rape culture

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What I Realized

As the numbers piled up in favor of a monster, I realized that I’d fallen in love with the idea of a country, not the country I’m now loathe to call home.

I realized that the racism I’ve always safely compartmentalized as pockets unrepresentative of the country as a whole were, in fact, quite accurately representative, that while most of that tide might not visit violence upon minorities with fists and lynches, they were all too willing to wield the sword of public institutions without care (or understanding?) of the blade’s lethal edge.

I realized that my parents had lied to me growing up, or at least omitted a few things. Because while it might be true that women can do anything men can do, they will also be held to a very different standard as they do it, be harassed and threatened as they try. And in the end, though women can, there is a terrifyingly large chunk of the American population that will say they may not. 

I realized, looking at the numbers for white women voters, that patriarchal values are so very widely socialized and deeply internalized by far too many women in this country, and that this condition, paired with internalized notions of white supremacy, cost us dearly not just last night, but every other day of the year.

I realized that, for all the gains made by the LGBTQ community over the past decade, this is what it looked like when a group of privileged people told a marginalized people to “know their place.” It was white patriarchy rebelling against what they call “political correctness” — what we call progress and, at times, justice for the disenfranchised.

I realized that American Christians — who I have tried, so hard, to give the benefit of the doubt — bear no resemblance to the “compassionate Christ” they aspire to emulate. When 81% of those voters cast their lot with a man who sexually assaults women, plans to tear immigrant families apart, wants to ban adherents of a specific religion from entering the country, encourages violence against dissidents, aims to legalize discrimination against people who look and love differently, and hopes to gut the first amendment, they made it quite clear that they are not worried about human suffering. They are worried about their own cultural dominance.

I realized that this is what happens when you defund education for decades, when you reshape history lessons through the lens of (white) American exceptionalism, when you prioritize test scores over critical thinking.

I realized that for all the potential good offered by social media and the internet, it has facilitated the most effective, widespread leverage of anti-intellectual propaganda in our history, definitely more so than it has exposed it — a trend facilitated by our educational deficiencies.

I realized, as I watched the markets spasm and dive, echoes of 2008 filling my mind, that things would likely get much worse, much faster for folks on both sides of the aisle than we imagined, and that the Fed is in no position to make a difference on that note.

I realized that many, many, many privileged progressives have no qualms with pointing the finger at minority voter splits with blame and ire when, in reality, it was white folks who brought this on.

I realized that there is no greater proof that our two party system is broken than the results we now face, and the way those results have turned Democrats rabid over the third party votes cast yesterday. It doesn’t matter that those Johnson votes probably wouldn’t have gone blue. It doesn’t matter that the Democrats still lost in meaningful ways in other important categories.

I realized that maybe none of these thoughts were real revelations, if I’m being honest, but inconvenient truths I’d tucked away, wanting so badly to believe that we were better than all this.

I realized, as I spent hours researching immigration policies in different countries around the world, that I am not as brave as I had hoped. I panicked thinking about the lease I’d planned on signing today. Did I really want to promise another year of my life to this country under these circumstances? Did I really want to raise my daughter here, knowing what’s about to happen to the Supreme Court?

I realized, as the morning light danced across my daughter’s face over breakfast, as she grimaced but nodded upon hearing the bad news, as I thought of different children in different homes in different circumstances, that this cowardice is not what I want to teach my kid, not the right way to love the people who matter to me, not the right thing to do for those most vulnerable now.

I realized that this isn’t about me, or my fears, or whether or not I can comfortably say I love this country or that I have hope. It’s not about politics. It’s about people. And right now, there are a lot of people who are going to need someone in their corner, because much of the incoming government is decidedly not. There is work to be done, and bailing in this moment would be the height of privilege.

I realized that I am not proud to be an American today, but I am damned and determined to shape a tomorrow where I am.

Marina Lanina

We Did It For The Likes

“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.

We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.

But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:

The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.

[…]

On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.

A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.

Bullshit.

Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.

You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.

Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?

Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.

There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.

But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.

Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.

So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.

More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.

I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?

But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.

After all, it’s a world where our fond memories of a television character outweigh the voices of dozens of women.

It’s a world where our admiration of an athlete’s performance has us dismissing the pain they inflicted.

It’s a world where our love of a man’s musical contributions has us propping up conspiracy theories so we don’t have to face the suffering they’ve created.

It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.

It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.

It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.

It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.

It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.

Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.

It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.

She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.

feminism so white

The Feminist Fail

This one’s for the women.

When I was growing up, for a silly while there, I refused to call myself a feminist. I didn’t know any better at the time. Living in a super conservative community, the only thing my history classes had taught me about feminism was bra burning, and as a teen who developed early, I needed my bras, thank you very much. (I wish I was kidding.)

Then I got to college. It didn’t take long for my views on the f-word to change. OF COURSE I was a feminist. YES to pay equality. YES to reproductive rights. YES to bodily autonomy. FUCK YOU rape culture. I was a loud, proud, in your face feminist determined to raise my daughter as such.

When I left college and began writing in earnest, though, that badge of honor grew heavier and more cumbersome. The bright and shiny feminism that had so inspired me now seemed strikingly white, painfully straight, and more than a little out of touch with the times. I was uncomfortable watching women with skin like mine telling women of color to pipe down and get in line. I remember my horror when learning about Sangers’ eugenics and the “lavender menace.”

I tried to quell my misgivings with self-assurances that it was all just a part of “growing pains” for the movement, but in the past several months, I’ve grown more uncomfortable still. The pace of that growth in an era where technology gives us the ability to connect and learn from each other in an unprecedented manner seems exceedingly slow.

I’ve watched TSwift and Miley spouting the feminist version of #AllLivesMatter as women of color in the industry lamented racial disparity. I’ve watched Meryl Streep don a shirt proclaiming, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” before she today shrugged off film festival diversity laments by saying, “We’re all Africans.” I’ve watched people complain about Jenner receiving attention that should be reserved for “real women.” I’ve watched women of color criticizing Sanders lambasted by men and women supporting him for advancing the “politics of division.” I’ve watched Gloria Steinem tell me that I’m only supporting Sanders for the boys. I’ve watched Madeline Albright tell me there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support Clinton while the candidate herself laughed. I’ve watched feminist friends who I respect echo the same damn things with condescension that sounds a whole lot like, “GET OFF MY LAWN” while younger voices ignore entirely the historic moment we face in today’s political climate.

And you know what I think? I think there’s a special place in hell for this kind of tone deaf feminism: this feminism that says the experiences of women are homogeneous, this feminism that thinks the movement needs a singular voice, this feminism that tells people saying otherwise to shut up and sit down.

I am all for empowering women. I am there for the ongoing battles and the battles we’ve yet to wage. But we’re going to lose the war if we keep trying to corral people onto this path that ignores the battles going on to our left and right, because that strategy leaves a lot of people behind.

You may not see color, but the economy sure does. Unemployment rates for white women in the last quarter of 2015 may have been at 4%, but it was 6.7% for Hispanic and Latina women, and 8% for Black women. White women may make $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, but Black women make $0.68 on the dollar, and Hispanic and Latina women bring in only $0.54 on the dollar. And these figures can vary dramatically by region, state, and city.

And violence against women of color is not just structural. It’s estimated that 17.7% of white women will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, but the numbers are worse for women of color. Approximately 40% of Black women report encountering coercive sexual activity by the age of 18, and it is estimated that for every Black woman who reports a rape, there are 15 that do not. Anti-immigrant vitriol can frequently discourage Hispanic and Latina women from reporting, regardless of immigration status. But migrant workers know all too well the dangers they face, with more than half a million women calling the fields they work “fields of panties” due to the prevalence of unchecked sexual assault.

And there are other issues that are distinctly important for women of color that white women may not give a lot of thought to in the end. Black women are eight times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated, while Hispanic and Latina women are four times more likely to face jail time. When women of limited means face the legal system, they overwhelming lose.

It’s not just about color, though; sexuality and gender identity can play a significant role in risk factors, too. Half of bisexual women and more than 64% of transwomen will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  It’s estimated that at least 20% of homeless youth are members of the LGBT community, and 41% of transwomen will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Let’s not forget age, either. Young women today identify as feminist in record levels. They may not have experienced the battles faced by their foremothers on the ground level, or the days before Roe v. Wade, or a world without women in politics, but they face a new set of demons. They’re the ones punching up in the face of widespread digital harassment. They’re the ones born into an economy ruined by those that came before them, a climate exacerbating the gender gap in the workforce. And their voices, in today’s political climate, are chastised for not directly aligning with women in leadership on all issues, the assumption beneath it all being that they’re not smart enough/informed enough to know what’s what. Silly little girls.

That doesn’t mean that older women don’t have unique struggles. They know, perhaps better than most, exactly what’s on the line today because it’s what they sacrificed so much for in their younger days, and are frustrated when young women remain apathetic. They’ve been hit hard by the economic downturn, as well, with wiped out retirement savings pushing them back into a workforce that doesn’t know what to do with them. Their ballooning healthcare costs are nearly incomprehensible to many younger women with relatively more robust health. The bottom line: age matters no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on.

And how about a shout out to the often dismissed women with disabilities? These are women who are statistically far more likely than other women to be assaulted, unemployed, and discriminated against, but you won’t hear much about them in feminist cannon. From forced sterilization to police violence against those with mental illness to feminist events that consistently fail to accommodate those with special needs, women with disabilities are left out in the cold at every single turn. They’re footnotes. It’s repulsive.

The point of this very surface level collection of differences is to highlight that every woman’s experience in life is unique. It’s going to be influenced by their race, their income, their sexuality, their gender identity, their location, and more. Those experiences are important, and the stories they tell should inform that fight instead of being pushed to the side if we want changes that actually make a difference. Those experiences are going to foster unique perspectives that shed light in the gaps that pepper our own. Those experiences make women as a collective so much stronger.

To argue that a feminism that does not recognize these differences and raise up the distinctive voices who can speak to them is somehow representative of the women it purports to support is breathtaking in its idiocy. When the movement and its figureheads say we only need to hear from someone that looks like them, loves like them, lives like them, they make it clear that this is not about fighting for women; it’s about fighting for women like them. It’s a demonstration of a willingness to sacrifice the women not like them to advance themselves.

So stop telling women they’re distracting from the cause when they voice an experience that deviates from the central narrative. Stop telling women they’re traitors when they dare to criticize the mainstream feminist culture. Stop telling women that the only way they can be supportive of women is if they support your woman. Stop telling women the battle they’re fighting doesn’t matter.

Just stop. Listen. It’s the only way the war gets won.