Some of you may know that there is a wave of colleges and universities filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights, claiming that their institutions are failing to protect women from sexual assault. This (first) wave includes Amherst, Yale, the University of North Carolina, Swarthmore, and Occidental among others.
Well, last night many of the details of the stories of the students whose cases have been mishandled — right down to exact quotes from their lives — found themselves in an episode of Law&Order SVU. They didn’t ask for permission, offer a “consulting” fee, or even warn them that it was coming.
This just leaves a this-is-so-wrong-I-don’t-even-know icky feeling in the pit of my gut. I know that Law & Order has been ripping stories from the headlines for three decades, but it stuns me that it can claim to be fiction and not compensate the real women who’s lives are clearly and unequivocally depicted in this show.
Let me put this in stark terms: Law & Order is brazenly capitalizing on the pain and trauma of young women and not only failing to compensate them for stealing their stories, but actually denying that they exist by claiming that the “story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.” Stunning.
Alexandra Brodsky, a survivor who filed the complaints against Yale, told Jezebel:
The SVU episode strikes me as an extreme example of the risk of going public as a survivor: your story is no longer your own.
I’ve not seen a more obvious example of this fact.
The teaser for the episode, plus a list of 15 ways the episode copied real life, collected by Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel, is after the jump.
Let me ask you a question: Do you have a good friend of the opposite sex?
Odds are you do. In fact, the odds are overwhelming.
When I first began teaching, 25 or so years ago, I asked my students how many of them had a good friend of the opposite sex. About 10% said they did. The rest were from what I called the When Harry Met Sally generation. You’ll remember the scene, early in the film, when Harry asserts that women and men can’t be friends because “sex always gets in the way.” Sally is sure he’s wrong. They fight about it. Then, thinking she has the clincher for her position, she says, confidently, “So that means that you can be friends with them if you’re not attracted to them!”
“Ah,” says Harry, “you pretty much want to nail them too.”
Young people today have utterly and completely repudiated this idea. These days, when I ask my students, I’ve had to revise the question: “Is there anyone here who does not have a friend of the opposite sex?” A few hands perhaps, in the more than 400 students in the class.
But let’s think, for a moment, about the “politics” of friendship. With whom do you make friends? With your peers. Not your supervisor or boss. Not your subordinate. Your equal. More than romance, and surely more than workplace relationships, friendships are the relationships with the least amount of inequality.
This changes how we can engage men in the efforts to end sexual assault, because there are three elements to sexual assault that can be discussed and disentangled.
First is m en’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, to sex. This sense of entitlement dissolves in the face of an encounter with your friends. After all, entitlement is premised on inequality. The more equal women are, the less entitlement men may feel. (Entitlement is not to be confused with resentment; equality often breeds resentment in the privileged group. The privileged rarely support equality because they fear they have something to lose.) Entitlement leads men to think that they can do whatever they want.
Second, the Bro Code tells those guys that they’re right – that they can get away with it because their bros won’t challenge or confront them. The bonds of brotherhood demand men’s silent complicity with predatory and potentially assaultive behavior. One never rats out the brotherhood. But if we see our female friends as our equals, then we might be more likely to act ethically to intervene and resist being a passive bystander. (And, of course, we rescue our male friends from doing something that could land him in jail for a very long time.)
Men’s silence is what perpetuates the culture of sexual assault; many of the excellent programs that work to engage men suggest that men start making some noise. We know the women, or know people who know them. This is personal.
Finally, we’re better than that – and we know it.
Sexual assault is often seen as an abstraction, a “bad” thing that happens to other people: Bad people do bad things to people who weren’t careful, were drunk or compromised. But, as I said, it’s personal. And besides, this framing puts all the responsibility on women to monitor their activities, alcohol consumption, and environments; if they don’t, whose fault is it?
This sets the bar far too low to men. It assumes that unless women monitor and police everything they do, drink, say, wear etc., we men are wild, out of control animals and we cannot be held responsible for our actions.
Surely we can do better than this. Surely we can be the good and decent and ethical men we say we are. Surely we can promise, publicly and loudly, the pledge of the White Ribbon Campaign (the world’s largest effort to engage men to end men’s violence against women): I pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
Our friends – both women and men – deserve and expect no less of us.
Re-posted in honor of Roger Ebert’s passing. Cross-posted at BlogHer.
University of Minnesota doctoral candidate Chris Miller sent in a fascinating episode of Siskel and Ebert, a long-lasting TV show devoted to reviewing movies. What is amazing about this episode is the frankness with which the movie critics — Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert — articulate a feminist analysis of a group of slasher movies.
The year? 1980.
First they describe the typical movie:
A woman or young girl is shown alone and isolated and defenseless… a crazy killer springs out of the shadows and attacks her and frequently the killer sadistically threatens the victims before he strikes.
They pull no punches in talking about the problem with the films:
These films hate women.
They go on to suggest that the films are a backlash against the women’s movement:
I’m convinced it has to do with the growth of the woman’s movement in America in the last decade. I think that these films are some sort of primordial response by some very sick people… of men saying “get back in your place, women.”
One thing that most of the victims have in common is that they do act independently… They are liberated women who act on their own. When a woman makes a decision for herself, you can almost bet she will pay with her life.
They note, too, that the violence is sexualized:
The nudity is always gratuitous. It is put in to titillate the audience and women who dress this way or merely uncover their bodies are somehow asking for trouble and somehow deserve the trouble they get. That’s a sick idea.
And they’re not just being anti-horror movie. They conclude:
[There are] good old fashioned horror films… [but] there is a difference between good and scary movies and movies that systematically demean half the human race.
It’s refreshing to hear a straightforward unapologetic feminist analysis outside of a feminist space. Their analysis, however, isn’t as sophisticated as it could be.
Clover admitted that most horror films of the time sexualized violence against women — meditating on the torture and terrorizing of beautiful female victims — but she also pointed out that the person who ultimately vanquished the murderer was almost always also female. She called this person the ”final girl.”
The final girl was different than the rest of the women in the film: she was less sexually active, more androgynous, and smarter. You could pick her out, Clover argued, from the very beginning of the movie. She was always the first to notice that something frightening might be going on.
Boys and men watching horror films, then (and that is the main audience for this genre), were encouraged to “get off” on the murder of women, but they were also encouraged to identify with a female heroine in the end. How many other genres routinely ask men to identify with a female character? Almost none.
In this sense, Clover argues, horror films don’t “hate women.” Instead, they hate a particular kind of woman. They reproduce a Madonna/whore dichotomy in which the whores are dispatched with pleasure, but the Madonna rises to save us all in the end.
On the heels of our recent post about an anti-rape ad that did the unusual — target men and tell then not to rape — comes this Scottish ad, sent along by Sociologist Michael Kimmel, that does a fantastic job of mocking the idea that some women are “asking for it”:
Toban B. sent us two pairs of photographs showing feminist activism and backlash (images found here) at the University of Western Ontario. These posters, and their defacement, nicely demonstrate how resistance to oppression is met with counter-resistance. Until inequality is challenged, things often seem to be just fine; when groups stand up and demand equality, we suddenly see how fiercely people will defend their privilege.
Images after the jump (includes language about sexual violence):
Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault in the aftermath of the Steubenville rape trial, the Senate hearing on rape and harassment in the military, and the controversy at Occidental College. The other day I came upon a post by Margaret Lyons at Vulture pointing out the frequent use of rape jokes in sitcoms this season. A number of sitcoms, especially Two Broke Girls, Whitney, and Work It included scenes where rape served as a punchline. Lyons explains what particularly bothers her about this is that references to rape are being used simply as a “shorthand for outrageousness,” a way to cue the audience that they’re watching a show that is bold and daring, that will say anything!
The post includes a video of clips of a lot of these rape-joke scenes from this season, showing how frequently and casually they’re included. Clearly, these could be particularly upsetting for some readers:
I’ve been thinking about posting the video for a couple of days, but then Jeremiah J. sent in a link to a post that captures what I find problematic about how rape is used in TV and movies so much better than I ever could. Film critic and screenwriter Drew McWeeny posted a lengthy article at HitFix about reaching the breaking point in his ability to watch gratuitous rape scenes in movies. McWeeny explains,
It seems to me that somewhere along the way, it was decided that the easiest way to make an audience uncomfortable was to have someone rape a character onscreen. I must see 30 films a year where somebody needs to have “something bad” happen, and the go-to impulse in almost every case is rape. It is guaranteed to cause a visceral reaction, even when the scenes are badly staged and lazy, which most of them are.
…the point has been more than made on film that rape is a terrible thing, and at this point, if you’re not contributing some new idea to the conversation, then you are literally just using it as a button, something you push to get a response, and that unnerves me.
I think McWeeny’s points are relevant to a discussion of sitcoms’ use of rape jokes as well, because in both cases rape is often being used as a “button,” a lazy, predictable way to get a reaction from an audience and mark the show or movie as one that’s audacious and pushes boundaries. You really must read McWeeny’s full original post, as he eloquently explains why this matters.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault and rape culture in the aftermath of the Steubenville verdict.
On the heels of yesterday’s cartoon making light of lynching published in Eastern Michigan University’s newspaper, Michaela N. submitted an intended-to-be-humorous visual making light of rape in The Purdue Exponent, the Purdue University student newspaper. Part of a “sex position of the week” series, this one suggests that one man should pass a female partner off to another man without her knowledge.
This is another piece of evidence that suggests that we live in a rape culture: a society that, at best, trivializes and, at worst endorses, sexual assault.
UPDATE: Zoe Hayes, editor-in-chief of The Purdue Exponent, sent along a note asking that we link to their apology. To their credit, unlike the non-apology issues in the case of the lynching cartoon linked to above, they express genuine empathy, remorse, and responsiveness.