We, the undersigned, are writing to demand swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook. Specifically, we call on you, Facebook, to take three actions:
This post was originally published in Role/Reboot.
For months, every morning when my daughter was in preschool, I watched her construct an elaborate castle out of blocks, colorful plastic discs, bits of rope, ribbons and feathers, only to have the same little boy gleefully destroy it...
It's hard to accept that sexism is alive and well and that it undermines virtually everything we believe about equality, fairness, and justice.
"Am I doing an injustice to the female members of this school?"
This is the question 16-year old Junius Onome Williams, running in an election for...
Two days ago, Carolyn Luby, an undergraduate at University of Connecticut published a remarkable open letter to the school's president, Susan Herbst, in The Feminist Wire. In the letter she made her case and argued persuasively that the school's new mascot and branding should be reconsidered. The school...
This week, two more stories of 15-year-old girls gang-raped, photographed and shamed came across my desk. I get a lot of information like this every day. I don't share most of it, because it gets overwhelming and people don't want to hear it. These were sad stories. Sometimes, the news...
NOTE: Links include references to rape, violence and pornography. But, don't worry, all of the references are entertaining.
Remember Stacy's shagalicious mom? Circa 2003? If not, here is an introduction, because you really should:
To briefly recap, in case you got distracted singing along: What appears to be a pouty, strutting, "sexually-themed gag toy for men" 11-year old girl, Stacy, tries everything in her "power" to get an even younger "Mr. Wonderful" to pay attention to her. (Really... check out his t-shirt, some one with a sense of humor thought about this.) He ignores her in favor of her conveniently stripping mother, who has, by the way, seriously enviable pole-dancing skills. "I could tell she likes me from the way she stared!" says the oblivious, fantasizing boy, in a disturbing presentiment of Steubenville's Ma'lik Richmond's explanation that it "just felt like [the raped, incapacitated girl] was coming on to me." Stacy works hard to be the perfect sex object... but fails. How could she not? Her fully developed, vastly more experienced mother, succeeds so magnificently. The peeping tom boy naturally has to go to room where her daughter, used to get close to her, accidently walks in on him spanking his prepubescent monkey. I like this song, it's catchy. Besides, it's thoughtful and clever, there are visual references to Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Stanley Kubrick's 1962 movie based on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (more to come.)
This bouncy sexist agitprop playfully and comedically sums up our cultural propensities so neatly: Girls and women are sex objects and none are off limits, even to little boys; girls and women know it, participate in our objectification and are happy about it; and boys and men derive pleasure, centrality and power from these ideas. (Wink, wink!) I KNOW: "OMG! It's called entertainment!"
If you really think this, you're so "lightened up" that you're not actually on the planet for all pertinent purposes. "Stacy's Mom" is the family-friendly national anthem of our broadly female-objectifying mainstream everything. Products like this both reflect and create culture. Specifically, the video is a power pop precursor and PG expander of the mother-daughter porn genre. You know, the one that shows up on, say, DirectTV's on screen guide right after kids' PPV animated films. You see, a little boy trying to find Wreck It Ralph on Channel 193 cannot do it without seeing Busty Erotic MILFS on 195 and Lesbian Moms: Sex with My Stepdaughter on 196. Neither can a little girl.
At any rate, Stacy will be fine, because she's got a good role model. The kind that Victoria's Secret Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer believes all girls are trying to emulate when they buy "Bright Young Things" products. "When somebody's 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the [strong, sexy, empowered] girl in college, and that's part of the magic of what we do at PINK," explains Burgdoerfer, waving his magically middle-aged, magically American, magically male wand and and frolicking through his magically executive halls to the tune of "Bippity, Boppity. Boobs"!
Oops! I mean, Boo!
This is old hat and has nothing to do with sex, certainly not girls having and enjoying sex. A 15- or 16-year old girl contemplating the natural, and hopefully fun course of things, when to engage sexually isn't the problem. The problem is her deciding to, lace be-ribboned mons festooned with words like "Sure Thing," because she thinks of herself as a "gift" to some guy who's "owed." The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, "concerned" adults aren't openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is "Yes!" and "Of course!" You know the kind of being I'm talking about -- females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren't Victoria's Secret's models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it's hard to get back. Regardless of a girl's or woman's age, this kind of objectification and "sexualization" results in a performance. It's not about being a sexual person, it's about acting out someone else's idea of a sex object. And, as in the video above, what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It's also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their "thing-ness" don't miraculously stop doing it when get their driver's licenses. It NEVER ends. Which brings us back to Stacy, her hot, wet, mom and this book: The MILF Diet.
A MILF, in case you've missed it, is a Mother I'd Like To Fuck... not me personally, but millions of boys and young men who enthusiastically embrace, with the full support of parents, coaches, family, friends and media, birthright access to all women's bodies. It's a crass expression, especially when you don't use the acronym, which dilutes the intent and significance of the phrase. MILFS are a cottage industry encompassing songs like "Stacy's Mom," "film" 1c.1.7.psy-ab.NwtBaQj3fzI&pbx=1&num=20&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44442042,d.dmQ&biw=1370&bih=694&sa=X&ei=3OlZUbKtIYnj0QH92IGIDg&ved=0CGwQ8wIwAg">genres, products, books, memes, exercise classes. I know women who've gotten upset because they were excluded from their kids' friends' MILF lists. Aging gracefully, especially for women, is hard in this culture. Even some of the most outspoken feminists I know struggle with becoming sexually invisible in this way and MILFitude extends your shelf life.
Porter, the author of The MILF Diet, makes the argument that she's reclaiming the word to empower women. That's nice. But, "Mothers I'd Like to Fuck," just like being a "Little Lolita," is not about female sexual liberation or empowering "choices," and never will be. Clearly, women who like being MILFs -- in those exact terms -- are not feeling like marginalized, disempowered victims of Bad Men. I imagine they actually feel empowered, flattered and risqué. But, MILFS are just the same Madonna to the older whore, better known as cougars. Not liberated. Not transgressive. They are "Brightened, Not So Young, Things." It isn't a compliment. It is a corrosive and denigrating idea that has exactly nothing to do with women's well-being or sexuality.
If you want to skip the babble and really understand why boys' feeling they can freely pit girls against their mothers and rudely comment on adult women's bodies is so repugnant and objectionable imagine what people would do if teenage girls started generating lists and images of Dads I'd Like to Fuck. Think about the "boy crisis" that would ensue if boys started experiencing depression or low self-esteem, started cutting themselves or starving themselves, while their female classmates create fantasy leagues ranking their fathers' bodies and faces and openly debating their relative sex worth. Then, for good measure, when they're done, they go on to pair the boys and dads up, for a total score. Those girls, they really ARE the Little Lolitas, right?
Have you read Lolita? Do you know her name was actually Dolores? It's important to note that what we've conveniently forgotten about Lolita is that she was a manipulated and raped 12-year-old, not a deliberately provocative nymphette. Humbert Humbert distorted her age-appropriate sexuality in order to exonerate himself and make her complicit in her own abuse. People and media inclined to slut-shame and stud bait in these ways align themselves with a manipulative abuser's perspective. Nabokov was prescient in that his "unreliable narrator," has become our cultural norm. It is Humbert's voice -- not Dolores' or even Nabokov's -- that dominates our media, cultural imagination and corporate ethics when it comes to young "sex." Dolores was the person. Lolita was the thing Humbert wanted her to be. Like a MILF.
Here is where I say that this isn't a girl/woman=good, boy/man=bad problem. This environment is equally toxic to both, but for entirely different reasons. But the issue here is a girl crisis we keep dancing around. What people like Burgdoerfer et al intuit correctly and leave unquestioned is that girls learn to self-objectify and they keep doing it as adult women in grossly gender-disproportionate numbers. The cultural idea that we have to calibrate how we should
fix our hair,
cut bits off,
add bits on,
BE... in order to remain eternally dewy and optimized for male pleasure and comfort. This will be the case for as long as our human rights are mediated through boys and men and our equal access to resources, power, safety and everything else is vicarious and contingent on whether or not we are "nice" enough. It's assaultive. Regardless of how you dress up... or undress... there is nothing ironic or empowering about this process and its effects.
Mostly, many of us simply detach from ourselves and cheerily go about our days. And it has lifelong personal, political and societal consequences. Once in a while, a story is sufficiently appalling that it ruptures into public consciousness and we give it its 15 seconds, shake our heads and wonder how we got here. Steubenville is spelled with a 'u' in the middle, by the way.
The rite of passage we should be obsessing over isn't virginity, childbirth or mid-life aging. It's the inflection point when self-objectification settles into a girl's psyche because we failed to arm her with the cultural currency to say "hell no," or stronger, four-letter words to that effect. Even the strongest, most protective parental love is incapable of stemming the tide of culture, especially in our media saturated age.
But, to end on a positive note, a prescriptive endcap video. Here is Caroline Heldman accurately describing sexualized objectification -- at any age -- as "The Sexy Lie." She isn't emulating The Cars, but she does have a good voice and really good ideas about what we can do about this problem.
File under "Cradle-To-Grave...
Adria Richards tweeted a photo earlier this week and is now the target of rape and death threats. She joins an infinitely long line of women whom groups of men seek to control through the threat of violence. The usual narratives about this phenomenon curry the ridiculous fiction that this...
A reasonable person might think that certain cases of rape would be clear cut and that it would be all but impossible to blame the victim of a crime, especially one with witnesses, photographs and other documentary evidence, for her own assault. But, we don't live in a...
Chris Welsh wrote a story in The Verve yesterday that made me smile all night. "Father hacks 'Donkey Kong' for daughter, makes Pauline the heroine." This is what he wrote:
When Mike Mika saw the disappointment on his daughter's face when she realized Pauline wasn't a playable character in...
"Violence is a choice. And it is choice that men make. We can choose to stop it." - Patrick Stewart, spokesperson for Ring The Bell, a campaign calling on men to be partners in the fight against violence against women.
I know that everyone has rearranged life this week...
Or Why a "Small" Consent Revolution Needs to be a "Big" Consent Revolution
The idea of consent, in terms of how we think about sex, sexual abuse, and power, is fairly new and historically radical. Laurie Penny, describing shifting attitudes about these topics, called it a "small revolution," earlier...
I love the Oscars. Along with millions of other people, I wait for the annual ceremony, yell at the screen when I disagree with winners, pick my favorite dresses and cheer for people whose work I've had the pleasure of enjoying. Like my parents before me,...
Spring is coming, which means we are entering the season of the regulation of how much skin girls around the country are allowed to bare. Dress codes, while usually regulating boys' slovenliness, tend to police girls for how much of their bodies are visible. Anyone who's ever painted or stood in...
The words below are the full text of a poem by an anonymous rape survivor. Yesterday, they were floated in the Reflecting Pool, with symbolic resonance, between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials in Washington, DC. The letters were put into the pool yesterday afternoon by the guerilla art movement
Warning: This is a long-read, but not nearly as long as an average Super Bowl.
Warning for potentially triggering language.
Men Who Hate Women was the original language name of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. When the book was to be published in English the name was changed. Which is why I have a "Dumb Cunt" folder on my computer. It's...
When you think of what a leader looks like, what comes to mind? A strong person. With influence over their lives and environments. A man, probably white. Maybe he's part of a group of men who lead and take action.
How about weak people, needing protection? Mean people...
Notre Dame responded with alacrity this week to a Deadspin report that the story about football player Manti Te'o's girlfriend was a hoax. There appear to be no "institutional barriers" to investigating what's been going on in this strange tale of virtual love and loss. Juxtapose the school's behavior...
Did you know that last week a pregnant woman in Memphis (Tennessee) was arrested and charged with DUI and "child endangerment" even though she wasn't drunk and there was no child in her car. She is pregnant, however. Whose issue is this? In general, people don't...
Trigger warning for depictions of sexualized violence.
This past Saturday marked three years since Haiti was stuck by a devastating earthquake. There is a place in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, called Cité Soleil. It means Sun City, and it is the poorest place, most dangerous place to live...