A ‘Better Late than Never’ Round of Applause for California

Long-time readers (I mean, it’s only been a little over a year) might remember the 2009 case of an 18-year-old California woman who woke up to someone having sex with her, thought momentarily it was her boyfriend, and quickly realized it wasn’t. The rapist was caught and tried, and was convicted of rape based on a state law that says knowingly having sex with a sleeping person is rape because a sleeping person cannot consent. But an appeals court overturned that ruling based on a standing 1872 law that said acquiring sexual consent by impersonating a woman’s husband is rape, but fails to set the same standard for impersonating a known sexual partner of an unmarried woman.

There was an effort to change the law in 2011, but it stalled in committee. This week, California Governor Jerry Brown fixed the problem, and the appeals court has granted a retrial.

Baby steps.

Link

Steubenville Followup from The New Yorker

I’ve been swamped this week, Vagina News friends, but wanted to share this article.

It’s long, and problematic in lots of ways, but it does a good job of a few things:

  • Explaining what rape culture is, and that yes, it exists
  • Providing several examples of ongoing protectionism and victim-blaming in Steubenville
  • Illustrating the complicated nature of misogyny and rape culture, in which there are rarely clear ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Facebook Update

Remember the effort to get Facebook to stop ignoring content containing misogynistic hate speech?  Well, after seeing some disappointing reports about their progress, I reached out to WAM!, the organization working with Facebook to implement the necessary changes. They’ve provided an update which I found valuable, and I think you might too.

Onward and upward! 

The STAGGERING Study No One Talked About

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization issued a report – the first of its kind – on  domestic violence wordwide.

The results are staggering.

Based on data from 1983 to 2010, 1 in 3 women on the planet has experienced intimate partner violence, and 40% of all women who are murdered are killed by a current or former intimate partner.

This has ramifications in all areas of women’s health – increased likelihood of sexually transmitted infections, depression and other mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and reproductive problems like low birth weight.

The report suggests the best opportunity to recognize and address domestic violence  is often in a health care setting – but heath care practitioners often lack the training required to see the signs, especially in the developing world.  

Imagine a study that found 40% of all murdered men were killed by a current or former girlfriend. Even just a woman – any woman. Would have been a pretty huge story. We’d be having a big cultural conversation about what’s gone wrong and what we must do to fix it. But this? Nope.

Ask yourself why.

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

 

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.

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. 

 

Link Roundup – Get it Together, Government

I’ve got a TON of Vagina News saved up, so I’m going to put together related links with abbreviated commentary until we catch up.

To begin, GET IT TOGETHER, GOVERNMENT:

– Reset the ‘Days Without a GOP Rape Mention’ counter and tell Todd Akin to put his shiny shoes on, because Arizona House Representative Trent Franks apparently woke up from a coma today and said, “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” Deja vomit.

By way of response, let’s revisit ‘The Worst States for Pregnant Rape Victims.’ 

– Next time you see your gynecologist (or anyone else’s) give them a hug, because this week the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement castigating state governments for initiating an unprecedented number of bills aimed at restricting women’s reproductive rights. 

– And finally, the Air Force has put Major General Margaret Atwood (that’s a woman, for the record) in charge of the branch’s efforts to curb military sexual assault. Atwood is four steps higher in the chain of command than her predecessor, Lieut. Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, who was arrested last month for – say it with me – sexual assault. 

 

The Paradox of Secrecy

One of the reasons I’m strict about who can access this page is so we can talk about things like today’s Vagina News.

Yesterday, a reader and dear friend sent me a story about video and photos circulating online of US soldiers raping Iraqi women in the course of conducting military operations. I watched enough to know that it’s a) a really important story, and b) a HUGE risk for both triggering and exploitation. 

(Anyone interested can find it pretty easily. Please be warned, every article I found contained photos and video, much of it above the fold and on autoplay.)

I feel trapped. This is the kind of crime that breeds through secrecy and darkness and desperately needs the disinfectant of widespread public attention, especially in light of the larger conversation happening right now about rape culture in the military. 

BUT… There are significant risks in making this kind of material widely available, both in retraumatizing victims, and in fueling people and groups that would exploit it for sexual gratification and/or profit. 

So that’s my question for you. What do we do? How do we tell the truth about what’s happening and ensure these crimes are witnessed without adding to the trauma and exploitation they’ve already caused?

 

Let’s play pretend, Vagina News friends.

Ready?

Let’s pretend that you posted an ad on Craigslist saying you’re a chemistry teacher looking to make some extra money as a tutor. So I tell you I’ll pay you $150 to tutor me. You arrive at night, I give you $150, and then ask you to make me some meth. You say no, but thanks for the $150, and leave. I shoot you in the neck, paralyzing and eventually killing you. Did I do anything illegal? 

Um, yes Vagina News, what kind of idiot are you? It is illegal to shoot someone for refusing to commit a crime.

Not so fast, smartypants.  Because in Texas, Lenora Frago posted an ad on Craigslist offering paid escort services. So Ezekiel Gilbert told her he’d pay her $150 for escort services. She arrived at night, he gave her $150, and then asked her for sex. She said no, but thanks for the $150, and left. He shot her in the neck, paralyzing and eventually killing her. 

This week, a jury acquitted him of all charges. 

In related news, the Anonymous hacker who brought national attention to the Steubenville rape case is facing 5 to 10 times more jailtime for hacking-related crimes than either of the convicted Steubenville rapists got for committing the rape and distributing photos of the attack on social media.

Our law enforcement and legal systems do not consider sexual assault to be a serious violent crime. It’s that simple.