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March 28, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Another Example of Victim Blaming

By now you've no doubt already been inundated by information - and speculation - regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. We're not exactly sure why this particular case has sparked so much media interest and attention. Martin is surely not the first unarmed black young man killed at the hands of a white man for what seems like no reason. Obviously we think it's tragic for anyone to lose their life at only 17, but we weren't there so we have no idea what really happened.

We can't see into George Zimmerman's mind and soul to know what his true motivations were... what he was really thinking... whether he really is racist or paranoid or remorseful... whether he really did fear for his life that night. We can't know for sure. There has been a lot of speculation from both sides of the issue, a lot of questionable claims made, and a lot of incorrect information floating around the Internet... but one recurring theme keeps coming up and it has rubbed us the wrong way so we'd like to address that.

Victim blaming.

Women - in particular, women who have been the victim of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. - have to deal with victim blaming so often, that it's easy to forget that we are not the only group that this happens to. There have been so many parallels in this case to the victim blaming of rape survivors and frankly, we're sick of it on all ends.

  • It doesn't matter what they were wearing
There has been a lot said about how Martin was dressed that night, in particular the fact that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Even Geraldo Rivera came out from under his rock to declare that "the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was."
When you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark-skinned kid like my son Cruz, who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles [...]

Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace [...]
When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin, God bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way. [Politico.com]

It's really pathetic to claim that his hoodie had anything to do with his shooting, but to state that it was as much responsible as the shooter is just downright offensive. Even if the hoodie did play a role in causing Zimmerman to believe Martin was a threat... Zimmerman (and his apparent prejudice) would still be to blame.

We've heard this kind of backwards argument so many times... We heard it about Ines Sainz in regards to the inappropriate behavior of the Jets, we've heard it from high school principals about kids getting bullying and we heard it from the Toronto police department, inspiring the SlutWalk movement. (We've also seen it on about a zillion TV shows over the years, a personal "favorite" being the Halloween episode of Beverly Hills 90210.) Putting blame on the victims for what they were wearing is wrong in each of these examples and is still wrong when it comes to Martin's shooting.

Rivera's position also seems to be based on a kind of old fashioned, outdated point of view about clothing. Wearing a hoodie and baggy pants means you're styling yourself like a "gangster" or "wanna-be gangster"? It's just fashion. I may not be a fan of the baggy jeans style, but it's certainly not exclusive to gang members or criminals.

We can't know for sure if Zimmerman is racist or if he judged Martin as a threat that night based on his race, but the "hoodie" argument is most definitely racially-loaded. Rivera specifically said "dark-skinned" and "black or Latino" youth should not wear hoodies because of the negative association, but doesn't mention that type of clothing being a threat to Caucasian or light-skinned teenagers. Why? Because racism is probably much more to blame than clothing choice. (Similarly, when Juan Williams cited his fear of people wearing "Muslim garb", it was clear to most of us that it wasn't the garb itself that scared him, so much as he knew that the people wearing it were apparently Muslim. It was Islamophobia, plain and simple.)

  •  It doesn't matter what they have or haven't done in the past
Another aspect of the Martin case that rubs us the wrong way is the way that some members of the media have been portraying Martin, and more specifically, the way we're supposed to feel about that portrayal. Many say that he's been slandered, but whether or not that's true shouldn't even make a difference. Because it doesn't matter what he did in his past or what "kind" of person he was. All that matters was what he was doing the night he was shot.

Michelle Malkin's Twitchy posted a photograph alleged to be Martin, of a shirtless boy in baggy pants with his middle fingers sticking out. Of course, it has now come out that the photograph wasn't of Trayvon Martin at all, but what if it was? Would that photograph somehow make Martin's shooting justified? One photograph does not paint a full portrait of the young man - and even if it did - does that somehow negate the fact that he was killed while "armed" with only Skittles and iced tea?

It has been reported that Martin had been suspended from school three times - most recently for carrying an empty baggie with traces of marijuana. Again, what does this have to do with his shooting? Although Zimmerman was never tested for drugs that night, Martin's dead body was and we haven't seen in any reports that he had any illegal substances in his system. But even if he did, what would that matter? It feels as though these "tid-bits" of information only serve to try to demonize the victim, to somehow defend his shooting - that if he wasn't as "innocent" as his family says he was, then he must have had it coming.

This is all too familiar territory. When a woman is raped (or assaulted or sexually harassed or stalked or abused) the attorneys - and the public - immediately jump to point out every single little thing she may have ever done wrong in her life, especially if it's sex-related, regardless of whether it's true.

When Chris Brown was first arrested for beating up Rihanna, discussions of what she might have done to "provoke" him (including the false rumor that she gave him herpes) spread like wildfire. Roman Polanski's supporters have always put a great emphasis on the so-called "reputation" of his teenage victim and the claim that she may not have been a virgin when he drugged and raped her. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser was outright called a hooker in the New York Post (even though there wasn't any evidence to back that claim up). In the same way that a woman's sexual history and past indiscretions don't have anything to do with whether she deserved to be raped, whether or not Martin is a perfect angel who got straight As or a drug-using criminal (or more likely - something somewhere in between, like most teenagers)... doesn't have anything to do with why Zimmerman shot him.

One report - which we've yet to verify - claims that Martin was once caught with women's jewelry and a "burglary tool" (i.e., a screwdriver) but not the night that he was shot! That night he only had Skittles and iced tea on him. Even if he was guilty of burglarizing homes (there's no concrete evidence to support this) and Zimmerman was right to suspect him of such (again, no evidence to support this)... it still doesn't give Zimmerman cause for what he did. He had no evidence of any wrongdoing, no knowledge of any (alleged) prior bad acts and no reason to suspect that Martin was doing anything wrong.

  • They definitely weren't "asking for it"

This is one of the most common claims that rape apologists make. She was asking for it... because she was
dressed sexy, because she was drunk, because she flirted, because she just happened to be female. 

We've heard way too many people suggesting that Martin deserved what he got or may have attacked or provoked Zimmerman. But the facts just don't add up to that. Zimmerman has claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense and there has been a lot of debate and speculation as to whether or not Zimmerman was ever really in danger (or at least believed that he was in danger). But Zimmerman had no grounds to apprehend Martin because he wasn't doing anything wrong that night. And even if he had done something wrong, Zimmerman would still have had no evidence of that, no knowledge of any (alleged) prior bad acts and no reason to suspect that Martin was doing anything wrong. Being black in public is not a crime and it's not reasonable grounds for suspicion.

It has been reported that Zimmerman may use the "stand your ground" law as justification, but it probably wouldn't be applicable in this case. According to the legislator who wrote the statute, there's nothing in it that authorizes you to pursue or confront other people. Zimmerman was specifically told by the police not to follow or approach Martin, but he did it anyway... while carrying a loaded gun. Let's not forget Zimmerman is not a police officer (he's not even an official member of any neighborhood watch group) but apparently he considers himself some kind of vigilante superhero. Who does he think he is, Batman?

We're just so tired of hearing victims of crimes being blamed for what happened to them... what someone else chose to do to them. We recently wrote about a terrible victim blaming article in Cosmo and the parallels here are just too clear. What happened to Trayvon Martin is sad and was entirely avoidable. It doesn't matter if he was a good kid or a "bad" kid... it doesn't matter what he was wearing... it doesn't matter if he looked "suspicious" or was acting in a way that made Zimmerman think he was a criminal. It doesn't matter.

The fact is that Zimmerman should never have been following Martin, he should never have gotten out of his car and approached him, he should never have tried to play cop. Whatever the surrounding details of the incident, that fact remains true. We can't ever really know if Zimmerman intended to kill Martin or if he truly feared for his own life or if he had any actual reason to find Martin suspicious other than the color of his skin...

But the one thing we do know is that Zimmerman is the only person to blame for Trayvon Martin's death. Period.

Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action 2012!

Today is the 11th annual Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action! This year's theme is EC=BC, and the goal is "to defeat the myths and lies, by spreading the word that EC is a safe and effective form of birth control that prevents pregnancy after sex, but will only work if you are not pregnant". It's more important than ever right now to talk about emergency contraception since right-wingers are working overtime to attack birth control, jeopardize women's health, and shame women for being sexually active.

Today's a good day to take a little time to get the facts, get your coupons, and get involved. We've heard so many stories of people being denied access to EC when they should have been allowed to buy it, or having to deal with dirty looks and harassment from judgmental pharmacy employees. We've also been frustrated by stories we've seen in the media (both the conservative and the "mainstream" media) that have gotten the facts about EC totally wrong.

We need to try to make sure that accurate information about EC is out there and to counter the misinformation that is constantly spread by the anti-choice community. Taking EC is not the same as taking an "abortion pill". (But it would still be okay even if it was.) Taking EC doesn't make you a slut. Taking EC is a responsible choice and it's a choice that we should be free to make for ourselves. Anyone who wants EC should be able to access it without fear or hassle or shame or judgment. EC is BC!

March 22, 2012

Find Your Momentum!

As the end of March gets closer and closer, we have been getting more and more excited about Momentum! The second annual MOMENTUM Conference takes place March 30 through April 1, 2012 in Washington, D.C. and we just cannot wait.

For those of you who aren't already aware of Momentum, you are missing out! Momentum is a conference that explores sexuality, feminism and relationships:
The phenomenal growth of online communication has given rise to an amazing amount of sharing, learning and experimenting with different expressions of sexuality, relationships and feminism. MOMENTUM provides a safe place to listen, discuss and learn about sexualities and gender without the fear of reprisal or shaming. It is a space for acceptance and appreciation of diversity, including for those in the LGBTQ, sex-work, BDSM and non-monogamous communities.

During MOMENTUM we will discuss ways to bridge the baffling dichotomies our culture creates around sexuality. While on one hand we have unprecedented sexual freedom, on the other we continue to police sexuality with a frightening vigor. Abortion laws, restrictions on gay marriage, abstinence programs, medicalization of sex, fear of pornography and prosecutions for teenage sexting are examples of one side of the spectrum. The discomfort that strives to make us keep our sexuality hidden conflicts with the use of sex — especially the female body — to sell everything from food to cars to “performance enhancing” products.
Geared toward anyone interested in intelligent conversations about the influence of new media on sexuality, MOMENTUM is the conference to attend in 2012.

In addition to the numerous awesome presenters and panelists, this year, Dr. Joycelyn Elders - yes, the Joycelyn Elders, the former U.S. Surgeon General - will join the Closing Keynote Plenary! This year the conference's premiere sponsor is Masque sexual flavors (orally-dissolvable, flavored gel strips that make fellatio more enjoyable) and we're really looking forward to checking them out.

We had nothing but praise for Momentum last year (which, if you know us, says a lot - we rarely rave about anything). We expected some beginner mistakes and mishaps, considering that it was their first year, but everything went as smoothly as possible and it was easily one of the best conferences we have ever been to. Check out our recap from last year. We can't even imagine how they could top last year, but we highly suspect that they will live up to the task. (And at the very least, we can be sure to go home with at least one brand new shiny sex toy.)

Register for MOMENTUM   in Arlington, VA  on EventbriteThe conference is next weekend, but it's not too late to register! We'd love to see you there!!

Tess and Dee, Momentum's sexy founders

Anti-Street Harassment Week

Since it is still International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we thought we'd share a little video that we found recently.

Someone we know was in it, but the video seems to have gone viral in the past few days which is pretty great.

Shit Men Say To Men Who Say Shit To Women On The Street

It's nice to know that there are male allies out there who are willing to speak out against street harassment. Thanks guys!

And while we're on the subject, we just wanted to give a quick shout-out to a few websites and organizations against street harassment. Check them out and get involved!

March 20, 2012

The ESC Is Team Willam

If you're a fan of RuPaul's Drag Race then you've probably heard about last night's "shocking" elimination. Just when we thought that we were either going to lose our beloved Sharon Needles or finally be rid of the nasty negative toxic and horrible Phi Phi O'Hara, RuPaul announced that instead it would be challenge winner Willam going home for "breaking the rules".

They never explained exactly what happened, and apparently we have to wait until the reunion special to get more details. Honestly, we don't even really care that much, we're just pissed that Willam's gone. Yes, she could be obnoxious at times, but for us that was part of her charm, and we think she's hilarious and entertaining. Now that Willam's gone, we're team Sharon Needles for the win.

We've developed a three step process to deal with our Willam withdrawal, so if you have a lot of feelings about this like we do maybe it will help you too:

1. Vote for Willam for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars: VOTE! (You can vote once per day so you can get in some votes for some of your other faves too.)

2. Vote for Willam as Most Addictive Reality Star in the NewNowNext Awards: VOTE!

3. Check out Willam's new song Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A), a hilarious collaboration with Detox and Vicky Vox. As Willam explains, it's the last endorsement that the conservative Christian chicken chain would ever want:
How did that come about?
Well, I wasn’t a big Chick-fil-A fan, I guess, I never really knew about them because I’m from Philly and they don’t have them there. I was eating there with my girlfriends and they were telling me how [they support anti-gay organizations]. I was like, “Oh that sucks about the gay thing.” And then, I got diarrhea from it, so I was like, “F— this, I’m gonna write a song.” The fact that they come after gay people, let me come for you. The worst endorsement for a Christian chicken eatery is three drag queens. So it’s like, “Alright, alright, boo.” In reality, I just wanted to wear a bobbed wig. [EW.com]

We feel better already.

March 19, 2012

Cosmo's "Deadly Decisions" Denounces Victim Blaming, Then Engages In It

We've been slacking off on our Cosmo blogging lately because our subscription expired and we haven't been able to bring ourselves to spend any money to renew it. But I did get my hands on a copy of the February issue recently and there's an article in there that I do want to address.

The article is called "Deadly Decisions: How Smart Women Put Themselves at Risk":
Watching all the recent reports of young women being abducted and murdered probably has you wondering - what can you do to avoid such an awful fate? Former New York sex-crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein pinpoints three choices that can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

This is fairly typical of Cosmo - every month there's at least one "scary" article about some new threat that we should all freak out about. This month it even made the cover with the headline "Women and Danger: This Decision Could Cost You Your Life". This one seems to be headed straight for victim blaming territory, first acting like it's breaking news that smart women can be victims too and then implying that it only happens when these women make "deadly" decisions and "put themselves at risk".
The past few years a shocking number of stories have hit the news about bright, savvy young women who have mysteriously disappeared. Most have had tragic endings, with bodies found in dumpsters or shallow graves. In some heartbreaking cases, their remains have not been located.

During my three decades as a prosecutor, I worked on scores of similar abduction cases. One of my goals was to change attitudes that historically blamed victims for their deaths. These were vibrant women with promising lives, and they weren't responsible for their own assault or murder.

Yet there is something to be learned from many of these terrible situations: A mere misstep or poorly thought-out decision can be enough to make you a magnet for danger. That's certainly true for three recent cases that have made national headlines. Pointing out what seem to be errors in judgment on the victim's part is not about holding them responsible for their fate - not blaming them for their victimization - but about showing other women how a seemingly inconsequential action puts them in the sights of a predator.
So she's not trying to blame victims, just showing how their stupid choices led to their victimization. Oh. It's nice that Fairstein is addressing the issue of victim blaming and pointing out how wrong and harmful it can be, but it seems like she's trying to say that it's okay for her to make victim blaming statements because she understands that victim blaming is wrong. Don't worry everyone, it's the good kind of victim blaming!

Deadly Decision: Ditching Your Friends at Night

Kenia Monge, a smart, gorgeous 19-year-old from Denver, was reportedly planning to attend college to become a crime-scene investigator. One night last March, she and her friends headed to a chic dance club in a trendy downtown neighborhood.

Kenia and her girlfriends were partying happily that night. During the evening, she excused herself from their table to go to the restroom. She left her purse, car keys, and phone with them, giving every indication that she planned to return, according to the Denver district attorney's office.

But Kenia never came back, and the next day, she was the focus of a police manhunt. A 31-year-old man named Travis Forbes was questioned by police early on after he left a message on Kenia's cell, picked up by her stepfather, asking if she had gotten home safely after he dropped her off. It took five months for police to gather enough evidence to nail Forbes, who confessed and let them to the grave he dumped Kenia's body into along a Colorado interstate.

What went wrong for this girl who seemed to have everything going for her? The alcohol she drank must have blurred her thinking and led her to make the error that endangered her life: breaking away from her friends and leaving the club with a guy - not Forbes - she'd just met. Minutes later, she was caught on surveillance tapes alone, no longer with the guy she'd left with, wandering between an apartment building and a hotel blocks from the club.
Reading this raised a lot of questions for me. Why did she leave the club but leave all of her stuff behind? Was she actually planning to "ditch" her friends and leave the club, or just stepping outside with a guy to talk or smoke a cigarette or something like that? If she did leave with him, why did she end up breaking away from him just a few minutes later? Is it possible that her drink was drugged? It seems to me like it's pretty unclear what really happened, but Fairstein apparently doesn't see it that way. To her, it's simple: Kenia drank too much, made a stupid mistake, and became a victim.
At one point, she went inside the hotel, used the restroom, and then walked back outside, directly into the path of Travis Forbes. That's when Kenia made a second decision that sealed her fate: accepting a ride from Forbes and getting into his van. Perhaps Kenia felt safe with him, thanks to Forbes's clean-cut appearance and good manners. Maybe she thought it was easier to take him up on his offer than try to figure out how to get back to her friends.
Maybe maybe perhaps, perhaps maybe. Again, the truth is that we don't know exactly what happened, but Fairstein is happy to speculate on why Kenia Monge did what she did that night.
Forbes's confession fills in the blanks on what happened next: Inside his van, Kenia passed out, at which point Forbes made made sexual advances toward her. She scuffled with him upon coming to. He strangled her to death.

Every time I encountered a circumstance like this as a prosecutor, I wanted to turn back the clock so someone could have been with the victim at the moment her vulnerability intersected with a bad guy's opportunity. I wanted to put an arm around her and warn, "You can't get into the car with him. Find your friends. Sober up, and let them take you home."

In every Cosmo article I've written on this subject, I implore friends who go out together to form a buddy system. If someone has had too much to drink, pay special attention to her. Accompany her to the restroom or take her home in a taxi if she wants to leave. Keep tabs on how long she's gone, because if she appears vulnerable to you, she will also be vulnerable to anyone looking to do her harm.
I think it's only natural to wish you could go back and prevent a horrible crime like this from happening. But shouldn't we also be asking why we live in a society where it's considered a "deadly decision" for a woman to walk down a public street by herself? Shouldn't we be asking why Travis Forbes thought it was okay to make sexual advances towards an unconscious woman? Shouldn't we be talking about Forbes at all rather than focusing on what the victim did wrong? Any of those conversations would be more productive than Fairstein repeating the same old "advice" that she admits she's already given many times before.

Deadly Decision: Not Struggling With An Abductor

Just because you don't go clubbing or drink excessively doesn't mean you can't be victimized. Consider the case of Holly Bobo, a 20-year-old nursing student kidnapped from outside her Tennessee home last April.
I'm sure Fairstein doesn't think she's blaming victims here but the implication seems to be that if you do go clubbing and/or drink "excessively" that you're 'asking for it'. At the same time, she's pointing out that you can be victimized even if you're in or near your own home, so there's really no magic set of rules that you can find in Cosmo that will keep you protected. But that doesn't stop Fairstein from finding a "deadly decision" to apply to Holly Bobo's case.
Holly, who lived with her family on the edge of a wooded area, was apparently confronted by a man as she approached her car next to her house at 7:30 a.m. Holly's brother Clint, 25, was inside the house at the time; he told investigators he looked out a window and saw her being led into the woods by a man clad in camouflage - not unusual, since it was hunting season. Because Clint couldn't see the man's face, he assumed that it must have been Holly's boyfriend, Drew. But in the driveway about 10 minutes later, Clint found a small pool of blood and called the police. The lunch Holly had packed was later recovered a few miles away in the woods. Holly herself had vanished, possibly abducted by a stranger (at press time, there were no suspects or traces of Holly's remains).

One question I am often asked is if women should struggle with their abductor, whether on a busy street or in a remote area, like the land behind Holly's home. In general, the collective wisdom advises this: You scream or physically fight the attacker the best you can before he completely isolates you from other people. Although every situation is different, after you are isolated, it may be useless to resist, and it can put you in even greater jeopardy by agitating your attacker. However, if there's a chance that people might hear you make a commotion, you should.

From the evidence, it appears that Holly may have battled with her abductor. A neighbor reported hearing a yell from the direction of Holly's home. The blood Clint found suggests that if Holly made an effort to fight, it could have resulted in a serious injury to her. We don't know if Holly's injury then left her unable to struggle or if she made the conscious decision to stop fighting as this predator was taking her father from her home.
Once again the key words are "we don't know", and once again Fairstein doesn't let that stop her from making assumptions. It bothers me that she chose to use Holly as an example of what can happen when you don't struggle with your attacker even though there's evidence to suggest that she may have done just that. It seems like she's trying to make this case fit into her lesson even though there's no way to know if it actually does, and I don't think that's fair to Holly Bobo.
I understand why, at any point, she may have decided to be docile and quiet. I've had victims tell me that because their assailant was armed, they chose not to alert neighbors or family members by screaming for fear that their loved ones would be put in harm's way too. Perhaps Holly was trying to shield Clint from danger.

Victims can also feel a false sense of control when in a familiar environment. Because Holly was still in her yard, she may have thought she could pretend to cooperate then suddenly break free and run back to the house. But again, in general, a victim is better off trying to draw as much attention to herself as possible with people nearby rather than hope she can physically fend off a man likely to be bigger and more powerful.
If Fairstein really wanted to write this type of article, I wish she would have stuck with the stories of victims that she actually spoke to and cases that she actually worked on rather than choosing recent cases that required her to do so much speculating.

Deadly Decision: Storming Off After A Public Fight With Your Guy

A third situation that can put you in danger is a fight with a boyfriend in a public place that results in you and your guy parting ways. Strangers who witness the fight and realize you are alone may now see you as a target for something sinister.

I wish Paula Sladewski, a 26-year-old model and dance from Michigan, had known of this risk. Paula got into a shouting match with her boyfriend, Kevin Klym, at a Miami club. The fight between Paula and Kevin, together for about two years, was so heated that bouncers threw Kevin out. He took a cab back to their South Beach hotel.

Paula stayed, and then the club's cameras caught her leaving hours later with a man walking behind her as she exited to the street. The next morning, when Paula didn't return to their hotel, Kevin reported her missing. Horrifically, her body was found that night, burned beyond recognition, in a smoldering trash bin in another Miami neighborhood. Two years have passed, and police still do not have a suspect. (Kevin is not considered a suspect, nor does Paula's family believe he is responsible, police say.)
First off, we can say that this is another case of the story not quite fitting with Fairstein's chosen list of deadly decisions, since Paula Sladewski technically didn't "storm off" anywhere. She had no control over the bouncer's decision to kick her boyfriend out of the club, and it was her boyfriend who chose to leave, go back to the hotel, and not report Paula missing until the next morning. And yet Fairstein doesn't say that she wishes Paula and Kevin had known the risks. Nope, all of the blame for the bad decision falls on the victim.

Another point to consider is that while Paula's boyfriend is not considered a suspect in her murder, there are many women who are assaulted or killed by their boyfriend or husband or someone else that they know. What "deadly decision" did those women make? Trusting another human being?
What happened after Paula and her boyfriend separated for the night, a split observed by so many people? I've worked on cases in which women who have been assaulted or abducted under similar circumstances admitted that they started flirting with other guys around them as "payback" to the boyfriend or accepted help from a stranger - someone they felt falsely connected to because they'd been at the same party. Maybe a guy Paula flirted with offered to drive her back to the hotel to make up with Kevin, or maybe she thought she could make Kevin jealous by leaving with someone else.

Whatever decisions Paula made in the throes of an emotional and public quarrel with her man, the visible fight and Kevin's expulsion from the club left her vulnerable. Her story is gruesome and tragic, but by sharing it and the stories of other victims, I truly hope it prevents another young woman from making a bad decision that turns her into a target for a monster.
Great, another round of "maybe, maybe, maybe" to finish things off. All we know is that there was a man walking behind Paula when she left the club. There's no proof that she was flirting with anyone or that she intended to go home with another guy, and even if there was that still wouldn't make her murder anyone's fault but her killer's.

I really feel like Kenia, Holly, and Paula deserve better than to be the "what not to do" examples in a pointless article that does nothing for women but serve us the same warmed over safety tips that we've all heard a million times before. Give us a real conversation about victim blaming, slut-shaming, and rape culture and what we can all do to challenge it, or don't bother at all.

Just a few pages after "Deadly Decisions" is "Cosmo Fights Campus Rape", an update on Cosmo's yearlong campaign to improve sexual assault policies on college campuses. I applaud them for partnering with SAFER on this campaign, but I wish they'd realize that engaging in victim blaming in the pages of their magazine does a disservice to the effort, and to women everywhere.

March 16, 2012

Respectfully, we love Amber Tamblyn

We've said it before and we will say it again. We fucking love Amber Tamblyn.

We thought it was hilarious enough that when Tyrese Gibson mistook her email address for that of Amber Rose, she went with it instead of correcting him. But the "Awareness Raps" that were the result were total genius.

So just when we didn't think we could possible love her any more, she re-released downloadable mp3s of the songs, including an even more awesome, extended version of "All In Favor".

And in case that wasn't cool enough, she is donating 100% of the songs' proceeds to The Respect Project (a brand new fund of the 501c3 non-profit Write Now Poetry Society which will disburse grants to organizations who run creative writing workshops for women and girls and those working to end violence against women, such as The Safe Zone Foundation).

So what are you waiting for? "All In Favor" is our new jam, don't you want to get your own copy ASAP? This one goes out to all the sluts!

March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Thinks You're A Slut

March has been a red letter month for sluts thanks to everyone's favorite right-wing radio blowhard, Rush Limbaugh. If you somehow managed to miss it, last week Limbaugh got upset at Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified at a congressional hearing about the importance of insurance coverage for birth control. Rush responded by attacking and slut-shaming Fluke for three days straight on his radio show. Here are the choice quotes:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex -- what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.

Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.

Opening his show Thursday, Limbaugh characterized the criticism of his comments as "a conniption fit," which he called "hilarious." He offered what he said was a "compromise" to contraception coverage: purchasing "all the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as possible."

Limbaugh later questioned why insurance should cover contraception and played a portion of Fluke's testimony laying out the problems many college-age women face paying for contraception. He asked, "Ms. Fluke, have you ever heard of not having sex? Have you ever heard of not having sex so often?"

After saying that the Washington, D.C., Department of Health "will send you free condoms and lube," Limbaugh said: "So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

After discussing outrage over his comments, Limbaugh again attacked Fluke, asking: "Who bought your condoms in junior high? Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade? Or your contraception. Who bought your contraceptive pills in high school?"

He described Fluke as "a woman who is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman. She wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences. No responsibility for her behavior."

On Friday, Limbaugh defended his previous comments about Fluke and complained that "not one person says that, 'Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?'"

Later, Limbaugh said that requiring insurance companies to cover contraception is "no different than if somebody knocked on my door that I don't know and said, 'You know what? I'm out of money. I can't afford birth-control pills, and I'm supposed to have sex with three guys tonight.'"

After considering the meaning of feminism, Limbaugh offered a definition of his "misogynist": "a man who hates women almost as much as women hate women." He clarified: "I do not hate women." [via Media Matters: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday]
It hardly seems necessary given that the source is Rush Limbaugh, but quick fact check - Fluke's testimony wasn't about her sex life, and she certainly never said that she couldn't afford birth control because she was having too much sex (because that's not how birth control works and makes no sense). She did testify about the real consequences for women when they can't get insurance coverage for birth control, like a friend who lost an ovary due to PCOS and ovarian cysts (and who happened to be a lesbian so her reasons for needing BC also had nothing to do with how much sex she was having, not that there's anything wrong with needing BC solely because you're having tons of sex, because there's not). And finally, she was talking about private insurance coverage that she and other female students pay for, so none of it had anything to do with "forcing" the government or taxpayers to 'pay her to have sex'.

Now, Rush makes offensive comments all the time, so for him the initial rant was pretty much just a normal Wednesday. Sometimes there's a brief firestorm, but it usually dies down fairly quickly and Rush continues to grace our airwaves with his special brand of fuckery. But this time it was different. It turns out that there are a lot of people who use birth control or know someone who does or has, and that many of those people don't appreciate being told that we're all sluts and whores who should spend less time whining about the price of our birth control and more time mailing our sex tapes to Rush Limbaugh. The timing also wasn't the best for him, because in this current political climate many of us sluts are even more fed up than usual with the seemingly endless Republican attempts to crawl up our vaginas.

So this time, people are protesting. They're speaking out, signing petitions, and contacting the Limbaugh show's advertisers. And this time, it's working - so far more than 20 companies have pulled their ads from Rush's show, and more are likely to follow. Anyone who needed evidence that this advertiser boycott was having an effect got it in the form of an actual apology issued by Limbaugh on his website on Saturday. Naturally, the statement was of the 'I'm sorry you sluts were offended' variety - he apologized specifically just for his "insulting word choices", laughably claimed that it wasn't meant as a personal attack, and spent the majority of the statement explaining that he's actually right about the birth control issue. But the fact that the words "I apologize" appeared at all seems to indicate that Rush is feeling at least a little bit of heat from all of these lost sponsors.

Nobody actually bought Limbaugh's apology since he made no effort at all to even pretend to be sincere about it, so the protest continues. We've started and stopped writing about this a few times now because the story just keeps developing. It's been pretty interesting (and sometimes frustrating) to watch this discussion about slut-shaming and birth control play out on such a large scale, and we want to address some of the arguments that we've been reading and hearing this past week.

What about the First Amendment?! Free speech!!! You're trying to take Limbaugh's rights away!

We've seen a lot of this, and as a general rule we feel that while it's great to be passionate about defending the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, it's also helpful to actually understand what those rights are. The government isn't censoring Limbaugh or trying to shut his show down. He has the same free speech rights that the rest of us do, but nobody has the "right" to their own radio show and a bunch of corporate sponsors to support that show with advertising. Limbaugh has the right to speak out, we have the right to speak out against him, and companies have the right to decide whether supporting his speech is the best use of their advertising dollars. (Aren't conservatives supposed to be big fans of this kind of free market activity?) The only person in this equation who is actually interested in taking rights away from people is Limbaugh himself.

Limbaugh's comments were inappropriate, but he's just an entertainer!

This is the standard line that Republican politicians use when they want to walk the line between defending Limbaugh for saying something offensive and criticizing him for saying something offensive. They pretend that it doesn't really matter that much anyway because Limbaugh's just an entertainer and not one of the most influential figures in the GOP. That way they can avoid looking stupid for defending the indefensible while also avoiding pissing off Rush and drawing criticism on his show. Rick Santorum demonstrates this nicely:
"He's being absurd, but that's you know, an entertainer can be absurd," Santorum told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday. "He's in a very different business than I am."
What's apparently lost on them is the fact that classifying someone as an entertainer doesn't also give them some kind of magical free pass to say whatever they want with no repercussions. Anyone who uses the entertainer excuse for Rush's offensive remarks does nothing but demonstrate their own cowardice. Which reminds me, let's check in with GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, who will surely demonstrate leadership and character on this issue:
“I'll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used," Romney said. "I’m focusing on the issues I think are significant in the country today and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.”
Congratulations, Mittens. This statement would need at least three upgrades to get to half-assed. Such courage. But we do wish you had been more specific and not left us hanging. What words would you have used? Harlot? Strumpet? Lady of the evening? You know what, we'll send you one of our Slut note cards and you can get back to us.

Were Rush's comments really harmful?

We actually only heard this argument in one place, but felt like it really earned a mention. Here's GQ and The Atlantic editor Marc Ambinder:

Back me up on this one, ladies. Isn't it always just so lovely when a man comes along to tell us women what's important and what's not? Sure, Sandra Fluke got her feelings hurt by big mean Rush, but it's not like it actually matters. At least, not enough for Marc Ambinder to dip into his "reservoir of time" to find a few minutes to address it. We'd love for Ambinder to talk to this mother of a teenage girl being shamed and teased at school for being on birth control - let him try to tell her that slut-shaming isn't harmful.

This is a double standard! What about when that one liberal said a bad thing about a conservative woman that one time?!

This one's been really popular. People have been dredging up everything Bill Maher ever said about Sarah Palin, David Letterman's offensive Palin joke from a few years ago, Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a slut, and anything else they can find to "prove" that liberals are being hypocritical on this issue. Limbaugh himself complained about the alleged double standard on his show on Monday (after his very sincere and heartfelt apology), using the example of rappers, who "can say whatever they want about women...and they win awards!"

There are two problems with this. (Well, at least two.) The first is that this argument assumes that all liberals were totally okay with these other comments and that nobody on the left spoke out against them, which is demonstrably false. When sexist comments are made about conservative women, we always see liberal feminists speaking out and condemning the remarks. Personally, I know more liberals (particularly women) who would agree that Bill Maher makes offensive sexist comments than those who would argue it. I've read plenty of feminist defenses of Sarah Palin when she was the target of sexist comments. We've defended Michele Bachmann, and we're not alone. Many of us were offended by Ed Schultz's comment about Laura Ingraham, and we were glad that he was immediately suspended by MSNBC and that he issued an apology that took full responsibility for his comments and made no excuses for them (unlike Rush's "apology"), and that he called Ingraham personally to apologize and offered to stay off the air indefinitely with no pay. Maybe if Rush's comments weren't so difficult to defend on their own merits, his supporters wouldn't feel the need to try to shift the focus to other incidents that really aren't comparable.

The other thing about this argument is that it sort of implies that liberals somehow prevented conservatives from launching the same kind of protest against Maher or Schultz or anyone else that is currently being directed at Limbaugh. Anyone is free to speak out about what they see on TV or radio and to contact companies about where they choose to spend their advertising dollars. We even saw a few people suggesting that this protest is some kind of Obama administration conspiracy to help his reelection campaign, as if Obama somehow forced Limbaugh to go on a three-day long slut-shaming diatribe. I know it's too much to ask, but it would be nice if we could all try to stick to relevant and reality-based arguments.

Rush was being absurd and over-the-top to make a point!

This is another popular one, even used by Rush himself in his "apology":
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
It's an excellent argument if the point that Rush was trying to make was "Rush Limbaugh is an obnoxious judgmental misogynist douchebag". Otherwise it's nothing but a cousin to the equally pathetic "entertainer" argument. Limbaugh's comments reflected absolutely no understanding of what Sandra Fluke actually said in her testimony, or of birth control in general and how and why women use it. How can you say you're using "absurdity" to make an "analogy of the situation" when your comments literally have nothing to do with the situation? And if Fluke is so obviously wrong and Limbaugh is so obviously right, why does he need to reach for the very height of absurdity just to demonstrate that? Even if Fluke's arguments had actually been absurd, and Rush really wouldn't know because he clearly either didn't read them or consciously chose to misrepresent them, that still wouldn't be an excuse to go with 'hey you feminazi slut whore, send me your sex tape' as a response.

If she's having so much sex that she can't afford her birth control then she is a slut! If you can't afford birth control you should just stop having sex.

Unfortunately a lot of people ran with this one, because apparently they believed Rush when he claimed that Sandra Fluke actually testified that she couldn't afford her birth control because she was having too much sex. It's really sad to see arguments like this, not just because of the obvious slut-shaming but because it's revealing so much ignorance. Birth control is not Viagra - you don't pop a pill each time you have sex. There's no such thing as 'I was extra slutty this month so my birth control bill is really high'. Lots of women are on birth control for health reasons that have nothing to do with sex. I know I keep repeating this stuff but apparently it's very confusing for some people.

There's a flip side to this one too. A lot of people, us included, are defending Sandra Fluke by pointing out that her testimony wasn't about her sex life, it was about women who need birth control for health reasons. But it really shouldn't matter. Limbaugh's comments aren't offensive because Sandra Fluke isn't a slut, they're offensive because the word slut should not be used as a sexist weapon to shame us and silence us. They're not offensive because it's shameful to be a sex worker, they're offensive because Rush Limbaugh thinks it's shameful to be a sex worker and he was trying to shame Fluke by calling her a prostitute.

Women who use birth control to treat conditions like PCOS should not have to jump through hoops to prove to an insurance company that they need birth control for "good" reasons and not slutty reasons. But we shouldn't buy into the narrative that some uses for birth control are more legitimate than others. All reasons for using birth control are health reasons. If Fluke's testimony had focused more on the fact that many young women are sexually active and we need access to birth control because it's an important part of our health care, that would have been just as valid and Limbaugh would been just as wrong to shame her for it.

Limbaugh loves controversies like this and they never really hurt him, so let not give him the attention he wants

I can totally understand and appreciate this argument. Most days I'm perfectly content to pretend Ann Coulter doesn't exist, so I get it. But as I said at the beginning, this time seems to be different, so I'm going to wrap this up with some info on the ongoing protest of Rush Limbaugh and the results that we're seeing so far. Shortly after Limbaugh's initial attack on Sandra Fluke, people began contacting his show's sponsors to ask them to withdraw their support. As the outcry grew, more and more companies pulled their ads. The current number is over 25 - Think Progress is doing a good job of keeping track of the growing list. At least two radio stations have also dropped Limbaugh's show entirely:

“The most recent incident has crossed a line of decency and a standard that we expect of programming on KPUA whether it is locally produced or a syndicated program like the Rush Limbaugh show," KPUA president Chris Leonard said in a statement. "...Regardless of one's political views on the issue being discussed, we feel the delivery was degrading and the continued comments over several days to be egregious. As a result, we are discontinuing the Rush Limbaugh program on KPUA effective immediately.”

WBEC general manager Peter Barry told a local public radio station that Limbaugh had overstepped his boundaries. "The nature of Rush's programming has always presented challenges for us and he's always pushed the envelope," he said. "But this time he's taken it too far."

So far the protest shows no signs of slowing, so if you'd like to stay updated here are a few good places to start:

-Keep up on Twitter by checking the hashtags #StopRush and #BoycottRush and following people like Krystal Ball and StopRush (one of the masterminds of the successful Stop Beck effort).

-Check out Shoq's Stop Rush Limbaugh Project Tracker to see all of the current anti-Rush efforts at a glance.

-This Daily Kos diary offers some tips on how to take action against Limbaugh at the local level.

-If you're in the mood to sign some petitions, Left Action, CREDO Action, and Media Matters have you covered.

Oh yeah, and there's just one more thing...