June 2, 2010

Violence Against Women:The Clothesline Project Video

As promised, The Clothesline Project Final Video from Marley P on Vimeo, part 2 of a collaborative final project for Womens Studies 30: Women and Pop Culture.

Created by: Rachel O, Maley P, Allison R. Stephanie G and Carolyn B.

Transcript after the jump. Thanks to Carolyn B for her gift of words and to all members of a group that inspired a community.

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May 19, 2010

Red Dead Redemption: Increase Your Gamescore For Violence Against Women

I play video games, but I’m picky.  As a huge fan of Deadwood, I was excited when I learned about the release of Red Dead RedemptionGrand Theft Auto in the Wild West, stealing horses instead of cars.  Like a video game version of one of my favorite television shows.  And then yesterday, I learned of a hidden achievement in the game, and
all my excitement and anticipation was flushed down the toilet.

In trying to pay homage to the classic westerns of yesteryear, where women were tied up on train tracks by a cartoon-y villain with a handlebar mustache, the game offers an achievement for tying up a woman and throwing her onto a set of train tracks.  Except there’s no hero to save the day and untie her before the train comes, the points
are only awarded if you stand and watch as you let her be run over.  It’s unfortunate that they made the achievement gender specific.  Why couldn’t it have been a man or just a person?  Rock Star Games does not exactly have a stellar record when it comes to females in their video games – most in the Grand Theft Auto series are prostitutes, drug addicts, victims, and strippers.  While they were a little better in Red Dead Redemption – it’s a woman who saves the main character in the intro and women are shown talking about religion and politics in the opening credits sequence, they negated the little good they did by offering five measly gamer points for violently assaulting and killing a woman.

Youtube is already filling up with videos of gamers recording themselves getting the “Dastardly” achievement.




May 12, 2010

Student activism breaks the silence around violence

Filed under: Violence — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 7:13 pm

Yesterday, a group of my WS 30 students put on the Clothesline Project as part of their final class project and the turn out was outstanding. What a success!

Guest post by Clothesline Project co-organizer, Marley, on the experience:

Women’s Studies 30 has undoubtedly changed my life this semester.  Melanie Klein is an inspiring feminist mentor who has encouraged us to take our knowledge, growing awareness and media literacy skills out of the classroom and use them to promote social change.  Perhaps the greatest gift I was given was the ability to become an activist and to use my voice as a tool for promoting a better and more just world.  For our final projects, my group unanimously agreed that putting on the Clothesline Project at Santa Monica College was of utmost importance to break the silence that surrounds violence against women—and after a semester raising our consciousness, developing tools of activism and honing our media literacy skills, there was no better or more worthwhile cause for us.

The Clothesline Project was started in 1990 by a group of women that wanted to educate, bear witness to and break the silence that surrounds violence against women.  The catalyst for the event was the staggering statistic that 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam and during that same time 51,000 women were killed by men who claimed to “love them.” Hanging clothes on a clothesline is considered to be symbolic of “traditional” women’s work. Decorating t-shirts with one’s experiences and reactions to violence is healing process for survivors and witnesses of domestic violence.

Since 1990, the Clothesline Project has been done in over 41 states and 5 countries and is an ever growing grassroots organization that is dedicated to empowering women and allowing them a vehicle to utilize their voice.  Pretty incredible, right?

While coordinating the event,  I learned that sexual violence is still quite a taboo subject in today’s society and though I didn’t come across anybody that openly condones abuse, I was confronted with some resistance along the way. I was told (more than once) that the Clothesline Project’s intense subject matter was “too heavy” or too much of a “visually graphic display” and in some cases the lack of words said it all.

However, the overwhelming success of our event was proof that there are countless men and women who are willing to share their stories and ready to help create change. We started out the day with 50 t-shirts on the clothesline and by 6pm, we had over *100*. I was humbled by the overwhelming support we received from men and women who were touched by the space we created and the public dialogue we sparked. I am moved by the countless conversations I had and the new friends I made. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and  I am eager and excited for my next event. 

Violence is about control and domination and by becoming aware of it’s unfortunate prevalence and making our voices heard, we are able to break the silence.  So, the lesson here is to SPEAK UP because you will be surprised by the amount of people that are just waiting for a chance to do the same.  No one of us has the power to solve all the world’s problems, but each of us has the power to change the world one person at a time, even if the only person we succeed in changing is our self.

For more photos from the day, visit the new young feminist blog started by another group of my students for their final project. Finally, I want to congratulate Carolyn, Rachel, Allison, Stephanie and Marley for their hard work and dedication.

May 5, 2010

UK lad-mag advises ex to "cut her face"

Thanks to UK ally, Quiet Riot Girl, for alerting me to this recent bit of advice offered in the UK lad-mag, The Zoo’s column, Ask Danny!.

Photograph provided by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/observationsandmachinations/4581304972/

First, the lag mag advises the heart-broken young man to get wasted, bang every woman in his path and then break their hearts as a form revenge on his ex and all heart-breaking women out there.  As if that wasn’t tasteless and immature enough, this was followed with the option of cutting his ex’s  face so “no one will want her.”  Charming,  Danny Dyer.

Not.

This reprehensible and disturbing “advice” was met by a massive and justifiable twitter outcry:

One tweet, from blockbusterbuzz, said: “If this is meant to be a joke, it isn’t remotely funny. If it’s serious, it’s a criminal offence.”

Another, from hannahkaty, said: “To the people who think Danny Dyer is “funny” and “ironic”: Have a read of this?”

Domestic violence charities have also criticised Dyer for his “inexcusable” advice.

Sandra Horley, from Refuge, said: “It is all too easy to dismiss comments like these as a joke, but at Refuge we know that domestic violence takes lives and ruins lives.

“One woman in four experiences domestic violence at some point in her life.

“Two women are killed every week by a current or former partner. And these figures aren’t going down.

“One-in-eight young men believe it is OK to hit their girlfriend if she is nagging.

“Danny Dyer’s irresponsible and tasteless comments do nothing but reinforce these horrific attitudes. Shame on him.”

This was accompanied by swift action (yet another example of activism and advocacy immediately at work via social media outlets). As a result, The Zoo offered an apology, chalking it up to a “production error” and offered to make a donation to Women’s Aide.

Dr. Petra offers a comprehensive analysis that provides most of the answers to the questions asked.

Unfortunately there is a long history of lads’ magazines not taking relationships/sex issues seriously. From Zoo’s previous idea to ‘win your girlfriend some boobs’ through to their inclusion of non qualified advisors on their advice column they have form for sidelining relationships issues while presenting misogyny as ‘fun’. Myself and others have consistently offered to help provide frank sex and relationship advice men want, but men’s magazines remain resistant to this.

Zoo isn’t unique in this regard. When asked to address sexism or incorrect sex information in their pages lad’s magazines traditionally argue it is not their place to do so they are – in their words – about entertainment. They see having to present sex and women in non sexist ways as ‘boring’ or ‘worthy’ and argue their readers don’t want this. When you criticise them they make out you’re boring, ugly, or out of touch – and nowhere near cool enough to get their postmodern approach to sexuality.

Unsurprisingly lad’s magazines have historically approached sex/relationships issues either with complete silence, or with inaccurate advice, or with humour. There are some things, however, that just aren’t up for this treatment. And domestic violence is one of those issues.

As Dr. Petra points out, lad-mags in the UK and the United States don’t exactly have a reputation for offering meaningful, mature and sensitive advice when it comes to emotional and/or sexual relationships with women. Rather, they emphasize hegemonic masculinity‘s socially constructed tenants of hypersexuality, dominance and control. I recently posted a series of images advertising masculinity, many of these images taken from lad mags such as Maxim, Stuff (which has since ceased publication) and FHM.

Lad mags are part of a larger cultural conversation that speaks loudly to boys and men, shaping their framework of reality. Jokes about disposable women, dumping ex’s, banging as many women as possible (followed by rejection) and the threat of violence against women in the name of ownership and jealousy are far from casual jokes and entertainment.

May 3, 2010

The Token Feminists are Missing

A few months ago, I saw the-little-remix-video-that-could Buffy vs. Edward , and I subsequently fell back in love with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (No kidding – I’ve watched the first three seasons on Netflix in the last 4 weeks). I started watching Buffy when I was 13, in the prime of my uncomfortable adolescence – we’re talking the braces, puffy hair, nose is too big for my face, but I’ve only just realized that….yeeeah. But it wasn’t all bad, and I’ve certainly heard worse junior high/high school horror stories. And, of course, I had Buffy….

One of my favorite aspects of the way that Buffy was written is the fact that she was not continually made into a victim before she had to opportunity to protect/defend herself or others. And, the vast majority of female characters are given power to protect themselves (whether it was physical [e.g. Faith] or supernatural [e.g. Anya and Willow]). I’m not going to waste too much time singing the praises of how Buffy (though sadly not Gellar herself), as well as her creator Joss Whedon, are feminist. That has been written. Many, many times. There are some valid complaints, but overall Buffy was, and continues to be, a great example of what we’re capable of. However, if you’re still not convinced and want to fight about I’ll definitely take you on *note sarcasm.*

Feeling a little drunken 90’s nostalgia, I realized that it wasn’t just Buffy. Through all of my phases and changes, I had many strong female characters to model my confused, dorky, adolescent self after. In retrospect the 90’s seem to be the era of fabulous feminist characters: Roseanne, Jesse Spano (Saved by the Bell), Murphy Brown, Rory Gilmore, The Powerpuff Girls, Dana Foster (Step-by-Step), Lisa Simpson, Andrea Zuckerman (90210), A Different World (several characters over the course), Dharma (Dharma and Greg), Marcy D’Arcy (Married with Children), Dark Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BlossomJoey and Jen (Dawson’s Creek)….ok, I think you get the point.

So, now what I do want to know if where are all of the feminist characters? Why is it that all we see are these vapid, homogeneous, BORING female characters? Given the fact that the media that young women consume (everyone really, but I’ve never been an adolescent boy) serves as such an incredibly strong influence/unavoidable force on the creation of our self-identity and personal paradigm – I’m left wondering if Bella Swan, the girls from The Hills, Sookie oh-so-annoying Stackhouse, and Tina Fey  are the only examples that this generation of young women are growing up with? For the life of me I can’t find one female character on television that I would want my young daughter looking up to (sadly, not even my beloved Mad Men is stacking up).

What’s worse is that it isn’t just the characters. The actresses that are playing these less-than-role-model-worthy characters – or themselves (e.g. The Hills) – are not quick to pick up a feminist lifeline. Kristin Stewart has said that she doesn’t understand why feminists critique The Twilight Saga, and that “Bella wears the pants in the relationship. She’s the sure-footed, confident one…It takes a lot of power and strength to subject yourself to someone completely, to give up the power.” WHAT? Are we talking about the same story? The one where her boyfriends is a sexist stalker and she is powerless to defend herself?? She has also discussed how she grew up feeling like as a woman she could do anything.

And, there – in that statement – are our answers. The media has convinced this generation of young women that feminism is obsolete, that it’s outdated and outmoded, and that to align yourself with it is to be a pariah. They truly believe that we are living in a post-feminist world. I have heard the word “humanist” being substituted where “feminist” used to live comfortably in the mouth….and heart.

Seems a dangerous world to live in where we have to convince even the young women that the gender balances are unequal….they have finally convinced them that the lies are the truth. That we are powerful as long as we are sexy…and, so, this is what they strive for…..

April 16, 2010

Seagal's Sex Trade

Three days ago a law suit was filed in California against actor Steven Seagal. The woman who filed the civil suit, Kathryn Nguyen, 23, apparently found an ad on Craigslist for an executive assistant. She was taken to New Orleans after her third interview. When she got there she found two Russian “assistants” that Seagal was apparently keeping in his home, on call 24/7 for sex. According to Nguyen, Seagal attacked her several times and forced her to take “illegal pills.” According to Seagal, she is upset because he fired her for drug abuse. However, since Nguyen came forward several other women have come out saying that he assaulted them, as well, one of them being actress and comedian Jenny McCarthy.

My concern here is less for Nguyen who has felt empowered enough to employ all appropriate resources & and take action; she will inevitably be taken care of (despite the misogynistic assumption that she is doing this for money – note the condescending dollar signs in the linked post). My concern is even less for McCarthy who left the interaction physically unharmed and untouched. My concern is for the two nameless, faceless and presumably missing  Russian immigrant women. Where are these women and why haven’t they been taken either a) into custody or b) FROM SEAGAL!? In all of the news on this story there is no mention of of these women beyond Nguyen’s assertion that there were two Russian sex slaves in Seagal’s house.

It has been estimated that sex trafficking will be the number one crime worldwide by the end of this year. This link to the Polaris Project’s compiled statistics is unbelievable. Why don’t people know that there are more slaves right now than at any other point in history and that sex trafficking is the most prolific form? Why is no one talking about it in a meaningful and urgent way? I can only hope that it is not because the overwhelming majority are mostly sex slaves, and than that, by nature, is a “woman’s issue.” We have to use this unfortunate opportunity to ask these questions.

Our most mainstream point of reference of late was a mildly catty interaction between Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian a few weeks ago, but that played out more like an episode of “Desperate Housewives” than an intelligent conversation as far as I’m concerned. Even with Seagal’s story making headlines and our nightly news there is absolutely no discussion of the sex trade in the mass media. By contrast, working in predominantly activist and academic circles, we have the work of Ben Skinner who actively & purposefully threw himself into following the global human slave trade, and became the first person in history to view the sale of human being on 4 continents. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern Day Slavery is his account of what he has witnessed.

On a far smaller scale, I have also been witness to the difficulty that some of these young women have in getting out of these situations. I worked for Neighborhood Legal Services in their Domestic Violence Legal Self-help Clinic in Los Angeles. It is admittedly hard enough for American women who are victims of domestic violence to get out of these potentially life threatening situations, but immigrant women are often much more fettered. Whether it be the language barrier, confusion about the law, their immigration status, or literal bondange the odds against them are crushing.

Whatever outcome is in store for Seagal we have a much larger problem here that needs to become part of our social dialogue in way that will produce real local and global change for these women. Not just bad reality t.v.

April 4, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Rape Fantasy??

Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler…can’t say you weren’t warned….

I haven’t yet read Steig Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (titled Men Who Hate Women in Larsson’s homeland of Sweden), but I did go see the Swedish film that was released this weekend (the American remake is already in the works). I had prepared myself to write a pretty begnin, complimentary review, as I did enjoy the story and the main character Lisbeth Salander (played perfectly by Noomi Rapace).

I can understand why Feministing.com called her a “feminist avenger,” and why any woman (myself included) would see her as such. She is unaffected by her beauty (which is sometimes covered up in black, Goth make-up), androgynous, bisexual, and – unlike the character in the book – she has muscles that would make Madonna jealous. Unlike many female characters we see, one of  Lisbeth’s strongest assets is her tech-savvy research skills. We also see her rescue the hero of the story in what was truly a breath of fresh air. The girl wasn’t the one being strung up by her neck….she was the one heroically swinging the golf club at the very…last second. Lisbeth is on the whole a bad-ass, rockstar of a “sheroe. 

What is really gnawing at me about this film is whether or not it is okay to portray a supposedly feminist character and tell a feminist story through the vein of violence against women. Because when you take away all the bells and whistles, all of the things about the Lisbeth character that cause our knee-jerk reaction to be “Feminist!” the story itself is just more media-created violence against women. For example, Lisbeth is physically assaulted in the subway within the first 30 minutes of the film. Then graphically assaulted by her legal guardian/parole officer TWICE in what could arguably be one of the worst rape scenes since Leaving Las Vegas. These two scenes (plus, the revenge rape scene where she attacks her attacker) truly test the boundary of rape fantasy; it is very unclear to me when it starts to become something that is used for titillation as opposed to activism, and that cannot be good. Furthermore, the main plot mystery is driven by a sadist, misogynist, serial killing, rapist Nazi who has been murdering women for the better part of 40 years. Pictures & flash-backs of those gratuitously violent murders are scattered throughout the entire film (and, from what I understand described in all-too-much detail in the novel).

Larsson – the book’s author – founded the Expo-foundation, “a group intended on exposing neo-Nazi activity in Sweden.” He was known for his “pre-occupation” with misogyny and racism, and spent his life fighting against these things, as well as capitalism. I wish that I could say with his beliefs he created a character and a series of stories & films that are worthy of feminist praise and accolades. But, I am afraid all that exists in this story is rape fantasy and the kinds of violence that the feminist community is fighting to rid the media and, possibly more importantly, society as a whole of. Additionally, Larsson wrote our feminist heroin as having a great amount of disdain for her body, and the sequel to Dragon Tattoobegins with Lisbeth getting breast implants. I’m not sure what kind of feminist heroin Larsson was trying to create, but we can thank Niels Arden Oplev, the films director, for ditching those crappy & oh-so-feminist story-lines.

To sum it up….Lisbeth is a great, strong female character. We need more characters like her. We need them to inspire the ferocious, feral spirit that lives in all women. But, what we don’t need are more morally ambiguous, violent stories that are held on their axis by the portrayal of a form of violence against women that borders on sexualizing it.

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March 31, 2010

Is raping women only a game?

CNN reported on the latest [apparently, not the latest: see comment below] atrocious video game that allows the player to rape a woman over and over again while choosing a variety of methods to initiate the assault.

That’s right.

RapeLay, a video game that has gone viral since people, especially women’s rights groups, have reacted in outrage (and rightly so). Rapelay, a video game that, as CNN reports, makes Grand Theft Auto (the game that stirred up a firestorm of criticism upon its release in 2008) appear as harmless and “clean as Pac-man.”

Given the statistics on domestic violence, assault, and rape, it is difficult for me to conceptualize this video game as a “game.” Our media landscape is (and has been) populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.

Viewing repetitive and stable images decreases our sensitivity to an issue, it normalizes the images and themes contained therein. Violence against women is an issue that we, as a culture, are already desensitized to on many levels. The systematic objectification and dismemberment of women (see Jean Kilbourne‘s film Killing Us Softly 3 and read her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel) is rampant in and a staple fixture of our mediated culture, reinforcing images of aggression and violence against women as normative and unremarkable.

“Games” that continue to use images of gratuitous and unapologetic violence as a source of “entertainment” frighten me because the inevitable results are horrifying. We know that dating violence among young people is increasing. We also know that the level of mediation and amount of time young people are exposed to messages constructed by the mass media, including video game makers, is increasing (there are even treatment programs for young people addicted to video games). Taking these variables into consideration and recognizing the correlation between the level of mediation and one’s attitudes, expectations and behaviors creates a dismal picture for girls and women (and this isn’t even taking the construction of gender and the corresponding expectation of violent masculinity and submissive femininity as normative into consideration).

Given that, I think it is safe to say that rape, virtual or real, is never simply a game, at least not for the victims of that violence, virtual or real, and its social, physical and emotional consequences. In the end, we’re all negatively effected by a culture that makes violence against *anyone* a game.

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March 19, 2010

Rule #1, Soldier: No Water After 7 p.m.

By the end of 2010 there will officially be more women in the workforce than men. Both the Speaker of the House and the Secretary of State are women. And, 20% of U.S. armed forces are female. Because of these aberrant shifts we feel like we’ve won the war when the reality is that those are only a few battles. We tend to take for granted the positions that most women in America find themselves in in this “post-feminist” society.

In recent weeks, both Time magazine and The New York Times have published articles on the egregious number of women being raped in the military. Time reported that…

“…a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”

I was shocked to read that female soldiers stop drinking water at 7 p.m. so that they don’t have to go the bathroom in the middle of the night as this reduces their risk of being raped. Though the NY Times reported that the number of assults reported is up 11% from last year, Time statesthat the Defense Department still estimates that 80-90% of sexual assaults go unreported. Additionally, they differentiate an assault from sexual harassment which undoubtedly brings the number of women assaulted OR harassed up exponentially. They may as well just say, “If you’re female and you join the military you will be abused in some way.”

We live in a world where we fight to have universities install campus security buttons and cameras and we teach women how to protect & defend themselves against attackers and we create program upon program for victims of sexual assault. All of the security measures we take only further perpetuate the idea that WOMEN need to learn how to protect themselves. Why aren’t we teaching men how to be respectful and responsible? How do we transform the dialogue from Women’s Issues to EVERY ONE’S issues??

I don’t say any of this to discourage women from joining the military or going to college (or from leaving your house!) or to promote the fear that is already so rampant, I say this because as a woman living in a supposedly “post-feminist” world, I believe we need to inspire more people – NOT just women – to struggle, to act!

There was a great article in The Guardian, the UK based newspaper about men and feminism. In it they mentioned a program that was started by Oxfam called “Gender Equality and Men.” Here is a quote from their page:

There are potential gains from focusing on men and boys. As Kaufman has suggested [1], such efforts may:

  • create a broad social consensus among men and women on issues that previously have been marginalised as only of importance to women;
  • mobilise resources and institutions controlled by men, resulting in a net gain in resources available to meet the needs of women and girls;
  • isolate those men working to preserve men’s power and privilege and to deny rights to women and children;
  • contribute to raising the next generation of boys and girls in a framework of gender equality;
  • change the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys, and improve the lives of women and girls in the home, workplace, and community.

That about sums it up! So, instead of continuing to shake my fist and scream about men not taking responsibility for violence and ignorance – I’ve made a list of some ways in which men (and women!) can become involved in the movement…..which despite those post-feminist doubters…..is still very much moving!

1) Start simple: Read This
2) Take a Women’s Studies class!
3) Join the feminist club on campus or START one!
4) Get involved in community outreach organizations. Lead by example and show young men and boys how to be!
5) Encourage local organization to implement programs like Oxfam UK did!
6) Be creative! Find ways to encourage change through things you like to do or are good at! Activism isn’t the only way. Music and art speak volumes!

And, if you’re still confused and wondering what you can do – come to WAM! Los Angeles next week Thursday, March 25, 2010!

cartoon-feminist     feminst-cartoons

March 18, 2010

Slut shaming Rielle Hunter

Check out the thought provoking and insightful take on Rielle Hunter at Womanist Musings.

Excerpt:

Rielle had sex with a married man and has thus become the modern day scarlet woman.  She made no promises to Elizabeth Edwards and in fact had no relationship with Ms. Edwards, therefore; it puzzles me why she is being shamed alongside John Edwards.

If he had truly wanted to stay faithful to his wife, nothing that Rielle did could have caused him to sway.  Edwards made an active choice to be unfaithful and therefore; if we are going to judge or blame (though I feel we should do neither) it should be him. Edwards was the one that was deceitful.

People have latched onto the photos [in her GQ interview] of Rielle to justify the slut shaming.  Attacking how a woman chooses to dress and then making a correlation to sexual behaviour, is one of the most obvious ways in which patriarchy works to eliminate female agency.  What disturbs me most, is watching women jump on their high horse to finger wag, completely oblivious to the fact that they are supporting their own oppression.

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