Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Speaking of Blaming the Victim (from Emily)

Read over the loaded diction in this article about a 30-year-old man who raped a girl from the time she was 12, till the time she was 13. Then read over the comments (if your stomach can handle them), and note how many commentators are calling for the 13-year-old girl's head, and how many go so far as to defend her rapist. For more about this article, read this post on I Blame the Patriarchy.

And, also from I Blame The Patriarchy, here's the article Lara mentioned, which offers a new "how to prevent sexual assault" forward.

If you have a really strong stomach, read I Blame The Patriarchy's category of posts on rape culture. Pretty disturbing, huh?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pissed (from Emily)

That's right - Emily just swore. And as everyone knows, when someone who thinks "that sucks" is a swear says that she's pissed... she's fuming.

What has me so mad? Well, recently some expletive-worthy male person attacked a 19-year-old woman while she was running, in the middle of the day, just a few miles from where I live. He crushed her throat so she couldn't scream for help, while he then shattered every bone in her face, knocked out every one of her teeth (to prevent anyone from identifying her) and broke multiple bones in her body, while raping her. Then, assuming he had killed her, he dumped her body in the bushes.

It was 3:30 pm, and she was running on a trail for pedestrians and cyclists. The trail borders the Provo River, and several meters of trees and brush line each side of the river/trail. This was not the deep woods - Utah is incapable of producing a forest, and the deepest the trees get is maybe 10 meters.

Right now the police have a suspect who fits the description she gave (the poor woman somehow survived the attack), but I doubt it's him. The man they nabbed robbed a nearby store a few hours after the attack, and he has a criminal record. However, despite his rather long history with the law he has never been arrested for harming another individual, and he didn't rape or hit the woman who was working at the store he robbed.

One part of the story that makes me particularly angry, though, is how some individuals have responded to this story. While most people are horrified in general, sympathetic toward the victim, and angry at the perpetrator, many of the comments people have written in response to online articles focus on what the victim should have been doing differently. I know none of these individuals think she deserved what happened, or that she in any way provoked the perpetrator, but by focusing on how "she shouldn't have been running alone," or "she should have been armed, and this wouldn't have happened if she'd been armed," they (unknowingly) tap into antiquated beliefs that women are responsible for being raped.

Frankly, I'm angry with the city of Provo over this incident. Relatively few serious crimes take place in this city (relatively few given how large the population is), and as a result of the low-ish crime rates police officers are free to enforce the relatively minor laws that go ignored in many other locations. Crimes like jay-walking, or having picnics in parks an hour or two after the park has officially closed. While I would hate to criticize any individual police officers, I think the police department has made a serious oversight by not patrolling this trail. Just last year a man attacked and attempted to rape a woman on that trail, using a "chemical-soaked" cloth to try to knock her unconscious.

I'm all for community patrols of that trail, and for people organizing group runs - almost immediately following news of this attack, a facebook group sprang up with those very goals in mind. This attack reminds everyone who lives in a city that they think of as crime-free or low-crime, that disturbing things happen. But as we take precautions to prevent future attacks, let's remember what really caused this problem: a violent individual with no respect for another person's life made a sickening decision. The victim did nothing wrong by deciding to go for a jog at 3:30pm.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mika and the Politics of Pop (from Emily)

For awhile now I've been meaning to post something about Mika, the new love of my life. That's right - move aside Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. I now search youtube for interviews with Mika.

He's perhaps best known for the above song (Grace Kelly), a song that had me head over heels for him the first time I heard it. But there are a lot of gender-related issues tied up in Mika's music too. First of all there's his somewhat controversial Billy Brown. Apparently reporters are always trying to get Mika to "come out" and tell them he's gay, but Mika refuses to make a statement about his sexuality. Here's an interview where Mika discusses his viewpoint on the role sexuality and politics play in art:

(If you just want to listen to the part about sexuality, skip to 3:30 or so)

As a creative writer who also studies the social impact of artforms, boy do I ever feel that tension between art and social activism!

Mika is also noteworthy on this blog for this wonderful song, Big Girl You Are Beautiful. The story Mika tells about this song is that he saw a documentary about obesity in the US, and the only point in the documentary that felt positive and hopeful to him was that part where it discussed The Butterfly Lounge, a club for big women and the men who like big women. That documentary inspired him to compose this fun and wonderful song:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Are You a Good Feminist or a Bad Feminist? What Sarah Palin and Feministing.org Have in Common (from Emily)

Palin's recent speech at the Susan B Anthony Fundraiser has some people calling her a chauvinist in feminist clothing. In between praising Reagan, the troops, the NRA, and of course the Tea Party, she claimed the title of feminism for conservative women. But don't worry, she still insulted feminists in general while doing so. The crux of Palin's argument? That allowing women to get abortions is bad for women, and therefore it's true feminism to oppose abortion.

Her argument taps into a debate as old as feminism itself: can two groups want opposite situations for women, both firmly believe what they want is best for women, and yet both claim the feminist title?

Enter Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.org. Valenti critiques Palin's speech, and she makes a lot of excellent points in her critique. Namely, that Palin simultaneously insults and embraces the term "feminist," at times claiming the title and at other times rejecting others who claim the title. As Valenti also points out, Palin claims that "these feminists" tell pregnant women they aren't capable of carrying a child full-term, without providing any evidence that feminists say so, and without even defining who "these feminists" are.

And that's my complaint about Palin's argument in general. I don't hear any evidence in this speech to support what she's saying about "other" feminists. Even pro-abortion-rights feminists don't tell women that they have to get an abortion, but that's what Palin's implying they do. She also never defines what she means by "pro-life." Are we talking no abortions ever, under any circumstances? Are we talking restricted access to abortion, only as a last resort if the mother's life is in danger? Those who think the pro-choice, pro-life debate has only two options are buying into the myth of a polarized, black-and-white world.

Enter Valenti again... Now, in her defense, Valenti's article provides much more evidence to support her claims. And Valenti obviously has a better grasp than Palin when it comes to rhetoric and the principles of strong writing. But when it comes to prejudice and logical fallacies, she is right there with Palin, spearing strawmen and strawwomen left and right.

Prejudice is more obvious in Palin: she insults liberals, The Media (I assume Fox News is no longer a form of media?), and "Pro-Women's Rights Feminists." It's typical Palin rhetoric: you're either good or bad, with us or against us, a true feminist or a radical feminist (though she does admit that even "East Coast University Feminists" have a right to their opinions). The Good Witches / Bad Witches perspective is tempting. If you misrepresent your opponents they're easier to tear down. For instance, according to Palin "left-wing feminists" don't like her because she has a large family. Because everyone knows feminists hate women who have the audacity to give birth.

Valenti's logic is just as fallacious when she turns feminism into a restricted club. Her article dismisses conservative feminists outright, saying that if they oppose abortion rights, they oppose women. And Valenti makes me just as angry as Palin makes me, when she says that feminism is about equality and fighting patriarchy. I'm all for fighting unhealthy forms of patriarchy and promoting equal opportunities. But I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that feminism is about elevating women. Period. Not just elevating our position in relation to men. If all we wanted was equality, we could just make everyone poor and illiterate. Equality is good, but not the only goal of feminism.

I appreciate what each of these women is trying to accomplish. I'm willing to take their word for it when they say they want what's best for women, and wanting what's best for women is a prerequisite for feminism. Paradoxically, they're both right when they say that wanting what you think is best for women doesn't make you a feminist. Many people think genital mutilation or being treated like property is best for women. There is no easy way to determine who the true feminists are, as Valenti herself acknowledges.

But no matter how worked up we get, we cannot promote an Us and Them mentality. To do so would mean buying into the very notions that make sexism and racism possible. And as bell hook has pointed out, the Us and Them mentality prevents true progression.