Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Repo Rights: Sluts, Whores, and Bullies

You don't have to have sex to be called a slut or a whore. Any girl who survived middle school can tell you that. But bullies rarely consider accuracy before they resort to name-calling.

According to many conservatives, women who have abortions are sluts and whores. And women who support access to abortion are sluts and whores. Regardless of their sexual activity. 

Additionally, women who use birth control are sluts and whores. And women who support access to birth control are sluts and whores. 

Do we see a pattern? Women who believe they have the right to control their bodies and reproduction are intimidated with insults usually reserved for bathroom stalls. What used to be a predictable, not to mention hurtful and damaging part of socialization is now very political.  

In Texas, a 14-year-old girl was called a whore for the sign she held outside the state Capitol advocating for abortion. It said"Jesus isn't a dick so keep him out of my vagina."

After watching the epic Wendy Davis filibuster, this teenager was inspired to exercise her first amendment rights. Determined to keep church and state separate, she created a sign expressing her opinion.

Taking turns holding the masterpiece, she and a friend were exposed to counter-protesters so offensive police had to step in. But the real backlash came from the internet
One person said that my parents should be arrested for child abuse and in another unbelievable comment, someone suggested that my dad must invite all my friends over to "play abortion clinic."
Her father remains supportive, defending his daughter and her rights. Luckily, she has a strong role model, and a nation full of allies, while she doesn't "look up to anyone who says they are Christian but treats women the way I've been treated these past few days as a teenage girl."

Some bullies hide behind the anonymity of screen names. Others have turned public-shaming into a profitable career. But professional bully Rush Limbaugh, may finally be silenced-- or at least contained. 

Limbaugh has been losing sponsors since he called Sandra Fluke a slut. When the Georgetown law student argued birth control should be covered by health insurance, Limbaugh insisted Fluke was having so much sex, she couldn't afford birth control and that taxpayers should get to watch her have sex, if they were expected to foot the bill. 

His outrageous statements indicated how little he understood about women's health. And sponsors who knew better began to pull out

This week, Politico reported Cumulus will not renew its contract with Limbaugh. Following this story since May, the blog revealed
The host was considering ending his affiliation agreement with Cumulus because CEO Lew Dickey was blaming the company's advertising losses on Limbaugh's controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke... On an earnings call two days later, Dickey reported a $2.4 million first-quarter decline in revenue related to talk programming, which he attributed, indirectly, to Limbaugh's remarks about Fluke. 
While the satellite radio provider is ready to break ties, Cumulus affiliate Clear Channel will remain Limbaugh's conservative soapbox. But this broadcast company is currently under fire after refusing to air commercials for the South Wind Women's Center (SWWC) in Wichita, Kansas. 

Many have commented on the irony. Somehow, a media outlet supporting offensive opinion-leaders like Limbaugh found it "indecent" to say the SWWC is "committed to providing quality reproductive healthcare" or that the medical facility "trusts women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families."

Maybe the words "reproductive" and "women" have finally become synonymous with "slut" and "whore," making them unfit for the airwaves. Or maybe Clear Channel is simply opposed to women making their own decisions. 

Another form of bullying is silencing your target, with force or manipulation. The feminist group Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) recognized this immediately, and responded. 

"Women’s health care is never indecent, and everyone has the right to know where they can get medical care," WAM said. They are encouraging people to sign the SWWC petition and contact Clear Channel's general manager to reverse the decision.

The company hasn't been swayed yet. And from radio stations that suppress the truth, to hosts that spread lies, to listeners who take their hate to the streets, they're all a bunch of bullies.  

The way bullies attack other people usually says more about their own shortcomings. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up to them. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Opposite of Entitlement

It's hard to imagine Questlove could go unrecognized anywhere. The very tall, very brilliant musician has one of the most famous afros regularly appearing on late night television. 

Known as a member of the Roots, Jimmy Fallon's bandleader, and now an author, the beloved celebrity in anything but threatening. However, a recent editorial proved even an  outspoken social advocate, and talented drummer, can still be reduced to a mere stereotype. 

In response to George Zimmerman's acquittal,  Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson wrote a Facebook post describing what he calls a "pie-in-the-face" moment. Re-published by New York Magazine, the most-viewed story hurts much worse than being struck with an unexpected dessert. 

Thompson begins by explaining how he purposely avoids places. He rejects invitations, not because he is averse to parties, but because he anticipates party-goers being averse to him. 

"I'd say 'no,' mostly because it's been hammered in my DNA to not 'rock the boat,' which means not making 'certain people' feel uncomfortable," he said. 

Certain people are white people. And mostly white women, as we soon find out. Seem ridiculous? Thompson thought so too.

"I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own. You're programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement," he said. 

The opposite of entitlement is oppression. It's feeling like you don't belong, standing out in a way you never wanted; policing your actions, limiting your movements, and inevitably just staying home.  

When we discuss women and violence, we often talk about appearance, instructing them not to look like victims. But what about the other side? What if you look like a bad guy? What if your physical characteristics match what most people see when they imagine a criminal?

Women strive to appear alert and uninviting. Meanwhile, there are men walking slower, smiling more, or just removing themselves from public space so they don't seem to be targeting women. 

"My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it's a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe," he said. 

While at first this is the good-natured consideration many would expect from the man known as Questlove, his self-conscious thoughts are actually heart-breaking. While women clutch their keys, trying to look tough, this man is trying his hardest to look approachable.

Surely, Thompson can let his guard down somewhere. But his story suggests no such place exists. 

In his own building, where he eats, sleeps and pays the rent, he encountered a woman in the elevator. As a formality, he asked her "which floor"-- and she ignored him. He assumed, by her silence, she was headed his way. So when the doors opened, he said "ladies first." But she didn't get off. It wasn't her floor. She kept quiet because she was afraid of him. 

This fear is all too common-- and it has turned us into assholes. As Jessica Valenti wrote for the Nation, the Zimmerman trial was framed less as a man senselessly murdering a child, and more as a hero protecting white womanhood. 

"Yes, white women-- all of us-- are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism," Valenti said. 

Amanda Marcotte expanded on this at Slate, explaining how an all-woman jury, who many assumed would follow their maternal instincts, fell back on fear and let Zimmerman go free. 

"This myth that the world. is full of scary people who are out to get you white ladies works. Plenty of white women are so worried about the imaginary threats lurking outside their door that they don't pay any mind to the real problems that threaten us: economic inequality and lack of health care access," Marcotte said. 

No one on that jury saw Martin as a boy. By high school, he was already perceived as dangerous. From AlternetDeborah Small wondered at what age black men become a threat. 
Fearful for her grandson, a toddler who says "hello" to everyone, Small described most people as receptive, but knows it won't last forever.  

"Right now when people see him they see a cute, well-dressed little boy with a winning smile and engaging personality, his blackness is a matter of minimal significance. Unfortunately, I know at some point that will change," Small said. She's already preparing "for the day he walks up and says hello to someone and they look away in fear." 

Thompson is familiar with this reaction. As an adult, it happens all the time. It happened that day in the elevator.   

"Inside I cried. But if I cried at every insensitive act that goes on in the name of safety, I'd have to be committed to a psych ward," he said. 

Beyond the sadness, this "pie-in-the-face" is a teachable moment. It's the ultimate walk in someone else's shoes. Thompson's internal monologue following the incident sounded like this:

Those that know you know that you're cool, but you definitely know that you are a walking rape nightmare — right, Ahmir? Of course she was justified in not saying her floor. That was her prerogative! You are kinda scary-looking, I guess?
His piece is titled "Trayvon Martin and I Ain't Shit." Thompson concludes that when you look like him, you're a criminal, or nothing. And after so many years of either being closely watched or completely ignored, he's beginning to feel sub-human.  

It's time to check ourselves. Valenti and Marcotte invited white women to examine how they feel about black men-- and why. For anyone interested in doing the same, Thompson's piece is an excellent place to start. This discourse is necessary if we're ever going to co-exist in elevators-- or anywhere else.