Vagina News, Uncontrollable Penis Edition

If I were a man, I’d be pretty upset about what people are intimating about my gender lately; Specifically that men are incapable of controlling their impulses. A significant portion of the American population seems to believe it’s so hard to prevent men from murdering innocent people that the only way to address it is to encourage other men to murder the murderers. 

Now, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a dentist was within his rights to fire a female employee solely on the basis of his inability to control his attraction to her. (There are, incidentally, no women on the Iowa Supreme Court.) 

From the AP, “Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.”

Nelson argued she would not have been fired if she were male. (Knight has an all-female staff.) Knight argued Nelson was not fired because of her gender, but because – after consulting with his wife and pastor – he decided she was a threat to his marriage, regardless of the fact that she never expressed any interest in him or an affair. 

See, in addition to men being unable to control their sexual impulses, women apparently have no power to choose their sexual partners. From Jezebel, “Knight gave Nelson one month’s severance, and later, in the most awkward conversation ever, told Nelson’s husband that he was becoming so attracted to Nelson that he worried he would start an affair with her.” He would ‘start’ it. The affair she had no interest in having, for which she was fired.

The court found no evidence of gender discrimination. 

Pre-Holiday Good Vagina News Roundup!

– Congratulations to Senator Barbara Mikulski, who is about to become the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Robert Bork, who once didn’t get confirmed to the Supreme Court after saying he’d vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, died today.

– Yesterday, the Senate passed the Shaheen Amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment provides federal health coverage for servicewomen who want an abortion after becoming pregnant as a result of rape or incest. 

– And finally, in response to Rolling Stone’s piece on ’10 people who helped Obama win the election’ which included a whopping ONE female, an excellent Tweet series on some of the many female staffers who have played a huge role in both his campaigns and his Presidency.

Labia Miserables

I’m angry today. For a few reasons, but this is one of them.

You may have heard that Anne Hathaway was recently a victim of a kind of sexual violation called “upskirt photography.” I’m not going to lend any internet search juice to the story by Googling it – but basically, she was in a gown, not wearing underwear, and someone managed to take a photo at an angle at which her labia is visible. 

(Bonus vagina points to me for also saying labia today. The labia is the visible, external part of a woman’s genitalia. The vagina is inside. I invite you to join me in using the word “labia” correctly at every opportunity.)

Anyway, during a subsequent interview with her on The Today Show, Matt fucking Lauer started by snarkily saying, “seen a lot of YOU lately”, and jumping right into a question about it. This stirred up a lot of internet chatter about whether he was out of line for saying it on the one hand, and whether she should have known better than to wear a dress without underwear on the other.

Here’s the thing. ‘Upskirt photography’ happens all the time to women who ARE wearing underwear, and who are NOT famous. (Google Adam Levinson, Khalid Asu Sabur, Daniel Knoble, and Boyd Shropshire for starters.) It’s an illegal violation of privacy, and is no more the fault of the victim – whomever she is – than any other crime. Suggesting the victim could have protected herself by wearing something different is the same as claiming a rape victim was asking for it because of what she was wearing. It’s rape-culture-originated victim-blaming, period.

So where does the responsibility lie?  With the perpetrators, of course. But that’s not all. To quote a bit of Ms. Hathaway’s excellent response to Lauer, “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants.” Well said. And we’re all responsible for doing our part to change it.

Aaah, Rape Jokes.

A friend pointed me to the latest media uproar over a rape joke. It involves Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, which I generally quite like. But like too many successful entertainers (and everything-elsers), Inman lacks a basic understanding of what rape culture is, and how it manifests itself in mainstream culture and media. (He also doesn’t know how to apologize; Another common deficiency best solved with a little therapy at best, media training at minimum.)

It should be simple. Jokes at the expense of the powerful (the rapist, in this context) have the potential to be both funny and ethical. Jokes at the expense of the powerless (in this instance, the victim,) not so much. That’s not a feminist rule, it’s how comedy works. As George Carlin explains, “it all depends on how you construct the joke; what the exaggeration is.”  In response to the recent Daniel Tosh rape-joke brouhaha, feminists Kate Harding and Lindy West explained how to construct a rape joke that works, and provided 15 examples.

Alas, discussion of the issue is still plagued with ‘comedy has no rules’ rants that leave no room for   the nuances of joke construction, and on the other side, rage over blatant misogyny hiding behind the guise of “humor” that leaves many feeling there’s no such thing as a funny rape joke. We’ve managed to grow past this point with jokes about other innate traits like race and sexual orientation, but for some reason we’re still stuck on what is fundamentally a gender issue.

There’s no neat little bow with which to tie this one up, but it’s a nice introduction to a post I’ve been working on for a while. So as a segue, I’ll leave you with this… How would this issue be different if there were more mainstream female comedians? Think on it, and stay tuned…

Menstruation by Disney

In 1946, the International Cello-Cotton Company (now Kimberly-Clark) commissioned the Walt Disney Company to make a short film about menstruation, to be shown to kids in health class. According to Wikipedia, it represents the first use of the word “vagina” in a screenplay. (I read a few references to it having been “banned”, but can’t find anything about who allegedly banned it, or from whence.)


It’s actually pretty good… Progressive, even, in some places. (Less so in others.) This is about as much information as I got taught forty years later, and is probably less than a lot of kids learn now. Certainly we’re much more prudish today about how we discuss and show how reproductive processes work than we were when this was made.

What do you think? If this were to be shown in schools today, would it be a step forward, or backward (or a little of both?)

Just the Facts

The Guttmacher Institute is fantastic. They created a video that I think should be required viewing for every human being. Here’s what they have to say about it:

“The video aims to inform discussions by policymakers, the public and
the media about the provision of safe abortion services—making clear
that such services are essential to reproductive health care which in
turn benefits women, their children and society. The video makes
several key points:

  • Women have abortions in all parts of the world and they have them
    for similar reasons, which include being unable or too poor to care for
    a child or additional children, not being in a stable relationship, and
    needing to finish their education.
  • The frequency of abortion has much less to do with its legal
    status than with levels of unintended pregnancy, the root cause of most
    abortions. Unintended pregnancy rates have everything to do with whether
    a woman has access to quality family planning services.
  • The best way to reduce the need for abortion is not by denying
    women access to safe and legal procedures, but by giving them the power
    to control their fertility and prevent unintended pregnancy. Today, 222
    million women in the developing world want to avoid pregnancy but are
    not using a modern contraceptive.

Reducing the incidence of unsafe abortion is a public health
imperative. It is the basic right of every woman to be able to make her
own childbearing decisions without having to put her health or her life
at risk.”

Please watch and share it.

Standing Up to Victim-Blaming

The beginning of the story is sad and all too familiar, but the reason for this post is the surprise at the end.

in 1996, as an 8th grader, Kristen Cunnane of Moraga, California was molested by Julie Correa, her gym teacher. She reported it to another teacher, Daniel Witters, but instead of helping her, he molested her as well. (Witters committed suicide in 1996 after several students reported being molested by him.) Kristen continued to be abused by Correa for the next 4 years. (Warning – the linked article contains potential triggers.)

It’s easy to imagine why Kristen didn’t feel safe reporting the abuse a second time. But by 2010, she was suffering from flashbacks, anxiety, and depression, and decided to report Correa and allow herself to be identified as a victim on order to begin her own healing process. After it became clear that school administrators has ignored multiple reports of abuse by Correa and Witters, Kristen filed suit against the school district and former principal, vice principal, and superintendent.

Here’s the twist. In response to the suit, the district blamed Kristen for the abuse, stating:

“(She) was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff’s part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident …” and “Defendants allege that (Cunnane) was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims … “

In response to the public outcry against victim-blaming in a case in which the abuse had been proven in court, the district refused to clarify exactly what they meant in accusing Kristen of negligence and carelessness, saying only:

“this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. . . . As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense.”

But a petition inspired a change of heart (fancy that), and the school district issued an apology and directed their legal team to remove the offending language. 

Another facet of rape culture; Victim-blaming in instances of sexual abuse is so deeply socially ingrained that it’s tossed into legal documents without explanation, just as one of the defense tactics that might stick. Where else might it be showing up? I’m certainly much more attuned to it than I was before Vagina News began. (Yay?)