We have a diverse set of links to share today, from a Vancouver high school student’s photo project to how Notre Dame football players bully survivors.  

Daniel Callahan, a prominent bioethicist, proposed increasing cultural prejudice against obese people as a way to encourage healthy habits.  Nobody else thinks this is a good idea.

A Victoria’s Secret model talks about privilege, perception, and pressure in this recent TED talk. 

In this article, Salon reviewed the stories of survivors being bullied into dropping cases against Notre Dame football players which are being ignored while the Manti Te’o story is receiving international media attention.

A photo project about slut-shaming by a Vancouver high school student has gone viral on tumblr.

I was researching the protests going on in India for our last Thursday article round-up (link).  A few weeks ago, international media picked up on the story of the assault of an unnamed woman on a Delhi bus, and has since been buzzing about it.  Many journalists commented on what says about how women are perceived in India—as objects.  For women in the Delhi area, the danger of being assaulted in a crowd setting is so great that the anti-assault protests happening now are usually populated only by men.  (Many news articles are quick to comment on the hypocrisy of this.)

I was reading an International Business Times piece on the subject when I noticed an ad on the side of the page.  It was a cartoon of a torso with breasts and some protruding belly fat.  “1 Tip for a Tiny Belly,” the ad read.  The body’s shape and the bubbly font of the text suggested it was directed towards women. 

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Once I began looking, I noticed that most articles whose conclusions were against the objectification of women’s bodies had similar ads.  If a page didn’t have an ad for weight loss advice or Botox (always marketed towards women), ads would be for clothing, with only a certain body type represented by models.  

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The ads that were not directly telling women to change their appearance were reinforcing a very strict idea of beauty—one where only thin, white women can be considered beautiful.   

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Although negative media is not on the same level as a national culture of assaulting strangers, the objectification of women* represented by these ads was in sharp contrast to what the articles beside them were saying.   Although most of the articles were very feminist, most of the ads were not. 

It is impossible to tell whether news sites allowed these ads to support their work because they didn’t care, or because they didn’t know they had control.  Most of the ads shown above were supported by Google AdSense, one of the most popular ad services on the Internet.  I have an AdSense account, and decided to see how hard it would be to keep ads I didn’t believe in from showing up on a website I run. 

As it turns out, selecting what type of ads (and even what brands) are shown on your site is very easy.  Google makes it obvious and simple—on the AdSense website, it only takes a few clicks to block “weight loss”-related ads, or even specific websites, from buying space on your page. 

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There are enough ads in the AdSense database that blocking ads you don’t support will not lose you money.  A different ad can take its place.  And if ads that objectify women can’t find space on websites, the products and services they sell will be encouraged to market themselves differently. 

 

 

*That’s not to say that men are not objectified, but the ads I saw while writing this post were overwhelmingly marketed toward women. 

The first workshop I attended where we were asked to go around the circle and state our preferred pronouns, I froze. It was one of those moments where you can hear that teacher, the one who always said “one day you will use this information” in your head. Which was a pronoun again? Before or after the description of the thing, or is it around the stuff where you have the action? After a few people had said theirs, I figured out what seemed to be the system, and managed to produce one when it came to my turn. My heart rate went back to a respectable level, and palms were quickly wiped clean. Thinking back, it was an interesting moment that brought a few issues to a head. First, it exposed a level of privilege that as a cis person who conforms to the physical expectations of my gender, I’ve never had to think about what pronoun to use (or even what a pronoun is). Second, it opened up some possibilities- I had this idea that there is a wide variety of gender identities that anyone can access, but I didn’t know how you actually did that. The thought that I could have control over my gender identity when engaging in discussion during a workshop felt exciting and empowering. Such a simple question- “what is your preferred pronoun?”- can convey a lot of respect.

 Though it’s a simple question, it encapsulates some pretty important concepts- namely, respect for everyone, especially the misidentified, and an acknowledgment of gender fluidity. These are important, and hopefully there will be an ongoing conversation on this blog about some specifics. In the meantime, this is article is more of a practical, how-to guide about what pronouns are and how to use them.

 What’s a Pronoun

 Back to the basics and the original word that threw me into a panic- pronoun. According to the Random House Dictionary, a pronoun is “any member of a small class of words found in many languages that are used as replacements or substitutes for nouns and noun phrases”.  If you remember our friend the noun (person, place, or thing), when someone asks you what your preferred pronoun is, they are basically asking you what you want your name or personhood to be replaced with. So instead of people saying “Sally wants that” or “That person wants that”, they can use a pronoun and say, “She wants that”.  Which brings us to the next point- pronouns can be gendered.

 Gender and Pronouns

 We encounter a lot of gendered pronouns: she, he, his, and hers. These are often used based on assumptions about other people’s gender that we perceive, which is unfortunate because for many people gender isn’t clear cut or fixed. To the person who has been classified into a gender category to which they don’t identify, these assumptions can be disrespectful.

 There are gender neutral pronouns- “they” being the most commonly used one. It is easy to incorporate they/their/them into regular conversation. You might be thinking “hey, isn’t ‘they’ plural?”. While it is used in the plural more commonly, it can be adopted in the singular for gender neutrality- you may have also seen the singular in more formal documents before. One you may not have heard of is “ze”. Pronounced “zee” like the way American’s say the last letter of the alphabet, it is the he/she equivalent. Here is a chart about some pronunciation details that is easier to follow than any written description I’ve found. It also contains pronouns I’ve never heard of that are gender neutral- interesting for the more linguistically inclined to peruse, and some might seem catchy enough for your own use.

 Bringing it into Your Conversations

 So now you know that people are addressed with pronouns, some of those pronouns are gendered, and you don’t want to be disrespectful by using the wrong pronoun that makes someone uncomfortable. What to do? The easiest way to find out, as always, is to ask. “Hey, what is your preferred pronoun?” is a great way to kick off a conversation, either about whom the person is that you’ve just met or, if you are responded to with a blank stare, a quick exchange on what you meant- does the person want to be referred to as he, she, they, or perhaps ze? It’s worth the possibility of a little confusion at first if you can end at a place where you now can address them respectfully. This is also an opportunity to introduce the concepts of pronouns to other people if they’ve never heard of such a thing.

 In a larger group, an alternative may be to start introducing yourself with your own pronoun. “Hey, nice to meet you, my name is Lee and you can refer to me as he or they”. This also brings up the concept of pronouns, and may make other people feel more confident about asserting their own preferences.

 Outside of introductions, it’s important to keep in mind that pronouns may change- checking in with people you know will allow you to continue a respectful relationship that is mindful of their preferences.

That’s it! Simple stuff, but practicing proper pronouns shows a lot of respect to the people around you.

Trigger warning:  this post contains discussion of sexual violence 

This week, we here at the SACOMSS Media Watch blog are starting what we call our weekly Thursday Round-up, a compendium of articles related to the SACOMSS mandate that we want  to share with a wider audience.  

In recent weeks, the Indian capital New Delhi and surrounding cities have been overtaken by protesters in recent weeks after the gang rape of a young woman on a bus.  

This Wall Street Journal article describes the ban that Delhi officials have placed on protesting:  

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324660404578198473010757116.html 

And this Slate article comments on the lack of women at the protests, despite the movement being coordinated primarily by women:  

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324660404578198473010757116.html 

In news closer to home, the University of Toronto’s Sexual Education Centre has been in the news for their decision to rent out a sex club for student use as part of their Sexual Awareness Week:  

http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2013/01/uoft-orgy-rumours-swirl-despite-student-groups-qualifiers.html 

And the Idle No More protests on the subject of the Canadian government’s treatment of First Nations people all across Canada have been getting news attention:  

http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Stephen+Hume+Idle+More+protests+yell+attention/7836163/story.html 

A First Nations youth comments on the protests:  

http://rabble.ca/news/2013/01/racism-hunger-and-laziness-first-nations-youth-perspective-idle-no-more-media-coverage 

That’s all for this week.  If you have an idea for an article that could be featured in next week’s round-up, send it via Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/sacomss 

On this blog, we talk a lot about being anti-oppressive, but we wanted to take the time to discuss what exactly that means and why it’s important to us. This is going to kick off a new series of blog posts on social justice definitions and concepts, so while this will be just a brief overview of some important ideas, we’ll be writing more in-depth posts on a lot of these topics in the months to come.

We at SACOMSS understand anti-oppression work to include work that is queer positive, trans* positive, anti-ablist, anti-classist, anti-agist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist. We also think it’s important to be non-judgemental, pro-survivor, and pro-feminist. But what does all that really mean?

In general, being anti-oppressive means acknowledging that systematic oppression exists in our society—that is, that certain people are afforded more privileges than others based on characteristics like their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also means actively fighting against this oppression and for greater equity in society (that’s where something like being pro-feminist comes in). For us, this means both doing our best not to recreate these systems of oppression within our organization—by, for example, being non-hierarchical, avoiding gendered language, and making our services free—and working to change these systems—by, for example, incorporating discussions about how sexism plays into sexual assault myths in the workshops we run in high schools, and supporting Montreal organizations who do work that aligns with our mandate.

As well as being opposed to discrimination and oppression based on someone’s race, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity and presentation and how that relates to their birth-assigned gender, or sexual orientation, as a sexual assault centre, we want to be pro-survivor. Essentially, that means we support any survivor of sexual assault. We will believe them, we will not judge them, and we will do our best to help them in whatever way we can.

Anti-oppression work is all about learning and unlearning—learning what different forms of oppression are and what they look like in our day-to-day lives, learning how to fight them, and also unlearning a lot of the things we were taught to say or do or believe that actually uphold these forms of oppression. We hope that you, the reader, will learn something from us, and also that you’ll keep in mind that we’re still learning what a lot of this stuff entails.

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?

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