Gloria Steinem wants you to go out and vote.
She’s been speaking with and galvanizing people all over the country to get us to RISE UP.
She wants you to speak up and take action to protect women’s reproductive rights and fight for social justice for all of us.
We had a meet and greet, we played Bingo (you read that right), and we got prizes — some autographed copies of Steinem’s books and plenty of sex toys. I was one of the last winners, so I only got vibrator sleeves. I had my eyes on something much more naughty, but I’ll have to buy that myself.
Why is Steinem touring the country to galvanize people?
Here’s an example [trigger warning]:
Some of these men actually get to help decide what happens to rape victims. These men shouldn’t get to decide anything.
But there is hope.
Women are fighting back. Society is fighting back, sure. We have Planned Parenthood. We have DrawTheLine.org (go ahead and sign their bill!). The Center for Reproductive Rights. A is For. Lots of other excellent groups. Celebrities, intellectuals, certain politicians, and many others are on our side.
But not enough people are outraged, or this crap wouldn’t even be part of the conversation.
Women would be universally treated as human beings with agency instead of as fetus-carrying vessels undeserving of respect or basic human rights. Because choosing whether or not to be a mother is a basic human right. Having power over your own body is having power over your life, over your very being, and taking this away is nothing less than barbaric and untenable.
Lori wrote about part of the problem in Feministing:
My question is, why are we still surprised by stuff like this? When a Wisconsin lawmaker says that “some girls rape easy” or a Kansas state rep compares getting pregnant from rape to getting a flat tire, these aren’t silly gaffes or outrageous moments in an otherwise pro-woman political party: they are moments of insight providing a glimpse behind the curtain into the mind of an anti-woman policymaker aka a Republican. I mean seriously, have you checked out their party platform lately?
In a politically charged landscape like ours, and with mere weeks to go before the presidential election, the stakes could not be higher for women.
Every day, the severity, violence and criminality of what rape is—its very definition—is distorted in a way that makes it more difficult for survivors to come forward and for anti-violence advocates to do their work, while making the world easier for victim-blaming and for rapists themselves.
So go ahead and be outraged. It’s necessary.
This isn’t a joke, it’s not meaningless, and it’s not going to go away if we just ignore it. This will affect all of us, regardless of gender, sex, class, race, sexual orientation, age, or ability, because even if you are not a woman of reproductive age, you know someone who is, and her life and her rights affect yours. We live in a web of life. We are all connected. And when the rights of some are threatened, the rights of all of us are threatened.
We cannot stand for this ridiculous injustice.
And, whatever you do, don’t vote Republican this time and, if you’re in FL, vote NO on 6!
Check out some videos of women fighting back:
Choice feminism has always been a controversial subject: can any choice made by a woman be deemed feminist simply because she is a woman? Some argue that this is the case because “feminism is about choice.”
Conversely, many a feminist argue that women are fully capable of making – and often do make – sexist choices, choices that are arguably harmful to them as women and/or to female-identified people (“womankind”) as a whole. Just because a woman makes a particular choice, these feminists insist, it is not enough to make that choice feminist, because feminism should mean equality and not every choice does. For example, is a woman who chooses to give up her career and become a housewife making a feminist choice, or is her housewifehood necessarily sexist? Can it be logically posited that a well-educated woman who gives up her career – to raise children or for another reason – is not turning back the gender equality clock?
In an incendiary piece called “1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible,” Elizabeth Wurtzel contends that upper class women who choose to give up their career to raise their children or just be housewives are doing a disservice to women everywhere – and that these women are perpetuating and exacerbating the war on women because they are taking themselves from financial independence to depending on men, which is in turn causing men, who largely have more power in this world (including in government) than women, to see them as incapable and pathetic beings.
The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn’t male it’s pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to…whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don’t know why or what for. Then they give money to Mitt Romney.
Traditional marriages breed men that don’t value women
Wurtzel has a point, especially when taking into account the recent study “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace,” which presents the following findings:
We found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
As J. Victoria Sanders in Bitch writes,
The problem is that patriarchal beliefs don’t seem to have room for women to be equal at work while also being submissive at home.
The study’s findings aren’t limited to the upper class.
Now let’s imagine Wurtzel is also talking about the 99% wives – say, a lower class friend of a friend who is explicitly seeking a “sugar daddy” she can marry because she hates having to work; a wealthy friend who decided to stay at home once her first son was born so she could raise him (and her second kid) herself; a lower middle class aunt who, for no apparent reason, gave up her office job and took up the duties of housewife when her son was in his twenties.
Feminism as economic independence
Wurtzel argues that women’s equality is necessarily tied to their economic independence. Thus, if a wealthy woman is economically dependent on a man when she could be out making her own money, she is curtailing her freedom – and indirectly setting back gender equality everywhere:
I have to admit that when I meet a woman who I know is a graduate of, say, Princeton — one who has read The Second Sex and therefore ought to know better — but is still a full-time wife, I feel betrayed. I’m not much of a moralist — I have absolutely no right to be — but in the interest of doing what’s right both for me personally and for women generally, I have been strict with myself about earning my keep. […]I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work.
Women’s role in the war on women
Wurtzel then explains how this paradigm leads to bad news for women across the board:
Because here’s what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens.
Indeed, if women are viewed as less deserving of rights than men, if they are the subservient gender, if they are nonessential because they stay in the private sphere instead of the public sphere where people make things happen – doesn’t it become easier to hold the belief that women’s personal (and other) choices should be made for them? That women can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, such as having an abortion, because they just aren’t smart or educated enough to make the right one, because men simply are better equipped to make such serious life decisions?
It also follows that women should consequently earn less than men for doing the same job, since they’re basically worth less as humans. In fact, the GOP last month blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act … which Wurtzel would blame on the 1% wives who stay at home. After all, as she points out, fewer than 5% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, 16% of corporate executives, and 17% of law partners are female – and women are still earning much less than men for doing the same job. A recent study demonstrates that male doctors make $12,000 more a year than their female counterparts (even when factoring in medical specialty, title, work hours, productivity, and various other factors).
So maybe this is (partly) why (in the U.S.) women earn less money than men, why they cannot get contraceptives in every state, why their reproductive rights as a whole continue to be eroded, and why many other atrocious, woman-hating things are taking place – why the war on women exists and continues to progress.
How responsible should women be to improving women’s lot?
Of course, whether Wurtzel’s argument refers to the wives of the 1% or all wives who choose to stay at home, it invalidates the choices of women and takes away their agency, portraying them as foolish, oblivious, or worse. Her article also offers a very biased and limited view on a very narrow demographic.
But say we assume that Wurtzel’s position is valid.
Does this mean that it is the responsibility of a 1% woman, regardless of what she desires for whatever reasons, to help advance the lot of women in society? Should a wealthy woman who can keep her career going even though there is no financial need for her to do so, reject the option of staying at home (whether to raise a child or not) to help keep gender equality moving forward?
If Wurtzel is right, what is more important – utilitarianism or personal fulfillment? How much responsibility to each other and to the progress of humanity do women have, and how entitled are women to be selfish?
Are these stay-at-home women undoing decades of feminist progress, or are we putting too much pressure on women? As if we already didn’t have enough. Maybe it’s both.
Which also leads me to wonder, why aren’t we asking anything like this about men?
I’ve wanted to write about this topic for over a week, but have been putting it off because, as a white-looking woman, I cannot know what it’s like to be an oppressed racial minority. I therefore don’t feel very comfortable (qualified) to write about the experiences of black women. In any case, I’d like to comment on the Rihanna/Chris Brown situation while doing my best to keep my privilege in check.
It’s not news that we hear much more about white, blonde, and stereotypically “pretty” women who are beaten or kidnapped than we do about other women who go through the same kind of violence. It’s also not news that women of color are not given as much value as white women in this society (and that women aren’t valued as highly as men, of course).
But I still didn’t expect the Grammys to highlight and celebrate the work of a man convicted of bloodying and bruising a woman. (Three years ago, Brown beat up girlfriend Rihanna and subsequently turned himself in to the police, after which he was released on $50,000 bail.) Brown performed twice at the Grammy awards last February 12.
As Lori of Feministing wrote,
It is absolutely unacceptable that someone who is known to have perpetuated violence against a woman has been so uncritically welcomed and promoted by the music industry.
I completely agree.
Sasha Pasulka wrote a compelling post about the message society has been sending women by failing to punish Brown for his crime more severely since 2009:
The message we sent to young women was unmistakable: You are powerless. You are worthless. You will be a victim, and that will be okay with us. […] We will easily forgive a person who victimizes you. We are able to look beyond the fact that you were treated as less than human, that a bigger, stronger person decided to resolve a conflict with you through violence. We know it happened, but it’s just not that big of a deal to us.
Moreover, the week before the Grammy awards, a producer of the show made a nauseating announcement:
“We’re glad to have him back,” said Grammys Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich. “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” (Emphasis mine.)
Like Pasulka noted, Ehrlich — *cough* a white man *cough* — is telling us that the victims of Brown’s attacks on Rihanna’s face were… the Grammys. Really? Simply horrifying.
What about race?
Remarkably, the media isn’t paying much attention to the racial elements of the situation.
Let’s dig deeper.
Do you think Brown would have received more criticism for beating up Rihanna if Rihanna were white? What if instead of Rihanna, Brown, a black man, had beaten up a white woman with blue eyes – somebody like the blonde Taylor Swift or the brunette Katy Perry? If this had happened, I bet he would not have gotten invited to perform at the Grammy awards this month (or if he had, many more people would have been up in arms about it!).
In turn, do you think there would be fewer backlashes against Brown if he were white? I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Rihanna were getting victim-blamed even more harshly if she had gotten beaten by a white man.
Black women and stereotypes
Stereotypes are essentially an attempt to justify violence of white people and black men against black women. And they often work.
A 2004 study about African American women and violence in the media found that “the convergence of gender, race, and class oppressions minimized the seriousness of the violence, portrayed most of its victims as stereotypic Jezebels whose lewd behavior provoked assault, and absolved the perpetrators of responsibility” in TV news coverage of Freaknik, an annual “spring break” event that drew African American college students from across the U.S. to Atlanta, Georgia in the 1990s.
In other words, the media portrayed African American women who suffered violence at Freaknik as having provoked it through their supposedly excessive sexuality – it was their own fault that men beat them, you see, because they were overly sexual, or Jezebels. Consequently and appallingly, the perpetrators didn’t receive as much blame for what happened.
Gina McCauley of the blog What About Our Daughters suggested that another stereotype may be at play here: that of the strong black woman or possibly the Sapphire, “the wise-cracking, balls-crushing, emasculating woman, is usually shown with her hands on her hips and her head thrown back as she lets everyone know she is in charge.”
McCauley believes that Brown may be profiting from a mindset common in the black community which says that black men can get away with nearly anything and that it’s black women who are responsible — even when violence is exerted against them.
“We always blame black women when something goes wrong,” McCauley explained. “And we hold them to a completely different standard than we hold black men and boys to. And so while Chris Brown isn’t responsible for any actions, at his own hands, the girl — in this case, Rihanna — is always held responsible. And it doesn’t matter if she’s a poor black girl in the middle of the hood, or one of the most famous and probably commercially successful artists on the planet. She’s still a black girl, and she’s still responsible for every single thing that may happen to her in life.”
McCauley says that young black women tell themselves they are invincible as a coping mechanism and that, if they admit that Brown was to blame for beating Rihanna — a wildly successful young black woman –, black women must also admit that this violence can happen to them, a notion that would destroy the myth of the strong black woman that so many of these girls have internalized.
McCauley made sure to point out that this is not young black women’s fault:
“We don’t have conversations with girls about violence,” she says. “We don’t say, ‘How do you navigate interpersonal relationships with boys?’ I think the only message that young girls get consistently about relationships is don’t get pregnant, don’t get pregnant, don’t get pregnant.”
The bottom line
What makes the Rihanna-Brown incident so important is that it is high-profile. The point isn’t Rihanna or Chris Brown — the point is that we need to have a real conversation about domestic violence and how to prevent it and address it. The point is that by excusing or glossing over Brown’s violence (because of his past or the popularity of his music or whatever reason), we are sending women and young girls — but especially young black women — the perverse message that it’s okay if they get beaten and that their aggressor may ultimately not even be held accountable for his brutal actions.
Like McCauley wrote,
Somewhere right now, a group of women in real life is trying to convince a woman or girl that it is perfectly permissible for her “man” to beat the living snot out of her. They are trivializing the abuse and providing arguments for why she should stay.
Celebrating Chris Brown’s musical abilities despite his violent tendencies past tells women that getting beat up by a significant other is not a big deal. This message is being yelled especially loudly at black women.
We need to change it.
In alarming news, a new study has determined that most people cannot differentiate quotes in British “lad mags” from statements made by convicted rapists… and that when men are asked to choose between the statements made by both parties, men will more often agree with the rapists’ opinions.
Popular men’s magazines and sex offenders are using the same language, and it would seem that these magazines are perpetuating sexist and misogynist notions about women and sexuality.
“There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects. We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?,” asked study co-author Dr. Peter Hegarty.
Here’s one quote:
You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.
Now, take a guess: is that quote taken from a men’s magazine or was it said by a rapist? If you guessed the former, you are unfortunately correct.
Here are two more disturbing examples:
I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they’re just asking for it.
I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.
The first is by a rapist and the second by a magazine. Hard to tell the difference, isn’t it?
“We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated,” said lead study author Dr. Miranda Horvath (emphasis mine).
And I thought women’s magazines were trouble!
Do you read men’s magazines that promote — even if only subtly — violence against women? And if so, now that you are aware of this study and its implications, will you stop?
What else can we do?
Does abstinence-only education help? Do we need comprehensive sex education classes in schools instead? What else would be necessary to teach young people to respect the sexuality and boundaries of their peers of all sexes and genders (actually, people of all ages would benefit from this type of information, would they not?)? Further, what else in our society is exacerbating the issue of sexual assault – TV shows that sexualize and objectify women? (I can think of plenty that air on foreign television, e.g., Argentina’s Show Match, in which women prance each night wearing glittery g-strings and stilettos. Apparently this phenomenon is popular in Italian culture as well.) Are films to blame (pornographic and not)? Frat culture? Even women’s magazines?
What are we teaching boys and men?
One of the roots of the problem is that men are strongly encouraged to assert their aggressiveness and sexual appetite to manifest their masculinity — a move ostensibly necessary to gain the respect of others. Men are often taught to put their sexual desires ahead of common sense. Besides, “boys will be boys.” This behavior is widely accepted.
One group that’s working to address this is Men Can Stop Rape, an international organization that strives to eradicate rape and violence through public awareness and leadership training.
“In contrast to traditional efforts that address men as the problem, Men Can Stop Rape’s pioneering work embraces men as vital allies with the will and character to make healthy choices and foster safe, equitable relationships,” the group explains.
Another great organization is Eve Ensler’s V-Day — a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. This group does not only address rape, but also female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex slavery, among other issues. It does this via global campaigns and fostering public awareness. V-Men workshops, for example, raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their own communities.
What can you do?