Sigh…sometimes people can be so ignorant

20 02 2009

On the night of May 11, 2003 Sakia Gunn, a 15-year old African American lesbian was waiting at a bus stop at Newark, NJ with a friend to return home when three men in a white station wagon approached them. The men tried to harass them and lure them into the car. Both women denied their advances and said that they were lesbians. Then one of the men, Richard McCollough, got mad, came out of the car, and attacked them. The young women fought back but McCollough pulled out a knife and fatally stabbed Gunn in her chest.

McCollough was charged with a bias crime which if convicted, could’ve resulted in him being jailed for 110 years. However, he plead guilty and was instead charged with “aggravated murder with bias intimidation” which has less severe penalties and reduced his sentence to 20 to 25 years. At the hearing he admitted that he called her a “dyke” but said that she ran into his knife.

Yesterday, February 19th, the New York Times reviewed a documentary produced last year about the case, “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project” and some of the comments readers left were painfully ignorant. One person wrote (bold emphasis mine):

There is no such thing as a “hate crime”. There are only crimes. People don’t commit violent crimes unless they have some animus against the victim. In this case, a man made a pass at a woman, she rebuffed him, and he murdered her. Simple. Her “sexual orientation” was irrelevant. Why drag her through the mud?

Another comment said (bold emphasis again mine):

There should be no special sentencing provisions for criminals convicted of a “hate” crime because to do so implies that some lives are more valuable than others. Take these situations: your son is walking home from school and is stabbed to death for wearing a blue jacket. A day later your neighbor’s son is walking home from school and is stabbed to death for being gay. How can it possibly be justice for one killer to be punished more harshly than the other? Is the life of the gay son worth more than the life of the son who wore the wrong color jacket? Try explaining that to the family.

Okay. First of all, there is such a thing as hate crimes. Hate crimes against the LGBTQ community are significant but do not get much media coverage. James Dodson, (homophobic) President of the Focus on the Family organization, has said that pushing for hate crimes to be  legally recognized and punishable are part of the “homosexual agenda”. Riiiight…because hate crimes against LGBTQ people don’t actually exist, and instead are made up because LGBTQ people want to validate their sinful ways. Well, wake up homophobes because according to the FBI in 2007 there were 1,265 “single-bias incidents” (just call them what they are – hate crimes) against gay and transgendered individuals. Keep in mind that these are just the crimes that have been reported.

Secondly in the first quote, saying that her sexual orientation is irrelevant just shows how society chooses what prejudices are legitimate and acceptable. Patriarchal notions of gender and sexuality promote and perpetuate dangerous ideology that suggest that violence against women and LGBTQ individuals are okay because they “asked for it” (just for being who they are), they are inferior, sinful, etc.

Also, saying “In this case, a man made a pass at a woman, she rebuffed him, and he murdered her” is problematic because:

1. It detracts attention away from the true nature of the crime – violent and unacceptable hate crime. Hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals serve to punish them for daring to subvert traditional patriarchal gender norms and prescribed roles. Gunn’s case wasn’t just a simple murder.

2. It seems to suggest that it’s okay for a man to murder a woman for rejecting his advances. Oh right, of course, I forgot, men are entitled to women’s bodies and women obviously always want sex and always want or need a man, so by rejecting him there was clearly something wrong with her.

Denying the existence of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and saying that there should be no special sentencing for people convicted of hate crimes implies that we are all at equal risk of being murdered or violently attacked just for being people. Wrong. Comparing being stabbed for wearing a blue jacket and being stabbed for being gay is a poor analogy because it doesn’t make sense and completely misses the point.

TMZ has gone too far

20 02 2009

I’m sure all of you have heard about the charges against Chris Brown of domestic violence. Unfortunately, I was shocked to hear today that someone has leaked a photo of Rihanna after her attack. It is very graphic and upsetting, so I definitely will not be reposting it here.

When I first heard about the charges against Chris Brown, I was glad that it seemed he was going to be held accountable for his actions. Unfortunately the incident has also magnified to me the widespread stereotypes and misinformation about domestic violence in the United States. I was not prepared to have something so graphic and private leaked to a celebrity gossip site. Rumours say that the paparazzi was offering at least 1,000 dollars to anyone who would give the photos from the file. It saddens me that even the media cannot have any decent respect for a young woman who obviously is going through one of the toughest times of her life. There is no regard for Rihanna as a person (if she is the victim; it hasn’t been officially confirmed); hasn’t she gone through enough? I would love to hear the justification of posting that horrible photo online.

It seems that the media coverage has been concentrating on Rihanna who has fortunately been able to stay out public since the arrest of Chris Brown. There has been debate whether she started the attack and whether she deserved it. There are questions why such a beautiful and rich young woman would stay with an abusive man (because only ugly and poor women stay with abusers, right?). But with Chris Brown has been his passive, politically correct official statements from his camp. There was the announcement that the Wrigley’s commercials he shot would be discontinued, but there was more publicity about Phelps’ Kellogg campaign being cancelled because of smoking pot.

I pray that this incident becomes a way to educate more people about domestic violence and the shortcomings in our so-called “justice” system. Perhaps this can facilitate change for the better.

Has gender played a big role in how both parties have been treated by the media? Do you think TMZ had a right to publish the photo? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Utah Lawmaker Says Gays Are “Greatest Threat To America”

20 02 2009

Utah State Senator Chris Buttars recently called the LGBT community “probably the greatest threat to America…I know of.”  He went on to say that “homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion,” and called lesbian and gay relationships “abominations.”  He asserted that LGBT people are moving America “toward a society that has no morals,” and that LGBT people will “destroy the foundation of American society.”

Homophobic, racist, and sexist discourse has no place among elected officials.  Comments such as Buttars’ add to an environment of ignorance, fear, and hate.  

Here are just a few of his comments to documentary producer, Reed Cowan.

Calling gay people “the meanest buggars I’ve ever seen” is both intolerable and of course completely untrue.  An elected official should set an example for Americans, and should have the responsibility to not spread lies and hate, despite his political views.  It is one thing for him to be anti-gay marriage, but Buttars should be held responsible for spreading anti-LGBT sentiments to the American public.

Buttars has had a history of homophobia and racism.  Last year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked for Sen. Buttars resignation when he described a complex school-funding bill by stating, “This baby is black . . . It’s a dark, ugly thing.”

Buttars played a key role in defeating the Common Ground Initiative, a package of bills fighting for LGBT equality.  This Wednesday, the final bill in this initiative failed to move forward.  Buttars was quoted as saying “It lost 4-2, and I killed it.  I’ve killed every one they’ve brought for eight years.”

Utah State Senate President Michael G. Waddoups has officially defended Buttars, saying that they did not violate any Senate rules.  Human Rights Campaign urges you to write a letter to Sen. Waddoups, calling for him to condemn Buttars’ remarks officially and take punitive action against him.  Click this link to write a letter on behalf of Human Rights Campaign.

Virginity is not all that

20 02 2009

On Thursday, February 19th the Tufts Daily had an article called “Young woman in San Diego sells virginity to pay her way through graduate school”. 22-year old Natalie Dylan put her virginity on sale online in order to pay for her grad school tuition.

The article quotes a Tufts senior Amanda Harris in saying “What I think is particularly sad about this is that I know girls at Tufts who are escorts and things like that to pay their college tuition, and why is it only getting press attention when it’s one person selling her virginity?”

This touches on the extremely high premium that the United States places on virginity. From education to the media to the government, the United States is obsessed with virginity. In a way it is fetishized. Girls and women are overvalued for their virginity and their sexuality, and purity balls and chastity vows are just more ways to control and police female sexuality. All the fixation on virginity makes girls become sexual objects such early on, even before they know what sex actually is!

Institutions have also constructed the image of the ideal virgin, what a virgin should look and be like: she should be a “good” girl: clean, pure, innocent, not sexual but sexy. If she is sexy she should perform it for public consumption. She is also heterosexual, white, thin, and upper class. Thus virginity becomes racialized as well as defined by class – women of color are negatively hypersexualized in American culture, and low income poorer women are never positioned as virgins. All this combines to suggest that non-wealthy white women are dirty.

Those of us who are “un-pure”, not virgins, get that somehow held against us. For instance, in rape cases prior sexual conduct is not supposed to factor in, but often it does. Women who come forward will often get asked about their previous sexual behavior because of course once a woman has been “de-flowered” she cannot be “re-flowered” and therefore she cannot be raped.

This country’s obsession with virginity is unhealthy and damaging to girls and women. We get such mixed messages, ranging from abstinence only sex education in school to Girls Gone Wild videos that base a female’s worth on her sexuality. Sex is simultaneously overvalued and devalued – it’s what sells and every time there’s a sex scandal involving a politician or some high profile person it’s all over the media, but at the same time young people are just taught not to have sex.

I’m excited and will be looking out for Jessica Valenti’s (of Feministing) new book called The Purity Myth which will be released soon.

When is rape funny? Never!

20 02 2009

From Principa Comica:


People seem to enjoy throwing the word rape around, therefore dismissing and trivializing it. Comparing rape to taking a test is not only irrelevant but also completely insensitive. Rape is a serious offense and a sad reality for many people, women especially.

Rape is such a triggering term and when people misuse it so often, it seems to show that they have little or no consideration for the many survivors of rape out there, people that they may even know and be friends with. Rape jokes or comments that trivialize rape are never funny and never acceptable so it’s disturbing to see comics like this.

The saddest part though is that people do say these sorts of comments. A while ago, Facebook had bumper stickers or some application that said “It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex” which is also offensive and inappropriate. Throwing the word “rape” around because it is a triggering word, because it will get a reaction from people (even if it’s not the reaction you’re looking for), detracts away from the seriousness of the crime and lends to a victim-blaming rape culture where rapists can get away scot-free because you know, rape isn’t that bad, it’s just like taking a really hard test..

Delta Tau Delta: “A Fraternity, Not a Frat”

20 02 2009

I’m sure you have all seen recruiters around for ΔΤΔ, a returning fraternity on campus.  The fraternity is returning to Tufts after being suspended in 2005 because a student stopped breathing after drinking during a pledging event.  But why would a feminist blogger write about a fraternity?  

Well, ΔΤΔ is hopefully not just any sketchy old frat.  The fraternity really seems to be trying to make a comeback.  The recruiting process is scheduled to end today, and DTD has already communicated with Tufts Feminist Alliance and others about making fraternities more respectful and safer for women.  ΔΤΔ’s recruitment process, for one thing, is unique.  In addition to recruitment applications, the fraternity uses a sorority referral process.  The sorority referral process asks women in sororities to nominate men for the fraternity.  Nick Aylward, Chapter Leadership Consultant from the fraternity, explained to me:

The sorority referral process is based on the idea that the women on campus tend to know the most upstanding men who are not yet a part of the Greek community. We ask that they refer men to us, and we offer donations to each of the philanthropy organizations that they support as our thanks.

Okay, well maybe it isn’t just the sorority girls who know great guys, but I think this really is a great idea.  The people who know best which men are respectful to women are the women themselves.

As Aylward explains, 

We are really looking for members who pride themselves on being gentlemen, and an organization that can be judged on its conduct, not on what other organizations its members are a part of, or what party they threw.

Another representative I spoke to in the campus center emphasized that the organization is striving to be “a fraternity, not a frat.”   Aylward and the men of ΔΤΔ “want the Tufts campus and community to know that [they] are looking to really raise the bar in terms of the standards that define what it means to be a man on Tufts campus.”

I want to personally thank Mr. Aylward and all the men of ΔΤΔ for their efforts in supporting women, feminism, and a high standard of conduct amongst Tufts men.  Of course we will have to wait and see what pans out with the fraternity, but I am pleased to hear of Delta Tau Delta’s efforts and excited to see what is to come with the organization.