prevention – actually preventing sexual assault from happening – bystander education is not our silver bullet.

Until our students understand what sexism is, what it looks like, and the role it plays in perpetuating sexual violence against women and other marginalized groups in our global community, bystander education will not be effective as a primary prevention strategy to combat rape. Unless our students can understand and identify situations of sexual harassment and assault, bystander education will remain a solution to a problem-they-don’t-believe-is-actually-a-problem.

As an educator charged with the task of bystander education, I am frustrated. I love doing bystander education because when students are ready for it, it is the most fulfilling and inspiring and uplifting part of my job. But lots of students aren’t ready for it because they have no understanding of sexism or gender discrimination or gender violence. And who takes responsibility for that? Where is the accountability for that?

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.

Connecting the dots: Nice Guys™, MRAs, mass shooters, and aggrieved entitlement

A few things happened in the last couple weeks that stood out to me because they felt connected. About a week ago someone showed me the hot new tumblr, Nice Guys of OKCupid.

Never before has Nice Guy Syndrome been so clearly illustrated.

Not long after that, I got a spike in hits recently from a not-so-feminist-friendly forum and as you might imagine, the comments coming in have been … unkind. One pointed me to a blog called “A Voice for Men.” Up for a good hate read, I clicked. This is what I saw on the site’s masthead.

register-her

Yep. Clear as day, right next to the words “compassion for boys and men” is an ad promising revenge on bitches with the graphic image of a bloody knife. So much for compassion. (This is also an example of their fine work.)

Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) is not a legitimate movement advocating for boys and men, but a vehicle for misogyny, violence, and hate. Even the Good Men Project, which has recently come under fire for their icky rape apologism, agrees that Men’s Rights is bullshit. David Futrelle wrote: “the more I delved into the movement online, the more convinced I became that, for most of those involved in it, the movement isn’t really about the issues at all—rather, it’s an excuse to vent male rage and spew misogyny online. To borrow a phrase from computer programmers: misogyny isn’t a bug in the Men’s Rights Movement; it’s a feature.”

MRA Marmoset gets it

Instead of advocating or protesting or doing anything really to better the lives of boys and men, MRAs just like to bash women and feminists in particular. And when I use the term “bash” I mean it both figuratively (complaining about them on the internet) and literally (advocating for violence against women, often supposedly “in jest”). And handy for them, MRAs’ misogyny is supported and reinforced by dominant cultural beliefs about women being manipulative, back-stabbing sluts.

Like everyone else, I’ve also spent a lot of time this week reading and reflecting on the horrific tragedy at Newtown’s Sandy Hook elementary school. I came across a great Examiner piece by William Hamby on school shootings and white, male privilege that introduced me to the concept of “aggrieved entitlement.”

Aggrieved entitlement is a term used to explain the psychology behind mass shooters, which have all been white males. It is perhaps best defined by Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) in their article, Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings:

These perpetrators were not just misguided ‘kids’, or ‘youth’ or ‘troubled teens’ – they’re boys. They are a group of boys, deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning. Feeling aggrieved, wronged by the world – these are typical adolescent feelings, common to many boys and girls. What transforms the aggrieved into mass murders is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. 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.

Aggrieved entitlement is the thread connecting Nice Guys™, MRAs, and mass shooters. I spent a couple hours yesterday drawing webs, diagrams, and graphs trying to figure this all out. I wanted to see if I could diagram the different expressions and mutations of aggrieved entitlement in relation to variables like aggression, perceived threat of emasculation, introversion, extroversion, isolation, etc. I wasn’t able to come up with a model that made sense to represent this whole mess, but I did come up with a hypothesis.

MRAs and mass shooters probably started out as Nice Guys™. 

Now, I realize I can’t prove this hypothesis. I also don’t want to be misunderstood — I am not saying that all Nice Guys™ are future murderers or bigots. I just believe that they have the potential to be, depending on their circumstances and the influence of certain variables.

For example, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an extrovert may seek connection and community on the internet, and may one day become an MRA. An aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an introvert, on the other hand, may bottle up his anger and frustration. If you factor in aggression and the desire for revenge, that Nice Guy™ could be positioned to become an Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho.

Of course, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could become a lot of things. He could become an abusive partner, a rapist, the next radio host calling Sandra Fluke a “slut,” or the next right-wing Republican congressman trying to legislate birth control. But just as likely, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could grow out of it. He could get educated and learn to understand the problems with this way of thinking and go on to become a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, non-misogynist man and partner.

So, how do we make that happen? What can we do to help Nice Guys™ climb their way out of that aggrieved entitlement rabbit hole?

In a perfectly timed Cracked article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, David Wong gives some straight talk advice to Nice Guys™:

“I read several dozen stories a year from miserable, lonely guys who insist that women won’t come near them despite the fact that they are just the nicest guys in the world.”

“I’m asking what do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? OK, now what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world? Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day.”

“…don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar.

It’s a good start, but we need to do more than explain that being nice isn’t enough to get girls.

We need to teach boys how to be friends with women. We need to teach them that friendship and kindness are standard elements of being a decent human being, not precious commodities to be rewarded or paid for in sex. We need to teach boys that rejection is a normal part of life, and to stop lashing out at All Women Ever when they feel hurt. We need to teach boys that violence doesn’t make them any more of a “man,” and that revenge is never the answer.

The past few weeks have been full of finger-pointing and solution-hunting. Gun control, mental health, and school security are all important things to talk about in light of what happened at Sandy Hook. However, the issue is larger than Sandy Hook and larger than mass shootings.

This issue at hand is the complex web of sexism, misogyny, and violence that spawns from aggrieved entitlement. In my opinion, the best place to start this deeply important work is consciousness raising with those young, marginalized, and misguided kids who identify themselves to us as “Nice Guys.”

While Nice Guys of OKCupid is a great tool to help explain Nice Guy Syndrome and raise awareness of the problem, it’s also a vehicle to further shame and humiliate kids who already feel marginalized and rejected. It’s not going to help them, and they need help. This is the real challenge. How do we reach out to them? How do we get through to them?

We need to start thinking of solutions; the potential cost of ignoring or further humiliating Nice Guys™ is far too scary to ignore.

Haiku about mansplainers

You always comment,
Facebook is not a safe space,
but shit, dude, please stop.

You appropriate
feminism only to
get an audience.

Your opinion is
valid I guess but why must
you thrust it at me.

You had an idea.
According to you it’s much
better than our work.

Privilege means never
thinking about when to speak
only how loudly.

Call me maybe: Problematic yet adorable?

This post is entirely James Franco’s fault. Ever since I saw the somewhat-dull video of James Franco and friend singing along to Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy-yet-insipid song, “Call Me Maybe,” it’s been stuck in my head. And, like everyone knows, the only way to get rid of an earworm is to listen to the song. So, today at work, I did. Via Youtube. Then, on the third repeat (whatever shut up!) I actually watched the video.

Yes, it’s just another (mostly) heteronormative pop video full of white, attractive, cis people. But. It’s also kind of adorable in an almost-progressive way.

First of all, it reverses the “girl next door” trope by making the boy next door the object of a girl’s fantasy. Second, Carly (or is it Carly Rae?) plays with the “sexy car wash pin-up girl” cliché by awkwardly trying to perform the sexual self-objectification that women know we’re supposed to buy into in order to capture the male gaze. (Oh and did you notice that her male band-mates are the one who suggest this tactic?) Then the romance lit analogy! Our protagonist has clearly bought into the hetero romance narrative (damsel in distress, hero as protector, etc) and fantasy and then, and then!, her hero turns out to be gay! Subversive? Just a little bit, maybe?

Okay, the “Surprise! He’s actually gay” narrative is not exactly new or progressive, but I still wasn’t expecting to see it in this video. I was expecting girl meets boy, girl rescued by boy, boy kisses girl. (Then again, I’m the kindof person that never suspects plot twists before they’re revealed.) And yes, they totally objectified the male neighbor and it would have been better if the male band member accepted his number with less of a shocked expression, but hey, what are you gonna do? Even though I recognize that a lot of things about this video are problematic, I was still pleasantly surprised by the way it played with tropes about gender, sexuality, and romance. Do you agree? Well, here’s my number. Call me, maybe!

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.

What would you write for Klondike bar?

I was watching TV the other day and saw a commercial for Klondike bar that made me spit out my drink. Then, in the next commercial break, I saw a second Klondike ad that made me want to hurl. The ads were part of their well-known “What would you do for a Klondike bar” campaign, but they were just awful.

In the first ad, the thing that this guy would do for a Klondike bar was listen to his wife for five seconds.  No, really.  He listened to his wife speak for five seconds, a feat of endurance so bold and daring that he deserved a Klondike bar as a reward. In the second ad, two men held hands for five seconds. Another feat so bold and daring that they deserved a reward. What was going on here?

You can watch “The Good Listener” and “The Hand Hold” on the Klondike website.

I did some quick scanning on Youtube and found some older ads along the same lines:

(Note: Why is this woman reading a magazine standing up in the kitchen? Is she allowed to leave?)

And this one.

Really, Klondike?

I grew up eating Klondike bars. They were my dad’s favorite, and since my dad was pretty much the coolest person I knew at 6 years old, I figured they must be pretty great. Watching these ads now, as a Klondike-lover and self-actualized woman, I feel betrayed. How long has Klondike been peddling sexist, homophobic drivel before I noticed?

The most frustrating part is that “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” is potentially a really great ad campaign idea. Think of all the wacky things that people might do for this tasty treat! But instead of taking advantage of the many creative ways you could answer this question, Klondike is falling back on tired stereotypes, trying to “reach” their male audience by portraying men as  boorish oafs, insensitive jerks, irresponsible babies, or homophobes. Nice, real nice.

I don’t really have much else to say. Criticism of these ad tropes is out there and available (check out coverage of recent yearsSuperbowl ads) and I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said before by Sarah Haskins.

Instead, I’m writing this from a place of  disappointment and betrayal. Brand loyalty is a real and powerful thing, and it hurts when a company you always liked lets you down. Of course it’s naive to expect that companies will be ethical, or that their branding choices will align with progressive values. So I guess this is just another one of those “innocence lost” situations. The glorious ice cream bar of my childhood is now forever tainted.

What would I do for a Klondike bar today? Nothing.

Think scrubby shower thingies are gender neutral? Think again.

Yesterday on a mission to buy a regular old bar of soap, I came across the Dual Sided Shower Tool from Dove’s line of shower products for men.  If you look past the packaging that looks remarkably similar to that of power tools, it’s just a loofah.

But Dove wants you to think it’s more than a loofah.  And they’re right. It’s not just a loofah, it’s the real-world embodiment of this cartoon from Hyperbole and a Half. Here’s an excerpt:

 

Here at Sueeve, we understand that showering can be one of the most boring, shame and confusion-filled parts of your day and we’ve made it our mission to fix that!

— If the mere sight of a loofah sends you into a gender-confusion-driven, psychotic rage, you need the Shower Hammer!

You no longer have to endure the fluffy, girly bullshit of loofahs. Fuck loofahs.  The Shower Hammer makes you clean with violence!

 

Luckily for us, the cartoon inspired this video:

They’re funny because they’re so ridiculous and unrealistic.

Er…. crap.

More and more advertisers are using restrictive ideas about masculinity to target men the same way they have used femininity (pink-ifying) to target women. (See: Target Women.) This is a feminist issue, even though it’s about men.

Feminism is about choices and the freedom to be however masculine or feminine or gender-neutral you want, no matter your biological sex or gender identity. Feminism is about not having to choose between “manly” or “girly” shower products. Feminism is about calling out ridiculousness like the Dual Sided Shower Tool, in addition to things like Bic pens “for her.”

 

Are we ready for progressive parental leave policies?

Userpage icon for supporting gender equality.

Image via Wikipedia

A recent New York Times article about the progress being made to advance women faculty at MIT is making the rounds. It discusses the “gains” and “drawbacks” of the efforts that have been made over the past 12 years. There was the usual hand-wringing about Affirmative Action-style “reverse discrimination” that is inevitable with any effort to advance a minority in the workplace, but what caught my eye was a statement about MIT’s progressive parental leave policy and how it’s actually playing out for working parents:

While women on the tenure track 12 years ago feared that having a child would derail their careers, today’s generous policies have made families the norm: the university provides a yearlong pause in the tenure clock, and everyone gets a term-long leave after the arrival of a child. There is day care on campus and subsidies for child care while traveling on business.

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

Administrators say some men use family leave to do outside work, instead of to be their children’s primary care giver — creating more professional inequity.

I was thrilled to see that MIT gives a year of parental leave to both parents, but heartbroken to learn that some men (we don’t know how many) don’t actually use this time to provide childcare, but instead use it as “time off” to work on side-projects and further their careers. Equal parental leave policies seemed like the right next step to me, but now I wonder, are we really ready for them? Are they worth pushing if we aren’t ready to split childcare equally between the genders?

It drives home the fact that true gender equality (or feminism) is about more than just employment policy. It’s a socio-cultural shift that needs to happen in all aspects of our consciousness. In order to achieve this shift, we need to see things like commercials for household cleaning products and children’s toys marketed to husbands and dads, as well as wives and mothers. We need to see men equally represented on PTA committees, on playgrounds, and driving the carpool.  We need to STOP seeing commercials that paint husbands as fun-loving dudes constantly being nagged by their wives to help out around the house.

We’re doing a great job of creating gender equality in education and in the workforce, but fighting for equality in our kitchens and living rooms is a bit more complicated because it’s not about policy; it’s about culture. Until our culture values gender equality in domesticity and child-rearing, and we see those values reflected in commercials and other pop culture minutia, equal parental leave policies will not be the solution.

Why I love Veronica Mars

This weekend I rewatched the first season of Veronica Mars, one of my all time favorite tv shows.  Veronica Mars, which aired in 2004, is about a teenage girl trying to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder.  Veronica assists her father as a private investigator and puts her sleuthing skills to work to help classmates at school while she continues her murder investigation in secret. Veronica Mars is completely badass and as good of a feminist role model as you are going to find on television. I made the video below as a tribute to Veronica Mars.  It’s a compilation of scenes from the first season that illustrate why I think she’s so kick-ass.

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency made a great video explaining why she loves this show. She makes a lot of great points, and while I’m not going to repeat them all here, I would like to expand them a little bit.  I’m also not going to discuss the show as a whole and just focus on Veronica and why I think she’s a great role model for teenage girls.

1.  Veronica Mars is smart.  She’s in the top of her class and manages to keep her grades up despite her time-consuming detective work.  She’s not afraid of technology, using advanced cameras and spy gadgets and the like. She uses her wit to solve problems, resolve disputes, and find the truth.  She’s also not afraid to ask for help when she needs it.

2.  She apologizes when she makes mistakes.  Veronica Mars is not perfect. Sometimes she goes too far and she invades a friend’s privacy or betrays someone’s trust.  She always apologizes sincerely – a vital social skill that is often overlooked.

3. She doesn’t compromise on her ideals.  The series begins after Veronica is cast out of the popular crowd because she and her father refuse to accept that the man who confessed to the murder was really the killer.  After a year of bullying at school, she is given the chance to admit she was wrong and sorry and rejoin her old group.  She decides not to, saying that she didn’t feel “the least bit wrong, or sorry.”

Occasionally her grasp of right and wrong can seem a little too black and white.  For example, when her father tries to explain that her mother’s reasons for leaving are complicated, Veronica says, “No. The hero is the one who stays, the villain is the one who leaves.” This kind of “all or nothing” morality  is problematic but feels realistic because it helps remind us that, despite her maturity, she is still a teenager.  Still, it’s heartening to watch her resist peer pressure and stick to her guns despite whatever effect it may have on her social life – something that is rare among teenagers on TV or in real life.

4.  She sticks up for the little guy.  Along the same lines as #3, Veronica stands up for people she sees getting bullied.  I cannot stress enough how incredible this is.  It takes a lot of guts to stick your neck out for someone else, and it’s something that does not happen enough – especially in high school.

Veronica’s story in the first season is very much a coming of age story.  The murder of her best friend and rejection by her peers is a huge turning point in Veronica’s life as she loses her innocence and struggles to rebuild her identity as a strong and independent young woman. Her story is complex, yet relatable and instructive. It has so much more to offer than the simplistic morality lessons on other teen dramas like Secret Life of the American Teenager or Glee.

I sincerely recommend that you watch the first season of Veronica Mars, and share it with your kids if you have any.  (The second and third season are terrible, but the first season can stand on it’s own.)  We need more shows on television with female characters like Veronica.  And, it would be great if Kristen Bell could find some equally awesome movie roles.  It hurts to see our beloved, sharp-witted Veronica fall into the “pretty blonde” rom-com void a la Katherine Heigl.

So, here’s to you, Veronica. Let’s hope we see some more like this on tv soon.