Tag Archives: rape culture

Consent Culture Briefs

-Art history – 500 years of women ignoring men. Good for a bit of a laugh!

-Angelina Jolie, who just starred in Maleficent (which has its own rape metaphor), opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. A worthy goal, for sure, and I appreciate that she makes a point to say that rape is about power, not sex. I find the idea of training peacekeepers interesting, though, as peacekeepers and soldiers are often the perpetrators of rape in conflicted areas. I think it’s going to be difficult to change things as long as rape isn’t really prosecuted even in times of peace. 

-High profile sex trafficking cases are having a PR nightmare. With Somaly Mam being exposed as a fraud and Chong Kim’s story unraveling, the “not for sale” crew are scrabbling to show themselves as helping women rather than lining their own pockets.  Never mind that trafficking actually exists and is horrific enough without making shit up. Why would you base a project on lying about your experience? I suppose if it’s about ego rather than actually helping people, and god knows trafficking isn’t the only charity that’s had these issues. I hope there will be some writing on how these trafficking narratives are used, even with consent, in exploitative fashions, further harming those the projects are meant to help.

-An anonymous post on Black Girl Dangerous underlines issues of abuse, activism, and where personal accountability intersects with “the cause”.

Reflecting back on that night, I now understand this heinous act within the kaleidoscope of his insecurity, anxiety and fear that I would eventually leave him.  I realize that our early conversations were exclusively concerned with systemic forms of patriarchy.  He was never interested in how his personal actions were misogynistic.

As I’ve had similar experiences, and know several “feminist activists” who are also serial abusers, this is an important topic and one I think that will need to be addressed at more length.

-A report was posted last week on street harassment numbers in America. Surprising no one, it’s a massive fucking problem. 65% of women and 25% of men said they had experienced street harassment, though as usual the numbers may be greater due to how we’re taught to tune it out and what we define as “harassment”. Also not surprising,  men were overwhelmingly the harassers, whether the victim was a woman or a man (I don’t know if they identified trans or genderqueer people in this). Additionally people of color and LGBT people were a lot more likely to say they’d been harassed than white or straight people were. I think the fact that PHYSICAL harassment is so widespread is also notable, as we’re so often told catcalling isn’t a big deal because it’s just words.

-“Professionalism” is taken to task by genderqueer person Jacob Tobia, and I think it speaks to an interesting way in which we establish and enforce whiteness, cissexism, and masculinity as norms without really thinking about it.  This is where coercion begins to rear its ugly head.

Professionalism is a funny term, because it masquerades as neutral despite being loaded with immense oppression. As a concept, professionalism is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, imperialist and so much more — and yet people act like professionalism is non-political. Bosses across the country constantly tell their employees to ‘act professionally’ without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it’s unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That’s probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can’t yet afford new ones? People may not think you’re being professional either.

 

For years, professionalism has been my enemy, because it requires that my gender identity is constantly and unrepentantly erased. In the workplace, the gender binary can be absolute, unfaltering and infallible. If you dare to step out of line, you risk being mistreated by coworkers, losing promotions or even losing your job. And if you are discriminated against for being transgender or genderqueer, you may not even have access to legal recourse, because in many states it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against gender non-conforming employees.

-PS: we have a twitter account and will be using it more! @consentculture

Yes. All Men.

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image of Tank Girl by E-Mann at DeviantArt

Elliot Rodger’s misogynist rampage has been on many people’s minds over the weekend.

I’ve observed with interest the conversations that are being had,  about gun control, about mental health, about why exactly white men are so often the ones to commit mass murders. These are the usual topics of discussion, as they were with Sandy Hook, as they were with Aurora. New additions to the table are questions and critiques of pickup artistry, toxic masculinity, entitlement culture particularly around misogyny.

I’ve heard a lot of “not all men”, “well, I’m different”, “this is just one guy, this isn’t a cultural thing”.

Bullshit.

***

Why are men defending pickup artists when they drive personalized rape vans? Or write posts on Reddit detailing serial rapes (receiving congratulations and further stories of “conquest”)? Or encourage men to overcome “last minute resistance” because women who freely consent are “sluts” and to be avoided? Or publish books that are guides to rape?

Why are men defending MRAs when they regularly employ rape and death threats to women they disagree with? Or defend George Sodini, a man who shot up women at a gym in 2009? Or spend their time complaining about how they’re demonized instead of, I don’t know, *critiquing men who are harassing, raping, and murdering women*?!?

Just fucking stop.

***

Yesterday I went on a radio show. I’ve been on it before, and I enjoy it. The guy in charge is a stand up comedian, who I am generally highly suspicious of because of Reasons, but I’ve felt comfortable on his show and looked forward to a fun break from the intensity of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Until a joke was cracked about that old joke, “take my wife, PLEASE”. And somehow it turned into jokes about shoving her into the trunk of a car. I sat there, somewhat stunned, at how people could joke about murdering women when there was so much focus on misogynist violence.

The person who started the joking was a woman. Misogyny- not just for men.

***

Is there something new in the air? One BBC documentary asks if we’re seeing misogyny, sexism, or liberation. I have issues, of course, with the way it equates female objectification under the male gaze as “liberation”, as if to equate the myriad ways in which women do find themselves sexually liberated to women ultimately lying to themselves. But there is some really scary shit in here that needs to be taken seriously. When female sexual liberation looks exactly the same as male gaze objectification, and men are ultimately profiting from it, I too question if we’re really liberating ourselves. Does being a porn star, or burlesque performer, or glamour model, require a personal critique to be “liberated”?

Of course, liberation takes many forms. I’m a porn performer and in many ways I find it liberating, though in other ways I do not. Financial security is a form of liberation. Feeling safe at work is a form of liberation. Accepting and loving your body is a form of liberation.

As long as we live in an imperialist capitalist patriarchy, liberation really only goes so far. We do the best we can with the tools we have.

***

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Here’s why you should be reading #YesAllWomen.

***

As a society, when white men kill, we consider them as individuals. Often we want to label them as mentally unstable, even though the statistics suggest that people with mental illnesses rarely commit violent crimes, and the people who do commit violent crimes are rarely considered mentally ill. “If only they sought help,” we say, “then these men wouldn’t be so violent!”

Courtney Anderson responds:

“In a study released this year that evaluated the characteristics of 37 high profile school shootings from 1987 onward, it was found that the majority of offenders struggled with the same kinds of personal problems. Social marginalization and issues at home or work were found in all cases. Feelings of chronic rejection were common and categorized as feelings of being “bullied, threatened, or injured.” Also, it is worth noting that a significant percentage of shooters felt that they had “failed in developing their manhood.” As per the YouTube video submitted by Elliot Rodger prior to the Santa Barbara shooting, feelings of masculine or sexual inadequacy were significant.

It should be noted that reputable studies avoid hyper-generalizations of mass shooter psychology. According to the professionals behind mental diagnoses, the reason for this is because the media does significant damage by creating a rhetoric that paints the mentally ill as highly prone to violence. While psychiatrists support “reasonable restrictions” on gun access for persons diagnosed with mental illness, they continue to stress the fact that it will have little affect on total gun-related violence. The reason: people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder account for, at most, only five percent of violence.”

It would seem that as much as we’d like to think that these people are some “other”, they are not. Like rapists, they are potentially our friends, our lovers, our family, our neighbors, our community leaders. In fact, if the victim is a woman, statistics suggest that her murderer or rapist will be someone she knows.

It’s hard to feel safe when every man you know is a potential statistic.

***

In the previously mentioned BBC documentary, I find the discussion with the ex-editor of Loaded, Martin Daubney, particularly telling. He says how the “New Man” with his hoovering was “asexual” (suggesting asexuality is bad, and that doing “women’s work” desexes men).

When Kirsty Wark starts showing him the teeshirts joking about rape, or hitting women, he recoils, saying how that’s absolutely misogyny. Stand up comics making jokes where women are the butt of cruelty and insult gets the same response.

He obviously SEES that jokes can be misogyny, but not HIS jokes (or the jokes he enables in Loaded), and therein I feel is the crux of the problem. When men say “not all men”, they often me “not me”. But listening to sexist jokes without speaking up, even, does have consequences on behaviour.

Thomas Ford’s research into the effect of sexist jokes on behaviour lays it bare:

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations,” Ford said. “We also found that, in the presence of sexist humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations. We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.”

I found it particularly interesting to read the comments about this study over on the Penny Arcade forum, considering how shit-poor the creators of that comic have been about rape culture.

***

Elliot Rodgers was not unique, however much men are trying to suggest he is. Just this weekend another man shot at women for refusing sex with him in California. A 16 year old girl in Connecticut was murdered by a schoolmate when she refused to go to prom with him. A Californian man murdered his girlfriend when she refused to have makeup sex with him. In Florida a 14 year old girl was kidnapped and choked into unconsciousness when she refused his sexual advances. A woman jogging in California was run over when she refused to get in the car with strangers. Last year a jury in Texas acquitted a man who shot a sex worker when she refused him sex. In 2012 a woman was shot to death in her car when she told them she was trans in response to their flirtations.

And on. And on. And on.

This isn’t just individuals. This is a crisis. And it’s been a crisis for a long time.

Are we only now angry because pretty white cis women were Elliot’s intended victims?

***

I applaud women who are fighting cultural conditioning and fighting back against the men who abuse them. People like the Gulabi Gang, who will beat a rapist with sticks so he dares not do it again. People like Susan Walters, who strangled the hit man her husband sent to murder her. Women are taught that things will be worse if they fight back, but statistics indicate the opposite is true. We can fight back, and we need to learn the most effective ways how. Fuck being “nice”.

***

Martin’s piece in the 2014 BBC documentary sounds very different from his 2012 Daily Mail article, in which he expresses how fatherhood caused him to feel guilt that his work at Loaded may have contributed(!!!) to the further profiting off objectification of women. “Fortune gave me a son, but not on my life would I want any daughter of mine to be a topless model,” he says, before expressing how porn is “a world devoid of aspiration”. His piece is ultimately not against lads mags, however (in the documentary he says how Loaded “celebrates” women), but rather censorship of internet porn.

This sort of lack of awareness is part of why I think people are so often complicit in systems of oppression. We want to point the finger at anyone else, at the “other”. It’s us. We’re the problem, and we need to fucking address it.

***

I keep hearing from men “what should we do, though? We don’t want to take up space!”

Men- you need to confront each other. You need to speak up when you see street harassment. You need to shut down sexist jokes. You need to tell other men that talking about women like we’re sexual prizes to be won is not ok. And as Chuck Wendig says:

“I understand that as a man your initial response to women talking about misogyny, sexism, rape culture and sexual violence is to wave your hands in the air like a drowning man and cry, “Not all men! Not all men!” as if to signal yourself as someone who is not an entitled, presumptive fuck-whistle, but please believe me that interjecting yourself in that way confirms that you are. Because forcing yourself into safe spaces and unwelcome conversations makes you exactly that.

Instead of telling women that it’s not all men, show them.

Show them by listening and supporting.

Show them by cleaning the dogshit out of your ears and listening to their stories — and recognize that while no, it’s not “all men,” it’s still “way too many men.” Consider actually reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter not to look for places to interject and defend your fellow men, but as a place to gain insight and understanding into the experiences women have. That hashtag should serve as confirmation that women very often experience the spectrum of sexism and rape culture from an all-too-early age. Recognize that just because “not all men” are gun-toting, women-hating assholes fails to diminish the fact that sexism and rape culture remain firmly entrenched and institutional within our culture.”

Men, you have a part in this, and it’s in male spaces.

***

Why do men feel entitled to women, I hear?

Here’s why. And here’s why.

Now fucking go out there and do something about it.

Consent Culture Briefs

-Twitter was swarmed with the hashtag #rapecultureiswhen, with many people expressing their thoughts on the subject. It started off really well:
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Until of course the MRA types entered the hashtag to prove the points being made by making rape jokes and “angry feminist” accusations.

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Thankfully there were some men in the tag who demonstrated an understanding of what rape culture is, and why it was a problem.
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As one woman put it:
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-Dr. Nerdlove posted an article called “Socially Awkward Isn’t an Excuse” and in doing so explains how in creeper situations, being socially awkward is not an excuse for violating boundaries. He points out that the “socially awkward” situation is raised as a form of justifying the creeper behaviour, and often of blaming the person receiving the creepy attention. A quote:

But being anxious or socially clumsy or inexperienced isn’t the same as being creepy. Someone who is socially awkward will occasionally trip over somebody else’s boundaries by accident because they may not necessarily understand where the line is in the first place. A creeper on the other hand knows exactly where those boundaries are… he just doesn’t care. A socially awkward person frequently realize that they fucked up almost as soon as the words are out of their mouth and will often freeze up or try to verbally backpedal; a creeper who is using “socially awkward” as an excuse on the other hand, will wield their supposed infraction against the other person as proof that they didn’t do anything wrong… or rely on others to do their defending for them.

It’s a great article, and a useful one.

-I heard recently about the analogy of Ask Culture Vs Guess Culture when explaining why some people get upset by others asking for help and favours, while others get annoyed at someone’s wishing for help but never making it clear. I think this is going to be a useful distinction in setting expectations of each other, and may help in friend circles and communities that struggle around who gets heard and who gets the resources. Captain Awkward has an excellent rundown/analysis here.

-Interesting art/performance piece happening in Phoenix, Arizona with the Consent Project by Chelsea Pace. She seeks to put people in situations where a victim is often blamed for their assaults (for example, a room filled with televisions and trees made of alcohol bottle trunks and red Solo cup foliage to represent “too much to drink”) to confront if it is, really, deserved.

-A police officer in San Jose stands accused of raping a woman… who called 911 for a domestic violence situation. He brought the woman (believed to be an illegal immigrant and therefore even less likely to fight back) to a hotel, waited for the other officer to leave, and then raped her. Obviously this brings into question *even more* the idea that rape victims should talk to the police, particularly if they are POC, queer, trans*, or sex workers. He is on paid administrative leave, which is fucking shocking.

-A gang rape victim with MS says that when she tried to report her assault, police accused her of being a drug addict and a sex worker (as if those are reasons to not take a rape seriously). She and her mother both say the police acted “like it was a big joke and a waste of time.”

-Upsetting Rape Culture is still fantastic with their direct action and their quilt of survivor’s stories. Check them out if you haven’t, because their sense of humour and critical analysis of consumerism and sexuality is pretty damn good.

Guest Post: Rape Culture at Uni Isn’t A Victorian Issue

There’s so many things to write about when it comes to rape culture in the media. It can be hard for me to keep up, but thankfully, I now have guest posters who are happy to step in! Today I’m bringing a piece by Brendan P Bartholomew, who kindly penned a response to Joanna Williams’ claim that rape culture doesn’t exist at British universities- despite evidence to the contrary

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Not rape culture, obviously. Just marketing!

The Web site spiked recently posted an opinion piece by one Joanna Williams, entitled “THERE IS NO ‘RAPE CULTURE’ AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES.” I am not a woman, sexual abuse survivor, or UK college student, and cannot speak for those groups, but I can speak to the utter wrongness of that opinion.

Williams’ premise is that by discussing rape culture on university campuses, modern feminists are behaving like Victorian era sexists who used horror stories of spinsterhood and predatory males to discourage women from attending college. She claims British universities don’t have a rape culture problem, and cites various rape statistics to support this claim.

Sigh. Where to begin? Let’s start with that juxtaposition of feminists with Victorian sexists. Williams writes:

“But there’s one big difference from a century ago: today’s panics over rape ‘epidemics’ are not promoted by Victorian fathers but by female students.”

And that right there should have ended the discussion, because she admits that the very women in harm’s way, the actual women out there experiencing the “ground truth” of rape culture on college campuses, are telling us there’s a problem. I don’t know about you, but when I hear from a woman that she doesn’t feel safe, I assume she’s right, and allow that to inform the conversation. If you say, “This school has a climate that fosters rape,” you’re only guilty of fear mongering if it’s not true. Williams needs it to not be true, and I’m tempted to wonder why. Spiked identifies her as an “Education Editor,” and “a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent.”

I could speculate about the personal stake Williams may have in this, but any student of logic would call that an ad hominem fallacy. Therefore, I’ll focus on her logic, and her fallacies. She writes:

“Being a feminist on campus in 2014 seems to mean calling for university managers to intervene in intimate relationships and to curtail free speech in the name of protecting delicate women from sexual threats.”

So, in other words, if it happens within the context of an “intimate relationship,” it’s not legitimate rape, but a simple misunderstanding, or a case of morning-after regret? Is that the logic here? As to this subject of free speech, there have been incidents of men handing out “how to rape” pamphlets on college campuses. Would that be an example of speech that should not be curtailed? And why are we speaking in terms of “delicate” women, as opposed to just women? Should women feel demeaned because other women seek to protect them from sexual threats?

When Williams goes on to cite rape statistics in order to support her argument, she ignores the fact that there is widespread agreement that rape is one of the most notoriously under-reported crimes, due to the enormous pressure survivors feel to not come forward. So when she writes…

This would equate to just over four recorded rapes at a typical university.”

I say no, that equates to just over four rapes per campus that we know about. But don’t take my word for it. The American Medical Association has said as much, and you’ll find confirmation on Wikipedia:

According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime.

The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 British government report says “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”

Continuing to build her argument on a foundation of rape statistics, Williams writes:

“Rape Crisis, a UK charity that supports women and girls who have suffered from sexual violence, claims that in 90 per cent of rape cases women know their attackers, and that 52 per cent of women suffering serious sexual violence were attacked by their partners. The validity of applying such national statistics to a student population, which is generally young and living away from old networks of family and friends, needs to be questioned.”

Williams seems to be suggesting that national statistics on the prevalence of rape can’t possibly be relevant to university life because those statistics indicate that rape is overwhelmingly acquaintance rape, and there are no acquaintances, only strangers, on college campuses. What a bizarre assertion.

She continues:

Of these, 48 per cent [SIC] say the perpetrator was not a student (challenging the notion of a university rape culture)…”

Um, unless I’m misunderstanding that statement, doesn’t that leave 52 percent who say the perpetrator was a student, thus confirming the fact that campus rape is a huge problem?

Williams also writes:

“…and only 17 per cent of the victims reported the attack to the police or university staff because ‘they did not feel what had happened was serious enough’.”

Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding about the internal debate a survivor might have when deciding whether an incident was “serious enough” to report. Reporting a rape means exposing oneself to the possibility of being re-traumatized by school officials, police, and the community at large. It’s not a decision easily made. Williams ignores the fact that keeping victims quiet is a part of rape culture. Citing a low instance of reported rapes to cast doubt on rape culture’s presence is like claiming the lack of dissenting speech in North Korea proves North Korea doesn’t suppress dissidents.

Furthermore, Williams never defines for us exactly what she thinks rape culture is. Given that her argument hinges on low instances of reported rape, it appears she’s conflating rape with rape culture, and working from the assumption that reported rape is the only symptom –and the only consequence—of rape culture. Is it possible, or even likely, that campus rape culture creates a stressful environment in which people who feel unsafe are less likely to excel in their studies, finish school, and earn degrees? I would hope that, as an educator, Williams might be interested in rape culture’s possible effects on student outcomes.

I am reminded of an experience I had many years ago, when I was called for jury duty. Because the case involved a violent crime, each potential juror was asked whether they knew anybody who’d ever been the victim of a violent crime. I will never forget the response from one potential juror, who happened to be a university student. Her response started with, “Well, I know girls on campus who get raped, but other than that, I don’t really know any crime victims.” Meaning that in her world, it was so commonplace for her fellow students to be survivors of campus rape, that it was hardly noteworthy, and probably didn’t rise to the level of “violent crime” the question had implied. This was years ago, and I still find the memory jarring. On that day, I got all the confirmation I needed that campus rape culture exists. It is ironic and sad that Williams’ denial of this problem makes her complicit in perpetuating it.

What Dylan Farrow Teaches Us About Rape Cuture

I’ve spent the last few days entrenched in debates about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, and childhood sexual abuse. As pretty much everyone knows, Dylan wrote a letter stating Woody Allen, her father, sexually abused her. It’s not been pleasant, or easy, and I’ve found myself disappointed if not surprised by the responses I’ve seen. As Dylan herself says, “sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily”, and it’s made even more obvious by the reaction to her letter.

The most famous, of course, would be the one in the Daily Beast, where Robert Weide, someone on Woody Allen’s payroll, casts doubt on Dylan’s story. His piece, I think, is a sad but important example of a typical response when coming out about abuse. It casts Mia as manipulative and hysterical, and Dylan as a naive pawn, with Woody as the poor man wrapped in this web of crazy lady lies. It says a lot to me that rather than feeling concerned about Dylan, or questioning what happened, he just trusts Woody and doesn’t “fret over Mia”. Because, you know, talking about sexual assault is just “fretting”.

God knows I’ve heard plenty of “but he’s such a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly _________”.

Being a decent guy in multiple ways doesn’t mean you can’t be a rapist. If my work with the BDSM community is anything to go by, the more social status someone has, and the more privilege, the more likely that there are multiple reports of them crossing boundaries. And the less likely there will be consequences- we see it over and over again in the news.

Aaron Bady responds to the criticism of Dylan’s letter (or, mostly, of Mia) incredibly well, in my opinion:

“The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assume she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.”

It leads to an interesting question, and one that’s far beyond Dylan and Woody. If someone you know, perhaps a potential employer, someone influential to your life in some way, is accused of abusive behaviour… how should you respond? What should you do? Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin, named in Dylan’s letter, seem to believe that it’s only the business of the family, not something thats their problem. It’s something abuse survivors hear all too often when trying to get support for themselves and boundaries around their abuser. I know I heard it too when I asked my friends to give me space-  “well, I don’t know what *really* happened”,  “was he convicted?”, “what proof is there?”

I admire Dylan’s decision to call out people who continue to associate with Woody Allen as being complicit. And I think about this when I think about other famous men who have even been CONVICTED of crimes (Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen to name a few) and yet Hollywood still celebrates them. I doubt it would be any different with Woody Allen, even if Dylan had been the ideal victim, because people like Woody and don’t want to believe he’s capable of child abuse. It would cause us, as a society, to acknowledge that we’ve praised this man for years while he’s escaped justice and his victim has to see him deified.

Jessica Valenti sums it well here:

“I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.”

This isn’t just about Dylan. This is about our entire society and what our values are. We as a culture have a lot invested in turning a blind eye to sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white, male, and wealthy.

And that’s terrifying.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 2

I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.

Desire:

One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.

Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.

Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.

Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.

I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.

I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.

I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.

I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.

I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”

I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”

I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.

I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.

I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.

I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”

I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.

I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.

And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”

Guest Post: Truth Against Humanity

When I initially played Cards Against Humanity with a mixed group, I was actually horrified by the ableism, racism, rape culture and sexism (among other things) set out as humourous by the game developers. I posted on Tumblr about how repulsed I was by “chunks of a dead prostitute”, which is a card I still burn in every deck I come across. However, playing with my parents, my closer friends, and my partner made me realize that really playing Cards Against Humanity can be a way to really get to know the people around you- what do they find funny, what do they apologize for, and how to they use their cleverness to twist the cards into jokes that punch upwards, not down. 

When I came across this piece by Dr. Pamela L. Gay, I felt it was succinct at expressing this experience in one particular gameplay. It’s been reprinted with permission: read more of her excellent writing at her blog, Star Stryder. You can also follow her Twitter here.

This rambling essay attempts to give voice to my struggles with #RipplesOfDoubt, and with the realities I’ve faced as a woman in science and skepticism. This is a piece written with too much honesty and not a lot of poetry. It is written because there are men out their throwing around phrases like, “I can’t be a misogynist – look how I intervened when that guy was about to grab that chicks boobs! Sure, I didn’t report it or anything, but I stopped it, and that is enough.”

No, it’s not enough.

I used to think it was. I used to have among my closest male friends people who thought it was enough to tell me, “Don’t feel bad about how that good thing X didn’t happen. It wasn’t that you weren’t good enough, it was just that you are a girl.” I used to think that’s what it meant for a man to be a good mentor or advocate for women – all he had to do was help her understand where the glass ceiling was and make sure its crushing weight wasn’t misidentified as actual failings of competency. I thought that was enough. But it wasn’t.

How many of us women comfort ourselves with this form of “it’s enough” over and over and over?

If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity, you know that sometimes the cards really need trigger warning. With cards like “Overpowering your father” and “Coat Hanger Abortions”, this game leaves no line uncrossed, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten through a game without at least once saying, “I am a terrible human being,” because of the totally over-the-top sentence I had just constructed. But sometimes… there is truth hidden in the cards. While playing with several friends on Saturday, I got the black card “Why don’t I sleep at night?” As a joke I said, “I wonder if any of you will come up with the truth?” 6 white cards came slamming down, and after a bit of shuffling I got ready to giggle.

But there was no laughter.

Black card:
Why don’t I sleep at night?

White card 1:
The Glass Ceiling.

Suddenly it stopped being Cards Against Humanity, and became truth against humanity.

Nicole hugged me. I didn’t read the rest of the white cards, I’d found that truth in 1 flip. We quickly shuffled around to the next round and moved on.

With ever increasing difficulty I’ve been dealing with issues of gender related to my career. Right now, I am struggling with hearing that an event I categorized as “A drunk ass  tried to grab my boobs,” is now being discussed by witnesses as, “He tried to sexually assault her in a bar while intoxicated.” I had created a euphemism for myself, and having that euphemism striped away is making me realize that I have been hiding from myself the true degree to which I have been harmed.

I have previously tried to confront and to give voice to the harm that sexual harassment and gender discrimination can do. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly addressed many of the issues that hold women like me back: Issues of being inappropriately touched, issues of hearing workplace banter about our boobs, and the effects all this and more has on our self-esteem. I made the following point as clearly as I could: “I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

I did not give this talk lightly. I suspected I’d experience backlash for daring to admit that I too am one of those women who has been touched, who has been held back, who has suffered self-doubt related to my gender. What shocked me was the form and degree of backlash. As a result of this talk I faced threat of professional reprimand. Let me state this more clearly, because I admitted that gender related comments hurt my self esteem, there were authority figures who demanded I be punished. While my direct supervisor and the dean we report to have always made me feel respected and have supported me, there were others within my profession who demanded I publicly apologize; that I be formally punished for what I said. I was asked to justify my speech and name names in confidential written documents. For one nearly fatal moment, I believed that if the people in authority knew the truth, perhaps people in power would undertake meaningful actions to make my profession better for women. And I did name names and I did use specifics … and my words were distributed widely enough that word of what was happening got back to me nearly a dozen timezones away. When I learned what was happening, I spontaneously (and thankfully silently) burst into tears. I hid behind long hair as I exited the audience of the conference session I was attending, and I hid in a foreign bathroom thinking my career was over. Three people wrote documents against me, and they named a forth complainant. No one else came forward to back me up in writing, even though for years there were those who felt fine telling me it was my gender that held me back and that when they had power they’d help me. I felt I had to get a lawyer in order to make sure my career wouldn’t be ruined – someone to find ways to use the existing guidelines to protect me. I exhausted my (admittedly small) savings. I started working more and more in isolation. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I tried to hide in my work, and that alone may have kept me going.

More than 300 days after this entire mess started, I received notice that I should be allowed to tell what happened to me without fear of reprimand, but that I have no legal case. Here I’d like to note that the statute of limitations on the relevant laws is 300 days, so it is literally true that I had no case at the time of this decision.

But it was a decision.

After almost a year, I though all the fallout from the talk I gave was over. I thought I could move on. I started moving out of isolation, and I started trying to return to my prior output levels. I went on a mini sabbatical-like trip to the EU to work with collaborators. I submitted a paper to CAPJournal and applied for two grants.

And then last week, the fading scars of what happened were cut open with a rusty blade.

I learned that a witnesses to an event that occurred in 2008 is discussing that event and naming names. During the event in question, a man in power who I’d previously never met made a lunge at my breasts. This is one of the events that weighed on me when I wrote my TAM talk. It weighed on me when I said, “As an astronomer, at conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science and skepticism.”

I’ve been warned this may all hit the internet. I’ve been warned the social media maybe about to explode. I’ve been warned this could be devastating to my career. Let me put this more clearly: Because someone witnessed a man in power attempt to grab my boobs, I have been warned that I need to worry about my career being actively destroyed by others.

And that is fucked up. I run a program that works to spread science education, to generate science results – we are doing good – and I have to be worried that my ability to do good is going to be limited because I have boobs someone thought would be fun to grab at.

And then that man with power – the one who staggered at my breasts at the moment of our introduction – emailed me out of the blue on Halloween, denying anything happened between us because he’s never done anything like that, and if he has never… then he never did with me. He went on to ask why I never confronted him later, why I never did many things, and I found myself explaining, “There is absolutely no way for a woman to walk up to any man, let alone a prominent man they don’t really know, and say, ‘Pardon me, while you seemed to be drunk, you did this inappropriate thing.’ Inappropriate physical contact is so common at these events as to be just part of being a woman in science and skepticism. People drink. Inappropriate things happen, remembered or not, and for the most part we just move on as though it had never happened because otherwise we could never work.”  I told him he should get help, and I dug out my own prescription for dealing with the PTSD that had me shaking. He promised he would share with no one our communications and I told him I didn’t want to communicate with him at all.

This exchange left me broken – it broke me on my favorite holiday of the year.

I am still broken.

And I hate myself for wishing this would all just go away, instead of wishing that there could be justice. But I guess I fear that justice has a price I don’t have the life blood to pay for.

Over and over, I have made the choice, “what happened isn’t worth raising a stink about. Don’t ruin everyone’s [fun/con/career]“. Over and over, I’ve made the choice, “Yeah, that guy (but he was drunk!) slapped my butt in passing, but he is a leader at what he does, so I need to just get over myself and work with him.”

I hate myself for this.

I hate myself because I made the choice that not raising a fuss was more important than my self worth.

Read that again. It’s fucked up. But it’s who I am, … and when I read the hashtag #RipplesOfDoubt a few weeks ago, I realized how often we women make that decision. I’m fucked up, but I’m not alone. Too many of us fill our heads with euphemisms and excuses. It’s so much easier to think, “It’s a drunk guy being a drunk ass.” It hurts so much more to say, “I had someone try and sexually assault me.”

I am a survivor. And I am the worst kind of survivor – I am someone who never really fought back, and who never demanded justice. All I ever asked was to be allowed to try and do good things.

It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with all of this, and I’d ask your patience and support.

And I’d ask you all to teach your kids this: be honest, keep your hands to yourself, don’t create drama, and leave the world better than you found it.

I am a survivor. And I just want to be allowed to try and do good things.

Guest Post: Give Women Stability and Pickup Artists Lose

This guest post is brought to you by Amy Roberts, writer, performer, and general rad person, who posted about it on Facebook. I asked her to write an intro for us and she was gracious enough to accept!

Many assume that economic coercion is only a problem for sex workers, but a recent article by Katie J.M. Baker highlights how this isn’t true. She tells the story of a pickup artist and his virulent reaction to Denmark, where “pussy literally goes into hibernation” because of abundant social services:

He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.”

It turns out that when women aren’t forced to suck up to men to survive, we’re less likely to accept abuse. While representation in male-dominated fields is an important goal, without addressing poverty through the social safety net we leave impoverished women with no recourse.

Unlike in America, where bestsellers goad already overworked and underpaid women to Lean In even further, the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit. Danish women are less likely to be financially dependent on men and therefore feel less pressure to “settle” or change their behavior.

To our pickup artist, this is a tragedy. To feminists—especially in the US—this should be a wake-up call. Check out Dissent Magazine for the full article.

Radical Entitlement- Rape Culture at Burning Man

rsz_img_4007I’ve been to That Thing Out In The Desert, otherwise known as Burning Man, for 4 years. In theory, I love it, and I love what it stands for. I love art, and freedom, and creation, and silly costumes. I love community building, and trading supplies, and being in the moment.

But I’ve also worked with the Bureau of Erotic Discourse teaching about sexual assault and consent at Burning Man. It’s a problem. BED was founded because Burning Man as an organization didn’t really do enough to teach people about sexual assault, sex and substance use, and consent- so a grassroots effort was created. I’m still baffled that BED isn’t a formal art of the infrastructure of the BORG, considering how sexual assault seems to be a pretty consistent issue.

(Correction from Russell Atkinson from BED:

“In 2013 BED became an official part of ESD, the Emergency Services Department of the Burning Man organization. We had more presence than ever, and we had substantial support from the Org. We had a full sheet on BED given to every participant at Greeters.

The downside is that with all of the material out there we still had significant problems with sexual assault and harassment. The sleazy groping photographer is only one of the examples”.

I’m glad to hear this, especially as I remember that there was initially some concern with the way ticket sales have been working that BED core members might not make it out there).

Which brings me to exhibit one, the “photo project”, “Man Grabs 100 Boobs at Burning Man“, that went viral. This was defended strongly, mostly by men, as “art”, often silencing women who spoke up to say how the photographer didn’t give them the opportunity for informed consent and sometimes didn’t respect their consent for the photo to begin with. One woman said “This guy walked up to a friend at Nexus and was like “Can I take a picture of you.” She replied okay and he put his hand out and said for her to pretend like she’s coming at him or fighting him off, so she did and it APPEARS like he’s grabbing her boob, but isn’t. He never mentioned anything about a project. She’s in the pics. What a slimy douche.” Another woman said, “I regret to say that I am one of the hundred. The picture was taken on the second day at BM and I was so filled with a sense of generousity and euphoria of being at BM, when an Asian photographer approached me and my friend and asked if he could take a photo we said “sure”. The initial photograph was just a pretext to the second one where he asked if he could put his hand in front of the camera for an art project. This seemed a bit weird but I didn’t think it would be harmful so agreed. He did the same to my friend but cupped her breast – she was topless. I then realised that he was some perverted guy who clearly had little success with women and was using this project as an opportunity to grope women and that he had only approached us because my friend was topless. We didn’t sign any consent form for this to be distributed publicly and we are really upset that the images are circulating round the internet.”

One of the things that was really ignored in the original discussion is that there are totally different social consequences for being a topless man in public vs being a topless woman in public that really has a lot more to do with our ideas of female purity, female nudity, male entitlement, nudity as sexualized, catcalling, body shaming, etc. Women have lost their jobs and access to their children for blogging about sex, never mind getting rape and death threats. For these photos to be ethical, the women in them need to be in a space to give informed consent, knowing where the photos are going to end up, and preferably signing a release. And then, there’s the fact he specifically asked at least one woman to look like she was fighting him off while he grabbed her- to me, that encourages rape culture (and if you’re unclear the difference between rape culture and rape, read up here). Never mind his lack of model releases means he can’t know for sure if the women are over 18- when I brought this up, men told me that touching breasts wasn’t sexual enough to worry about the person being 18. That worries me too, tbh, not just because of age of consent issues, but sobriety issues. Who decides what’s “sexual” in these situations? Who should?

The photographer spoke to one group of Burners to defend his “art project”, saying “The core concept of burning man is “radical self-expression”. Apparently, in the pictures, ladies are all cool, confidence and relax (Some of them might look frightened but that’s just because they would like to present it in a different way)”. When asked why he didn’t take photos with men if it wasn’t about groping women’s breasts, he replied “I personally don’t consider grabbing male’s chests as an inspiring and attractive project”. Not really surprising, is it?

There were Burners within the thread who weren’t slutshaming/victim blaming, though. I particularly want to highlighy one excellent response:

“Regardless of what it is they choose to do, respect is the key to Burning Man. You should respect peoples’ expression, their space, their emotions, their experience, their resources, etc., and part of respecting them is acknowledging them as people with agency; in this case, the agency to choose to or not to wear clothes, or to be groped or not groped by whomever approaches them. By taking pictures of people being groped and posting it on the internet, it’s kind of taking away their humanity and agency, and portraying them as objects to be vicariously groped by anyone who views them. At that point, they no longer get to control when they are no longer comfortable with the way they are being observed, they no longer get to choose who they are comfortable with sharing their presence, and they no longer have the agency to challenge conventions. Their image has been fixed right back into the conventional space where boobs are meant to be groped, naked time equals sexy time, and it’s all a big, spectacular deal. The net result is not a challenge to convention or an advancement of respect, but, if anything, the opposite.”

Then, I have Exhibit 2, “Early Crime States from Burning Man 2013“. I was horrified to read this, which says how crime stats are going down at BM before saying “The only concerning standout crimes were sexual assaults, one of which was a rape that occurred on the open desert, the victim was held at gun point and abused by two others”. This article finishes with a chirpy “To the future of fancy-free partying!” which I feel is completely ignorant and inappropriate. Last year there was a big discussion about rape at Burning Man, and time and time again, we see that the community is going to have to step up to make this a safer space. If we want to create a consent culture, too, we need the cooperation of the police, who need to focus less on arresting people for drugs and more on helping people who are victims of crimes. We need to talk more about date rape, and take that seriously, as well as violent rape. A more serious article points out “If you can build a city in the desert for 70,000 people in a month, with extremely experienced medical personnel, you can find a way to get rape kits on the Playa. What are you afraid of, BMOrg? The rapists, or the statistics?”

I agree.

We have, among all the good things, a Burner culture where women feel unsafe because they’re being sexually assaulted, roofied and raped, mind, and where “oh, rape kits are too complicated to have on Playa” is just accepted… this isn’t exactly happening in a vacuum- one where people of colour feel disgusted by the way their cultures are appropriated and white people say “we’re just expressing ourselves, get over it!”- one where artists struggle to afford to get in while the upper middle classes use it as a networking place- have at it. People will fight tooth and nail to “freely express” racism and misogyny at Burning Man because they feel they have a right to their “art”. It’s really sad that people would rather defend their right to do things that are painful and potentially harmful to others than to support a culture of intersectional awareness. That’s not the Burning Man I fell in love with. That’s not the artistic community I want to be in.

We’re able to set bones on the playa, put 18 wheelers on top of each other and set them on fire, and create/destroy a city of 60,000 in a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure we can find a way to provide rape kits on the playa at this point, and it’s past time for Burning Man to take it seriously. We need to show that our theme camps are safe spaces for people in trouble to come and get support rather than ridiculed and blamed. We built this city on better values than the world at large- let’s make it better, rather than a mirror in the dust.

Pickup Artists: Still Proving to be Scumbags

asshat1So this is going to be pretty brief.

Here’s a photo of three guys. They’ve been going around the University of Southern California sexually harassing women, including (sometimes especially) drunk women. This video in particular, where they creep up behind women and start massaging their shoulders, is really kind of… icky. It made my skin crawl. Many women don’t really know how to react in those situations.

“Jesse, Jason and Kong (no last names available) run a Youtube channel called “Simple Pickup” which supposedly instructs the viewer how to ‘pick up’ girls. In reality, the channel is a guide to street harassment.

They harass numerous girls in their videos and encourage their male viewers to do the same thing. They sexually humiliate women by ambushing them on the street and saying hideously inappropriate things, like “do you shave your vagina?” or “your nipples are obviously pierced” .

They touch girls without permission, even fondle their breasts without consent. In one video, a girl tries to get away from being touched, and then gets so scared, she calls to two other strangers for help.

They live in California. If you live in California, report them. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think it will ‘do’ anything these men have committed sex offenses and deserve to have their names dragged through the mud, not celebrated for their victimization of women.”

-Via Tumblr (trigger warning if you follow the link: I’ve removed a reference to immigration status, FYI, which I wasn’t sure was relevant and felt racist in a discussion about nonconsensual behaviour)

Want to let the university to keep an eye on them? Submit a form here with the USC Department of Public Safety.

Know of similar pickup artist type jackassery who are dumb enough to post video/photographic proof of their sexual harassment and assaults on the internet? Ping us and let us know so we can signal boost. So many pick up artist type douchecanoes depend on women not knowing how to react and smiling nervously to try to diffuse the situation, because we’re taught not to fight back, not to make things worse, just to be nice. They consider that passiveness a win. It’s fucking awful, and rape culture at work.