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.

Be a Considerate Hater

Haters gonna hate, and that’s okay. It’s important to have opinions–it’s how we express our identity, exercise our autonomy, and react to music that makes us want to vom.

But there are different ways to hate on something you don’t like, and how you choose to express your feelings matters. Because the things we like to hate on (music, movies, books, magazines, TV shows, etc.) often matter to people in deep and emotional ways. Hating on something that someone else loves (see image) is a thing that maybe you might want to consider a bit more carefully, especially if that somebody is your friend.

I mean, I suppose you might want to insult your friend in that friendly, joke-punch, “Haha everything you like is terrible! Yay friends!” sortof way. But most of the time, we care about our friends and we don’t want to be intentionally mean to them. But how, then, do we hate on things our friends might like without hurting their feelings? Good news everyone! It’s very simple. Be a considerate hater.

Instead of saying “That book is terrible,” say “I hated that book.”

Instead of saying “Maroon 5 sucks,” say “I really can’t stand Maroon 5.”

Instead of saying “‘2 Broke Girls’ is the worst show of all time,” say “Watching ‘2 Broke Girls’ makes me want to saw my face off with a rusty spork.”

See what I did there?

Instead of making a blanket “This is awful” statement, tell us your reaction to the awfulitude in the first person. Because when you say that something is awful, that’s stating your opinion as if it was an ultimate and singular truth. That invalidates your friends’ opinions because however they feel about it, no, it’s awful. It is, because you said so. Expressing your opinion as fact is a little bit douchey, and more likely to shut down discussion rather than open one up.

Thing is, people have different tastes and preferences. People enjoy different types of things for different reasons, whether it’s “Teen Mom” or Haruki Murakami, “Avatar” or Brad Paisley. And they’re allowed to, dammit. Not everyone has to agree with you. But it’s important to remember that just because you hate country music or opera or sushi or Nickleback (yes, even Nickleback) doesn’t mean it’s unequivocally bad. There are people out there who listen to Nickleback and it just sounds fucking great to them. The same way someone else might listen to Regina Spektor and it just sounds fucking great. Or the way that someone might listen to Lil’ Wayne and think “What is this goddawful noise?” and someone else might listen to opera and go “Yuck!” Diversity!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t hate. Hatin’ is fine, but be a considerate hater. When you hate on something, don’t state your opinion as fact. Hate in a way that expresses your opinion as opinion, thereby validating the differing opinions of others. If you’re not sure how to do this, just start with the basic format: “I hate ___ because _____.”

Boom. You’ve just created a dialogue.

Positive body image won’t make you fat: The case for body positive health promotion

I’m currently designing a social marketing campaign to improve body image among undergraduate women at a major university. On three different occasions, my classmates—a cohort of public health, nutrition, and health communication students in leading graduate programs—expressed concerns about my project, asking “Aren’t you worried that you’re promoting obesity?”

There seems to be a dangerous misconception in the public health community that the goals of positive body image promotion and obesity prevention are at odds. That somehow, by helping people feel better about their bodies, we will inadvertently “encourage” obesity.

But body image promotion isn’t about glorifying fatness, just like obesity prevention isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about the glorification of thinness. More accurately, body image and weight management are interconnected elements of holistic mind-body approach to health and ultimately, the public health community has more to gain by thinking of them as complementary rather than competing interests.

Obesity prevention efforts may appear to benefit from a status quo that stigmatizes fatness and worships thinness, but the evidence just doesn’t support it. We live in a culture that idolizes underweight supermodels and relegates fat actors to fart and food jokes, and yet none of it has done anything to make people healthier.

A lot of people worry—myself included—that without body dissatisfaction, we would lose our motivation to slim down. It’s an easy trap to fall into because, for many of us, negative thoughts are the only motivation to lose weight we’ve ever known. It’s scary to imagine life without our internal “fat talk”; it takes work to imagine using positive feelings as a source of motivation.

But contrary to popular belief, shame is not a good motivator. In addition to reinforcing an impossible, demoralizing standard of beauty, using fat shame as motivation will always backfire. Fear, shame, and self-disgust may prompt people to change their habits temporarily, but once they start to feel better and the bad feelings dissipate, they are bound return to old habits. Motivation-by-fat-shame doesn’t create a culture of health; it creates a culture of yo-yo dieting and January gym memberships abandoned by March.

Not only does fat shaming fail to help people get healthy, it actively hurts people, leaving maelstrom of negative body image, low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and other pathological eating and exercise behaviors in its wake. This is no small matter, as these conditions cause pain and suffering for millions of men and women, of all ages, all over the country and the world.

Obesity prevention efforts that reinforce the thin-ideal status quo are doomed to perpetuate a broken system where body image dissatisfaction is normative, obesity rates keep rising, and the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry capitalizes on both. But obesity prevention efforts that embrace positive body image promotion, on the other hand, have a chance to break the cycle.

Meaningful body image promotion encourages women to reject the tyrannical and reductive thin-ideal portrayed in the media, and to understand that pursuing a healthy lifestyle for its own sake is much more rewarding than obsessing about dieting and weight loss. After all, “thin” doesn’t translate to “healthy.”

For example, the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement is based on the understanding that weight does not determine health, and that exercise and good nutrition are beneficial, whether or not they result in weight loss. Instead of using BMI, HAES advocates using more specific measures, like blood pressure and cholesterol, to determine one’s health status.

Instead of relying on body dissatisfaction, HAES teaches us to draw motivation from positive sources, like the desire to explore new hobbies (yoga, archery, kickball), to achieve new goals (run a 5k, learn to surf), or to enjoy the flavor and feeling you get from nourishing your body with healthy foods. This is the kind of lifestyle change that keeps people engaged and motivated for the long haul, and it will keep us healthier, whether or not we’re overweight. Also, it’s fair to say that by letting go of the “impossible dream” of one day looking like the (photoshopped) people on the cover of magazines and by learning to accept and love our bodies as they are, we’ll be happier too.

This type of holistic approach—incorporating positive body image, mental health, physical activity, and good nutrition—is actually sustainable because it promotes an understanding of “health” as a lifelong process rather than a set of restrictions or punishments to be lifted once you reach that magic number on the scale.

We know that there are no health benefits to negative body image. So why would we limit the scope of obesity prevention to exclude the potential benefits of positive body image?

Encouraging positive body image does not “promote” obesity. Rather, it helps people let go of the shame, fear, and unsustainable weight loss behaviors that are keeping them trapped in a state of bad health.

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’)

Don’t be fooled: The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act is bullshit

Last week, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona (a white Republican) introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011. The legislation would end the utter atrocity of race and sex-selective abortions in the US. Which sounds nice and progressive, until you remember that we don’t have a problem with race or sex-selective abortions in the US.

According to LifeNews.com (which I don’t suggest you read unless you want to feel stabby), Franks has said the bill is needed because abortions on black babies are done at much higher rates than abortions on babies of other races. (So he says.) Franks also believes that Asian Americans have brought the traditional practice of sex-selection (and the preference for boys) over to the US. So essentially, he wants to restrict abortion access to women of color in the name of protecting them from their own bad decisions.

Do you see something wrong there?

Oh! It’s paternalism!

It’s mansplaining at the highest level. It’s this:

The reality is that in the US, sex-selective abortion is incredibly rare because 95% of abortions happen too early in pregnancy to detect the fetus’s sex. And, since the ratio of girls to boys has actually increased since abortion became legal, we are definitely not seeing any effects of this practice. I call bullshit.

The reality is that in the US, women of color face enormous structural barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare, including contraception. As a result, they have higher rates of unintended pregnancy. According to the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, reproductive healthcare providers who seek to help these underserved populations get the care they need are actually “eugenicists in disguise,” targeting minorities not to help them–but to convince them to abort themselves out of existence.

The reality is that women of color aren’t buying this bullshit. Anti-abortion activists already tried to pass this legislation at the local level in Georgia; they were defeated by coalition of women-of-color organizations. The anti-abortion group backing the legislation is the same group that put up those billboards in low-income neighborhoods saying “Black children are an endangered species” and “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Groups like the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective have already called bullshit on the billboards, and the whole damned assumption they make about black women being manipulated into killing their own children:

Black women are not the pawns of these white people who erect such billboards. We find them offensive, racist, sexist and–most of all–disrespectful of our decision making, our 400-year history of raising and caring for black children and our human right to make health care choices for ourselves.

The reality is that the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act is not about protecting women of color, but about taking another swing at overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s hard to deny this when LifeNews.com is publishing editorials called “Sex-selection abortions a possible opening to overturn Roe.”

A sex-selection ban would indeed present the Supreme Court with a dilemma. To strike down such a law–in essence, to embrace a constitutional right to sex-selection abortion–would expose just how extreme and immoral the Court’s present abortion doctrine really is. To read such a result in the name of “gender equality” would be monstrous and absurd. Such a ruling would undermine support both for Roe and for the Court as an institution, as never before.

So there you have it.

There is no need for a Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act because “prenatals” are not being discriminated against. The only purpose it serves is to scare people into giving up their own human rights, including the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

So please, contact your Congressperson and call bullshit on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

Now.

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.

An improv lesson in moving forward that Frank Miller really needs to learn

As Amy Poehler shared in her Harvard commencement address, the art of improvisation holds a number of lessons that are applicable and useful in our daily lives. One of the most important lessons is listening because it helps you avoid negation. In a recent angry rant about Occupy Wall Street, Frank Miller made it clear that he isn’t listening where he negated the reality of thousands of protesters by essentially saying that there is no problem.

Improv is a collaborative endeavor, you can’t do it alone. It’s hard to move forward and create a meaningful (or at least coherent) narrative with someone else when you’re doing it on the spot, without a common destination mapped out ahead of time. One of the better known tools to help accomplish this is the adage, “yes, and…” When someone tells you something, you must listen, accept it, acknowledge it, and then add something else in order to keep the scene moving forward. For example:

Improver 1: Thanks for coming to my housewarming party, Steve!

Improver 2: Yes, well, you know how much I love housewarming parties! Speaking of warm houses, can I move in? They shut off my heat.

Improver 1: Well, I do have a spare bedroom. Wait, is that a moving van in the driveway?

Negation is when you don’t accept what your partner establishes and instead you say something else that contradicts the reality they’ve just established, and then the narrative is fucked.

Improver 1: Want to test out my new piano?

Improver 2: That’s not a piano, it’s a dog.

Improver 1: Uhhh…..

This kind of negation is exactly what Frank Miller is doing in his rant about Occupy Wall Street. He writes:

“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.

Thousands of people in cities across the country are saying “There is a problem with corporate greed in America” and Frank Miller responds by saying, essentially, “That’s not a piano, it’s a dog.”

Improv is a team sport where everyone shares the common goal of creating a funny or compelling narrative. Everyone needs to work together in order to establish the problem and reach some kind of resolution. If one person negates the established premise, you’re never going to reach a resolution.

The truth is that OWS opponents like Frank Miller aren’t playing on the same team. They aren’t interested in coming together to achieve a common goal; they aren’t interested in finding a resolution because they wont admit there’s a problem. And that’s really shitty because to ever hope to move forward in a scene, or as a nation, the 1% needs to listen, accept, and acknowledge what the Occupiers are saying.

I guess the only silver lining is how absolutely stupid Frank Miller and his cronies look when when thousands of people are standing in front of them saying “This is a movement,” and they say “It’s not a movement; it’s a dog.”

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.