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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?

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.

Had enough of the “Shit X Say to X” meme? There’s at least one more worthwhile incarnation to check out. In honor of International Anti-Street Harassment week there is now a “Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street” video. The speakers in the video address many common myths surrounding street harassment, such as that it’s a “compliment,” it’s ok because everyone else does it, or that what how a woman presents herself on the street can make it ok. Though men are frequently  responsible for perpetuating street harassment against women, that does not mean all men are ok with it, and in fact those who commit it also contribute to perpetuating harmful stereotypes about men. Street harassment negatively affects many people, and the more who speak out against it the better.

At last night’s Grammy Awards, Chris Brown took to the stage after a three-year hiatus. Because he now has a successful album for sale and has been on “good behavior” it is apparently acceptable to reward him with a platform such as a performance at the Grammys. Some people in last night’s audience even gave him a standing ovation.

In 2009 Brown physically assaulted his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, shortly before the Grammy Awards of that year. Since then he has released a high selling album and now he is allowed to perform again at a huge venue. In granting Brown this kind of platform, the entertainment industry is sending the message that beating his girlfriend is totally excusable. It is not.

HelloGiggles ran a post before the performances last night detailing the response in the media to Brown’s assault on Rihanna. Rather than supporting Rihanna and speaking out against domestic violence, by and large the media did little to speak out against his crime, even despite the horrific photos of Rihanna post-assault that later surfaced. Even worse, Rihanna herself was subject to backlash:

In fact, large segments of the Internet had devoted themselves to making Rihanna the scapegoat for any woman who ever had the gall to do something worth getting hit, and then the cloying self-esteem to go to the cops about it. Bloggers and their commentators flocked to Chris Brown’s defense in droves. It was a full-blown tearing-down of female self-worth, an assault on any progress women have made in this country in the past 200 years, and the mainstream media ignored it.

BuzzFeed ran Twitter responses that sadly confirm just how dangerous this message is. The tweets from accounts that appear to be run by young women say things such as:

I don’t know why Rihanna complained. Chris Brown could beat me anytime he wanted to.

Chris Brown could serenade me and then punch me in the eye.

Considering the spotlight Brown has been given, it is no surprise so many fans have reacted this way. He is once again being held up as a pop star worthy of adoration. What he did is inexcusable and yet the fall-out was minimal and he is allowed to proceed with business as usual.

HelloGiggles asks if things would have been different if Brown had hit Taylor Swift, instead of Rihanna. Swift, like Rihanna, is a young successful pop star, but her public persona is “pure” and virginal, while Rihanna’s is built on overt sexuality (if you need proof of this, just look at what Swift and Rihanna wore to last night’s red carpet). Maybe the media would’ve reacted differently, maybe the blame Rihanna faced in her own assault wouldn’t have befallen Swift.

No matter what, Brown’s actions were permissible under no circumstances. The entertainment industry has rewarded Brown, however, thereby sending the message that his commercial success makes his violent attack on his girlfriend totally OK. This message is detrimental to any survivor of domestic violence. It makes it far more difficult for victims to speak out and seek help. And it makes it far easier for people such as Brown to continue to commit assault on their partners with little to no repercussions.

I’m Not Okay With Chris Brown Performing at the Grammy’s and I’m Not Sure Why You Are [HelloGiggles]

Chris Brown’s Grammys Comeback: This Is How Men Get Away With Domestic Violence [Blisstree]

Horrible Reactions to Chris Brown at the Grammy’s [BuzzFeed]

There’s a new meme on the rise, one i’ve seen pop up on my own Facebook feed, asking when the 21st century ideal of thin, toned, bodies overtook the slightly rounder female physique popular in the mid 20th century. I imagine the meme has achieved popularity as it appears to be championing body acceptance while rebelling against societal pressures. The meme, such as the one pictured above, does nothing of the sort, however, it only seeks to degrade a certain body type in favor of another. Certain women are assigned value over others, and that value is derived from their appeal to men. And really, none of the above images do much to challenge the white, able-bodied, standard of beauty that has reigned for at least the past century. The dominant image may change by a slight few inches, but the power structure remains the same to the detriment of women who are asked to alter themselves to fit the ideal.

This meme is not presenting the finger to society it pretends to. As Shameless points out in its post “The Marilyn Meme”, it maintains the hierarchy wherein one type of female body is valued over another as to further cement the idea that women’s value in society rests on their looks. It shames women’s bodies and pins women against each other, rather than against the culture which fosters low self-esteem.

This is a common tactic, in which women are pitted against each other, so that we lose sight of the real problem: namely, society. If women are fighting amongst ourselves about who is more “beautiful,” if we compare ourselves to other women endlessly, we don’t have time to notice that we’re trapped in a hamster-wheel of low self-esteem. Society hopes that you’ll buy things, to try and make yourself feel better.

Women’s bodies are assigned a certain value, and that value is defined by the body’s “hotness”, or attractiveness in relation to the heterosexual male gaze. This structure is beneficial to, for example, a cosmetics company who can profit by providing the tools women need to achieve this standard, but ultimately harmful to woman who are told they are only valuable if they can be a pleasing image for someone else to look at.

This type of environment presents women as sexual objects, not sexual subjects. It is perhaps the very attitude towards women that drove Marilyn Monroe, the poster girl of this meme, to self-destruction. As per Shameless again:

She was a sex symbol, and thus, stopped existing as human being, a regular girl. Almost everything that fucked up Marilyn’s later life had to do with being “adored” by men. Men used her, or deified her (and that’s a hard come-down for those dudes when they found a human being in their bed the morning after).

It’s this type of environment that makes sexual violence towards women so easy, because they are perceived as a plaything for other people. Jean Kilbourne goes into great detail on the issue of the representation of the female body in the media in her Killing Us Softly film series. The first half of the most recent version is embedded below, and I highly recommend watching it.  It is not so simple as to say that an image of a woman through a sexual gaze leads to violence, but it is the first step towards creating an environment where women are less than human, where it is permissible to perceive them as a sexual object first and foremost. Not a sexual subject in their own right, but an object to be used by someone else, whose value rests on a standard of beauty determined by a heterosexual male gaze. Even if the trend alters slightly from decade to decade, the problem remains the same.

The Marilyn Meme [Shameless]

Real Women Have … Bodies [Feministing]

New York Magazine’s Vulture blog has compiled a supercut of all the instances of rape jokes in this season’s sitcoms, including clips from Whitney, Work It, Glee, and 2 Broke Girls among others. I won’t take this space to argue whether sexual assault can in theory be used for comedic affect, but this reel proves that networks such as ABC and Fox have no trouble trivializing the very real and potentially destructive consequences of rape for the sake of a cringe-inducing punchline. These are not examples of survivors speaking about their experience with nods to humor, or even a comedian using humor to provide insight on sexual assault, but TV shows marketed to a mainstream audience making crude jokes that perpetuate many stereotypes about sexual assault. Maybe these are the networks’ ideas of “edgy” humor. Link to video below.

The Sitcom Season in Rape Jokes [Vulture]

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