Friday, July 24, 2009

Women don't ask for nasty voyeurism

by Jen Carl

Hi equal writers, starting today I'll be posting my feminist ramblings here for as long as you all can stand me. I'm very excited to be a part of such an intelligent community of feminists, or perhaps more accurately, humanists.

I'm sure by now most of you have heard about this horrible incident with sportscaster Erin Andrews. Someone videotaped her through a peephole while she was undressed in her hotel room and posted it on the internet. This article was the first I had heard about it, but I found myself pretty confused about the point Maggie Hendricks, the writer, was trying to make. She writes, "Now that Andrews is a victim of this crime, why would a woman want to follow her on camera? That's not the sort of thing that ESPN co-workers Chris Berman or Stuart Scott have to worry about." Very true, men rarely have to worry about voyeurism unless it's in the form of a sex tape. But it confused me why her reaction to this wasn't like mine, which was, 'How horrible is it that women are the victims of such kinds of assault, why is this still the case?' Her article makes it sound like this the first time this sort of violation has happened to a high profile woman, when in fact both famous and not-famous women have been dealing with it for quite some time. To me, this is kind of like saying women shouldn't go to nightclubs or wear short skirts because they might be raped. Another female reporter comes close to saying as much about Andrews, but I'll get to her in a minute.

Hendricks goes on to say, "It's crazy how much Andrews, and all female sports journo-types, get judged for what they look like, what they wear, even the food they eat, rather than simply the work they do. While that sort of scrutiny is unfair, it can be tolerated to a point. But for a woman to have her security and her dignity robbed from her because she is famous? That's unbearable, and might be too much for a young woman who dreams of working the sidelines to handle." The point Hendricks is missing in all of this is that Andrews was not harassed because she is famous, she was harassed because she is a woman. Andrews doesn't get judged for what she looks like, or what she wears, or what food she eats because she is a female sports journo-type – she is judged that way because she is female! I am judged for all of those things, or feel like I am, on a daily basis, and writing this article in this blog is the height of my sports journalism career. I want to feel as though Hendricks meant well in writing this, but she is clearly ignorant of the larger issues at work here, so her writing comes off sounding more like a question raised at a party or in a class discussion, rather than the illuminating commentary one would expect to find in a news article.

Maggie Hendricks isn't sexist, but fellow sports writer Christine Brennan certainly is. I found this article (that is an excellent example of intelligent feminist commentary) which shares Brennan's catty comments on Erin Andrews. Everything she had to say was like one rape myth after another: she was asking for it because she is sexy, it was her fault for flirting with men, next time she should be more responsible, etc, etc. My question to you is, why do women constantly feel the need to show a difference between women who are victimized and themselves? Erin is being blamed for the crime committed against her, for the same reasons all attractive women are when they are harassed, abused or attacked in some way. According to the masses, because of the face they were born with, the way they wear their hair, and the clothes on their back, women, and especially attractive women, were "asking for it." I think humans have this desperate need, when something horrible like this happens, to find some reason why it could never happen to THEM. In actuality, sex crimes can be committed against anyone, regardless of how they dress, how pretty they are, or even how visible they are - because sex crimes aren't about any of these things; they are about power. They are crimes of opportunity, and crimes of insecurity. Sex crimes do not happen because of anything a woman did or did not do; they happen because she simply exists.

I had dismissed Erin's story as something I was going to write about until I saw the article and realized that Erin's story is my story, and your story, and the story of, to quote Gloria Steinem, any woman who "chooses to behave like a full human being." Erin has been met by the armies of the status quo and needs her sisterhood, but unfortunately, it seems in this case her peers are the status quo. When will we stop pointing fingers at each other and put the blame where it belongs – SOLELY on the people, mostly men, who commit these crimes against us? Are we too afraid of sounding like feminists to actually be one? Where is Erin's sisterhood now that she needs it most?


At July 25, 2009 at 2:15 PM , Anonymous Naomi said...

This girl just so happens to police the sexuality of other females exactly at the time when she herself has a selfish motive to do so -- to keep them from competing with her for boys, from dragging down standards, and so on.

Think it through: if females policed others due to social brainwashing, it would show up in their behavior early on. Even by the end of elementary school, kids have absorbed most parts of culture that are not innate -- the ambient language, looking both ways before crossing the street, saying please and thank you, etc.

And yet elementary school girls don't harangue females of any age about their sexuality -- at all. They only start doing this after puberty.

Under the "social brainwashing" hypothesis, the perfect coincidence between policing and puberty is completely unaccounted for. Under the "advancing her own interests" hypothesis, it makes perfect sense. We conclude that girls tearing into other girls for acting slutty, once puberty begins, is as genetically pre-programmed as boys acting violently toward each other to attain top dog status.

File another Women's Studies theory under "so wrong a high schooler could figure it out."

At July 25, 2009 at 7:03 PM , Blogger Jan said...

Right on, Jen. One issue is that (some, many?) women DO try to protect ourselves by this kind of distancing, which only, as you say, makes the problem worse.

I, btw, prefer Alice Walker's term "womanist": "feminist is to violet as womanist is to purple." What feminist would stand for being labeled "feminine"?

At July 26, 2009 at 6:42 AM , Blogger JenC said...

Thanks Jan! I do like womanist, though I would argue that the root of feminist is female and not feminine, as we fight for the rights of all females, not just women (ie, all ages.) :)

And "Naomi"... all someone has to do is click on your name and right there on your profile you've listed your gender as male. It's bad form to pose as someone you're not. (Or insult our intelligence by pretending to be female to get your point across.)

That being said I'm not entirely sure what that point was… or why you felt you needed to pose as a woman to say it. It certainly had very little to do with that I wrote about here as I never once stated that I thought either of these women's actions towards Ms. Andrews was a product of "social brainwashing." (Also, I have no idea who you meant by "this girl" all of the women mentioned in my article are way past puberty.) I merely pointed out that it only hurts us more than helps us. However I do have to disagree with your assertion that "girls tearing into other girls for acting slutty" is "genetically pre-programmed." While I do think it is in our nature as women to be competitive in finding our mates, there is absolutely nothing in our genes or nature that would make women instinctively criticize other women for the level or volume of their sexual activity. For one thing, girls are incredibly shielded from sex and their own sexuality until puberty in the first place. I didn't start worrying about my weight until I was about 12, because that's when I was exposed to that side of our culture. And you can't tell me that worrying about our weight is genetically pre-programmed, if it were it wouldn't be so damn hard for us to lose weight and stay thin. I can see where women might want have wanted to keep sex scarce, especially in a time when it was the only way they could procure a man's protection, but this is a situational response, not a genetic one. Even if it was instinctual, what makes us human is our ability to ignore our programming and make decisions for ourselves. Such is the basis for most of our laws, like the ones against murder and rape.
But actually the very notion of being "slutty," as you say, is a socially constructed phenomenon, and if you want to be taken seriously by any feminist (I assume you do as you posted in a feminist blog under a female name) you'll strip words like "slut" from your vocabulary unless you're using it to quote someone else, or referencing it as the medieval term it is. (Literally, medieval. It's first documented use was by Chaucer, and actually to reference a promiscuous man. Funny how it's now exclusively used for females.)
It is a lot easier to write off women's studies than to actually STUDY them. But I've found that most of my assertions about 'the way things are' were proven wrong after only just scratching the surface. (I've also realized that the things I thought in high school were actually what was "so wrong." When it comes to being informed, they're not the best source to cite.)
For further knowledge about this particular societal contention I recommend reading Jessica Valenti's book, "The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women." You can find it here:

And next time please, please, please be honest about who you are - there's nothing wrong with being a man. :)

At July 27, 2009 at 8:40 PM , Anonymous Naomi said...

"It is a lot easier to write off women's studies than to actually STUDY them."

Both are pretty facile.

At July 30, 2009 at 5:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate hate hate when people say "humanist" instead of "feminist." The only people I know who use "humanist" (and I've even heard "people-ist") are those who buy into the social fear that somehow feminists want to, *gasp,* elevate women above men. It plays into the idea that feminism is a scary word. So please, be proud and use the word "feminist" -- otherwise, it's hard to believe that you are one.

At July 31, 2009 at 10:45 PM , Blogger Amelia said...


Next time, please use your name (per our comment policy). Thanks for reading and commenting!

At August 10, 2009 at 4:45 AM , Blogger JenC said...

"I hate hate hate when people say "humanist" instead of "feminist." The only people I know who use "humanist" (and I've even heard "people-ist") are those who buy into the social fear that somehow feminists want to, *gasp,* elevate women above men. It plays into the idea that feminism is a scary word. So please, be proud and use the word "feminist" -- otherwise, it's hard to believe that you are one."

Re- Anon and anyone else who has this concern. I am incredibly proud to be a feminist, and to use the word. I do think that we are too afraid of "feminism" so much so that we throw the baby out with the bathwater and quit being feminist altogether (if you read what I wrote... I basically say as much in the post.) When I say 'humanist' I mean that to be a feminist is to be a humanist, that caring about women's rights is to care about HUMANS.

I would not use this term in place of feminist, however the attitude that anyone who uses different terminology is not a feminist is counterproductive. I think that in order to be better received feminism has to market itself a little better, and using terms like "humanist" is one way to do that. It makes people realize that woman rights = human rights, and softens people who immediately become defensive upon hearing "feminist." I have often found that in talking to men in particular if I say "I am a feminist" but then cushion it with, "but I like to think of it more as humanist since we are humans and we're talking about our rights" it makes them A LOT more receptive to what I'm about to say. :)


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