Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confusion about Consent: Bob Dvorchak on Ben Roethlisberger's Suspension

Disclaimer: I don't know the details of what happened in the sexual assault cases involving Ben Roethlisberger, I'm only commenting on what was discussed on Talk of the Nation by Bob Dvorchak.

Late last week I was listening to NPR as I've been prone to do lately. On Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan was talking to Bob Dvorchak about the recent 6 game suspension of Ben Roethlisberger.

For those of you who do not keep up with sports (like me) Ben (who I will refer to as Ben, since his last name is too damn long) has been formally accused of 2 sexual assault incidents and a third which was never legally pursued. In all cases, no formal charges were brought against Ben. However, despite this fact, the NFL found that there had been enough of an issue to suspend Ben for 6 games (4 for good behavior.) Of course sports goons without a care for women, cried out how this was ridiculous, while sensible people commended the punishment and the NFL.

I'd like to jump on this last bandwagon and mention that this has given me a smidgen of respect for the NFL and it's commissioner, Roger Goodell, who made the decision. Regardless of if no formal charges have been brought forward, there is a clear issue here and the NFL would be remiss not to address it.

Anyway, back to Talk of the Nation and Bob Dvorchak. Dvorchak is a sports writer in Pittsburgh and so he was included in the discussion on Talk of the Nation about this decision. That day, I had heard other people covering the story, but from different angles, as none of them were sports people. One discussion was about how if Ben had been black the punishment would have been harsher, and I found that to be a fair assessment.

I tuned in late to the discussion with Dvorchak, so I didn't catch how he felt about the actual suspension, but his participation in the discussion was EXTREMELY problematic and since no one called him on it on air, I will do it now. And I am paraphrasing because I was driving and didn't write down his exact words, but I took some notes the minute I got home because I was so infuriated. Specifically, I take issue with two points he made.

1) The sexual assault allegations fall into a gray area and are more of a case of he said/she said than an actual rape because the alleged victim was too inebriated at the time of the incident to make a statement about what happened.

Saying shit like this is a huge fucking problem and perpetuates our rape apologist society. Let me make this crystal clear: IF SOMEONE IS TOO INEBRIATED TO MAKE A STATEMENT ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN A BATHROOM WITH SOMEONE AND WE KNOW SOMETHING SEXUAL HAPPENED, THEN THEY WERE TOO INEBRIATED TO GIVE CONSENT.
And no consent = RAPE!

It's not rocket science. It's extremely problematic that this concept is so hard for people to understand and is consistently used as an excuse for rape and victim blaming. I'm not talking about when two people get intoxicated and hook up. I'm talking about when one party is inebriated beyond control of their body and voice and they are taken advantage of. It's the same principal that a child is not capable of giving consent and why statutory rape laws exist. Someone who is extremely intoxicated is not capable of consent.

Case closed.

2) Dvorchak also claimed that Ben could basically get away with despicable behavior and still play in the NFL because a talent as big as him can't be passed up. (If the Steelers drop him, another team will pick him up.) The sad thing is that there is truth to what Dvorchak is saying here. However, Dvorchak as a sports reporter occupies a special place in society where he could critique this idea and call for sports fans to hold their "heroes" accountable for their behavior, instead of reinforcing the idea that sports rapists hold a get out of jail free pass.

Guess what? I'm sure Ben is a super-de-duper athlete. And he's among the elite in his sport. But there ARE other people as good as him who DON'T RAPE WOMEN.

We have got to stop holding sports players above the rest of society. Would you keep going to your dentist if you heard he had been named in three sexual assault cases? PROBABLY NOT! Even if he was the best damn dentist you'd ever been to!

We've also got to stop victim blaming and giving excuses for rape and sexual assault. It's as simple as that. We've got to promote the Yes Mean Yes mentality. And we've got to call people on their shit when they clearly don't understand what consent is. Bob Dvorchak doesn't fully understand consent, and he's writing columns and speaking on the radio, so I can safely assume he represents what a lot of people think...and that's so scary.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Personal is Political: Menstrual Cups

One of the cornerstones of feminism is the idea that the personal is political. So many of the things we feminists talk about are personal issues with a political perspective...and what could be more personal than feminine hygiene products?

If you aren't familiar with menstrual cups, you need to be. I got into them three years ago now. They were something I stumbled upon completely randomly while answering questions on Yahoo Answers. You see, for a good year or so I made it my personal mission to spread good information on Women's Health section of Yahoo Answers. And in doing so, I saw an ad for an odd contraption called a Diva cup*. I had to know I researched it and I found the best thing to ever happen to my menstruating life.

The benefits of cups are numerous. For one, they actually work! (For me at least.) I'm not going to go into the gruesome details of my terrible past with pads and tampons, but with a cup I don't think about my period. Not at all. Not even a little. It doesn't become a distraction in my life.

Plus, they are so much less expensive than disposable products. For example, I could easily spend $150 a year on disposables. But a Diva cup, when found on sale and with a discount code for at (which are really easy to come by) can be a low as $15-20. And cup users can frequently use them for up to 10 years. That's 20 bucks in 10 years instead of $1500. What could I do with and extra $1480? Quite, a lot, I'd imagine. Like pay 2 months of rent or 6 car payments.

The next big thing for me is the green factor. With disposables, someone like me creates a LOT of waste. I mean a lot. And with cups, not so much. Another convenience goes along with not thinking about my period...unlike tampons which needed frequent attention, I only worry about cups twice a day, and one of those times is in the shower.

And, unlike tampons, cups aren't putting a really bleached piece of cotton against your cervix. They don't cause toxic shock syndrome, and they don't leave minute pieces of cotton behind in your body. I can't help but feel that all of this is healthier.

So it's interesting to me that menstrual cups aren't more well known...that when you're in 4th grade and the nurse pulls all the girls out to talk about pads and tampons, they're never presented as an option. This is where it becomes a feminist issue for me. There are primarily two reasons I think that cups are so not well known.

1) The man: Think about it...who runs big business? And who menstruates? Two very different people, generally. And now think about this...which generates more income? Even a second grader could tell you that selling lots of little things over the year will get you more money than selling one bigger thing just once in 10 years. So basically, when you add this all up, there's no incentive to sell menstrual cups.

And in case you're thinking that it's just because cups are new and haven't had a chance to grab up their fair share of the market yet, that's not even remotely true. They've been around since the 1930's but they've never truly taken off.

2) The ick factor: I'm going to admit it, when I first heard of cups I was a little disgusted. Many of the women I tell about them are too. Menstrual cups put you in touch with your body and menstruation much more than tampons and pads do. However, this ick factor is because from a very young age women are socialized to believe that, to at least some degree, our vaginas are nasty. What is a very natural process, menstruation, is regarded with disdain. Don't believe me? Try teaching a sexuality class to middle school girls. The minute you hand out the "spread eagle" diagram someone is bound to say EW or "that's nasty." I. promise. you. And further evidence? Kotex couldn't say vagina in their recent ad campaign...ABOUT TAMPONS!!!

Well guess what. It's not nasty or gross or wrong to acknowledge that we have vulvas and vaginas! And they are natural. And so is menstruation. If more women were in touch with their bodies (literally and figuratively) then cup sales would sky rocket.

With all of this in mind, I have made it a small life mission of mine to at least spread the knowledge that cups exist. In the process, I have converted a lot of women. The simple fact of the matter is that for 90% of women who try them, and stick with it for a few months, (it can take some getting used to and figuring out how they work for your body---there's a learning curve involved that is not present with other products) you're going to be much...MUCH happier.

Don't believe me? Ask some of my friends.

Plus, you'll be forking over less money to the man. Cup companies are small businesses just trying to do good. Give them a chance.

*Diva is just one brand. I also have tried Lady Cup and like it too...there's also Mooncup, Keeper, Lilacup, Insteads, Lunette, Miacup, and many more. If you are interested in more information about cups, I recommend this community as an excellent resource:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


So I think it's appropriate to evoke a trigger warning here.

Now, I know some of you probably aren't aware of the use of trigger warnings, so I'll quote Jill on the subject, because it's really appropriate where I'm going with this:

So, here’s the deal with trigger warnings: They’re primarily used on feminist blogs on posts about sexual assault, and they just let people who have survived trauma know that the post may contain violent or disturbing commentary or imagery that they might want to avoid. Because the reality is, some rape survivors have post-traumatic stress issues which may be triggered by reading about sexual assault. Or maybe readers want to be able to go home and have sex without thinking about the rape post they just read which reminded them of their own rape, or maybe they don’t want to be reminded again that someone thinks this was their fault, or maybe they have a lot to do at work and don’t have time for a panic attack at their desk, or maybe they just don’t want to have their days ruined. Trigger warnings allow readers to evaluate that for themselves. So feminist bloggers put up trigger warnings as a basic human courtesy.

Ok, so that's out in the open and it should be abundantly clear why trigger warnings exist in the feminist blogosphere. However, what brought on this explanation was apparently an anti-feminist blogger, not worth naming, who claimed trigger warnings are dumb. So, of course, people were, naturally, up at arms.

But I think that the topic of trigger warnings and this whole unreasonable debate whether they should exist as a simple common courtesy or not is totally relevant to what has been going on in my feminist theory related life lately.

You see, I have never been raped. I've never been sexually assaulted or felt myself to be in a sexually threatening position. I have been sexually harassed, and as dehumanizing as that was, I would never compare it to rape. So the realm of rape is not something that I can completely relate to...and it's a side of feminism that I've definitely needed educating on and have only recently began to care about deeply.

Sure, I knew the statistics. And I did *care* about rape in a conceptual way. I knew rape was a tool of oppression. I understood the feminist discussion of our rape culture. I've felt rape as something that looms over me as a terrifying possibility in this world. I could mentally comprehend the evils of victim blaming. I understood that it was a sexist myth to think that men "couldn't" be raped. However, when I saw a blog or a post with the ever present *trigger warning* I approached the contents tentatively. I wasn't too interested. It seemed to be everywhere and I wasn't sure I "got it." I know what it's like to be paid less for doing the same (if not better) work. I know what it's like to be cat called. I know what it's like to be called a bitch for speaking my mind. I know what it's like to be told to get in the kitchen and make a sandwich. I know what it's like to read magazines and feel disgustingly fat and ugly. I know what it's like to have my math abilities belittled. All of these things I felt I could relate to, but rape felt so conceptual. And I'll admit, at best: I skimmed the articles with trigger warnings.

However, I've recently started to read them. Really, really read them. And think about them. And feel them. It's amazing to me how rape is dealt with in our society. The amount of questioning, shaming, and blaming that occurs is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. For example, if someone is the victim of a robbery or has to file an insurance claim for weather damage to their house, does anyone say, " sucks that you were robbed/had your house destroyed, but you know, some people have lied about being robbed/having their houses destroyed before, so I'm not sure I can believe you."

NO. Never. But any time a rape comes up all of a sudden, everyone is a skeptic. Have a few people lied about rapes before for whatever reason? Yes. But have people also lied about EVERYTHING else? HELL YES. And yet, no questions surround the other scenarios. Similarly, if someone is robbed, do we blame them for not having stronger glass on their windows or better locks? Do we blame tornado victims for living in the locations they do? Not at all. And yet, if a woman has been raped, the first thing we do is talk about her clothes, how much she chose to drink, if she uses drugs, or had tattoos, or if she's had sex before and with whom.

And I knew about the questioning/shaming/blaming. I'm not new to it. It's just SEEING it all in print lately in the comments of the rape blogs I'm actually really reading now has got me so passionate about it. There are SO MANY rape apologists. Probably more than rape victim advocates, really.

All this has me thinking frequently about issues of consent. It's such an important topic to consider...and teach our children. Honest, open communication, leaving out gray areas, and only having sex when consent is explicit and direct is simply a part of a positive experience. It doesn't kill the just makes sense.

But anyway, the point is that I am embracing the critique of our rape culture and taking a stand against sexual assault in our society. Just like how I don't personally experience racism or homophobia, I still speak out passionately against them, I'm no longer going to gloss over this issue. I'm going to talk about it openly...because when you leave something in the shadows, you give it more power and support the shame surrounding it.

By the by, I was inspired today by this Feministing community blog, and thus, here I am:
[W]e need people who aren't necessarily survivors to start speaking out about sexual assault. This demonstrates that rape isn't just a personal issue, but stems from some deep societal problem at which we need to start chipping away. It's not about men, it's not about women, it's about people, and increased support would illustrate that perfectly...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Notion of Choice

This discussion is NOT about abortion. I'm talking about the idea of women making choices in our society in a broader sense.

Recently, in my online feminist world, there has been a bit of discussion surrounding the notion of choice. Specifically, when are the choices that women make "not feminist" vs feminist? Can you be feminine and also a feminist? This realm really interests me, and I scratched the surface of this before when I was talking about "fuck me feminism." It's the type that's discussed in the first blog I linked where a woman says, "I am a feminist. I got my breast implants for me! They are empowering."

The problem with believing that any choice a woman makes is empowering simply because she made it assumes that we live in a societal vacuum or a gender neutral world. It gets at the very question of free will. If a woman "chooses" to get breast implants, why is she really getting them? What is her motivation? Why does she feel that bigger breasts are better? Why would she feel better about herself with surgically enhanced breasts? I doubt that in most cases you could answer these questions truthfully without evoking something that has been culturally transmitted by patriarchy. And when that's the case...who made the choice? The woman or patriarchy?

Fact of the matter is that we are all subject to patriarchal assumptions. If you have ever set foot outside your home, opened a magazine, or turned on the TV you were receiving patriarchal messages and prescribed gender roles. How did you "know" when you were 3 that girls wear pink and boys wear blue? How did you "know" that boys don't cry? How did you "know" that women take care of babies? How did you "know" that men do heavy, physical work? How did you "know" that women are supposed to care about their appearance and wear makeup and skirts and hosiery and perfume and jewelry and high heels and bras and shave their legs and armpits and wax their eyebrows and vaginas and paint their nails and color/curl/straighten their hair and carry purses and lotion their skin and diet to extremes?

Obviously so much of the things that women are "supposed to do" are dictated to us by patriarchy. Women are supposed to go through that litany of physical appearance related things because it makes them "prettier" and keeps women in a way which has been culturally determined as physically attractive and sexually desirable. And as is well known, these demands take a toll on women...women spends thousands of dollars more in their lifetimes on these items (yet making less) dedicate their time toward it (and time is money) and suffer a loss of self esteem when comparing themselves to the "perfect" images they see in the media.

OK. So performing gender is patriarchal and sexist. Duh. So far all I've said is things that anyone in a Women's Studies 101 class has learned day one. However, despite all of this, the "fuck me feminism" side of things says the woman who has made a choice (to get breast implants or what have you) is making it for her. She's empowered. On one hand, I really want to say blatantly NO you are not. You are playing a part in your own oppression. But here's the conflicting thoughts in my head:

1) Who am I to judge what another woman does with her body? Why should I shame her? Does she really need another voice in the cacophony telling her how to look?
2) Is it actually possible to get breast implants "for yourself?" Can this be empowering?
3) Where do feminists draw the line? What parts of performing gender are acceptable and what are not? Is a mani-pedi OK, but a bikini wax is too far? How could we ever determine this?

No one can ever answer these questions. The whole situation is so complex. I think about my own life for example. I have acrylic nails. And I love them. Did I get them for a man? Sort of, it was for prom (damn, I've had acrylic nails for 6 years.) Does a man encourage I have them? Yes. He loves when I scratch his head. If I really wanted to get rid of them and he protested, would I still do it? Yes. If he really wanted me to get rid of them and I still wanted them, would I keep them? Yes...truth is I love the suckers. Do they cost me too much, really? Yes. Do I enjoy getting them? Yeah, I love feeling relaxed and having clean, pretty nails which display a part of my unique quirky self. (I often get funky colors and designs.)

So what's the verdict? Are my nails feminist? Probably not. And that's part of my point. I am a feminist. I truly care, to my very core, about eliminating barriers to women and sexism. But I still make "unfeminist" choices. I cannot claim everything I do or like is feminist. So how do I live with the cognitive dissonance?

In a lot of ways the problem I have with performing gender isn't that certain beauty rituals exist, it's that the rituals are directly solely at women and we are expected to do them. I think it would all be a lot simpler if women were not criticized for leaving their armpits unshaven and men were not mocked for getting pedicures. Then, in these examples, the idea of choice could be much more valid. Men don't even encounter the "choice" to shave their legs, so how can we say that it's really a choice for women? If leg shaving or acrylic nails or makeup or carrying a purse were as gender neutral deciding what to eat for dinner or which car to buy (which aren't totally gender neutral, just closer) then this would all be a lot simpler.

Of course, I've just proposed a world that most people would be very uncomfortable in...especially Mr. McAsshat over at the American University student paper.

As for the breast augmentation part, however: At the end of the day, I'm not really a pro plastic surgery person at all. And I can never imagine breast implants as feminist. Ever. Not even a little.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

The Good

Dear Ellen Page,

Despite loving Juno, Whip It, and even Hard Candy, I hadn't yet decided how I felt about you. I don't think you're entirely the best actress in the world, even if you do make REALLY good role choices. However, it turns out...I love you. I love public women who boldly speak their truth, especially when that truth just happens to be one that is underrepresented and I agree with passionately.


The Bad

Dear Chris Brown,

Unlike some people, I will never, ever forget what you did. EVER. I don't think that domestic violence apologies are enough. I don't think your punishment was enough. I don't want you in the public eye anymore. As such, I will not listen to your music. Thank God that my XM radio alerts me to who the artist is that I'm listening to, so when it's you, I can promptly turn the dial. I didn't listen to your new song "I Can Transform Ya" but I did look up the lyrics. How appropriate that you are writing about controlling a woman by changing her...her looks, her clothes, buying her things, telling her you "see potential" in her. And how appropriate that you feature Lil Wayne on the track. It's just like a big old misogynistic party that I declined my invite to.

Cordially fuck off,

Dear Bristol Palin,

Where do I start, Bristol? I had hope for you...once. I heard that after you got pregnant, you questioned the anti-sex abstinence only perspective of right wingers like your mom. But then you appeared on the "I'm so glad I chose life" magazine cover with your mom. That's when I knew I couldn't hold out any hope. You confirmed my pessimism with this PSA. I won't come out as strong against the Candies Foundation and the "pause before you play" tag line as Jos did in the linked blog, (because it could mean many things.) But I WILL come out as strong against your classist message. I'm sorry...but I really felt like the thesis was "if you're poor, don't have sex EVAAARRR!" and that's something I just can't get behind.

Please take your mom and your "perfect" rich white I-can-get-away-with-teen-pregnancy-because-I'm-better-than-you self and go far, far away. Forever.


The Beautiful

Dear Eryah Badu,

When I first heard about the controversy surrounding your video, I thought it was much ado about nothing. Honestly, I didn't care one way or the other about what you were doing. Then I read analysis after analysis...and one thing that stood out to me was suggested by a commenter on Feministing (which I can't find right now.) It had to do with how Matt and Kim also stripped nude in public for their video "Lessons Learned." The comparisons were everywhere. Ronald first mentioned to me the similarities, when I hadn't thought of. Then I saw people saying how their video inspired you. Then, in the specific comment I mentioned, someone pointed out how Matt and Kim didn't receive a citation and their video was seen as innocent and childlike, if not comical. While your video, on the other hand, was portrayed as such a sexual piece which you were fined for.

It reminded me of how black women's bodies are hypersexualized by our society. How they are commodified. How they are compared to animals. I started to think about the controversy surrounding your video in a different light. I started to see what was really going on. And when I heard what you had to say about your body, and I began to really admire you.

But what made me love your video the most, was seeing it through the eyes of a 5 year old.

Thank you, Ms. Badu. Thank you for your video, for your work, and for being you.

Stay beautiful,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Analysis of Rihanna's Rude Boy

Warning, explicit content to follow :)

When I bought my car in September, one of my favorite things about it was the satellite radio. On a vacation to Boston the summer before, Ronald and I became hooked on a radio station called AltNation. Indie rock to the max. Needless to say, this became the station regularly played in my car for the past 6 months. However, every now and then I do come up for some pop air and stray from my wonderful indie rock.

Lately I've been getting one of these pop fixes. The top 20 station is usually playing The Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Bee" or Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance" or her duet with Beyonce, "Telephone." Every now and then I'll also catch New Republic's "All the Right Moves." (Here's a confession: I love every one of those songs. I can't help it. Pop has the place of being like junk food for my brain. I know it's crap. But. I. Love. It.)

Anyway, another song I've heard a few times now is Rihanna's "Rude Boy" which is the subject of this blog. When I first heard it a few lyrics stood out to me and I began to think of it as an anthem for healthy, consensual, communicative sex. And after reading the full lyrics, I have some thoughts on it.

Let me back up. We all know Rihanna's history. Her abuse (inflicted by then boyfriend, Chris Brown) was made painfully public and discussed and analyzed by everyone under the sun, including yours truly. And I've been worried about her...would she go back to him? Would she go down in history as that girl who was smacked around by Chris Brown? Thankfully, we can now see the answer to both questions is no. Her latest album is doing well (it went platinum) and she's even been a critical part of one of my favorite recent SNL digital shorts, Shy Ronnie. Rihanna's not moving on without acknowledging her recent past, however. The latest album, Rated R, features an angry tone and I feel like her photograph on the album cover is no accident. (Covering the right side of her face which was most battered by Chris Brown.) I think she's moving forward in what seems to be a healthy manner...not forgetting what she's been through in her past, but making her present her own.

Ok, so on to "Rude Boy." When I was riding in the car the first time I heard it I was struck by how sexual it was. My point isn't to comment on how our society is becoming more and more sexual...I'm going to take it from the perspective that Rihanna is a 22 year old woman who is capable of expressing her sexuality through her art. My point is that, rather, I was just taken a back for a minute by just how sexual it is. (There's a reason the album is called Rated R.)

The second time I heard the song, however a few lyrics stood out to me and made me think that the song could be
an anthem for healthy, consensual, communicative sex, as I mentioned above. Specifically, Rihanna sings:

I like the way you touch me there
I like the way you pull my hair
Babe, if I don't feel it I ain't faking, no, no
I like when you tell me 'kiss you here'
I like when you tell me 'move it there'

All too often, women are not assertive in their sexual relationships and put up with...well bad sex because they're too embarrassed or afraid to say what they really want. Here, Rihanna is showing that it's ok to say what you want and to be told what to do to pleasure your partner. And if she doesn't like it, she's not going to fake it! Pretty cool, huh? I mean, what is more of a sign of a woman playing the role of a sex object and pandering to the sexual shortcomings and ego of a man more than to fake an orgasm?

But then I read the full lyrics and a few things stood out to first I was concerned about this:

Tonight I'ma let you be the captain
Tonight I'ma let you do your thing, yeah

My initial thoughts: Really? Let a man take charge in a sexual situation? How novel. No one has EVER done that before. But then I kept reading and the next verse reads:

Tonight I'ma give it to ya harder
Tonight I'ma turn ya body out
Relax; let me do it how I wanna
If you got it I need it and I'ma put it down
Buckle up; I'ma give it to ya stronger
Heads up; we could go a little longer

Ok, now we're talking...I get it. Sometimes he's in control, sometimes you are. And that's how sex lives should be, right? It's not about one person's desires, pleasures, and's about a balance between the two individuals involved.

All in all, I think that "Rude Boy" is, by comparison to most R&B/Rap songs about sex, pretty damn egalitarian. And while I still cringe slightly at the idea of younger children listening to the song, it's another reason for me to love Rihanna and not feel so bad when this song is stuck in my head.