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

April 8, 2011

Thinking Film

Posted in Intimate Partner Violence, movies, Popular Culture, privilege and oppression, Rape Culture at 10:00 pm by sacetalks

I remember growing up watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I can’t remember what I thought about it then, a 5 or 10 or 13 year old child, with different and developing impressions about myself and the world around me. In all likelihood, I was probably fascinated with Gaston’s muscles and how many uncooked eggs he could swallow in one go. I also probably thought he was a jerk and it was wonderful that Belle ended up with the Beast/Prince in the end. It is unlikely that I would sit there in my youth analyzing my gendered relationship to Gaston, noting and reflecting on the perplexing discovery that I wanted his muscles for my female gendered body rather than wanting a muscleman wrapped around my body. And also, I probably never thought about why Belle and everyone else was white and what it meant for a young Belle to be forced to hide away in a Palace with a complete stranger in order to protect her father, eventually falling in love with her captor.

Like all Disney movies, people can view them and critique their depictions of sexual orientation, power, gender, body, race, desirability, etc., deconstructing how they create and sustain the dominant and normal roles for Western society. However, little children viewing them likely don’t have such a privilege to question and often, people don’t exercise that privilege even if they have it.

I’m a grown-up now with a grown-up education and grown-up privilege, so I get to question, criticize and make fun of the movies I watch. I did exactly that while watching a modern depiction of Beauty and the Beast, called Beastly. While it probably won’t gross $400 million in box office revenues like the Disney movie (it lack’s Disney’s musical flair), it too will make a profit by selling a story of love and captivity to young children and teens.

In Beastly, a powerful Witch changes a handsome young man’s body, a young man with the short-sighted impression that only beautiful people matter in the world, into a disfigured body with scars, metal, boils and cool tattoos (he gets to keep his muscles) to teach him the lesson that what really, truly matters is the beauty that we all have inside (and muscles). Kyle, the disfigured character, supposedly will learn that lesson by getting someone to say to him I love you.

An important aspect of the story is how Kyle’s rich, white dad abandons him and pays for a Jamaican woman and a blind man to take care of him. While under their care, Kyle develops a sense of empathy, relating to their misfortunes through his misfortune. That’s what we’re supposed to think anyway, only he never thanks them for putting up with his rotten attitude and providing for his basic needs, never recognizes the strength and resiliency of an immigrant woman trying to bring her children to the United States or sees his role in creating a barrier for her. Nor does he acknowledge how the blind man is quite happy and lively being blind, never once suggesting in the movie that it is something he loathes or wants “fixed.” No, Kyle, along with the audience, are supposed to presume that blindness is always something one would rather not have. Kyle “saves” them from their problems by making a magical deal with the Witch to give the man sight and give the woman her children once he achieves his good looks. That’s right; they are saved only if he gets his too.

 Our part as audience is simply to think that he’s learned a lesson about beauty. (The only lesson I would learn is people are beautiful only if they’re loved. Sorry singles). We are not supposed to notice how he spent an entire year of his life taking for granted the services others provided for him, using their positions of marginalization for his own gain. We’re not supposed to notice that he only does something for them when he is able to maintain his own privilege. And anyway, this plot line supposed to remain marginal in our thoughts compared to the main focus of the movie – his acquisition of the love of a beautiful girl (who by the way he also saves, what a good white hero).

The love story goes as follows: After he has sulked around in his home for the first few months of his “ugly” life, he decides to risk going outside. At a party, he speaks with a girl named Liddy who he thinks could fall for him. She is depicted as a female who gives back to the community, gives food to the homeless on the street and was able to see the good “inside” Kyle while he was still a handsome misogynist before becoming ugly. In the movie, sexism is sexy and so is criminal harassment.

He begins to stalk her. One night, he sees her attempt to protect her father from a drug dealer with a gun. Kyle runs to her rescue, causing her to fall and be knocked unconscious. He hides her away temporarily in her room and goes back to her father who’s just shot the drug dealer. Kyle blackmails Liddy’s father by taking pictures of the crime and threatening to show them to the police if the father does not give Liddy to Kyle because he wants her for himself. Wait, I’m sorry, it’s rather because he wants to “protect” her from the dead drug dealer’s brother. I know. It’s complicated.

She reluctantly arrives at Kyle’s home, not knowing about the blackmail. Kyle lies to her about who he is and why she is there. He begins to buy her things, builds her a greenhouse, and takes her to a mansion cabin in order to make her like him.

Eventually, she finds out Kyle loves her and whispers she loves him too. In the end, she isn’t really bothered that the ugly man she fell in love with turns into the handsome, rich Kyle who can take her on all sorts of trips all over the world.

Is it just me, or does Kyle use a lot of coercion to get Liddy to say she loves him? Is it just me, or does it seem like this would be a much different story if the Witch made Kyle both poor and ugly?

As my friend kept telling me, just don’t think about it.

That’s what I’m supposed to do right? When I see love depicted as a man using coercion to acquire a woman’s love – just don’t think about it. When I see how he still maintains his positions of white, class and gender privilege despite being made “ugly” – just don’t think about it. When I see a woman depicted as being both a 21st century independent lady and one who is defined by her role to take care of and love beastly men – just don’t think about it. She’s simply the care-giver ideal of femininity.

I shudder at the thought of a 12 year old boy not thinking about it, watching Beastly and forming his ideas about what it means to be a man; or a 12 year old girl learning to define her romantic attractions towards men she loves in sight of their beastly behaviors and attitudes.

I sit here saying that I will not not think about it, dang nab it!  I will not allow coercion to hide away in an image of heterosexual romance nor will I sit in my movie theatre seat not knowing that I just paid $12.50 to watch this crap.

Because I can.

Because I can think. We all can think about how love, sex, gender, power, race, privilege, disability, class, etc are depicted in film even as we pay to see those films. Except, of course, those who do not have the privilege to develop the skills of criticism, or the money to pay.

by Meagan Simon