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Category Archives: rape

Policing Women’s Sexuality

Last week I helped oversee a program at First Year Orientation.  (Most of my colleagues still call it Freshmen Orientation even though the University has had an inclusive language policy for years.  It’s one of those battles I just can’t seem to win.  When I went to the University of Maine in 1992, they had already stopped using the term Freshmen.)  At Orientation, the students participated in an educational theatre program where short skits were performed and then students could interact with the actors in character about the topic being introduced.  The four skits included one addressing racism and sexism, one addressing alcohol, one on the combination of alcohol and sexual assault, and one on consent.

In general the students responded as one in my field of student affairs and social justice would hope.  Yet there were a few outliers that left me with a sick feeling.  After the consent skit, two different women, in two different groups, stated that the woman deserved what she got because she was “teasing” her boyfriend. The story goes that a young couple return from a party.  The young woman’s roommate is gone for the weekend.  They begin kissing and the woman states she doesn’t want to have sex that night.  The boyfriend misses every possible clue and forces himself on her.  The woman makes multiple signs of no, including saying no, pushing him away, removing his hand and telling him that they don’t always have to have sex when they are together.

I left this day thinking a lot about these two women who have been socialized by our media saturated society to honestly believe that if they are kissing a guy that means they have to give it all the way up.  Whatever happened to the bases analogy?  And those of us who are old married folks KNOW that kissing certainly doesn’t always lead to sex, it often leads to a good night’s sleep.

One woman even said to the actress playing the rape victim “You deserve what you got and you should get off the floor crying like a little bitch.”  It took everything in my power not to pull this young woman out of the audience and give her a pile of books to read and an old fashioned talking to! 

Then last night I went out to dinner with a friend who told me she had seen a mother and two little girls at the beach this summer, all wearing bikini’s.  The mom had a lower back tattoo (referred inappropriately by our sexist culture as a “tramp stamp”) and the little girls had fake matching tattoos in the same place.  Her immediate response was that this was wrong and the mother was a horrible mother for allowing it.  I suggested that maybe the term “tramp stamp” much like the term “slut” was the policing of women’s sexuality by patriarchy.  Yeah, I know that’s a wee bit theoretical, but it makes a lot of sense.  Her comment begged the question of where the term “tramp stamp” even came from.  And oftentimes we don’t take the time to question origins of cultural expressions we take for granted.

Then we talked about whether those girls wearing fake tattoos on their lower backs was sexualizing them.   I said they were just trying to look like their mom and that it was only sexualized if we allow it to be.  What is the difference between putting a fake tattoo on your lower back or your arm?  If we allow for a certain body part to be sexualized, then yes.  When The Vagina Monologues first cam e out, everyone was freaked out about that word.  Now it’s commonplace. Isn’t that the whole issue with breast feeding in public?  Women’s breasts have been sexualized by the policing of our sexuality by male supremacy that women get flack for feeding their babies.

At the very core of this analysis is a history of oppression of women’s bodies.  To be too comfortable in our skin and free to express our sexuality is something that must be controlled and prevented.  I attribute the whole Brazilian waxing phenomenon to this and to the porn industry.  Women have been policed to the point where they think that having pubic hair is dirty.  And men (and other women) contribute to this policing by talking badly of women they suspect having hair. 

I am happy to be a middle aged married woman who doesn’t have to live in a world where my body is constantly being policed to fit into a narrow spectrum of sexuality.  I mean there’s that whole “you must be skinny” culture, but at least I don’t have to look like an 8 year old girl. 

It’s so Easy to Hate the Media

I haven’t written for two weeks.  I have a good excuse.  Last week I was on vacation and tried, as best I could, to stay away from technology.  My laptop did not come on vacation with me.  The week before, I was hard at work on a 30+ page Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women Grant to help end violence against women on college campuses.  I submitted it yesterday.

In the midst of vacationing and grant writing on topics like sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, I see numerous posts on facebook about CNN and its horrible coverage of the Steubenville rape case.   I read a few of the blogs and articles about CNN’s coverage.  Some feminists believe CNN actually had better coverage overall of this entire case than any other media outlet.  And others suggested we look back at “the gushing coverage from virtually every network during Kobe Bryant‘s rape case, which did affect the judicial process to the detriment of the victim in that case, and women as a class. Those proceedings deserved tons of petitions from women’s rights groups, but got none” (Murphy, Women’s ENews).

What is being understated here is that any coverage is coverage.  We need to talk about rape culture in media over and over and over until SOMEONE (anyone? hello?) starts getting it.  A student of mine, who is a self-identified gay male feminist sent me a link to this website.  Barstool Sports.  It’s a popular “man” blog about men, and sports, and of course, misogyny.  Furthermore, if you search for rape on the internet, tons of videos come up actually showing rapes.  I’m appalled that You Tube even allows that kind of material.  I’m sure if someone wanted to put up a video on how to lure a child into a car, it would be banned.  But raping women?  Sure, that’s fine!

The rapper, Rick Ross, who is also a Reebok spokesperson, has a single out that includes the lyrics “put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”  In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t!), “molly” is a popular street drug similar to ecstasy, which is used to distort reality and reduce inhibitions. This is not “metaphorical.”  He is literally singing that he drugged and raped a woman who was not capable of consent.  There is currently a petition to get Reebok to drop Rick Ross as a spokesperson here.

We know that false rape reports are few and far between, but college students believe that half of all rapes are fabricated. But I don’t blame college students.  I blame a patriarchal media, owned, in general by just a few men, who perpetuate women as objects and glorify rape.  This media seeps into all areas of our lives:  television, movies, music, the internet.  We have to begin being more critical about what we watch and listen to.  We have to tell advertisers and producers we will not tolerate women being served up as victims over and over again.  We have to get schools to talk about these issues.

In 1992, the year I graduated from college, the famous movie Thelma and Louise came out.  I saw it with one of my closest friends.  The media backlash against this film was astonishing.  They called it “male bashing” and violent against men.  If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, go rent it. Or borrow it from me.  But the gist is that a woman is raped and her friend defends her and then they go on the lam.  I wasn’t a blogger back then — oh year, there was no Internet!  But if I had been I would’ve written about how the majority of the movies we see have some form of violence against women in them but there isn’t an outcry from women and women’s groups screaming “Women’s Bashing!”  “Down with Misogyny!”

I could spend all day detailing all the violent depictions of women in media.  This is one reason I refuse to watch any of the plethora of crime drama’s on television.  Probably 90% of the story lines are about women being slaughtered by one psycho or another.  As we move into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality has some great events to raise awareness.  You can find them at our website or on our facebook page. If you’re not in the Southcoast of Massachusetts, take a small step and be more critical about what you choose to watch.  Make sure the movies you go see meet the Bechdel Test (see my blog from October 25, 2012).  And if you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for your mother, or your grandmother, or your daughter or your niece.  I want my nieces growing up in a world that actually thinks rape is a problem, not something to joke about, sing about, or show videos about, on the Internet.

my feminist praxis

critical reflections on my feminist praxis: activism, motherhood, and life

The Feminist Critic

Providing weekly critiques of theatre, film, books, politics and pop culture from a feminist perspective.