The Fem Spot

Dear Hillary…

Posted in Feminist Theory, media, News, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009

Dear Hillary,

On Saturday night in suburban San Francisco, California,  a 15-year-old girl was reportedly gang raped by as many as 10 male teenage attackers while another 10 stood by and watched, maybe even cheered. She was left unconscious beneath a bench on Richmond High School property after more than two hours of this ordeal.

I read about this incident on CNN.com on Tuesday morning and couldn’t believe it had happened. I found it reminiscent of the gang rape of a mentally challenged teenage girl in Glen Ridge, New Jersey in 1989, which I’d read a book about. Well, thought I, after stomping my fists and wailing at the top of my lungs; at least these types of incidents are few and far between.

But later I remembered that in 2008, in the neighboring town of Montclair, N.J., three teenage boys sexually assaulted a female teenage special education student. As in the Glen Ridge incident, the young men used a broomstick to penetrate the girl. Well, thought I, after scratching my head and whimpering; at least that’s only two recent incidents in the United States. I don’t, after all, reside in Afghanistan, for instance, where 90 percent of married women are abused by their husbands. The U.S. is a safe haven for women and girls.

On Tuesday, I waited for other news outlets to pick up the story of the San Francisco teen. I periodically googled “San Francisco gang rape.” Surprisingly, I found very little about the Saturday night incident, and instead stumbled across a December, 2008 gang rape of a lesbian female by four men, two teens and two adults, also near San Francisco. The four had spotted the woman’s car, which displayed a rainbow bumper sticker, shouted hateful epithets at her, struck her with a blunt object, raped her, drove her to an abandoned building, raped her again, and left her naked just outside the building before driving off in her car. Well, thought I, after gasping and digging my fingernails into my thighs; at least gang rape is just a San Francisco and northern N.J. thing.

But then I remembered the similar hate crime of Brandon Teena (nee Teena Brandon) in 1993 in Humboldt, Nebraska. Two men raped and murdered Teena, and also murdered two bystanders, because they hated – and likely feared – Teena’s choice to live his life as a male, though born a female. Perhaps you’ve seen the film adaptation of this incident starring Hilary Swank: Boys Don’t Cry? Well, thought I, after reliving the horror of the film and emotional ruin it left me in; at least it’s only gangs and pairs that hate women enough to murder them indiscreetly.

Oh, wait: George Sodini indiscreetly shot at women in a Pennsylvania gym in August, killing three women and then himself and wounding nine others because, as his personal blog so clearly stipulated, he was tired of 19 years of rejection by women and sexually frustrated. “Thanks for nada, bitches!” he wrote in June. And previously, in 2006, lone gunman Charles C. Roberts IV shot 10 girls, killing five and himself, at an Amish schoolhouse in Pa. leaving behind a hint or two about his unfortunate longing to molest little girls. Perhaps, he shot them out of rage and bewilderment that they existed to tempt him. Well, thought I, after digging to find all the facts of these two incidents and finding myself thoroughly disgusted and alarmed; maybe there’s something in the water…in Pa., Neb., N.J. and Calif.

Why do some men hate women, in the U.S. and abroad? Why do they want to beat us into submission? Why do they want to kill us in heinous ways? Why don’t they want us to be happy with powerful, singular identities and exciting, fulfilling sex lives? Why won’t they let us take control of our reproductive rights without a fight? Why won’t they let us be mothers and lovers at the same time, sinners and saints simultaneously?

There exists a pervasive hatred and fear of women in our American culture. Whether movies, television, art and literature reflect or cause this fear escapes my understanding. But it all culminates at a rigid point: collectively, we believe women are one thing or the other, limited by our sex to be either good or bad. The “good” women are loving mothers, faithful wives, compliant sexual partners and obliging victims. The “bad” women reject their obligations to the “good” tasks, opting for personal pleasure. In other words, “good” women sacrifice themselves for this goodness, while “bad” women sacrifice nothing. As an unnamed Hollywood executive said of Ms. Swank, “Her look and demeanor are not soft, so it’s hard to see her as vulnerable or as a love object.” (Entertainment Weekly, 10-30-09)

Ergo, this Hilary like another Hillary we know, does not fall cleanly into either the “good” or “bad” categories, and is therefore a “difficulty.”

I am reminded of a magnificent argument a certain Secretary of State and former First Lady made to a N.J. Representative in April, 2009 in support of reproductive health and the reproductive health education of women globally and at home, which went largely unnoticed by the media. I am a feminist blogger and I hadn’t heard about it until another blogger called it to the attention of the feminist blogging community. Madame Secretary said:

Congressman, I deeply respect your passionate concern and views which you have championed and advocated for over the course of your public career. We, obviously, have a profound disagreement. When I think about the suffering that I have seen of women around the world; I’ve been in hospitals in Brazil where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies and the other half were fighting for their lives against botched abortions. I’ve been in African countries where 12 and 13-year-old girls are bearing children. I have been in Asian countries where the denial of family planning consigns women to lives of oppression and hardship…It is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so anywhere in the world, and so are we (the Obama Administration). We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare. I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to bring down the rate of abortions and it has been my experience that good family planning and good medical care brings down the rate of abortion. Keeping women and men in ignorance and denied the access to services actually increases the rate of abortion…I’m sad to report that after an administration of eight years that undid so much of the good work (of the Clinton Administration), the rate of teenage pregnancy is going up (in the U.S.)…We are now an administration that will protect the rights of women including their rights to reproductive health care.

This statement eloquently confirms the Obama Administration’s commitment to the inalienable human right to life that pregnant women were born with; and that right to survive includes access to legal, safe abortions. The statement also makes clear that Pro-Choice supporters are not crazed baby killers: we are, instead, female protectors fighting for the safety and wellness of women, worldwide. We don’t cheer for abortion but instead believe it to be a necessary component to female reproductive health.

I fear, however, the administration now championed by the Secretary – i.e. that of President Barack Obama – does not share her passion. I fear that President Obama may be… distracted from the goals so clearly described in Madame Secretary’s speech. In July, the President hosted a “Beer Summit” at the White House in honor of a truce struck between affluent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and a Cambridge, Mass. police officer who had – under national scrutiny – engaged in a “disorderly” scene, which resulted in… no damage to either party.  Earlier this month, Obama traveled to Denmark in a failed attempt to woo the International Olympic Committee into naming Chicago, Illinois, his home town, as the site for the 2016 Olympic Games.  And later this month, Obama hosted an all men’s basketball game at the White House. While he didn’t specifically restrict women players, he didn’t make a point of including them either; just as he doesn’t make a point of following women’s basketball. Personally, I don’t care what the President does during his free time; but on work time he should be cognizant of women’s equality.

The fact that the President is publicly, and “as the President,” interested in “man” activities like drinking beer, shooting hoops, welcoming a “big rambunctious dog” rather than a “girlie dog” into the White House and spectating the Olympics; combined with the fact that his wife seems more than happy to play the part of First Lady “Fashionista,” means that the U.S. is continuing to tolerate and even support traditional gender roles.

Traditionally, a woman might be expected to make way for her husband’s comments on major issues rather than issuing her own. It is possible that the reason a Secretary of State and former First Lady bristled when asked to speak for her husband at a question and answer forum in August in Kinshasa, Congo was because of the invocation of said tradition. News anchors rolled their eyes at the scene, but the offense was legitimate. This is 2009, not 1909. Women can and do vote, own property, hold public office, etc. And when a woman does hold an important position, her opinions on subjects relating to her office’s authority are of greater importance than any adjacent man’s: husband’s, President’s and former President’s alike.

I value your opinion, Hillary. I want to know why this misunderstanding of who we women are and what we can do exists in the U.S., masquerading as hatred and violence; and I want to know what we – what I – can do about it.

With deep admiration,

femspotter

The case of the glued penis…huh?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Marriage, Sexuality by femspotter on September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

I’m probably not supposed to laugh about this, but upon doing my usual news perusal this morning, I came across something that set me to giggling:

Women face trial for staged motel tryst ending with glued penis

How can you avoid investigating that headline further?

At first, I was expecting some ridiculous scandal involving a bachelorette party and a “pin the penis on the naked man” game. Perhaps things got a little out of control and the girls ended up streaking the motel parking lot with paper penises glued to their foreheads, thought I. It could – and probably has – happen(ed).

Well, sadly, this is not a case of girls gone wild for fun. This is girls gone wild for revenge. This is the kind of story that would make for a great, albeit dark, comedy movie like Heathers, Jawbreaker or Death Becomes Her. In the case of each of those films, women – young and old – do deadly deeds in pursuit of something it seems most women covet: the right to call oneself “most beautiful” or “most popular.” In the case of the glued penis – that kind of sounds like a good book: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Glued Penis – four women pursued the right to call one of them “most likely to grow old with the world’s biggest loser husband.” How’s that for a superlative?

It seems that they don’t get much reality television in Wisconsin. Four apparently bored women including the wife of the “victim” concocted a scheme to trap a man who was sleeping with three of them indiscreetly. No, this is not the pilot episode plot summary for The Real Housewives of Calumet County.

Therese Ziemann claims that she met the man on Craigslist – I knew it was good for something – and fell in love with him. She allegedly payed for their hotel rooms and lent him $3,000.

Ziemann claims to have been contacted on the day before the assault by the man’s wife who confirmed that she was married to the man and was mother to his children; and that it was subsequent to that conversation that Ziemann, the wife, another girlfriend of the cheating husband, and Ziemann’s sister agreed to ambush the man at a Stockbridge motel and make him confess his treachery.

The man told police that he met with Ziemann for a sexual encounter at the motel, and she suggested that she tie him up and rub him down. She used bed sheets to restrain him and blindfolded him with a pillowcase. Then, according to the “victim,” she cut off his underwear with scissors and texted her accomplices telling them that he was tied up.

The four women asked the man questions about where his true affections lie. Then Ziemann slapped him and used Krazy Glue to attach his penis to his stomach, according to her testimony. The women took his wallet, car and cell phone and left him at the motel tied up. He then chewed through his restraints and called police.

My favorite line of the CNN article is: “CNN does not name victims of alleged sexual assault and will not name the alleged victim’s wife since they use the same last name.”

Why do I love this line? Because CNN is taking this man’s status as a victim very seriously – his identity is known. I put the word “victim” in quotation marks: this man made a series of deliberate choices (some illegal) that resulted in his uncomfortable apprehension. He’s not a victim like, say, children who find their genitals cut off in sadistic “circumcision” rituals in Africa et al. He’s not a victim like the Micheal Vick pit bulls who were riled up and used for sport. Nor, is he like the small rabbits and kittens that are used to bait such fighting dogs. And he certainly isn’t a victim like the millions of women and children who are beaten by abusive men in the United States and other countries around the world. No. Additionally, he did not find himself shot dead by George Sodini in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania or Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. He did not find himself lying dead at the base of the fallen World Trade Center towers eight years ago today.

Can men be victims? Sure. And women have been known to beat their husbands and their children too. But, this man is not the poster child for penile rights! According to the article, this man “has a criminal record in Wisconsin dating back to 1998, (and) is in custody on unrelated charges of child abuse, theft and harassment.”

While CNN references its policy about not revealing the names of “victims” of “sexual assault,” I wonder at what point does this “victim” become the villain? At what point do his wife and his two unsuspecting girlfriends become “victims” of his treachery? At what point do his children become victims of his child abuse, the robbed victims of his theft, and the harassed victims of his harassment? As far as I can tell, this man is not a “victim” at all: he just got a little taste of his own medicine.

Now don’t go thinking that I am trivializing what must have been agonizing sexual assault for this man… No, you’re right, I am. Sexual assault in the form a Krazy Glued penis neither alarms nor horrifies me. Had they cut it off, then we’d have a serious crime on our hands.

The Witches of Stockbridge?

The Witches of Stockbridge?

Which brings us to the victims…eh perpetrators…of this incident: the women. At left is the image that CNN posted with its article. I assume these are the mug shots of Michelle Belliveau, Wendy Sewell and Ziemann (from left to right). That would make the woman on the right the man’s lover, loan shark and penis gluer. She doesn’t look too remorseful. Neither does her sister – who wasn’t sleeping with the man – on the far left. In fact, Belliveau looks rather pleased with herself. And the third cheated woman (Sewell in the center) just looks pissed off.

On the one hand, I want to say, “Good for them! They found a sisterhood and stood up for love and trust between sexual partners.” But on the other hand, I wonder what’s more pathetic: the fact that these women fell in love with and were duped by such a loser or the fact that they will stand trial and may go to prison for it?

Either way, I want to wear a t-shirt that reads “Release the Witches of Stockbridge.” For, even though they may have been tricked, they tricked back. In my book, “witch,” which is a term that has been applied to many women over the years including our esteemed – and often loathed – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a great thing to be: it means you’re smart, angry and perhaps a bit tricky! (I’m sure I would have been hanged from a scaffold in Salem, 1692.) At what point do women cease to be victims?  When they rise up alone or together and fight back.

This really isn’t a case of men versus women where one or the other are bad guys or good guys simply because of their sex. This is a case of a group of people getting angry at a person for lying to them, stealing from them, neglecting them, etc. And this is a case of that group making a united stance saying, “We are not going to take it anymore!” For all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing when men and women of employment unions stand together and fight the good fight for better pay and working conditions. In this case, a group of people has also stood up for better treatment from “the man.”

I wouldn’t be singing their praises if they had really hurt this man. He didn’t physically damage any one of them irrevocably. But if people learn of this story, as with the case of the cut off Bobbitt penis, there might be a few men here or there who think twice before lying, cheating and stealing. And that’s a step forward for the happiness of heterosexual women, right?

If women heed the same warning, isn’t that a step forward for humanity as a collective?

The New York Times lament

Posted in media, Personal Essays, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on August 26, 2009
Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

August 26, 2009

Several weeks ago, The New York Times surprised me with a smug Saturday morning edition that bashed New Jersey in every way it could. The front page depicted a large photo of a junk yard in Hackensack – not attached to any story I could find. Another trash dump adorned one internal section, while still an even greater horror awaited readers on the cover of one of the Arts sections: a great white shark, mouth open under a headline that read “Ah, That Jersey Shore: The Fish Are Really Biting.”

That’s irresponsible journalism in my book. The article (online 7-31-09, in print 8-1-09) was announcing Shark Week on Discovery Channel and, though it alluded to the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 which were to be covered by programming scheduled for Shark Week, the photo (right) was taken off the coast of South Africa rather than New Jersey. Nonetheless, the editors at The Times decided they have the right to mock the people of New Jersey – 127,101 of whom subscribe to The Times daily edition, 182,557 to its Sunday edition, according to the New Jersey Press Association – with an incessant flow of visual insults in the wake of the great corruption scandal of 2009: 44 elected officials – the mayor of my town among them – and rabbis indicted for taking bribes and other corrupt acts in one sweep of the judicial net over the state that many already consider to be “the armpit” of the United States. I even got a letter from a relative in a seemingly moral part of the central U.S. remarking about what a corrupt part of the world I live in. (Ah, the Midwest… That’s where they kill abortion doctors, isn’t it?)

Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

I love my state! Sure, we have potholes and insane drivers – nobody knows what a yield sign means – and 4-inch acrylic nails and discordant accents galore. But we also have Victorian Cape May, beautiful beaches, great public education (including Rutgers University, my alma mater) and the Statue of Liberty. Many a talented celebrity has emerged from the smelly bowels called Jersey: Frank Sinatra, Judy Blume, Jack Nicholson, etc.

But, in reality, New Jersey doesn’t smell bad…at least, not outside of Hudson County.

My husband and I chose New Jersey over the cardboard box we could have afforded in Manhattan or neighboring Brooklyn, or the the relatively cheap spaces in the other three boroughs of New York City. In New Jersey, we’re property owners living close to jobs in Manhattan. We’ve lived in historic downtown Jersey City and loved it! We got married in Liberty State Park facing Lady Liberty herself. And if that weren’t enough to convince you that New Jersey is a fantastic state, check out this photo I took outside my condo – less than five miles from Manhattan – in the middle of August, 2009 – also known as just two days ago:

Canadian Geese Visit Beautiful New Jersey; Who Wouldn't Want to Be Here?

A New Jersey River Near New York City at Night: Who Wouldn't Want to Live Here?

So, suck it TNYT!

Your biased portrayal of New Jersey on Aug. 1, 2009 was at best pert and at worst cruel. A corrupt government does not a corrupt population make. We good citizens of New Jersey are the victims of this corruption, rather than the perpetrators of it!

I was just on the verge of canceling my subscription when I picked up the following week’s edition. There, a couple of pages in, was an Op-Ed piece by Bob Herbert entitled “Women at Risk.” In the wake of all of the critical and academic silence about misogyny in our culture during the Hillary Clinton campaign for President and the Sarah Palin campaign – such that it was – for Vice President; in the aftermath of a tremendous victory for the black man Barack Obama, who won our nation’s top office; on the footsteps of the Henry Louis Gates arrest fiasco in Boston that prompted the historic beer bash at the White House…here was a black columnist writing about sexism instead of racism. Did he miss the band wagon? Reacting to the recent slaughter of three women and the wounding of nine others by sexually frustrated assassin George Sodini in a Pennsylvania gym, Herbert had this to say:

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Well, thought I…I can’t give up my subscription now. It’s true that The Times has much to make up for. After all of feminist Maureen Dowd’s lazy and pointless columns and the make believe feminist insights of film critic Manohla Dargis – who criticized Pixar for taking until now to hire a female director (yeah, because Pixar is the real problem for feminist filmmakers in Hollywood, right?) and chastised people who point out that Kathryn Bigelow is a female film director who makes man movies (I think that’s noteworthy, don’t you? We expect women to make sappy, romantic movies. They do, but they also direct stylish horror films like Ravenous and visceral dramas about sexuality like The Piano.) – The Times owes all of its feminist readers, from New Jersey to Timbuktu, a real feminist thought or two to chew on. As it turns out, the best feminists over at The Times are men: A.O. Scott, Nicholas D. Kristof and Bob Herbert, to name a few.

Herbert’s column is opinion-based and he alludes to statistics that he doesn’t provide, which bothers me. I want him to make an argument about misogyny supported by facts rather than rantings. He writes “A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so.” Is it one every two minutes…every three minutes? That makes a big difference.

Still, I’m glad that somebody is getting angry about this besides the women who’ve been complaining to deaf ears for years. There are those haters out there who jumped all over Secretary of State Clinton a few weeks ago after she flew off the handle in the Congo when asked by a male student what Mr. Clinton thinks, “through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton,” about the World Bank tampering with Chinese contracts. The incident was met with eye-rolling from CNN “news” correspondents and a heap of criticism from columnists and comedian’s alike. But as this Times news blog points out, Clinton may have gotten a raw deal. She was, after all, standing up for herself and her position at the top, one she’s worked toward for many years. Additionally, she did what Herbert and others have done when something is wrong with the world: she got mad. It is unjust to be asked to speak for your husband when yours is the opinion that should really count. And we won’t right the world’s injustices if we don’t first get mad about them. (To be fair, however, a woman who once did cooking demonstrations on television, posing as Suzy Homemaker to get her husband reelected to the Presidency, doesn’t have a sturdy leg to stand on when it comes to declaring an independent, emancipated status!)

While I am angry at The New York Times, I forgive it because of its forward-thinking feminism. The Aug. 23, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine was centered on women’s rights with five major articles pertaining to the current status and potential advancement of women’s rights. “In many parts of the world, women are routinely beaten, raped or sold into prostitution. They are denied access to medical care, education and economic and political power,” it’s cover boldly reveals. “Changing that could change everything.”

Inside, “The Women’s Crusade” by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tells us that “(t)the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time.” Hey, if that’s the case, then why is Obama drinking with Gates at the White House instead of with Saima Muhammad of Pakistan, who “was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business;” or Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi, who was also routinely beaten by her husband but who turned a $2 microloan into a crop of potatoes worth $7.50 and her resulting salvation. In fact, Nyabenda is a banana-beer brewer as well as a potato farmer. That would have been a better beer to choose than Bud Light, which, though American, is also the product of a large corporation wielding perhaps unfair tax breaks. Again I ask, why is Obama having drinks with cops and professors when he could be uplifting the impoverished, abused and uneducated women of the world?

Racism is a serious problem; but the cause to abolish racism isn’t helped when an affluent academic screams bloody racism and the media turns the spotlight away from the real injustices of the day to watch the President booze with the battered egos of the world. As far as I know, nobody at that round table has ever been raped or had their genitals removed because of the notion that their sex is inferior to the alternative.

Sharks don’t discriminate between men and women, but Peter Benchley did. He allegedly based his 1974 pulp novel Jaws on the 1916 shark attacks at the Jersey Shore. In reality, there were four victims of the attacks: all male. In the book, and subsequently the 1975 Steven Spielberg film of the same title, the first victim of the man-eater is instead a woman, and she is horribly de-sexualized in the process of her slaying. In the first place, she is swimming naked after dark as part of a sexscapade. Later, when her body is found, it is shredded in all the parts that physically distinguish the girls from the boys: namely her breasts and her womb. Benchley had said in interviews that he regretted writing this novel because it instilled a previously unfounded fear of sharks in the masses. Perhaps, he should have regretted his own misogyny and stuck to the facts: in 1916, three New Jersey men and one boy went into the water and were killed by a beast that didn’t seek to hurt or humiliate women. It was just hungry.

While The New York Times and I have made peace with each other for now, and I still get to look forward to reading the newspaper on Saturday and Sunday mornings in my bathrobe with a big mug of steaming coffee; I am forever wary of the verbal and printed slights marring my beautiful Garden State…just as I am of the general misogyny that pervades our culture.

That’s right: I’m a Jersey Girl now. And you don’t wanna mess with no Joysey Girl! POW!

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