On Todd Akin

I am angry. Todd Akin has pissed me off. I don’t want his comments to get under my skin, I didn’t want to write this blog entry–which I’m sure will once again have someone noting how sad and pathetic my life is. I don’t want to think about my own rape, but it’s hard to think about anything else when the word rape is all over the fucking news. I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to stick a big **trigger warning** as I list off some of the many ways rape has fucked with my life. (See also, last week’s pity party on the subject.)

  • When I was raped, I had to take drugs. Lots of them. I took emergency contraception, because it turns out you can get pregnant after all. And did he wear a condom? Who knows. It’s just a bit hard to think straight when you’ve been slipped so much GHB that your memory comes in spurts, that you lose consciousness, and that you wake up semi-aware, but completely unable to move your body for what seems like an eternity–unable to run away and unable to push him off you. Does that sound like a “legitimate rape?” When you tell the hospital staff you don’t know if he used a condom, they give you more drugs. The anti-retroviral drugs that you get to prevent HIV are the worst. After being raped, after being poked and prodded by a rape kit, after letting strangers take photos of the intimate parts of your body, they hand you a supply of drugs almost guaranteed to make you vomit over and over again.

  • The drug regimen ends, though. What doesn’t end is the anger and mistrust. Eight years later, I’m still surprised by my own responses. Rape jokes make me angry.  Any man could be a rapist. A lot of men see me as just an object or a sexual target, I can see it in their eyes (or at least I imagine I do). I can’t forget the look that I got this morning from a man who decided to drive by me reeeeal slow and get a good look as I was walking my dog. At 6:30AM. I try not to wear shorts and a tank top when I walk the dog anymore. It doesn’t really change anything. When that guy leered at me, my mind just thought: Predator.
  • I drank too much. For years. Now I get to feel shame about that, too. I was a “monster.” Yet, since I quit drinking, I find that just being in a bar makes me intensely uncomfortable. Going to parties makes me uncomfortable. So I stay home, night after night. It feels like there’s no winning. If there’s a middle ground between social anxiety and full-on drunk, I haven’t found it yet.
  • I am also afraid. I am afraid I will never find love, because who wants to love a nutcase like me? I am afraid that I have no future and nothing to live for. I am afraid I might hurt myself sometimes. I am afraid to run before dawn. I have panic attacks where I can’t stop crying. I cried this morning in the pet store. I am afraid of myself. Sometimes I don’t want to be alive anymore. Sometimes I think surviving was a mistake.

My point here is not to make you feel sorry for me. (Although, wow have I done a great job of making myself look bad here…) My point is that rape can ruin your life. It can mess with your head. Years later, after you start a new life and when you think things are fine and when you think you might have a bright future after all–WHAM! A news story, a scene in a movie, even the word “rape” sneaks up behind you and knocks you to the ground.

If my life is this unmanageable now, imagine how I would have felt if I had been pregnant and had to carry my rapist’s baby to term. Imagine, amongst all I already feel, if I carried the knowledge that I’d given birth to that child and gave it away, or if I kept it and was reminded of rape all the time. Abortion is not a win, either, mind you. But don’t these women deserve a right to make a choice they can maybe live with? Don’t they deserve to at least have their suffering called “legitimate?”

Todd Akin, you did not misspeak. You did not show empathy. You cannot possibly have empathy for my life, or the life of a victim who is pregnant here in the U.S. or in Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Congo. You cannot imagine, and I’d never wish it upon you or anyone you love. Fuck you.


Let’s Talk About Soaps

I have a major guilty pleasure, and it’s watching soap operas. I started watching The Young and the Restless nearly 20 years ago (!) when I was a pre-teen, drawn in by the summertime teen-centered story lines that used to be a mainstay on these shows. Over the years I have started and stopped watching at various points, but I still tune in a couple times a week. Heck, I’ve even been a guest blogger at YR Critic.

Soaps, however, are an endangered species. This week, General Hospital was renewed–a victory for the show’s fans and a move that was all-but-certain from a network that canceled two beloved daytime dramas in the past year. There are only about four soaps left on broadcast TV. Networks have seemed eager to axe these expensive, scripted dailies in recent years and replace them with talk/reality shows. Soaps are expensive to produce, and audiences are declining. This is true. But can they be saved? Here are a few of my thoughts on soaps, and suggestions for the future.

  • Soaps need an updated view on gender issues if they are to survive. The Young and the Restless is particularly awful about this, but it’s not the only one. Victor Newman, the sometime-villan, often-times-hero of the show exhibits behavior towards his wives, children, and others that is clearly abusive, yet we are supposed to find that untroubling. He assaulted his wife Diane by pushing her out of an ambulance, but that was supposedly excusable because she faked a pregnancy. When his beloved Nikki was suffering from alcoholism, he was horribly abusive to her physically and emotionally. Then again, she had an affair with a bartender (who she eventually married), so that supposedly excused his behavior. He also continually meddles in the life of his eldest daughter Victoria, interfering with her relationships with at least three men who he didn’t approve of, and costing her custody of her own son when he tried to kidnap the child! In the year 2012, there’s no reason that this behavior should be acceptable and that a show should paint it as a victory when Nikki and Victor get back together or when Victor and his daughter reconcile. It’s not a feel-good story, it’s sick. Especially when so many young women are in the audience, the messaging of the show should clearly reflect that this is domestic abuse. Other shows are guilty of this, too. A recent story line on The Bold and the Beautiful (YR’s sister soap on CBS) featured the character Thomas attempting to seduce his step-sister Hope (ick)… by getting her drunk in Mexico. Hey, news flash: When you sleep with a girl after getting her so drunk she can’t say no, it’s not consentual sex. It’s rape. That this story even made it to the airwaves is inexcusable and irresponsible. Anyone need further proof that rape culture exists?
  • Soaps are not so great about race or sexuality, either. Interracial relationships have been problematic for Y&R. While Cane and Lily are an interracial couple and have a large fan following, Lily’s African-American father Neil has had a very different track record. An engagement between Neil and Victoria, who is white, was allegedly scuttled by writers several years back after viewers complained about the interracial pairing. More recently, he was engaged to Ashley, who is also white, but that was broken off as well. The generational dynamic is interesting–on Y&R, interracial romances occur among the younger characters, but happen only rarely/briefly among older characters. The minority cast is also very small. Y&R has one Latino character, who was only introduced fairly recently, and even more ridiculously The Bold and the Beautiful–which is set in freaking Los Angeles–has no regular Latino cast members. As for sexuality, having one gay character who appears mostly in party scenes does not amount to diversity. It’s surprising that with so many young characters we would not see story lines that deal realistically with characters exploring their sexuality, coming out, etc.
  • Writing can be insultingly bad. Crazy, outrageous plot lines sometimes make these shows fun, and have been a staple of soaps for years. However, in this day and age soap writers need to know that viewers expect more. We know more about the world now than viewers did 30 or 50 years ago. In the past year, Y&R has asked us to believe: 1) That a bone marrow transplant can be faked; 2) That you can get a restraining order against someone just because you don’t like them, without showing any evidence of actual harassment; 3) That you can be tried in Wisconsin for a murder that happened in Hawaii; 4) That Myanmar is totally safe and free and full of surfing Western tourists, and that you can enter and leave the country at will. No visa issues here! I could go on. It’s one thing to write in a way that is campy and outrageous and winks at the viewers; it’s another thing to just write stupidly and act as if the viewers won’t notice. I’m just saying, five minutes on Google and the writers should have figured out Myanmar was not the place to set a surf cantina. The same goes for the practice of retconning, or changing the story lines after the fact. It alienates long-time viewers especially and it should be used sparingly, if at all.
  • Production values need to improve. Soaps have obviously been struggling to cut costs in an attempt to remain relevant, but there’s a limit. Cheap sets or sets that are obviously re-used become tedious. And there’s only so many shots from rooftop gardens and outdoor cafes that are tolerable. Riddle me this–why would billionaires hang out at the local coffee shop?

It may be true that soaps are a dying genre, and as a feminist perhaps I shouldn’t be defending them. Yet, there’s something sentimental about stories and characters that have been around for generations. Soaps are a part of the pop culture and can represent a time capsule of changing fashions, social issues, views on gender and race, etc. They are also fun escapism. Likewise, the success of primetime dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, etc. shows that TV dramas do have an audience, can be somewhat progressive, and can be successful. It may be true that fewer and fewer individuals are home during the day to tune in to soaps, but nighttime rebroadcasts on cable, DVR usage, and online streaming still make it possible for these shows to have an audience. But, if daytime dramas are going to be saved, someone has to make them worth watching into the future.

Rape jokes–Still not funny, and they will make you look like a jerk

Pretty much the only show on TV that understands rape is not a joke.

I recently watched last week’s new episode of 30 Rock online, and I found it jarring to hear a rape joke thrown in–about Jenna and her boyfriend giving each other date rape drugs to spice up their relationship. This is nothing new: Rape jokes have been all over network TV lately. The Opinioness of the World has collected some recent ones on her blog, and I would also add that I have heard rape jokes on NBC’s Chelsea, CBS’s Two and a Half Men (which has been getting away with it for years), and I was aghast when CBS’s soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful–a drama aimed specifically at young people–featured a story in which a brother-sister team came up with the brilliant idea to get the underage girl he was interested in drunk, so that he could “hook up” with her, and this would clearly make her love him. Never was it mentioned that this, actually, would be sexual assault. It’s tempting to blame this epidemic of insensitive humor on the fact that there are so few women writing and producing TV these days, but it turns out that NBC’s Whitney, Chelsea, 30 Rock, and CBS’s 2 Broke Girls all have female writers and/or producers, and yet all turn to rape, date rape drugs, etc. as a source of humor.

Rainn Wilson made a date rape joke on Twitter yesterday, and I sent him some choice words before unfollowing him. It seems many others did the same, and I guess he deserves recognition for apologizing… But where is the sustained outrage? Where is the dialogue about the fact that this kind of humor is everywhere? I’m tired of feeling a jolt every time someone tells a rape joke on TV, I’m tired of wondering in real life whether I should get in their face or keep my mouth shut when one of my colleagues jokes about it, I’m tired of looking away or changing the channel when a rape scene, a rape storyline, or something someone says about rape in real life makes me uncomfortable. Why is it OK to joke, when this is happening every day to thousands of women, in the U.S. and worldwide, and most of them will never get justice?

Another blogger, Harriet J, wrote this post on the subject, and it’s long but it sums up my feelings pretty well:

[H]ere is my challenge for those who want to tell rape jokes:

Ask every woman in your life if she has been sexually assaulted. Ask her to tell you her story. This means your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your grandma.

Once you have heard all their stories, go watch a movie with a rape scene in it. One you didn’t mind before. One you thought people were overly offended by.

Now tell me a joke.

Running Without Fear

This morning I ran 6 miles around Reid Park here in Tucson. I was a day or so late in putting in my miles in honor of Sherry Arnold, but I figured the thought counted more than doing the miles on a certain day. For those who don’t know, Sherry was a math teacher in Sidney, Montana who went out running on Jan. 7 and never came home. What happened next is unclear, but the only publicly released details about her case are that a shoe of hers was found along her path, and two men have been arrested on kidnapping charges in connection with her disappearance.

What happened to Sherry makes me mad, and it ties in with the point I made in my previous post about how we live in a society where women have to face the constant burden to protect themselves. I know I’m jumping to some conclusions here, but it seems like a pretty safe guess that if Sherry had been a man running alone in a rural area, she wouldn’t have been targeted. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve seen enough creepers out on my runs to believe that’s a fact. I’ve never seen anyone, male or female, drive up slow beside a male runner and follow along staring at them, or shout out the window, or lean on the horn to get their attention (unless the guy ran out into traffic or something). But these things happen to me all the damn time. Why does society turn a blind eye to this intimidating behavior and expect women to just deal with it? Yet when someone crosses the line and physically attacks a runner, we are aghast and don’t understand how it could have happened.

Thousands of people across the country ran in honor of Sherry this weekend. I ran in her honor, but also because I believe women shouldn’t be afraid to run. If you agree, I hope you will “like” this post, then get up and run today if you haven’t already.

Women’s Self Defense: Is it a Solution?

On Wednesday nights, I’ve been taking a Krav Maga class. It was actually billed as Women’s Self Defense, but I only took it because: a) it was free; and b) I was intrigued that the class description stated it would be based entirely on Krav Maga techniques. I don’t know what I was thinking that a women’s self defense class would be, but I had honestly always imagined such classes to be… wussy. Kind of like the way that the women’s kickboxing classes I took back in New York never actually involved hitting or kicking anything. Maybe I’d learn some crotch kicks, get a rape whistle, learn to shout and run away, but not anything that might genuinely overpower someone. Well, if you aren’t familiar with Krav Maga, here is a video you can watch to see just how un-wussy this stuff really is.

In two sessions, I have learned some moves that could actually do damage. Top of the list are how to throw a decent elbow, how to roll a person who is larger and heavier than me, how to fall in a way that prevents injury and allows a quick recovery, and vulnerable areas on which to land punches and kicks. I actually enjoy the class a lot. It is a good workout and a great stress reliever, and it even makes me feel more confident.

I am, however, aware of debates about women’s self defense classes as a response to rape culture. Do a search on “women’s self defense” online and you will find low-cost or free classes in almost every community and on almost every college campus. Now, try and find a class that teaches men not to rape and abuse women. Rehab programs? Maybe. But seminars on what consent is, or on preventing domestic violence or rape? Much harder to come by.

ribbonAs someone in the field of gender studies and someone who has been a victim of rape myself, I always see the subtext of this. Such classes are an admission that violence by men against women is a consistent threat in our society, and by teaching women self-defense we are admitting we can’t eliminate this threat completely. We are placing the burden on the potential victim to defend themselves, not on the potential perpetrators to adhere to a higher standard of behavior. Critics argue that we start from the assumption that women are threatened whenever they are in the public space, and that they do not have the same mobility or access to the public sphere as men. Is this a fact, or is this just how we have constructed our society?

I’m torn between wanting the world to be as it should be—free of violence against women—and how it is—a world where violence against women is a reality. The reality that, in the U.S., one in every five women, and one in four on college campuses, will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. A reality where, when we discuss consent in my classes, students admit that they know what “consent” means but, “you know, when everyone’s been drinking, maybe different rules apply…” And even Krav Maga isn’t enough when you’re already wounded, or when you’ve been drugged (which, incidentally, is what happened to me). So what is the solution for combating rape culture?

I do think self-defense classes like the one I’m taking have value. I think what I’ve learned could be helpful in some situations. There are also the outside benefits of fitness and confidence, which would be of value to women or to anyone at all. But teaching women self defense is not the only answer. For every class teaching us self-defense, there needs to be a corresponding class aimed at preventing violence by men. Teach what consent is. Make it clear to men how their lives will change when they are faced with a rape charge, and what punishments they face for assault in school and in the real world. Offer men a safe space to talk and ask questions. Discuss what they should do if they know a man who has “taken advantage” of someone—because many young men know someone who has sexually assaulted someone else, even if they haven’t done it themselves. I get it, no one likes to be blamed or profiled, but if we women have to accept the reality that we’re constantly under threat, men should have to accept the reality that they constitute the overwhelming majority of perpetrators.

Will such a plan ever be implemented? Highly doubtful, and it’s our society that will suffer for it. But I can dream, can’t I?