Since VAWA Expired
Since Congress Acted on VAWA
Until VAWA dies this year
November 13, 2012
It’s unacceptable that VAWA resources have been jeopardized for almost 2 years!
The election is over and it’s time!
Congress has some unfinished business.
They MUST PASS the Violence Against Women Act NOW!
We must get Congress to finish the work of passing a VAWA that safely and effectively protects ALL victims.
Now that the election is over, Congress is back to work to finish up as much as they can before the end of the year. VAWA must be on the list of work that gets done by the end of December! Come January, the current bill expires and we will need to start again to draft a brand new bill, losing precious time and lives in the process.
Pre-election, everyone did a great job getting the word out and holding our elected officials to their obligation to address the concerns of all people. Now we have to get them focused specifically on passing VAWA in the next six weeks!
Commit to ending domestic and sexual violence with this concrete action you can take to support VAWA:
TAKE ACTION TOMORROW!
Save Wednesday, November 14 for a VAWA day of ACTION
Every national leader will call Congressional leaders
Every state and local organizations will call Representatives and Senators
By the end of the day, every Member of Congress will hear a unified message: Work out the differences, pass VAWA before this Congress ends and you go home for the holidays. Do not let VAWA die and miss this chance to help victims find shelter, help and justice. There is precious little time left and victim’s lives and futures are in the balance.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Join #PassVAWA2012 Social Media Campaign
Be a part of a ground-breaking campaign to leverage the full power of social media in fighting for the Reauthorization of VAWA! Join the #PassVAWA2012 Facebook Photo Campaign to tell Congress that it’s time to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act! It’s easy, just snap photos of you, your friends, your colleagues, & sympathetic strangers holding up signs saying why we need to Pass VAWA NOW! Submit your photos via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweetpic with #PassVAWA2012. For more details and sample campaign tweets check out the tool kit on www.4VAWA.org!
This was broken down for me quite clearly during a prosecutor’s training on how to prosecute sexual assault. We broke down an article covering an assault as well as an article covering the theft of an automobile. This was an extremely impactful exercise for me and I would like to take a moment to direct my rage in a productive way by breaking down this article I just read by The Associated Press & reprinted by The Washington Post covering the rape of a 13-year-old boy in Detroit.
I can’t “publish” or “redistribute” the article so you’ll have to look it over yourself but here I can break down the highlights and how they so eloquently imply that this little boy just might be lying about getting raped by two grown men.
Step One: Use the words “alleged” and “claimed” as many times as possible. These words appear 5 times in this one article, including the title “Police: Alleged sex assault of Detroit boy may not be ‘random’; pursuing person of interest” In addition to the 5 appearances noted above, the word “allegations” was used twice.
Step Two: Refer to the rape as an “incident”
“A preliminary investigation by the Detroit police sex crimes unit revealed the incident “does not appear to be a random act, and the victim may have known the two male suspects,” according to a press release issued Thursday evening by the police department’s public information office.”
By using the word “incident” instead of rape or assault, you are better able to draw the attention away from the brutal attack the victim just experienced and focus on more important things.
Step Three: Imply that the victim “knew” the suspects (see above quotation). This implication was reiterated and specifically challenged by the mother of the victim who explained that “He didn’t know anyone. He saw them around the neighborhood.” Reading the TITLE OF THE ARTICLE, its clear that the mother’s statements held little weight or validity in the eyes of The Associated Press.
Step Four: Imply that maybe it was the victim’s fault because he didn’t follow the rules? Ok, this one had me really enraged. The article explains that the boy “says” he was abducted from his elementary school “when he opened school doors for a man he thought was a parent.” It then goes on to say that,
“Only one of the schools’ set of doors is used as an entrance. Entry is gained through a buzzer on the outside of the building, and students and parents are told not to open the door for anyone.”
Right. So a 13-year-old boy thought it was okay to let someone’s dad in the building. How DARE he not understand that the rules about the doors were put in place to keep rapists from abducting children from school! This, to me, is just as bad, if not worse than statements that imply that a woman should know better than to go to a bar at 10pm by herself (and that if she does, she should be prepared to get assaulted by a cop).
Step Five (this one’s my favorite): Talk about the victim’s “personal problems” or indiscretions to solidify the doubt our rape culture so impressively promotes. In this instance, The Associated Press deemed it necessary to highlight the fact that this ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILD isn’t perfect. In fact,
“The 13-year-old transferred this fall to Wayne Elementary from another school in the district. Two of the boy’s aunts acknowledged Thursday that the boy has had “behavioral” issues at his new school.”
Holy shit! A 13-year-old with behavioral problems! That is unheard of! Its not like transferring schools, trying to make friends and prepare for the nightmare that is middle school are stressful things. Most 13-year-olds I know or have known are perfectly well-adjusted and never get moody or act out. It MUST mean he’s lying.
So there you have it. A simple 5 step tutorial on how to make a victim of sexualized violence into a troubled rule-breaker.
Now, as some final notes on this specific story, I want to point out the fact that the focus of the article did not seem to be on the fact that this little boy was seen “‘wobbling’ down the street about 2 p.m. Wednesday not far from the school.” Or that his neighbor asked him if he was okay because he was naked, without shoes, and only his school uniform shirt on. Or that he actually said to the neighbor, in response, that he had just been raped. No no no, the point of this article seems to be that this little boy may have known the perpetrators and that he might be damaged from this whole “alleged assault.”
That, my friends, is rape culture. And its not even the worst illustration I’ve ever seen. Indeed, victim blaming & introducing doubt are best done subtly.
* Now before anyone jumps on me for writing this piece and tells me that journalists need to be careful, cover their asses and use words like “alleged” and “claimed” to make it clear that all people are innocent until proven guilty, let’s note that the perpetrators’ names are not included in this piece, negating the need to protect their potential innocence and that, again, if this were a robbery, you wouldn’t be reading an article about the “alleged victim” of said robbery. It may identify the perpetrators as having “allegedly” committed the crime but, as this article illustrates, you won’t see a headline reading “5 allegedly robbed in Midtown.” Also, all uses of bold in quotations are my own.
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I have been sexually assaulted several times in my life. I have been street harassed & made to feel like an object simply for being a woman. My experiences of sexual assault, in retrospect, have all had some eery similarities, namely the feeling of paralyzing fear that caused me, each time, to not fight back, or even resist strongly. Because of this, I have spent years revisiting these experiences, blaming myself for what I DIDN’T do, and questioning whether my experiences really qualified as assault.
This may be surprising to many of you, especially if you know me, as you most likely also know that I have had hundreds of hours of sexual assault training & have counseled survivors & worked in the anti-sexual violence movement for years. I will be the first to admit, however, that it is much easier for us to support others than to accept and validate ourselves & our own experiences. I will say though that I have come to terms with my experiences, I no longer blame myself in the slightest & my knowledge and experience has helped me immensely in that process.
Today I was faced with something that reminded me just how long lasting the effects of sexual violence endure & how, even with the knowledge, experience, support & validation we do (or don’t) receive after experiencing assault, our perpetrators often leave scars that last us our entire lifetime.
When I was a freshmen in college, I went to a high school friend’s New Year’s Eve house party while I was home for winter break. In general, many of the people I went to high school with make me generally uncomfortable, and a lot of the people present that night were older than me, or unfamiliar to me & my solution/coping mechanism for said discomfort was to get very very drunk. Shortly after midnight, I realized I was too intoxicated to keep going & my friend/the party host took me upstairs and put me safely in his bed to sleep off my drunkeness. After an undetermined amount of time I was awakened by the feeling of male hands groping my backside. I was facing the wall, laying on the bed & thought that maybe it was someone I had been flirting with earlier that evening, evaluating my state of consciousness. In no shape to wake up fully or engage in any sort of sexual activity, I faked sleep, hoping the hands would realize they weren’t going to get what they wanted and abandon their mission.
Unfortunately this is not what happened.
In fact, the hands groping me were most likely banking on the fact that I was completely passed out from my state of intoxication and felt confident that they could do what they wanted with my unresponsive body. I flashed back to my previous experiences of assault and was paralyzed by the fear that if I were to DO something, try to find out who was touching me, acknowledge my consciousness, I would only exacerbate what was happening to me. So, with all my terrified might, I froze & stiffened & closed my eyes, hoping that these hands would stop groping me or that someone would walk in and save me.
The hands did not stop. They did whatever they wanted to do. The audacity of these hands increased my fear exponentially. I left my body, I tried to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. And that’s when I finally saw my attacker. And by “saw my attacker” I mean that what I had hoped would happen, did happen. Someone came in the room and I heard a voice say “Justin, what are you doing in here?” At that moment I knew EXACTLY who was controlling these hands. It was someone I went to high school with, a friend, or more accurately, a friendly acquaintance. Upon hearing the door open, Justin had yanked his hand away from my body and responded casually to the inquirer, saying “oh I’m just getting tired, I think I’m going to crash on the floor.” I didn’t have enough time or confidence to call out to the person who had entered before she readily accepted his explanation and shut the door behind her when she left. My heart sank to the floor. Immediately after the door shut, the assault resumed, and worsened and I tried to go back to some internal safe space.
When I awoke in the morning, I was laying in the exact same position, facing the wall, and immediately remembered what had happened to me that night. All I wanted to do was get up, grab my things and drive home, curl up in my bed and cry in private. Rolling over to get out of my friend’s bed, I look at the floor in front of me and see my perpetrator, lying on the floor, sleeping with his girlfriend. I felt immediately nauseated as I was forced to step over them to exit this horrible space.
I went home that day and pretended like nothing happened. I went back to college and attended my first sexual assault volunteer training (ironically I had committed to the 40-hour training BEFORE my assault) while pretending like nothing happened. I didn’t call what he did to me sexual assault for several years. It took me a long time to process the experience and forgive myself for what I didn’t do.
Fast forward 4 years and I log onto Facebook only to have a friend request waiting for me. A friend request from my perpetrator. It was that moment that I realized that he didn’t know that I knew what he did to me, he thought I was passed out & most likely thought I would never know. I was angry, to say the least. I rejected his request and sent him a Facebook message to tell him that I KNEW HE HAD ASSAULTED ME & THAT HE COULD GO FUCK HIMSELF. Though there was more, and angrier words involved. He never responded, as I had expected.
Fast forward another year, I’m home for Thanksgiving, catching up with one of my closest friends from high school, and he walks in with one of his friends. They are playing pool and I am burning a whole through him with my non-verbal hate. He finally notices me at the booth with my friend and in less than 5 minutes, he’s gone. He got my message. Coward.
Now fast forward to last year: I’m perusing Facebook as I do and I notice that my perpetrator has posted some song on my 22-year-old cousin’s Facebook profile. I am horrified that they are friends. I send her a message telling her to take caution with this guy & explain what he did to me. No response. While it hurt to not hear back from her, I knew enough about our rape culture, our victim blaming culture, to not blame her for whatever reaction she may have had to my sharing. At the very least, I felt I had made her aware that this person was not a good person.
Finally, fast forward to last week and my reason for this post. My above mentioned cousin posts an update on Facebook wishing another family member good luck on his departure to hike the Appalachian Trail this summer. I was immediately excited by this post as I hiked a section of the AT two years ago and it truly changed my life. So I comment on the update, saying how fantastic it is that he is embarking on this journey. The next morning I get to work, check my e-mails then log on to Facebook only to receive a notification saying that my perpetrator has commented on something that I have commented on. I click the link and see that he has made some unnecessary & unimportant comment about the impending hike along the lines of “I hope he’s prepared.” This comment was not malicious in its content but I was immediately furious, triggered and frustrated by the reminder that this person exists & has no problem reminding me of his existence.
The more I process his comment throughout the day, the angrier I get and the more convinced I become that this asshole did this on purpose, he commented on her update because he saw my comment and seized an opportunity to remind me how little it means to him that I am affected by his presence (even if it is an online presence). So I send him another message, challenging his need to comment, and asking him to stay away from my family, or at the very least, off my radar as I am far beyond the point in my healing process where I would be nervous about broadcasting the assault that he committed. No response again. Not surprised.
I spent the rest of the day at work crying silently and being SO ANGRY that this person could still affect me so strongly, 7 years after he assaulted me and from hundreds of miles away, via Facebook. I then realize what is REALLY getting to me. Yes, I’m infuriated that he had the audacity to insert himself into a convo I had engaged in with my cousin (even if it was only electronic) but what was really affecting me was the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. And not in a “I wish I could prosecute this piece of garbage” way, because frankly, I work within the sexual violence sphere and I know through my professional experiences what cases get prosecuted and this would not be one of them. It was the fact that this person’s existence makes my stomach turn and I can’t do anything to make him feel just a little bit of what I still feel. This feeling of helplessness, the lack of agency that so many of us, as survivors, struggle through, is one that we must struggle through mostly on our own. We may have support systems, understanding people in our lives who support and believe us and want nothing more than to make things better, to make things just. But things are not just. In a world where rape culture is so prevalent that people are told they deserved what happened to them because they drank, wore the wrong thing, went to the wrong place, trusted the wrong people, work the wrong job or even more simply because they were born in a certain place, of a certain ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender expression that warrants them “rapable,” perpetrators of sexual violence rarely must feel the effects that their actions carry. Sure, in very rare cases (RAINN just released a statistic that 97 out of every 100 rapists will never spend a DAY in jail), perpetrators see some jail time but they will never truly understand what the violation they perpetrated does to the person they assault.
I am not afraid of my perpetrator. But this is not a sentiment that is shared by all survivors and many of us spent years, if not the rest of our lives, coping with the fear, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, feelings of betrayal, trust issues, body image and self esteem issues that result from their experiences of assault.
What I realized I could do is SPEAK OUT. Share my story with all of you and hope that it helps other survivors realize that they are not alone in their struggle, even when they are. I decided to share my experience so that other survivors could see how, even when you have all of the “tools” to understand the dynamics of sexual violence, all of the techniques to offer survivors to help in the coping and healing process, all of the knowledge and understanding of rape culture that my education and experience has allowed me, it doesn’t go away. It may not be in our minds every minute of every day, we may not make the majority of our decisions based off of these experiences, but they stay with us, like a scar, and when my own hands run across this scar, I am reminded of what this person thought they could take from me.
I won’t let him have what he thought he could take though. I may be triggered by him, I may always deal with these experiences in some capacity, but I shall not be silenced & I shall not live in fear of this or the next perpetrator that comes my way.
Because you took something from me that night, Justin. But you did not take away my strength, and you have magnified my passion for the work I do to end the rape culture we live in, that you contribute to directly. I will not be defeated by you or other people who think us feminists need to just lighten up. You contribute to my drive for change. So thanks (and fuck you).
This past weekend I roadtripped it to Vermont with the lovely Kimberlynn Acevedo to support our feminist super shero Alison Turkos in all of her hard work with the Burlington, VT feminist group Fed Up VT. Alison has been a member of Fed Up VT since after the SlutWalk NYC rally we organized together (with a ton of rad NYC feminists) and has been incredibly dedicated to supporting feminist efforts in both NY & VT. FED UP Vermont is a grassroots organization of Vermonters fighting for reproductive rights, economic equality, and freedom from violence for all women. Needless to say, we are always happy to support feminists fighting the good fight.
The story of our travels to support Alison & Fed Up VT in their Burlington pursuits goes as follows:
On December 11, 2011, Fed Up Vermont discovered and discussed a survey created by the UVM chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. This survey was handed out to SigEp pledges and asked an array of questions like “who’s your favorite musician? what’s your major? what are your favorite memories?…” and, oh yeah, “IF YOU COULD RAPE SOMEONE, WHO WOULD IT BE?” Obviously, Fed Up VT was outraged and saw a chance to organize a direct action to challenge blatant rape culture on UVM’s campus. So they created a petition to shut down Sigma Phi Epsilon Vermont chapter & organized a rally Shatter The Silence on December 15th to raise awareness, rally support & demand that UVM respond to this outrageous behavior. Fed Up’s efforts were a resounding success, a true testament to the power of feminists working together for a common cause. Fed Up’s original goal for the petition to shut down SigEp was 1000 signatures, when they met that goal in about a day, they upped it to 2500 signatures, and with the support of the national feminist community, massive coverage on the feminist blogosphere and mainstream news outlets, they met their second goal in another day. Before they could meet their third goal of 5000 signatures, they achieved their larger goal…after 3963 signatures, a 200 large protest rally on the steps of the Bailey Howe library at UVM & intense pressure from the community, the UVM chapter of SigEp was shut down (sidenote: don’t get me started on Jezebel & the word ‘rapey’ that’s another whole article)!! Sooooo, just to recap:
- December 11: Fed Up VT meets & talks about the SigEp survey, plans the Shatter the Silence rally
- December 12: a petition to shut down SigEp goes up
- December 13: the petition has over 1000 signatures & hits the national news
- December 14: the petition has over 2500 signatures
- December 15: Shatter the Silence rally (200+ in attendance)
- December 16: the petition has 3963 signatures & SigEp gets SHUT DOWN!!
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL THE POWER OF THE FEMINIST COLLECTIVE!
The news of the shut down got massive coverage and community response, and the backlash inevitably began as well. This is the point in every active feminist’s life where you start to really SEE the culture in which sexual violence is perpetuated and how deeply ingrained it is in people’s lives. In the myriad reactions to the SigEp shutdown, there were the voices of rape apologists, the accusations that feminists just can’t take a joke, the ever obnoxious “boys will be boys” as well as articles like this one explaining how the feminists are overreacting and that it was a “fantasy question” that should have just been reworded to ask “who would you have rough sex with?” At least this guy tried to “play nice” with the feminists by saying,
“PS – Just to make friends with the feminists I’d like to reiterate that we don’t condone rape of any kind at our Blackout Parties in mid January. However if a a chick passes out that’s a grey area though.” (emphasis added)
Take a gander at the article and read through the comments if you ever question the existence of rape culture. On reader said “There’s an organization called FedUp Vermont? Is their entire group based on hating on everything else other’s do? I can’t imagine how much fun their ice cream socials must be…” (It must be said that, in response to this particular comment, Fed Up Vermont had the teach-in portion of their Fed Up? Stand Up! rally catered with Ben & Jerry’s…I’d call that a pretty rad ice cream social!)
But I digress, back to the story at hand…
Fed Up VT didn’t stop at shutting down SigEp. That was but a single action, to respond to the larger culture of sexual violence that exists on the University of Vermont’s campus and campuses across the country, momentum must be taken advantage of and acted upon! So Fed Up Vermont planned a Fed Up? Stand Up! rally on January 21st with some demands for UVM:
This is where the rest of the femme mafia (yeah, Alison, Kimberlynn & I gave ourselves a name, its just easier that way, you know?) comes in to have our VT femme’s back. So we drive our asses to Burlington, VT, arriving in the wee hours of Saturday morning, to tears of joy, hugs & excitement for the day to come. After about 4.5 hours of sleep we rise to Alison writing NYAAF thank you cards (it had to be said, feminism from morning through night). Then we laze about for a bit and “let me set the scene for you”: listen to le tigre while NYAAF letters are drafted and Slut! by Leora Tanenbaum is being read. Yeah, we can’t help it. Anywho, we bundle ourselves up for the Vermont snow & march on down to UVM’s campus for the rally at noon.
We arrived to an awesome group of feminists getting prepped, with signs a-plenty, and reviewing our chants for the march. Some of my favorites:
” Hey Rapists, Go Fuck Yourselves”
“Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, This rape culture has got to go”
“Ho Ho, Hey Hey, Sexist Frats have Got to Pay”
“Not the Church, Not the State, Women Must Decide Their Fate”
“We are unstoppable, another world is possible” (my personal favorite)
As we marched through the streets cars had to drive around us, many honking in support. We marched through downtown Burlington, people stopping to take pictures, voice their support, while we pumped our fists and raised our voices. The energy was palpable, so much passion, it was a true pleasure to be a part of. We stopped our march at City Hall where the teach-in & speak out commenced. The community spoke up about the injustices they see in Burlington, on campus & our society at large. Alison shared her experience of rape culture in her high school & talked about the importance of FedUp in Vermont. A few common themes emerged that truly resonated with me…first and foremost I was reminded of the power we have in sharing our experiences of sexual violence within our communities. I never cease to be amazed by the strength of survivors, especially when we support one another. Another theme I noticed is how incredible of an experience it is to find a community of feminists who love and support you, I could see the importance FedUp has played in many of the organizers lives & it made me incredibly aware of how important the feminists I’ve found in New York are to me in my life, politically and personally. Again, material for another article but it must be said. We left the rally & teach-in feeling energized & ready to celebrate a successful rally.
So the femme mafia headed back to the home base for the weekend (some impressively supportive & kind-hearted VT bros Alison is lucky enough to have in her corner in the Green Mountains). We made a pitstop to pick up some celebratory drinks for home and inevitably become engaged in a conversation with a privilege-saturated guy expressing his personal opinions about being pro-choice but also believing that eventually people “realize the meaning & importance of life.” But he’s a feminist! He promises… We’re irritated but the femme mafia does not step down, calls him out & sends him on his way. We relax back at the pad, have some spiked cider & prep for dinner with some FedUp-ers.
At dinner we talk feminism, but abstractly, in the context of our individual lives and experiences, and it is, as always, refreshing. The VT feminists roll out to a house party (this weekend I realized that I’m getting older, the house party scene was blowing my mind) and the femme mafia check in with each other. (We are very good at check-ins, we’ve got each other’s back and it feels so good) We pop over to a sort of twilight zone for me…a flashback to my college days, a reminder of the importance of friends in your corner, the mind blowing experience of looking for a keg in the kitchen and finding a home made bar – that accepts credits cards (huh-what?), and being reminded of male privilege every time Kimberlynn tried to improve the music situation. Nevertheless, we dance our day off with some feminist jams, realize that we live in NY where the bars are open til 4am when the party starts to die down at 2ish and dance through the streets back to the bro pad.
We arrive to a house full of guys returning from the bar & offering us a warm welcome & a cold beer. It is a pleasant surprise to spend the rest of our evening/early morning hanging out with bros who can get down to Deceptacon, who can accept our call outs when their language is problematic, can engage in our check-ins and have fun without having to prove their manhood.
We drive home on Sunday on very little sleep but with an incredible feeling of accomplishment. The femme mafia was (informally) featured in Channel 5′s 6:00 news and on the cover of Sunday’s Burlington Free Press. We were proud of our involvement in such an incredible rally, with high hopes for Fed Up’s success and more importantly, a feeling of gratitude for one another. Driving home to RENT, singing with my femmes, sharing with each other & eating some fast food…completed our incredible weekend in Vermont.
So, in conclusion, look out rape culture! We’re coming to a town near you!!!!
So I realize I have been completely neglectful regarding my review of these magazines. It has been a difficult project as it has made me even more painfully aware of what kind of emptiness women are told to pay for in order to be “entertained.” I would like to say, before I move on, that I am not judging ANYONE who reads these magazines. I read them growing up, I’ve read them in the past year on planes and other trips. These are the “reading materials” available to women. There are several feminist magazines that could use our support and have PLENTY more actual content however they are not readily available, and sometimes people just like to look at pictures to pass the time, it just saddens me that THESE are the images women are told to consume, that we can be reduced to fashion and physical attractiveness.
Without further adieu, here is my review for March 2011. I will be posting my reviews more often, to catch up on the backlog I’ve created, I would just like to space them out a little so you don’t have to take them all in at once.
The March 2011 Overview of Teen Vogue & Allure
The cover of this month’s Teen Vogue included:
- Perfect Skin Now: super easy tips to try today
- Exclusive: Willow Smith’s Fashion Frenzy
- 353 bright ideas: Spring Style
- Are you a Facebook stalker?
- Twilight’s Ashley Greene: On her red-hot romance (enter for a chance to meet her at teenvogue.com)
Teen Vogue Page Breakdown
The one thing I’ll tell you right now that I won’t cover in my review is that Teen Vogue reminded me that MARCH begins PROM SEASON!! Teen Vogue included with this issue the BONUS Prom Magic supplement wrapped up with my March issue. I would cover this supplement in my review except that it only had ONE page that wasn’t overtly selling things, and that page was about 18-year-old Karlie Kloss, an “ubermodel” sharing her “party-dressing secrets.” It was a horrible experience just flipping through the supplement, though it did give me a flashback of a precious moment my mom & I shared when shopping for my prom dress (which looked NOTHING like any of the “looks” advertised by Teen Vogue).
THE BEST OF TEEN VOGUE MARCH
Teen Vogue is regularly the same kind of old bull shit. The advertisements are just page after page of women wearing things teenagers could never afford (or pull off), with hair they could never do (because there are extensions and hours of teasing and styling worked into those hairs), makeup they could never afford or apply, and bodies they could never have (because they are airbrushed and photoshopped and what isn’t is the result of expensive personal trainers coming to their homes EVERY day and personal chefs and/or shoppers who provide them with the most delicious, healthiest meals available OR an eating disorder) selling them Chanel and Coach perfumes, Michael Kors purses, BCBG shoes, and this Essie nail polish with the slogan “my idea of a french affair…wine, sand and endless shopping.”
The one thing of substance that I’ll highlight here is this 4-page article (one of which is a full page copy of Warhol’s EYE) called “cyberspy.” It’s about Facebook stalking and includes quotes from multiple young women (between the ages of 17-22, in a TEEN magazine) about “stalking” friends, exes and acquaintances on Facebook. It discusses how easy Facebook has made it to get curious about the daily lives of our friends, family and even strangers. It actually has quotes from a few girls that were quite disturbing to me:
There’s someone I stalk constantly. I’ve never met her, but she has about 5,000 friends, and I’m sure she doesn’t know most of them. A few weeks ago I was looking at her posts as far as June.
Much of what I read sounded disturbingly similar to real life stalking. I’ve always been bothered that it was called “Facebook stalking” but when described in relative detail, they are eerily alike. Not according to Dr. Jill Weber, Ph.D, apparently though. Dr. Weber and the other “experts” downplay the seriousness of Facebook stalking throughout the article and while I agree that a certain degree of Facebook browsing or exploring is completely normal, and likely, Dr. Weber assures us that “Facebook stalking is not a dangerous thing to do, unlike actual stalking.” When someone is checking up on someone else 20 times per day, secretly spying on them while they are out, looking through their messages and pictures, and even following their current partner around, that sounds a lot like real stalking, or at least a gateway to more dangerous stalking behavior. And what about “real” stalkers? Does anyone think that a “real” stalker wouldn’t use Facebook to help them more efficiently stalk their victims?
I might agree that, as Dr. Weber puts it “Facebook is tantalizing–it promises to give you certain information about others, and if it didn’t allow for anonymous stalking, no one would use it.” But anonymous stalking is what many people have actually experienced, and been terrorized by, so let’s watch our use of language and acknowledge the fact that, while fun and often harmless, Facebook can be a tool for predators and making light of it is insulting to victims of stalking or internet bullying (which many Facebook stalkers also do).
Allure Magazine Page Breakdown
The cover of this month’s Allure Magazine covered:
- 20th Anniversary (Thank you, Botox)
- What’s Beautiful Now: Brown hair? Full lips? Tawny skin? And what about big butts? (Thousands of Women & Men Answer)
- Tear-Out BONUS!: Our Ultimate Head-to-Toe Guide(The two-minute hairstyle, an easy undereye-circle fix, the at-home zit cure, and more…much more
- Victoria Beckham: The American Dream, From Heathrow to LAX
- The 11 Skin-Care Products Guaranteed to Make You Glow
- What you hair says about you: Are you sexy, classy, smart, or aggressive?
Ok, can we just acknowledge for a moment that Allure is telling us that your HAIR actually tells YOU whether you are “sexy, classy, smart, or aggressive.” And why are all of these things mutually exclusive? I fashion myself one sexy, classy, smart AND aggressive young feminist. Try and tell me I’m not, Allure, and I’ll dedicate an entire year of my life to tearing your magazine a proverbial “new one.”
THE BEST OF ALLURE MARCH
One of the articles in this issue of Allure is called “A Place of Refuge.” It is described as being about “when poverty and disaster threaten their basic humanity, some women in Haiti find courage in the redemptive power of beauty.” I dogeared this article for further inspection as I counted through the endless advertisements (this specific article had a Marc Jacobs perfume insert) because I suspected this might be worth highlighting positively. It was, instead, quite devastating to read. I actually got somewhat worked up while reading the article and spoke my mind, in ink, all over the third page of the article.
Now I would like to say that the woman who wrote this article is from Haiti and spent many of her childhood years there, with family that lived through the recent devastating earthquake. And honestly, when I read the caption for this article, I thought it would be about a group of women who created a business or organization to help support one another through tragedy. What I got was a story about beauty, and how the actual, physical beauty of women is what gives her faith. I was torn while reading this, because a part of me could understand what she was trying to portray, the beauty we have control over, how we have power in our beauty as women and that we don’t have to “look like [we] don’t have nothing.” I understood the roles the women she knew in Haiti, who made pieces of dresses for American shops, played for her in her life. But what I couldn’t understand is how this article about women’s enduring strength and hope for better lives could be framed with lengthy paragraphs about “bright or muted kerchiefs, polished shoes, manicures, pedicures and hair rollers.” I understand and appreciate how important it is that people in crisis take time for themselves, self-care, frivolous indulgences and generally enjoyable activities, but that’s not what she was talking about in this article.
The two paragraphs in the ENTIRE 3-page article dedicated to the experiences of young women being raped during times of chaos served as an almost intolerable reminder that there are things of more SUBSTANCE that articles like these could be discussing. Does Allure think that women can’t handle an article about the reality of rape, especially in poverty and chaos stricken areas, or the devastation that hunger and displacement cause in people’s lives? Women can and should be aware of these issues. You don’t have to frame things with clothing and hairstyle to keep us interested for three pages!! The article ended with the writer spending the entire last 1/3rd of the page describing the dress she bought in honor of her cousin leaving her displacement camp, and how, while she won’t wear it out in public, she sometimes wears it while she cooks, or cleans, and it reminds her of the Haitian women’s strength and struggle.
Again, I hate to be a downer asshole, but — HUH??
Another article I thought might be worthy of review and highlight is entitled “Body of Evidence” and begins with “From Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass curves to Kate Moss’s waifish androgyny, the ideal body type at any one time expresses a culture’s values and aspirations.” I should have known that this article would be just as vapid as they all are. It is basically less than two pages offering a review of the ideal body type in the preceding decades with miniscule mention of the female liberation, feminist and counter culture movements and other important political and cultural events happening during these times without ANY sort of adequate explanation about HOW these movements and periods of time directly affected female body image and the drive to look a certain way. And it definitely doesn’t address the stress that has ALWAYS been put on women to be thin. It does, however, have a full page photo spread with models from the 60s-2010′s including Twiggy (with a BMI of 14!!), Patti Hansen, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss (with her 33″ bust), Gisele Bunchen (literally naked on horseback), and finally Heidi Montag (post-plastic surgery). Look at all the skinny beautiful women you will never look like. These are the past, and the future of body image in America. This needs to stop! Why can’t Allure publish an article about the pressures women feel to live up to the body image standards and ways in which these images have affected the lives of women and girls (not to mention the male expectation of women).
LOOK AT THIS ADVERTISEMENT!!!!
I’ve been involved in several different Sexism in Media campaigns and these are exactly the kind of advertisements we have tried to get pulled from magazines and ad campaigns. I plan on doing some research on the culprits, whether it be Sephora or SUPER by Dr. Nicholas Perricone, they can plan to hear from me. Once I draft up a letter to send, I’ll be asking all my fellow feminists to co-sign and see if we can get rid of an advertisement that uses male, heterocentric, porn imagery to sell facial products to women.
On National Love Your Body Day I’d like to take a moment to share my story. The story of how I came to appreciate and love my body.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m tall. I got taller than anyone else around me, boys & girls, by middle school, and my six-foot stature has consistently made me taller than most people since those middle school days on. In middle school, no one wants to stand out. No one wants to be different. We all want to hang out with the cool kids or play games and talk with our friends and STAY OUT OF THE WAY! As a young woman, we get a very specific education during these days, through peoples’ words, looks, and gestures, that the way we take up space can be an issue and that being an attractive young woman means something specific, and not just about our physical bodies but our words and our confidence in our expressions as well.
To make matters worse for young women, middle school, the most vicious, self-loathing, insecure time of many of our lives, is also quite often the time we go through annoying physical changes like acne, weight gain & loss, and puberty. So not only was I tall and awkward and wearing really ridiculous styles like “tattoo necklaces” but I got kind of overweight & had to start wearing glasses. Needless to say, the popular kids I hung out with ripped me to shreds, every day, for over two years. They never disowned me completely or pushed me out because they needed me. They needed me to validate their own attractiveness. They needed me around to make fun of, to be nasty to. The most popular girl in my middle school was my friend. We had a lot of fun times, breaking rules, writing notes to each other, having sleepovers and talking about boys. I loved her. She was perfect. But at the same time that she did all of these fun things with me and confided in me, she made fun of me at school, not usually to my face but to our other friends. There was a day in eighth grade that I will never forget, when the boy I was in love with said he’d be my boyfriend & I walked around the school so happy and proud, until I fainted in choir class that day and my new boyfriend called me that night to “break up with me.” Oh middle school romance, so intense. I was devastated that he dumped me before our relationship could really even begin, but what broke my heart even more was when I came back to school the next day and another friend told me that our “leader” was making fun of me at lunch the day before, she had said:
“Wow. NICOLE has a boyfriend and I don’t? What is the world coming to?”
You know what I did in retaliation? NOTHING. I cried at home. I hated myself. I thought I was an ugly, fat loser who deserved what she got. I kept hanging out with the popular kids. Every day. Taking the abuse, smiling in response and pretending that I thought it was as funny as they seemed to think it was. I was dying on the inside.
When I got to high school, I had lost some weight. I had also experienced a burst of confidence during the last week of middle school and told Miss Popular to shove it. My freshmen year of high school she was in my gym class and kissed my ass ALL THE TIME. I’m still not sure why. Its like the tables had turned except that I still wasn’t “popular.” Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Junior Baseball Team star athlete wanted me. He was a creep. But I finally had boys & girls noticing me, I’d gotten contacts & I was thinner (though now almost constantly dieting).
In retrospect, high school was almost as hard on my body image and self esteem as middle school was. Recently, I wanted to show my partner a home video my mom had made of my high school’s Evening of Scenes where I performed a ten-minute scene with my best friend. When we watched it, I was blown away by how tall and thin and BEAUTIFUL I was in high school. I was blown away because, when I think back on my high school years, I ALWAYS thought I was overweight and somewhat unattractive. It broke my heart to watch this video and remember how insecure I was, how terrible I always felt about my body. That was a moment for me. The moment I realized how intense the effects of peer bullying and the media’s portrayal of women had been on my self esteem. I was so sad to think about how many years I spent hating my body and thinking I wasn’t as pretty, as good, as other girls.
After finishing middle & high school, I went to college where I felt lost for the first several months, watching people making new friends and feeling so confused about how I could meet and befriend people who didn’t know me at all. I then realized that this was an amazing opportunity. I stopped wasting my time on the people from my hometown attending my college, who I thought were cool in high school. I realized that by making new friends, spending time with people who didn’t know me in high school, I could challenge myself to find confidence and stop hanging on so tightly to the internalized shame I had held on to for so long. When I met new people, I didn’t feel like the same, self-conscious young woman I was at home, I felt like I had a fresh slate, and started meeting people who liked me for who I was, inside and out. These people started telling me about my beautiful traits, and I started to internalize a more positive self-image.
Finally, feminism came into my life. And it ALL started to make sense. I learned about women’s rights issues and the ways in which society makes us feel bad about ourselves as women. I stopped reading women’s fashion magazines, stopped dieting and obsessing about how I looked and got more focused on how I felt. And it was so LIBERATING! I finally felt unashamed about my body, about loving myself. I accepted that everyone has their imperfections but that we are BY FAR our own worst critics and that the things I didn’t like about myself weren’t actually real. These feelings were simply expressions of the society we live in that teaches women to hate themselves and their bodies, to focus on self-improvement.
While it is clear to me that one of the reasons for this culture of “self-improvement” cultivated among women is pure commercialism, the drive to sell products by telling women that they NEED these things to be beautiful and desirable, I now believe that another reason behind this pressure society puts on women to look pretty is to DISTRACT WOMEN FROM CARING ABOUT WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT. By encouraging women to read fashion magazines, get primped and prodded at, buy cute clothes and shoes and accessories, judge other women based on these external traits, be competitive with one another and DIET ALL THE TIME, it makes it so much more difficult for women to engage in political and social issues, focus on succeeding in business and education. It creates a culture in which women will do the work of keeping themselves busy with nonsense while men can keep running the country.
By learning to love my body, I was able to eliminate the distractions that kept me from actively engaging in the fight for women’s rights, and for gender equality. When I disengaged from obsessions surrounding “self-improvement” I finally felt like I was part of the real world.
It’s not easy to disengage in this way. Commercialism bombards women on a constant basis with unattainable images of beauty and representations of women in film, music and television that perpetuate the roles of women as catty, shallow, backstabbing, or just plain stupid. We have to stand up for our rights. Our right to love ourselves, our right to love one another. Our right to love other women. And our right to be a part of the conversations that affect our country and our world.
I still have days where I think I look fat or unattractive, but now when I have those feelings, I try to investigate where they are actually coming from and I ALWAYS take a moment to follow those self-criticisms with something that I love about my body and about myself. I even love my scars now. The stories of the life I have lived thus far. Loving your body is about loving yourself. Loving your body is about loving the variety of bodies that exist in our world and focusing on appreciating people’s different expressions of beauty, both inside and out.
This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival. For more information about loving your body and fighting the culture that perpetuates internalized self-loathing in women watch any of Jean Kilbourne‘s Killing Us Softly documentaries, the new Miss Representation documentary premiering TOMORROW on the OWN network or get involved in feminism!
For the past several months, since my relocation to New York, I’ve been part of the organizing team for SlutWalk NYC (coming up on October 1st, more posts to come on my involvement, organizing a grassroots movement, the future of feminism, etc). One of the events we decided to organize prior to the actual SlutWalk is a protest for the morning of the jury selection for the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. When we discovered Monday that the DA was most likely going to drop the charges against DSK, we thought our presence at DSK’s meeting with the DA was more important than ever.
So bright and early Tuesday morning, 8:00am to be exact (oh yes, I am THAT passionate about battling rape culture), about three dozen or so SlutWalkers, Radical Feminists and other activists rallied in front of the court house to speak our mind and show our support for the survivor in this case, Nafi Diallo. There were endless cameras and microphones in our faces while many of our brave SlutWalkers gave passionate and unapologetic speeches demanding justice for sexual assault survivors. It was a beautiful display of the rage we all feel about the rape culture we live in, not to mention how unapologetic the people who are supposed to protect us are (I’m talking to you Cyrus Vance & NYPD!) about failing to do their jobs.
Now regardless of how you feel or what you believe to be true regarding Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nafi Diallo, there has been a serious miscarriage of justice in NOT allowing a jury of DSK’s peers decide based on the evidence the validity of this case. When the Grand Jury indicts someone for a crime, the case should, without question, go to trial. It is up to the jury to decide whether Diallo is being honest, whether DSK is guilty, not the district attorney.
I could get into the evidence of the case and the endless number of reasons a survivor of sexual violence may lie/omit details/remember details later regarding a highly publicized sexual assault they experienced but that’s another blog post entirely. Not to mention the reasons why a woman of color in Diallo’s position in our society (rape culture!) might feel nervous or uncomfortable about sharing ALL of the details of her life because she wants to practice her right to report a crime committed against her.
What does Diallo’s background have to do with her experience of sexual assault? Nothing. Except that working as a hotel housekeeper put Diallo in a lower position of power than a wealthy guest like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, creating a situation where she was a more vulnerable prospect for someone in his position to take advantage of.
This fight is not over. We need to speak out against this injustice! One of my fellow SlutWalk organizers, Suzy Exposito, said something extremely influential this morning,
“It is time we start recognizing the war against rape survivors. For all those who ever wondered why only 6% of rapists ever see jail time, here is your explanation. For all those who ever wondered where the feminist movement went, we’re back and we’re here to stay. For all those wondering why there is still no equality here today, it’s because there is no equality where there is no justice.”
She could not be more on the mark. The women I meet every day, the young women who are exploring and creating lives while refusing to be anyone but themselves, these women ARE the new feminist movement. Some of them don’t even realize it yet. But based on the passion, intelligence and dedication I see amongst my fellow SlutWalk organizers, the women from other feminist and pro-women, pro-sex(positivity) organizations and movements, non-profits, blogospheres, and other online communities, I am confident that we can make some brand new, world changing waves happen!
When I discovered this image and report by Third Wave Foundation, I was compelled to share it. Not only is the image striking and an accurate reminder of all of the existing barriers to accessing safe and confidential abortion services, but for me it was also a message that the fight to defend women’s reproductive rights is far from over.
(link to full size image; courtesy of Third Wave Foundation)
In my most recent work with survivors of sexual violence in Detroit, I was often faced with clients who had to make difficult decisions about their futures including the decision to carry, birth and raise a child without the support of a partner, without employment or prospects, without health insurance, even without reliable transportation or housing. I’ve also experienced the protest mobs when working as an escort with Students for Choice. It was devastating to me to think about how much these women went through before finally coming to the decision that was right for them, how emotionally trying that decision can be and then, after jumping through all the hoops, they are met not with support and understanding but with hate. Pure hatred is something that most god-fearing individuals and groups would say was terrible, in fact, it might possibly be a sin. But when it comes to the LGBT community and women in the unfortunate situation of having to choose abortion, hate seems to be totally acceptable if not encouraged. The protesters will either shout hate speech towards patients or they will offer them financial support (which is most times complete bullshit). They’ll tell women that they can help them find and pay for a house, a car, child care, even a job, all of which usually turns out to be completely empty promises leaving women with the responsibility that they knew they weren’t ready for.
The report produced and released by the Third Wave Foundation is an excellent resource for any individual, group, organization or educational institution interested in and committed to learning the full context in which women’s reproductive rights (or lack thereof) exist in the U.S. There are plentiful charts and graphs to assist you in reaching both the left and right-brained person and the report as a whole should remind any of us how much work is left to be done and how many people are facing daily injustices. It is clear through the research done and information gathered by Third Wave Foundation that these reproductive health shortcomings are affecting young, low-income women of color at an overwhelming rate.
One of the questions I am left wondering is: How are we deciding WHO holds more value in our society?