Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lady Vloggers: Fearless Heroines of the Internet [Trigger warning]

A few months ago, YouTube vlogger Emily Graslie of The Field Museum in Chicago, made a video called “Where My Ladies At?” In it, she describes her least favorite aspect of vlogging: dealing with sexist YouTube comments.

This issue is bigger than Graslie’s (awesome) channel, The Brain Scoop. There is an endemic problem at YouTube and it is not limited to internet trolls. The never-ending onslaught of comments on Graslie’s appearance distract from the engaging and educational videos she makes. The opinions expressed in the comments normalize misogyny—no matter what she is talking about on screen, her appearance is all that matters.

Let’s start with the soft sexism:  Even the apparently complimentary comments are damaging for female vloggers. When a video about owls is greeted with comments like, “You're a damn sexy scientist!” it completely invalidates the whole video. Sure, it’s a compliment, but it’s NOT THE POINT!

Some YouTubers don’t seem to understand this:

Like the #notallmen trend, this commenter implies that women are indebted to those who compliment them. As if Graslie is making these videos so that people will tell her she is pretty. Sure, compliments on your looks can be flattering, but this video is about science, yo.

Then come the more offensive comments, like this one that is trying to be a compliment (her smarts are what makes her attractive!) but still manages to be violently sexist.

Then there are the hero-making moments that make me wonder how women like Graslie continue to post videos of themselves online. Perhaps the most awful example [trigger warning] of online sexism is the story of pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who created the YouTube channel Feminist Frequency.

In 2012, Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter campaign to fund Feminist Frequency. She wanted to create a series of videos that would deconstruct the sexist portrayal of women in video games. In response to this project, Sarkeesian became the “villain of a massive online game, in real life.” Male gamers around the internet banded together to prevent Sarkeesian from making her series: they flagged her social media sites as spam, they attempted to disperse her personal information including her home address, and they created pornographic imagery using her likeness. Sarkeesian discussed what she calls a “cyber mob” in this TedxWomen talk.

The “cyber mob” came to a head with the release of the incredibly disturbing “Hit Anita Sarkeesian” game. As the player clicks the image of Sarkeesian's face, she becomes increasingly bloodied and bruised.

Online harassment is a problem that must be addressed. It’s not merely an issue of hurt feelings. The images of Sarkeesian’s bruised face are not fun and games. This kind of online behavior normalizes sexist violence and communicates this message to women: get off the internet — or else.

Sarkeesian said it best: “whether it’s a cyber mob or just a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism — where men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation.”

Yours in advocacy,

Ashley Johnson

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Problem with Lana Del Rey's Music

From the title of Lana Del Rey’s new song, “Ultraviolence,” one might guess that she is speaking out against violence—who would condone such a thing? But in fact, Del Rey’s song romanticizes domestic violence. The song includes lines like, “he hurt me, but it felt like true love” and “he hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Unfortunately, this is not a new trend for Del Rey. A previous song of hers, “Blue Jeans,” includes imagery of a powerless victim: “You went out every night and baby that’s all right/ I told you that no matter what you did, I’d be by your side.”

Some believe that this is not the real Del Rey. They say that she is simply putting on a persona of a woman who depends on cruel men. Whether or not that is the case, her lyrics still are a glorification of domestic abuse, a serious topic that needs to be represented accurately.

This implicit approval of domestic abuse is especially distressing considering what a big star Del Rey is and the huge impact celebrities have on society. Celebrities have always had influence, but now, in an age of technology, that influence is even more heavily felt. Even if Del Rey is just playing a character through her songs, that persona is what the public sees and hears. And it appears that a lot of people are listening—“Ultraviolence,” the album on which the titular song is found, debuted at number one on the charts and sold 182,000 copies its first week. Artistic license aside, it is wrong for Del Rey to use her music as a platform to popularize a blithe attitude towards an issue that affects one in four women. 

Some stars, like singer Lorde, see the problem in Del Rey’s message. Lorde criticized Del Rey’s work, commenting that “This sort of shirt-tugging, desperate, don’t leave me stuff. That’s not a good thing for young girls, even young people, to hear.” Hopefully, celebrities like Lorde can continue to set good examples despite what their fellow stars say.

Yours in Advocacy,
Hannah Shlaferman
DCVLP Intern

Monday, July 21, 2014

Graphic Artist Launches Domestic Violence Campaign Using Familiar Faces

Graphic artist Saint Hoax has launched his latest project, a series depicting beloved Disney Princesses as survivors of domestic violence. The project, titled “Happily Never After,” shows Disney icons like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid with black eyes and cuts on their faces, accompanied by text reading “When did he stop treating you like a princess?” and “It’s never too late to put an end to it.”

The pictures are meant to raise awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence, make survivors feel less alone, and encourage them to speak out. Using the familiar Disney icons, in many ways symbols of the ideal woman, Saint Hoax sends the message that anyone can be a survivor of domestic violence; appearance, status, and even race and gender do not decrease the threat.

The idea is sobering, and its implications go a long way. If a Disney princess—who can do no wrong—is abused, surely the abuse cannot be their fault. This is equally true of any and all survivors of domestic violence; the abuse is not their fault. It really shouldn’t take a shocking image of a childhood icon to get this message across, but if that’s what it takes to get people’s attention, so be it.

This is not the artist’s first time using the Princesses to send a message. A previous set of posters, titled “Princest Diaries,” showed the same roster kissing their respective fathers, clearly against their will. The provocative series, which was inspired when Saint Hoax learned that his friend had been raped by her father at age seven, aims to encourage survivors of sexual assault by family members to report the attacks. The bottom of the posters includes the statistic that 46% of rapes of minors are committed by family members.

Both campaigns pinpoint key elements of abuse and assault: it can happen to anyone, it is never your fault, and you can always speak up. Saint Hoax described his intended takeaway to the Huffington Post. "Victims of abuse are not alone and it's never too late for them to take a stand."
Yours in Advocacy,
Emily Harburg

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stop Protecting Daughters' Purity On the Silver Screen

In the past few weeks, I have been to see two films. One of them was Transformers: Age of Extinction. It was filled with explosions, battles between enormous alien robots, and a misogynistic subplot that was, somehow, even stupider than the rest of the almost gleefully stupid three-hour movie.

Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade, has a rule banning his seventeen-year-old daughter, Tessa, from dating—or even simply hanging out with boys at all; apparently, any contact with a male homo sapien could compromise his “baby girl’s” sexual integrity. (And we all know boys and girls can’t be friends, right? Right? Once Cade discovers that Tessa has a boyfriend named Shane, he spends most of the movie being outraged at the idea that his daughter may be partaking in any sexual activity at allunderstandably, given the immense danger lurking beneath teenage male-female relations. Eventually, won over by Shane, Cade tells him to “take care of [Tessa]” and “protect her,” essentially transferring his perceived ownership of his daughter to her boyfriend.

Maybe sexism like this is to be expected from a machismo Hollywood movie like Transformers...

Sexist Michael Bay is sexist.

...but I generally don’t expect themes of slut-shaming to run rampant through an independent film centered on a female character—which explains my shock upon seeing Begin Again, starring Keira Knightley as songwriter Greta and Mark Ruffalo as record producer Dan.

Hailee Steinfeld plays a producer's
teenage daughter in Begin Again.
In one of the first scenes of the movie, Dan drives to a high school to pick up his teenage daughter, Violet, and is appalled by his daughter’s revealing outfit. In a following argument, Dan makes it clear that he disapproves of his ex-wife letting Violet out of the house dressed like she “wants a pimp,” and his ex-wife tells Dan that Violet dresses the way she does because she “wants a daddy.” 

Later in the movie, as Dan works his way back into his daughter’s life, Greta (playing the Cool Female Role Model) tells Violet that if she wants to get a good-looking boy to ask her out, she should dress in more modest clothing. Violet, to the relief of the leading adult characters, acquiesces, an apparently important stepping stone on the path to a happy, self-assured young-adulthood.

I hear “daddy issues” a lot. “They have daddy issues,” an acquaintance of mine says to me at parties, gesturing to groups of girls in tight skirts. It’s used, as by Violet’s mother in Begin Again, as a handy catch-all—a good, solidly belittling reason as to why a girl could possibly “disrespect herself” enough to be acting so “slutty.”

This “daddy issues” reasoning is a problem. It suggests that women do not naturally have sexual desires, that sexuality is not a normal or healthy or desirable or even acceptable thing for a girl or a woman to possess. When a man or a teenage boy behaves in a sexual manner, we don’t say he has any “issues” at all. Assuming that a woman must be somehow psychologically wounded in order to want to have sex only reinforces the misogynistic suppression of female sexuality that is ubiquitous in societies across the globe.

On a broader scale, we must stop shaming women for acting as sexual beings. Women (and teenage girls) are entitled to the same sexual freedom that men (and teenage boys) possess. Suppressing and condemning women’s sexual urges is an outdated and abhorrent form of misogyny: it reinforces the idea that a woman’s sexuality is something to be owned and protected by men—first her father (and/or other male family members) and then her husband or significant other—rather than owned and exercised by the woman herself. If the harm done by this idea is not immediately clear, one must look no further than, for instance, a long American history of perfectly legal marital rape.

Belief in the paramount importance of female sexual “virtue” also contributes to various forms of victim blaming. If a woman does not adequately control her sexual urges (or allow them to be controlled), if a woman does not take enough supposed precautions to ensure that her sexuality is reserved solely for the man to whom it belongs (or will belong in the future), then surely, an all-too-common ratiocination says, she is to blame for her assault. She was wearing skimpy clothes; she was walking alone after dark; she kissed him; she had sex with him before; she has sex with lots of people. She was asking for it.

In Transformers, much of the supposedly funny banter between Cade, Tessa, and Shane centers on how protective Cade is of his daughter’s sexual virtue. At one point in the movie, Cade asks Shane why he has purchased deodorant, and Shane delivers the line, “I like to smell fresh when I’m making out with your daughter.” At this point, the theater around me erupted in a chorus of “OHHH DAAAYUM," and I almost choked on my popcorn. The people around me—who, as far as I could tell, live in the same twenty-first century as I do—not only placed fetishizing importance on a seventeen-year-old girl’s sexual purity as a point of honor for her family, but also actually considered it a blow to that girl’s purity, and therefore a blow to her father’s pride, that she would ever make out with a boy.

Noor Almaleki, who became the victim of
an honor killing at the age of 20.
The notion of “protecting” a girl’s or woman's purity works to infantilize, insult, demean, and objectify the girl or woman in question. The idea that women should not exercise their sexuality or act as independent sexual beings; the idea that a woman’s “virtue,” or lack thereof, reflects on the man who is supposedly in charge of her; the idea that women are not capable or deserving of making their own decisions when it comes to sexual relationships; the idea that, if women do not adhere to these standards, they are inviting violence—all of these are disturbingly reminiscent of the rationale behind the honor killings (and other types of honor violence) that are famously prevalent in many countries around the world, and have begun to garner attention within the United States as well.

These are some of the most misogynistic, harmful ideas out there, and we echo them every time we make a joke about greeting a daughter’s boyfriend with a shotgun, every time we tell a teenage girl that she’s not going out of the house wearing a skirt that short, every time we say that a woman has a lot of sex because she has “daddy issues,” every time we use the word “slut” or ask a rape victim what she was wearing. We echo it every time we police girls’ bodies in ways in which we never police boys’.

So please, please, filmmakers: stop protecting daughters’ sexual purity in your movies. Stop banning them from hanging out with boys. Stop making fathers angry when they find out that their teenage daughters have been—gasp!—making out with boys. And to filmgoers: the fewer people who say “OHHH DAMN” when a father is angered by his daughter’s sexual activity, the more people who protest against the sexist ideas contained within the media they consume, the more progress is made towards gender equality.

Yours in Advocacy, 
Darcy McConnell 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Domestic Violence: It's No Joke

Domestic violence is not a joke. Yet time and time again, society treats it like something funny. Jokes about domestic violence are offensive to survivors because they normalize awful behavior. Domestic violence is a very serious matter, which can result in death or serious physical and emotional injury.

In a recent segment on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” guest Charles Payne was asked about his cufflinks. The cufflinks depicted “a caveman dragging a woman with [a] club in one hand an the woman in the other hand.” Payne is essentially wearing a badge that says, “I think it’s okay to violently drag women by their hair.” He then tries to explain away this disturbing image by saying he was intimidated to come on the show with four female hosts. So in order to reassure himself of his masculinity, Charles Payne resorts to condoning violence against women.

Perhaps worse than Payne’s insensitivity, was the reaction of the show’s hosts. When he clarified that it is indeed a club the caveman is holding—not a drumstick—the women laugh along. As if it were hilarious that the woman depicted is presumably beaten with a blunt object. This was an opportunity for Fox to deplore violence against women, but instead, they laughed along with Mr. Payne.

There should be serious repercussions for even making jokes about this issue on television. Segments like this one give the impression that domestic violence is a joke, when in reality it is a serious and sobering topic that affects 1 in 4 women in the United States. Making light of domestic violence minimizes the seriousness of the issue and is offensive to the 1.3 million women who survive domestic violence every year.

Yours in advocacy,

Joseph Biederman & Ashley Johnson
DCVLP Interns

The Hobby Lobby Debate Continues

Last week, we covered the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling and it's implications in the world of domestic violence. Follow these links to stay updated on Congress' response to the ruling.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Court System Abuses Its Power In Sexting Case

The U.S. Constitution is designed to protect the citizens of the United States. In today's society that is not always the case. Police officers and lawyers are now pushing the boundaries of obtaining a search warrant. Recently, a case has been brought into the Prince William County court system. This involves a boyfriend sexting his girlfriend.

According to the Washington Post, the boyfriend currently is facing two felony charges of sexting a photo of his penis to his girlfriend. This whole thing began when the girlfriend's mother saw those photos and called police. The teen was not arrested at the time and the case was dismissed. Prosecutors decided to bring the charges of Possessing Child Pornography and Manufacturing Child Pornography.  This could not just affect the teen receiving jail time but also facing the possibility of being on Virginia's sex offender registry forever. Reports stated the juvenile has never had a run in with the law prior to this event.

The court system, I feel, abused their power in this case because the warrant pertains going to the hospital and getting some sort of injection which in turn would make him aroused. This would lead to pictures being taken to compare the photo with the one already on file. Prosecutors and Police released a statement defending their actions of how the evidence was obtained. A person, regardless of who he or she is, should not face ultimate humiliation by police and prosecutors by gathering evidence to use against him or her when the trial rolls around.

According to the Washington Post, advocates from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children say while sexting is dangerous say this is not the best way to proceed in minor situations. Charging all of these youths for this will not solve the problem and this contradicts the mission of the NCMEC because the prosecution is exploiting this teen by humiliating him in public. I personally hope the judge will dismiss this case because I feel this is misconduct on the part of the prosecution.

Yours in advocacy,
Joseph Biederman
DCVLP Intern