Saturday, July 25, 2009

More bad news and good news about sexual assault

by Molly Borowitz

The bad news:

The BBC reports that in a Liberian immigrant community in Phoenix, Arizona, an 8-year-old girl was raped by four boys (aged 9, 10, 13, and 14). The boys promised the little girl some chewing gum to lure her into a nearby shed, and then pinned her down and forced themselves upon her in turn. The assault continued for almost 15 minutes until police officers in the area heard the girl screaming. The boys have all been charged with sexual assault and kidnapping, and the 14-year-old will be tried as an adult. However, the little girl’s parents have disowned their daughter: they’ve stated that they do not want her back because she has shamed them. Deprived of her home and family, the girl is now in custody of Arizona’s Child Protective Services. This incident follows hard upon the publication of South Africa's shocking rape statistics, underscoring the accuracy of those scholars’ assertions that the high rates of sexual assault in Africa reflect larger cultural trends, practices, and gender interactions (see my post from 18 June).

The good news:

Both the incident and especially the parents’ reaction to it have sparked a substantial outcry across the United States and severe censure from the Liberian president herself. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an outspoken advocate against rape, told CNN that she thinks “that the family is wrong. They should help that child who has been traumatized. They too need serious counseling because clearly they are doing something, something that is no longer acceptable in our society here.” In addition, Phoenix police sergeant Andy Hill told the press that people have been calling from all over the United States to offer donations for the child’s care or even to adopt her themselves. He asserts that “it has been unbelievably fantastic in terms of support for the child.” One hopes that this overwhelming response of concern and support reflects the prevailing societal attitude, one that will continue to take root in the United States and which - given recent reports of post-assault healing - may emerge in Africa with time.

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?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Women are like tomatoes" and other GREAT dating advice

"How would you describe your sexual history in terms of tomatoes?"
"Spaghetti sauce."

Sarah Haskins. Please be my best friend!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sotomayor, suits, sexism

by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite

I can't wait for the day when how an accomplished, powerful woman appears is made completely irrelevant by the contents of her brain and of her résumé.

I thus find Robin Givhan's article in the Washington Post yesterday - in which she accused the SCOTUS nominee of exhibiting little obvious femininity and of dressing "in the manner of a 1980s lady power broker" - disturbing. Not only do I believe Sotomayor's fashion choices were completely unobjectionable, I'm left wondering why Givhan even cares.

The justice's ensembles reflect her awareness of the climate of her hearing. Racism and sexism - from implications that her Puerto Rican heritage would hinder her ability to make decisions to bogus controversy over her involvement in the Belizean Grove - were obvious players in the questioning and surrounding media speculation, but Sotomayor remained calm and unshaken. Aware of our nation's ever-present biases against Latinos and against women (and especially against Latina women), she was careful not to let her demeanor or statements give the committee any reason to doubt her level-headedness or her "fidelity to the law."

It makes sense, then, that she chose "simple and bold" colors and "virtually no visible jewelry." I'm not alarmed that she wore "sheer black pantyhose." I understand why her nails gave "no hint of the cherry-red manicure that she has, on occasion, worn." In Givhan's own words, she was trying to "leave [her] gender at the door" and let the hearing focus on her accomplishments, knowledge, and experience.

If she "embraced that period in fashion when femininity had no place in the executive suite," as Givhan asserted, she was being careful not to offend the Senators of the Judiciary Committee (of which 17 out of the 19 members are white males) who haven't yet come to terms with the possibility of an assertive, intelligent Latina woman.

But aside from this article's unwarranted criticism of her fashion choices, I'm concerned with why the criticism is being doled out in the first place. Women should wear whatever they want, period. Whether or not Sotomayor chose to abide by what Givhan calls the "new gospel of women's power dressing" that encourages wearing accessories, ditching the pantyhose, and favoring sheath dresses over shoulder-padded suits, her fashion sense has nothing to do with how she's going to perform on the bench.

Givhan's article thus elevates a superficial and should-be unimportant issue: the clothes that a strong and intelligent woman just happens to be wearing.

Via the Feminist Majority Foundation's CHOICES Campus Blog.