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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.

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]

Via Sociological Images is a video highlighting the incredible amount of sexualization present in the representation of young girls in the media. The video by Alexandra O’Dell, a student at North Idaho College, uses examples ranging from advertising to music videos to children’s toys, such as the pole dancing dolls pictured above. In a previous post I talked about media’s infantilization of female sexuality and its harmful effects, which, as this video shows, include low self-esteem and disordered eating, in addition to contributing to a society that makes girls susceptible to sexual assault. The video is well-worth a watch.

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]

If you are looking for advice on how to use social media for activist causes, check out these tips from the Men Can Stop Rape tumblr. The article, written by Cary Betagole of SEER Interactive, offers some ways to use social media to fight sexual assault, but it could apply to any form of social justice. Social media is a great tool to spread the word (I’m using it right now!) and something a lot of us already use every day. SAAM is coming to a close today, but it’s never a bad time to start engaging in activism.

SAAM 2.0: How to Use Social Media to Raise Sexual Assault Awareness [Men Can Stop Rape]

A Yahoo article points to a recent “dark trend” of pre-teen girls posting “Am I pretty?” videos to YouTube. In reference to a new 15 year old YouTube “star,” Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD, a Harvard sociologist calls the videos “uncomfortably exploitative, as there is clearly a sexual undertone to what she is doing.” Friedman says the increased presence “young girls on YouTube is a disturbing, growing trend.”

The truly disturbing trend is not a recent development, but a longtime one. The girls who post videos asking for valorization based on their looks come out of a culture where the bodies of increasingly younger girls are sexualized and put up for public scrutiny.

In some notable examples of the media’s sexualization of young girls, about a year ago, Abercrombie and Fitch sold padded bikini tops to young girls and French Vogue started controversy with its use of a 10 year old model in a fashion editorial that emulated adult sexuality (as shown above). A 2007 American Psychological Association study linked the sexualization of young girls to disordered eating and low self-esteem, the very same low self-esteem exhibited by the pre-teen girls asking “Am I Pretty?” on YouTube.

If we consider statistics that say 15% of sexual assault or rape victims are under the age of 12 and that Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault (RAINN) then this trend is even more disturbing. Images such as the ones in French Vogue imply that it is ok to look upon a child as a sexual object.

There is nothing wrong with children being sexual. They have every right to, like adults, possess sexual agency, be aware of their sexuality, and receive education on sexual health. Rather than promote sexual agency, however, these images turn young girls into sexual objects. They pin a sexual lens onto young girls and ask them to conform to the same narrow definition of beauty as their older counterparts, that is thin, white, able-bodied, and free of any blemishes or perceived imperfections. With these kinds of standards it seems only inevitable that many pre-teen girls are turning to the internet for confirmation of their value.

Mass media can go one step further and not just turn young girls into sexual objects, but ask adult women to emulate children in order to be sexy. Paradoxically, women must convey innocence while being sexually available. A recent anti-feminist, sexist image from Maxim shows how to “cure” a feminist by turning her into an “actual girl.” The image is almost too blatantly awful to even look at, but  if you can brave it you’ll see it plays into misogynist fears of feminism and women in many ways. Notably it patronizes the women pictured by referring to them as girls, and before transforming into a veritable lingerie model, the “girl” dons pigtails and a babyish outfit and pose as part of her “sexy” morph into an “actual girl.”

This infantilization is not exclusive to men’s magazines, as even images marketed to women use similar tactics. A recent Marc Jacobs ad featuring Dakota Fanning made similar use of a childlike sexuality to sell a product, in this case a high end perfume.

Though Fanning herself at 17 straddles the line between adulthood and childhood, the choice of a ruffled, polka dot dress lack of “adult” jewelry and make up clearly plays up the childlike side of her image. The perfume’s name Oh, Lola! is even a direct reference to Nabokov’s Lolita, perhaps the most famous example of pedophilia in Western culture. The titular character’s real name is Dolores and Lola is one of her many nicknames, Lolita being a diminutive of that. The ad was banned in the UK due to its provocative image of a minor.

These trends inhibit the sexual agency of both adult women and female children. Girls no longer need to wait to grow up to be objectified, but experience sexualization and objectification at a young age. In turn, adult women are asked to emulate an impossible, pre-pubescent ideal and maintain an equally impossible balance of innocence and sexual availability.

Thanks to Janet for the tip.

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