Non-Violent Sexual Assaults?

 

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu

by Kaitlin

According to recently released statistics, overall crime in Vancouver is down 7.5 percent. Rates are down in all categories except sexual assault, which is up a staggering 21%. According to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, aggravated sexual assaults are up 600%, from a single reported case last year to seven this year. Overall, 303 sexual assaults have been reported in Vancouver so far this year, up from 246 in the same period last year.

At a press conference with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Jim Chu explained that many of the reported sexual assaults were gropings, or “non-violent sexual assaults.” This is what caught my eye – since when is groping not considered a form of violence? Unless consensual, groping is an attack on a person’s bodily integrity. As with other forms of sexual assault, groping can cause emotional and psychological harm to the victim. The possible impacts of non-consensual groping can be life-long, and should never be minimized.

It concerns me greatly that the magnitude of groping is being downplayed by the media. Sexual assault is never okay. Implying that groping is somehow less bad than rape contributes to the all too widespread impression that it is not a serious crime, that people who commit this form of sexual assault are somehow less culpable, or that victims aren’t seriously wounded by the experience. These kinds of sentiments just contribute to rape culture, and it horrifies me that the fact that gropings are so common in Vancouver is somehow being used to temper the announcement about sexual assault statistics.

Now, admittedly, it is possible that these sobering statistics do illustrate possible progress: there is a chance that reporting rates have increased. This would certainly be very good news, as it’s known that many women feel too ashamed to report sexual assaults to the police. However, I fear that reports like this, casting groping as non-violent, could serve to counteract any progress of this sort.

Jim Chu attributes the rise in sexual assaults partly to the growing popularity of Granville Street. However, he also admitted that incidents of groping were up across the city. While alcohol can, and does, contribute to sexual assaults, the true culprit is a culture that downplays sexual assault, as is happening right now. If we accept Chief Chu’s assertion that the majority of sexual assaults in Vancouver last year were non-violent, then we risk making groping okay. So, I’m going to call him out: there is no such thing as a non-violent sexual assault.

-Kaitlin

Posted on by Kaitlin in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 8 Comments

The Round-Up: Aug. 30, 2010

-Jarrah

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Young Feminists Exist

This post is part of the This is What a Young Feminist Looks Like Blog Carnival organized by Fair and Feminist. For a list of the other participating blogs, check out their site.

The reason for the blog carnival is to counter the complaining by some 2nd wave feminists that young women refuse to embrace feminism because they don’t realize how hard their foremothers fought for their rights.

I wrote about this back in January in response to a New York Times piece about feminists’ disappointment over younger women turning their backs on Hillary Clinton. This followed Gail Collins’ open letter to young women, admonishing them for taking the feminist struggle of the 60s and 70s for granted. Since then there’s been a Newsweek piece claiming that young women don’t care about reproductive rights (find Jezebel’s rebuttal here) and most recently a NYT interview with Gail Collins and Stacy Schiff that echoed the same themes.

Clearly there are some young women who fit the bill. I know a few young women who don’t believe discrimination against women still exists and many more who do, but don’t want to call themselves feminist because they’ve bought the stereotype that all feminists are hairy, humourless man-haters. My roommate recently told a friend, “Jarrah writes a feminist blog, but don’t worry because she’s not one of those crazy feminists.”

But there are also older women who have these views. But even if we assume there is a trend of declining feminist involvement, minimizing young feminists’ activism and lecturing young women is hardly the way to get them to identify with you.

Luckily, as the other young bloggers in the carnival will tell you, young feminists exist. In addition to the many awesome young women (and feminist men) that make the feminist blogosphere so dymanic, there are young feminists on college campuses, working on the front lines of  progressive non-profits, volunteering at abortion clinics, and calling out friends and relatives for oppressive comments.

They’re motivated. Last spring at the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Young Feminist Leadership Conference I met two teenagers in their first year of college who were determined to start an FMF campus club at their conservative Texas college to take on the claims of the Genocide Awareness Project. I met two more girls in highschool who had fundraised to fly themselves to the conference from California so they could learn how to start a highschool club. If Gail Collins can’t make it to the next conference, I think she should take some time to drop into Feminist Summer Camp to check out the inspiring young feminists there.

They’re using technology. Holla Back New York uses their website, Twitter, and users’ cell phone cameras to fight street harassment. About-Face uses their website to mobilize activists to take “covert dressing room action” to fight unrealistic body image standards. They’re forming national and international networks, helping build a movement that recognizes the multiplicity of women’s experiences and acknowledges different forms of oppression.

On another note, there are also several women – young and old – who choose not to identify as feminists because they don’t see gender as the main reason they’re discriminated against and they see the history of the movement as having too much of a focus on the struggles of white, middle-class, able-bodied, straight women. They have a point.

Which is not to say that we forget what feminists fought for and won. The impact of the feminist movement in history on the lives of women today cannot be overstated. But for mainstream feminist organizations to keep going and grow, they have to adapt to changing technologies, to acknowledge the ways in which they may have excluded some women in the past, and to collaborate with instead of lecturing to younger members.

Many are taking steps in the right direction and showing how feminists of all generations can work together. There are too many struggles left to fight for us not to.

And to Gail Collins, Newsweek, Geraldine Ferraro and the others who lament what they think their daughters have become, This is What a Young Feminist Looks Like:

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

FFFF: Wanda Sykes

Bringin’ you your Friday Feminist Funny Film on Thursday night, hoping the earliness might make up for the fact that I failed to post one last week.

Some language NSFW

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My 2010 Summer Reads

So the summer’s not really over yet (fingers crossed) but now that I’m back at work after surgery my ability to finish books quickly has decreased and I figured it was a good time to recap since my last book update. In the order I read them:

1. In Spite of Myself: Memoirs by Christopher Plummer

I’m not a big biography fan but I am a huge Shakespeare nerd and this book got great reviews, so I picked it up at the library. At 656 pages, it’s not something you can knock off in one sitting, but nevertheless it manages to be a page turner. It’s filled with fascinating anecdotes about his encounters with such notables as Oscar Peterson, William Shatner, Laurence Olivier, Julie Andrews, Maggie Smith, and many more. My favourite was a humourous recounting of a very hung-over production of Hamlet. The stories are engaging and the narrative flows, tied together with quotes from Shakespeare plays.

That said, Plummer played it very safe on the personal front with this book. The death of his mother merits less than a page, and while he takes time to admire his daughter Amanda’s talent, he barely mentions feelings for her or any of the girlfriends and ex-wives he mentions. So if you’re looking to gain insight into Christopher Plummer’s feelings, you’re looking in the wrong place. But do read this book if you’re interested in the history of Shakespearean theatre in North America, the theatre scene in Montreal and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, and the behind-the-scenes experiences of one of Canada’s greatest actors.

2. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

This focuses on free blacks who owned blacks in the pre-abolition South, telling the story of a plantation run by free black Henry Townsend. At times I thought the writing felt stilted, but the historical insight and depth of character made it worth the read.

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I won’t spend too much time dissecting such a classic but it was an amazing book. I was also really struck by the gender dynamics and the recognition of the importance of women holding together families in the Great Depression. East of Eden is next on my Steinbeck reading list.

4. The Gathering by Anne Enright

I seemed to have a thing for novels about families this summer, the more dysfunctional the better. The Gathering looks at the Hegartys from the point-of-view of Veronica, whose brother Liam has just died. The writing is flowing but not flowery. Reading it felt like slowly drinking a glass of water. The only thing that prevented me from really enjoying it was the prevailing sense that women are meant to be long-suffering martyrs, especially relating to Veronica’s mother and Veronica’s relationship with her husband.

5. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

If I had to pick my favourite out of the list, this would be it. My dad recommended Kate Atkinson but I didn’t really know what to expect. And any synopsis of this novel won’t do it justice. It’s the story of a family through three generations, two world wars, and various personal tragedies, but the writing style is so unique, engaging, and often funny that it’s tough to put down. Women suffer a lot in Behind the Scenes at the Museum, too, but they aren’t victims. I’d highly recommend this book and am looking forward to reading When Will There Be Good News? next.

6. The History of Psychiatry by Edward Shorter

 I picked up this book after seeing Shorter quoted in the Vancouver Sun on the issue of adding new disorders to the DSM. Right from the start I was put on the defensive as Shorter approaches his history very strongly from the biological standpoint of mental illness, dismissing the Foucauldian notion of mental illness as socially constructed as nonsense with no historical basis. Shorter raises some good examples and while he claims to be right, he doesn’t claim to be objective, frequently declaring his standpoint. I appreciated that aspect and the thoroughness with which Shorter documented changing treatments in the United States and Europe. That said, even though I think Shorter shortchanged the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate, the thing that bothered me most was how little patients factored into his analysis. He goes on at length about various psychiatrists throughout history and even tries to vindicate ones he feels have acquired unfair reputations (not Freud, whom Shorter spends a whole chapter debunking). But rarely does he seem to think the perspectives of patients relevant. Overall it’s a book with a lot of interesting information but it deserves to be taken with a grain of salt.

7. Garbo Laughs, by Elizabeth Hay*

This one gets an asterisk because I didn’t actually finish it. I loved Hay’s Late Nights on Air but couldn’t really get into Garbo Laughs. There were a couple really nice moments but overall I felt like I was watching a bunch of cinemaphiles endlessly debate whether or not Marlon Brando is better than Frank Sinatra. It was interesting for a while but I felt like the book didn’t give me a reason to care about those types of debates.

-Jarrah

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture 2 Comments

Hung up on HBO’s Hung

Earlier this summer my roommates turned me on to HBO’s Hung, a sitcom starring Thomas Jane as Ray, a Detroit highschool teacher who decides to become a prostitute to make ends meet. The show also stars Jane Adams as Ray’s pimp/friend Tanya, and Anne Heche as Ray’s ex-wife. When I heard the plot I was immediately intrigued. How could the show’s creators deal with sex work in a humourous way without being crude or cheap? Surprisingly, they do.

I expect a lot of it has to do with the fact that the plot is unlikely enough and the characters zany enough to prevent it from being taken too seriously. Ray decides to market himself to wealthy, lonely, middle-aged women after his wife leaves him for a wealthier man and his house burns down. Tanya, his unlikely and neurotic pimp, is a failed poet whose other business venture, “lyric bread”, consists of making baked goods with messages inside them.

But the unreality of the show also makes it pretty hard for me to form an opinion on whether or not it’s feminist. It’s not really useful to look at how it depicts sex work because it doesn’t seem to be sending any political messages on that front. I decided to check out what some other people had to say.

The Feminist Spectator insists Hung is feminist:

No one here is starry-eyed about the American Dream; everyone knows that it’s precarious at best, diseased and desiccated at worse. But the series finds something sweet and poignant, rather than resigned and bitter, about the prevailing state of affairs, drawing the characters’ humanity against the odds…Happily, it’s the proto-feminist Tanya who gives them all hope, who swats away references to her own inferior looks (a constructed claim, since Adams is actually very cute), who glows with newly found confidence, who schemes about ways to increase their business, and who engages her clients with tough pragmatism and no-nonsense business ethics.

On the other hand, Juliette at Examiner.com suggests the show might actually reinforce sexual power dynamics by showing what men can get away with compared to women. She argues the protagonist would be more likely to be judged if it was a woman or a male prostitute who slept with men.

The New York Times says it’s not about sex at all, but rather a “finely drawn satire of the Great Recession”. Their analysis points to the setting of Detroit, Ray’s lack of ambition, and the comparative economic power of women in the show as indicative: “Collective aspiration and the kind of mercenary will that might move things along belong, in the universe of “Hung,” to the women in Ray’s immediate orbit. As a fantasy of male sexual objectification, “Hung” is a de facto dreamscape of female social authority.”

I can see all of their points, so I’m still on the fence as far as reviewing Hung politically. But no matter what, it’s an entertaining show with decent acting, clever dialogue, and  intriguing characters. And it’s worth checking out.

-Jarrah

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Annoying Dating Stereotypes? There's an app for that.

Screenshot from My Virtual GirlfriendAre you a guy who wants to date a girl who’s insecure, whiny, manipulative, and demanding, but you’re having trouble making that happen in real life? Are you willing to lie to her and do things you don’t enjoy doing to make her happy? Then the new iPhone app My Virtual Girlfriend may be for you.

In My Virtual Girlfriend, guys rank themselves on a number of traits, then suggest what they’re looking for in a girlfriend (i.e. sexiness, responsibility, sensitivity). The game then suggests 3 potential matches and once you pick one, you’re ready to go.

The goal of this game: keep your girlfriend around by making her happy. You can do this through agreeing with everything she says, doing activities she likes, buying her expensive things, and touching her (seriously), but not too much too soon.

Once you get to the end of level 20, your virtual gf falls in love with you and you can decide to stay or leave her because “you’re just too much man for one woman to handle.”

Nelson at Pixelated Geek interviewed the app’s producer, Angelina Amerson, who argues that the game isn’t just for fun or entertainment, but also to educate guys on “something that happens every day”.

Nelson questioned Ms. Amerson on different parts of the game, such as how  a guy can make his virtual girlfriend happy by cleaning her house, and why the virtual gfs get angry when the guy wants them to play video games with him. Ms. Amerson argues this is just like real life, saying she polled her girl friends and acquaintances and none of them like video games.

xeroxeroxero at MidLife Gamer says: “To say that My Virtual Girlfriend becomes a question of mathematical human conditioning is an understatement, the actions you’ll take over the hour and a half it takes to hit the maximum love level border on the sociopathic.” From what I saw, it certainly seems like it’s implying girls have some secret formula such as:

x(times you buy her shoes) = x(times she’ll let you touch her breasts)

The whole game is so full of ridiculous stereotypes about what women want and how they’re expected to behave, but that’s not the end of it. Ms. Amerson has a sequel planned about virtual boyfriends, whose types will include “The Corporate Male” who only cares about work, and “The Alpha Male”, who wants to control everything.

So basically the developers seem to think that dating is all about making the other person happy by doing activities you don’t really want to do, relying on outdated gender stereotypes in order to determine what those activities are.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be like that in real life.

-Jarrah

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 4 Comments