The Campus Rape Crisis

It’s not just a military problem.
 The cover story in this week’s LA Weekly (the local ‘indie’ paper in Los Angeles, owned by Village Voice Media) is about the systemic failure of Occidental College (a small campus about 4 blocks from Vagina News HQ, it rose to national attention as Obama’s alma mater) to address sexual assault on campus. 

It’s an important read, as it’s about not only Occidental, but the broader problem of administrative failure to deal with the problem of campus rape, in large part due to fear that transparency will impact admissions.

Here are a few highlights: 

– Under state and federal law, colleges and universities are not required to report rape to the police, unless the alleged victim is a minor. That means campus sexual assault is not included in local or federal crime statistics or investigated by law enforcement unless the victim reports it herself; and that happens rarely, given the culture of victim-blaming that pervades both college administrations and local police organizations.

– A 2002 study, published in the journal Violence and Victims, found that about 90 percent of rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by serial offenders who deliberately target their victims. This directly contradicts the common misconception on the part of administrators and law enforcement that most campus sexual assault involves people who know each other and are under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants.

– On May 22, prominent attorney Gloria Allred — representing eight students at Oxy — announced that those clients would be joined by women from USC, UC Berkeley, Swarthmore, and Dartmouth who have filed similar complaints.  

For the last fucking time…

Here is the official Vagina News response to The New Yorker’s upcoming cover illustration:

Bert and Ernie are not gay, because they are not alive, and the people who made them from craft materials say their characters have no sexuality.

Anyone who wants to pretend they’re gay is free to do so, just as you are free to pretend that your flat and fitted sheets are gay because they have the same design and lay on top of each other all day. But you’re still pretending fabric has a sexual preference.


Sandra Fluke, here I come!

In a few hours, I’m heading to my first official feminist event… A fundraiser for Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), honoring Sandra Fluke and Frances Kissling, retired President of Catholics for Choice.

I can’t think of a better week to gather and honor those who are leading the fight for reproductive rights. I’ll take lots of pictures and bring back a full report!

(In the meantime, check out WRRAP and the great work they do!)


Wendy Davis’s Texas filibuster is the best movie we’ve seen in years.

(For a play-by-play leading up to this point, visit Vagina News on Facebook.) Davis’s filibuster continued until about 10PM local time, at which point an objection was raised by Republicans on the grounds that Davis’s discussion of mandatory ultrasounds (or sonograms, I’ve seen conflicting reports) was not germane to the bill, and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst sustained it. This triggered an eruption from the gallery and a flurry of procedural objections by Democrats as Davis was removed from the floor. 

Sen. Kirk Watson objected to Dewhurst’s ruling on the basis that Dewhurst had previously stated the third warning would followed be a vote of the Senate on whether to end Davis’s filibuster, but no vote occurred. Noisy debate continued, and at about 11, Sen. Robert Duncan announced that Democrats’ objections were overruled; Dems continued to raise parliamentary challenges, and the noise of the crowds within and beyond the gallery made order difficult. 

At one point,  Sen. Leticia Van de Putte  – who had been absent previously, as she was attending her father’s funeral – raised a Parliamentary Inquiry requesting information about the three warnings that ended the filibuster so she could cast an informed vote on the appeal, but Dewhurst refused to acknowledge her. This prompted her to ask, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”, prompting fifteen minutes of cheering.

With 20 minutes left in the session, the Senate voted on Watson’s appeal of Dewhurst’s ruling on the third warning, and it was rejected. Duncan (who had taken over the podium from Dewhurst) moved to trigger a vote on the bill, and chaos erupted again. Despite Duncan’s efforts to restore order, the deafening noise continued for 10 minutes. Amidst the noise, Republicans claim they held a vote and passed the by 19-10 (or 17-12, accounts vary.) But the vote was so hard to hear and took place so close to midnight that there’s still no answer as to whether it met the legislative deadline. As of this moment, Senators are in caucus, debating whether or not the bill has been passed. 

For an alternate take on these events, here’s a good first-hand time line…

The outcome remains to be seen, but a few things are clear; Republicans have broken from their post-election contrition and commitment to win female voters, women are no longer willing to be passive witnesses to this strategy, and Wendy Davis is a superstar.


In Texas, a new level of stupid

The fight over abortion access in Texas continues, and it is big. There is no better demonstration of Republican legislators pushing an ignorant ideology against the will of the people – and at midnight tonight, we find out who wins.

The bill in question is being promoted by a female legislator – State Representative Jodie Laubenberg – who thinks rape victims don’t need access to legal abortion because “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.”

Cleaned out. Texas women are being governed by someone who thinks rape kit = abortion. 

If you’re not up on the details of this story, WATCH THIS VIDEO


Link Roundup – So Much Vagina News!

I could write a big long post about each of these incredible stories. But I’m not gonna. Just read them. 

Carie Charlseworth, a California teacher, was fired from her job because her abusive husband showed up at the school , forcing a lockdown – and it’s perfectly legal. Only 6 states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island – have laws on the books that bar employment discrimination against victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

More than 700 pro-choice men and women staged a ‘citizens filibuster’ in Texas this week over HB60, a bill that would force the closure of all but 5 of Texas’s 42 abortion providers. The Texas legislature is not backing down – they passed the bill in a closed session on Friday, as well as a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks – in direct opposition to Roe v. Wade.

In London, foodie celebrity Nigella Lawson was seen being choked by her husband in a restaurant. Evidence of a pattern of abusive behavior in their marriage has led to broader discussion in the UK about what abuse looks like, who is susceptible to it, how widespread the problem is, and why no one intervened. (This coincides with the release of a sobering worldwide study on violence against women. More on that soon.)

In response to the House’s ruling this week to restrict abortion after 20 weeks, a mother shares the story of her abortion at 23 weeks – a heartbreaking decision she and her husband made in order to save the life of one twin, and spare the suffering of another. The House bill would take that choice away from parents.

On a happier note, all that stuff about women’s fertility tanking after 30? It’s based on data collected between the 17th and 19th centuries. In otherwords, it’s bullshit.


Link Roundup: Media

The Vagina News plate-clearing continues! Today, the ups and downs of sexism in media.

Uplifting piece (in Glamour, of all places) on how women’s changing attitudes toward sexual assault are changing how we talk about it on a large scale.  

Today’s ‘girls’ toys’ are a lot a) pinker, and b) sexier than they were a generation ago. 

Great images from the ‘I need feminism because…’ project.  (Thanks Di!) And the wonderful Soraya Chemaly’s ‘Why Society Still Needs Feminism.’ These deserve to be greeting cards.

You’re probably familiar with the argument that sexual violence is common in human and animal nature. Newsflash – that’s bullshit. 

Finally, a great piece by a great male ally – Frank Bruni.  


Kickstarter Apologizes

Kickstarter has apologized, explained their thinking, pledged to change some policies, and is donating $25k to RAINN.

The core of their defense-with-apology is that they’ve never acted quickly to remove a project so close to funding. But the question they don’t answer is what it would take to get them to do so. I suspect if the project was revealed to advocate violence against people of a particular religion, race, or sexual orientation, they would have taken it down; But we’ll never know.

As with Facebook, only time will tell whether this indicates substantive or superficial change. The larger point is that institutional sexism isn’t getting a cultural pass anymore, and if you get caught, you’re not getting out of it.

At the Movies, the Women are Gone

Also… GREAT piece about the total absence of women’s voices in the current slate of mainstream movies. 

It’s easy to feel powerless to change something like this, but here are a few things every one of us can do:

– Start applying The Bechdel Test to all of the entertainment you consume; Movies, television, books, video games, etc. Make it a regular part of how you think about entertainment.

– When you talk to friends and family about the latest movie/tv show you’ve seen, book you’ve read, game you’ve played, etc., include your observations of how women were represented and portrayed.

– When you hear about a movie/tv show/book/video game/etc. that was created/led by a woman, tells women’s stories, etc., support it.

(Right now, check and see if The East is playing anywhere near you. The writer/creator is a woman named Brit Marling, it features excellent female actors like Ellen Page and patricia Clarkson in leading roles, and gets a gold Bechdel star.) 


Vagina News Link Roundup #3 – Entertainment

As you may know, in addition to being your Vagina News host, I’m an actor. Since high school, my life choices have been dictated by my determination to do what I love for a living. I’ve been very fortunate and worked my proverbial ass off to get as far as I have. For many, television, film, and professional theater (if they’ve ever seen it) are frivolous distractions from real life. For me and millions of my colleagues, they’re our jobs, careers, and passions all in one. So for me, these pieces are about more than abstract cultural context, they’re about my daily life.

– I’ve been a fan of comedian Patton Oswalt for a long time. Last week, he posted this piece about how his views on rape jokes have changed. I like him even more now. (He talks about rape jokes in Part 3, but Parts 1 & 2 are very much worth reading.) 

– The matter of gender in advertising is more media than entertainment, but the two are so inextricably intertwined, it makes sense to include it here. Long story short, American Apparel billboards are all over LA, and they make it really difficult to resist slipping into road rage. Their exploitative crap doesn’t touch my body.

 – Last week, Laura Linney received an award from Women in Film. In her acceptance speech, she talked about her experience with gender inequality in the film industry, and gave voice to the experiences of millions of women in entertainment, myself included. 

– Finally, I want to plug the fantastic Geena Davis Institute in Gender in Media. She and they are a leading voice in research, education, and advocacy around identifying and changing the conditions of institutional sexism in media and entertainment, specifically content aimed at children. Check them out.