My mother was a very fashionable woman, and she accessorized outfits with lots of cool sunglasses—the large, dramatic kind that were popular when I was growing up. There were times, however, when my mom wore sunglasses less for sun protection than as a form of self-protection. Sometimes in the fall she wore them all day to hide eyes swollen from acute bouts of hay fever. Other times she wore them in an effort to hide the black eyes and swelling that came courtesy of my father’s fists.
My father was, at 6’4″ and very broad-shouldered, an intimidating man to many people and anytime he wanted to be. My mother was 5’6″, petite.
Watching the video of Ray Rice first punching and then dragging his then fiancée, Janay Rice (née Palmer), out of an elevator in Atlantic City brought me right back to a scene from my childhood when, hearing an argument escalate between my father and mother in another part of our home, I ran downstairs to see my father dragging my unconscious mother out of the spare bedroom. I went into what I can only call my “automatic” mode: I began beating my father with my then 10-year-old fists.
I am the oldest of four and the only girl in my natal family, part of what was then a very large extended family. In our “traditional” family, the men were supposed to be “in charge” (though the women held everything—and I mean everything—together), and they were supposed to go unchallenged no matter how wrong they were. For some reason, I was the only one who could and did stand up to my father without being beaten; my brothers on the other hand were not spared. As a result, and out of what I can only say was an inherent sense of injustice, I became my mother’s protector, a role I assumed (though I should not have had to) from the earliest time I can remember.
Being my mother’s protector meant laying awake at night after my father would come home late, waiting to hear if an argument would start and if I would have to jump in to prevent harm. It meant fearing for my mother any time I left home, whether it be to a sleepover at a friend’s house or to summer camp. It meant constant anxiety about what might happen to my mom. And it meant refusing opportunities—like a junior year abroad in college—for fear that if I did go, my mother might not be alive when I got back.
When my mother died in 1993 of what I was told was a massive heart attack, it was after a fight with my father in a restaurant, and after he made her get out of the car on a country road in the middle of winter. I never really found out what happened, though I tried incessantly to get more information from the police and from the emergency room. All I knew was that in the end I could not protect her.
My mother came from a family of extremely modest means, got married when she was 16, and had four children by the time she was 24. (She also had at least two miscarriages and one abortion.) Many times throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I begged her to leave my father and get a divorce. “You are beautiful, smart, and strong,” I would tell her, “and you can make a life for yourself.” She refused, and I did not fully understand why until later: She was afraid of what my father would do to her, and for the safety of her kids.
She had no college degree, no job experience, and no personal wealth on which to fall back. She also knew no one would believe (or want to hear about) her abuse at the hands of my father. Too many people knew my father as the gregarious, generous guy who picked up people’s checks at restaurants, always dressed well, and (in their eyes) provided for his family. I know her fears were valid, because even after both parents had died, I could not discuss these details of my family’s past with my cousins—they either didn’t believe me either, or they told me it “wasn’t my business to fix.” Nonetheless, this past followed me into adulthood in the form of severe depression that it took me years to conquer.
These early personal experiences, coupled with a career spent promoting women’s rights, make it clear to me that, in response to Ray Rice’s violence, the NFL has made and continues to make grave mistakes that are without question dangerous to Janay Rice and her daughter, as well as to countless other women and children.
In February, TMZ first released footage of Ray Rice dragging Janay out of the Atlantic City elevator. Both of them were arrested for supposedly attacking each other, though what attack Janay could have made on her fiancé with her bare hands that would have justified him punching her in the head and knocking her unconscious is beyond my comprehension.
In May, the Baltimore Ravens hosted a press conference featuring both Ray and Janay Rice, who had gotten married in the intervening months. Ray Rice begins the press conference by apologizing to everyone except his wife and speaks about “this situation” as though a piano had fallen on them out of the sky. He takes no real responsibility, and never utters the words “violence,” “assault,” or “attack.” Even more astounding (to some) is that later in the same press conference Janay Rice apologized for her “role” in “this incident,” a statement that sounds very much like something engineered by the NFL and the Ravens press teams, but one she may have believed, at least somewhat, since victims of violence are so often made to blame themselves.
The NFL first suspended Rice for two games for what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called a “horrible mistake,” and a flood of criticism ensued, against which Goodell defended himself and the league. Later, as the criticism of Goodell, the NFL, and the Ravens continued to pour in, Goodell admitted he had “not gotten it right the first time” and put in place a new policy that includes a six-game suspension for “first offenses” and a lifetime ban for a “second incident.”
This week, Rice’s contract was terminated and he was cut from the Ravens after an extended portion of the video from his attack on his fiancée was posted by TMZ—a video we have strong reason to believe NFL and Ravens officials had seen months earlier. Though this was Rice’s “first incident” (as far as we know), the public’s access to the video and the PR disaster that resulted was just too much for the NFL to handle. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that seeing the video “made things a little bit different.” Really? How? Seeing a woman lying unconscious on a hotel lobby floor after being dragged like a rag doll from an elevator and then kicked as though she was an inanimate object (as depicted in video release in February) wasn’t enough to convince him that Ray Rice had committed a serious offense?
Goodell, Harbaugh, and the NFL writ large have put Janay Rice and countless other women in danger with their approach to Ray Rice’s abuse and their “protect the NFL at all costs” policies. I have seen no statement from the NFL that makes clear they understand that, no matter what information or videos are or are not leaked to the public, punching Janay Rice was unacceptable. Nor have I seen a statement from the NFL decrying the fact that she was arrested in conjunction with her own abuse.
Furthermore, they participated in helping Janay Rice become complicit in her own abuse, further underscoring their indifference and ignorance about intimate partner violence by including her in that grotesque stand-by-your-man press conference and tweeting out her apology from the Ravens Twitter account. (That tweet has since been deleted.) This behavior perpetuates the myth that somehow the victim “deserved” what happened to her (She lunged at him, didn’t she? She was arrested too, wasn’t she?), and exploits the personal blame that is so characteristic of victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse. It absolves the rest of us of any responsibility for taking action.
The NFL continues to only talk about Ray and Janay Rice as a couple, with no indication that they understand the danger that she, as an individual, may now be in. It is well recognized by researchers and domestic violence advocates that the most dangerous time for victims of intimate partner violence is when they try to leave, which is something my mother knew instinctively. The most dangerous time for Janay Rice may be right now, as she is living with a man whose mindset may well be that his career has just been cut short because of his wife.
Harbaugh said Monday, “I have nothing but hope and goodwill for Ray and Janay. And we’ll do whatever we can going forward to help them as they go forward and try to make the best of it.”
This help does not seem to include making clear that the NFL is placing Janay’s safety first. Harbaugh’s statement reinforces the notion that domestic abuse is a “private problem,” shared by both parties, in which they have equal culpability. At no point has the NFL assured us that anything is being done to provide for Janay’s safety. Nor has the league publicly expressed any understanding of what this episode and any ongoing abuse could do to the Rices’ young daughter. Leaving it up to Janay to “work things out” with a violent husband means that she is left alone in what may be an ongoing abusive relationship, with few places to turn.
And, despite a recent announcement of a more comprehensive approach to domestic violence within the NFL, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the league going forward. In his announcement, Goodell promised:
[W]e will ensure that the NFL LifeLine and NFL Total Wellness Program are staffed with personnel trained to provide prompt and confidential assistance to anyone at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault — whether as a victim or potential aggressor. Information regarding these resources will be furnished to all NFL personnel and their families. Our Player Engagement Directors and Human Resource Executives will meet with team spouses and significant others to ensure that they are aware of the resources available to them as NFL family members, including the ability to seek confidential assistance through independent local resources, as well as through the club or the NFL Total Wellness Program. In this respect, we will utilize our existing, established telephone and on-line programs, and will communicate the full range of available services to all NFL personnel and their families.
Several things worry me about this new policy. For one, it puts the NFL in the role of self-policing, an approach that has proven to be a huge failure with regard to sexual assault and rape at universities and one that makes me deeply uncomfortable, given the NFL’s institutional imperative for good publicity and self-preservation. Second, it seems again to misunderstand how deeply manipulative, destructive, coercive, and dangerous abusers can be.
In addition, the NFL’s “second incident” approach to domestic violence places women in jeopardy, both now and in the future. Look at it this way: A football player abuses his partner, or anyone for that matter. This is bad PR for the league and the player, and it’s bad for the player’s pocketbook and career. So the victim does not report because she doesn’t want to be the one responsible for what happens after, perhaps even under threat of more violence. Let’s say, however, the abuse otherwise becomes public. The player is suspended. For that woman or any subsequent woman to seek help for further abuse (the “second incident”) means that again, in her abuser’s eyes, she would be responsible for his lifetime ban from the league. Is anyone doubtful about the kinds of coercion and threats that come into play here? Any intimate partner subject to current or future abuse and threats will almost certainly be less likely to come forward and report because the consequences for that victim may be more abuse or even death.
It is an untenable situation, and I am not sure of the ways around it, but I know this is not the answer. Why is even one incident of abuse OK?
One thing the NFL must begin to do is talk about the victims of domestic abuse as people who are indeed victims. They are not in “situations.” They did not “play a role” in their abuse. They have been attacked, violated, beaten, and demoralized, and their safety and the safety of their children is paramount.
Moreover, everyone in the NFL—every player, coach, front office administrator, public relations rep, and equipment manager—should have to undergo training in understanding, spotting, and supporting victims of intimate partner violence. Not the perpetrators, the victims.
And it’s time for the league to put its money where its mouth is. The NFL takes in billions of dollars every year as a not-for-profit—and therefore tax-exempt—organization, a situation that not only boggles my mind but stretches reality. (How does that work, IRS?) I would like to propose that the NFL put $100 million immediately—not in installments, not over time—into a fund to be administered by a coalition of domestic violence shelters and counseling centers throughout the country, the budgets of which have been slashed by governors in many states. I would further propose that a minimum of $25 million be donated to that account every year for the next ten years. The league can afford it, and victims of violence need it. That would be a real start.
Image: CBS Sports via YouTube
The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday asked an Ohio judge to strike down several provisions in a law that has restricted access to abortion and closed clinics in the state.
The Ohio legislature in June 2013 passed a budget bill with several anti-choice riders tacked on. That fall, the organization, on behalf of the abortion provider Preterm-Cleveland, sued the state, arguing that the budget bill unlawfully includes the abortion restrictions.
At issue in the lawsuit is not whether the restrictions themselves are legal, but if their inclusion in the budget bill violates state law. The case rests on an Ohio law called the One-Subject Rule, which requires all legislation to address only one subject.
The suit argues that because the abortion amendments are unrelated to budget appropriations, they violate the One-Subject Rule and should be stricken from the law.
In the document filed this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing that a lengthy court process is unnecessary because the facts of the case are straightforward. Instead, according to the ACLU, the Common Pleas judge should issue a summary ruling, removing the abortion restrictions from the budget bill and voiding them entirely.
The budget bill currently includes three anti-choice provisions, one of which is a ban on public hospitals from making transfer agreements with surgical abortion facilities.
As RH Reality Check has reported before, the transfer agreement requirement and the addition of public hospital qualification have already threatened abortion access in the state. The Ohio Department of Health this year revoked the Lebanon Road Surgery Center’s operating license after finding it did not have a transfer agreement with a local public hospital.
Lebanon Road stopped providing surgical abortions last month.
And in July, Capital Care Network, a Toledo abortion provider, had its license revoked after it was unable to find a local public hospital that would sign a written transfer agreement. The clinic had a previous agreement with the University of Michigan Health System, which is less than an hour away by car, but was forced to make an agreement with a more local hospital.
The second amendment to the budget bill requires that abortion providers determine at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure whether there is a fetal heartbeat, and if there is, the provider is required to talk to the patient about the heartbeat.
The provision also creates criminal penalties for providers who fail to comply.
As the lawsuit filed this week points out, the heartbeat budget provision is very similar to an earlier fetal heartbeat bill that failed to pass the legislature. The heartbeat provision was added only two days before the bill passed, giving no opportunity for public testimony or debate.
The third amendment creates a state-level “parenting and pregnancy” program that moves money into organizations that are banned from discussing abortion care.
The post Ohio’s Anti-Abortion Budget Is Getting a Legal Challenge appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A survey released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found widespread instances of rape, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence among American women and men.
The report estimates that 19.3 percent of women in the United States (more than 23 million) have been the victim of rape, 43.9 percent have experienced some other kind of sexual violence, and 31.5 percent had experienced violence by an intimate partner.
The survey found that many men have also been victims—an estimated 1.7 percent of men have been raped, 23.4 percent have experienced other types of sexual violence, and 30.9 percent have experienced non-sexual violence by an intimate partner.
CDC researchers estimate that 27.3 percent of women and about one in ten men have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact during their lifetimes. Unwanted sexual contact includes completed or attempted forced penetration; alcohol- or drug- facilitated penetration; being made to penetrate a perpetrator; being coerced into unwanted penetration; or experiencing unwanted kissing, fondling, or other non-penetrative behaviors. About three in ten women and 23.4 percent of men reported unwanted sexual experiences that did not include physical contact such as being flashed or forced to view sexually explicit material.
The data comes from the second annual National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and was collected between January and December 2011. Researchers conducted in-depth telephone interviews with a random sample of more than 12,000 men and women 18 or older.
Respondents were asked whether they had experienced sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or stalking in their lifetime as well as in the 12 months prior to the survey. Those who reported having been a victim of violence were asked questions about the incidents. The results suggest that most victims experience their first incident of rape or violence before the age of 25 and that the majority of incidents are committed by an intimate partner.
Regardless of the victim’s gender, most perpetrators of rape were male. In fact, 99 percent of female rape victims had only male perpetrators, as did 79.3 percent of males who were raped.
For female victims of other forms of sexual violence, most perpetrators (94.7 percent) were also male, but for male victims—including 82.6 of those forced to penetrate the perpetrator, 80 percent who experienced sexual coercion, and 54.7 percent who experienced unwanted sexual contact—many of the perpetrators were female.
The majority of victims of all types of sexual violence knew their perpetrators. Almost half of female victims of rape (an estimated 46.7 percent) had at least one perpetrator who was an acquaintance, and 45.4 percent of female rape victims had at least one perpetrator who was an intimate partner.
More than half of women who experienced alcohol- or drug- facilitated penetration considered the perpetrator an acquaintance. Among male rape victims, 44.9 percent of perpetrators were an acquaintance and 29 percent were an intimate partner.
In incidents of sexual violence other than rape, the relationship of the perpetrator was more varied. For example, among men forced to penetrate a perpetrator, an estimated 54.5 percent were made to do so by an intimate partner and 43 percent by an acquaintance.
The report also examined stalking and non-sexual violence among intimate partners. It estimated that 15.2 percent of women (18.3 million women) and 5.7 percent of men (nearly 6.5 million men) have experienced stalking during their lifetimes that “made them feel very fearful or made them believe that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.”
Most victims of stalking knew their perpetrator.
Non-sexual intimate partner violence is also very common in the United States, according to the survey. An estimated 31.5 percent of women and 27.5 percent of men experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, with 22.3 percent of women and 14 percent of men experiencing at least one incident of severe violence such as being slammed against something hard, punched, beaten, kicked, or burned on purpose.
The CDC notes that all of these forms of violence can lead to serious consequences such as physical injury, poor mental health, and chronic health problems.
For some, the long-term consequences include hospitalization, disability, or death. Because most victims know their perpetrators and experience the first incident of violence at an early age, the CDC suggests that prevention efforts begin early and focus on healthy relationships:
CDC seeks to prevent these forms of violence with strategies that address known risk factors for perpetration and by changing social norms and behaviors by using bystander and other prevention strategies. In addition, primary prevention of intimate partner violence is focused on the promotion of healthy relationship behaviors and other protective factors, with the goal of helping adolescents develop these positive behaviors before their first relationships. The early promotion of healthy relationships while behaviors are still relatively modifiable makes it more likely that young persons can avoid violence in their relationships.
Image: Depression via Shutterstock
Challengers to the Obama administration’s latest attempt to accommodate the objections to the contraception coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act announced Monday they were pressing ahead with their legal challenges to the rule.
At last count last week there were 65 cases filed by nonprofits, with over 40 of those still pending in the federal courts.
In a brief filed with the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Little Sisters of the Poor—one of the named plaintiffs in the cases—stated that the administration’s latest interim rules, which allows those claiming a religious objection to comply with the coverage requirement as an alternative route to notify the administration of their objection, “changes nothing of the substance” of its claim that the accommodation violates its religious rights.
According to its brief, the only way the administration can accommodate its religious objections is to treat the organization—which runs a group of assisted living facilities—as though it were a house of worship and exempt it entirely from complying with the rule.
That’s because, as the challengers claim, any accommodation by the administration facilitates birth control access for its employees or students.
But as the Obama administration spelled out in its brief to the Tenth Circuit, the latest interim rules ultimately accomplish what the challengers ask.
That’s because the administration “effectively exempt[s]” the objecting organizations from doing anything to participate in contraception coverage beyond notifying the administration of its objection and plan information. Once that happens, the administration takes on the task of notifying the insurance company, which then proceeds with contacting those employees or students who need contraception coverage.
The key difference, according to the administration, is that the accommodation ensures employees and students who need contraception coverage can still access it.
The challengers and the administration filed this latest round of legal briefs with the Tenth Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court issued an interim order earlier this summer in the Wheaton College case. That order exempted the evangelical college from complying with the process under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of requesting an exemption to the birth control benefit.
The Supreme Court issued the Wheaton College interim order just days after it ruled in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell that some for-profit companies could raise religious objections to the ACA’s contraception coverage requirement.
The Roberts Court interim order in Wheaton College threw into question whether or not the Obama administration’s process for accommodating those institutions—like the Little Sisters of the Poor—that have a religious affiliation but are not houses of worship, offer services and have employees that cover a broad spectrum of beliefs.
In its brief filed Monday with the Tenth Circuit, the Obama administration claims the interim final rules comply with the Wheaton College order and should resolve the legal challenges. The challengers disagree, which leaves the issue for the Tenth Circuit to resolve.
Monday’s briefing crystallizes the argument taking shape in the nonprofit challenges to the coverage requirement that could ultimately land before the Roberts Court as early as this term: Can these companies prevent the administration from providing contraception coverage for their employees and students?
It’s a question that has significance beyond the legal challenges filed by religiously affiliated nonprofits. After the summer’s victory in Hobby Lobby, those representing for-profit companies challenging the rule have been silent as to whether they will argue that the accommodation also violates their religious rights.
The Obama administration will file similar briefing with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals next week in the Priests for Life case, another set of legal challenges to the contraception coverage requirement filed by religiously affiliated nonprofits.
The post Obama Administration’s Latest Birth Control ‘Fix’ Rejected by Opponents appeared first on RH Reality Check.
For years, the online gaming community has faced criticism for its often abysmal treatment of women. But even more evidence of this systemic sexism has emerged in recent weeks, prompting a wave of denials and counterattacks from a huge number of gamers. Their vitriol, in turn, provides an excellent example of what crowdsourced silencing of already marginalized voices can look like—and how chillingly effective that silencing can be.
Just a few days after credible, violent threats drove independent critic Anita Sarkeesian out of her home in late August, Depression Quest developer Zoë Quinn withstood a deluge of online harassment, which included the publication of her phone number along with nude photographs. This fury was sired by a bitter online missive from an ex-boyfriend, who accused her of cheating on him and, in a claim he later retracted, sleeping with a journalist in exchange for favorable coverage of one of her products.
What began with a series of moralistic, slut-shaming attacks on Quinn for her supposed infidelity soon turned into unfounded accusations of corruption throughout the industry—trading sex, and personal relationships in general, for good reviews. Those then metastasized into #GamerGate: a social media-fueled movement whose supporters, mostly young men, pledged to expose supposedly unethical practices in the world of games journalism and media. In truth, however, the campaign was apparently a deliberate effort to purge women and people of color from the fledgling world of independent gaming criticism by tarring them with allegations of fraudulence.
In a stunning report, Quinn announced this past Saturday that she had been lurking in a planning room of the popular online message board 4chan for the last few weeks. Her screenshots expose what appears to be a sprawling campaign that weaponized unwitting anti-corruption gamers against any writer who mentioned so-called social justice issues, such as homophobia, racism, or—you guessed it—misogyny.
According to Quinn’s logs, 4chan, an anonymous forum that has become infamous over the years for organized trolling and “raids,” provided public-relations instructions, created hashtags, and even encouraged forum users to impersonate people of color, all in order to sow dissension. And their tactics worked. By the time of Quinn’s exposé this weekend, many women had already vowed to leave the industry.
Opening the “FloodGates”
The case of critic Jenn Frank, who wrote a short op-ed for the Guardian about the harassment Quinn and Sarkeesian faced, is illustrative of how this organized silencing worked. The GamerGate crowd argued on social media that, in their view, Frank had a conflict of interest in writing the Guardian piece because she was acquainted with Quinn and had financially backed her work via a crowdfunding campaign. This was in spite of the fact that the Guardian’s legal team had reassured Frank that there was no such conflict; she also included a disclaimer on her article mentioning her minor monetary support of Quinn. Even so, GamerGate supporters filled her Twitter feed with such aggressive threats that she formally announced, two days later, that she was quitting game criticism after a decade.
Or consider Leigh Alexander, who has long been one of the most vocal opponents of corrupt practices and sexism in the industry; GamerGate allies targeted her, too, ostensibly because she runs a consulting firm for game designers. Once again, however, no evidence has surfaced suggesting she has ever engaged in any impropriety, save a couple of tweets promoting a game on which she had also been a consultant—a fact that she had made fully transparent in the same posts.
Quinn’s leaks this Saturday provide elucidating context: The purpose of this operation was evidently to disguise a purge of critical voices as a grassroots movement. A cadre of angry young men scapegoated women for the sins of an industry and got away with it, until screenshots finally revealed the crusade for what it was. And again, it has been effective. While Alexander hasn’t left, many others have.
Part of the campaign’s power was that it keyed into shared cultural nightmares among gamers—that someone, somewhere, was going to take video games away, whether it be censorious politicians, money-grubbing executives, or invading “outsiders” like women, queer people, or gamers of color. GamerGate’s instigators conflated those very different figures into one common enemy.
Time and again, memetics crowded the #GamerGate hashtag, claiming that the movement did not rely on harassment (even if this was demonstrably false), and that it was not about misogyny. Its agitators posted pictures of women developers they approved of, congratulated supporter Christina Hoff Sommers for being a “true” feminist, and used the #NotYourShield hashtag as a, well, shield against all cultural criticism. After all, if some women and people of color supported the movement, they reasoned, GamerGate was inoculated against prejudice.
These arguments were seductive, convincing many gamers that it was “social justice warriors” who were taking away gaming by colluding with developers and media to impose their “agenda” on everyone else. Without entirely realizing it, even well-intentioned allies of GamerGate—the ones Medium referred to in one piece as “fair-minded”—confused corporate corruption with independent designers and journalists who can barely make rent.
The bell curve of the movement’s many supporters thus pressed violently against the least powerful voices in gaming, and those who may not have otherwise condoned the persecution of strangers rallied to defend their culture against a straw villain.
The Epidemic of Silence
By the GamerGate thought-leaders’ twisted logic, any woman who speaks as a gaming critic is automatically presumed to be corrupt because she—like almost anyone who puts pen to paper—knows people and has contacts in the realms she writes about. To add biting salt to the wound, many of us who write about harassment in gaming know each other and became friends because of the harassment; we banded together to fortify each other, and as is often the case, some of us liked one another enough and shared enough common interests to become friends. But now the abusers appear to have realized that this, too, can be weaponized under the guise of “ethics.”
Harass us, and then condemn us as ethically compromised for refusing to submit to the harassment by ourselves.
These double binds even persist when simply speaking of one’s own hardships. Over the course of the last fortnight, angry gamers have lambasted Quinn for raising public awareness about these latest rounds of attacks; they have accused her of making it up, provoking the onslaught, feeding the trolls, profiting from them, or just “attention-whoring.”
However, to avoid speaking publicly about the persecution makes those who do not confront it on a daily basis more likely to dismiss it—or, in the case of GamerGate, to propagate behavior that worsens it. Much like street harassment, it depends on the silent submission of its targets, the passive pseudo-consent of accepting such behavior as the backdrop to everyday life. Sexual harassers on the street want to use women as props to bolster their sense of virility. Political harassers online want their target to be quiet and go away, an anathema to anyone who makes her living by speaking in public.
When one refuses to comply, though, one’s attackers treat that defiance as a further provocation. Twitter harassment has become akin to voting someone off the island on a reality television show: The will of the group is absolute, and the person being targeted has no say. But when the woman in question reveals the patchwork of her daily abuse, and when she dares to contextualize it as a problem, the mob is incensed. The woman is not behaving as she should. She was supposed to yield to their imperial might; she was supposed to shut up. By refusing to do so, she is challenging their sense of absolute control over her behavior. And so the attacks against her grow even more charged.
Regardless of our political affiliations, the Internet can empower us to indulge in fantasies of invulnerable might. For those who form angry mobs online, though, that sense of security has led to the belief that the only viewpoints worth hearing are their own. This culture makes women’s voices an almost personal offense to the men who want to still them. The cost of opening one’s mouth as a woman was always to provoke bottomless sinkholes of anger; now, the instantaneous call-and-response atmospheres of Twitter and other social media just make it easier than it has ever been for crowds to swarm upon individuals.
Double binds abound. Women are damned if we face abuse alone; damned if we face it with friends and defend one another. We are damned if we say nothing; damned if we draw attention to what’s happening.
And although the harassment of women in some spaces, and its attendant silencing effect, is a more prevalent problem by dint of sheer numbers, the attacks men withstand for standing up for us are noteworthy, as well. Amid GamerGate, the men who supported Quinn and Sarkeesian, such as Phil Fish or Tim Schafer, sustained no small measure of attempted intimidation for their trouble. A GamerGate-circulated list of people in the industry to boycott because of their “social justice” leanings, too, included quite a few men.
Even so, this response is itself often bound up with gender politics. Men will find themselves struck by accusations of feminization, “white knighting,” taunts about their genitalia, and so forth; their detractors see men’s association with an apostate woman as especially damning. Hell opened up for Fish and Schafer only when they defended Quinn’s fundamental humanity.
The Writing’s on the Twitter Wall
What’s happening in the world of gaming should concern everyone. The community does not exist in a vacuum, after all: Its members are products of popular culture, and their policing tactics reflect strategies used throughout the virtual and physical world.
Even the aforementioned “fair-minded” good guys of GamerGate—those reportedly provoked into massing by 4chan bigots—had muddled aims that betrayed little knowledge of how journalism works. Some GamerGate supporters, for instance, openly stated that they want games writing to be “objective,” which would obviate the very criticism of the industry they claim is necessary (could we accuse Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert of objectivity?). And, again, the called-targets were disproportionately independent writers who are not plugged into the nexus of the gaming world’s richest developers—in other words, they are not the people about whom true anti-corruption activists should be worried.
Writing about the impact of this abhorrent mélange of good intentions, trolling, and naïve politicking, critic Lana Polansky argues, “The terrorism of this campaign has actually accomplished its goal: to make us suspect our neighbors; to make simple associations possible conflicts, particularly among the least protected and thus most politically threatening group of people.”
We should not delude ourselves into thinking this can’t happen elsewhere online in other outposts of “new media,” with the same twisted logic used to attack the integrity of other independent writers and journalists. GamerGate’s thought-leaders’ tactics of disguising the persecution of minority voices with faux-inclusivity and sunny rhetoric could easily be exported elsewhere. Indeed, one 4channer, in the wake of Quinn’s revelations, suggested that everyone should try again next year.
GamerGate was a profoundly terrifying elaboration of the mechanics of silencing, which arrayed a variety of horrors beneath a thin veneer of moral crusading. It showcased the myriad ways that well-intentioned people are sucked into lending their energies to organized hatred. This social dynamic is what the continued silencing of women, and the men who support us, depends upon.
What GamerGate showed us was how a small group of angry 4chan users apparently convinced a horde of well-meaning people to believe that they should silence certain women for the good of all. The willingness shared by too many of us to believe that the ends justify the means was ruthlessly exploited here. Attention must be paid.
This will happen again.
Image: diplomedia / Shutterstock
The post What ‘GamerGate’ Reveals About the Silencing of Women appeared first on RH Reality Check.
At its annual meeting this past June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—one of the largest Christian denominations in the world—passed a landmark resolution on the issue of transgender rights, making its stance on trans* people an official part of the doctrine.
The resolution says, in part, that SBC’s leaders “condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against [transgender individuals].” But they also resolve that no efforts should be made to “alter one’s bodily identity (e.g. cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery) to bring it in line with one’s perceived gender identity,” and that they “continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any court or state legislature to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”
In other words, even as the SBC ostensibly condemns physical aggression against trans* individuals, it has resolved to support state and institutional violence against the same people.
Visibility for trans* individuals has notably increased over the last decade, with the last two years in particular ushering in a skyrocketing amount of press and media aimed at trans* celebrities. Several prominent artists—musician Laura Jane Grace and director Lana Wachowski, for instance—came out as transgender women; Emmy-nominated actress and trans woman Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of Time magazine this June. And as the nation begins to look at LGBT rights with a wider lens, many prominent members of America’s conservative Christian churches have begun to shift their focus as well.
Several popular leaders of these denominations have brought transgender issues to the forefront of their rhetoric and teachings. Unfortunately, this shift in focus comes largely without corresponding education, resulting in skewed, transphobic sermons. Most famously, the president of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote in 2009 about the ethical quandary that “repentant” transgender individuals posed for a pastor. Moore came to the conclusion that pastors should encourage people to embrace a gender identity that matches their assigned sex at birth and that transgender identity is, first and foremost, a sin.
In more recent years, Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, has apparently resolved to set himself up as SBC’s resident “expert” on transgender identity. Unfortunately, Burk’s writing mangles even the easiest explanations: He continuously uses “transgender” as a noun rather than an adjective, for example, and purposefully misgenders trans* individuals. The misgendering, in particular, seems to extend from a desire to “correct” others on their gender by reminding them of the one they were assigned at birth—a possible manifestation of many SBC leaders’ proposed method of “loving” trans* people.
Overall, the religious right’s recent push against transgender identity has been led by white, straight, cisgender men—and it has developed political implications outside the church. Shortly following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in June, the heads of numerous religiously affiliated organizations wrote a letter to President Obama asking for similar exemptions to his recent executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against the LGBT community in the workplace. In fact, this letter specifically objected to the idea of transgender inclusion.
One of the most notable of these signatories was D. Michael Lindsay, president of the evangelical Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Lindsay’s move in signing the letter has led some alumni of the college to return their diplomas in protest, indicating that the anti-trans* sentiment is largely a generational gap.
But Gordon is not the first Christian college to embroil itself in controversy regarding transgender students. George Fox University, a Quaker school in the liberal bastion of Portland, Oregon, also found itself in hot water with activists this summer when it refused a transgender student the opportunity to live with his male friends.
The questions of religious exemptions and the liberty to practice religion as one sees fit are complex and complicated—far too much to go into here. One aspect of this quickly moving battle for both civil rights and understanding, however, is the theological ground for rejecting transgender identity.
Simply put: Conservative Christians are standing on shifting sands.
The Bible doesn’t speak directly to transgender identity. So leaders on the religious right get around this by conflating non-binary gender with sexual sin—namely, “sexual immorality,” a vague umbrella term covering everything from sex outside of marriage to homosexual acts. Gender, in the eyes of evangelicals, determines sexuality: If you are a man, it is your God-given role to marry and bed a woman. If you are a woman, you are to submit yourself to your husband. All other deviations from this norm are sin.
Without fixed gender, one’s sexuality is therefore unstable. And fixed sexual and gendered roles are a necessity for the evangelical vision of family and church.
This series of assumptions is at the root of the evangelical fear of both marriage equality and transgender acceptance. The cultural hegemony that conservative Christian culture enjoyed for barely a generation is eroding, and with it the power evangelicals had to adapt the world to their whims. The very existence of gender outside a binary puts fear in the hearts of evangelicals because their narrow theology is dependent upon them: male and female, good and evil, heaven and hell. But since the Bible doesn’t speak directly to the topic—the most we see is discussion of eunuchs—evangelicals must figure out a way to make transgender identity a sin of sexuality, forever muddying and confusing the issue.
In an August 2014 article for 9 Marks journal, for instance, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. addresses the issue of transgender identity by addressing sexual sin, arguing that the physical body is vital “to our personhood,” and as embodied creatures of God, a fixed gender is therefore necessary for human reproduction and, in turn, playing out the creation drama in which God placed us. Mohler admits that the Bible does not speak to transgender identity; therefore he must connect it to the evangelical concept of family—that reproduction is part of God’s plan for everyone—in order to speak against it.
And in Good, an eBook recently released by celebrity pastor John Piper’s Desiring God ministry, Burk continues his quest to undercut trans* identity, writing:
We must tell the truth about what the Bible teaches about gender. Among other things, the Bible is clear that there is a normative connection between biological sex and gender identity. The ‘normative connection’ I am speaking of is not defined by the sociological observation that a certain percentage of the population experiences their own gender in a that conflicts with their biological sex. The sociological norm knows nothing of the Fall and confuses what is with what ought to be. The norm that we must insist on is the norm that is not normed by any other norm: Scripture.
Amidst that word salad, what Burk is essentially saying is that while transgender identity may occur as a sociological and statistical reality, such “realities” don’t take into account the influence of sin and the fall of man into evil; therefore, sociological facts don’t represent the kingdom of God as what should be. In other words, Burk recognizes that transgender people exist as a matter of course, but he doesn’t care because the scripture—which he does not cite—allegedly says they shouldn’t.
This is the theological basis for denying the rights of real people who survive in the real world: that they don’t match up with an eschatological conception of life without sin, and therefore should be rejected and discriminated against. Any person who is unrepentantly trans*—who does not flagellate themselves before the altar of the binary and biologically determined gender—is therefore acting in open defiance to God’s good law about gender. And sinning so openly means discrimination is the only holy response.
Such a belief is so dependent upon a number of evaporating cultural assumptions—straight marriage that will always produce children, gender and sexuality as fixed states, the idea that men are leaders and women are followers—that it’s fairly easy to see why representatives of various Christian organizations are panicked at the idea of affirming transgender identities. That affirmation, after all, would be a devastating blow for the house of cards upon which they’ve built their faith. Accepting the very existence of trans* people is an act that threatens their image of God—because God, in conservative Christians’ eyes, only created (and called “good”) male and female in a compulsory heterosexual binary.
And yet, this is precisely why trans* visibility and laws protecting trans* identities are so important. One shouldn’t have to engage in an in-depth theological debate simply to exist as the person they are. One shouldn’t have to make a theological case simply to justify why they should be allowed to hold a job or attend the college of their choosing. But this is the reality for many trans* Christians today—even if it is a house of cards, evangelicals are still fighting with all their might to keep it standing.
The post Why Conservative Christians Fear the Affirmation of Transgender Identity appeared first on RH Reality Check.
With the midterm races heating up, anti-choice Senate candidates are scrambling to win over female voters by throwing their support behind over-the-counter birth control.
Really? These guys have each supported policies that make it harder for women to access birth control, and suddenly think birth control is the best thing ever? Clearly, they're just trying to win votes before November.
In Colorado, Cory Gardner endorsed letting bosses deny employees insurance coverage for birth control when he described the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling as "the right decision."
It's no surprise he took this position - he sponsored a federal bill that would have done the very same thing. He's currently a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill that would ban common forms of birth control and he's voted against giving emergency contraception to rape survivors.Thom Tillis in North Carolina came down firmly in support of letting bosses deny birth control coverage to employees in the Hobby Lobby ruling, and said, "The American people are the clear winners."
But that's just the beginning: he supports personhood and said the state should be able to ban birth control.Ed Gillespie isn't fooling anyone in Virginia. He also sided with bosses over employees in the Hobby Lobby decision.
But Gillespie's record goes back years. As the chair of the Republican National Committee in 2004, he was in charge of the Party Platform that explicitly called for a personhood amendment to the Constitution, and he's defended efforts to ban federal funding to Planned Parenthood for birth control and cancer screeningsIn Minnesota, Mike McFadden stayed in step with his anti-choice peers by celebrating the Hobby Lobby decision. But he took his offensive views to a whole new level when he claimed that birth control wasn't a health care issue.
Newsflash, GOP: female voters aren't buying it. On Election Day, these politicians will learn the hard way what they should have figured out a long time ago: they can run for office saying they support women, but they can't hide from the records voters deserve to see. We'll be holding them up to the light until November.
Paid for by NARAL Pro-Choice America, www.ProChoiceAmerica.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
A new poll in West Virginia indicates that conservatives in the state legislature might be out of touch with voters when it comes to reproductive rights.
The poll, taken by West Virginia Free, a reproductive health, rights, and justice nonprofit, found that the majority of state residents don’t think that the government should legislate access to abortion and other reproductive services.
Fifty-six percent of residents oppose the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which found that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement violated the craft company’s religious rights.
The West Virginia legislature is majority Democrat, but that hasn’t stopped conservatives from pushing anti-choice measures, including some that have made their way to the governor’s desk.
On the books, West Virginia has a waiting period law, which requires that abortion providers read a script to patients 24 hours before the procedure, and a parental notification law requiring that minors seeking an abortion notify their parent or guardian beforehand.
Several legislators in February introduced the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law that would have required a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital remain on the premises of the abortion clinic in case a patient needs to be transferred following an abortion.
Critics of TRAP laws charge that it creates an undue burden on providers who offer abortion, which is one of the most safe surgical procedures, resulting in many fewer complications than pregnancy. The bill, HB 4593, failed to pass in committee.
The legislature also introduced in February a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Such bans, which have been introduced across the country, are based on junk science that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. The bill, HB 4588 and called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was eventually vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
WV Free found that 55 percent of West Virginians would strongly oppose the legislature if it continued to push for the 20-week abortion ban.
“West Virginians do not support laws that interfere with a doctor’s ability to provide quality health care to patients,” WV Free Executive Director Margaret Chapman Pomponio said in a statement. “The three areas of top interest to voters are jobs, health care, and water quality. Simply put, the people of this state don’t want politicians wasting time on regressive political attacks that hurt West Virginia women.”
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The announcements came after the celebrity website TMZ posted video footage today of Ray Rice attacking his then fiancée, now wife, in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February. Previously, video footage taken from outside the elevator showed Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body. At that time, Rice was charged with felony assault, but after Janay Rice refused to testify against him, he faced only court-supervised counseling.
Rice made a public apology along with Janay, who said she “deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.”
The NFL suspended Rice for two games, and the Ravens didn’t take any public disciplinary action at that time.
But in a letter sent in late August to NFL owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell—who decides league penalties in some cases—apologized for the lax punishment of Rice, saying “I [Goodell] didn’t get it right.”
“My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families,” Goodell said in the letter. “I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Goodell also announced harsher penalties for domestic violence offenders within the league.
The one-year NFL-imposed suspension means no other team can sign Rice, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension in 2012.
The suspension of Rice today appears to be the result of the publication of the video footage following Goodell’s recent comments, though as a Sports Illustrated reporter acknowledged in July, Goodell likely saw the video footage when he initially decided Rice’s punishment around the time of the event.
NFL officials have denied seeing the footage that came to light today.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
By now, you’ve probably heard the “news” that Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis included stories of terminating two pregnancies—one ectopic, one a case of extreme fetal anomaly—in her upcoming memoir. After the San Antonio Express-News obtained an advance copy of the book, Forgetting To Be Afraid, it ran its first piece on the story late Friday evening.
Thanks to that article, and the flurry of ones that followed, you’ve also probably heard how Davis’ Republican gubernatorial opponent, Greg Abbott, feels about Wendy Davis’ abortion stories. Similarly, you’ve likely learned how spokespersons for Texas’ two most influential anti-choice lobby groups feel about those stories, too.
And if you’re like me, you may feel that it’s wildly inappropriate to ask anyone but Wendy Davis herself how she feels about making two private medical decisions with the counsel of her doctors and family.
It’s not that I don’t understand the media’s inclination to get reaction quotes from Davis’ opponent, or from the anti-choice groups that have tried, over the past year, to paint Davis as the champion of a baby-killing radical left. This seems to have become standard journalistic practice. However, it’s also one that turns a family’s story, and a personal decision, into a game of political ping-pong in the name of so-called unbiased news.
As my friend and fellow writer Jessica Luther astutely observed on Twitter after the Express-News story ran, Davis owed her stories to no one. Her decision to share her experiences is tremendously brave, especially considering the multitude of ways in which Davis has been viciously targeted by anti-choice conservatives. Following Davis’ headline-making filibuster of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion bill last year—a bill that anti-choice lawmakers filed and passed in two special legislative sessions after promising not to enact any new anti-abortion legislation—anti-choice activists derided her as “Abortion Barbie,” simply for taking a stand in a fight that she never started. In light of Davis’ decision to write candidly about having to terminate two medically untenable pregnancies, such a moniker now seems especially cruel.
By asking a lobbyist who would like to overturn Roe v. Wade and force pregnant people to carry every fetus to term or die trying, to weigh in on the private medical decisions of others, journalists are exposing Davis to that uncalled-for dialogue again. In other words, reporters are giving equal weight, and a broad platform, to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of people like Texas Alliance for Life spokesperson Joe Pojman—a man who is not Wendy Davis, who 20 years ago was not involved in Davis’ decision to end a much-wanted pregnancy—as to Davis herself.
For his part, Pojman told the news media that his group does not “favor or advise abortion in cases when the unborn child has disabilities, just as we cannot advocate taking the life of a newly born child who has severe disabilities,” not-so-obliquely implying that Davis, and those who have been forced to make similar decisions to end unsustainable pregnancies, have more or less murdered disabled babies.
As if there is some vital “other side” that needs to be asked to rate the legitimacy of Davis’ decision, without which a news piece could not possibly be complete. And as if that “other side” is best represented by people like Melissa Conway, a spokesperson for Texas Right To Life—and a likely stranger to Wendy Davis—who makes her political living trying to pass anti-choice laws. Conway, who has gone farther than Pojman in using Davis’ personal abortion story as a political cudgel, has been unfailingly patronizing in disseminating her thoughts about Davis’ abortion decisions to the media, presuming that Davis suffers from some kind of (medically unfounded) post-abortion depression syndrome and chastising Davis for her and her husband’s decision.
“Regardless of how severe or hopeless a diagnosis may be,” Conway told the Texas Tribune, “the dignity of life remains unaltered by disability and disappointment.”
If only Davis had had the loving blessing of Melissa Conway breathing down her neck 20 years ago. If only Davis had had a total stranger with no medical degree telling her how to define “the dignity of life” for herself and her family.
Of course, the classy thing for folks like Pojman and Conway to do would be to decline to be quoted, or to say that they respect Davis’ privacy and cannot comment on the circumstances of her abortions. But that would run counter to everything the anti-choice right-wing believes: that the government has a right to ensure that every pregnancy is carried to term, that miscarriages must be investigated and criminalized, and that the rights of a zygote or a fetus always trump the rights of the person carrying it. Or, in sum: that every pregnancy is public property.
To be fair, reporters have also published reactions to Davis’ memoir from the leaders of groups like NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Planned Parenthood. The difference, I think, lies in pro-choice organizations’ ability to recognize and appreciate the complexities of Davis’ decisions in a way that opens up, rather than shuts down, much-needed conversations about trusting families and the role that government should play in private medical decisions.
“Every pregnancy is different,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Texas director Heather Busby in a statement released late on Friday. She continued, “All options must be available to ensure the health and safety of families without lawmakers making decisions that don’t belong to them.”
As long as the mainstream media situates the Joe Pojmans and Melissa Conways of the world alongside Wendy Davis as being equally reliable sources on the subject of Wendy Davis’ abortions, though, we will continue to fail the millions of Americans who have chosen legal abortion over the years, and who have been subsequently shamed into silence. And we will also keep pushing nuanced, thoughtful discussions about pregnancy and reproductive rights out of the way to make room for extremism, polemics, and political posturing.
Perhaps, then, there is one good that comes out of pretending that Greg Abbott, Joe Pojman, and Melissa Conway have anything meaningful whatsoever to say about Davis’ private medical decisions. With every new statement, they highlight the widening gulf between reasonable Texans—if we’re anything like the rest of the country, statistically speaking, 1 in 3 of us has ended a pregnancy, and two-thirds of us who chose to do so were already parents—and the conservative lawmakers and lobbyists who feel entitled to weigh in on every family’s private medical decisions, even if they need a time machine to do so.
Image: CBS News
The post Why Is the Media Asking Anti-Choice Extremists About Wendy Davis’ Abortions? appeared first on RH Reality Check.