gender: violence

In January the U.S. government announced a new definition of “forcible rape” to include male victims and oral or anal penetration in addition to vaginal. This has legal implications, of course, but also symbolic ones.  Language shapes how we experience the world, potentially changing how we feel about an event in our lives.  This happened to at least one person, prompting them to send in a postcard to Post Secret:

The more inclusive definition is a net good, I believe.  Legally, it’s best that we have the tools to prosecute these crimes and, for some people, being able to use this word to describe something terrible that happened to them will be validating and empowering.  For others, however, it may heighten the trauma. “Rape” is a powerful word and many Americans imagine it to be among the most harmful of crimes.  Like child abuse, but unlike even very violent non-sexual physical assaults, rape is often believed to be a long-lasting harm, maybe even one that you can never truly recover from.

Perhaps the word “dammit” in the card is meant to convey exactly this sentiment.  It was easier, perhaps, to think it was a bad night.  Now, though nothing has changed except for the language, the victim has to contend with having been raped.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

I was inspired by the blog I Hurt I Am In Fashion to revive this 2008 post.

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This New York Times fashion slide show offers image after image demonstrating our society’s bizarre infatuation with posing women looking awkward, even deformed, frightened, compromised, uncomfortable, even in pain.

I am unsure what to make, particularly, of the interest in images in which women are in dirty and uncomfortable, even painful, places and positions (see the “Maiden Voyage” spread with women in the shipyard in the NYT slide show linked to above). Do we hate women that much? Or is it about something else (also)?

Marie Claire Italia:

W Magazine:

V60 Magazine:

The Ones2Watch:

Fashion Gone Rogue:

Fashionising:

Neo2 Magazine:

Examples from 2008:

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

YetAnotherGirl, Andrew, Rosemary, Nathan Jurgens0n, Dolores, and Ann K. all sent in an ad for Belvedere Vodka that should be listed in the annals of bad ideas. The ad shows a gleeful man grabbing a distressed-looking woman who, we are to presume from the text, must not be going down smoothly (via Feministing):

Because how is it not funny to present your product in a context that says sexual assault is funny?

Online criticism of an ad that seems to be making a joke about forcing women to engage in sexual acts led to the company pulling the ad and issuing an apology of the passive “sorry if you were offended” type:

The company’s president also apologized when speaking to CNN about the controversy (via The Consumerist):

It should never have happened. I am currently investigating the matter to determine how this happened and to be sure it never does so again. The content is contrary to our values and we deeply regret this lapse.

The company also made a donation to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Phil Villarreal, who posted about the ad and the apology at The Consumerist, suggests that the ad may be even more cynical than it at first appears:

The cynical might wonder whether or not the campaign and apology made up a coordinated effort to draw attention to the brand.

Intentionally invoking outrage, then making an apology and symbolic corporate donation as marketing strategy. Any readers with marketing expertise have any insight here? We often see cases of companies desperately trying to control the negative effects of controversies. When does a controversy hurt a brand and when does it serve as a marketing opportunity?

UPDATE: Reader Tom points out that it turns out to be a still from a parody video that someone at the company then reposted (via Adland):

Somebody on their social media team obviously created (or found) and posted it thinking it was an amusing parody. And that person has probably been found and fired.

But it is unlikely anyone officially *in charge* of the brand actually saw and approved this.

As Tom says, this brings up a separate issue: the challenges to companies of managing brand image in a world where one person in the organization can quickly disseminate something via the company’s social networking sites to thousands or even millions of people with much less oversight than a traditional ad campaign would get, especially when viewers make little distinction between images included in tweets or Facebook updates and those in billboards, print ads, etc.

Feminists have done a powerful job of making the sexual assault of women by men a public issue.  Male victims, though, have remained largely invisible. In fact, one in ten victims of sexual assault is male.  Most of these men are raped by other men.

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network is attempting to raise awareness of this issue.  As part of their campaign, they are sponsoring this really interesting two-minute video made by my colleague, Dr. Broderick Fox, professor of Art History and Visual Arts at Occidental College:

UPDATE: In the comment thread, Umlud posted a provocative paragraph from an article by Christopher Glazek at N+1 that I thought was worth including:

In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control recently released a report on domestic violence and sexual assault in the U.S. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report presents the results of phone surveys (targeting both landlines and cells) of 18,049 randomly-selected adults conducted in 2010. The results are predictably depressing: 18.3% adult women have experienced rape (defined as attempted or completed forced penetration) in their lifetimes (for men, it’s 1.4%):

Undermining the stranger rapist myth, the report found that the vast majority of perpetrators were acquaintances or partners of their victims.

As has been found in other studies, Native American women are more at risk than other racial group for sexual assault; in this study, those identifying multiracial had the highest rates of all:

Almost a third of women who are raped are victimized before they’re 18, while over a third are young adults aged 18-24:

Risk of rape varies significantly by state, though in no state did fewer than 10% of women report being raped. Virginia had the lowest levels of victimization of women, at 11.4%; other states on the low end include Tennessee, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Worst was Alaska, at 29.2%, with Oregon not far behind at 27.2% and Nevada at 26.1%.

The report also include information on stalking and domestic violence; 16.2% of women and 5.2% of men report at least one incident, overwhelmingly from an intimate partner, while over 30% of women and 25% of men have been slapped, shoved, or pushed by a partner.

It is a singularly depressing read about the state of men’s and women’s intimate lives.

(source)

In this post I’m happy to feature two short clips of sociologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas talking about the sex industry in Las Vegas.

First, in this two-minute clip, Barb Brents discusses the way that the sex industry in Las Vegas is set up in ways that protect “referral services” (the organizations that arrange for what often includes sex work), while exposing sex workers to policing and criminalization:

Second, Crystal Jackson, takes two minutes to explain that the stereotype of sex workers — women who have sex with men — makes male sex workers invisible and transgender sex workers seem deviant. This has consequences. It means that men in the sex industry are more able to evade the police (who aren’t looking for them), while transgender sex workers are even more likely than women to experience abuse from both the police and clients. This means that patriarchy is an insufficient theory with which to theorize sex work.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


A post for Love Your Body Day.

Krista, Debbie, and Diego sent in the following commercial for FreeScore. It nicely illustrates our bias against men who don’t live up to idealized standards of masculinity.  That is, men who are short, bald, and soft.

Like a bad credit score, men who aren’t young and handsome are a total drag. Klutzy, a potential serial killer, afraid to stand up for himself… his pain is our last laugh.  Disgusting.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Katrin sent in a link to a series of ads created by an organization called Stepping Stone Nova Scotia. Their mission is to advocate on behalf of, and offer resources and services to, prostitutes in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

The ads, as you can see, depict quotes by friends or family members of prostitutes (“I’m proud of my tramp, raising two kids on her own”) which are intended to humanize sex workers; the bottom of each ad reads “Sex workers are brothers/daughters/mothers too.” They’re also intended to shock the reader into really thinking about prostitutes. The juxtaposition of words like “tramp” and “hooker” with the white middle-class faces of the speakers makes the viewer question our culture’s ease with using those terms, and forces us to see the person behind the prostitute.

Stepping Stone’s executive director, Rene Ross, points out that every time a prostitute is killed—sex workers have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the Canadian national average—media accounts emphasize that the victim was a prostitute, but not that she (or he) was also a mother, daughter, friend or, for example, animal lover. By thinking of sex workers only in terms of their stigmatized occupation, we don’t have to care about them as people.

In New Mexico, where I live, the remains of eleven women (and the unborn fetus of one) were found buried on a mesa outside of Albuquerque in 2009. The women had disappeared between 2003 and 2005, and most, according to police, were involved with drugs and/or prostitution. Why did it take the police so long to find the bodies of these women, and why do their murders still remain unsolved? Some observers have suggested that because the women were—or were alleged to be—prostitutes, there was less pressure to find them after they went missing, or to solve their murders once their bodies were found. As long as the victims were sex workers, then the non-sex worker public can feel safe in the knowledge that they are not at risk. We know that prostitution is dangerous, so it’s expected that some of them will die grisly deaths, and be buried like trash on a mesa outside of town.

I love the motivation behind the ads, and they do make me smile. I hope they have the effect that Stepping Stone intends—making people think of prostitutes as people, not trash. But they’re also funny, and I wonder if they won’t also have an unintended effect, of making prostitutes seem like a joke.

This week I watched the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. During the roast, most of the jokes dealt with his well-known history with drug use and prostitution, and “prostitute,” “hooker” and “whore” were used as punch lines in the majority of the jokes, and each “whore” reference incited additional laughter. Sure, many of the women that Sheen paid to have sex were doubtless “high class” call girls, paid well, and not living on the street. But we also know that at least some of these women, as well as the non-prostitute females in his life, were subject to violence and threats of violence. He is alleged to have beaten, shot, shoved, and thrown to the floor a number of women over the years, but because many of these women were sex workers (or porn stars, which is the next best thing), the women were “asking for it.”

Let’s hope that Stepping Stone’s campaign does some good, making us think about sex workers as people, rather than punch lines and faceless victims.

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Margo DeMello has a PhD in cultural anthropology and teaches anthropology, cultural studies, and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College. Her research areas include body modification and adornment and human-animal studies.

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