A couple interesting studies recently came out that I thought were clearly linked with implications for the development of our younger generations. I recently wrote a post for The 2×2 Project that discusses the impact of media use on the mental health of teens, so I thought this was fairly pertinent.
The first study showed how much the U.S. economy loses to social media use every year. Take a guess at what that amount is.
10 billion bucks? Nope.
100 billion? Not even close.
500 billion? Still no.
According to Mashable’s summary via LearnStuff, social media costs the U.S. economy $650 billion. Check out the infographic they put together:
I’m someone who is generally really torn about social media. I have a blog and am active on Twitter, though along with my Facebook profile I use these all primarily for semi-professional purposes. ‘Semi’ in the sense that they aren’t part of my job, but I use them to promote interesting finds or essays related to my field of public health; I’ve found the sites to be remarkably helpful in communicating important points and connecting with wider audiences compared to different – usually more traditional – media channels. I use social media heavily to promote work being done in my fellowship – my own and other fellows’ – and it unquestionably has helped us reach researchers and organizations it would have been otherwise very difficult to do.
That being said, I am also fairly hesitant about social media given that I don’t particularly like my personal life broadcast across channels, so I have to be pretty meticulous about what and how I use the mediums. I think it can be enormously helpful for children who have difficulty communicating and making connections; I also find that it can feel almost more isolating than no communication at all since it emphasizes and underscores that real interpersonal interaction isn’t exactly happening. So, I’m clearly torn.
The second study, by the great group Common Sense Media, addresses the concerns of teachers and educators that the various kinds and amount of time kids are using media at home is impacting the quality of their classroom work and engagement. 71% of teachers said that they think media use is hurting kids’ attention spans in school, 59% said that it’s impacting the students’ ability to communicate face to face, and 58% have said that the media use is impacting kids’ writing skills – and not in a good way.
Given that the LearnStuff infographic shows that 97% of college students are daily Facebook users, it seems that these symptoms have the potential to get worse at increasingly younger ages, and that by the time kids who grew up in this media-rich environment are in college…well, who knows. And 60% of people visit social media sites at work (something I found most interesting? that more people are on LinkedIn than Twitter), which are obviously impacting work in the sense that they are taking away from productivity or activities related to the job – unless the job is one that incorporates social media, as many jobs increasingly are. Not to be a doomsday reporter, but I do think the implications for these studies are very real.
Our next guest post is by Zel McCarthy. Zel is a media professional and blogger based in Los Angeles. He tweets about music, politics, and nail polish at @ZelMcCarthy.
On a recent episode of Bravo’s show Most Eligible Dallas, likable girl-next-door Courtney told the camera about how much she enjoys her friendships with gay men. As she put it, paraphrasing Jay-Z, “I’ve got 99 problems but a gay ain’t one.”
In the following episodes that would prove to be true, even as one of her gay friends, Drew, picked a public fight with her over some mysterious and vague issue loosely regarding a lack of attention. That’s how friendships work on reality television: paradise to category 5 in a single episode. Truly, Drew is never a major problem for Courtney. While she hates when anyone dislikes her, Courtney’s biggest issue is (of course) finding a husband, who may or not be her best friend Matt.
It’s always bothered me when someone converts the word “gay” from adjective to noun. Comedian and Bravo star Kathy Griffin practically pioneered the noun-ing of “gay” by frequently referring to her homosexual friends, fans, and followers as “my gays.” Even if it’s not being used pejoratively, it’s always reductive. Instead of a person or man or even a self-obsessed reality TV personality, he is merely a sexual orientation. (Mind you, the phrase is never used to refer to gay women. They are excluded almost completely from Bravo’s narrative of gender and sexuality in society.)
Even more bothersome, however, is that gay characters on reality TV are so marginalized and stereotypical that they never get to be someone’s problem, much less have problems of their own. In fact, aside from fueling the on-screen drama necessary for its programming to function, gay men on Bravo’s slate of shows, like Drew from Dallas, are ubiquitous but never problematic because they are never the central figure of a story.
Whether watching the Real Housewives franchise, The Rachel Zoe Project, Pregnant In Heels, Miami Social, or Bethenny, the message is clear: if you are a gay man, you can be a human accessory in a rich woman’s life. From Jill Zarin’s “gay husband” to Kyle Richards’ “ladysitter” to the coterie of hairstylists, decorators, and event planners orbiting around an endless supply of narcissistic women, gay men are written to serve two functions: enhance the aesthetics of their mistresses, and act as a stand-in for the straight men in their life.
Even gay designer Jeff Lewis, star of Flipping Out, whose caustic outbursts at his employees pull focus from the window treatments, doesn’t get to be the star of his own life. He’s constantly appeasing the whims and fancies of the rich white ladies who hire him to revamp their homes. Through several years on the show (and a rough economy), we’ve watched the once successful house-flipper turn into a driveling decorator so desperate for the next job he’ll screw over his best friends to get it.
Meanwhile, the straight men (husbands, boyfriends, that sort of thing) serve as a foil to these flamboyant and endlessly problem-free gay men. The straights, such as they are, are coded as “real men.” They are fully sexualized, integrated into society with jobs, off-camera friendships, hobbies far beyond the confines of the feminized reality TV world, and comical only when they don’t understand the flurry around the importance of a pair of shoes or lighting at a party. On the axis of characters, they’re the rational yin to the emotional yang of gay men. Cheapened to stereotypes, gay men on reality TV become little more than well-dressed, occasionally articulate, placeholders in the lives of women.
These supporting characters of Bravo have become the reality embodiment of an archetypal role writer and comedian David Rakoff once named Fudgey McPacker. Without a life of his own, Fudgey stands on the sidelines, cheering on the leading lady, occasionally offering sassy retorts and painfully obvious tokens of wisdom. He gets to tell his girlfriends things like “girl, don’t you know he loves you,” before she runs to her leading man’s arms and they live happily ever after while Fudgey presumably disappears or finds another lady to devote his life to. Like Fudgey before them, the Brads, Dwights, LTs, Joeys, and Shawns of Bravo don’t get to have many independent storylines of their own; their on-screen characters don’t have their own essence. When they try to, they’re quickly jettisoned off the show (see Cedric from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills).
While all media reflects the values of its culture, we look to reality TV to see our culture reflected, however misguided that notion is. I have often said to my friends that the gay community is so desperate for recognition it accepts any representation of itself on screen, no matter how negative. A glance at Logo’s The A List would prove that point handily, but also, consider how fervent Bravo’s gay audience is, despite the continued marginalization of its gay characters. I’d even say that there’s a certain comfort in seeing a stereotypical gay character; it validates one singular version of gay identity without straying beyond a previously accepted boundary.
Does anyone think that’s good enough?
We all know by now what reality TV is (scripted, sensational, entertaining) and what it isn’t (reality). Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that gay men have become a secondary staple of the genre and a lynchpin of nearly every Bravo series. But let there be no doubt about the space these characters inhabit: the periphery in the lives of a cadre of superficial women.
A new study released by University of Buffalo sociologists discovered something truly ground-breaking: there has been an undeniable and increasing hyper-sexualiztion of images of women in popular media over the last several decades.
This is something that I would normally take notice of and file alongside the slew of reports that have similar conclusions and continue to confirm what I’ve always felt to be true about advertising and media presentations of women. Being a major theme of my blog, I occasionally worry that I’m Not Tired Yet will begin to sound like a broken record as I continue to write about how damaging media portrayals of women and girls truly are, and how it impacts human development, sense of self-worth, and definitions of beauty for both sexes.
That being said, as long as women and girls continue to be hyper-sexualized in images, videos, and advertisements, there have to be just as many consistent criticisms of them. Creating a chorus of opposition that shows growing girls this is not normal, not healthy, and that they have much, much more to offer than what our culture’s media is telling them they do through a ceaseless blasting bullhorn.
In this particular study, researchers’ conclusions did offer a concrete example of gender disparity in this realm. While representations of men and women have become increasingly sexualized, it was the intensity of the sexualization of women which was particularly shocking and far exceeded that of men. A scale was developed to rate the intensity of the level of sexualization of images, which showed evidence of women being far more likely to be in positions of submission or of offering pleasure as tools of hetero-male sexual desire. This sets a dangerous precedent – women are those who satisfy, men are those who are satisfied.
In the grand scheme of things, media not only influences our decisions and impacts our thinking, but is a reflection of these things as well – it’s a circuitous pattern of reinforcement and ever-heightening intensity. The more these images are sexualized, then the more it is socially expected for women to act as sexualized as they are portrayed, then the more sexualized the images become, building upon themselves as viewers need increasingly overt sexualization to feel excited or as though advertisements are pushing boundaries – which is what advertisements do to draw in a receptive audience. This causes two immediately obvious problems – first, that this pattern leads one down a path that ends in unquestioned and irrelevant nudity and commodification of the sexual identity of girls; secondly, we move farther and farther away from the objections that this kind of imagery is entirely inappropriate, sexist, pedophilic, and harmful.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to guest speak on a radio show about the effects of sexualization and violence in video games and media. One of the last questions the host asked me was, “So, what’s the solution? Should we censor these video games and movies?”
My response to this was no, of course I am against censorship. The free speech I advocate protects the video game developers (and advertisers, fashion labels, films, etc etc) as well as my criticism of them – which I will stop as soon as I see the egregious violence against women, forced sex acts and trivialization of women stop. That being said, there is an element of self-censorship — editing, if you will — that could certainly happen on the part of the creators. Until the developers want to change the games, they aren’t going to change – which is why I said that the ‘solution’ as it stands is keeping up the constant conversation, the constant writing, the constant research, that refutes the idea that these games (images, advertisements, movies, etc etc, that send the same messages) are just harmless entertainment. We know they aren’t. But the games (images, advertisements, movies, etc etc) keep selling and people keep buying because it’s seen as normal, and the media’s bottom line – $$ – is different than that of a parent, educator, coach, sibling, etc, who have concerns (hopefully) centered around the health of their children. So the ‘solution’ is to keep up the commentary, keep up the research, keep up the discussions about why these media messages are harmful, and ensure that parents, teachers, siblings, and, of course, anyone who are concerned about healthy children growing into healthy adults, are aware of why media matters and the kind of influence it is having.
Curbing the effects of non-stop media is difficult, but not impossible, and involves even more talking – this time directed at the kids. Getting media to change its tactics can feel damn near impossible, but keeping up a constant dialogue with children about the kind of messages they’re on the receiving end of can certainly help.
In the end, it comes down to what kind of society we want to cultivate – for us and our future generations. The kind of culture we want to look upon as having created – the definitions of gender, success, individual expression, and love – and having fostered. Is it one in which the bottom line is comprised strictly of financial and monetary goals, with little regard as to what happens to members of our communities and how our actions impact children and youth in pursuit of that goal? Or the opposite?
“The Playboy Club,” a show debuting on NBC’s fall lineup has had its fair share of publicity. A Salt Lake City NBC affiliate is refusing to air the show for moral reasons, Troy Patterson’s thinly veiled assault on Maureen Dowd’s coverage of the show, in which he quotes Amber Heard – the show’s leading Bunny – as saying “what’s wrong with being sexy? Why is that subservient?” Even NPR covered the show’s bizarre claim that it was empowering for women because, as Hefner says, “a bunny could be anything they wanted;” an odd claim since the identity of a bunny was scripted with a hard line and came with a hefty set of rules and guidelines.
One of those rules that Gloria Steinem revealed in her great expose “A Bunny’s Tale” about going undercover as a Playboy Bunny, was STI examinations and a physical. This logically leads one to the assumption that the bunnies were expected, encouraged, or even forced to engage in sexual relationships with the clients under the identity of Bunny – why else require a waitress to get an STI test? This is where my first retort to Ms. Heard’s bafflingly short-sighted comment comes into play. The Bunnies have to get tested so they don’t infect the men – what about the men infecting the Bunnies? Were they swabbed upon entrance to the club to ensure that they weren’t putting the waitresses at risk? It seems they were excused because they were funneling money into the pockets of Hefner, and this is a perfect example of why Ms. Heard is serving above all else. Catering to the whims of the customers with the most money without protection or regard for the workers doesn’t make it seem like those workers are so empowered after all. Seems more like they’re at risk.
Ms. Steinem had a great response to the show, in which she said: “It normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance.” She has hopes that it will be boycotted, and I fully share in Ms. Steinem’s vision of what the show projects. Normalization of unhealthy behaviors and images is a primary topic of my blog. Despite it taking place 50 years ago, witnessing the power dynamic between the bunnies and the customers reinforces how damaging those scripted gender roles truly are – and for viewers who still think those gender roles should remain as scripted, this show and the participants’ comments that it’s all just fun and games helps to serve their ideal. Why would we want to bring back – even as a source of entertainment – the vision of a reality that restrained women from being seen in their workplace as anything more than a decoration? Beyond that, this show isn’t even an attempt at parody, it’s an attempt to glorify this world that Ms. Steinem points out resulted in “women…[telling] me horror stories of what they experienced at the Playboy Club and at the Playboy Mansion.”
There are also serious flaws with the idea that these roles were empowering for the women simply because the men were told “not to touch” the bunnies. This creates the false notion that the best way for a woman to maintain a position of power is to withhold sex. The bunnies could have had this “power” which was limited to withholding sexual pleasure while in a sexual pleasure palace taken away from them easily, through direct assault or coerced sexual relationships that they felt they needed to engage in given their role as servers. Withholding something is not in and of itself an act of positive power but one of passivity masquerading as control – which can easily yield to the money these customers had. An act of positive power would be intellect, a skill set, developed talent, cultivated life experiences leading to the fully fleshed out self not entirely composed of a sexuality and not reliant on the financing – whether in tips or in marriage – of men. True power exists when the reliance on others or threat of others ceases to exist. This isn’t to say that sexuality isn’t a part of an identity, I most certainly think it is. However, the bunnies – infantilized, presented as reward, reduced to the image of a cuddly baby rabbit – are not actually presented (in this show, and in Ms. Steinem’s brilliant ‘A Bunny’s Tale’) as women who have a deep understanding of their sexuality and identity. The power in sexuality lies in one’s ability to articulate what their sexual needs and wants are, to respect those of others, and to communicate with partners. That is what prevents one partner from feeling or being subservient to the other – something The Playboy Club doesn’t seem to promote.
I got a lot of traffic and messages about a piece I wrote regarding Duke Nukem. People in the gaming community condemned it for its lack of originality, how it strayed from the original premise of apparently ostensibly mocking the ’80s action-hero genre, and how it overall disappointed those who are used to more complex and engaging videos. Some replies also included people needing to “get over it” when discussing images of coerced sexual activity or the game’s encouragement of merging violent and sexually explicit content together (I don’t post comments that are condescending or don’t encourage dialogue), something I found…disturbing. My initial argument, however, did not change – that is, that the imagery and the actions the gamer supposes in this video are tragically abusive and in fact detrimental to both men and women.
A well-known study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that repeated exposure to images and advertisements ultimately were processed in people the same way actual experiences were processed. That is, if you see or watch something enough times – in a video game, in a fashion magazine in which models are photoshopped to near obscurity, in a parent abusing your sibling – you begin to process it as though it was you yourself experiencing the act and identify with the “player” (model, game character) you are watching. You see enough pictures of a model like this:
And you begin to think you are supposed to align yourself with her, that this image is what is normal (the image on the right was criticized heavily in 2009 for being so drastically photoshopped). After so many exposures, you begin to mold yourself after her, to think that since this is how we project women for adoration in our culture, that you should begin appropriating yourself to match her image. Just like a gamer, after so many exposures, can begin to mold themselves after the image of the character they are impersonating in a game. And while they may not go out on a shooting spree, they are desensitized to the effects of that reality, just as they are desensitized to the effects of coerced sex in a game, which can lead to difficulty distinguishing that from a healthy sexual relationship.
We’re humans. We learn by watching, by then mimicking and imitating what we observe. It doesn’t happen all at once, which is why fashion moguls or game designers claim they have no real impact. Are girls entering periods of self-mandated starving as soon as they open this month’s Vogue? Are adolescent boys heading to the hills for a sawed off shotgun fight after the first round of Duke or stealing cars after playing the new Grand Theft Auto? No, of course not. But can it impact their sense of compassion, affect their interpersonal relationships? Can it make violence seem less threatening, less damaging, and less impacting than it is? Yes. Can that change the way people behave, from nuance to imitation? Sure. Even researchers who admit that it won’t necessarily turn children violent admit that’s likely true (and, interestingly, still disallow their children to play). Human development takes time – language acquisition, understanding of and the processing of visual messages, being able to comprehend meaning from a block of text – these are all cognitive functions that take years to develop and perfect, and their influence lies in the words and actions of children’s families, friends, teachers. Unfortunately, messages of gender have been largely commandeered by the media. And the repeated exposure, over years, to these specifics of models’ physical appearance has resulted in the erosion of self-confidence that many girls and women – and boys and men – experience as young children becoming adolescents. And the repeated exposure, over years, to the specifics of war, sexual violence, and the presentation of hyper-masculinity, can also result in the erosion of what kind of impact violence truly has, as they become desensitized, and what a healthy understanding of and relationship with the opposite sex is (as opposed to its portrayal in my Duke Nukem piece). As the study articulated, it’s about changing people over time, it’s about how perceptions and perspectives change when a new definition of the norm that is not contested or dissected – a Ralph Lauren model, a Duke Nukem – enters the picture. Women who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia, while not blaming the fashion industry, have emphatically articulated that it certainly has had an impact as it normalized this destructive self-image and behavior.
I think it’s also relevant here to bring up the Supreme Court’s decision about a week ago to shoot down California’s attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to children. Timothy Egan, a Times columnist, had a great commentary on this, noting how ridiculous it seems for there to be a perpetual ban on nudity and sexually explicit images, but not on virtually dismembering a human or sexually assaulting a woman. It does seem…well, more than troubling, that a game in which a player can simulate murder and rape is protected by free speech but a bare breast is the height of vulgarity. (I found a great post from a female gamer about this kind of sexual violence in video games, and I agree with her assertion that sexual expression can in fact exist without it also involving violence and degradation.) I don’t think any of the representations of sexuality that I have seen in video games are appropriate for children because they overwhelmingly associate it with abuse and/or coercion (I’ve done a lot of viewing in the past couple days after my Duke Nukem post). To say that sexuality would have a more harmful impact than violence seems questionable, when representations of both are equally unhealthy.
It should also be said that I am far from someone who believes nudity and sexuality itself is vulgar. I celebrate and support healthy (and protected!) sexual expression in any way the individual consents and desires. I firmly believe that discussions of sex and sexuality should be brought up early on, so children can ask questions, be informed, protect themselves when they do engage in sex, and have an understanding of what a respectful, consensual sexual relationship is. I also believe that when these discussions in families don’t take place, and when sex is a taboo topic, that it is a disservice to these children, and that any confusion they have about sex or uncertainty about what a healthy sex life actually is will be magnified by the messages the media sends them. I’m an advocate of early onset, comprehensive sexual health and reproductive health education. Sex shouldn’t be confusing, and it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Sexual violence, however, and a misappropriation of the presentation of sexual relationships that are abusive, coercive, and violent, should be condemned.
This is also why a diversity of exposures is important. It’s important to not be inundated with the same message over and over again. Advertisers know that repeated exposure is key to getting people to buy what they want to sell. If you see an image of a Coke bottle once, it won’t register with much impact. If you see it every time your favorite TV show breaks for commercial, when you’re leafing through the pages of a magazine, when you’re driving down a freeway and it’s up on a billboard, when you’re listening to the radio and it breaks for the Coke jingle – it adds up, as do afternoons in front of a game console, as do hours reading “women’s” magazines and fashion spreads, as do episodes of spousal or child abuse, (which we know increases the likelihood of the child being in an abusive relationship him/herself and hampers healthy development – the others are logical extensions, to a lesser degree). We have to have enough positive images, positive games, positive and healthy discourse about relationships to not just equal the stream of negative imagery and messaging, but to overtake it. Positive, healthy messages, not abusive, harmful, violent messages, have to be in the majority. The norm. It’s nice that the docs finally said so.
Three fairly prolific things have happened in the past three days that all incorporated the ways in which women are attacked in the public eye, how the media shapes the representation of female victims, and what we think are crimes worthy of solving and what kind of help is worth giving.
Let’s start with Ed. Given the obviously hard liberal bent of this blog, I’m guessing most of you have already determined that my views are aligned with many on MSNBC, despite not usually watching TV for my news (I prefer to read my news, because I hate commercials and because I’d rather get the straight facts than deal with a sensationalized version of a story with a reporter’s personal opinion bending it one way or another). This past week, Ed Schultz referred to Laura Ingraham as a slut.
This frustrated me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t care about Laura Ingraham’s sex life. I don’t care how many people she’s slept with, who they are, or what they’ve done. Why does Ed? Why does anybody? To use that as a platform of attack is insulting, crude, sexist, and entirely irrelevant to the argument. Schultz was angry and wanted to be mean – and the best way to be mean to women in America is by calling them out as sex-crazy animals. It’s a double shot – you’re calling them dirty and you’re calling them immoral. Is that the way we’re mean to men in America? No. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Secondly, just take a quick, cursory look at Ingraham’s website. There are…so, SO many things that I would rather have had Schultz tackle regarding Ingraham’s absurd political ideology than calling her a slut. Without even clicking through, I can see about ten things that Schultz’s usually incisive wit and on-target analysis would have been better poised to take on. The last thing I want someone like Ingraham getting is an increased audience size due to sympathy culled because a TV personality called her a bad name. I would much rather have her getting an increased audience size due to a TV personality calling out her intense and callous right-wing agenda and seriously out there hard-core conservative rants against what she sees as Obama’s socialist agenda. He could have killed her mission with facts. Instead, he propped her mission up with an insult.
Next up – the acquittal of the two NYPD officers charged with raping a woman in her East Village apartment in 2008 after supposedly “helping her home.” The officers were called to escort a woman home who was apparently so incapacitated that she could not manage on her own. They entered her apartment, supposedly helped her into bed, and then faked 911 calls multiple times through the night so they could return to her apartment, “talk to her” and “cuddle with her” when she wasn’t wearing underwear. In their words, they were “checking in on her” and one of the officers even said he was “counseling” her on her alcohol use since as a former addict himself, claiming to recognize she may have a problem with alcohol. She reported that she awoke to a man taking off her tights and penetrating her. He said all he did was “cuddle” with her. When a conversation that she had taped became public – she went to his precinct to confront him and ask him if he had used a condom – he back-peddled and agreed that sex had occurred but that it had been consensual. He said, as quoted on the tape, that “yes, I used a condom, you don’t have to worry about diseases or anything.” She insisted on an answer to this to protect her health because she was too drunk to knowingly consent to sex. A story change like that alone – going from “we just cuddled” to “actually, we did have sex” should make one highly suspicious of his defense. It is not the job of an NYPD officer to decide that he should be counseling a woman he was called to escort home. Why, if you were so concerned with her safety, would you fake 911 calls to go back into her apartment? You could have easily reported that you were concerned and noted that you felt there was a need for her to be checked in on.
Ultimately, all the cops were found guilty of was “official misconduct.” Faking 911 calls and repeatedly entering a woman’s apartment without her consent and “cuddling” with her while she wasn’t wearing underwear? How will this precedent serves those charged with rape on the stand in the near future? If a man enters my apartment and crawls into bed while I’m not wearing underwear to “cuddle” with me while I am too incapacitated to agree to it, “misconduct” does not describe how I would categorize those events. More like…breaking and entering and assault. The defense of the officers was insulting – they claimed that she was way too drunk to make it home on her own, but that she was sober enough to consent to sex. Seems like a woman can’t win.
When a few people on the jury were asked how they came to this conclusion, one man said that they “just didn’t believe the woman’s testimony” when it was read back. They also said they felt there were holes in both her and the cops’ stories. Yet they chose to not believe the victim. I understand the concept of reasonable doubt, yes – but, in this case, we had the testimony of a cop whose story had holes in it because he was trying to cover up his actions, and the testimony of a woman whose story had holes in it because she was drunk. If she was too drunk to have a cohesive testimony, what makes one think she is sober enough to consent to sex? It seems that this definition makes people more uncomfortable than the act of the non-consensual sex itself. An NYPD officer, above all, should know this (they go through sexual assault training – did he forget?), and should be in the position of protector. I simply cannot get beyond the idea that if one thought she was so drunk, so utterly incapacitated that you needed to check on her over and over again throughout the night, why – I just have to know – would one think she was in any state to have sex?
And lastly, news recently hit that New York, undoubtedly tight on funds, has proposed cutting the special victims unit teams at hospitals that serve women who were recently sexually assaulted and raped. SVUs are the group of professionals equipped to deal with the aftermath of an assault. They gather forensic evidence from rape kits, which collect DNA and have helped track down and identify many assaulters in the past. (There are already backlogs of hundreds of unexamined rape kits in many U.S. cities, something that rightfully angers and frustrates advocates who point out that these kits are often the most reliable evidence one has in linking an attacker to a victim.) They also provide the essential mental health support for women immediately after a sexual assault, and also help connect her to services that can continue the necessary ongoing mental health support in the future. It seems like a no-brainer that these services should be offered.
These three distinct stories are each, in their unique ways, indicative of one perspective that desperately needs to change – people hate women who have a sexual identity. They blame them for being sexually active and sexually expressive; if a woman has historically had a lot of sex partners, they make sure to bring this to light during a rape accusation and claim that she must have agreed to it, it must have been consensual because she loves sex so much! When they want to insult women they use terms that are charged with implications of having too much sex (Schultz doesn’t actually care how much sex Ingraham is having – he was furious with her political idiocy, and instead of calmly articulating that and making a much needed point about her fact-less rantings, he chose to sling a comment that he thought would be more hurtful – that we socially have decided is more hurtful – one that charged she was sexually ravenous), and use that to delegitimize her. Ingraham lobs a lot of softballs for liberals; why not attack her weak political ideology instead of attacking her supposed sexual proclivity?
Why cut the services that are so obviously needed for women who, after an assault or rape, feel incredibly vulnerable, angry, confused, and scared? Why would you not want a forensic team to gather evidence that could help arrest and implicate a rapist? Why would you not want a team of mental health professionals to support the victim immediately, to help her process it, to continue to help her process it, decreasing the likelihood of her struggling with depression, chronic fear and fatigue, incredible anger, and a serious lack of faith in the criminal justice system? All I can think of is that these people…don’t believe these are real issues. They don’t believe the women who are assaulted and who try to seek justice and healing after their attacks. It seems as thought the burden of being assaulted rests on women here just because they are women. It’s much easier to denounce having sex than have to go after someone who assaulted a woman. But what these people need to remember is that rape isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power over the victim. And these three stories offer up sensational examples of how the greater social power structure perpetrates this dynamic and supports and fosters the rape culture. By acquitting the NYPD officers we’ve shown that those in power will not be questioned, by removing SVU services we’ve told women that they are losing the resources that would have helped them regain personal power and that would have legally stripped their assaulters of theirs. And Ed, who thankfully apologized, showed that those who have a handle on the media, and who are lucky enough to have their voices projected farther than most, can still knock a woman (even those who are ostensibly on their same level in terms of exposure) down by calling her a slut.