Tag Archives: sexual assault

Why The Men’s Rights Movement Is Garbage

28 Mar

I need to take a moment here to talk about the Men’s Rights Movement, because there seems to be some confusion. Actually, there seems to be a whole lot of confusion.

Over the past little while, I’ve had a number of people challenge me on calling out men’s rights activists (hereafter referred to as MRAs). “But men are oppressed too,” people say. “Feminism is sexist, and it teaches men that masculinity is wrong.” “Straight, white men aren’t allowed to be proud of themselves anymore.” “If you believe in equality, then you should want men to have the same type of activism as women.” “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

First of all, yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But let’s not pretend that all opinions are created equal – some are based on fact, and some are total bullshit. Like, I could tell you that I believe that vaccines cause autism, and that would be my opinion, but it would also be demonstrably untrue. So let’s not pretend that all opinions should be given the same consideration, because we both know better than that.

Second of all, let’s get one thing straight: men, as a group, do not face systematic oppression because of their gender. Am I saying that literally no men out there are oppressed? No, I am for sure not saying that. Men can and do face oppression and marginalization for many reasons – because of race, class, sexuality, poverty, to name a few. Am I saying that every white cishet dude out there has an amazing life because of all his amassed privilege? Nope, I’m not saying that either. There are many circumstances that might lead to someone living a difficult life. But men do not face oppression because they are men. Misandry is not actually a thing, and pretending that it’s an oppressive force on par with or worse than misogyny is offensive, gross, and intellectually dishonest.

MRAs believe that feminists are to blame for basically everything that’s wrong with their lives. The Men’s Rights Movement is a reactionary movement created specifically to counter feminism, and most (if not all) of their time and resources go towards silencing and marginalizing women. They do things like starting the Don’t Be That Girl campaign, a campaign that accuses women of making false rape reports. They attend feminist events in order to bully and intimidate women, they flood online feminist spaces with threatening messages, and they regularly use smear campaigns and scare tactics to make the women who don’t back down afraid for their physical safety. They do literally nothing to actually resolve the problems that they claim to care about, and instead do everything they can to discredit the feminist movement.

There are certainly issues that disproportionately affect men – the suicide rate among men is higher, as is the rate of homelessness. Men are more likely to be injured or killed on the job or because of violence. Men who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault are less likely to report these things. These are the issues that MRAs are purportedly working on, and by “working on” I mean “blaming feminism for.” The problem is that none of these things are caused by feminism, or equal rights for women, or anything like that. You know what’s actually to blame for a lot of these issues? Marginalizing forces like class and race, for one thing – I mean, it’s not rich white men who are grappling with homelessness or dangerous workplaces or gun violence. You know what else is to blame? Our patriarchal culture and its strictly enforced gender roles which, hey, happens to be exactly the same power structure that feminism is trying to take down. The patriarchy has some fucked up ideas about masculinity, ideas that make men less likely to seek help for issues that they perceive to be too feminine – such as being hurt or raped by a female partner, not being able to provide for themselves, or not seeking help for health issues like depression and anxiety. On a societal level, it means that resources are not as readily available for men who face these challenges, because patriarchal ideas tell our courts, our governments and our charitable organizations that men don’t ever need that kind of help. Yes, the patriarchy overwhelmingly privileges the interests of men, but it also hurts men. It hurts men in all the ways that MRAs are apparently so concerned about, which means that you would think that MRAs would be totally on board with dismantling the patriarchy, but they’re not. Instead, they would rather blame women for their problems.

See, the problem with the Men’s Rights Movement is that they are not doing anything concrete to resolve any of the above issues. They are not raising money to open shelters for homeless or abused men. They are not starting up suicide hotlines for men. They are not lobbying for safer workplaces or gun control. Instead, they are crying about feminism, pooh-poohing the idea of patriarchy and generally making the world a sadder, scarier, less safe place to live in. In fact, I would argue that their stupid antics are actually a detriment t0 the causes that they claim to espouse, because they’re creating an association between actual real issues that men face and their disgusting buffoonery. So good fucking job, MRAs. Way to fuck vulnerable men over in your quest to prove that feminism is evil. I hope you’re all really proud of yourselves.

The Men’s Rights Movement is not “feminism for men.” It’s not some kind of complimentary activism meant to help promote equal treatment of men and women. And it fucking most certainly  is not friendly towards women, unless we’re talking about women with crippling cases of internalized misogyny. I believe in equality for men and women, but I also believe that we’re not born with an even playing field. Women still face disenfranchisement, discrimination and a lack of basic freedoms and rights, and although feminism has done a lot of great work over the last century or so, we still haven’t undone several millennia’s worth of social programming and oppression. So that’s why it’s not “men’s turn” to have a social justice movement. That’s why we have the fem in feminism. That’s why fairness and equality involve promoting the empowerment of women, rather than promoting the empowerment of both genders in equal amounts. Because, to use a stupid analogy here, if one person starts out with no apples and another person starts out with five apples and then you give them both three apples each in the name of fairness, one person still has five more fucking apples.

So yes, let’s talk about issues that affect men. Let’s come up with solutions for problems that disproportionately hurt men, like suicide and homelessness and violent deaths (while at the same time recognizing that the fact that there are issues that affect more men than women does not mean that men are oppressed because of their gender). Let’s work on opening up shelters for abused men, let’s create campaigns bringing awareness to the fact that men are also the victims of rape, and let’s pressure the government to improve workplace safety. But let’s find a way to do this that’s not at the expense of women. Instead, let’s join together and fuck up the patriarchy real good, because that way everyone wins.

p.s. If you actually think that straight white men aren’t encouraged to be “proud” of themselves you need to check your privilege a million times over and then check it some more because seriously

How I Feel About MRAs

How I Feel About MRAs

Woman Files Sexual Harassment Complaint, Is Suspended From Work For Five Days

10 Mar

Trigger warning for talk of sexual assault

If a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, then she must have done something to cause it.

At least, that’s the message being put forth by the Toronto’s parks and recreation department, where late last month a woman was suspended from work for five days after accusing a male co-worker of unzipping his pants and rubbing his penis against her in the lunchroom.

Susan Rose was responding to a comment made by her colleague John Maynard with, “I will punch you in the dick.” Maynard then became, in her words, “aggressive,” saying, “Do you want to punch me in the dick?” while unzipping his pants and walking towards her. Rose turned away from him and grabbed onto another colleague’s arm, but felt Maynard pressing his body up against hers. She then heard a third colleague tell Maynard to wash his hands, which he did, finishing by wiping his hands dry on Rose’s back.

Rose filed a report on the incident, and an internal investigation found that there was “some merit” to Rose’s claims (the main contention seems to be over whether or not the accused actually pulled out his penis – since Rose was turned away from him, she cannot reliably say whether or not that part occurred). In a February 28th decision letter sent to Rose, parks general supervisor Jim McKay said that the claims of workplace harassment against Maynard had “been addressed,” though he didn’t mention whether any disciplinary action had been taken. In the same letter, Rose was told that her own comment – “I will punch you in the dick,” which she says was a joke typical of their workplace environment – was “inappropriate” and “in violation of the City of Toronto’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment Policy.”

The letter then went on to say, “The city aims to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect. All employees are responsible for respecting the dignity and rights of their co-workers.”

The letter also says, ““By your own account, you regularly participated in banter and inappropriate workplace behaviour with Mr. Maynard.”

Rose was suspended for five days beginning on February 28th and will be required to take a course in human rights, anti-harrassment and discrimination.

I’m not going to argue that what Rose said was appropriate – obviously it wasn’t, a fact that she admitted in an interview with the Toronto Star. However can we just talk for a hot second about the fact that she was suspended for harassment and violation of human rights while Maynard seems to have gotten off scot-free? Can we take a moment to think about how absolutely fucked up that is?

Let’s review the facts here: a woman is made visibly uncomfortable by the sexual actions of a co-worker, she files a report about the incident, and she is basically told that she is at fault for having said, in jest, that she was going to punch him in the dick. Like saying “dick” is some kind of magic spell that charms penises right out of the pants that contain them. Like Maynard can’t be faulted at all for whipping his junk out, because she made a joke about his dick. Like making a joke inappropriate for the workplace is somehow on equal footing with physical act of pressing your genitals up against someone.

Suspending Rose and forcing her to take an anti-harassment course are the equivalent of saying, “she was asking for it.”

Telling Rose that she regularly engaged in “inappropriate” banter with Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “his actions are the predictable end result of all the sexual jokes both of you have engaged in.”

The decision not to suspend Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “boys will be boys and, honestly, what did you expect?”

How do we even live in a world where a woman reports an incident of sexual harassment and is then punished because her workplace decided that it was all her fault? Jesus Christ.

If you’ve ever needed proof of rape culture, if you’ve ever needed proof that we live in a society that downplays sexual vioelence while regularly shaming and blaming victims of sex crimes, well, here it is.

Still not convinced? The comments on The Star’s coverage of the story are even more enlightening:

‘She got what she deserved. She wants to be one of the boys when it suits her. Her comments caused this who situation to occur and now she cries foul.’

‘She wants him to be punished for things she did also.’

‘ … it was she who started it by threatening to assault his private parts.’

‘sounds like she was a willing participant in antics that got out of hand’

‘Sorry, but I don’t quite believe her side of the story. She lost me when she got into the standard dialogue of being traumatized, degraded, him being violent, etc. Assault? Please. She won’t be bullied? Give me a break. Why do I get the idea that she’s a problem employee?’

‘Why is everybody getting so uptight about anything remotely connected to sex? How long before society can shed its phony Victorian attitude.’

These are the kinds of things that victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault are used to hearing: you must have done something to deserve this, you started it, you wanted it, you liked it. I don’t believe you. It doesn’t sound that bad. It sounds like you’re the one with the problem. This is what you get for daring to be a girl who wants to be “just one of the boys.” This is what you get. This is what you get. This is what you get.

No. This isn’t what anyone “gets.” Sexual harassment is not the natural consequence of telling an off-colour joke. Sexual assault is not just a regrettable thing that happens when a woman spends too much time in the company of men. No one else has the right to tell a victim how they should or shouldn’t feel about being assaulted.

And people wonder why more victims of sexual assault don’t come forward.

Susan Rose

Susan Rose

Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa

28 Feb

On February 10th, Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, was sent screenshots of a chat that had taken place earlier in the month between two student federation board members and several other students who are either elected to or participate in various faculty associations. The chat had taken place during the student federation elections, and all five men involved were members of a campaign opposing Roy’s (Roy has been president of the student federation since May 2013, and was re-elected this month). The conversation was about Roy, and the portion she was given contained graphic sexual descriptions about what the men wanted to do to her, including a rape joke that could, potentially, be taken as a rape threat.

Below are the screenshots. The participants are as follows:

Bart Tremblay: a non-elected student involved with the association for the Arts faculty

Alexandre Giroux: On the board of directors of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, and VP Social for the Science Student Association

Alex Larochelle: VP Social for the Criminology Student Association

Pat Marquis: VP Social of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa

Michel Fournier-Simard: VP Social for the Political Science and International developement Association

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.56.05 PM

Bart Tremblay: Let me tell you something right now: the “tri-fluvienne” [nickname for someone from Trois-Rivières, Québec] president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat [Marquis]’s desk

Alexandre Giroux: Tri-fluvienne? Who’s that?

Alex Larochelle: PJ I believe?

Bart Tremblay: Anne-Marie Roy, you dipshits, she comes from Trois-Rivières

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.56.45 PM

Alexandre Giroux: What? No. What a shit-eater. She says that she comes from somewhere in Ontario.

Alex Larochelle: Fuck yeah Anne Marie Roy

Bart Tremblay: She told me Trois-Rivières

Alexandre Giroux: Haha shiiit

Alex Larochelle: Someone punish her with their shaft

Alexandre Giroux: Well Christ, if you fuck Anne Marie I will definitely buy you a beer

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.57.07 PM

Alex Larochelle: Hahah, I’d buy you a beer too

Bart Tremblay: Lol

Alexandre Giroux: BAHAHA

Pat Marquis: I’ll get a 24 for Bart if he does it

Bart Tremblay: [Thumbs up symbol]

Bart Tremblay: Yeeee

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.57.41 PM

Michel Fournier-Simard: Dude she has chlamydia. And she told francophone students that she was from Trois-Rivières but she moved to Southern Ontario when she was five years old. It’s a super political strategy.

Alex Larochelle: Hahaha I heard she has syphilis

Alexandre Giroux: Well look hahhahahah

Alex Larochelle: But those get treated bro lol. Someone told Pat and I when we were in Boston. It’s such bull shit hahaha.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.

Can you imagine anything like this ever being said about a male leader? Try to picture, for a moment, a female candidate saying that her opponent is going to eat her out, or that she’s going to “punish” him with her vagina. Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? And yet, this is the kind of thing that women are subjected to all the time; the truth is that no matter how far we might think we’ve come, no matter how many female CEOs there might be, the belief that women are little more than a collection of fuck-holes persists. Oh sure, people might pay lip-service to the fact that women are equal to men in intelligence, talent, and capability, but at the end of the day we can’t escape the fact that a woman is still viewed as being less than a person. Because that conversation right there? That is not how you talk about a person.

What’s even worse is that events like these are nearly always downplayed. It’s just a joke, people say. They would never have said that if they’d thought you would hear it. In fact, three of the five men involved in the conversation are considering legal action against Roy on the grounds that it was a private conversation that should not have been made public. That’s right. They want to pursue legal action against her because she publicly called them out for making rape jokes about her. This is the fucked up culture we live in.

To make things even worse, these men are all in a position of leadership at the University of Ottawa. These are the people that the students look up to, that they use as a sort of moral compass to navigate university life. If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?

Since this incident was first brought to light, Pat Marquis, the VP Social for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, has been in discussions with Roy about the accountability measures he can take for his role in this conversation. It is their hope that these measures can be a public conversation between Roy and Marquis, and could serve as a learning opportunity for the student body. Alex Larochelle has also contacted Roy and tentatively mentioned participating in this conversation as well. As for Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux and Michel Fournier-Simard, they are continuing to attempt to pursue legal action against Roy.

I reached Roy this afternoon for a statement, and she had this to say:

“It’s definitely concerning because these are individuals who are responsible for putting on social events, many of which involve alcohol, and they are also responsible for the safety of membership at these events. On a personal level I feel that this is very misogynistic, I feel that this is a reaction that these men are having because I’m a woman in a position of leadership. My concerns on this are twofold: first, the issue of student safety in general, and second, that women are not going to feel safe running for positions of leadership on campus.”

I think she pretty much hits the nail on the head with that assessment.

ETA: comments are now closed on this post

How To Undermine A Rape Victim 101

3 Feb

Trigger warning for talk of rape 

Preface the victim’s open letter about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father with a statement saying that he deserves the presumption of innocence. Always approach situations like this with the thought that the victim might be lying; remind yourself and others that the burden of proof is on her.

Insist on referring to the victim as the rapist’s “adopted daughter,” as if that mitigates what he has done. Using subtle language cues like this, imply that though it might be rape, it’s not really incest because the the rapist is not the victim’s biological father. Pretend that adoptive parents somehow feel differently about their children than biological parents do.

Like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, insist on your ability to differentiate between an artist and their art. As a spokesperson for the organization said, “The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists.” Tell yourself that many great artists have been problematic – for example, Picasso was an abusive womanizer, but you can still enjoy his paintings – and that a person’s behaviour should not influence whether or not we view their art as great. Perhaps you could even take this a step further and insist to yourself that a perpetrator of such violence could never make such wonderful art. Let the rapist’s popularly beloved films stand as a sort of character witness, proving that there is no way he could ever have harmed his own child.

If you have worked closely with the rapist, take a page from Cate Blanchett’s book and distance yourself from the accusations, pretend that it has nothing to do with you. Tell yourself that it’s a private family matter; your willingness to be friends with the rapist is certainly not a public statement either condoning his actions or dismissing the victim’s accusations. Make a statement similar to Blanchett’s, something like: “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace.” This type of conflict is not at all convenient for your career or the image you’re trying to build for yourself.

Blame everything on the only parent the rape victim is able to love and trust. Accuse her of being the truly abusive parent; say that she was and is crazy with jealousy. Insist that she orchestrated the entire thing as an elaborate revenge plot. Paint the rapist as a victim who has had his relationship with his children destroyed by their monster of a mother. Pretend to be sympathetic to the victim, the poor girl whose mother has planted terrible ideas in her head. After all, this certainly worked for Woody Allen and his lawyer, who issued a statement saying: “It is tragic that after 20 years a story engineered by a vengeful lover resurfaces after it was fully vetted and rejected by independent authorities. The one to blame for Dylan’s distress is neither Dylan nor Woody Allen.

Write a lengthy article about how we don’t know the other side, the rapist’s side, of the story. Construct an elaborate argument explaining why the victim is a liar, knowing or not. Use a multitude of circumstantial evidence not even a little bit directly related to the actual assault described by the victim to discredit her. For example, insinuate that the victim’s mother is a hypocrite because she testified on Roman Polanski’s behalf when he was accused of rape; pretend that that has any bearing on whether or not Woody Allen raped his daughter. Using every anecdote and half-truth that comes your way to cast doubt in your readers’ minds. This won’t be hard; they are looking for a reason, any reason, to doubt anyway.

Or, like Diane Keaton, you could refuse to issue a statement, hide your head in the sand, and hope that this will all blow over.

Do not treat the victim as if they are a person with agency and thoughts and feelings – instead, treat them as an intellectual exercise, their life a puzzle to be solved, their words an argument to be defeated. Do not imagine yourself in their place, what it must be like to write a letter about the abuse they’ve suffered at their rich and powerful father’s hands. Do not try to think about what it must be like to have the entirety of the Hollywood machine working against you, swaying the minds of the population against what you are saying. Do not picture the anguish you might feel at seeing scores upon scores of people trying to discredit you, trying to trip you up, trying to defend the man who raped you, the man they all love so very much.

Do not think about the message that this, your willingness to doubt, is sending to all of the people you know who have also been victims of rape. They almost certainly number far more than  you know, but try not to think about how your reaction might further convince them that sharing their story will only be met with derision and disbelief.

Tell yourself that this is not rape culture. Tell yourself that a knee-jerk reaction of you must be lying or remembering it wrong when faced with a victim’s accusations of rape is not a sign that our society is so very, very fucked up. Tell yourself that it’s rational and logical to want to know all sides of the story, though you never want to know the other side, the perpetrator’s side, when your house is broken into or your wallet is stolen or your child is hit by a car. Tell yourself that we can never know for sure what happened and since a man’s life can be destroyed by accusations of rape, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Do not think about the girl whose life was destroyed when she was seven.

Above all, never, ever, ever think about the ways that you might be complicit in this.

dylan-farrow-blog480-v3

I stand with Dylan Farrow.

Virginity Is A Social Construct

19 Dec

Jezebel published a piece today with the title “Nearly 1% Of Women Claim They Were Virgins When They Gave Birth,” and, because this is Jezebel we’re talking about here, they used this as an opportunity to shame and belittle the women who say that they became pregnant while still virgins. And just so we all understand what author Erin Gloria Ryan means by virgins, she writes that they are women who,

“… were unpenetrated by the peen of a man when they became pregnant.”

She further explains,

“This doesn’t include women who became pregnant via in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination; these are women who gave birth the old fashioned way and were like *shrug! SERIOUSLY GUYS I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED!”

Then (incorrectly) asserts,

“Getting pregnant without sex is virtually scientifically impossible, yet dozens of women in the study (who were teens when the research began) swear up and down that their babies happened sans man. This is the biological equivalent of claiming that your glass of drinking water spontaneously began boiling itself without the presence of heat. I mean, maybe it’s Unsolved Mysteries-possible, but it’s highly doubtful that 0.8% of all glasses of water boil themselves. Come on.”

Also, just so that we’re really super clear on how Jezebel views these women, the article was posted to their Facebook page with the following header:

Nearly 1% of women insist they were virgins when they gave birth, which means that nearly 1% of women are delusional.

Oh, Jezebel. Jezebel. I know all the cool kids have already said it, but damn. You sure do suck at feminism.

First of all, it is definitely scientifically possible to become pregnant without having penetrative vaginal sex. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s possible – all you need is for a someone to ejaculate on or in close proximity to the vagina, or else have some other thing with sperm on it – a finger, say, or a sex toy – penetrate the vagina. Yes, these are unlikely ways in which to become pregnant, but they’re not within the same realm as water spontaneously boiling.

Second of all, can we not have this discussion without calling women stupid or crazy or just flat out accuse them of lying?

Third of all, can we please stop talking about virginity as if it is a real, measurable thing?

Virginity is not a thing. Not really. It is a social construct meant to make people, especially women, feel badly about their sexuality and sexual experience. It is a way of policing other people’s bodies and passing judgment on how they use them. It is, at its very core, a way of controlling and subjugating women.

One problem with the idea of virginity is that there’s no hard and fast way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t. Many people would define loss of virginity in a very heteronormative sense – a sexual act where the penis penetrates the vagina. But does that mean, then, that a queer woman who has only ever been with other women is a virgin? Is a gay man, who has only ever had anal sex, a virgin? Most people, when pressed, would agree that no, those folks aren’t really virgins, even if they’ve never had penis-in-vagina-style intercourse. The flip side of this is that many rape victims don’t feel as if they have lost their virginity even if they’ve had penetrative intercourse forced on them. They consider themselves to be virgins because they don’t consider what happened to them to be sex. So taking all of that into consideration, how do we then define virginity?

Some people have said that performing any sexual act constitutes losing one’s virginity, but that seems like much too broad of a definition. Kids start experimenting with sexual play and experimentation at a fairly young age, so does it then follow that anyone who’s kissed someone of the opposite sex or shown them their genitals has de facto lost their virginity? I’m not sure that this idea makes any more sense than saying that virginity can only be lost through one very specific sexual act.

Another problem is that there is literally no way of knowing if someone is a virgin or not. Oh, people will tell you that you can check if a woman’s hymen is broken, but that’s not a reliable indicator at all. A hymen can be broken without any kind of sexual intercourse, through sports or through some kind of injury. Not all women are born with hymens. Not all hymens tear during penetrative sex. And yet we’ve all been sold this idea of torn flesh and blood on sheets as some kind of definite rite of passage for women. This idea – that you can somehow tell if a woman has been sexually active – has contributed to the oppression and subjugation of women for pretty much all of recorded history. It’s given men a way to control women, to make them ashamed of their bodies their sexuality. It’s led to a double standard where it’s fine – even encouraged – for boys to gain sexual experience, but women who are sexually active before marriage or have sex with too many people are considered to be slutty or damaged goods.

Finally, why is virginity so damn important to us? We don’t have nouns for who or what we were before we hit any other life milestones – there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk or talk or read and write – all of which I would argue are more important achievements than getting laid – and yet it’s the sex that we focus on. Why do we put so much more weight on this one small facet of human life than we do on any of the others? Why are we still making a big deal out of who is a virgin and who isn’t?

This is the discussion that we should be having – not about whether women are lying or delusional about their virginity, but about why we still use this damaging term. We need to talk about why the idea of virginity continues to hold such sway over our cultural consciousness, and why so-called feminist websites a perpetuating the thought that virginity is a tangible, definable thing. Most of all, we need to figure out a better way to talk to kids about their bodies and their sexuality, because the way that we’re doing it now clearly isn’t working.

Even Mary agrees - virginity is bullshit

Even Mary agrees – virginity is bullshit

Is This Rape Culture?

24 Jun

rape_culture_shirt

I’d seen this image pop up a few times on my Facebook feed, but it wasn’t until the super-popular website PostSecret shared it on their page that I really sat up and took notice. Or rather, it wasn’t until someone commented saying that this shirt promoted rape culture, and a friend asked me if I agreed with that statement, that I really gave it much thought beyond the usual oh great, more “hilarious” misogyny.

But you know what? After taking some time to think about it, I realized that I agreed with the PostSecret commenter. This shirt is really pretty gross. This shirt promotes some very problematic ideas about women and how they relate to men. This shirt implies that male violence, both sexual and physical, is the societal norm.

This shirt is rape culture.

Now, I’m not saying that this shirt promotes rape, or is encouraging anyone to go out and commit sexual assault. In fact, at first glance, the shirt’s message is pretty benign, right? I mean, it’s all about a dad protecting his daughter, and even if that idea is badly executed, well, the sentiment behind it is still admirable, isn’t it?

Except that it’s not.

The problem is that the real, underlying sentiment here is that the daughter is a man’s possession, not a person. She’s either her father’s “princess” or her boyfriend’s “conquest.” It’s clear that the daughter’s wants and desires mean nothing to her father – he says that he will dislike anyone that she dates simply because they are dating his daughter. It doesn’t matter whether this boyfriend (since the shirt is operating off the assumption that the daughter is cisgender and heterosexual) is a nice guy, whether he treats the daughter well, or even whether the daughter loves him – the father will still dislike him, based on the simple fact that this teenage boy wants to be physically close to his daughter.

I know what you’re going to say – But he’s not being possessive, he’s just being protective of her! He doesn’t want her to get hurt! That’s a totally natural way to feel!

What do we mean, though, when we talk about the daughter being “hurt” by her boyfriend? Do we mean hurt feelings? That certainly doesn’t seem to be what other people get from this shirt, based on the comments left on PostSecret’s Facebook page:

“He’s just trying to protect his daughter! You must have no idea some of the terrible things that happen to women.”

“It sort of more implies that these people are minors and are under their parent’s care. And being that teenage boys tend to be these creepy-ass horndogs, this is a father’s reaction to that.”

“If you dislike this shirt, you are obviously not a father.”

“I have 2 daughters [and] I agree with Sabria.. as parents we are the first line of defense. Unfortunately we may teach our daughters how to defend themselves, my eldest does, and we may teach them that they are not objects but people, but the problem still exsists where not everyone cares enough about their kids to teach them the right way. So yes jokes like these are stupid but true at the same time. I told my daughter, after finding out a girl in her class was molested, that i would happily kill someone to protect her and her siblings. I am her first line of defense so yes if you hurt my child i will hurt you back with twice as much force. The sentiment in the joke is to protect your child, not to try and objectify them.”

“My dad has never viewed me as his property, but he says stuff like this all the time when my mom prompts him by bringing up the length of my skirt or likewise. I can see how people would take this as implying ownership, but it simply does not. It’s just a dad saying, she’s my baby girl and I will protect her no matter what.”

So it’s pretty obvious that what we’re talking about here isn’t emotional damage, but rather sexual violence. Which brings us to point number ten on the shirt – “Whatever you do to her, I will do to you.” In the light of the comments above and the way that most people seem to interpret this shirt, it’s pretty clear that item ten on this list is a rape joke. The father will rape the boyfriend if he sleeps with the daughter. And that’s where the fact that this shirt is participating in and furthering rape culture becomes especially apparent.

Rape culture is the normalization and trivialization of rape and sexual assault. It’s a culture in which sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable. It’s a culture that teaches us that male sexual violence is both normal and desirable. It also teaches us that men are not able to control their actions when they are aroused.

And that’s what this shirt is really saying, isn’t it? That a teenage boy will, given the chance, commit some kind of sexual violence against his girlfriend, and that the only solution to that violence is more violence, this time on the part of the father. This shirt assumes that the rape (or attempted rape) of the daughter is inevitable, and the only solution is to remove the boyfriend from the scene. This shirt says that the blame (sidebar – why the need for blame?) for any sex had by the teenage couple will be put squarely on the shoulders of the male partner. Why? Because our culture teaches us that men want sex more than women, that they can’t help being physically aggressive when it comes to sex, and finally that all of these toxic messages are just sexual norms and there’s nothing that we can do to combat them beyond matching violence with violence.

Look, I’m sure that the person who created this shirt had some very good, humorous intentions. I’m sure that they didn’t think about the possibility of people interpreting their message as contributing to rape culture. And I’m especially sure that PostSecret shared this on their Facebook page in good faith, figuring that it was something that their readership would enjoy and hopefully get a laugh out of. But the fact that this shirt and its message are so seemingly innocent is really what makes them so dangerous – because that’s how these messages make their way most easily into our cultural consciousness, not through overtly offensive or misogynist material, but through the stuff that seems harmless at face value. If someone shares a terrible rape joke on Facebook, it’s easy to explain why that’s wrong, but something like this requires a somewhat more complex, carefully calibrated approach.

I guess that what I want people to get out of this post is that it’s important to listen when someone says that something is wrong, or offensive, or contributes to rape culture. You don’t ultimately have to agree with them, but it would mean a lot if you could reign in your knee-jerk reaction of it’s just a joke or stop being such a humourless bitch or some people just want to be offended by everything and actually took a moment to try to see what that other person is trying to get at. You might discover that they actually have a point, or you might learn to look at stuff like this from a new angle, but even if you don’t, at least that person will feel as if they’ve been heard. And if they feel that way, then they’re more likely to listen to you, and that’s how dialogue works. And out of dialogue comes change.

And change is good.

Disney’s Rape Problem

19 Jun

Disney.

Now there’s a word that’s bound to conjure up some kind of feeling in pretty much everyone in the western world. And, I mean, love ’em or hate ’em (and there are tons of people in both camps), you can’t ignore the fact that, as a brand, they’ve had an enormous cultural impact.

My own relationship with Disney is pretty ambivalent. I grew up watching the movies, and I would be lying if I said that there aren’t a few of them that I can still quote, verbatim, to this day – especially Disney’s Robin Hood. Man, I watched the shit out of that movie, and I still love it, even now. I like to joke that it was my introduction to the social justice movement; it was the first time that I’d ever realized that just because something was against the law didn’t mean that it couldn’t also be morally right, and it taught me that even just a few people standing up against powerful government forces could affect change. I also think that that movie was the beginning of my love for all things historical, especially the medieval period in Europe. And yeah, for sure, Disney didn’t come up with the story of Robin Hood, but they did present it in a way that was fun and relatable for children, and they added foxes. Man, I love foxes! In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Disney’s Robin Hood is responsible for that, too.

Disney's Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

Disney’s Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

As a teenager and young adult, I became pretty critical of Disney and all that it stood for. I became conscious of the toxicity of “princess culture,” and began to question why basically everyone in their movies was white. I became cynical of how aggressively Disney tried to breed brand loyalty among even the youngest of children, up to and including offering free Disney onesies to new babies in hospitals. On top of that, the more that I learned about Walt Disney and his business practices, especially the special deals that he brokered in Florida while building Disney World, the more weirded out I became.

Still, when my mother announced a family vacation to Disney World a few summers ago, I was game. I’d never been before, but my mother and sisters had done the Disney thing back in 2005, while I was still living in Halifax, and I knew that they’d had a blast. It wasn’t so much about the brand or even all the fun things to do, my family insisted, it was about how well the staff treated you, how special and important you felt. And when my family and I, my five-month-old son in tow, descended on Disney World in July of 2011, I discovered that they were right. And maybe it was because I was still in the middle of that funny culture shock that comes after you have a kid, those few months where you’re slowly and painfully discovering that the world is nowhere near as easy to navigate as you once thought it was, but I remember being so incredibly grateful for the fact that Disney World seemed to have thought of absolutely everything when it came to dealing with families with small children. Disney World was the first place that I’d ever taken Theo where I didn’t feel like my child’s needs were a burden or a hassle to the staff.

And let’s just get one thing straight here: Disney’s staff are excellent. Really, really excellent. They are people that the company should be incredibly thankful for. Instead, as I’ve recently learned, Disney doesn’t have much interest in caring for or protecting their staff. In fact, when it comes to the issue of sexual assault in the workplace, they’re pretty happy to throw their female employees to the wolves and wash their hands of any responsibility.

In fact, Disney is pretty firm on the idea that if you are an employee who was raped while drinking and socializing with employees of the opposite sex, then it’s all your fault.

Many of you have probably already read Dana Wierzbicki’s post on XOJane from Monday called “It Happened To Me: I Was Raped Disney World And Nobody Cared” – for those of you who haven’t, I’ll give you a  brief rundown:

Dana was an employee at Disney World while participating in the Disney College Program, a program that allows post-secondary students from all over the world to come live in Florida, work at Disney World, enjoy unlimited access to the parks all summer, and take a few courses in business management on the side. It should have been the best summer of Dana’s life, and it was, up until she was raped by a co-worker. She says,

He and I went to a party together, we went back to his apartment later, and I said “no,” but he wouldn’t stop.

For two months I kept everything that happened that night to myself. I told my roommates that things went fine and I had a good night.  I didn’t know how to feel about what happened. In the beginning, I told myself it was a misunderstanding; maybe he hadn’t heard me. I blamed myself; I should have yelled louder. I should have pushed harder. I should have punched him and ran out of the room.  I always thought that if I was ever raped I would beat the guy up. Does that mean I wasn’t raped?
After trying to handle the emotional and physical fallout of the rape on her own, Dana eventually decided to seek help from the counselling service that Disney provided. This decision, she writes, was triggered by the fact that she later saw her rapist flirting with other girls at a party, and realized that if she didn’t do something, anything, then he would almost certainly end up raping someone else.
Her experience with the counselling service was, unfortunately, pretty grim. At one point, the counsellor told her, “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”
When Dana told her about seeing her rapist flirting with girls at a party and expressed concern that he was likely to rape again, the counsellor took this to mean that she was jealous of the attention that these other girls were receiving. She advised Dana to show up at the next party looking “hot” and tried to reassure her by saying, “You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you get all the boys.”
Dana then spent several days trying to figure out how she was supposed to properly report her rapist. She was passed from one department to another, and no one seemed to be entirely sure who or what was supposed to handle this type of stuff. Finally, she spoke to someone in Employee Relations who gave her more victim-blaming bullshit and told her that she should have gone to the police back when the rape had happened, but there was nothing that anyone could do now. The woman in Employee Relations told Dana that they would open an investigation, but likely nothing would come of it.
Dana flew home and tried to resume her normal life, but she did follow up with the Employee Relations office several times. She was eventually told that her case had been closed. She called a friend of hers who was still working at Disney World and was told that her rapist was still employed there, and had suffered no repercussions for what he’d done.
After reading Dana’s story, I was admittedly shocked by how terrible Disney’s response was. Surely they couldn’t actually care so little about their employees, could they? Dana’s experience must have been a fluke right? So I spoke to my friend Laura*, who had also participated in the Disney College Program, and asked her if any of Dana’s story meshed with what she’d seen during her own time at Disney World. She said that Dana’s experience unfortunately wasn’t uncommon, and that she’d realized from pretty much day one that Disney was not interested in dealing with sexual assault. She said,
In my first week I was in a room with about 250 Canadian kids learning the rules of the dorms and this big, corporate guy comes in and starts talking to us. He tells us – and I’m paraphrasing a little here – that this is a high crime area and there are sexual assaults regularly around the dorms. That if you are a girl, you should not go out after dark alone, or you might get assaulted. That you should not go to the bars, and definitely not alone, because ‘girls get drugged.’ That you should not make friends with strange men, not go into other people’s dorms alone and not dress provocatively, because girls get assaulted and go home all the time. And if you do get assaulted, don’t go to the housing department, call the police, because there is nothing that housing or Disney can do for you.
And, you know what, without even touching on any of the victim-blaming bullshit that Disney is spewing, can we talk about how fucking ridiculous this is when it comes to anti-rape advice? Like, you are bringing in hundreds of people in their teens and early 20s to work and live together, and you somehow think that it’s sensible to tell people not to associate with the opposite sex? Not to drink? Not to wear “provocative” clothes? Not to go to boys’ dorm rooms? Like, that’s what these kids are there for – I mean, yeah, they are there to work at Disney, but a lot of them are also there to have a good time, and that good time involves drinking and having sex. That is what a lot of people do, and just flat-out advising them not to do it is not going to change anything. But Disney, meanwhile, feels as if they’ve covered all of their bases, and if a girl ends up being the victim of a sexual assault, well, Disney doesn’t want to hear about it because it’s all her fault.
And before you jump in and say that Disney has no control over what their employees do within the comfort of their own apartments, and that the girl should have gone to the police instead of Disney, let’s be clear on something – these dorms and apartments are belong to Disney. Laura says,
[The apartments] are not in “Walt Disney World” itself, they are about 10 minutes away in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Which is fine. They are contracted out from Disney and run by a separate property company for maintenance and stuff, but they are gated residence complexes run exclusively for the Disney college program, the rent money is taken by Disney and Disney Housing arranges everything and has offices on the properties and as a member of the program you are not allowed to live anywhere else but these residences. So, while the rape wouldn’t have happened on “Disney property,” as in not in Walt Disney World proper, it did happen at Disney, in a residence run by Disney, where Disney was forcing it’s program participants to stay and collecting money for it.
With regards to the whole “she should have gone to the police” idea, the fact is that the majority of the people participating in the Disney College Program are not from Florida. In fact, many of them are not from the United States. So it makes sense that they would go to Disney, the employer that brought them there and was housing and educating them, for help after being raped. It’s also not uncommon for people to be intimidated or afraid of the police, and it’s totally logical for someone to feel that going to their traditionally helpful and caring employer when dealing with the fact that their co-worker has raped them.
Look, Disney, you are totally dropping the ball when it comes to handling sexual assault. Not only is your approach gross and victim-blaming, but you’re fucking up from a brand approach as well. So if you can’t bring yourself to change your policies with regards to employee rape and sexual assault out of sheer human decency (which, by the way, you should), then maybe you need to look at it this way: you are losing customers. Big time. The people who go to work at Disney World are some of your most brand-loyal consumers. They want to work at Disney because they love the company and the brand. When you can’t step up and do what’s right for your employees, you are losing their loyalty, and the loyalty of any children that they might have, and their friends’ loyalty, and their family’s loyalty.
You can do this, Disney, you really can. You can make these changes, and I guarantee that they will make Disney World a safer, better place for your employees. You can fix this, I promise. You need to start by providing better training for your counsellors, You need to reach out to organizations that fight against sexual assault, and get some tips on how to deal with rape without blaming the victim, You need to provide better training and education for your employees. This stuff might not be easy, but it’s necessary. Please, please make this effort – if you don’t, stories like Dana’s will continue to happen. And the outcry against you will grow. And you won’t be able to stop it.
I’ve started a petition here to try to convince Disney to put some of these changes in place.
*Not her real name
Cinderellas_Castle