Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Take it to the Streets

Jennifer Kesler, who writes for the Hathor Legacy and Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, has written posts directed at both men and women regarding catcalling, and why street harassment should not be considered a form of flattery.

In her post to women she writes:

Strange men do not hoot at, yell at, or leer at you because they think you’re hot. They do those things because they think you’re vulnerable and needy. If you think they want you sexually, you need some serious education on power psychology. They want to feel like they’re on top of you, but not in the way you imagine.

When you see someone attractive, it’s natural to look. But not to stare - there are rules against staring throughout the animal kingdom. And you don’t talk unless the person you’re looking at says something to you first, because when you get caught looking, it would be aggressive to follow that up with verbalization. This is something your cat understands, for pete’s sake. Stop reading Cosmopolitan and get in touch with your animal instincts. Discrete looks are flattering because they reflect only a natural aesthetic reaction. Leering - staring overtly at someone who’s watching you stare - signals aggression. Uninvited verbalizations are also aggressive - that’s why when the salesman at the kiosk leaps out to ask you if you ever get split ends, you feel pressured and cornered (until you realize you’re entitled to tell them to back off and leave you alone because they started the hostility and you’re only responding in kind).
To men, she says:

If you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s not really about how attractive she is. It’s about one of two things:

* The men. Most often, catcalling at a woman is a way men socialize with each other. You’re trying to impress each other with who can say the most outrageous things, or who can get a smile or glance from the most passing women. The woman is just part of the scenery, so it’s no surprise you’re oblivious to her feelings. Her responses don’t represent a person with sensitivities to you; they represent a finish line, and tell you whether or not your verbal volleys are scoring.

* Intimidating women. For every bunch of guys who thinks catcalling is harmless because they know their own motives aren’t hateful, there’s one guy who really hates women and revels in feeling that a woman is afraid of him. He thinks his buddies feel the same way, and when they engage in the same behavior, they are (perhaps unwittingly) encouraging him.

Whether you’re merely insensitive to what strange women feel or actually hate them doesn’t really matter. The behavior was invented by men who hate women, and by participating in it - in fact, by not calling on other men to stop doing it - you’re encouraging misogynistic attitudes whether you mean to or not, whether you share them or not.
Kesler's posts come in response to a May CNN article entitled Catcalling: creepy or a compliment?, in which some women report feeling threatened by men yelling at them on the street while other women express insecurity with their appearance if they are not catcalled.

But Kimberly Fairchild, 29, an assistant professor of psychology at Manhattan College in New York, says catcalling can take a larger emotional toll than many women realize.

"There seems to be some evidence that it increases self-objectification," said Fairchild, who surveyed 550 women both online and at Rutgers University in 2006 and 2007. The women -- who ranged in age from 15 to 64 in the international online component and from 18 to 24 in the Rutgers survey of women from central New Jersey -- were asked about their experiences with street harassment.

Catcalling "encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings" and can cause women to fear for their safety, Fairchild says.

"When a man catcalls you, you don't know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault," she added.
The CNN article also discusses HollaBackNYC, a site which encourages New Yorkers to snap pictures of street harassers and then post them to the blog as a way of fighting back.

Emily May, 27, and six of her friends were inspired to create the site in 2005 after a young New York woman used her camera phone to take a photo of a man who was looking at her while touching himself on the subway. The picture led to his arrest. (Such behavior is, according to New York state law, a misdemeanor offense). The blog has spawned similar sites in other major cities such as Chicago and San Francisco.

The site is a way to encourage dialogue, May says. "I think sites like ours can help women see that they're not alone, that it happens to women in all walks of life by men in all walks of life, and that it's not okay."
We encourage you to visit the links included in this post, especially those to Kesler’s posts and HollaBackNYA, to learn more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Because alcohol causes domestic violence

As an interesting follow-up to our discussion of victim blaming in rape cases where the victims had been drinking comes this ad from the Bernard Brewery in the Czech Republic.

The difference here is that alcohol absolves the drinkers of blame, the drinkers in this case being abusive men. Elle, Phd writes:

Somewhere, I'm sure, someone had a good intention. But the execution of said intention leaves MUCH to be desired. Here is the logic behind the ad:

Men in Czech Republic consume the most beer in all of the Europe. Unfortunately, the beer changes many of them into aggressors upon arriving home. In order to stop this domestic alco-violence, we redesigned the trademark beer mugs of our client Bernard brewery to reventatively warn its beer drinkers to not lose control over their drinking.

Because the one thing that will stop a drunken abuser is having already had his fist pressed to a woman's face all night.

This feels like a ready made excuse to me--"Honey, you know how I get when I drink. That's not the real me." People always search for ways to rationalize and justify men who are assumed to be "good" except for that little abusive streak.

I don't think beer "changes" you. I know there are people who are exceptionally mean when they drink, and I know alcohol can exacerbate a situation, but abusers don't need validation for one of their most common ways of shifting responsibility for their actions.

Besides, I think the post on which I found the ad says a lot--I get the creepy feeling lots of people would find this mug funny, a sort of kitschy/novelty item.

Something else I thought about upon seeing the picture? Her bland, semi-smile does little to communicate how devastating someone's fist to the middle of your face can be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Drunk Rape Victims Deserve Less Sympathy

As a follow-up to last week’s article in the Daily Mail regarding British rape victims having their crime victim’s compensation cut if they had been drinking prior to the assault, the Mail Online has begun a “debate” on the topic, with this gem as inspiration:

Women who get drunk are more likely to be raped than women who do not get drunk.

No, this does not excuse rape. Men who take advantage of women by raping them, drunk or sober, should be severely punished for this wicked, treacherous action, however stupid the victim may have been.

But it does mean that a rape victim who was drunk deserves less sympathy.
Without citing any source for his assertion that women who drink are more likely to be raped, Hitchens continues:

Of course she is culpable, just as she would be culpable if she crashed a car and injured someone while drunk, or stepped out into the traffic while drunk and was run over.

Getting drunk is not something that happens to you. It is something you do.
We are certainly not this first blog to notice the story. Melissa at Shakesville writes:

At this point, as you can see, Hitchens has totally lost the plot. Indeed, "getting drunk" is not something that happens to you—but getting raped is. Comparing getting behind the wheel of a car and getting held down and forcibly penetrated without consent is patently ludicrous, not to mention about as divorced from the actual experience of being raped as I can imagine. Essentially, Hitchens' argument is that women should be responsible for their choices, without ever acknowledging that rape isn't a choice.

And the only way his tortured argument to hold women responsible for their rape if they've been drinking is by arguing that being intoxicated puts a woman at greater risk of being raped, which isn't even true. But what if it were? Women aged 18-22 in the US who attend university are more likely to be raped than women who don't. Would Hitchens argue that female university students are therefore "partially culpable" in their own rapes?
Hitchens seems to miss the point that intoxicated women don’t rape themselves. A woman could be passed out drunk for several Friday nights in a row and never be sexually assaulted. Another woman might never drink and may still get raped. The difference: the presence of a rapist! It’s time that we stop blaming victims of violence for what they have experienced and instead work to hold those who commit violence against women accountable.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Britain tells victims of rape they are "partially to blame"

Rape victims in Britain are seeing their victim’s compensation benefits for their assault reduced if they were drunk at the time of the attack.

Officials at the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority told women their drinking was a 'contributing factor' in their ordeal.

The standard taxpayer-funded payouts of £11,000 were cut by as much as a quarter.

The rules of the CICA scheme allow payments to be reduced in cases where victims are partly to blame - such as by provoking an attacker.

But revelations that the rules have been applied to at least 14 rape victims in the past year alone drew furious protests yesterday, with lawyers branding the approach 'appalling'.


The issue came to light after one rape victim, referred to only as Helen, received a letter from the CICA saying her compensation was being cut from £11,000 to £8,250.

It said: 'The evidence that we have shows that your excessive consumption of alcohol was a contributing factor in the incident'.

She said the letter 'felt like a slap in the face', adding: 'It felt like I was being punished for having the audacity to step up and say "I don't think this should have happened to me". It was like going back to the 1970s, saying "she was asking for it".

'How else could you read the letter but as saying it's my fault I was raped?'

Helen was raped four years ago, when she was 25, after a night out in London's West End during which she believes her drink was spiked.

She told the Guardian the cut in compensation 'was just so cruel and unthinking and so wrong because there is nothing you can do to prevent yourself being raped.

The good news is that the authority has agreed to stamp out the practice, insisting the cases identified so far had been isolated errors. The bad news is that someone with enough power in the CICA to reduce benefits still holds the notion that women are somehow to blame when they are attacked. "Helen" says it best when she says:

'It is not illegal to go out and have a drink, it is illegal to rape somebody.'

Update 8/24 - Take Action. Sign the petition to tell the CICA: Take responsibility for your initial mistake and restore benefits in all 14 cases!

Friday, August 8, 2008

While You Were Sleeping

A surgeon in New Jersey is being sued by a patient for applying temporary tattoo of a rose to her pelvic region without her knowledge while she was under anesthesia.

"She and her husband were getting her dressed to come home and when she took off her gown, that's when she recognized that she had this tattoo below her panty-line," Mateo's attorney Gregg Shivers said.

During the operation for a herniated disc, Mateo was on her stomach, so Mateo and her lawyer claim the tattoo was placed on her by her doctor, Steven Kirshner, at some point afterwards when she would have had nothing on but a hospital gown.

Shivers claims Kirshner violated Mateo's right to privacy.

"Both her and her husband pretty much freaked out and they had no idea how it got there, she had been alone in the hospital, heavily medicated for pain the night before," Shivers said.
The surgeon claims that he has applied tattoos to many of his patients in order to "lift their spirits" after surgery.

Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University who was read a summary of the lawsuit, speculated about why a surgeon who had performed an operation on the back would leave a red rose on his patient's belly.

"It is not part of the doctor-patient relationship in that case," said Farley, a former president of the American Psychological Association who studies risk-taking personalities and behavior. "Unless you think you are Georgia O'Keeffe and you think people's bodies are your canvas," he said, "why would you take that risk?"

In her post on the story, Karnythia at Angry Black Woman writes:

But the idea that women’s bodies are public property doesn’t stop there. Catcalling, comments on weight, comments on hair or makeup from strangers are all just symptoms of a larger societal delusion that women’s bodies are a commodity first. Somehow we’ve gotten stuck in this idea that a woman’s valuing of her body as a part of her self comes second because her first role is to belong to the world at large. Women who refuse to accept that paradigm and insist on being recognized as people first whether it be by yelling back at catcallers, refusing to let strangers touch them, or filing suit when they feel they’ve been violated are then castigated for having the temerity to think that they can dictate what happens to their bodies. Apparently we’re just supposed accept these “lesser” intrusions and not take steps to reclaim that sense of safety because nice girls know their place and don’t delude themselves that they have a right to feel safe and comfortable.

Well, I’m with the women who yell back, who walk away, who press charges and file lawsuits. Because it is past time we got past this idea that being nice = being a willing victim that never complains. I don’t want to live in a reality where people think marking an unconscious woman without her permission is a-okay because it’s temporary, or he didn’t mean any harm, or there’s no proof that he “actually molested her” so she shouldn’t seek legal recourse. I know I’m talking crazy, but wouldn’t be nice to live in a world where women were viewed as people first?

We're with you, Karnythia.