I. “Non-consensual sex” at Yale.

Oh, Yale. You can’t even use the word rape in trying to address the “hostile sexual environment” at school? The latest report shows that what Jezebel calls “non-consensual sex-havers” are given written reprimands, and sometimes given probation, and most of the time advised to seek counseling.

Daaaammmnn! Rapists beware!

Before I speak too soon: one rapist was suspended for two whole semesters.

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II. Difficult men and women.

The pleasure I’m getting while reading Brett Martin’s Difficult Men -- about the sociopathic male characters who have dominated the highbrow cable television drama for the past 15 years (Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Al Swearingen, Jimmy McNulty, and on and on) and the sociopathic men who created them and portrayed them onscreen — is matched by the pleasure I got from Emily Nussbaum’s superlative reading and defense of Sex and the City (1998-2004) in last week’s New Yorker. A snippet:

The four friends operated as near-allegorical figures, pegged to contemporary debates about women’s lives, mapped along three overlapping continuums. The first was emotional: Carrie and Charlotte were romantics; Miranda and Samantha were cynics. The second was ideological: Miranda and Carrie were second-wave feminists, who believed in egalitarianism; Charlotte and Samantha were third-wave feminists, focussed on exploiting the power of femininity, from opposing angles. The third concerned sex itself. At first, Miranda and Charlotte were prudes, while Samantha and Carrie were libertines. Unsettlingly, as the show progressed, Carrie began to slide toward caution, away from freedom, out of fear.

See what I mean? It’s excellent.

III. I can’t care about Anthony Weiner. 

I understand fully how sleazy he appears, but I’m having a hard time seeing why people are more exercised about him than the comebacks of Mark Warner and Eliot Spitzer, who committed actual crimes and are also guilty of moral hypocrisy. Lying and being a terrible husband seem endemic these days, but tweeting some crotch shots just seems stupid and mortifying.

anthony_weiner_huma_abedin_a_lAnd honestly, how Huma Abedin deals with this is her own @#$%ing business, not mine.

IV. I’m thinking of seeing some underrated girl comedies.

I hadn’t planned on seeing the big hit The Heat (with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy), but its remarkable staying power in the theaters and a great essay entitled “The Heat: Not Enough Peen for Critics” over at Mighty Damsels have persuaded me to check it out. Also the new film The To-Do List. More soon on that one.

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V. WHO WANTS TO TALK WITH ME ABOUT MY CRUSH ON GIANCARLO ESPOSITO FROM BREAKING BAD?

Don’t tell me what happens; still making my way through Season 3 and into Season 4. He might be the best secondary/ tertiary character I’ve ever seen.

VI. Just go read Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Ridiculously enjoyable, cleanly-written, funny summer reading. And I’ve had a pretty good summer of reading, relatively speaking.

war on rape

Here’s a radical suggestion: let’s keep all the details of rape charges private and out of the media until they have been resolved by the legal system. Because if there’s anything worse than a legal system trying to figure out the details of rape cases within the usually male-dominated sphere of the police and the law, it’s the overtly sexist media trying a rape case without any fucking evidence.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An athlete is charged with rape, and a media outlet essentially pens a dramatic headline asking the public, “Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist?” (Hint: no, according to the story.) The real goal of the article is to say the girl is lying, and that the male athlete is the real victim here. “If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo,” the article concludes.

Using no evidence beyond her own gut feelings, the article’s author (and CultureMap managing editor) Claire St. Amant holds forth about how “kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up.”

You might think that St. Amant refers to both the alleged rapist and his accuser, who is under the age of 16. But no. Apparently there’s only one kind of kid who messes up: girls.

A lot of people found this story problematic, such that a defensive St. Amant posted a follow-up story doubling down on her position. Then a freelance columnist for CultureMap named Dan Solomon posted a critical assessment of the story on his independent Tumblr — because, as he explains for XOJane, he’d like to be the kind of guy “with enough credibility to call out people who say or do fucked up things.” He wrote:

I’m embarrassed right now that my name is associated with the Culturemap brand. I’m really disappointed in St. Amant’s judgment and of Culturemap’s choice to publish such offensive — and stupid! — bullshit.

CultureMap asked him to take it down, Solomon refused, so they fired him.

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Is Ryan Romo guilty or innocent? we don’t know. Was the sex between him and this under-16 girl consensual? we don’t know. That’s for the legal system to figure out.

Did his accuser lie? we don’t know. Of course we can all think of cases in which accusers have lied, but that doesn’t mean this one did. That’s for the legal system to figure out.

Let it be said that regarding rape cases, the legal system is the worst — because it’s very difficult to prove rape, and the entire process drags the accuser through a series of hoops that, frankly, resemble rape. Scrutiny of her character, her clothing, her behavior, her language. And let’s not forget the gynecological procedures that literally penetrate her in order to garner evidence, then shoot photographs. If you were younger than 16 and you had the least idea of all this invasion by the legal system, would you accuse someone of rape? If you were younger and 16 and had to be accompanied by a parent, how would you feel, going through this process? how would your parent behave toward you throughout the process? how much would you wonder whether they disbelieved you?

And that’s only the start. Then there are the shoot-from-the-hip assholes like Claire St. Amant and CultureMap, who think it’s fine to create yet another courtroom — one without any facts at all, and one in which the jury is whoever decides to log on to offer up their opinions online. But if an employee says publicly that this isn’t, ahem, cool, well — fire him/her.

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So that’s why I ask for a moratorium on news about rape charges. Because the media have shown that they are incapable of behaving with any degree of journalistic integrity in reporting those charges. To the contrary, media outlets are now going out of their way to muddy the legal waters even more. In the process, they have the capacity to ruin the lives of the individuals involved.

And because, hey, they need all the decent journalists they can get — people willing to call out fucked up shit when they see it.

I don’t know about you, but this was one of my major responses to the election:

Yup, we’re still in 2012. Collective sigh of relief.

But I keep thinking back to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale, written during that period of evangelical upswing, the mid-1980s. I hadn’t read the novel since I was a teenager, but picked it up again this fall as the birth control and rape conversations were flying fast & furious. The book is every bit as good as I remember, but for different reasons: whereas what I remembered was the horrifying future Atwood imagined, what I’d forgotten was the interior experience of its protagonist.

Because I think what is so chilling about this novel is how they got there, and what they forgot along the way.

Her name is Offred, and I beg you to read the novel just to find out how she has come by that awkward name. We never learn her real name. Offred’s job in this Christian future is to get pregnant on behalf of the high-ranking couple to whom she has been assigned. Like the story from Genesis in which Rachel cannot bear children for her husband Jacob, Offred has been selected to serve as the vessel for her master’s sperm and the baby that will be assigned to her mistress.

According to every single message within society, Offred’s subject position is God’s will.

As horrifying as that is, it’s worse to find two other crucial elements to the novel. The first is that she has forgotten how to live that other life, the life that existed before this new regime. For example, she encounters  a group of Japanese tourists who stare at them and want to take photographs:

I can’t help staring. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen skirts that short on women. The skirts reach just below the knee and the legs come out from beneath them, nearly naked in their thin stockings, blatant, the high-heeled shoes with their straps attached to the feet like delicate instruments of torture. The women teeter on their spiked feet as if on stilts, but off balance; their backs arch at the waist, thrusting the buttocks out. Their heads are uncovered and their hair too is exposed, in all its darkness and sexuality. They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before. 

I stop walking. Ofglen stops beside me and I know that she too cannot take her eyes off these women. We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds, about things like this.

Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom.

That’s what I worry about: that we are forgetting that making our own decisions about our bodies is both legal and a guarantor of women’s political and social equality. Instead, we’re getting used to a vast cultural and governmental apparatus making decisions for us. We’re getting used to entertaining seriously the notion that abortion is something to be debated — that it is inherently suspect, dangerous, traumatic. Not just abortion: also birth control. Also how to define “rape.”

We are forgetting what it feels like to reject those views. Texas women who undergo state-mandated trans-vaginal ultrasounds when they seek abortions are learning to forget that this is not necessary. Women who vote for libertarian candidates learn to think that those candidates’ views on state-mandated anti-abortion policies aren’t abhorrent and inconsistent with their political/ economic views. We’re told daily about the new varieties of legitimate or forcible rapes. We’re learning that birth control is the new battleground — that maybe The Pill and the IUD ought to be taken away from us.

The second chilling this about the novel is Offred’s fuzzy memories of the years before — how they looked past the ways their society was changing:

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. 

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print.

It’s mid-November, the worst of the crazies were not elected, but are we in 2012? The article in The Onion is not so sure. At the end, its interviewee explains that “while she was grateful upon learning what year it was, she had to admit that living in the year 2012 was still quite frightening.” Amen to that. Let’s not forget it.

Lord knows I, as much as the next girl, love being told by white male politicians what God wants for me. It just gets so confusing for my lady brain when they disagree.

So let me fire this one at Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for Senate from Indiana, who explained in Monday night’s televised debate that he opposes abortion for women who’ve been impregnated by their rapists because God “intended” it to happen.

Hang on, so God wants me to be raped? and to serve as empty vessel for the rapist’s spawn?

“The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother,” said Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed candidate who knocked Sen. Richard Lugar (R) out of the race at the primary stage. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Don’t you wish that you, too, knew what God wanted? Perhaps it’s only women who are suckers enough to believe in all that “working in mysterious ways” stuff.

Mourdock’s opponents jumped on his statement immediately (they are both rabidly anti-abortion, yet allow for exceptions). “The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen – ever,” said Mourdock’s Democratic opponent, Joe Donnelly. “What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”

Whoa! whiplash! I have a question, sir: Does God want me to be raped or not? Dammit all, how can there be such confusion on this issue? And can someone tell me how anybody knows what God’s will is?

Other questions arise. If God is involved to this extent, why don’t we tell people that God wants a criminal to invade their homes and hold them hostage just for kicks? Does God want all those other rape victims to be murdered and left in shallow graves?

Yup, that’s right, ladies: we just have to lie back and take all this information about God’s will over our bodies. ‘Cuz lord knows He only talks to politicians.

Richmond, VA: The Virginia personhood bill has been tabled by the state senate. Don’t worry, folks! It’s only been tabled until next year. Because the real con game here isn’t about personhood or abortion, it’s shaming women! (BTW: the unnecessary ultrasound bill is ready for the VA governor’s signature, even though it’s no longer a trans-vaginal probe ultrasound!)

Ever disliked a woman? A female boss, an ex-girlfriend, Nancy Pelosi, that mean girl in high school, that woman who got into a college that rejected you? Weeellll. This game shames all women, and that’s gotta be good for all of us!

This game is a lot like chess, except with blunt instruments. This is the long con, the game that stretches out for years. This game is not for the faint of heart.

Step #1 has already been accomplished: Making the abortion issue solely about women’s shame. When was the last time you saw a woman in one of those t-shirts that says, “I had an abortion”? Ha! All that screaming outside of women’s health clinics = success!

Step #2: Shift those glasses you’re wearing to black and white. Don’t be fooled by talk of “incest exceptions,” “women’s health,” “rape,” or “Republicans favor small government.” There is right and there is wrong, folks! Never the twain shall meet! And what is right is that men get to have patriarchal control over everything, and that women be shamed into silence and sexual submission.

Step #3: There is no hyperbole too outrageous. Propose a bill that requires all women seeking birth control to undergo religious counselling. A bill that requires female circumcision of all girls starting at the age of 10. Nothing is too extreme if you’re draped in the righteousness of Christianity!

Addendum to Step #3: Don’t worry if you lose these small battles — that’s not the point! The point is that we win the war, and the war is about shaming women and requiring female silence! In fact, the more hyperbolic the bill, the more we make all women think, “Hang on, am I supposed to be ashamed that I need birth control pills to manage my fibroid condition?”

Step #4: Shame all women in the public sphere who might offer up a counter-argument to female shame and silence. Let’s take the story of Quanitta “Queen” Underwood, the female boxer who’s likely to be the US’s best Olympic hope for the lightweight belt. Just recently she revealed something she had never told her closest friends: that between the ages of 10 and 13, Queen’s father raped her and her older sister on a regular basis. At first, he raped her older sister while Queen lay next to her in bed, pretending to be asleep. Eventually they told their (absent) mother, and he was imprisoned. This kind of coming-through-slaughter story is exactly what we need to squelch!

Solution: Propose that female boxers be forced to wear skirts when they compete. See how wearing a skirt reminds women athletes that the only important thing about their skill is their lady-business and/or how pretty they are? Get everyone distracted by the skirts question such that they ignore the Queen’s tale of survival — it doesn’t matter that you lose this campaign, because we’ll just propose skirts again for the next sport!

Our favorite part of this proposal: the perversion of the notion of choice. The outcome of this battle is that now, female boxers get to “choose” between shorts or a skirt.

And that leads to our last Step, #5: Rewrite the notion of choice. Bombard the airwaves with new definitions of the “right to choose” in a campaign so intense that everyone forgets that this terminology once had anything to do with abortion.

Example: Michelle Bachmann calls herself a feminist and speaks of the right to choose to raise 23 foster children. See how that muddies the water about choice, narrowing it down to the issue of how to be a mother?

Example: Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist and speaks of the right to choose between using a vacuum cleaner or crawling around the house on one’s hands and knees with a sponge and a bucket of water. You gotta leave room open for the fundamentalists who decry vacuum cleaners, after all.

Example: Lawmakers decide to end what some feminists call “rape culture” by urging Americans to “choose femininity, not rape.” This will mean nothing aside from shutting up those ugly women who want to break the silence. “Why do you choose rape?” we can ask in response. “Why talk about such nasty things as infections, diseases, humiliation, injury? Why not choose femininity?”

The shame game is one we will win, provided we all commit to it for the long haul. Down side: your daughters will grow up stupid, hunchbacked, and will cringe annoyingly whenever they’re spoken to. Up side: you won’t have to pay for college! and when you get bored with your alternately pregnant/breast-feeding wife, you can sleep with whomever you like, free of consequences.

Men = winners!

“Ladies’ Man or Sexual Predator?”

That’s what they’re asking at ABC News about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (as if I needed more reasons to hate the IMF), in the wake of charges of sexual abuse and rape. That’s right: let’s offer the public one more chance to excuse his behavior as harmless flirting, and fill comments sections with suggestions that Strauss-Kahn’s victims are whiny bitches. I’ll bet you $1000 when the pundits debate this question, they’ll get a woman to defend the “ladies’ man” side of this important question.

Meanwhile, the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “love child” (as the press invariably terms it; why not just “child”?) begs the question: you’re surprised? Oh, I get it — you didn’t believe all those women who came forward with reports of The Governator’s predatory nature back when he was running for governor.

And then there’s Roseanne Barr, who’s penned an unforgiving essay in this month’s New York Magazine about her experience being undermined, ridiculed, and dismissed even as Roseanne became a #1 TV show. Tina Fey observed earlier this year in that terrific New Yorker piece that men will call any of us a “crazy bitch” once they no longer want to fuck us. I’ll bet you $1000 that 70% of the response will debate the question, “How much is Roseanne Barr a crazy bitch?”

Message: you can’t win, ladies! So let’s debate whether Schwarzenegger is a ladies’ man or a sexual predator (and let me advise you that if you argue the latter, you will be termed a crazy bitch!).

Update, 11:15 am Tuesday: Our hero, Twisty Faster, has some sparks-flyin’ words at her blog, I Blame the Patriarchy, in which she points out that both Strauss-Kahn and Schwarzenegger shtupped “the maid.” Oh, “the maid.” The media barely treats such women as human, much less worthy of respect.

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