Reflections on Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture

30 03 2009

I was at “Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture One Word at a Time: Using Accuracy to Undermine Dangerous Attitudes and Injustice,” one of the last WAM! sessions that featured Cara Kulwicki of The Curvature, Ashley Burczak of SAFER, Marcella Chester of Abyss2Hope, and Ashwini Hardikar, a SAFER trainer/mentor.  Jill at feministe live-blogged the session.

Just a few things that I really took away and wanted to highlight:

1. Cara spoke about how the language we use to talk about sex, especially the language the mainstream media uses to talk about sex, are deeply problematic.  The media often mis-uses words when covering rape cases.  One example she used is how in one story of a rape case, an article said “The defendant had sex with the victim.”  This assumes innocence of the defendant, erases the victim’s side of the story, and falsely implies that the “sex” is a given, a fact.  

Here is a more recent case of rape where the media mistakenly calls a “toddler sex case”.  Obviously the victim was too young to consent.  As a reminder,


2. Ashwini mentioned how in both Hollywood and Bollywood movies, consensual sex scenes are given higher ratings (R or NC-17) than scenes containing violent sexual acts.  In the movie, Boys Don’t Cry, the director had to omit a scene that showed consensual oral sex scene between Hilary Swank’s character (who was transgender) and Chloe Sevigny’s character.  Meanwhile, thee MPAA ratings were completely okay with violent gang rape and murder scenes.  This speaks volumes about how normalized violence is in our society, and how the pervasiveness of violence in the media reflects structural and interpersonal violence that occurs in our day-to-day lives.  Furthermore, what are the implications of this for young people who grow up watching violent sex scenes, or violence in general, and therefore internalize these violent cultural norms?

3.  Marcella defined rape culture as the cumulative effect of toxic personal attitudes and toxic systems related to sex, consent and sexual violence.  Rape culture is designed for those who feel entitled.  Rapists need positive motives to justify and rationalize their egregious acts.  They screw with reality and tell themselves that women ask for it, or that women want to be forced into having sex.  This feeds into rape apologism, and that’s how a rapist, a “nice guy”, can justify committing such an atrocious act of violence.

Rape culture is rooted in the personal and therefore its power and transmission varies.  Because rape culture is rooted in the personal, we all have the power to challenge and change it.  We all have the power to pull the plug without getting burnt.      

4. Ashley, who was just at Tufts for the SAFER Teach-In, talked a lot about dominant rape culture narratives.  These narratives are constantly repeated over and over and indoctrinate all of us into rape culture.  Such narratives include victim-blaming ideologies that put all the emphasis on the survivor and ask what the survivor did wrong, not what the perpetrator did wrong.    

We need to create and spread a counter-narrative to rape culture.  A good counter-narrative would place greater emphasis on the behavior of the perpetrator and by-stander training instead of the behavior of the survivor.  It would break down all forms of oppression and expose the interconnections among them. 

How do we disseminate these counter-narratives though?  Powerholders won’t change out of the goodness of their hearts.  Instead, power structures change because they are forced to.  How do we force them to change?  It’s important to focus on a specific and concrete goal(s) that challenges rape culture.  The goal must be specific and have tangible results.  So it can be something like getting the MPAA to label films that depict sexual violence.  Then from there, find who it is that can give you want you want and go from there.   

Often when we talk or write about rape culture it can get very depressing and upsetting.  However, the Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture session was a very uplifting and inspiring experience – perhaps it was the vibe and energy you got from sitting in a room full of people who were just as concerned and passionate about ending rape.  It was wonderful to hear about the work that other people in the room were doing to end rape culture.  There was also the constant emphasis on and reiteration of how we have the power to end rape culture. 

My only critique of the session is that there was not a strong enough male presence in the room.  Men are important allies in the fight to end sexual violence and it’s important to have them on board from the start.

Sunday Stupidity

29 03 2009

We are back with more Saturday Stupidity!  Since we are a little late on posting, we are just going to call it Sunday Stupidity this time.  So, stuff we’ve heard this week from our fellow peers at Tufts that makes us want to pull our hair out:

“I want to pretend I’m gay or come out to my parents just to piss them off or see their reaction.”

This is an insensitive statement that romanticizes what it means to be gay.  It also said from a position of heterosexual privilege where one has never had to worry about homophobic comments or violence, where one has never had to repress one’s sexual orientation out of fear, where one has never experienced the barriers that LGBTQ individuals face in society.  For some people in the LGBTQ community, coming out is a privilege in itself.  Coming out safely, without worrying about retaliation or violence, can be a privilege for some people.  It’s not something to do just to piss off your parents or test their reaction.

Moreover, wanting to pretend that you are gay especially if you are straight is an insult to the struggles and oppression that the LGBTQ community has faced/continues to face today.  It also feeds into an aestheticization of the gay lifestyle – stylish, fashionable, fit, wealthy, good-looking gay men.


Last night, the Gender Blenders attended the WAM (Women, Action, and Media) party at club Caprice.  It was a really great time.  But for some reason, whenever I attend events for feminists, queer events, or even events sponsored by queer organizations, I get really strange reactions from my peers.  The WAM event was sponsored by QWOC (Queer Women of Color) and Allies of Boston, and a couple of people expressed concern or even outrage that I was attending the event at all.  One friend advised me:

That is not the kind of club you need to be going to.  You need a boyfriend.  You’re obviously not going to meet a boyfriend there!

Just to make it clear, my sole purpose in life is not the pursuit of a boyfriend, and I really can’t stand when people tell me that I need a boyfriend.  Plus, why would my friend assume that no straight men would be at the event?  And why would I want to meet men at a club anyway?  Gross.  Here’s another reaction to the party:

It’s really just rude to them for you to be there.  You’re not gay and you’re not black.  You’re giving them the wrong idea.

I’m sorry…WHAT?  The statement first of all assumes that I’m completely totally 100% heterosexual, second assumes because the event was sponsored by QWOC and Allies of Boston that it would only be queer Black women, third assumes that “of color” means Black people only, and then assumes that queer black women ONLY want to be around other queer black women.  The statement then accuses me of somehow being rude for wanting to attend this party in the first place.  Statements such as these perpetuate the segregation and other-ing of people of different races and sexual orientations.  Here’s another one:

Just make sure you don’t get hit on.  You don’t want those people hitting on you.

Who the fuck are “those people?”  Again, the statement assumes that everyone at the event will be queer women, and assumes that I would not want them to hit on me.  This statement implies that of course all queer women are attracted to ALL women they see and will automatically hit on other women in a rude and uncomfortable manner.  And I don’t exactly want to get hit on by straight men who I am not interested in, so why would being hit-on by a woman who I’m not interested in be such a different experience for me or the other person?  Good golly.

Check us out in The Observer!

29 03 2009

For those of you who haven’t seen our first feature column, Our Vaginas Are Angry at Tufts, in the Tufts Observer, be sure to check it out! 

Our second column will appear in next week’s Observer which will be available as of April 6th. 

Stay tuned and happy reading!

By the way, if people want to contact us, we have an email address:  Or friend Gender Blender on facebook!

Bathroom reading

28 03 2009

I was at the WAM Conference at MIT’s Stata Center today and yesterday, which was one of the most illuminating and inspiring experiences of my life.   While I went to the bathroom, in my stall I saw a poster that looked like an anti-sexual violence poster that said:

Have you had sex when you didn’t want to?

MIT can help you out.

That text was crossed out and scrawled under it was:

No, Trust me it won’t!  MIT will only make things worse for you!

Two things that came to mind for me as I read this were:

1.  This is a subtlety in the language but by framing it as “have you had sex when you didn’t want to?”, emphasis is once again placed on the survivor instead of the perpetrator.  A better wording would be “did someone have sex with you when you didn’t want to have sex?”  Even though the poster looked like an anti-sexual violence poster it did not mention the word “rape” or “sexual assault”, which is understandable because some people may not identify their experience as rape or sexual assault.  After all, it is up to the survivor to name their experience.  However, I think that it’s still important for people to not be afraid to say the word rape or sexual assault.

2.  The cross-out of the original text and the scrawl underneath it is unfortunately reflective of something seen in many colleges and universities: the lack of institutional/administrative support for survivors.  Many schools do not do all that they can do to prevent or address sexual violence on campus.  And many students and administrators at whichever school they’re at tend to believe that they are the exception, that sexual violence just doesn’t happen here.

Black Mayoral Candidate Tries to Bring Back the Noose as Punishment…Say WHAT?

28 03 2009

I just saw this story on The New Black Woman, and I am completely outraged.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a 65-year-old Black Republican mayoral candidate is hoping to bring back the hanging noose as a form of punishment for crime.  The candidate has been met with outrage on his position by many, but still insists that his stand is welcomed in some especially crime-filled areas of Jackson.  

Candidate George Lambus has been hanging flyers around Jackson with statements such as: “Crime can only be alleviated by a noose and a stout tree limb.  I will provide the noose and when the economy improves, I will get the jobs here.”  

Lambus said in an interview with the Associated Press:

Look at recent history, like in South Africa, when apartheid was abolished.  Blacks went on a crime spree. Other blacks got tired of it … and they formed vigilantes and they killed people. It brought the crime down.

Citing the Bible as a model, Lambus claims that executions are the only way to control crime.

The Mississippi Republican Party is not supporting Lambus, and he is very much a long-shot in the election.  But since Lambus is the only GOP candidate, he is expected to automatically advance as the Republican candidate.

I’m hoping that Lambus’ outrageously offensive stance will cause people to ignore him in the election.  However, the sheer idea that he could promote this movement is frightening.  In the 2000 census, Jackson was found to be 70.6% African American or Black as opposed to 27.8% white.  The Jackson, Mississippi public school system in 2005-2006 was 97.25% African American.  (These are the most recent statistics I was able to find.  If you know of any more recent statistics, let me know.)  Knowing the historical connotations that the noose has for African Americans, and the inequities in the legal system, I can’t believe that Lambus would even attempt to use the noose as a punishment.  And “controlling” crime with vigilante violence is absolutely ridiculous.  Adding violence to violence does not equal peace.  Lambus’ platform is simply appalling.

Newsflash: there is a NEW feminism!

28 03 2009

Newsflash feminists: THERE IS A NEW FEMINISM!  It’s called YES FEMINISM!, as defined by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, speaking at the recent 1st International Conference on Woman and Human Rights.  The conference was themed “Life, Family, Development: The Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights,” and occurred last Friday and Saturday in Rome. It was organized by the Pontifical Council, the World Women’s Alliance for Life and Family, and the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organization.  Out with the old, in with the new.  “Old” feminism is no longer in:

The old feminism was based on egocentric individualism, often egotistical. The new feminism must be interlaced with love for life, for the family, for others; a feminism regulated by charity, the queen of the virtues.

Hear that ladies and gentleman?  The “old” feminism really did not value life, the family, others, and social work.  In fact, it hates life, motherhood, marriage, the family, etc, and it did nothing for charity or social justice causes.

Goodbye egocentricism and hello “yes” feminism!  Apparently this “new” feminism unites the best intuitions from the process of female emancipation while denying all that is contrary to the true dignity of a person.  Mind you, “the true dignity of a person” includes absolutely no abortion and no to pro-choice activism.  After all, cells that have yet to form a fetus are persons too!

The Cardinal also stated, “There will be no new feminism without God, especially if God is not discovered as Love.”  Okay, got that?  So from now on feminists must all believe in God.  Because God is Love.  And if you don’t get that then you’re not a feminist.  Away with you atheists and agnostics!  How dare you call yourselves feminists when you have not discovered God and the Love He represents and shares?

What exactly is yes feminism though?  Hear it from the wise one:

Cardinal Martino explained that it must promote a “yes feminism,” that encompasses a “yes” to God, Father of the whole of humanity and Creator of man and woman in his image and likeness, a “yes” to life, to all life and to everyone’s life, always, a “yes” to the family founded on marriage, a unitive and fruitful love between a man and a woman, and a “yes” to women and to their genius.

Get it?  Yes feminism means yes organized religion, yes heterosexism, yes heterosexual marriage, yes patriarchy!  Yes! to all the women who geniusly comply with patriarchy!  If you support the diversification of households/family structures instead of solely recognizing heterosexual marriages and a woman’s rights to her body and her body autonomy, then it seems that new feminism is unfortunately not for you.  Oppose patriarchy?  You’re in the wrong place.  What a bummer, right?

Furthermore, the Cardinal says:

To deny nature, that is, to deny that the human person is above all a project loved and accomplished by God the Creator, which it is not good to subvert arbitrarily, is the focal point that must be made very clear. When nature is denied, the human person is no longer a project, but becomes inexorably a product either of culture or of technology.

Ahh…reducing women to their bodies?  The right thing to do, of course.  Because women are just “nature”, they are confined to their biology and their reproductive functions.  So don’t dare use birth control or even consider abortion because it’s only natural for women to be mothers and caretakers, y’know.  Don’t forget, feminism = the heterosexual, nuclear family.  Don’t you dare refute that!

Alrighty, Cardinal and all others who support him, all this talk about this so-called “new” feminism is just a mask for “have we killed feminism yet?”  Want the answer?  NO you haven’t killed feminism!  Sorry, feminism is not about bowing down to patriarchy.  “New” feminism = patriarchy, which is so NOT the case!  No thanks Cardinal, but I think that I”m content with plain “old” feminism.  New feminism, a.k.a patriarchy, just isn’t my style.

The Guy’s Manual-Powered by Grape Nuts

28 03 2009

Post Cereal’s Grape Nuts has recently released a new ad campaign specifically targeting men.  The main part of the design is a 50-episode web series entitled “The Guy’s Manual.”  The campaign features Kenny Mayne, the host from ESPN’s “Mayne Street.”  The website is debuting with 14 episodes, but will be expanded to include 50 episodes in the next eight months.  The campaign will also include post, radio, and banner ads.

The tagline for the ad campaign is “..because when you tackle something tough at home, at work, or at play…that doesn’t just take know-how.  That takes Grape Nuts.”  Episodes include “Landing a Date with the Cute Girl at the Office,” “Taking Apart Your ’65 GTO to Teach Your Son how an Engine Works,” “Throwing Back the Biggest One You’ve Ever Caught,” “Taking Your Fiancee’s Poodle for a Morning Jog,” “Looking Cool Driving a Minivan,” and “Going Bald Like a Man.”  

The series is co-produced by MSN, OgilvyEntertainment, and Reveille.  “We are excited to collaborate with Post and Ogilvy on a fun and innovative new show that connects with guys where they live—online,” said Howard T. Owens, managing director of Reveille (an independent TV studio) as quoted on

Sexism in advertising is extremely prevalent, not only against women but against men as well.  Men are expected to be “manly:” to be physically strong, unemotional, heterosexual, tech savvy, risk-taking, and sexually confident.  Here’s why “The Guy’s Manual” is problematic.  Much in the same way that the Frito-Lay “A Woman’s World” campaign discussed in feminist2’s previous post reinforces cultural definitions of ideal femininity, “The Guy’s Manual” reinforces stereotypes of heterocentric “tough” masculinity.

The website includes a great deal of information on subjects such as camping, sports, exercise, relationships, automobiles, and technology.  Most of the tips are catered to men who are stereotypically “masculine.”  All of the men appear to be heterosexual, and thus the relationship tips are geared towards heterosexual relationships.  The women pictured in these scenarios are stereotypically feminine and often annoyingly high maintenance.  And the men are often desperate to prove their manhood, even in potentially “emasculating” situations such as walking a girlfriend’s poodle.

There are some things I like about the site.  The tips include advice about families and fathering, and the marketing strategy pretty effectively makes use of the internet to educate and engage viewers.  The site is fun to visit and provides a ton of episodes and articles.  And even though the site has little to do with Grape Nuts cereal besides asserting over and over that tackling anything tough somehow requires Grape Nuts, the purple background and constant references to Grape Nuts Cereal actually did make me really crave Grape Nuts.  And I’m a woman…go figure.

But men shouldn’t have cultural ideals of masculinity shoved at them any more than women should be constantly told to conform to the feminine ideal.  So…is Grape Nuts’ new ad campaign savvy advertising or an insultingly narrow definition of what it means to be a man?  Maybe it’s a little bit of both.  What do you think?