Hearing Katie Speak

September 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey everyone!

As Miranda posted earlier this summer, I packed up and went to college this fall. This is my third full day on campus, actually.

Last night, my school’s entire class of 2013 had the privilege of seeing Katie Kessler speak on the topic of sexual assault and violence. Katie is a well-known and highly effective speaker. She was raped by a date on the tenth day of her freshman year at William and Mary. The police department in VA wouldn’t give her a trial because they didn’t want to spend the money on a case that they probably wouldn’t win (Katie’s attacker had a very wealthy judge for a father), so she was merely granted a 7 hour campus trial. Her attacker was found guilty at that trial, but was allowed to stay in the college. The rapist’s girlfriend (whom he beat without reprimand) made a petition against Katie’s continued place at the school; 2,000 students (of William and Mary’s 5,000) signed it. She was voted Most Dangerous Man on the campus. “Katie is a Slut Whore Bitch” was posted on the library walls. Her parents chastised her for having a boy in her room in the first place. They have never even seen her speak. Katie was given no rape kit when she went to the school’s health services, just sleeping pills and the directive to “sleep it off.”

But Katie graduated from William and Mary. She got the school to put artwork over the slander about her in the library (it’s still there, actually). She staked out a Board meeting and popped out of the bushes to introduce herself to the Trustees. She made the committee that voted her Most Dangerous Man change the name of the contest to Most Dangerous Person. And now she jets all over the country to speak to students and government officials about her story, and is founder of the organization Take Back the Night.

Katie’s story was vivid and heartbreaking. And it really effectively communicated the complexities and nuances of acquaintance rape. But I also loved how she reminded us that her story isn’t what is necessarily important. She asked us to remember that 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault within their lifetimes. And 1 in 8 men. She asked us to look at the immensity of the issue, but also at the extreme luck that we all enjoy as young people in a college setting. And how transformative we can be within our own communities, if we actively choose to protect ourselves and our friends, listen to survivors, and watch for violence. She managed to make the point that prevention and support are necessarily both individual and community efforts. My favorite part, though, was when Katie admitted that as a white, attractive, blonde woman, she speaks from a very privileged podium. As a Christian, daughter of an FBI agent, and defiled virgin, she said, “my resume was perfect.” Women of color and transpeople do not enjoy the press she does. A victimized prostitute would not be able to speak at the Pentagon as she has.

I was happy that the kids in my class were so respective of Katie and so engaged in her story, especially after hearing a nightmarish story from a new friend who attended the Hotchkiss school, where Katie spoke last year. One boy there asked her what she expected when she invited the boy back to her room. Another asked how her sex life had been affected by the ordeal, a question which she simply refused to answer. At a single-sex boy’s high school in VA, one student said “Well look at you Katie, I would have raped you too.” I go to a liberal school, a safe school, an awesome school. There are about 3,000 women in our undergraduate program. And statistically, one in four of them will be sexually assaulted. That is 750 people that I now share a home with. That is disheartening.

But I heard something when I left those lectures that made me hopeful. As we streamed out of the talk, I heard scores of people committing to protecting one another. Mind you, we’ve known each other for three days. I heard young men and young women soaking up her message and appreciating it. One of my new friends said that he would punch anyone in the face if he observed any aggressive behaviors.

I am so happy that I got to listen to Katie. But I am even happier for the reminder that there is a whole world to listen to- my world at Brown, my world at home, my world at large. Our world at large!  

Read This: Another sister attacked

June 30, 2009 § 3 Comments

TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of hate-motivated violence.

CaitieCat at Shakesville brings us the story of Leslie Mora, a trans woman who was harassed and brutally beaten in Queens on the night of June 18th. From a report by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund:

Throughout the attack, Leslie’s assailants called her a “faggot” in Spanish. The attack left Leslie with multiple injuries, including bruises all over her body, and stitches in her scalp. Police called to the scene found Leslie nearly naked and bleeding on the sidewalk. They also recovered a belt buckle from the assailants that was covered in blood.

And from CaitieCat’s spot-on reaction:

Despite shouting anti-gay slurs at her in Spanish while they attacked her, the assailants have not been charged with any hate crime, as the Queens Co. DA has declined to even investigate it as such.

There are a whole bunch of things I could point out about this: that it’s just about the most obviously hate-based crime I’ve heard of in a while, that calling it only assault leaves out that they were only stopped from killing her by the passerby — why isn’t it attempted murder, exactly? — that there was no bail set for two men who tried to kill a random stranger on the street.

That people will be saying it was her fault for walking alone on the street late at night, or that she’d been drinking, or blah blah victim-blaming blah.

On average, at least one transgender person is killed in the US each month. It seems only by the intervention of “good fortune” that Ms. Mora didn’t join so many of our sisters and brothers already listed at the Transgender Day of Remembrance site.

Very often when I read stories like these on other blogs, I can’t decide whether or not to repost it here because I have nothing to add to the well-crafted and respectful responses that brought me the information in the first place. But I think that not reposting, not getting the story out there through as many humble outlets as possible, is a large factor in the erasure of unfortunately less popular and less discussed feminist/progressive injustices. So I will keep on reposting with minimal comment, because the stories I share need to be heard.

Quick Hit: Another Transphobic Murder

June 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

KAMILLAKamilla is yet another woman murdered for being trans. I’ve not much to add to Renee’s takedown. Here’s to hoping her story is told and that there are no more like it.

Quotes That Are Deeply Disturbing: Coulter on Murder

June 25, 2009 § 1 Comment

The one millionth way that Ann Coulter simultaneously terrifies and disgusts me:

“I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.

– Ann Coulter on The O’Reilly Factor on June 22, 2009

And may I ask — what the fuck is an “abortionist,” or even an “abortion doctor”? Ann, you can save those extra syllables and just call them doctors — you know, the kind who go to medical school, get certified, and save lives.

via a NARAL Pro-Choice America email.

My 64 Words

June 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

aung san suu kyiVia Cara, the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate. June 19th was her 64th birthday, and she spent it in prison. Her supporters have launched an online campaign to garner attention and respect for this brave leader by calling for submissions of 64-word messages. From the site:

Aung San Suu Kyi…symbolises the struggle of Burma’s people to be free. She has been detained for over 13 years by the Burmese regime for campaigning for human rights and democracy in Burma.

She is currently facing trial in Burma. She was on arrested on May 14th and is now being held in Insein Prison, a prison notorious for its terrible conditions and horrific treatment of prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi is being tried for breaking the terms of her house arrest, which forbids visitors, after an American man, John Yettaw, swam across Inya Lake and refused to leave her house. Her trial began on 18th May.

Aung San Suu Kyi has committed no crime, she is the victim of crime, yet is currently facing a sentence of 3-5 years. The United Nations has ruled that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is illegal under international law, and also under Burmese law. The United Nations Security Council has also told the dictatorship that they must release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Political prisoners in Burma are routinely subjected to torture and often denied medical treatment. There are serious concerns for Aung San Suu Kyi’s health in these conditions, particularly as she has recently been seriously ill.

Here are my 64 words:

I believe that freedom, peace, siblinghood, and love are the most beautiful things our human race can create together. Do not let any government convince you otherwise. Aung San Suu Kyi, you are an inspiration to all of us on this earth who believe in justice. We thank you for your incredible strength. I hope you have no more birthdays in this cruel imprisonment.

Add yours here; learn more from Yoko Ono’s link roundup here.

Those Ads

June 10, 2009 § 23 Comments

true blood

This is an advertisement for the second season of True Blood, a television series on HBO.

I have never seen this show, and my thoughts on this poster are difficult to articulate. But they’ve been stewing for weeks, and I know for sure that I am troubled by the combination of the sexual picture and the words “It hurts so good.” A few days ago I saw one of these on a payphone booth, and on the plastic cover was written in black marker: “Stop Domestic Violence. This Ad Is Dangerous.” I am seriously inclined to agree.

My response is complicated by my knowledge that some people achieve certain kinds of pleasure from certain kinds of pain. Some people embody the phrase on this poster. These people might be my friends, partners, teachers, or peers. They might even include my future self. I am conscious that this group, linked by sexual preferences, has a history of being demeaned and fetishized and caricatured by society, and I want no part in that degradation.

But at the same time, this advertisement scares me. Like the glamourization of dead women, this design portrays direct physical violence as something sexy. It tells boys and men that women will automatically lust after violent sexual interactions. The problem is not that women may indeed have such fantasies, and that they will have male partners who will participate — it’s that this ad sanctions sexually violent attitudes on a grand scale. In our consent-confused culture, this subtext could easily translate into an implicit excuse for sexual assault: it was hurting her good. She liked it, even if she didn’t say so.

That thought makes me more than a little nauseous.

A Hypocritical Tragedy

May 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

UPDATE: There will be a vigil in honor of Dr. Tiller TONIGHT, May 1st, at 6pm in Union Square. I hope some of you can make it.

I just got word (via an email from NARAL Pro-Choice America) that a Kansas doctor, Dr. George Tiller, was killed for his “commitment to providing abortion services and other reproductive health care services to women and their families.” Apparently, Dr. Tiller had been violently harassed in the past by anti-abortion protestors, but he never stopped using his resources, time, and education to help those around him. Here’s NARAL’s apt and eloquent expression of grief and vision for the future:

“Dr. Tiller’s murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country. We want them to know that they have our support as they move forward in providing these essential services in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita.

We understand that the investigation is ongoing and that law-enforcement officials have detained a suspect. If it proves to be an act of anti-abortion violence, as we suspect it is, then the full weight of the law must be used to send a clear message that these types of attacks will be prosecuted fully and swiftly.”

Here is another example of the terrible ‘weighing of lives’ that goes on within anti-abortion groups and minds. The life of a fetus is sacred, but Dr. Tiller’s wasn’t? It’s wrong to kill…unless you’re exterminating someone who threatens your system of beliefs? The sheer hypocrisy makes me mad, and the malicious intent underlying that hypocrisy makes me scared.

Students Speak: Inequality

May 30, 2009 § 1 Comment

Inequality – by Sasha, a high school junior.

If you’re like me, school takes up huge amount of your time and energy. Before you started reading this article, you were probably thinking about school. Maybe you’re worried about an upcoming math test, or thinking about how little sleep you got last night because you were up so late doing homework. Or maybe you were just thinking about someone who you’re hoping to sit next to in your next period class. In New York City, going to school isn’t really a choice and it is easy to think about all the trouble school causes. However, without the education that we are provided, we couldn’t be prepared to lead the life we want to live.

Nearly 66 million girls around the world (two-thirds of the world’s children) do not have access to education, leading to a higher illiteracy rate among women than men. 70 percent of the world’s poorest individuals are girls and women, meaning that a huge amount of the female population does not have the money to go to school. There are many factors other than extreme poverty that prevent girls from achieving access to education, such as childhood marriage and safety concerns like sex trafficking, domestic abuse and hate crimes.

The United Nations defines extreme poverty as living on less than two dollars a day. Many girls do not have access to clean water, resulting in sickness that prevents them from being able to work. Doctor bills result in cutting back even more. Their poverty impacts their educational opportunities as well. They can’t afford the required school uniforms, transportation, or the basic supplies. Unable to afford transportation, they are forced to walk miles to get to classes.

Marriage is a wonderful opportunity to commit your life to someone you love and receive their love and commitment in return. Unfortunately, many women and girls not only have no control over whom they marry, but they also have no control over when they marry. Despite many countries enacting marriageable age laws to limit marriage to a minimum age of 16 to 18, child marriages are still widespread. Poverty, tradition and conflict make the incidence of child marriage very frequent, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In 2006, there were more than 60 million child brides who were married or in union before age 18. For most of those girls, their marriage equals a death sentence to their education because either their husbands don’t allow them to go to school, or they are simply overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a wife.

When talking about sex crimes, rape, and domestic abuse, it is difficult to articulate the traumatic impact it has on the victim’s life. While researching the reality of sex crimes, I was immediately shocked by the numbers. In South Africa, a sex crime happens every 20 seconds. (How long have you spent reading this article?)

  • In Southeast Asia, 40% of girls are being sold into prostitution to feed their families.
  • In 65% of the cases reported in Cambodia, rape victims were younger than eighteen, and 12% of the perpetrators were closely related by blood or marriage.
  • 1 out of 3 women in Asia agreed with at least one reason to justify a husband beating his wife.

Do you believe that there is any reason to justify a husband beating his wife? These beliefs are the result of cultural norms such as preference for males and strict gender roles which allow for this behavior.

Let’s just say, to be optimistic, that a girl is provided with enough money to get to school, have the supplies and the uniform. She has never been physically or physiologically abused, and her parents haven’t made her marry and they allow her to go to school. The issue should be solved, right? Wrong. In November, girls on their way to school in Afghanistan were attacked by two men on their motorcycles who were repulsed by the thought of girls going to school, and thought it was appropriate to throw acid in their faces. 19-year-old Shamsia and her 16-year-old sister Atifa were on their way to Meir Weis Mena School in Kandahar, Afghanistan along with several other teachers and students who were similarly attacked. Unfortunately, hate crimes like these are not unusual.

Education is the most effective means of protection and empowerment for girls living in developing countries. Girls who are educated lead healthier lives, have greater involvement in the social and political life of their communities, marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and play a substantial role in the economic stability of their families. When girls are educated, the world is rewarded by achieving the engagement of an articulate and informed group of women.

Education means learning skills such as mathematics so you can tell if someone is trying to cheat you out of your money, or learning about history so you can try to avoid the mistakes that our ancestors made. Education means being able to read what other people have written, whether that is a fantasy book to allow you to temporarily escape reality, or an instruction manual to teach you how to put together a shelf, or philosophy to stimulate your mind, opening the door to literally endless possibilities. Education means learning how to express yourself in words and speak professionally so that you can become a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher and help others in your community.

Girls Learn International Inc. (GLI) is an organization that was designed to specifically tackle this epidemic. In their own words, “GLI pairs American middle and high school-based Chapters with Partner Schools in countries where girls have been traditionally denied access to education. The GLI Program gives students the opportunity to explore issues affecting girls in relation to global human rights, promotes cross-cultural understanding and communication, and trains students to be leaders and advocates for positive change.” Here, at our school, we are very proud to be part of this program. This year the GLI club has raised over $700 for its partner school in Vietnam for orphans with HIV/AIDS. Along with featuring our partner school in a documentary film on AIDS Action day, the GLI club has sent over care packages such as a scrap book with home decorated pages of each of the members as well as a care packages with mix tapes, friendship bracelets and Disney DVDs. Next year the GLI club is excited to make new, fun, creative projects to support the children in our partner school. You, too, can become involved with this cultural exchange by joining the GLI club next year and contributing to providing girls with an education worldwide.

Filkins, Dexter. “Afghan Girls, Scarred by Acid, Defy Terror, Embracing School.” The New York Times. 13 Jan. 2009.
The World Bank. 2009. The World Bank Group. 18 May 2009 .
Welcome to Girls Learn International. 2008. 18 May 2009 .

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke; Spice Up YOUR Relationship, by Jennifer; Letters From Kartini, by Nia; Coming Out As A Feminist, by Shani

Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.

Casilda.

Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.

Who are you calling a ho?

May 8, 2009 § 5 Comments

So, I am a second-term high school senior. These are words that should be music to my ears, but I have actually been extremely stressed out with endless amounts of work. I am, however, having a great time working on a research paper about sex workers in Pakistan. The paper is still in its early stages right now (I will post it when it’s finished) but there is a really interesting issue I wanted to discuss here with all of the fabulous members of the women’s glib community.

The topic of sex work has raised many questions and debates both amongst feminists and in society in general. One major question that I am addressing in my paper is about how we, both as feminists and as members of the global community, should approach sex work. Within feminist approaches to sex work, there are two major view points that I’ve encountered. On the one hand, there are those who argue that sex work is an inherently abusive system that is based on manipulating women, especially poor women, and should be abolished. Then, there are the people who argue that sex workers should be viewed as just that–workers. They argue that the abusive and manipulating aspects of sex work would be more easy to address and diminish if the focus was on protecting the rights of sex workers through legislation and unionization. Personally, I would fall in the second camp because I think that if we treat sex workers as workers as opposed to bad people, their voices will be heard much more and the stigma that we associate with sex work would be less powerful.

I’m really interested in finding out more about what feminists, particularly young feminists, have to say about sex work. If anyone has any insight or opinions on sex work, both in the U.S. and internationally, please share them!

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