Archive for the 'Objectification' Category
NS January 12th, 2010
Warning: may be triggering to sexual assault survivors
Imagine you broke up with your boyfriend, a US Marine, and some time later found an ad on Craigslist that he has posted, pretending to be you, in which he said that you wanted to be raped and were looking for a man to fulfill your ‘fantasy.’ Imagine you got the ad taken down and reported it to police and though undoubtedly disgusted and shaken, thought that was the end of it.
Now imagine that before the ad was removed, a man contacted the email address it had listed, offering his services in fulfilling your ‘rape fantasy. ‘ Your ex and this man then carried out lengthy instant messaging conversations in which the man posing as you, the one with whom you used to be in a relationship and you once cared about, gave explicit instructions on how you wanted to be assaulted (“humiliation, physical abuse, sexual abuse”) and told this stranger where you lived.
Then, imagine your worst nightmare comes true. A stranger breaks into your home: binds, blindfolds and gags you; and then rapes you while holding a knife to your throat, as instructed by your former lover from where he lives, on a military base in California.
Sound like a plot from a soap opera or a bad porno movie? Oh, how I wish I could tell you it was.
This actually happened, just last month, to a 25-year-old woman in Wyoming. Her attacker faces charges of first-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary and first-degree kidnapping. Her ex-boyfriend is being charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit sexual assault.
Not surprisingly, her ex, Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, was in the process of being dismissed from the military for an “undisclosed pattern of misconduct” at the time of his arrest, Marine Corp officials said. I would not be surprised at all if that “pattern of misconduct” included threats, intimidation, insubordination, physical violence, sexual assault and/or sexual harrassment; most likely towards females he worked with and for. The kind of hatred towards women that would allow a man to arrange the brutal rape of his ex-girlfriend would undoutedly be hard to keep hidden from other females who crossed his path.
But what I find so disturbing about this story is not only the incredibly heinous and illegal actions of Jebidiah Stipe, but those of the man who agreed to carry out the sexual assault on his behalf. I know that there will be some who say: “But he was just answering what he believed to be a legitimate ad! He thought he was just fulfilling this kinky lady’s fantasy! He only did what ‘she’ asked him to!” and I’m not sure if legally this guy will have a leg to stand on with that argument (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it held up, given some of the ridiculous defenses rapists and their attorneys have used in the past), but this much is clear:
This man, Ty McDowell, 26, was only able to believe that this woman ‘wanted’ to be raped because he believes that those two things are able to mutually exist. Only in a culture that excuses and diminishes all but the most overt, violent forms of sexual assault was McDowell able to convince himself that he was merely fulfilling a not-all-that-uncommon fantasy; one that many women are too embarrassed or scared to admit they harbor. ‘No’ doesn’t always mean no, apparently; it also sometimes means ‘Yes please, and do it harder!’ according to popular myth.
And who can blame him for making this mistake, really? McDowell has undoubtedly grown up watching violent, degrading pornography in which women’s bodies are ‘taken’ and men are the ones ‘giving’ it to them, as if female sexuality and autonomy were commodities as common and worthless as coffee mugs or scented candles in the office Secret Santa gift exchange. He’s undoubtedly heard his peers make jokes about sexual assault and seen rape trials unfold where the victim’s character and whether she really said No (and forcefully enough, to boot) were called into question and made her out to be a woman who, in the end, didn’t want to stop the unwanted sex badly enough or who wanted it all along but felt too ashamed to give in and say Yes outright.
Ty McDowell grew up in a culture that objectifies women to the point where we can’t even buy running shoes without making it all about tits and ass and how fuckable we are to men. He grew up in a society where a sizeable portion of the population think a woman is at least partially (if not totally) at fault for her rape if she had been drinking, had flirted with her assailant before the attack or was wearing ‘revealing’ clothing. He grew up in a place where a ‘sex robot’ can be invented, constructed, demonstrated and sold by ‘normal’ people and publicised in mainstream media markets without a disturbed eyelash being batted [I won't post a link to the video here but needless to say it is grotesque; not only is it misogynist but also plain creepy, with references to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and with one of the robot's 'personalities' describing her death].
Though it would be easy to dismiss this as just another bizarre, one-off creation, that this kind of thing is only a ‘joke’ or for ‘losers’, it shows just how inconsequential and disposable some men think women’s bodies are and what little importance they place on our thoughts, feelings and rights to ourselves. That some would rather have sex with a doll than bother to do the work in forming an authentic, consenting sexual bond with a real, live woman is exactly the kind of view that contributes to the dehumanization of women and, in turn, the proliferation of rape culture. It leads to a world where a man can, with the mere placement of an ad, leave a woman’s body violated and her life in pieces. And that kind of world scares (and angers) the hell out of me.
NS November 10th, 2009
My interest was piqued by this post I read today, by Sandy at Baby Baby, about ‘shag bands’ and the sexualisation of young girls. As reported by the Times, apparently ‘shag bands’ are these plastic, colour-coded bracelets being worn by children as young as 8 (but mainly by teens), with each colour representing something sexual they’ve done or are expected to do if a member of the opposite sex (usually a boy, since mainly girls wear them) manages to ‘snap’ or break it.
Sandy expressed her dismay at the existence of these bands and used it as an opportunity to discuss the sexualisation of young girls. Though I wasn’t thrilled to hear of these bands and always welcome discourse on how our society sexualises girls and women, I was a bit doubtful that these ‘shag bands’ were the insidious items that they were made out to be in the media so I did a little digging. A quick Internet search and I found this excellent article on Snopes about the ‘sex bracelets’ and rumours of other playground ‘sex coupons’ that have been around for decades, including the soda or beer can tab and the beer bottle label as items to be traded for carnal knowledge. You can read more about the legends here but the summary of the article is that we’re likely assigning too much significance to playground devices such as these, which are mostly rumour. Even where there is some truth in the meanings attached to the items, it’s more indicative of teenage explorations of desire and the appeal of abdicating responsibility for the sexual decisions they face, not of a sinister plot to actually trade or force sexual favours for trinkets.
So even though I don’t think the bracelets are actually being used in the way they’ve been portrayed, I agree with Sandy when she says:
Advertising, magazines and television (particularly MTV) are taking away our children’s innocence. Girls are bombarded by airbrushed size zero models with fake breasts. This is not how most women look. This is not healthy.The cult of celebrity is also damaging how youngsters view the world. There seem to be many children that believe just being on television is a worthy ambition. They want to be famous – no talent required. Even worse, they want to be married to someone famous. Being a footballer’s wife should not be an acceptable career choice.
I too look at how women are portrayed in the media and in advertising and find myself filled with despair. I too worry for the kids aspiring to be famous for nothing in particular and without any kind of plan for an education or career. But then, at the very end, she says: “On days like this I’m glad I have sons and not daughters.”
Even though I know that Sandy meant no harm when she said it and was just trying to express her frustration at the situation, I disagree strongly with the sentiment behind this statement. I hear a lot of parents of boys use this line whenever we talk about serious, scary issues that young girls are facing, be it negative body image, sexual objectification and exploitation, the pay gap, gender stereotyping, rape, domestic violence or discrimination in the workplace. They feel, perhaps understandably, relieved that they won’t have to tackle these issues in the same way that they would as parents of boys. The thing is, they should be every bit as worried about how to deal with all of the aforementioned problems as the parents of girls. Though framed in a different way perhaps, all of these issues need to be discussed with boys. In fact, I’d say it’s just as important for parents of boys to help them understand and combat these messages as it is for girls.
You see, the bombardment of “airbrushed, size-zero models with fake breasts” in the pages of magazines, on billboards and on tv isn’t aimed solely at girls, nor are they the only ones to see these things and internalise the messages within. Boys see those MTV videos, those beer ads, the covers of all those magazines with the celebrities and the models and their “perfect” proportions and they are getting a message too. It might not be screaming out to them “Lose weight! You’re not pretty enough! You need to be sexy to attract a man!” but something is being projected to them just the same, believe me. They are hearing things like “This is what the ideal woman looks like! Women are nice to look at but they’re a pain in the arse! You’re not a Real Man (TM) unless you notch up as many sexual conquests as possible! No doesn’t always mean No, especially if she’s dressed sexy! You’re pathetic if you care too much about her feelings or express your own! You must assert your masculinity at all times or risk being labeled a ‘loser’ or a ‘queer’!” amongst many, many others. This is harmful. It’s harmful to young boys’ emotional and mental development and affects the way they view not only their own place in the world and their own sexuality, but that of the girls and women they know (or will know), too.
So not only should parents of boys (myself included in this group) be worried about these issues just as much as parents of girls, we should be talking about how to tackle these problems with the same urgency and seriousness that it holds for our daughters. The sexualisation of girls hurts boys, too, and it will never end until boys (who will eventually become men) become involved in the discussion. Only then can they become part of the solution. In fact, that may be the solution.
Photo credit: exlow’s Flickr photostream, via a Creative Commons license