Tag Archives: sexual violence

You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

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Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

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Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

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A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

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A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

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And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

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Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

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I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

What’s Actually Annoying About ‘Women Against Feminism’

Maybe you’ve seen it by now. There is a tumblr happening with women holding up signs about why they don’t need feminism. A lot of the signs talk about not hating men. And a lot are about opening jars. But most importantly, the majority of the signs are confused. Confused about what feminism is and what feminism does. And I am just so frustrated.

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My initial response is to make a counter list about what I don’t need, and make up confusing reasons why. Here are some fun examples:

I don’t need water because it can be a liquid, gas, or solid and that means it’s tricky and can’t be trusted!

I don’t wanna go to school because you know who went to school?! The person who is responsible for making the atomic bomb (whose name I don’t know because school is for destroyers of the world!)

I don’t watch TV because they have TV in prison and prison is for reflection and reform, not free cable!

I don’t ride bikes because bikes are slutty and also they are for hipsters and cars are way safer!

I could go on. But being snarky is only half the battle. Because what is happening here is both a profound disconnect, as well as a deeply embedded self-hatred resulting from being born and raised in a culture that profoundly controls, disrespects, and abuses women’s bodies. Let’s look at just a few examples.

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I almost can’t even start with this one. First of all, feminism doesn’t look down at women who choose to stay at home. Feminism advocates for choices, and support for all those choices. At one point, not staying at home was not a choice for some* (*white, middle/upper class) women, and thus expanding those choices was the goal. If something is already an option, you don’t need to fight for it. This particular argument is a little tired at this point, and yet it persists. This woman has been a victim of abuse and assault not once, but twice, and yet cannot see how her abuse is part of a pattern, indeed a crisis, happening worldwide. Violence against women is not random, it is systematic, and pervasive, and one of the greatest clues to how patriarchy functions. Feminism doesn’t set out to vilify men, who in fact also experience sexual assault and abuse. Also some feminists really like penises. And some don’t. But I don’t really think that’s a ground breaking truth.

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Em k, well that’s cool. Compliments are nice. Feminism isn’t anti-compliments. It’s anti-harassment. And not all people feel appreciative or happy when they’re being ‘complimented’ by strangers. So their feelings are also valid, and everyone should respect the right of everyone else to walk to work/the store/a party etc without feeling like they are on display. Cause not everyone wants to be only display all the time. And also sometimes ‘compliments’ are actually about a pervasive system of violence and control. And also not everyone is nailing lipstick the way you are so maybe they’d rather just go on about their day?

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This is another weird trend. That people want to take responsibility for their own actions. That sounds super honorable. But we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. All of us are affected by culture, and by each other, each and every day we are alive. And sometimes, we make big mistakes and we need to own up. But sometimes, actions have root causes that are out of our control. (For example: the only people responsible for rapes are rapists.) This picture makes me kinda sad because this person is choosing to be vulnerable and own up to some insecurities, which is brave. And we all have insecurities. But to claim that some of those insecurities aren’t fed/encouraged/created by the patriarchal capitalist monster machine that is the beauty industry, and also celebrity culture at large, is just silly.

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This is another interesting point of logic for these folks. Feminism doesn’t believe that all women are victims, and it doesn’t believe that all men are rapists. At no time does it attempt to paint all women one way and all men one way. Feminism does shed light on the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault happening nation wide (and indeed world wide), and it names this epidemic a political problem. Women make up the majority of the victims (1 in 6 will be assaulted in their lifetime), but not all women are victims and not all victims are women. Feminism advocates for those that are raped, so that their rights are guaranteed and their attackers brought to justice. Victims did not always have a voice, nor was justice often found (and actually, I’d hesitate to use the word often now…) Not all men perpetrate violence, but most women who experience violence experience it at the hands of a man. But this itself is a feminist issue! Indeed, we do live in a culture that conditions boys to suppress their emotions, unless those emotions are aggressive. Our culture does glorify violence, especially as an essential part of masculinity. This is bad for men and women, and it is the fault of patriarchy, not feminists.

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Ah yes, this one is a real gem. Check out how she ‘subtly’ slut shames women she has never even met while defending the entire male population but also talking about ‘real feminism’ which is really just, well, feminism. It’s quite a feat. First of all, I would argue that respect and equal opportunity for women does actually involve access to safe abortion, contraception, and sexual empowerment/autonomy. Just saying. Additionally, and this is important: feminism doesn’t damn men. It points out systematic oppression. It highlights how issues that were once deemed ‘personal’ are actually political. It advocates for women to have a full breadth of choices about their bodies and their life paths.

Plus men can also be feminists! See below for one of my fav examples:

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Look, if you don’t want to claim the feminist label, that’s fine. Labels can be a real bummer. But please don’t disavow what you don’t understand.  At it’s heart, feminism is about equality and justice. It’s not perfect. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that the movement is inclusive of all issues across the lines of race, class, and sexuality. We’ve gotten better as the journey has continued, but feminism is a group of humans and humans are not perfect. It will take diligent work within the feminist community, and with our allies, to ensure that the movement continues to grow along an inclusive, empathetic and justice driven path. But you could be helping! Instead of holding these weird signs that mostly promote outdated or plain old incorrect misconceptions about feminism. Considering it, but still skeptical? Allow me to help clear things up:

Not all feminists choose to grow their natural body hair. Some do. If you don’t wanna grow your body hair, you can still be a feminist. Not all feminists think being a stay at home mom is wrong (most, I’d argue, don’t.) You can be a stay at home mom and be a feminist, although you should also advocate for mom’s that work because all mom’s are great and because not all mom’s have the option to stay home and because women’s work both in and out of the home has been undervalued for a really long time and that should stop. Not all feminists are humorless bitches. I’m sure some are. But some are wildly hilarious. If you have a sense of humor, you can still be a feminist. And not all feminists hate men. Some might. And maybe you are uncomfortable with their anger. But if some folks have been harassed and abused and assaulted, is their anger not warranted? Just because you would, or have, responded differently, does that mean that their voices should not be heard? Frankly, feminists are angry because by no fault of their own they live in a culture that values their humanity less than the humanity of men. This isn’t all men’s fault. It’s patriarchy’s fault. But sometimes men take advantage of their advantages and sometimes the appropriate response is righteous anger. I don’t advocate that we come from a place of righteous anger all the time, because it is exhausting and because I think that love and inclusion and empathy will bring us closer to our goals. But if you don’t hate men, congratulations, I don’t either, and we can still be  feminists.

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I’ll just leave this here at the end and say that feminism is responsible for the fact that women vote, for the fact that marital rape is illegal, for equal rights regarding access to school and the resources there-in, for birth control, and for Beyonce. Any young woman living in this moment in America is a product of feminists efforts in some way. You may think you don’t need it, but it has already positively shaped your life in one way or another. And maybe you aren’t down with the complete agenda, but denying it entirely is ungrateful and disingenuous, and ultimately it hurts us all.

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