Showing posts with label Misogyny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Misogyny. Show all posts

Thursday, April 27, 2017

TBT - Show Some Respect, Damn You!

Respect. How does that work, anyway?
























“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever


Respect.  We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story got me thinking about this.

Most of us are taught that we must show respect for the essential humanity of all people. We are told in school, at work and at home that we must respect other people as our equals - fellow human beings. Beyond this baseline, though, people are usually expected to earn any higher, more deferential level of respect through their meritorious behavior. We are not usually expected to pay respect to people who behave immorally, who harm us or who harm other people. Usually, we are not compelled to respect ridiculous or destructive ideas, either. But there is one glaring exception to these sensible guidelines: religion.

We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.

More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.

Freedom of religion!* 
*For Christians only.
The founding fathers, who were educated in religious and political history, understood that religious sectarianism has always resulted in oppression of minorities and the rise of theocratic dynasties - usually, but not always monarchies. Whether they were monarchies or putative republics, the ruling elites always claimed to rule by divine right. The framers of the US Constitution - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in particular - recognized that constant sectarian strife and vicious social inequities enabled by the power structures which churches prop up would destroy Americans' hopes for a better life in the fledgling new state as surely as the suffocation of those very hopes had driven them out of Europe. And the founders understood that it was state-sanctioned empowerment of favored groups (nearly always identified by religion) which was the reason why the common people in every country in the world lived in miserable poverty under the rule of religiously-privileged "noble" classes.

Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.

The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power.

But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.

You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.
Just guess whose country we think this is! 
In theory, the First Amendment still protects religious minorities and non-believers from unwanted Christian intrusion into their lives, but in practice this is not so. From public holidays honoring Christian holy days to public religious displays, to compelled silence for Christian prayers in legislatures, in schools and at events of huge public significance, from the casual assumption of Christian privilege and prominence to the very real favoritism via tax exemption and government funding which has enriched churches - secretly and without public oversight - at the public expense, the reality is that churches, especially Christian churches, are intimately entwined with the state. The battle to gain special status and the resulting economic and political power was on from the moment James Madison signed the First Amendment (actually even before) and for good reason from the point of view of the churches. They have benefited enormously from these unconstitutional arrangements.

The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights.

...as long as it is Christianity
Merely requesting that the Constitutional guarantee for religious freedom for all be upheld results in public outcry from the majority, lawsuits, threats and ostracism of the individual(s) who dare to stand up for the right of the minority not to be oppressed by the Christian majority.  Respect for Christian beliefs is deemed of such paramount importance that we must disrespect the beliefs of others or we are accused of persecuting Christians and oppressing Christian belief. On the rare occasions when citizens (sometimes even Christian themselves) push back against the ubiquitousness of Christian belief  - for example  by objecting to its illegal injection into the publicly funded spheres of our society - the Christian majority shrieks that it is being oppressed or persecuted.

The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
Ah, religious respect 
for girls and women.

Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.

The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys;  passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban, for instance - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".

A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.
Now, that's respect!
These religious extremists do not respect women. Their actions betray that their motives are the polar opposite of respectful; they intend not to respect the rights and autonomy - the humanity - of women and girls, but to deny them autonomy and rights - and their humanity. The purpose of this dogma is to control women for the use and service of men: to keep them subservient, less than men, silenced and invisible. The farce of conservative respect for women is nothing more than a cruelly ironic cover for the conservative campaign for the subjugation of women. There is real harm being done in the name of religion and it ought not to be allowed to continue without vigorous criticism.

I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the  immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.

We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism.

It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female-bodied human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in many parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they feel threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.

(This post was previously posted in 2012)


Friday, May 31, 2013

El Salvador Supreme Court Blesses State-Sanctioned Murder

The Supreme Court of Injustice, El Salvador



























When a woman is pregnant with a doomed fetus - and when continuing the pregnancy will certainly damage her health irrevocably if it doesn't kill her immediately - is a law that forces her to continue the pregnancy pro-life? If the justification for denying abortions to women no matter what the circumstances is "respect for life", how do anti-choice activists square that justification with the reality that even when only one life, the woman's, is in jeopardy - and her life could be easily saved by ending the pregnancy - they continue to insist on the hardline no-exceptions anti-abortion laws?

Should the Salvadoran state 
have the right 
to murder this woman?
There really are no adequate words to describe or explain the deeply-rooted misogyny that underpins nearly all anti-choice activism. Anti-choice ideology has never been about "life"; it has always been about controlling women. The most recent surge of "pro-life" ideology in the USA can be traced directly back to Roe v Wade and the women's rights movement. The "pro-life" movement was a reaction to that landmark case establishing women's reproductive autonomy during the so-called "sexual revolution". The movement's goal was to restore the former legal apparatus which would compel women to return to reproductive slavery by criminalizing most female-controlled methods of reproductive control and to pass legislation enabling the state (and theocratic society) to punish sexually active women through denial of access to contraceptives or reproductive healthcare and through forced pregnancy. It is an ideology which refuses to acknowledge that most women are at risk of unwanted sexual activity and involuntary pregnancy at some point in their lives, and refuses to protect women from the consequences of coerced or forced sexual intercourse which it largely denies ever occurs. It is an ideology that presupposes that women are wanton, immoral sexual libertines who have no normal human feelings about life or its sanctity nor any normal human feelings toward other people. It is an ideology that rests on the assumption that women are so deficient in normal human sensibility that they can casually kill for convenience. It is an ideology based upon a distrustful hatred - and dehumanization of - women at the most primitive level of human subconsciousness.

For anti-choice activists, the core principle is that no woman should ever have sexual freedom because women cannot be trusted to behave like moral, neurologically-normal (male) human beings who possess a fully-developed conscience and natural human feelings. The only sexual activity a woman should be allowed is to be the sexually submissive "partner" within the bonds of matrimony, under the "headship" of a man - and at his pleasure. Under this system, while a woman may possibly be able to avoid marital rape if she has a decent husband, she is never allowed to effectively avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Whether a pregnancy is unplanned or planned, forced through rape or incest, an accident of failed contraception (if, indeed, a woman is able to get access to effective female-controlled contraception), discovered after a serious health issue has been discovered or any other of the dozens of ways women become unintentionally pregnant in any given year - anti-choicers say that no woman should ever have the right to say "no" to any pregnancy once fertilization has occurred. It is their trump card.

The modern "pro-life" movement is largely
funded by religious groups, but its roots
go much deeper in human culture.
To their fury, those who wish to deny women human rights realize that they cannot stop women from being sexually active beings who believe they are equal to men. That genie slipped out of the bottle for good after the sexual revolution. So, to ensure that sooner or later most women will be confronted with the brutal reality of their true place in this patriarchal world, the anti-choice movement campaigns for a state-sanctioned no exceptions, forced-pregnancy trap criminalizing nearly all reproductive choices which put women's bodily autonomy under their own control. Women are still not regarded as fully human beings. In spite of rhetoric paying lip service to notions of "respect" and "equality", the reality is that legally and/or culturally in nearly every society on the planet women continue to be regarded as little more than animals reduced to nothing but their biological functions. Perhaps even less than animals, since there are actually legal protections for most animals who face unintended pregnancies, and most people also recognize that animals have some emotions, feel pain and ought to be spared unnecessary suffering. When the topic is abortion, however, women are erased from the discussion; their emotions, physical pain and unnecessary suffering is ignored. All focus is centered on a zygote or fetus as if it is independently floating in space inside a magical bubble of "life"; as if its existence does not impact another human being's body and life at all. Because women are considered less than human beings - mere walking wombs - this is exactly how human cultures can continue to regard the issue as a "pro-life" one. When only one "life" is recognized as valid and fully human (the potential offspring of a fully human man), the threat to its existence may seem to be the only threat to "life". If a walking womb is maimed or dies while being forced to gestate a fetus it did not choose to carry, no human being has actually been harmed.

The ultimate social priority of religion is to confirm and enforce the authority of men over women. To that end, religious conservatives - and their men in government - are willing to grant even rapists and abusers privileges over women, to safeguard the authority of "godly" men. In short, in order to protect the privilege of all men, themselves included of course, even "godly" men who profess to abhor rape willingly award rapists and abusers the right to reproduce using women's bodies against their will. As always, there is no thought spared for the humanity of the women who would be sacrificed to this Christian ideology. At best, they are dismissed as the "blessed" recipients of a "gift from God". Wait, Consent Means WHAT? NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.

No matter how this
happened - it's her
cross to bear, now!
While many people would protest that this is not how they think or feel - and that may be true on an individual level - the reality all over the world is that in the eyes of the law in most societies, women are still possessions to be used by men for reproduction. Anti-choice zealots right here in the "progressive" west are proudly willing to force women to be pregnant by rape and incest in order to protect all men from the possibility that some day, somewhere, some woman might dare to deny a man the right to use her body to reproduce. In patriarchal societies, it seems likely that it is a fear that sexually emancipated women will abuse their perceived "power" to control men's ability to reproduce which ignites the anger and feelings of "male victimhood" behind the drive to control women. While a few anti-choice ideologues may ruefully admit that unjust forced births are regrettable, most are satisfied to sacrifice a few innocent women as a lesson to all that no woman who is sexually active without permission will ever go unpunished. If we allow any exceptions, the argument goes, then what would stop women from lying to obtain abortions (to deny men fatherhood!) any time they want them? The accompanying visual of the free-floating fetus (usually portrayed as a full-term baby or even a school-aged child), underlines the false and inflammatory notion that abortion is the murder of a living person equal to a 6 year old child, not the termination of a barely visible pregnancy which can only progress to viability if it uses an actual living woman's body for nine months - at great cost to her. Again, the argument is predicated on underlying assumptions that women are manipulative, amoral, sexually promiscuous, inhuman liars who are capable of killing without conscience and will say or do anything to get away with it.

Women are confronted daily with the harassment and intimidation of a human culture which seethes with resentment toward them.  But nowhere is the starkness of cultural misogyny more evident than in the viciously anti-woman agenda of the perversely named "pro-life" movement. This movement, backed by most of the world's major religions (but probably predating them), cheerfully condemns women to the status of mere incubators for the progeny of men. The physical toll of pregnancy (whether chosen or not chosen by the woman) is ignored; the risk of permanent disability or death due to pregnancy to all women - even seemingly healthy women - is ignored; the barely-existent "right" of women to be free of sexual or reproductive slavery is ignored.

That is because the "right to life" of a conceptus is, in fact, really just an extension of men's rights. A conceptus is always some man's potential offspring and, at its core, religious teaching is all about enshrining the right of every man to reproduce. If women are allowed the freedom to choose when and if they will become pregnant, some men would almost certainly have difficulty finding a willing mate with whom to procreate. Religions which enforce the authority of men over women and which restrict the freedom and choices of women therefore speak to the root of cultural misogyny - men's fear of the potential power of women to control their (men's) ability to reproduce. "Right to life" is actually the trojan horse by which male rights over women are being inserted directly into women's uteri. That's right. It's a great big legal 'fuck you, women'! NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.
When a woman is forced to endure the permanent
physical damage of pregnancy,
and the agony of labor and delivery of a dead fetus
in service of the ideology of others,
it is simply a her "cross to bear".
Such is the cold, 
pitiless inhumanity
 of "right to life" zealots.

Beatriz in El Salvador is facing this terrible reality today. A 22-year old mother of one toddler is being forced by the state of El Salvador to continue a pregnancy which may very well kill her. The fetus she is carrying has anencephaly - it has no brain and parts of its skull are missing. It will almost certainly die before or during birth and definitely cannot survive after. Only as a passenger in Beatriz's body - using Beatriz's blood, organs and taking nutrition from her - has the fetus survived to date.

The 22-year-old woman suffers from severe and complicated illnesses. Her doctors have told her that she will likely die giving birth, and the unborn child will most likely live only a few hours, but she is prevented by law from having an abortion.
"They [the Supreme Court] were not convinced this is the way... they are saying Beatriz is not in danger and she must pursue the natural way of delivery and we must see what happens," said Mata (Beatriz's lawyer). CBS News, May 30, 2012.

In addition to facing the long list of health risks that even a normal, voluntary pregnancy poses to a healthy woman, Beatriz faces a serious risk of dying if the pregnancy continues. The ethical medical protocol should be to urgently terminate the pregnancy to prevent further, unavoidable grave health consequences and possibly (her doctors say "probably") death. Beatriz has a number of health issues, among them a severe case of lupus, which is a serious autoimmune disorder. A video on YouTube which shows just Beatriz's hands as she softly tells her story, points to the possibility that she may possibly suffer from other autoimmune disorders - her hands show signs consistent with both vitiligo and rheumatoid arthritis - which suggests that in her case, one of the contributing factors to her extremely high risk of severe harm or death due to an inadvisable pregnancy is the possibility of a cascade of autoimmune disorders essentially shutting down her organ functions.

In the ruling, the court cited doctors as saying that “an eventual interruption of the pregnancy would not imply, much less have as an objective, the destruction of the fetus.”
Beatriz’s lawyer, however, described the ruling as “misogynistic” because it placed the rights of a fetus with little chance of surviving after birth over the welfare of a sick woman who already has an infant boy to care for.
“The court placed the life of the anencephalic baby over Beatriz’s life,” said VĂ­ctor Hugo Mata, one of her lawyers, speaking by phone from the Supreme Court. “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”
Last month, a group of doctors overseeing Beatriz’s care at the National Maternity Hospital sent a report to the Health Ministry arguing that as the pregnancy progressed, the risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase. Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman, Karla Zabludovsky and Gene Palumbo, The New York Times, May 29, 2013.

El Salvador is one of the few remaining nations which still officially enshrines reproductive enslavement of women in its laws. There, abortion under any circumstances - including rape and health (or life) of the woman - is criminalized and harsh sentences are passed on women who break the law, sometimes even after spontaneous miscarriage. The country whose national motto is "God, Unity, Freedom" ensures through forced-birth laws like this that the first word in the motto reigns supreme, even canceling out the other words - and definitely the last word - if you happen to be a woman.

People writing about this outrageous miscarriage of justice have frequently asserted that El Salvador is a putatively "Catholic" country, therefore blaming the Catholic Church for this among its many other crimes. But there is a danger that this viciously misogynist activism will be dismissed as a "Catholic" problem, even as the power of the Catholic church declines, thus giving cover to the other groups behind the push to roll back women's rights. Latin America has been heavily targeted by evangelical Christian "missions" over the past 30 years and those "missionaries" exported their anti-choice ideology along with their Christian fundamentalism. El Salvador now has a population whose religious affiliation reflects that fact. While just over 50% of the population still identifies as Catholic, nearly 30% identify as Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant. This anti-choice ideology is not strictly a "Catholic" thing - indeed before the Protestant insurgency in the region, the rules around abortion had gradually been relaxing even when a much higher percentage of the population identified as Catholic.

Denial of the basic human right to bodily autonomy - and denial of the right to life of an innocent woman - makes a complete mockery of the claims of "civilized" people everywhere that they respect life. Whether for religious reasons - or simply in response to older, more deeply-ingrained animal drives - women in every society on earth still struggle for life and freedom in a world which brutally reduces them to a dehumanized tool in the service of the reproductive needs of men.

Here is a petition to ask the Obama administration to speak out against this travesty.





Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

                                                                                                                               photo via feminist frequency



























Back in March, I wrote a blog post featuring the work of feminist - and enthusiastic gamer - Anita Sarkeesian in honor of International Women's Day. Ms. Sarkeesian has faced down a veritable army of haters who have attacked her viciously for the 'crime' of criticizing the prevalence of harmful sexist tropes in video games.

In 2012, Sarkeesian made the "mistake" of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of videos examining the prevalence of sexist gendered stereotypes in video games. While the project was hailed as a great idea by many feminist gamers (both men and women), it was met with outrage by a significant subset of gamers and misogynists on the internet. The resulting firestorm of misogynistic harassment ranged from expletive-laced comments on the website to threats of rape, torture and death. Her blog, Feminist Frequency, was hacked. Enraged gamers created "games" featuring Sarkeesian as a character who is raped, beaten or killed (or all three) - one was called "Beat up Anita Sarkeesian" and featured the *fun* of punching the animated Anita until the blood-spatter turns the screen red. Furious gamers sent videos of the violence being done to her "game character", perhaps meant as a warning and a threat, but undoubtedly meant to harass, intimidate and silence her.
Yeah, this really was a thing.

The first video in the series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, Damsel in Distress Part 1 can be found here

Yesterday, Part 2 of Damsel in Distress was released to almost instant attack by the same sort of internet trolls who have been harrassing Ms Sarkeesian from the moment she decided to challenge the status quo in the video game industry. As Jason at Lousy Canuck reported, her video was false-flagged and pulled from YouTube within an hour of its posting. 

Think about that for a moment. People are so desperate to attack Sarkeesian and any attempt at injecting feminist commentary into video games, that they’re willing to silence her by marking it as objectionable. Not because the content is incorrect, or because the content is damning of the industry, but because how daaaaaare this mere woman criticize this immature art form that we love so much? Jason Thibeault, Lousy Canuck, May 28, 2013.

The video is back up now and it is as good as, if not better than, the first one. 

Gather the teenagers 'round and take a few minutes to view. Don't forget to discuss!


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

About That Thing In Steubenville, Ohio...

via science of relationships




























''It's really a sense of power that comes from specialness ... anyone who finds himself at the center of the world they're in has a sense of impunity.'' 
Ken Dryden, lawyer and Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. 

It's the last day of April, the month which has been claimed by several causes to promote awareness. One of those topics which deserves raised awareness is the frightening persistence of sexual assault in society. I published the article below on Secular Woman earlier this month:

In a down-on-its-luck eastern Ohio town, the local high school's star football players were powerful people. As the town's pride and joy - its hope for the future - the young men in Steubenville enjoyed all the privileges of small town princelings, just like millions of young men in millions of small towns all over the world. One of the privileges of that power was that the football players had their "pick" of the town's unattached girls. For star athletes, the privilege of first pick of the most desirable girls is like selecting ripe melons at Kroger. The athlete gets to choose or discard, never the girl.

Adults treat them like heroes, students treat them like rock stars, and amidst classes, club meetings and exams, there exists a gutter economy where women become a form of currency. Dave Zirin, The Verdict: Steubenville Shows the Bond Between Jock Culture and Rape Culture, The Nation, March 18, 2013.


The moment that a person - usually a female-bodied person - becomes the object of a more powerful person's desire (whether for sex or some desire to exert control), her humanity ceases to matter. She becomes, literally, a thing - "currency" that the more powerful person feels entitled to spend. Human culture is patriarchal: heterosexual men are the only persons whose full humanity is never questioned, while women - and men who are suspected by other men of not being the right kind of heterosexual man - are treated by every society on earth as less than fully human. Their existence and worth is measured almost exclusively within the context of their relationships with and effect upon heterosexual men. Heterosexual men are persons whose living, thinking and taking action defines who they are, while women are men's accessories: their mothers, their girlfriends, the mothers of their children. It is the thing that they are to men which defines what women are.

Pick a girl melon, any melon girl,
young football princelings!
The young woman who was carted from party to party in Steubenville that August night was little more than a ripe melon - or a piece of meat - to those football players. They treated her like a plaything as if there was no human being inside that unconscious body because, on a deeply primitive level, for some young men there is no human being inside a female body. And when she somehow gathered the courage to press charges against the young men who raped her, she became the thing which her town raged could unfairly (!) ruin their princelings' lives. Having also grown up swimming in the rape culture that still permeates nearly every human society, the rape victim feared she would be blamed and vilified for reporting the crime or pressing charges and she was right.  She had to be persuaded to go forward with the case, but she finally did - courageously, and in the face of vicious condemnation from her former friends and neighbors.

(trigger warning for sexual assault)
The girl was completely naked on the floor, laying motionless on her side, not far from where she'd just puked out of the side of her mouth.
By her side was one of his teammates, Trent Mays, who Westlake testified was fully exposed and smacking his penis on the girl's hip. Laying behind her was another player, Ma'lik Richmond, whom Westlake testified he saw penetrating the girl with two fingers, "halfway to the knuckle."
"It wasn't what I expected to see," Westlake testified Friday at the Jefferson County Justice Center here in this old Eastern Ohio mill town, where Mays and Richmond stand trial for rape. "I wasn't really sure what to think."
Why didn't you stop it, special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked?
"Well," Westlake said, "it wasn't violent. I didn't know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone."
Let's ignore the obvious point that you don't need to "force" yourself on a girl who is incapacitated by alcohol. Instead, let's simply ask what did Evan Westlake do?
"I said my goodbyes," he testified.
Goodbyes? And what exactly was the response from Mays and Richmond after having someone walk in on them in the middle of that moment – even if, as the defense is arguing, it actually was consensual?
"They said, 'I'll see you Monday at football,' " Westlake said. 
Prosecutors may get conviction in Steubenville rape trial, but it will come at a cost. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports, March 16, 2013.

How is it possible that a modern, educated teenager does not know what rape is? If inserting objects and body parts into the body of an unconscious person is not "forcing yourself on someone", then what is it?  How could it be that in a society which claims to abhor rape, a young man stood a few feet away while a rape was being committed, felt surprised but apparently undisturbed by what he was witnessing, then casually "said his good-nights" and walked away. He walked away without the slightest sense that a crime was being committed. The sight of an unconscious girl being casually violated by two young men aroused not a scintilla of basic human compassion in him. None at all. Three football teammates casually said, "see you Monday at football" while two of them were still raping an unconscious, vomit-spattered, urine-soaked girl and Evan Westlake was not sure what to think! How could he not know what to think about that?

One has to wonder: would Evan Westlake have known what to think had the unconscious victim been one of his male teammates? If his buddies casually said "good-night" to him as they shoved foreign objects and body parts into the anus and mouth of an unconscious 16-year-old boy lying naked on the floor right in front of him, would that have seemed a little more surprising to him? Disturbing, even? Would the nature of the criminal behavior have suddenly been a little easier to discern?

Although most people strongly protest that they would never condone rape, the reality is that most people actually do condone rape. Like Evan Westlake, they condone rape because they believe that most kinds of forced sex are not really rape as long as the recipient of the forced sex is female-bodiedMost people think that opportunistic or coerced sex, which is the modus operandi in the majority of sexual assaults, is normal, understandable or justifiable thanks to a culture which normalizes and excuses men who rape women. There may be a general rueful admission that "taking advantage" of a drunk woman or pressuring a date into sex may not exactly be polite, or the smoothest, coolest way to operate, but it is still after all just a guy doing what comes naturally when he wants something and that thing is apparently right there for the taking. If the object of his interest is incapacitated after drinking too much, her failure to say "no" can be taken for a "yes"- at his discretion. If the thing he wants is not 100% clear about her refusal (at least in his own mind - remember boys: no means maybe and maybe means yes!), then a guy feels justified in assuming that he has her consent and society backs him up on that. In essence, society hands over a woman's 'right to consent' to men, who are permitted - even encouraged - to apply it according to their own interpretation of reality, however influenced that may be by anger, alcohol or unreciprocated sexual arousal.

Consider the following rape apologia:
 "What did she expect to happen when she went out dressed like that?"
 "What did she expect would happen?" reasonable people ask, "If she didn't want to have sex, she ought not to have sent the wrong signal by getting drunk. If she has regrets in the morning, it was her own stupid fault."
 "If she didn't say "No', then she probably meant "Yes". She wasn't clear! How is a guy supposed to know, anyway?"
 "Why should some poor man go to jail because of some lying slut who only got what she was asking for?"
 "If something happened that she didn't really want, then she ought to have thought of that before going on that date/accepting that drink/asking him in for coffee/smiling and flirting/trying to enjoy full rights to free citizenship while being female..." - pick any scenario because they all lead to forced sex somewhere every day.
And of course, the ever-popular  "If men don't pursue women aggressively, the human race will go extinct!" which both excuses male aggression and denies normal, healthy female sexuality in one astonishing stroke.

These are common excuses given after a sexual assault. Some rapists may admit that it was not quite consensual sex, but they vehemently deny that it was rape. It does not matter if the woman did not want sex. Too many men feel that if the man wants sex - if he has interpreted anything about the woman from her style of dress to her behavior as some sort of sexual invitation - then he is entitled to force sex on her. In his mind, it is not forcing sex, though; he has been encouraged by rape culture to tell himself that she "asked" for it (even if she actually said "no"; even if the "invitation" was all in his own imagination).

With very rare exceptions, not quite consensual sex is seen as the inevitable result of mistakes made by women (leading men on, dressing like sluts, asking for it, needing to be put in their place, expecting to enjoy the freedom to go places and do things that men enjoy, etc) and not as rape committed by a man. When made by a very young girl or teenager (who is still assumed to be a virgin), these "mistakes" are considered foolish but innocently regrettable (though the sexual assault is still the girl's own fault), in the case of non-virgin women, the use of the word "mistakes" is a transparently insincere way of describing what is clearly believed by the culture to be calculated, provocative behavior on the part of a lying female who later regrets her own bad behavior but who inexplicably still wants to draw attention to it by accusing an innocent man of rape.

She must have led him on - how was he to know she only wanted to enjoy a flirtatious evening and then go home alone? Obviously, she didn't - she just changed her mind after the fact! 

Having internalized these attitudes thanks to the pervasive rape culture, most people are uncomfortable labeling such incidents "rapes".  It strikes people as somehow unfair to call a man who merely uses a woman's body without her explicit consent a rapist. Most of the time, people agree, women only get what they deserve!

Then, there is the myth which goes something like this: the only real rapists are monsters. When they are not leaping out of bushes to attack a woman with a weapon, rapist monters are hanging out at bars creepily stalking stupid women.  Even so, it isn't a crime to be a creepy guy - innocent nice guys are sometimes called creepy and just think of that slippery slope!  If women weren't so stupid, they would not provoke real creeps to stalk and/or attack them! But, the handsome, normal guy who won't take "no" for an answer after a date is nothing like those monstrous rapists. Maybe he paid for a nice dinner date and she's been smiling at him all night - so he can't be blamed for having expectations! and anyway his making a move is a natural red-blooded male reaction to female provocation. People ought to give him the benefit of the doubt because he is such a nice guy but they should have a healthy skepticism about the honesty of the girl or woman. A man should be thought innocent until proven guilty; a woman should be thought a liar until she proves she is telling the truth. Reasonable people should always be extremely cautious about casting doubt on a person's character - it could haunt him for life! - so trashing a woman's reputation instead is the only reasonable response to a rape accusation. The accused man is a person - a fully human being whose life could be ruined by the accusation that he is a rapist monster! - the accuser is merely a woman - just a female, and everyone knows how they lie...the question of whether her life might be ruined by whatever transpired is hardly worth asking. Females are, after all, made to be used by men, so why are feminists making such a big deal over this?

Another popular justification for rape apologia is the pretended even-handedness of criticizing young men for walking alone in unsafe places or getting drunk in situations where they might be assaulted and criticizing young women for walking alone in unsafe places (just about anywhere away from male protectors - and even then not so much, but that is for another post) or getting drunk in situations where they might be assaulted.

"Holding a girl responsible for her own stupidity is not victim-blaming! I'd criticize a guy, too, if he stupidly put himself in danger by getting drunk with the wrong crowd or hanging out on the dodgy side of town!"

But here is where this false equivalency breaks down: even if we accept the claim that society really does accuse young men of bringing crime on themselves because of their appearance or their behavior (something so rare that even a determined google search can find little evidence of it - with the notable exception of too many cases which are suspiciously limited to young men of color or other marginalized groups, but again, that's another post in itself), the difference is that no one ever suggests that because of a male victim's stupidity, his attackers should not be held accountable for their crimes.



















In no other assault scenarios are victims routinely blamed for inciting envy, fear, rage, a desire to hurt or control or any other emotion in their attackers. Only when girls or women are attacked - and in particular when they are sexually assaulted - is the onus for the crime placed upon the victim. It is not even sexual assault itself that is the exception but specifically sexual assault against women and girls which is reserved for this special 'victim-caused' category. Rapes of boys and men are not generally dismissed as "he was asking for it". One only has to point to the recent public hue and cry over the sexual crimes committed by priests in the Catholic Church to see that this is true.

The rape of a child or teenager - or indeed any person who is in a subordinate position to an authority figure - is unconscionable and deserves to be prosecuted vigorously. However, the deliberately vague term "child rape" that is always used to describe these clerical crimes obscures the fact that most of those victims were not just "children" but specifically underage boys.  The stark truth is that it is because the majority of these crimes were committed against boys and young men that society is as horrified as it is by them, and it is because this fact is obfuscated by the coy usage of "child" instead of "boy" that society can continue to pretend that it treats all rapes - of both male and female victims - as equally terrible. The truth, however, is that similar abuses have been visited upon girls and women in far greater numbers for all of human history - at least 1 in 4 girls and women are raped in their lifetime by clerics, teachers, family members, neighbors, boyfriends, employers, husbands and sometimes even strangers - but this ugly feminine reality has never elicited universal societal condemnation like the outrage over the recently uncovered sexual abuse of boys by priests. On the contrary, rape, forced pregnancy, assault and battery of girls and women has been protected all over the world for most of human history by patriarchal social mores and laws, often justified by 'respect" for religious freedom. Rape and male oppression is accepted as the way things are for women. Boys and men, on the other hand, are never supposed to be the targets of this kind of abuse. When it happens, it is considered an intolerable blight in society.

In first world countries, most women gained citizenship, the right to vote and legal recognition of their human rights over the last century. Nevertheless, most societies still do not accept that the majority of rape claims by women are really rapes. The hyper-vigilance over "false accusations" is not because assaults have not occurred, but because society denies that those alleged sexual assaults are equivalent to 'forcible rape'. There is always a justification, always an excuse for why it was understandable for that man to force that woman into a sexual act.

The Rape Culture that pervades all human societies ensures that women are still considered less than fully human - even in the first world - so that abuse of their autonomy and consent is tolerated and condoned even by the justice system. By and large, the reality in most societies is that while there may be laws on the books criminalizing rape, society actually refuses to recognize most forms of sexual assault on women as legitimate rape, and in practice most societies regard nearly all women as unrapable. When the fault lies with the alleged victim, there can have been no crime committed. Rape culture reinforces the idea that women, by their very existence, are always sexually tempting men, always at fault, always to blame. Women make men force sex on them, so it is never rape.

In many parts of the world, rape is accepted as an everyday occurrence, and even a male prerogative. In 1991, at a coed boarding school in Kenya, seventy-one girls were raped by their male classmates, and nineteen died in the ensuing panic. The deputy principal reassured the public: "The boys never meant any harm against the girls. They just wanted to rape." Michael Parenti, "The Global Rape Culture", The Culture Struggle, 2005.

Rape culture serves up a double whammy to women - it not only dismisses the assault of women and girls as justifiable based upon the feelings of their attackers, but it also holds the victims responsible for those feelings. Young men raised in rape culture are accustomed to judging the morality of their behavior toward women according to their own emotions and desires - how they feel around a woman justifies their behavior toward her - and at the same time they are encouraged by rape culture to hold women responsible for how they, men, feel. Rape culture tells men that they are entitled to satisfy their own urges at a woman's expense. Many, if not most, men who assault women believe that what they feel has been deliberately caused by the women they target and therefore the women are responsible for whatever "happens". Surprisingly frequently, especially if charges are laid against him, a rapist will actually claim (and actually believe) that he is the victim in the situation. Plenty of evidence supports the contention that society - steeped in rape culture misogyny - usually agrees with him.

via parenting teens
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
  Rape Culture affects every woman.  The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape.  This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture. (Rape Culture, Marshall University Women's Center.)

Many women unwittingly support rape culture by taking comfort in the mistaken belief that rape only happens to a certain kind of woman and they themselves can avoid it by living properly (whatever they think that means). What they fail to realize is that by promulgating rape myths, they actually strengthen the rape culture that makes them more likely to be victimized. Rape myths provide cover for those who actually commit the majority of rapes: seemingly ordinary men who also believe the myths of rape culture and who thus believe that in many situations the consent of a woman can be considered implicit based upon how he interprets her behavior. If he feels that what she is wearing or where she is or how much she has drunk or how much she has flirted is an invitation to him, then it is an invitation to him regardless of whether the woman ever had any thought of issuing an invitation. What she thinks or feels simply does not matter because the possibility that she actually has real thoughts and honest feelings like he - a fully human person - does, simply does not exist. Many rapists have so thoroughly absorbed the poison of rape culture that they truly believe that they are entitled to take what they tell themselves women are offering and therefore whatever they have done, it is not rape.

Thanks to the warped view that rape culture propagates of what is normal sex, many men feel genuinely threatened by the idea that any non-consensual sex might be called  'rape'. Most of these very concerned men consider themselves nice guys but some are uncomfortably aware that they may have skated over the consent line at times. Defensively, they insist that there are grey areas in the mating landscape.

Women are hard to read! Sometimes 'maybe' can mean 'yes', not "no" Why should any red-blooded man accept that ambivalence is a form of "no" and be forced to hope lamely that on another occasion she will give enthusiastic consent? Why should women get to have the upper hand in sexual matters?

They argue that parsing the meaning of a woman's "It's getting late", "I'd like to go home now" or "It's not a good time" is a complex problem and that consent is a very vexing and elusive concept.

Women jerk men around! Why would she say 'maybe' if she means 'no'? Maybe 'maybe' means 'yes'! Why shouldn't a guy interpret her ambivalence as 'yes'? Everyone knows women want to be swept away. But if she doesn't want that, then she should be clear about it. Who can blame a guy for pressing the issue? If he doesn't press, he might never have sex! 

They worry that to criminalize all nonconsensual sex is a slippery slope which could unfairly bring innocent men down with the (very, very few!) guilty ones.

Consent can be very ambiguous and difficult to determine! When she accepted the date/flirted/drank too much, who can blame a guy for thinking she was giving tacit consent to more? How dare she cry rape in the morning just because she regrets her slutty behavior of the night before!

Ignoring for now the constant underlying thread of misogyny that runs through all rape apologia (which can be boiled down to: women lie, they lie constantly and they enjoy lying just to hurt an innocent man for the evil pleasure of it), there is an interesting inconsistency highlighted by this claim that sexual consent is difficult to decipher.

At least one study has shown that human beings are perfectly capable of recognizing both verbal and non-verbal refusals, even when the word "No" is not used at all.  In every other sphere of human interaction, human signals for 'no' - for refusal - are widely understood by both men and women and yet men who rape persist in special pleading that it is difficult to be sure in just one specific situation: when a woman is saying 'No' to sex. Rapists prefer the emphasis to be on whether a woman said "No" clearly enough because they know that there will be wiggle room for them to pretend that most forms of verbal and nonverbal "no" secretly mean "yes" when it comes to female sexual responses and, unfortunately, society allows them to make - and win - that argument.

It really is very simple.
"Did she say 'yes'?
"No."
"Then your answer was 'No'."
"But she said, 'Maybe'!"
"But, did she say 'yes'?"
"No."
"Then your answer was 'No'."
"But she seemed like she was not sure, maybe she wanted to consent!"
"Did she say 'Yes'?"
"No."
"Then your answer was - undeniably, unambiguously - 'No'."

In spite of the best efforts of women's groups working to reduce sexual assault, no large-scale social movement to accept a working definition of consent such as "Only an unequivocal 'Yes' means 'Yes'" has been forthcoming. Many men - who definitely do not see themselves as rapists - prefer the pliable, male-interpreted "No" because it would be much harder for those Nice Guys to kid themselves about their own opportunistic behavior - and harder for society to excuse them, too - if the only acceptable green light for sex was an unequivocal "yes". "'No' means 'No'" (except when Nice Guys™ think it means 'Yes' to them) has been massaged by the rape culture to suggest the possibility of ambiguity and that leaves the door open for not-so-nice-guys to cash in on the sexual aggressiveness of a few men.

Thanks to the fact that women live in fear of sexual assault, less sexually aggressive men can still benefit from the rape culture which provides cover for more blatant rapists. By pretending to be confused by "mixed signals", a so-called Nice Guy can pressure a woman into sex she doesn't want by telling her that she made him think she had promised him something. More aggressive males pave the way for the Nice Guys because a woman's fear of male anger if she refuses to honor this bogus "promise" seals the deal. By shaming women for being reluctant to trust that their intentions are honorable (even when they are not), Nice Guys often succeed in coercing women to engage in unwanted sex. By accusing women of teasing because they have interpreted a sexual invitation from a little light-hearted flirting, Nice Guys can and do frighten women into agreeing to unwanted sex because women have learned to fear the consequences of being labeled a "tease" (a "tease" can either put out what she has been "promising", or have it taken from her forcibly, which society will judge she deserves). Nice Guys never do anything overtly aggressive, but they trade on the fear of male aggressiveness to manipulate and coerce women into unwanted sex. In other words, Nice Guys do rape, too.

The patriarchal culture which teaches men to view women as simultaneously both lying temptresses and sexually submissive subordinates ensures that self-aware rapists know they need not fear any negative social consequences as they continue to victimize women and girls. It will always be the woman's fault. Meanwhile the self-deluding "nice guys" observe society's acceptance and normalization of male aggression toward females, admire what they see not as rape but as other mens' sexual conquests and regard their own sexual opportunism as perfectly normal and reasonable within that context. This is the reason why many men sincerely believe that false rape accusations are a real thing. If they - normal, nice guys! - have felt and done these things (or think it's OK to do these things), then it cannot be rape! Only monsters commit rape and these nice guys are not monsters!

The Steubenville case, the Rehtaeh Parsons case, the UCLA water polo player case and countless other sexual assault cases, both reported and unreported,  starkly illustrate how rape culture ensures that many young men and women really do not believe that forcing sex on a woman without her consent is always rape, especially if she was initially flirting or drinking at a party or has had sex before. A rape victim's recovery from sexual violation is horrendous enough, but rape culture ensures that the society which is supposed to protect her will victimize her again through victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sympathy for the perpetrator and even erasing the victim from discussion of the impact of the crime which is viewed - like almost everything else in patriarchal culture - not from the female victim's perspective but from the male's. Isn't it time that we took concrete, effective steps to dismantle Rape Culture once and for all? We've tried the ridiculously ineffective tactic of urging women not to get themselves raped. Perhaps, at long last, we can begin to urge men not to rape.

The first step is to raise young men who understand and respect that women are human beings whose feelings and wishes are as important as mens'. A man's feeling of entitlement to use a woman's body because he felt that she was offering it does not trump her feelings or her right to refuse consent or even to withdraw consent at any time if she becomes uncomfortable with the man. We need to change the sad reality that, because of our rape culture, men's sense of superior entitlement is protected at the expense of women's humanity. His feelings are of paramount importance, while it is often barely acknowledged that she has any legitimate feelings at all. She is a thing that causes uncomfortable feelings in a man. When rape happens it is deemed justifiable by society because of however the man felt (he felt he was led on, he misunderstood her "mixed signals", he felt she had provoked him, etc) while the woman is held responsible both for whatever he was feeling and for the consequences when he decided not to exercise any self-control over those feelings.
Only men can stop rape.

Obviously, rape culture creates a win-win situation for would-be rapists. Unfortunately, it also creates an environment where the dehumanization of women is so normalized that even some nice, decent men ultimately perceive virtually every woman as "unrapable" in most contexts. In other words, because of the constant stream of misogynist rape apologia in our culture, too many boys and men unconsciously form the belief that almost nothing that they can do to a woman can ever be called rape - even though they still honestly believe that they consider 'real rape' a heinous crime.

The second step is to make men understand that the behavior that many of them do not consider "rapey" is, in fact, rape. That the women whom some men tell themselves were "asking for it" or whose consent some men believe they can assume because of how they, men, are feeling are not there simply for them to take.  That when a man decides that because a woman has put herself in one situation willingly (a party, date or whatever) therefore it is perfectly reasonable for him to presume she has given her consent for anything else he expects the evening to lead to - even if he has to push it a little - that is rape.

Below is an ad aired in the UK which addresses Rape Culture in a gut-wrenching, all-too-common scenario: a party, drinking, the initial trust of the young woman, the expectations of the young man, and the eventual rape. This ad underlines the truth that rape occurs whenever one person coerces another person into sexual activity against the second person's wishes. The only thing that will prevent rape is if rapists stop raping.

Teaching men how not to rape: Hey, it's so crazy, it just might work!

Indeed, it is the only thing that will work.

TRIGGER WARNING!  Please be aware that this ad portrays a common scenario where a rape occurs, and though very well-done, it may be painfully triggering to some viewers.



Further Reading:

How a victim-blaming system excuses rape, Jen Roesch, socialistworker.org, January 7, 2013.

Sexual Assault and Rape Resource Guide, R. Graham, Carolina Women's Center, UNC Chapel Hill, Spring 2003.

Acquaintance Rape of College Students, Rana Sampson, USDOJ, COPS Problem-Oriented Guides For Police, no.17.