June 2, 2014

Misogyny Is Not Mental Illness

Posted in Current Events, hate crimes, Men's role in sexual assault, Popular Culture, privilege and oppression, Rape Culture, Uncategorized, Victim Blaming at 8:39 pm by sacetalks

Written by Cynthia

We can’t write the Isla Vista killer off as “just another crazy person”. First and foremost, this is a cruel disservice to people living with mental health disabilities, who are actually far more likely to be victims of violent crime than its perpetrators. Yes, Elliot Rodger saw a therapist. But, by his own admission, that’s not why he killed and injured people. He did so because he believed he was entitled to women’s bodies and was enraged that they didn’t see it his way.

What’s more, he expressed these ideas in multiple Internet forums where they went utterly unchallenged. Some of those forums are even devoted to promoting such hatred. They’re reinforcing a deeply toxic concept of manhood that hurts everyone involved.

Misogyny is the issue here, not mental illness. But it’s not just present on the forums Rodger haunted; as PZ Myers puts it, “[I]t’s not just MRAs and PUAs that spread that poison. Every politician and media blowhard who bargains away women’s rights, who dismisses efforts to correct economic inequities, or patronizingly decides that they must manage women’s lives for them, is polluting the atmosphere further.”

The #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter (so-called as a response to the frequent cry “Not all men” that often reframes issues of violence against women to be about men) showcases these issues, too, as people relate stories of misogynist violence and misogynists attempt to commandeer the tag by posting vitriol. Also on Twitter, Melissa McEwan sums up the problem with pointing at mental illness as the cause of this mass murder: “Dismissing violent misogynists as ‘crazy’ is a neat way of saying that violent misogyny is an individual problem, not a cultural one.” Indeed: if Elliot Rodger was sick, then society itself is sick.

What’s the cure? Continuing to challenge the idea that anyone is entitled to access another person’s body. Continuing to reinforce that women are not prizes earned by accumulating possessions or currying favour. Continuing to, as this mom did in this fantastic post, teach our children this lesson.

October 18, 2012

Amanda Todd and the Degendered Language of Bullying

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, hate crimes, Myths, New Release, Popular Culture, privilege and oppression, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 11:01 pm by sacetalks

Ok, we need to talk about Amanda Todd. We need to talk about Amanda Todd and the misogyny and sexism that led to her death and we need to talk about the deficient language of degendered, deraced and depoliticized “bullying”. I know that I am not the first person to make these connections, but I think the incredibly tragic circumstances that led to Todd’s death need to be widely examined and recognized.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the specifics of this story here is a brief overview: Amanda Todd was a 15 year old girl from BC who recently committed suicide. The factors that led her to make the decision to take her own life are as follows: When Todd was in Grade 7, she was convinced by a man (who she believed to be a boy her own age) in a chat room to flash her breasts on webcam.  He persuaded her to do this by telling her that she was beautiful, perfect and stunning.

A year later, she received a Facebook message from this man in which he threatened to send the screen shot he took of her flashing to everyone she knew if she did not give him “a show”. This man knew personal information about her. He knew the names of her friends and family and what school she attended. Todd did not comply with this demand. This man followed through with his threat and circulated the photo. As a result of the circulation of this picture, Todd was ostracized at her school. She was severely slut-shamed and humiliated on a daily basis. She tried switching schools but the picture and slut-shaming followed her.

 At one point, she met a boy who convinced her that he liked her. Under this pretense, they had sex. The boy later revealed he was lying, he did not have romantic feelings towards Todd, and he made a joke out of Todd for believing him and having sex with him. A veritable lynch mob, including the boy, came together to further slut-shame Todd and even physically assaulted her. Following this event, Todd made her first attempt at suicide. The harassment continued unabated even after this. Last month, after two years of sexual harassment, abuse and isolation, she made a YouTube video telling her story and asked for understanding. Last Wednesday, she took her own life.

Since this story broke, there has been an international outcry against “bullying”. Widespread condolences have been sent to her family and renewed commitments to taking “bullying” seriously have been made by many school and government officials. However, there is very little mention of the sexism and misogyny that defines Todd’s story, and there is even less recognition of the systemic and structural causes of Todd’s torment. Her story is different from the everyday experience of girls and women by degree, not by kind. Saying Todd’s life was claimed by “bullying” obscures the real, concrete ways people experience oppression because of gender, race, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness. It also denies the many ways that these characteristics constrain and shape a person’s behavior, actions and life.

For instance, much of the news coverage focuses on the fact that once a girl has a nude picture on the web, that picture can never be taken back. Framing the issue like this suggests that the moral of the story is “girls, don’t put pictures of yourself on the internet because look what can happen”. This understanding of Todd’s story misses two key points: First of all, we cannot fairly hold girls accountable for behaving in ways that suggest their self worth is based on their desirability and sexuality without also taking responsibility for the fact that we as a society force this message down their throats. We do this with media, with advertising, with lingerie football, with cheerleaders, with Halloween costumes, with jokes, with off-hand comments, with fairy tales, with coloring books, and with Barbie dolls, to name just a few examples. Secondly, where is mention of the perpetrators in this “moral”? Why isn’t the moral of the story “don’t spread pornographic images of people around without their consent, and if you receive a pornographic image of someone without their consent, know that this person is being victimized by an abuser, delete the picture(s) immediately, and support the victim/survivor by letting them know that what has been done to them is wrong and is not their fault”. Isn’t that a clearer, more supportive and responsive message than vaguely telling people not to bully while still suggesting the situation was the victim’s fault?

The generic language of bullying cannot capture the structural and highly gendered reality of Todd’s story. Todd was not simply “bullied”. These were not acts of childish immaturity; there were behaviors and attitudes that were learned from the adult world.  Allow me to contextualize.  Todd’s story actually begins with 13 years of gendered conditioning and sexist cultural messages. She is then victimized by an online predator who uses this conditioning to his advantage. She is slut-shamed, victim-blamed and ostracized by her peers (who have also been raised in a culture steeped in systemic sexism) for being victimized. We know that this piece of Todd’s story is not unique because we know the challenges survivors face in a society that only focuses on the actions and behaviors of the victim without questioning those of the perpetrator. At some point during the next two years of torment, she is assaulted by a boy who lies to her and manipulates her with malicious intent. The fact that this episode is called sex rather than assault (because consent obtained through lying, manipulation or coercion is not valid consent!) in all of the news reports I have come across further demonstrates the systemic, culture-wide sexist attitudes that prevail. As a result of two years of sexual harassment, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, sexual assault and isolation, Amanda Todd chooses to take her own life.

Framing this story in terms of “bullying” glosses over the lived realities of gender-based violence. It makes it sound like this “bullying” could happen to anyone, but that’s not true. This particular story could not have happened to a boy or man. It also could not have happened if we lived in a culture that did not accept discrimination based on gender and that supported and believed survivors of sexual abuse and blamed only the perpetrators. We have to recognize the specific oppressions that people face because of their gender, race, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness and work hard to rid our individual attitudes and our cultural systems of these prejudices. We owe this to Amanda Todd.

– Stephanie

June 28, 2011

New Policy for Safer Schools

Posted in Current Events, hate crimes, homophobia at 5:47 pm by sacetalks

The Edmonton Public School Board has drafted a new policy regarding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It was drafted to address the disproportionate amount of bullying, harassment, discrimination, violence and high rate of suicide that students, staff and family members, who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, experience at Edmonton Public Schools. The School Board has already voted to implement the policy and recently opened up a discussion for the public to look over its wording and provide feedback.

When I looked at the policy outline, I had no problem with the wording. I feel like the authors are making a commendable effort to protect everyone whose chosen or presumed sexual and/or gender identity and/or expression unjustifiably renders them targets for abuse.

The recent news coverage of this policy has focused on its opposition by representatives from religious programs that operate under the jurisdiction and authority of the Edmonton Public School Board. One group posted an alert on their website to parents, which warns this policy would have a “significant, negative impact on our Logos Christian Alternative Program” (quoted from website). Their main issue is with points in the policy that state all gender and sexual identities shall be affirmed in the school environment. In their school programs they do not want to feel obligated to affirm, in their words, homosexuality. Rather, they want their teachers and principals to have the right to teach that the “homosexual lifestyle is not in accord with their Christian beliefs” (quoted from website).

The Edmonton Public School Board and the Logos Christian program are in an ideological struggle; an ideology affirming that all sexualities and genders are valued is conflicting with an ideology stating homosexuality is wrong. The truth is, this struggle is much bigger than the Edmonton Public School Board policy and will continue long after people forget about this particular issue.

Still, let us focus on the Logos Christian Program representatives’ worry that their teachers would be forced to affirm homosexuality in their classroom.

To be honest, they don’t need to worry. Any opportunity for students and teachers to talk about and explore the values in these sexual and gender identities and expressions is already restricted because of much more powerful legislation. The government of Alberta determines the curriculum teachers are required to teach in their classrooms. Nowhere in that curriculum is a lesson plan ready to be created that focuses on the affirmation of diverse sexual and gender identities and expressions. Plus, the Alberta government’s legislation, Bill 44, dictates that if teachers want to plan lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation, they must give parents written notice. The parents have the right to withdraw their children from those classes if they wish. Thus, despite the Edmonton Public School Board’s new policy, a teacher has no obligation to talk about “homosexuality,” and if they choose to create a lesson plan about minority sexualities, they are still going to have to respect parents’ decisions to remove their children from these classes. Contrary to their worries, this new policy will not force teachers to affirm homosexuality in their lesson plans and students to hear this message. However, it will require that in their day-to-day engagement with students, parents and teachers they show respect to everyone, even those with non-mainstream sexualities and genders.

Thinking about Bill 44, I have to wonder – Do the teachers in the Logos program have to send out a notice to parents each time they wish to teach their students that homosexuality is a sin? That lesson involves both sexual orientation and religion.

Bottom line – I believe the Edmonton Public School Board’s new policy is making a positive step towards less violence and more well-being for individuals in my community. To me, that’s always a worthy goal.

By Meagan Simon

References:

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Christian+program+worried+about+impact+school+policy+sexual/4934770/story.html

http://www.christianprogram.ca/home.html

August 13, 2010

This week in the news (August 6 – 13, 2010)

Posted in Age of consent, Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), hate crimes, homophobia, Intimate Partner Violence, News Release, Victim Blaming at 8:24 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Edmonton

HIV positive man jailed for drunken sex

Alberta

Red Deer care worker arrested, charged with sexual assault

Warning issued about freed sex offender

X-ray Alberta foster kids, judge says

More security cameras placed in cabs

Canada

Priest charged with decades old sex assault

Woman hit with hammer, sexually assaulted

Sexual assault is a crime, no matter who’s assaulted

New Charges For Man Accused of Sexual Assault

Cornwall man faces sexual assault charge

Teen reports sexual assault

Man arrested in NB wanted for violent sex assault in US

Suspect wanted in Etobicoke sex attack

Guilty verdict in Fountainhead trial

Playing fast and loose with crime statistics

14 year old boy charged with sexual assault in Newmarket

Senior citizen facing sexual assault charges

Northumberland OPP officer accused of sexual assault

Student teachers in Abbotsford, Surrey face sex charges

Suffering in silence

Cabbie accused of sex assault back behind wheel

Victoria-area Catholic priest faces sex charges involving children

Priest had past allegations of sexual abuse against kids

Helping Anishinabek Victims Of Crime

Coquitlam substitute teacher charged with fifth sex-related offence

Teenager not guilty of rape and sexual assault

Male Charged with Sexual Offences

Molester gets 20-month jail term

Sixty Seven Year Old Man Arrested On Sexual Assault In Quesnel

Ex-inmate launches suit against BC, guard

Priest faces more sex charges

RNC investigating case of suspicious person who approached child in CBS

Stronger self results in victim retelling story of abuse

Police receive stream of tips about priest in sex case

Church issues defence in sex assault suit

Woman tells court fear prevented her trying to fight off rapist

Ottawa man charged with sexual assault, forceable confinement

Date deferred again for poz man awaiting trial

Family ‘incensed’ over comments by Ashbury official

BC used penile teen sex test for decades

P.A. teacher back in court on sex charges

Suspect in Oshawa sex assault arrested

Man jailed for sexual assault on teenage girl

Dangerous sex offender sought in Abbotsford area

Inmate attack nets more time in jail

Vannatter to stand trial

Former football player faces charges

Kitchener man charged with sexually assaulting woman in her 80s

Suspect in rooming house death makes appearance

Doctor gets a year in jail

Wilbert Marshall sworn in as chief of Chapel Island

Basilians say money was to help alleged victim heal

International

California Mom Facing 67 Sexual Assault Charges

Attorney says probe officer who was with Roethlisberger in Ga. is inactive

Goa media urged to overlook tourism-related misadventures

June 17, 2010

Pride in the face of violence

Posted in Current Events, hate crimes, homophobia, Rape Culture, transphobia at 11:04 pm by sacetalks

Posters of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard on the Womonspace float at Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade.

The Womonspace float at Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade included memorial posters for Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com).

It’s Pride Week in Edmonton, time to celebrate LGBTTIQQA people and culture. As sexual minority and gender variant people have become more and more accepted and as more legal gains have been made, Pride for many has become more about the party than the politics. However, it’s important for us to remember why Pride is such an important event for our communities and recognize that this celebration is still one part of the ongoing fight for all of us to live free of oppression and violence in a just and equal society.

According to Statistics Canada’s newly-released report, “Police-reported hate crime in Canada, 2008”, hate crimes in Canada in 2008 rose by 35% from the previous year. The largest increase was in hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, which rose by 124%. Although some of that increase may be related to better reporting, homophobic violence in Canada appears to be on the rise, with a 127% increase in hate crimes where the victim was identified as gay or lesbian. The most common targets for these crimes are gay men (although 15% of identified victims were female). Even more disturbing is the fact that 75% of these incidents were violent offenses. Although most of these were minor assaults, about half of all hate-crime homicides were motivated by “biases related to sexual orientation”.

However, incidents designated as hate crimes by police are not the only acts of violence against sexual minorities. According to another Statistics Canada report from 2008, this one on “Sexual Orientation and Victimization”, LGB people were more likely to be targets of violent crime than heterosexuals from similar demographic groups. Even controlling for other factors that affect a person’s likelihood of experiencing a crime, gays and lesbians were nearly twice as likely to be victims as their peers. For bisexuals, this rate was even higher at 4.5 times that of the comparable general population. Without controlling for issues such as age, income, living in an urban area, and other contributing risk factors, the numbers were even higher for gays and lesbians at 2.5 times the average, with bisexuals experiencing 4 times the average rate of violent victimization. Spousal violence risks are also higher for all groups, with rates of 15% for lesbians or gays and 28% for bisexuals (heterosexuals have a rate of 7%). Unfortunately, this report did not include other groups — the lack of information on violence against trans people is a glaring absence and a prime example of the erasure of trans experience from academic discourses — but it does illustrate that sexual orientation is a factor in the experience of violence, even when people are not marginalized in other ways as well.

Stats for hate crimes in Edmonton are a bit more positive. We have a lower than average rate of hate crimes overall in Canada (although we have a higher rate of racially-motivated crimes), and 2008 saw only four police-reported hate crimes related to sexual orientation. The Pride Centre’s Brendan Van Alstine commented to the Edmonton Sun that “Edmonton is a pretty tolerant city,” which may contribute to our lower rate. However, homophobic violence does occur in the city: the best-known incident in the last few months is the hate-motivated assault by a 14-year-old boy on Shannon Barry. Violence like this is a powerful reminder that we still need to fight homophobia and transphobia in Edmonton.

In the face of this violence, why does the carnival atmosphere of Pride matter? Some might suggest we should march the streets in anger, shouting our outrage as loudly as we can. And sometimes we should. However, the celebration of Pride is also a powerful force in standing up against homophobic and transphobic violence. By showing that we are unashamed to openly walk the downtown streets, we show that hate will not make us vanish or send us back to hide in the closet. By celebrating who we are, we show that we are a part of our communities and that we do not need to blend in to be equal citizens. And by taking joy in our many queer communities coming together, we show our city and our world that we are strong, resilient, and thriving. Pride can encompass both the partying and the politics, and at its best and most powerful, that mix is the heart of what Pride is all about.

The Womonspace float

Womonspace float. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com)

Queer Muslims and Allies in Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade

Queer Muslims and Allies at the 2010 Edmonton Pride Parade. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com)

Trans Equality Society of Alberta, Edmonton Pride Parade 2010

Trans Equality Society of Alberta, Edmonton Pride Parade 2010. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com).