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Jenna Marbles Picture

Last week, Youtuber Jenna Marbles posted a video called “Things I Don’t Understand About Girls Part 2: Slut Edition,” which is essentially nine minutes of horrible, hurtful slut-shaming.

Some other Youtubers, like Laci Green, Hayley G Hoover, and Chescaleigh have already posted some thoughtful responses deconstructing how Jenna’s video perpetuates rape culture. Check them out! (Trigger warning: Chescaleigh discusses her own experience with sexual assault). But we here at SACOMSS Media Watch wanted to break the video down for you folks as well, since it’s as good an opportunity as any to confront slut-shaming.

So let’s go over the ways this video is a problem.

Jenna states several times in the video that she just doesn’t understand why a woman would want to have a lot of sex with a lot of different people. But instead of using this as a starting point to acknowledge that hey, there’s a lot of sexual variation out there, or hey, we all have so much to learn about sexuality, she spends the rest of her video generalizing and making assumptions about “sluts.” Even though she acknowledges she doesn’t understand them at all.

She assumes that women who have a lot of sexual partners don’t respect themselves. But the thing is, how much sex someone has isn’t any kind of indicator of their sense of self-worth. Sure, it’s possible to have a lot of sex for unhealthy reasons, but it’s possible to avoid sex for unhealthy reasons too. What’s important is whether someone feels good about their sexual expression.

It’s worth noting that this idea, that sluts have no self-respect, like most of the bases for slut-shaming comments, is definitely gendered. Cis men who have a lot of sex are not generally accused of having low self-esteem, because men who have a lot of sex aren’t shamed about it a fraction as much as cis women are. That this video uses really gendered language is yet another reason why it’s a problem, since it erases the experience of queer and trans* people and expects different sexual behaviours from men and women, but it also underscores the fact that slut-shaming is in large part targeting straight, cis women.

Jenna goes on to say that monogamous women are more highly evolved than “sluts.” In fact, she compares sluts to her horny dog—to an animal—and then says that it takes more intelligence to decide to be with one person than to sleep around. By making this claim—which is based on nothing but her own preference for monogamy—she sets sluts up as a less-evolved, stupid, and animalistic other, different from smart, rational women like herself. When this kind of distinction is created, between the “good girls” and the “sluts,” it justifies a lot of the other slut-shaming that goes on in society. It allows people to treat women who have a lot of sexual partners badly—because hey, they’re stupid anyway. It stops people from seeing these women as autonomous individuals—because hey, they’re irrational, and deciding not to be monogamous isn’t a legitimate lifestyle choice.

At one point in the video, Jenna encourages viewers to ask a drunk woman being taken home by a stranger if she’s OK, to “help the sluts of the world make less bad, slutty decisions.” And looking out for the people around you, checking in with someone who looks like they might be in a risky situation, is an awesome thing to do. The problem is that a woman going home with a stranger and having sex with them when she’s black-out drunk isn’t making a “bad decision.” She’s being sexually assaulted. Someone who is drunk cannot consent to sexual activity. If someone does something sexual to a drunk person, that’s assault. And assault is never the survivor’s fault, no matter how much they had to drink, or what they were wearing, or how much sex they have.

The other problem with this suggestion is that, while unfortunately we live in a culture where it’s really important that we look out for each other to try and prevent sexual assault, the folks who are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted—like, say, the ones who get called “sluts” by people like Jenna Marbles—really aren’t the ones who should be held responsible for rape culture. It’s the other people Jenna talks about in her video, the men who think it’s OK to have sex with a drunk woman, who need to be called out on their behaviour (again, note that this video makes assumptions about gender roles, casting women in the role of the victim and men in the role of the perpetrator). Perpetrators of sexual violence are the ones making bad decisions. They’re the ones who have the real power to stop sexual assault, because they’re the ones who actually make it happen.

But it’s also attitudes like the one on display in this video that perpetuate a culture where sexual assault is condoned and justified. Policing people’s sexual expression, implying that certain people are less worthy of respect than others because of how many sexual partners they have, is what gives some people the idea that they have the right to violate other people’s sexual boundaries. And that’s really just not cool.

victorias-secret-pink-consent-sabotage

On Monday, the internet was abuzz with the news that Victoria’s Secret Pink had released a new line of panties with slogans about consent. The line, which included underwear with mottoes like “No Means No,” “Ask First,” and “Consent Is Sexy,” was being promoted on a website called pinklovesconsent.com. The site also featured a section explaining how to practice consent and why it was important, and an explanation of why some previous Pink panty designs–“No Peeking” and “Sure Thing”–contributed to rape culture by suggesting that saying “no” was a good way to flirt and that consent could be presumed.

Victoria’s Secret, which made the news recently for appropriating and sexualizing Native culture in their annual fashion show seemed like an unlikely company to be fighting rape culture, even as a PR move. Sure enough, the website and fashion line turned out to be a hoax dreamed up by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an activist group that made headlines for projecting the words “Rape is Rape” on the US Capitol Building the night before the US presidential election.

As FORCE explained, “We could write a pamphlet about consent. In fact, we have written and distributed pamphlets about consent. But how many people are reading pamphlets about sexual practices and how many people are reading facebook post about Victoria’s Secret? Consent needs to become a mainstream idea.”

After Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker broke the hoax story, many people expressed their desire for these products to be real. “I would buy the hell out of those!” read one of the comments. Not surprisingly, a lot of people like the idea of underwear that promotes positive sexual messages, not to mention campaigns featuring models of a variety of sizes and races.

But other comments on the site questioned whether such a campaign, had it really come from the lingerie line, would have been a tangible step to combating rape culture. “No “commodity feminism” from corporations that KNOW they will reap more from fueling [sic] & exploiting women’s insecurities, and promoting rape culture—than they would if they devoted themselves to fighting sexism,” read one comment. Another chillingly speculated, “I work with victims of sexual violence and I am just now having a grim daydream of a pair of these panties in an evidence bag, a case going to trial, and a defense [sic] attorney just LOVING IT. “Of course he didn’t rape her! She was wearing her ‘No means No’ panties! How could he not stop and ask?””

So—what do you think? Would “Consent is Sexy” panties empower people and bring consent culture into the mainstream, or is Victoria’s Secret too much a part of the problem to be part of the solution?

York University has seen a number of sexual assaults on its campus recently, including one this past week. In response to the high rate of sexual violence, the York Federation of Students (YSF) has proposed that the administration implement mandatory women’s studies or equity courses as a preventative measure.

In requiring all student’s to take a women’s studies or equity course, the YSF hopes that students will become familiar with the root causes of sexual assault, such as inequality and discrimination. They propose that students would have the option to choose from a variety of courses based on their particular interests and previous experience with women’s studies or equity material. As Eva Karpinski, a professor from York’s School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, points out, there are few disciplines where students will encounter analyses of oppressive systems that lead to sexual assault and other forms of violence. Women’s studies and similar courses often offer a rare opportunity to engage in a dialogue on systematic violence. A single course though, Karpinski says, is not enough to implement real change:

“I would really envision a much wider role for the York Federation of Students on campus to become advocates, to take leadership and provide spaces for a much wider non-violence policy that should become like our daily mantra here.”

Students have had mixed reaction to the proposal of a mandatory women’s studies course. According to York’s community newspaper, Excalibur, some students are against the notion of being forced to enroll in a course that has nothing to do with their major. Others feel that a full semester’s course load would be too much, and would prefer a lesser degree of commitment. Robyn Urback of the National Post writes that the mandatory course would simply be a waste of students’ time and money, and that energy should instead be spent on increasing security.

But York has already spent millions of dollars on increased security; according to the Toronto Sun the university spent $9.5 million on improving security and still two cases of sexual assault have been reported since the term started this month. Students’ safety should be the priority of any university, but simply increasing security does not address the root cause of sexual assault. Sexual assault is not an expression of sexual desire nor is it always simply an isolated act of violence; rather, it is an expression of power and dominance over another person that can often be linked to not only gender, but also race, sexuality, ability, class, etc. Mandating a single course in women’s studies or equity will not change York’s campus overnight, but it does indicate that its students are seeking to prevent sexual assault by addressing it at its core.

York is far from being the only university whose campus has been conducive to violence or rape culture; American Universities Columbia and Boston University have had a number a high-profile incidents of sexual harassment and violence as well. Whether or not the proposal goes through, hopefully York students will be able to implement progressive measures towards preventing further violence on its campus.

Thanks to Corey for the tip

YFS lobbies for mandatory equity or women’s studies course [Excalibur]

Robyn Urback: York students solve sex crimes with mandatory women’s studies [National Post]

Another sexual assault at York University [Toronto Sun]

Trigger Warning: This post references, but does not link to, a Reddit thread which contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault. Other articles linked here quote from and link to the aforementioned Reddit thread. 

Reddit recently asked its users to share the “other” side of sexual assault, that is the perspective of the assailant. Reddit wanted to know, “What were your motivations? Do you regret it?” In response, users provided detailed descriptions of their methods, motives, and common targets of rape and attempted rape. Jezebel outlined the various rationalities behind these rapists’ actions, which include “mixed-messages” from women, peer-pressure, and men’s sexual desire as motives for committing rape. Though they recognize what they did as rape, these posters do not see the incredible harm caused by their actions.

Survivors of rape also added their own stories and responses to the thread. Some connected with the victims described and found reading the stories to be a positive experience, while others were more disgusted than gratified after reading the story.

A chilling aspect of the reddit users’ accounts of rape is that it highlights just how easy it is to get away with sexual assault. One poster describes himself as “a good looking guy,” and thus was easily able to pick up girls he perceived to be weak or with low self-esteem. He also describes himself as protected by his connections with law enforcement and his school’s administration, whom he claims would take his side, had any of his victims come forward.

When their story does not fit the stereotypical stranger-in-the-dark-alley outline, victims will often find it much more difficult to be believed if they choose to come forward, a fact these perpetrators are apparently fully aware of. The perception that only certain types of men rape is dangerous as it not only allows many perpetrators to go unnoticed, but also puts the onus on women to avoid certain types of men. As one user says, “hopefully girls reading will be a little more wary of some of the tricks you’ve outlined with guys in future,” as though it is possible for girls to “avoid” being raped.

Reddit, an already notoriously anti-women site, has received media attention for posing the question to perpetrators of sexual assault. As reported by the Huffington Post, some have criticized the thread for providing an open forum for rape-apologists, while others have applauded its ability to start an open-dialogue on the nature of sexual assault. Alexis Moore of  Survivors In Action, Inc. believes the thread could provide continued victimization:

“This will perhaps be another method that will be utilized by cyberstalkers for what we call cybervengence to harass, intimidate and torture victims”

Gloria Allred, notable women’s rights attorney, sees the positive effects of the thread. Allred states that to fight sexual assault, all sides need to be engaged in the conversation:

“If we can understand those who have committed sexual assault, then perhaps we can help to engage them, the victimizers, in a conversation about the harm that it does to the victims and why they should never engage in another sexual assault again.”

The thread also provides an account of just how much rape culture can affect our daily lives, in particular the lives of women. Some posters expressed seeing value in these stories as it informs girls which guys to watch out for. But, as other posters point out, there is now way to pick out a rapist in a crowd, and to suggest that there is implies it is the fault of the victim, should she be raped. As some posters point, a pervasive rape culture means women must constantly be wary of what they wear, where they go, what they drink, etc, a mentality female posters say they hope will become clear to men after reading the thread.

 Thanks to Sonia for the tip.

Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen [Jezebel]

Reddit Rapists Come Clean On Controversial New Thread, But Should We Listen? [Huffington Post]

Hollaback! has already spent years fighting street harassment and is now taking a stance against campus harassment. According to the initiative’s website, “62% of women and 61% of men report being sexually harassed on college campuses,” and within the US “51% of male students admit to sexually harassing their female counterparts.” Recently there have been many high-profile incidents of sexual assault or harassment on college campuses, including otherwise well-regarded universities  Yale and Boston University.

Like street harassment, harassment on college campuses is often portrayed as “normal” and not taken seriously, though it in fact contributes to a hostile environment for specific groups that are frequently the targets of harassment. As the video above explains, the Hollaback! Against Campus Harassment campaign hopes to create a space for students to share their stories and learn that they are not alone. The initiative also hopes to provide educational resources on campus harassment create an online community where students can receive support. For more information, check out their website where you can also donate to the cause.

In response to an article in The Atlantic Wire, Kate Harding tweeted: “Once more with feeling: Rape allegations are not a ‘sex scandal.’ They are a violent crime scandal.”

The article in question concerns French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK has already been charged with numerous allegations of sexual assault, as The Atlantic has previously reported on. Now he is being accused of gang-raping a Belgian sex-worker in 2010. The Atlantic article however equates this latest accusation of a violent crime with a “sex scandal”:

Sometimes we just wish Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his sex scandals would vanish from the news cycle. He probably does too, considering the fact there are new accusations coming out today that he allegedly gang-raped a Belgian prostitute in D.C.hotel in 2010.

Gang rape, or any form of rape, may involve a sexual act, but it is not itself sex. It is an act of violence. Reporting that equates allegations of rape with a sex scandal perpetuate the myth that rape is about sex, when in reality it is about power.

Last year, media coverage of the accusations of sexual harassment made against DSK were reported alongside coverage of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelities and child with a member of his household staff. Kate Pittman at Loose Garments described the conflation of these two events’ similarities as an indication that we do not consider crimes involving sexual violence a serious matter:

Conflating these two events frames the sexual assault charges as something other than what they are, criminal violence.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty.   But discussing this alleged crime using terms like “sexual antics” and “sex scandal” illustrates that socially, we still do not take crimes involving sexual acts as seriously as other crimes.

The L Magazine also talked about the harmful consequences of labeling allegations of rape or sexual abuse as “sex scandals” in light of Penn State’s so-called “sex scandal.” Last fall, numerous media outlets discussed the accusations child rape made against Penn State coach as a “sex scandal,” but a non-consensual act of a sexual nature committed against a child should in no way be conflated as sex.  It should not fall into the same category as a story about a politician having a child out of wedlock by, what appears to be, consensual sex between him and his housekeeper. Putting an act of violence in the category of a sex scandal only appears to lessen the crime, which, as L Magazine describes, has harmful consequences:

Calling rape a sex scandal reinforces the idea that it’s equally bad to get caught messing around on your wife as it is to rape someone. I know there are people out there who are like oh, it’s just language, quit quibbling, politically correct blah blah blah. But language matters. It’s how we understand the world around us, and every time somebody minimizes rape or apologizes for a rapist, they make it that much easier for some other person out there to think he or she can get away with rape.

Language is not innocent; it is in part because of this language that we live in a culture where “college football is more important than children not being sexually abused.” Our language should reflect how  serious and harmful a crime rape is, not treat it like tabloid fodder.

Thank you Kate Harding, for reminding us again: Rape allegations are not a “sex scandal.” They are a violent crime.

DSK’s Pimping Scandal Now Has a D.C. Gang Rape Allegation [The Atlantic Wire]

New Sex Allegations Against Strauss-Kahn [NY Times]

Rape is not a “Sex Scandal” [Loose Garments]

What Happened at Penn State is Not a Sex Scandal [The L Magazine]

Boston University has been struggling to tackle many recent cases of sexual misconduct on its campus, including rape allegations. In a positive move to address these issues, the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism at Boston University has tried to start a rape crisis center (if anyone has updates on its current status, please comment or email!).

With this environment in mind, the BU publication The Daily Free Press chose to make an April Fool’s joke at the expense of those students who have faced sexual assault. According to Jezebel, the lead story of the publication’s annual April Fool’s joke issue was “BROken egos: BU fraternity suspended for assaulting female student.” The article is available on Google Docs if you choose to read it.

A BU student wrote to Jezebel deriding the article as an unfortunate representation of BU and its student body:

“Considering the fact that BU’s student body has endured scandal after scandal after scandal, it was in completely poor taste. Not only is it bad PR for the University: it’s a slap in the face for everyone who’s been victimized this year. It was a poor editorial decision. The sad part is that BU is not a school that condones assault. This past weekend, men and women on our campus came back together for Take Back the Night, which was hugely inspiring and successful. The ladies and gentlemen I’ve met at Boston University are in general an awesomely respectful bunch.”

The Daily Free Press has taken the right path and issued an apology, with other statements of regret on their Twitter. The Press is not the first nor will it be the last media outlet to make a joke of sexual assault. It’s been done on TV shows, and a recent article from a McGill publication also featured a disturbing joke concerning Chris Brown’s physical assault on his then-girlfriend Rihanna. Unlike those examples, The Daily Free Press has apologized for its harmful language and it seems its editors have learned from their mistake. Hopefully in the future they will choose to help BU students fight against sexual assault, rather than maintain a campus environment conducive to sexual violence by making light of it.

Here’s the ‘Funny’ Sexual Assault Parody Boston University’s Student Paper Doesn’t Want You to See [Updated] [Jezebel]

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