What Men Dare Do! "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"

14Jun/120

Great Article from Yes Means Yes on Reforming NY’s Rape Laws

Just to comment briefly: there's a fantastic post on the Yes Means Yes blog here on reforming New York State's rape laws. I highly recommend it.

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10Jun/110

“Weinergate,” Sexuality, and the Internet

So, another sex scandal, another politician, and time for another post. Andrew Sullivan (who I disagree with on many (most?) political positions, but I like his commentary) linked to this post on Andrew Weiner, discussing his sexuality and his Jewishness.  Sullivan's byline was "Tweeters of a Certain Age."  While the post he linked to was thought-provoking (some of the Jewish stuff was a bit "eh"), I think the byline was particularly interesting.

The main thrust of it was that this was a mistake that only a man of Weiner's age would make: early to mid-40's.  Young enough to try to want to be hip with new technology, social media, etc., etc., but old enough not quite to realize the full impact of what he's doing.  That is, the Internet is still sort of this dream world, where your actions are divorced from real self.  Now perhaps that isn't the case with Weiner, and he totally understands technology, but I wonder if his actions aren't a manifestation of that older view of the Internet, as something totally different than real life. That's not the case with the younger generation, born in, say, the mid-80's and later, who understand that the Internet is very much inextricably linked to real life.  And the Internet has had an effect on our sexuality.

A man of Weiner's age, however he learned about sexuality, through experience, magazines, whatever it was he learned about it from, wasn't the Internet.  From wherever he learned it is just not how a lot of young people are learning about sexuality.  We're not making the direct messaging versus tweeting at someone mistake, and we understand that actions online aren't separate from actions "IRL." Sex and porn isn't something in tawdry magazines like Playboy or Hustler.  It's ubiquitous, it's easily accessible, and it's not restricted to what a few "mainstream" porn outlets want us to have.  People can explore fetishes, find all sorts of different people online, and they can even produce their own porn pretty easily and upload it.  The Internet isn't some parallel world with no consequences, but one that we affect and that one that effects us in turn.

So what's interesting about Weinergate is that there's been a lot of discussion about his potential ignorance of Twitter, the Internet, how different generations deal with it, etc., etc., but not a whole lot about how the Internet affects us.  I've written a bit about how pornography specifically affects men's understanding of sexuality, but not the Internet generally.  I don't know that it's easy to describe or study it, but what does it mean that a lot of kids (and I say "kids" because we start doing it before our teens and continue through it) start their interactions with other boys and girls online.  For my generation, it was AIM, Hotmail, and ICQ, and for kids growing up today, it's Twitter, Gmail, and Facebook Chat.  Text as a medium is different than being face-to-face.  Not bad, not better, but certainly different.  It's a lot easier to use, which perhaps makes some face-to-face interactions that used to be more awkward as a kid a lot more accessible.  Accessibility is, ultimately, what killed Weiner in.  In a society as narcissistic as ours (and who more narcissistic than a politician?), it's so very easy to talk with your admirers, send them pictures of your junk, etc., etc., but just as easily, for those non-politicians among us, it's easy to find gratification (sexual and otherwise) within the narrow confines of whatever corner of the Internet we seek.

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28May/112

Sexual Assault and the Law (Again) and the Media

I've written about what I perceive to be some of the problems of sexual assault and the law before, but I haven't talked a whole lot about the media.  Now we've got a trio of stories to discuss: the acquittal of two NYPD cops charged with sexual assault, the alleged sexual assault by Dominique Strass-Kahn, the Director of the IMF, and the news that my former Guhvahna, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair with a member of his household staff.

First, the acquittal.  As I'm sure some readers of my this blog, two police officers allegedly, while bringing a drunk woman back to her apartment, sexually assaulted her while she was incapacitated.  They were acquitted last Thursday.  I don't think I need to rehash the story, except to note a few things: there was videotaped surveillance of the officers returning to her apartment after leaving and there wasn't any DNA evidence.  I think those two facts speak to an interesting intersection of the difficulties of prosecuting a sexual assault case where the victim was drunk (in this to incapacitation) and what is called in legal circles the "CSI effect."  In a sentence, the CSI effect is the tendency of criminal juries to demand high-tech forensic evidence and analyses in prosecution criminal cases.  While the actual effects of the "CSI effect" are hotly debated within the legal and academic community, I wonder if this isn't anecdotal evidence of it.  Here we have a sexual assault victim who is unable to remember much of the encounter, which is obviously not uncommon in sexual assault cases where the victim has been drinking are/or using other substances.  We also have a perpetrator (according to the secretly taped phone call) using a condom, which if used effectively, would prevent the collection of semen samples using a SAFE kit (popularly called "rape kits").  So we have juries that are disinclined to believe circumstantial evidence such as the surveillance videos (even though as a legal matter, circumstantial evidence is equal to eyewitness evidence), no CSI type evidence, and a victim who in all likelihood does not remember everything.

Now scoot on over to the alleged assault by Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a maid in his hotel room in New York City.  Legally, I don't think this is as interesting a case, as it more closely conforms to traditional expectations of sexual assault: a man assaulting a woman, with DNA evidence.  No alcohol involved, which would lead to victim-blaming or a more clear "defense," such as in the NYC cop case.  Something that I should be added are the racial issues involved, which don't seem to have been brought up in US media as much: the victim is reportedly Guinean and obviously Mr. Strauss-Kahn is white.

I'd like to contrast this to the Schwarzenegger news we've heard and note again the ethnicities involved.  The woman with whom Mr. Schwarzenegger had an affair with was also of color and also a woman under his employ.  I bring this up because both these two men engaged in relationships with people with whom they had an unequal power relationship, and though Arnold's relationship has been reported as consensual, I think, as a general matter, that things become much more murky when it involves relationships between employers and employees.  But the coverage of Schwarzenegger's story is mostly centering on the affair, the divorce, the effect it would have had on politics, etc., etc., and not the sexual dynamics inherent in an unequal relationship like that.

I think crimes involving sex remain some of the most strangely covered events in our media.  If there's a mugging, you don't blame the victims for have the audacity to be mugged.  If there's a murder, you don't blame the victim for what they were wearing, doing, or where they were at night.  If there's a murder and it involves people of different races/ethnicities, you bet it will be discussed heavily in the popular media, but if there's a sexual assault, the likelihood is much less, such as in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  Is it because of our society's inability to accept sexuality and yet be fascinated by sex in the popular consciousness?  Is it our unwillingness to accept a lot of the racialized aspects of crime and sex crimes in general?  I don't know, but it's all food for thought.

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16Apr/110

Rebecca Traister’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry”

Rebecca Traister's BookI finished (in March; this post has been sitting as a draft for a bit) Rebecca Traister's "Big Girls Don't Cry," a chronicle of the 2008 election cycle from a feminist perspective, with a particular emphasis on Hillary Clinton's primary run.

Traister articulates very well on how Clinton's primary run affected her, as well as how it was viewed in different corners of the feminist community, from older second generation feminists to the younger generation.  I'm not going to go into a full-on book review or anything, but I did want to talk about something that Traister talked a lot about: sexism among Obama supporters against Clinton supporters.

I think this is a particularly important issue for feminist men or progressive men.  I didn't support Obama in the initial three-way primary race (I supported Edwards; guess who feels a bit stupid now?), though I ended up supporting him after Edwards dropped out.  But I think we need to face some facts and it's pretty simple: there was rampant sexism from the left against Clinton.  The only thing that really needs to be said on this point is that feminist men have a responsibility I believe to call out their male brethren on this when it happens.  But 'nough said on that point.

I think a more important point made in the book is the fact that Obama (and McCain obviously) didn't really surround their campaign staffs (particularly initially) with a lot of women.  The whole fraternity like vibe of the Obama atmosphere always bothered me, and Traister's books talks a lot about it influenced a lot of their policies.  Similarly, Clinton's Mark Penn-ran campaign, which discounted traditionally Hillary Clinton stalwarts (many of them women) in favor of many of Bill Clinton's male advisors.

What does that mean?  Well, I'm always interested how well organizations, be they companies or political organizations, fare in their marketing/outreach towards women, and how that compares to how many women are actually working to put together their campaigns.  I suppose it's interesting that according to Traister, depsite the faults of the Obama campaign, it worked pretty eager to engage women early on in the campaign, and although Edwards began earlier (and in more radical ways with his hiring of feminist bloggers), the "losers" of '08 were candidates who didn't engage women enough or explicitly until the end of their campaigns: Clinton with her final acknowledgement of both her place in history and the attacks against her, and with McCain's ludicrously misguided and stupid choice of Palin as VP.

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27Oct/100

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Gives Sarah Palin Pink Underwear

I caught a little news item yesterday that just had so many issues about gender going on in it that I had to blog a bit about it.

It seems that "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio (the Maricopa County Sheriff) gave Sarah Palin a pair of pink underwear while she was in Phoenix for a Tea Party rally on Friday. After doing so, he tweeted it.

Boy.  Where to start?

Let's start with the background.  Sheriff Joe makes many of his male prisoners wear pink underwear.  He explicitly does this because he believes that it humiliates the prisoners, with the stated official reason that because of this humiliation, it reduces the stealing of underwear.

I don't doubt that his method is effective.  Men are taught at a young age that our masculinity, despite being defined positively (that is, being defined by what it is), is also very much defined negatively (being defined by what it is not).  And what masculinity is not, we are taught, is feminine.  The genders are taught to us as being mutually exclusive.  One cannot have feminine traits and still claim to "be a man."

We're taught this pretty young, too.  It's fighting words to a ten year old to be told that he "throws like a girl," and fighting words to a teenager that he's a "pussy."  Even grown men, Senators no less, are told "man up" as a way to attack their masculinity, and thus their identity.

I think there's something else going on in this "gift" of pink underwear to Sarah Palin.  Sure, it's sort of Sheriff Joe's symbol, but underwear is not something you give to someone, at least not someone you don't have an intimate relationship with, in my experience.  Certainly you don't give underwear to someone professional, and you don't give it to a professional politician.

I think that Sheriff Joe giving Palin pink underwear is a sexist way to undermine her credibility as a politician.  While I am not fan of Sarah Palin, I certainly think she's been the victim of chauvinism and misogynist commentary in the media.  I've not heard of Sheriff Joe gifting pink underwear to any other politician, man or woman, and this kind of creepy, sexual gesture speaks profoundly to the views that people like Sheriff Joe have towards women.  I would speculate that Sheriff Joe gives it to Palin because she's viewed as an attractive woman, not as some sort of "here's my little token and I give it to every politician."  It demeans Palin, by treating her as an object of male sexual desire, rather than as a professional politician.

I don't know what kind of appropriate response Palin could make, other than respectfully declining Sheriff Joe's gift.

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