Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sex vs Violence

"Mac MacGuff: Did you see that coming when she sat us down here?
Bren MacGuff: Yeah, but I was hoping she was expelled or into hard drugs.
Mac MacGuff: That was my first instinct too. Or a D.W.I. Anything but this. "

~From the movie Juno - her parents reactions to her declaration of pregnancy~

"Sadie: Where do babies come from?
Debbie: Where do you think they come from?
Sadie: Well. I think a stork, he umm, he drops it down and then, and then, a hole goes in your body and there's blood everywhere, coming out of your head and then you push your belly button and then your butt falls off and then you hold your butt and you have to dig and you find the little baby.
Debbie: That's exactly right."

~From the movie Knocked Up~

The movie Team America (which I refuse to see) was originally given a rating of X due to its apparent graphic depiction of sex using 2 dolls. That's right - dolls with the same human resemblance as barbie dolls. And it was deemed to graphic for anyone under the age of 18 to see regardless of parental consent.

Much to my mother and middle sister's horror, my oldest sister and I are semi obsessed with the seven movies of the Saw franchise. Movies that depict gory, graphic deaths such as a woman's scalp being torn off and a man's limbs and head being twisted off one by one. Twice in the franchise people were burned alive in furnaces. When my sisters and I went to see Saw VII in 3d, we were horrified at the amount of children in the audience. Sitting in front, behind, and next to me were kids no older than 15 - one of which was at best 13. They were accompanied, of course, by adult guardians.

Apparently violence - graphic, terrible, twisted murders - are more child friendly than 2 dolls having sex. The two movie quotes at the start of this post reflect the absurdity of such societal standards. A parent would rather her daughter be into drugs or have a DWI than be pregnant. Rather she be putting the lives of herself and others at risk than think about her having sex. In Knocked Up, of course, the mother would rather her daughter think of bloody, crazy, beginning to pregnancy than explain the idea of sex.

Unlike violence and murder, unlike drugs and drinking, sex is a perfectly natural, and necessary part of life. In some cultures outside of America such as Dutch culture, sex is discussed at an early age, leading kids to confer with their parents before their first sexual experience. They are more likely to use contraception, especially birth control pills. They have significantly lower rates of STD's, teen pregnancy, and consequently, abortions. Something the conservative right should desperately want to jump on. And it's not created through abstinence only education, secrecy, and fear tactics.

I'm not suggesting pornogrpahic movies have a G rating. But I think most people can agree that a society where violence is deemed more acceptable and natural than sex is a little twisted. I would rather my future children be exposed to sex than SAW. The more we start to view sex as a beautiful, natural intimacy between two consensual partners, the more likely we are to reduce the excitement and desire of having as many partners as possible. Like the drug war, prohibition breeds misuse.

End the prohibition of sex education, and help women and men alike reclaim our sexuality and sexual autonomy.


I think it's safe to say that the only males that have read more than a single post in this blog is my boyfriend and my father. Given that I have no brothers, and my guy friends are still confused about when, where, and how I managed to turn into a feminist (I once wrote a paper for a high school history class about how feminists should shut up and accept their female roles in society...), the only male figures in my life with feminist loyalties is the bf and dad.

Which is akin to attempting to spread the word of god by talking to a convent.

It's impossible for the feminist movement (or any egalitarian movement) to gain any ground if the only audience it reaches is the victimized group. How can we get men to join the fight towards female autonomy, and a safer society when it's they who don't want to identify themselves with the perpetrators of crimes?

How can we better use sexual assault prevention programs already in place at Universities and in Fraternities? Most research shows that while these current programs help reduce rape myth acceptance immediately following the session, long term effects are minimal. I would think that having coed educational groups on this subject would be more productive, as fraternities especially are notorious for their dangerous male group mentality. A female voice or even simple presence could provide a sort of reminder that such programs are not jokes nor a boring waste of time.

Oddly enough, my theory is unsound. In order to affect change among our male counterparts, studies show that all-male peer education groups provide the greatest long term changes in the rape myth acceptance. Even more telling is the way such programs are advertised.

Nobody enjoys being blamed, especially not for another's crimes. When it comes to sexual assault, men especially don't want to hear about how their entire gender is ignorant and responsible. Men want to feel like protectors, not violent criminals (well for the most part anyway). So programs aimed at supporting rape victims as opposed to stopping rape actually do more to educate males on both subjects. Furthermore, using an example of a male rape victim instead of a female helps men to identify more with the victim.

When men know better how to help a friend who was sexually assaulted, they can incorporate that knowledge into everyday lives. By better understanding the emotional distress of victims, it becomes easier to learn how to prevent that distress from occurring in the first place.

My father obviously has lived with my mother, my two sisters, and I for decades, and my boyfriend is not only a cop who deals with domestic violence on a daily basis but clearly dating a feminist. These are not the audiences I want or need to reach. While I appreciate their support in the fight, it is more important to reach those men who won't ever read this.

So how can we reach them?

(studies mentioned in this post are from John D. Foubert and Kenneth A Marriott's report "Effects of sexual assault peer education program on men's belief in rape myths from Sex Roles, Volume 36 Issue 3, 1997)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now What?

"'When overweight women look at thin models, they see the dissimilarities between themselves and the models, which activates knowledge that they are heavy,' ASU researcher Naomi Mandel told Lemondrop. 'And when they look at heavy models, they see the similarities between themselves and the models, which also activates knowledge that they are heavy.'"
Plus-Size Models Decrease Women's Self-Esteem

Years, decades, of media inflicted blows to our self esteem have caused women to be dissatisfied with themselves regardless of the person gracing the cover of Vogue. Women have become more attracted to the underweight body type than men.

Once again, women don't need (or apparently want) models to look up to. Regardless of size the bodies we see in the media are nameless, objectified versions of idols. How many people dream of being on the cover of a magazine? Or depicted in a billboard?

So instead of aspiring to look like the people we see, why not have every model have a story? A real reason to look up to them? Real people with real accomplishments, so that we can all look past their looks and see the capabilities we all have to be great.

Why aspire to be thin? Is that really anyone's dream, goal, ambition? Why obsess about weight when we should be fighting for our true dreams? Fighting to affect change in a world that has neglected women and women's rights for so long?

Fight to be the person you want to be. Not the size you want to be.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sexual Harassment

Brett Favre is currently the highlight of the NFL, not for his consecutive game streak, his record number of touch down passes (and interceptions), or his age, but because of sexual harassment charges filed by Jenn Sterger, a model and Gameday host for the New York Jets. Favre allegedly sent lewd pictures of himself and continually called her, leaving multiple voice mails and sending multiple text messages.

Favre has since admitted to the voicemails but claims the pictures are not of him, but an impersonator. (God only knows why someone would try to impersonate Favre by sending naked photos to the girl and how this stranger managed to do it at the same time that Favre began hitting on her might be some evidence working against this claim, but as usual, innocent until proven guilty).

The only problem is...the legal definition of sexual harassment is a form of discrimination in the work place, and the work place alone. Unless a colleague or boss is the one sending unwanted signals, or unwanted (or unwarranted) touching, the legal system has nothing to say about it. Was Favre's harassment unlawful? Or simply harassment? More importantly, why does the law neglect the sexual harassment that occurs between students or even strangers?

Virtually every woman has experienced the catcalls that are stereotypical of men involved in construction. The whistling and lewd remarks about our bodies are clearly unwelcome and unwarranted. None of these men have any desire to actually get to know us, to understand who we are, where we came from, where we're going. Women are simply objects to banter about during their lunch hour. This isnt just those in construction (nor is it everyone in construction), rather, it comes from almost everywhere. Schools, bars, clubs, even a low key night at a restaurant can include harassment.

So why isn't this legally reprehensible? Why do women need to be accepting of the harassment that is commonplace in society? When can we stand up for ourselves, and when will everyone stand up for our rights? Our right to walk this earth without fear of unwanted and inappropriate advances?

Men didn't learn to disrespect women from their mothers (at least not in this country). But they also don't learn to respect them from their parents. The media teaches them to objectify women, to see us as bodies, and not people. Respect for women starts from knowledge of who women are. Not objects, not just bodies, not just strangers to harass and laugh at.

We are people. We are friends, daughters, sisters, mothers. We are YOUR friends, daughters, sisters, mothers. The most common insult involves ones mother. Respect for the woman who brought you into this world is the most basic of instincts.

So treat all women as you would your mother. Imagine every catcall as being directed at your mother.

Dear Brett Favre, men, and the legal system,

All harassment that is sexual in nature is sexual harassment.

And it is NOT okay.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I was finishing up Kristoff's Half the Sky last night and the tail end of that book touches on FGM, or female genital mutilation. Formerly referred to female circumcision, that term was discarded because it did not convey the horrors and torture enacted in the procedure. In the most liberal of communities, girls usually before the age of 10, are taken by other women and have their clitoris cut off with knives that have not been properly sanitized. Many areas go even further and cut off the labia, and some places even sew up the vagina, leaving only a small hole for menstruation.

It's hard to even read about it with being appalled. Yet women in these cultures not only do it to each other, but girls even ask to have it done to them.

Can there be a universal right without encroaching on cultural beliefs? Does fighting for equal status of men and women mean being ethnocentric? Should we try to simply provide clean razors for this "circumcision" so that infection will be reduced, or should we try to stop the practice altogether and risk being seen as arrogant and egocentric?

In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," a town gathers together one day every year and one person is randomly selected to be stoned to death. The kids all get excited for the day by collection rocks to throw, and nobody every stops to question the barbarity of the practice. It's just what they do.

For how long did the world view slavery as just a cultural practice, just something people did, something that would never change? How long did China continue to bind the feet of their daughters?

Cultures change when education prevails. FGM may be how things are done in certain parts of the world, girls and women may even support the practice, and resent American involvement. But that doesn't make ignorance any better.

This isn't a matter of cultural ideals.

This is a matter of human rights.