December 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
More than 20 years after his film Roger and Me, about Flint’s connections to General Motors, and how the city is affected by outsourcing, Michael Moore still has strong geological and emotional ties to the eastern side of the state of Michigan. He mentioned Flint in Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11, and was clearly passionate about shedding light on the disparity of wealth within Flint. Hell, his Twitter handle is @MMFlint. In his films and interviews, he frequently is seen wearing apparel with the logos of several Michigan colleges, including Michigan State University, and Eastern Michigan University. I wonder if Moore has visited Eastern Michigan University, or spoken at the school recently. If he did, he may have heard about what happened in 2006 to Eastern student Laura Dickinson.
Laura Dickinson, a student at EMU was raped and murdered in her dorm room in December 2006. EMU originally told her family that she died of natural causes, and it was only after a suspect was arrested that the school informed Dickinson’s family that her death was a homocide. EMU was fined for violating the Beverly Clery Act (which requires colleges and universities to report felonies that happen on campus), settled with the Dickinson family out of court, and the President, Vice President, and Public Safety Director were fired. Dickinson’s death, EMU’s cover-up, and the murder trial were on the news constantly, and brought the kind of publicity that a small town in West Michigan does not want. At the same time, the Dickinson family held several benefits, with proceeds going to causes that Laura supported. Friends and neighbors stepped in to help run the family coffee shop during the months after her death.
It was hard to hear TV and radio reports about Laura’s death, because I knew her family, spent numerous hours in their coffeeshop, and it was sad that instead of being in the news because State Grounds supported the community by letting musicians perform in the space, or raised money for important causes. They were on the news because their daughter had died, and the institution that should have been looking out for her safety failed to protect her, and decided to lie to her family.
When I hear the phrase “travesty of justice”, I think about how EMU treated the grieving Dickinson family. I don’t think about Assange turning himself in, being jailed for a short period of time, being released on bail, and spending his holiday in an English mansion. It isn’t so much Moore posting bail for Assange (it’s his money, he can waste it however he wants to) that pisses me off, it’s Moore’s going on “Countdown With Keith Shouts-A-Lot”, and claiming that his donation stems from a belief that Assange was “set up” and that his complainants are merely upset groupies/”honeypots”/CIA informants/otherwise hell bent on destroying WikiLeaks. This is a criminal case, and instead of trying Assange and his accusers in the Court of the Internet (which is highly susceptible to severe cases of trolling), we should let the courts do their job. And we should reserve judgement about the veracity of the accusations until all parties must testify under oath.
Moore and Olbermann have been silent about their fantastically insensitive comments. I understand that having to explain their justification behind saying that Assange’s work was more important than having to do something as pesky as answer for a crime he has been accused of (and spreading misinformation about Assange’s accusers) must be hard. How about they meet with the Dickinson family, and ask them what it was like to not only have a daughter die after being assaulted, but to have a university lie to them about her death? If Moore doesn’t particularly care about the whole “sexual assault is bad” thing, it would at least provide another example of why cover-ups, and the spreading of lies, by any person or organization, can be devastating and hurtful.
And then maybe, just maybe, Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann will realize why dismissing rape accusations comes off as hurtful, insensitive, pompous, and a slew of other unpleasant adjectives. And then oh, I don’t know, donate at least a little bit of their fortunes to RAINN?
December 16, 2010 § 9 Comments
So. Let’s review.
1. Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been accused of raping two Swedish women on different occasions. These two women have an apparently awesome lawyer, Claes Borgström, who says things like: “[my clients] are victims of a crime, but they are looked upon as the perpetrators and that is very unfortunate.” Assange has a lawyer, Mark Stephens, who says things like: “The honeytrap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we’ve seen so far you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.” Because of these accusations, Assange has been arrested and held in a London jail. But he has been released on bail and appears dedicated to avoiding fair and rigorous prosecution for these alleged rapes.
2. Keith Olbermann talks about Assange’s legal troubles on his show. Olbermann invites Michael Moore to comment on Assange’s legal troubles on his show, specifically why Moore chose to donate $20,000 to Assange’s bail. Moore tells us that he donated such a sum because he believes WikiLeaks’ works is essential for a “free and open society,” because supporting WikiLeaks is “an act of patriotism.” Oh, and because the rape allegations are “a lie and a smear,” “all a bunch of hooey.” Oh, and also: because the allegations of rape are actually allegations that “his condom broke during consensual sex, which is not a crime.” Not a crime, true. Also not the accusation. (But here’s the thing: respecting WikiLeaks as a mechanism for ensuring “a free and open society” does not prevent us from getting to the bottom of the accusations against Assange. We can admire the principles of an organization while still questioning the ethics of their frontman. Really. We are old enough to walk and chew gum, here.)
3. Sady Doyle calls this shit out. And by “this shit” I mean the utter audacity of a progressive leader like Michael Moore to dismiss so casually and callously the very legitimate claims of two women who may have been raped. She calls out “the unwillingness of men in positions of power to consider rape a crucial issue that must be taken seriously.” And she launches a powerful protest: #Mooreandme. For the last 24 hours, real progressives have been tweeting @MMFlint and @KeithOlbermann, calling out their rape apologist bullshit; demanding dialogue, an apology, and $20,000 to an anti-rape organization; saying:
We are the progressive community. We are the left wing. We are women and men, we are from every sector of this community, and we believe that every rape accusation must be taken seriously, regardless of the accused rapist’s connections, power, influence, status, fame, or politics. We believe that rape is a crucial and central issue which affects us all, women disproportionately, and we are sick of being told that you should “never, ever believe” us. We believe that accuser-shaming, accuser-harassment, victim-blaming, and the suppression of rape cases all serve one distinct purpose, which is: TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO RAPE US AND GET AWAY WITH IT.
And for the last 24 hours? Olbermann has blocked a bunch of people, and Moore hasn’t responded at all. That’s some courageous journalism right there.
So there you have my humble, incomplete recap. But what I really want to emphasize is this: Olbermann and Moore have a really incredible opportunity right in front of them, an opportunity begging to be taken. They have the opportunity to apologize. Because being a good progressive? Is all about fucking up.
If we’re ever to break the myth of the flawless progressive hero — a myth that is unproductive, a myth that breaks hearts — we need to start learning how to recover from mistakes. Because they happen; casual racism, sexism, rape apologism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ageism, classism… Those things happen because we were taught to make them happen. Now we need to teach ourselves to stop them. Sure, we need to expect more. But expecting more doesn’t mean expecting perfection, the first time, every time. Expecting more is about making mistakes, being called out, engaging and learning from them. We learned that shit in pre-school.
Keith Olbermann, Michael Moore, we’re waiting, we’re literally begging you to apologize and to right your egregious wrongs. You can find me @mirandamammen, waiting with the rest of my crew. We’re waiting. But we can’t wait forever.
July 21, 2010 § 4 Comments
Right now Lindsay Lohan’s incarceration is all over the news. While most media outlets are obsessed with how much time Lindsay will be serving, it’s super important to remember the staggering and disturbing statistics of women in prison.
The following statistics are quoted directly from Women’s Prison Association’s Quick Facts Women and Criminal Justice — 2009. For more information, visit their website.
- Over 200,000 women are in prison and jail in the United States, and more than one million women are under criminal justice supervision.
- Two-thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent offenses, many for drug-related crimes.
- Nearly two-thirds of women in prison are mothers.
- 93 out of every 100,000 white women were incarcerated at midyear 2008. During the same time period, 349 out of every 100,000 black women and 147 out of every 100,000 Hispanic women were incarcerated.
According to Amnesty International’s Women and Prison: Fact Sheet, women in prison often experience sexual assault and misconduct due to the extreme power imbalance between officers and inmates, including guards’ ability to withhold privileges. In addition, women in prison experience medical neglect, including shackling during pregnancy, as well as severe discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation. For more information about women in prison and other issues of women’s human rights, go to Amnesty’s site.
July 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
When 22-year-old Hossai was told to quit her job by the Taliban, she refused to be bullied. She was shot and killed…These stories are seldom heard, but it’s not because they are rare. The victims are often too terrified to report such attacks to the authorities, or have little hope that anything will be done if they do. They can expect little or no protection from their government, which seems more willing to provide patronage to senior insurgents who switch sides than assist women at grave risk. When high-profile women are assassinated, their cases are not given the priority they deserve and their killers are rarely brought to justice. While men who run afoul of the Taliban are also attacked — particularly in Kandahar, where the murder rate in recent months has reached unprecedented heights — the situation for women is worse.
July 13, 2010 § 2 Comments
Memory: It is a delicious Sunday afternoon. Sun glitters through the trees, splashes over benches and stains the ground. It is the fourth of July, and I have spent several hours on my own, reading the intoxicating prose of one of my favorite writers, Zadie Smith, in one of my favorite places in all of New York City: Fort Tryon Park. Shoes off, feet in the grass. Sometimes the world is so beautiful it makes me ache. It’s time for the ideal reading break: an ice cream cone. I walk to the truck, pay for my chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. Perfect refreshing cool, perfect crunch. I stroll back into the park under a canopy of lush leaves. Sometimes the world is so beautiful it makes me ache.
There are people in the background of my vision. One of them emerges slowly; I understand that he is moving toward me. He is an older man, probably in his early seventies, walking along. He stops in front of me, and I pause slightly.
He is going to say, “It is so gorgeous on this lawn.”
He is going to say, “It is so relaxing here!”
He is going to say, “It is so hot today, don’t you think?”
No, he is not. He is not going to say any of these things. His face is two feet from mine and he is saying, “It is so sexy watching you lick that cone.”
There is a voice in my head saying: You should have known this was coming. I am still walking and I say crisply, loudly, “THAT’S DISGUSTING” and he smiles and he turns and I walk and my mouth is dry. Sometimes the world is so awful it makes me ache.
Vision: I don’t walk on. I don’t say anything. I laugh shrilly and he looks startled and I mash my cold ice cream into his face, his beard, it covers him and I am calm. I’ve won.
Vision: I don’t walk on. I scream, “Leave me the fuck alone.” I shriek, “You’re a piece of shit.” I shout, “Fuck you, prick.” I’ve won.
Reality: I can’t win. Street harassment is so mind-bogglingly fucked up. It’s a cruel game that I’m playing against my will and I can’t fucking win it. That’s all I want: I want to win. I want to feel better than these jerks because I am. Even more than I hate harassment itself, I abhor the way I feel afterwards. At first I feel ashamed, embarassed even though I’ve done literally nothing wrong. Then I feel regretful, angry at myself for not reacting more harshly. I feel like a bad feminist, like I haven’t spoken up properly or stood up for myself in the “right” way. Next I feel guilty. I feel mean. I make excuses for the dipshit who’s put me in this situation — I tell myself maybe he’s a nice guy, maybe he didn’t mean it that way. And finally, always, I feel sick, physically nauseous.
All of this shit, all of this fills my mind. It takes up so much space, so much brainpower and it’s absolutely useless. Instead of being consumed by these victim-blaming thoughts, I want to feel safe and strong and sexy, sexy on my own terms.
Street harassment isn’t a compliment. It’s not “no big deal,” and it’s not isolated. It lies on the continuum of violence against women; it’s meant to keep women quiet, keep us inside, keep us from coming and going as we please. It can ruin your afternoon, your emotional safety, your confidence. It needs to be stopped.
HollaBack! is an awesome organization that works to fight street harassment on a global level. Check out their new website, and their PSA (transcript below the fold). I’m the one wearing the plaid jacket.
June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
Oh, Maureen Dowd. I never quite know how to approach her writing. Occasionally she’s very smart and irreverent in the best way, and at those times her accomplishments as a successful, mainstream female journalist make me proud. More often, though, I accidentally read something she’s written (seriously, I never seek out this stuff) and think: What? Also: Why?
Like this: “Even as he grows arugula in the White House vegetable garden, Barack Obama never again wants to be seen as the hoity-toity guy fretting over the price of arugula at Whole Foods. That is why the president ends up sending mixed signals on food.” …By talking about the nutritional importance of fruits and veggies, and then sometimes eating a hamburger. Or something. Seriously, what? (Sweet Machine had an excellent takedown, which included the delightfully LOL-worthy line, “Seriously, why does ANYBODY mistake MoDo for a feminist, ever? Is it because she is a woman with a job?”)
Or this: “Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct that he’s practically lactating.” What. Can. This POSSIBLY Mean.
But — in true Dowd fashion — I digress.
The point is she had a fairly great piece up yesterday about a truly disgusting group of young men at Landon, “an elite private grade school and high school for boys in [a] wealthy Washington suburb.”
Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.
…In The Washington Post, the sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote about the swagger of young male athletes and the culture of silence that protects their thuggish locker-room behavior.
…Jean Erstling, Landon’s director of communications, said…that “Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”
Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.
Wow! It is a surprising day when I concur with Maureen Dowd. But it has come! We are in agreement! On this one, at least.
Average people do not do terrible things of their own volition. I refuse to believe it! I am too much of an optimist. Because let me tell you something: If I believed, as our culture seems to, that men are rapacious beasts whose thirst for violence cannot be quelled, I would have given up on all of this so, so long ago. I would have given up on this blog, on daring to talk and write about sexual violence, on feminist organizing, on having the audacity to travel alone whenever and wherever I please. I would have given up on men, and I would have given up on my own freedom. But luckily, I haven’t. Because I believe that, in the majority of cases (though certainly not all), rape happens because of the intricate process of socialization that teaches boys that rape is okay, or at the very least, not a big deal. This process is part of the enormous and far-reaching tentacles of rape culture, the cultural meme that encourages and condones sexual violence against women.
Most men rape because of opportunity, because someone is vulnerable and because they’ve got an entire culture backing them up, because they haven’t been taught that it’s wrong, because they think — often correctly — that they can get away with it.
As Bernard Lefkowitz painstakingly documented in his book Our Guys, about the culture of a tight-knit New Jersey town that allowed the gang rape of a mentally retarded young woman — by her classmates and childhood friends — not only to happen, but also to be excused: “These Glen Ridge kids, they were pure gold, every mother’s dream, every father’s pride. They were not only Glen Ridge’s finest, but in their perfection they belonged to all of us.” These rapists were not anomalies. Far from it. Indeed, they were the perfect products of our misogynistic culture.
Sexual violence is not a stand-alone problem; it lies on a patriarchal continuum of all the tiny ways we wrong women, all the time, every day, at home, at work, on the street, in the doctor’s office, on the subway, in advertisements, in the classroom, in the courtroom, on the silver screen, all across the infinite internet. When the world treats women like shit, how can we expect our sons and brothers and classmates to learn that it’s not okay to treat women like shit?