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.



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… 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 12, 2010

"You Throw Like a Girl!"

Growing up with a lot of boys I remember being teased. A lot. Teased is really an understatement – tormented might be a more appropriate word. That being said, I remember being challenged to do things that a lot of them thought I couldn’t do because I was a “girl.” That challenge to overcome some ill-conceived notion of inability (in this case due to gender) still lingers in my life. My partner can testify to the fact that if you tell me I can’t do something that’s often the quickest way to ensure that I’ll do it.

Despite some women feeling to the contrary, and a slew of media makers and social outlets making us FEEL to the contrary, there are a thousand reasons why we should be proud to be girls! An obvious and simple reason to be proud: we can make babies! We are the luckiest generation of women in this area. We have forms of reproductive freedom that our grandmothers only dreamed about! We can CHOOSE to have babies! It is a present and conscious decision (Melanie’s story being most poignant in that regard!) and it is not an assumed destiny. We owe this reality to women like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Boston Women’s Collective. But, still it really comes down to the fact that…..WE CAN MAKE BABIES!

If you asked me to provide one single, all-encompassing jewel of a word for why I’m proud to be a woman, a woman who used to be a girl (and, may still be in some ways), the answer is quick to fly past my tongue and between my lips, with a smile to send it sweetly to the all tender ears of the universe.  No thought necessary. Emotion.

And, am I EVER the poster-femme for that little nugget of soul-swelling.  I’m a weeper who relishes a decent tear shedding… just feels so damn GOOD…..regardless of what’s conjured the waterworks.  Do this and celebrate!   Such a purge!  To laugh is to expel tension and negativity into thin air and to release the most magical jingling tones of happiness and bliss directly into other beings cores.  Huzzah!  Another cause for celebration!  I’ll kneel before compassion, be humbled into oblivion, devour every ounce of feisty and pissed off that I can get my hands on, transform jealousy into admiration, breed love, satiate lust, admit to frustration and confusion, and greet the unknowns with a sly smile and an arched eyebrow of preparedness.  Above all, I can just ‘be’.  This gal does not have to define every molecule of her existence.  Sometimes those emotions deserve to just…..sit…..stew a little…..or a lot…..go unnamed…….feel out their surroundings….see if they want to stay a spell or keep it a hasty tryst. I’ve long thought that women had the emotional advantage, the innate, natural knowing of what I’ve fondly come to address as my personal “four agreements”.  No Ruiz here, darlin’, though it does follow along the lines of personal discovery and commitment to thine own self.

Head, Heart, Soul, Gut.

Identifying each as its own entity and realizing when you can find harmony with one solo, a pairing, or all components; this unleashes a wild and extraordinary explosion of good juju.  Yes, juju.  My very essence and spirit are warmed into a tizzy and direction and realization is easily tucked into a pocket. Enter, the big girl pantaloons.  It takes a great deal of self discovery to, well, know oneself.  As a woman, the path is what you make it.  Persevere or perish.  Take your experiences, own them, feel them, make them your own…..because they are.  WE ARE AWARE.  We are intrepid.  We fight.  We are solution seekers!  Feelers on a level that makes a mother honored to bear children, a big sister encouraged to be a leading lady for her siblings, a wife who does not lose her identity to a new last name.  It has to be acknowledged that as the aforementioned emotional exhibitionist that I am – I am allowed that freedom of expression simply because I am a woman. Though these displays are often devalued in a patriarchal society where all things “feminine” are frowned upon and often women assume that to be respected we have to behave in the stoic or laconic manner of the caracutre of masculinity. Were I a man my freedom to be emotionally open would be exponetially hampered…..well, unless you are experiencing a moment of violence or anger.

In the film Stage Beauty, Maria spat out at Edward Kynaston (in reality one of the last Restoration Era male actors who played women’s roles) a quote that encapsulates my personal belief behind the truth and strength of women:

“Your old tutor did you a great disservice, Mr. Kynaston. He taught you how to speak, and swoon, and toss your head but he never taught you how to suffer like a woman, or love like a woman. He trapped a man in a woman’s form and left you there to die! I always hated you as Desdemona. You never fought! You just died, beautifully. No woman would die like that, no matter how much she loved him. A woman would fight!”

So, yeah, we throw like girls. And, we fight like girls….and we hit like girls…and we run like girls….and we feel like girls…and we cry like girls…and we hurt like girls….and we kiss like girls…and we fuck like girls…and we piss like girls….and we eat like girls….because we are “girls”…..proud, fierce, strong, intelligent GRRRLS.

Thanks to Gemma for contributing her words and wisdom to this blog 🙂


October 5, 2008

Gender Socialization in the Media from Childhood to Adulthood

Geena Davis has been a long-standing advocate for the analysis of media images and gender socialization.  She founded the See Jane Project in 2004 and the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media (GDIGM).

In 2005, Geena Davis and her institute partnered with the esteemed media analyst, Dr. Stacy Smith at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Prompted by Davis’ informal observations regarding the portrayals of gender in media directed at children, GDIGM and the research team organized under the direction of Dr. Smith watched over 5oo hours of children’s programming that summer.

Research showed that in 101 top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2005, three out of four characters were male. Girls accounted for only 17 percent of the film’s narrators and 17 percent of the characters in crowd scenes. Only seven of the 101 movies were nearly gender-balanced, with a ratio of less than 1.5 males per 1 female character. “Although many people would argue that things seem to be getting better, our data shows that this is not the case,” says the principal investigator, Stacy L. Smith, an associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, where the research was carried out.

What was revealed was not only the disparity of images between male and female characters but the typical gender socialization that continues throughout adulthood.  As media analyst George Gerbner pointed out many years ago, it is not the introduction of one image or message that causes a change in one’s attitude of one’s self or the worl they inhabit that is worth noting.  It is the repetitive and continuous stream of images that consistently reinforce the same values and norms from our earliest years throughout the life course.  This concept is know as cultivation.  Cultivation refers to the stability of these prolific messages versus the change-oriented model.

When one considers the process of cultivation in a media saturated culture, it is the seemingly benign, obvious messages that we don’t consciously take note of that constructs our sense of reality.  In turn, this framework informs and shapes our expectations of who we and others should be and we consider these attitudes and behaviors as normative and natural.

Considering the work of Stacy Smith, Jackson Katz, Byron Hurt, Sut Jhally, Jean Kilbourne and many others that have actively studied gender and the media, it is not surprising that media directed at children hardly differs from media directed at adult men and women.  Cartoons aimed at girls and boys carry the same messages/plots/themes/characters that “chick flicks” and “dick flicks” reinforce in adulthood.

Girls/women are encouraged to focus on beauty and relationships with men,  After all, you must be beautiful to get a guy.  Boys/men are encouraged to be tough, adventurous and independent.  Considering the prolific and ubiquitous nature of the contemporary media, it is no surprise that young girls strive to be beautiful through more and more extreme measures.  They are repeatedly told early on that girls/women must be beautiful in order to be validated in order to be considered worthy of a relationship.  Boys/men are told repeatedly that real boys/men are tough and independent or they are considered weak and effeminate.

Essentialism, the notion that gendered behavior is inherent and “natural,” is not surprising considering a climate that cultivates attitudes, behaviors and expectations of girls/women and boys/men within a structured environment that provides a steady stream of images that constantly reinforce themselves.  The images become unremarkable or un-noteworthy.

In this mediated cultural climate, negative sanctions in the form of derogatory names and physical punishment is also unsurprising.  If gendered characteristics and their expected behaviors are sen as inevitable and natural, punishment for one’s transgression is seen as inevitable.  And, that’s where the danger resides.

September 16, 2008

COMING OCTOBER 10: "Barack and Curtis: Manhood, Power and Respect"

Film-maker, activist and lecturer Byron Hurt (creator of the documentary, “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes“) has completed his short web documentary, “Barack and Curtis: Manhood, Power and Respect.”

Byron Hurt’s intention is to examine masculinities.  Plural.

As Feminsting pointed out in June, Barack Obama has come under attack for not being “masculine” enough.   Obama was and is criticized for his lack of “masculine” hobbies such as hunting and  his “effeminate” values (peace? diplomacy? ) and “effeminate” charateristics (not shooting moose? caring for the environment?). Note: During her speech at the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin criticized Barack Obama’s emphasis on the environment by stating, in her characteristic mocking tone, “What does he actually seek to accomplish after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?”

Susan Faludi, in the New York Times, noted disparaging comments directed at Obama that referred to him as being “a kind of wuss.”

In line with anti-violence educator, Jackson Katz, who is best know for his documentary, “Tough Guise,” Hurt seeks to move beyond our narrow, one-dimensional notions of what it means to be a man in our culture.