June 23, 2011

Where am I?

Hi everyone!  I've been gone for a really long time so you probably all have been up many nights in a row worrying that I died of a self-righteous opinion overdose or something.  Turns out I didn't.  That's not even a thing apparently (checked both web MD and Erowid).  Here's what I've been up to lately, though, and some stuff about why I'm not writing:

  • I moved to NYC!  I finished my first year at University of Chicago and moved here for an internship at Hunch.com.  I work in their marketing and content division, primarily on social media, so everyone should go like their Facebook page because it'll make me look good.
  • I'm working on my book!  Turns out, it takes a lot of time and energy to write a book.  Who knew?  I figured I should focus all of my writing energies there for now.  I'll keep you all updated with more info about publisher stuff/release dates when I know.
  • I'm working on a really neat-o top secret project that I can't divulge any information about yet but it'll most likely launch in September and it involves a lot of really awesome, talented people and I promise you will be into it.  Been putting some energy into that.
  • Just finished organizing SlutWalk Chicago which went really super well but I am SO BURNT OUT FROM HANGING OUT ON THE INTERNET 24/7 it isn't even funny stop laughing no really. 
  • Some freelance stuff probably.
  • Thinking about starting a podcast so once I get some resources together I might work on that a little.
Just sort of need a break from sitting in front of the computer.  Sometimes it is nice to take a little recharge period to observe things without commenting and then go and write about them later.  Thus, the blog has been on a bit of a hiatus.  

I'm not completely gone from the internet though.  Here are all of the numerous places you can still hang out with me via web:

April 23, 2011

Activism, Mormonism

Every so often I come across a subculture on the internet and develop an absolute infatuation with understanding its nuances-- the in-jokes, the cultural tropes, the historical context.  I find myself watching videos and reading blogs and trying to understand the group, inevitably framing it within the context of my own life.  The experience is like stumbling into the identical apartment on the floor below yours and realizing that everything is the same, except with totally foreign furniture, clothes, and knick-knacks.  I might not be making sense.  The sensation is sort of difficult to describe.

Anyway, for the past few months I've really hooked in to watching these comedy videos on YouTube by the student comedy group Divine Comedy at Brigham Young University, a private Mormon university in Provo, Utah.  The videos are wholesome, self-aware, and endearing, and I am pretty sure I would find them hilarious if I grew up Mormon or in proximity to an LDS community.  An example of the videos I am talking about (search YouTube for tons more):

Most of these videos are parodies of popular songs or phenomena.  I found this interesting because, as both a religion and a culture, my understanding is that Mormonism does not identify with the less-than-wholesome, mainstream pop culture.  I thought it was interesting to see a group co-opt something they reject, and use it in a self-serving way.  The videos by Divine Comedy are for entertainment, but watching them got me thinking about the relationship between parody and activism.

Initially, I was really into the idea of a group using something that it rejects as a means of proving a point.  It seemed cool, innovative, and gently subversive.  On second thought, however, I considered the possibility that leaning on pop-culture for parody simply reinforces the system itself.

I am having trouble figuring out how I feel on this topic.  What do you think?  Is parody an effective tool for fighting the status quo, or does engaging in parody simply reinforce the system by relying on it in a different manner?

Edited to add: It was a bit of a sweeping generalization to assume that ALL Mormons do not identify with ALL pop culture.  What I mean by the statement is that a lot of pop culture relies on themes of violence, promiscuity, etc-- themes that lots of Mormons (and lots of other groups) tend to reject.

April 22, 2011

SlutWalk Chicago

Just wanted to let everyone know that I've been sort of off the radar in the past few weeks because I am a chief co-coordinator for SlutWalk Chicago, an awesome event about sexual assault awareness and victim blaming that you should come to if you live in the Illinois area.  Planning takes up a lot of my time lately, which I am totally psyched about, because I have met 192192380 great people in the process.

Anyway, I'll write a post soon, but just wanted to link y'all to some more info:
Huffington Post article about SlutWalks in general
SlutWalk Chicago Website
SlutWalk Chicago Twitter
SlutWalk Chicago Facebook

Let me know if you plan on coming!  I'd love to meet some of you!

April 10, 2011

A "Don't Get Raped" Campaign (maybe) Reduces Rapes; A "Don't Rape" Campaign Reduces Rapists

Before I get into addressing some of the feedback on my earlier post about rape, I just want to lay down some statistics that I pulled from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Criminal Victimization Study (2005) and 1997 Sex Offense and Offenders Study:
  • 73% of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger 
    • 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances of the victim
    • 28% are intimate partners of the victim
    • 7% are relatives of the victim
  • 6 in 10 rapes occur in the home of the victim, or in the home of a friend or relative of the victim.  
In discussing rape, we need to get away from the idea that rapists are hiding in parking garages or in the often-called-upon "dark alley."  We need to stop making the assumption that rape, on the whole, happens when someone leaves a bar with a stranger.  These rapes do happen, and are still entirely problematic, but they are not the norm.  As the statistics show, most victims know their rapist, and most rapes occur in a home setting.  Statistically, you are more likely to be raped by your boyfriend or husband than you are by a stranger.  Hanging at home or at a friend's house puts you at more risk for rape than going out to a bar.  The first thing we need to be able to do if we want to have honest, open discussion about rape is challenge the assumptions we have about where rape happens and who commits it.  

In the comments on Thursday's post, a lot of people raised the point that it is ignorant and dangerous to assume that women can do nothing to prevent, or at least decrease the likelihood, of being raped.  Obviously, people of all genders should work to protect their own general safety.  People should listen to their intuition in situations that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  People should surround themselves with friends and family that look after each others' best interests.  Everyone everywhere should be expected to use good judgement in how they conduct themselves in day-to-day life.  I think most people already do; it's human nature.

Despite this fact, which I very much believe to be true, I stand by my assertion that, on the whole, there is no way for women to prevent rape.  Using good judgement is great, but in a world where most rapes are committed by acquaintances of the victim in a home environment, judgement isn't really going to be helpful in preventing rape.  It is easy to pull the "good judgment prevents rape" line of thinking in an abstract argument, but in reality, should I avoid Uncle Jim's house because he is statistically more likely to rape me there?  Should I never have a boyfriend due to the high degree of rapes that are committed by intimate partners?  The "judgement prevents rape" argument falters in reality, at least 73% of the time.  

Perhaps there is something women can do to prevent being raped by the 27% of rapists who are strangers-- to avoid being attacked in one of the 4 in 10 rapes that occur outside the home.  I threw this question around with a lot of people this weekend, and none of us could really come up with a technique that seemed particularly convincing or effective.  For the most part, people act in the interest of their own safety, regardless of gender.  We could say, "Stay out of that dark alley!" but you probably already are for the most part.  Maybe you should avoid hitchhiking on rural interstates alone at night, but honestly, I don't think anyone even does that anymore outside of horror movies.  Any of the things that we could think of suggesting had nothing to do with rape at all, but instead with protecting general personal safety, which is something people of both genders do already for the most part.  Perhaps you venture into a dark alley from time to time, but there is not doubt you calculate the perceived risk and reward before doing so.

All of the gendered suggestions seemed moot as well.  Should women dress more modestly to avoid being raped by strangers?  This idea is crap.  People are raped in sexy, going out ensembles, but they are also raped in sweatpants, baggy tee shirts, burqas, and suits.  Dress does not imply consent, and historically rapists do not appear to put much thought into what a victim is wearing in deciding if they should rape them or not.   

Someone raised the point that perhaps women and girls should avoid hanging out unsupervised in all-male groups, or hanging out one-on-one with male friends.  This argument is incredibly insulting to men.  It implies that men have no moral compass that would incite them to stop one friend from raping another, and that they are entirely out of control of their ability to monitor their own behavior.  If these implications are true, then yes, women should avoid spending time in isolation with men.  If these statements are untrue, then this suggestion is just as useless as the rest.  Readers, you can asses the validity of these implications on your own.  I think the conclusion is pretty obvious.   

And finally, yes, maybe you could take a self-defense class.  This might help you fight your way out of a rape situation.  If you succeed in fighting off an attacker, perhaps you will not get raped.  But there is still a rapist out there, and there are still lots of women who are unqualified or physically incapable of fighting off an attacker.  You might have protected yourself, but this action does little to stop rape on the whole. 

So yes, I honestly do believe that there is nothing women can do to protect themselves from rape.  Many people, including many women, regard this view as radical and stupid.  I think a lot of this has to do with fear.  It is not comforting to hear that there is nothing that you-- as a rational, thoughtful woman-- can do to avoid being raped.  I understand the scary nature of this thought, but I do not recognize fear as sound reasoning for rejecting truth.

Currently, society puts an emphasis on "don't get raped" as opposed to "don't rape."  Logically, I think it would make sense to invert this mode of thinking.  Most of the (above stated) techniques suggested by the "don't get raped" camp are useless.  They rarely succeed in helping people to avoid or escape rape, and even when they do, they contribute almost nothing to the cause of ending rape as a whole.

Addressing rape from the supply-side seems like a more logical and effective method.  Right now, we make efforts to implement an assortment of semi-useless techniques that are rarely effective and contribute nothing to actually eradicating the act of rape on the whole.  Addressing rape from a "don't rape" perspective makes much more sense, as it pays off manifold in the long term.  A "don't rape" campaign could reduce the number of rapists, whereas a "don't get raped" technique merely quells the number of rapes.  It seems pretty obvious to me which one would be a more worthwhile expenditure of energy, money, and time.  It also seems pretty obvious to me which one would reduce rape in the long run.

I'll post later this week with some thoughts on what I think a "don't rape" campaign could look like.  If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to leave them in the comments.  

April 7, 2011

Today I had to leave class to cry.

I cry maybe five times per year.  This isn't be because I'm some sort of heartless stoic; tears just aren't my go-to method for expressing things.  I'd much rather yell or just do that angsty, brooding teen thing that I'm quickly getting too old to pull off.  Crying doesn't usually do it for me, but today I cried.

It was in a class called Regulating Speech.  Well, actually it was in the bathroom next to the classroom.  In Regulating Speech, we discuss a lot of hypothetical situations that relate to the First Amendment.  Today we were discussing censorship of printed materials, and the hypothetical situation involved an imagined how-to guide on rape.  "Should we ban this?" the professor asked.

I endorsed permitting the guide to be published.  I'm very much of the school of thought that the marketplace of ideas will combat fringe ideas on its own, and that the discourse surrounding controversial material is a lot more conducive to progress than a downright ban could ever be.  Though the notion of a how-to guide on rape makes me nauseous, but I'd be willing to let it exist in the name of freedom of expression and promoting progress.

A number of other people in the class agreed that the book shouldn't be banned, but supported their opinion with different logic.  A few boys chimed in with some statistics about the proportion of rape victims who are raped more than once, and suggested that perhaps the book would be a good resource for women who want to learn "how to prevent being raped."

There is no such thing as "rape prevention."  The only way for people to not get raped is for people NOT TO RAPE THEM.  We can't end rape by dressing modestly or avoiding dark alleys or letting friends babysit our drinks when we go to the bathroom.  The only way to abolish rape is for nobody to rape anyone else.  It really isn't a difficult concept.

I chimed in politely and explained this to the class.  I fully expected at least one other person to agree with me.  I looked around.  Nobody agreed.  A bunch more people raised their hands and tried to correct me.  "They can at least be aware of a rapist's techniques!" they argued.  "It is silly to think that women can't prevent rape."

At this point, I basically lost it.  "It isn't the job of women to prevent their own rape!" I argued.  "The only people who can prevent rape are rapists!"

Things got awkward and the professor changed the subject.  I sat for a moment, and then I went and cried in the bathroom.  Not the loud kind, but like, the really painful kind where the tears feel angry and stuck inside your head.

I am fortunate to live in a world where almost everyone "gets" things.  My family is pretty progressive.  My boyfriend could make a room full of gender studies students swoon.  The internet communities that I inhabit are filled with cool activist types with well-formed opinions.  When I disagree with my friends, it is usually about semantics more than the fundamental nature of the opinion.  In this world, it is easy to forget that bigotry actually exists.  Enemies of progress are thought of abstractly-- as blurry-faced, cat-calling construction workers or scary, hunched-over shadows in dark allies.  It is easy to forget that people with uninformed or just plain stupid opinions exist in the world around me.  Sometimes I get weary of pushing "the feminist agenda."  It takes a lot of work.  Things in my life feel pretty safe and good-- it would be easy to just be complacent.

It is times like these where I remind myself that people like the ones in my class do exist, and they exist in my daily life where I can interact with them, and maybe teach them something.

Anytime I feel complacent, I think of these people, and how I still have the opportunity to reach them.  I think I cried in the bathroom because it is really overwhelming to realize how many people out there still don't "get it".  Occurrences like these are awful, but they are also productive because they enforce my belief that some issues still need to be fought for, despite what people may tell you.

March 26, 2011

Recontextualizing (or Rejecting?) the Bikini Bod

Flew down to Texas over my spring break for SXSW and to do some general traveling. Having come from Chicago, the warm weather is an intensely welcome change. Nice weather, though, means less clothes. I've never been hugely self-concious about my body, but wearing fewer clothes, no matter what size you are, tends to make you think more about what you look like.

As women, we are conditioned to regard our bodies in an aesthetic sense. This is evident in the content of, um, every ladies magazine, every advertisement targeted at women, and every stupid diet that promises to help you, "get bikini ready by summer." Common understanding holds that our bodies are supposed to be nice to look at, if not for men, then at least for ourselves, because, you know, bEinG h0T iS EmPoWeRinG and stuff.

I'm not going to say that looking good isn't empowering, because sometimes it can be! I find it sort of unstable and problematic, though, that physical appearance is the status quo form of bodily empowerment marketed to women. How can it be that you should only feel empowered by your body if you are a) naturally really pretty or b) willing to put in a lot of work to look like you are?

Whenever I find myself feeling unpretty, I make an effort to recontextualize my body mentally. When it comes down to it, your body is really a tool. It carries your brain. It lets you get from point a to point b. It's a home for the senses that let your perceive the world in all of its awesomeness. Thinking of my body in a practical sense, as opposed to an aesthetic one, makes me feel super empowered. My body can do lots of cool things. Its worth is not dictated by how well it meets some set of arbitrary standards that someone else set for me, but but how well it serves the functions I need it to in my daily life.

Not sure if this technique is the "best" technique for appreciating your body, and I'm definitely not asserting it applies to everyone, but it works for me so I figured I'd share it.

(Semi-random old roller derby pic as an example of how women's bodies can be awesome and functional!)

March 18, 2011

"Raise your hand if you're not here."

I always loved when substitute teachers would say that.

Anyway, raising my hand, I'm not here. Going to be at SXSW this weekend, then traveling around Texas a bit until 10 days from now. Will update with cool stuff when I get back.