There Are Far Worse Words in the World Than “Fuck”.

Yesterday a video of girls dressed as princesses saying the word “fuck” went viral. While the apparent point of the video was to spread awareness of the inequalities and atrocities women and girls face in the world, it was actually made by for-profit t-shirt company FCKH8 who would donate $5 from each t-shirt sold to unspecified charities (presumably charities benefiting women). Capitalism aside, the video begs the question, what’s worse: little girls swearing or facing the likelihood that they’ll be raped or paid less than the men doing the same job?

If popular opinion is any indication it’s the former.

I was just thinking about this a few days ago. Why do we have to “watch our language” around elders or in professional settings when the same respect isn’t shown when it comes to sexism, racism and just generally being a decent person?

I swear “like a sailor” and have since I was the age of the girls in the video and even younger. At a third birthday party I yelled “fuck” while the guests were singing happy birthday. I got kicked out of kindergarten for swearing. My colleagues devised a swear jar to be mostly filled up by me. (I’ve never put a cent in it.)

What I want to know, though, is where’s the “problematic ideologies jar” that the same people who are offended by a word that has essentially lost all meaning other than to punctuate something or as a less formal way to say “make love” should be making deposits into? The same people who are offended by my refusal to burp under my breath or curb my fondness for the f-word but bang on about women who get raped shouldn’t get so drunk or go out with so little clothing, calling Adam Goodes a monkey isn’t racism because he does look like a monkey, when a man cheats on his wife it’s the other woman’s responsibility, and girls being inherently catty and bitchy.

Why should I have to watch what I say less an f-word pop out when people will freely volunteer that they think being gay is wrong, or that it’s not wrong, but at the very least it should be harder for them to have children as they “chose” that lifestyle.

What it comes down to is that women and girls should be seen and not heard. We don’t want little girls to say “bad” words because it offends the collective sensibility. We don’t want to know that women are more likely to face gender-based violence as long as they sit there, shut up and look pretty. The made-up princess aesthetic of the video is certainly fulfilling that aspect, but once the girls open their mouths they’re shamed for saying something that we’d rather not think about. Nay, saying anything.

It could be said that FCKH8 is only interested in making a profit from the t-shirts this video aims to sell. That may be the case but they have certainly got people talking. Just as the company has co-opted feminism for their own purposes feminism can appropriate their money-making ways in an effort to change the attitudes of the same people that are oh-so-offended by an f-bomb but are happy to espouse even more harmful ideologies.

Elsewhere: [The Belle Jar] FCKH8 Exploits Little Girls in Order to Sell T-Shirts.

We All Have Naked Bodies. Jennifer Lawrence is No Different.

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Do you ever wonder whether you’ve been a positive influence on someone who’s no longer in your life? Well, if I influenced the particular ex-friend I have in mind—the one responsible for the above Facebook status and the shitshow that followed—in any way it has surely dissipated as she took great joy in victim-blaming and slut-shaming the myriad female celebrities who fell victim to the mass nude photo hack earlier this week.

While the leaking of 101 female celebrities’ private photos from their iCloud accounts—many of them long deleted—is a “flagrant violation of privacy” as perhaps the most-high profile victim Jennifer Lawrence’s PR team put it, it is also a crime. Many a think piece has been written in the days following about how looking at Lawrence, Kate Upton, Alison Brie, Adriana Grande et al’s personal photographs makes us complicit in said crime, much like viewing child pornography is a continued violation of the abused minors. I do not deny this but, apart from Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Peterson’s take on the “scandal” as compared to the nonconsensual publication of Marilyn Monroe’s “Golden Dreams” nudes in the ’50s, I have seen nary a word written about how the naked body is not, in fact, scandalous.

If many of the comments on the above Facebook thread are to be believed, people—nay, women, because let’s be honest, the only men targeted in this mass hack are those who happen to sneak into a shot with their female partners, as Roxane Gay points out—who take photos of themselves in various stages of undress are idiots, especially if they’re famous, because it’s only a matter of time before they’re leaked for the world to see. Never mind the fact that we all have bodies underneath our clothes and that some people like to take photos of said bodies. To return to Peterson:

“The only way to prevent a market for these type of photos is to stop treating them, and the ‘secrets’ they reveal, as revelatory or scandalous. They don’t tell you anything new about Lawrence. They don’t make you think differently about her. You know why? Because sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a dirty secret. In her public appearances and interviews, Lawrence has never attempted to make it so. And just because it’s private doesn’t mean it’s dirty…”

This isn’t the first time photos of nude, female celebrities have been leaked, though. In the past few years similar photos of Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Miley Cyrus and Mila Kunis have made their way into the public domain, but it’s hard to remember there being an outrage on such a level. I tend toward the fact that these hackers specifically targeted seemingly as many female celebrities as they possibly could in an egregious example of misogyny. But it could also be because Lawrence is “Our Jen”; “Cool Girl Jen”, and her almost mythical status in fangirl (and –guy) world makes us super protective of her. Those other women—Cyrus, Johansson, and even those that specifically market their sexuality as part of their brand (that’s not to say Cyrus and, indeed Johansson, don’t)—kind of deserved it, didn’t they?

From Kate Leaver in her article “Jennifer Lawrence is Not an Idiot” on MamaMia:

“This is not like that time Kim Kardashian (or, more accurately, her mother/manager Kris Jenner) ‘leaked’ a sex tape in a brazen grab at fame. This is not a staged accident, like when Nicki Minaj’s top serendipitously fell open on stage at the VMAs. This is not a seedy publicity stunt from a desperate celebrity.”

And so what if it was? Lawrence et al presumably had a certain amount of agency in creating these photos in the first place. Their agency and privacy was taken away by some hackers with too much time and misogyny on their hands. Let’s not feed into that by further denying it to women who do traffic in the commodification of their bodies for a profit, whether explicitly or implicitly. Only then can we start to accept the naked body as something that everyone has and not something that can be “leaked” and used to shame women into submission.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Those Jennifer Lawrence Pictures Aren’t Scandalous.

[The Guardian] The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014 is Just the Beginning.

[Buzzfeed] Jennifer Lawrence & the History of Cool Girls.

[MamaMia] Jennifer Lawrence is Not an Idiot.

Images via Facebook.

Walk A Mile in Their Shoes.

In the wake of the Rolf Harris guilty verdict and sentencing, sexual abuse has been on the lips of many people.

Last week I happened to be privy to one such conversation, in which Oscar Pistorius, Ariel Castro and Harris were discussed. Pistorius was rightfully condemned but, as will happen when you’re in the company of much of the general public who take our patriarchal rape culture as gospel, these amateur sleuths discovered holes in the cases of Castro and Harris.

Because Harris wasn’t preying on children, but almost-of-age women, these people questioned the veracity of his victims’ stories. And the fact that another woman came forward with allegations against the former children’s entertainer after the verdict made them wonder why she would even bother or why she didn’t press charges.

Mia Freedman wrote last week of her encounter as a child with Harris, and how he tried to chat up her uninterested mother. She asserted that dirty old men have been rudely awakened in this day and age when what used to be excused as “touchy-feely” is now considered sexual assault.

The conversation then turned to Ariel Castro and his 11-year imprisonment of Michelle Knight (now known as Lily Rose Lee), Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. In addition to getting the facts of the case wrong (one person claimed the victims were all about 12 or 13 years old when they were kidnapped; in fact, DeJesus was the youngest at 14 years old, Berry was 17 and Lee was 21), victim-blaming was rife. They wondered why, if the victims were allowed free reign in the house and had been permitted outside (I don’t recall hearing or reading about this, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen), they didn’t just leave. From my understanding, Berry and DeJesus were given more freedom than Lee, who bore the brunt of Castro’s beatings, rape and torture. Plus, Berry had a child to Castro she would need to consider before attempting to escape. This is not to mention Stockholm Syndrome.

Someone wondered why the three women, upon rescue, seemed so normal; years of captivity would drive a person crazy, it was asserted. Firstly, I don’t believe the women seemed “normal” at all; we’ve hardly heard from DeJesus and Lee has been the most vocal about her abuse but it’s clear how affected she is by it. Secondly, when I interjected to say the women weren’t exactly children, so therefore had mental faculties that would serve them better in their fight-or-flight predicament, and that they had each other to lean on in the dire situation they found themselves in, I was shut down. Perhaps it was because I’ve heard this person say numerous times they hate to be alone and thrive in the company of others so couldn’t fathom only being in contact with three other people for 11 years, but the human body and mind have ways of adapting to such circumstances. Lee, Berry and DeJesus are a testament to that.

From here the conversation turned to domestic violence victims and, as we oft hear, “why they just don’t leave” and that “there would have to be some evidence of years of abuse” when victims are pushed to the brink and end up murdering their abusers. By this point I was livid and held myself back from saying what I am about to type lest I damage my at-arms-length but daily relationship with these people: intimate partner violence doesn’t just happen out of the blue. It’s not like one day your loving, equal partner snaps and hits you and that’s it: you leave them (although I’m sure there are a small amount of cases like this, the vast majority of abusers have a pattern of behaviour prior that results in violence).

While I’ve never been in an abusive relationship myself, I watched my parents engage in one for 22 years—a relationship that became violent long before that.

Abusers isolate their partner from their support system, severing contact with family, friends and the workplace, and thereby finances of their own, so that when the violence begins the victims have nowhere to turn. My mum was a stay-at-home parent and engaged in several small businesses with my father so she was completely financially dependent on him. My dad would even work three jobs while my mum stayed home which I’ve only just deduced was probably his attempt to keep her as his dependent. I watched my mothers’ friends and family come and go, oftentimes due to altercations about my father. She told barely anyone and never went to the cops or the emergency room; there was no point if she couldn’t leave. I think I remember Mum telling me once that her mother-in-law tended to her cut face and neck after my father glassed her. He abused her whilst she was pregnant with me, and I can count at least ten other times I witnessed violence before the age of 12.  Around that time it stopped, but that was when the years-long break-up, make-up back-and-forth began and didn’t end until I was 22 and my father finally moved out of the familial home. My sister and I followed soon after.

I blamed my mother a lot for “not just leaving”, as the abovementioned gaggle of armchair commentators would say, and I still harbour resentment towards her for exposing her children to a violent relationship. But as I’m exposed to more and more women’s stories of violence, I come to understand my mother’s circumstances more and more. I only hope that as these cases continue to come to light, the ignorant among us can become just a touch more enlightened about other people’s lives.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Mia: “I Met Rolf Harris When I Was About 8 or 9.”

2013: A Bad Year for Women.

Not to discount Wendy Davis’ reproductive rights filibuster in Texas, abortion drug RU486 being added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and feminism trending worldwide thanks to Beyone, Miley et al. clamoring to claim the movement for themselves, 2013 was a very bad year for women. But what year isn’t, really?

On Valentine’s Day in South Africa, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead, claiming he thought she was an intruder. Abusive relationship whispers abounded, but all the media could talk about was that Steenkamp was a hot, blonde model, and many news stories didn’t even bother to mention her name.

While Melbourne woman (by way of Ireland) Jill Meagher was brutally raped and murdered in 2012, the trial of her killer, Adrian Bayley, dominated the Aussie news this year. It was revealed that Meagher was the latest in a long line of rapes and abductions spanning a twenty-year period due to the failure of the parole system. Bayley was sentenced in June to 35 years in prison.

Many of Bayley’s rapes were targeted at St. Kilda sex workers, which brings us to the murder of Tracy Connelly in her van on 21st July which made news in the wake of Bayley’s sentencing. Melbourne writer Wendy Squires furthered Connelly’s story by writing about the woman she never knew by name, but with whom she became friendly as she passed her in her neighbourhood most days.

In the mid-year political uprising in Egypt, up to 43 women were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, but they’re just collateral damage when the larger issue of political freedom is at stake, am I right? And while the brutal Dehli gang rape and bashing of an Indian student and her male friend which resulted in the student’s death from internal injuries happened late last year, 2013 has been rife with other sexual assaults. (It’s important to note that these are just the rapes that have been publicised and picked up by the Western media. Countless rapes have been and are continuing to be committed that we just don’t hear about.) Most recently, a 15-year-old Indian girl committed suicide after being gang raped six months ago.

The U.S. has seen a spate of woman-hating crimes come to light this year, too. In May, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Berry’s six-year-old daughter were rescued from a house in Cleveland, Ohio after being held captive by Ariel Castro for up to ten years. At trial in August, Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus and addition 1,000 years. One month later, Castro was found dead in his cell.

The football town of Steubenville, also in Ohio, made worldwide headlines for the rape and kidnapping of an unconscious teen by members of the town’s high school football team. The teenaged victim, whose identity is protected, was transported from party to party whilst she was unconscious (resulting in later-dropped kidnapping charges, in addition to rape and child pornography charges), had photos taken of her and shared on social media, and had her case picked up by vigilante hacking group, Anonymous, which forced the authorities to take the case seriously. The teenaged perpetrators, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, were given the minimum sentences of one and two years, respectively, in juvenile detention while investigations have been launched into the role school officials played in covering up the case.

In another -Ville—Maryville, Missouri—two teenaged girls were raped by boys on their school’s football team… Sound familiar? One of the victims was left passed out on her porch in minus temperatures, has attempted suicide and allegedly had her house burned down as a threat. The case was dropped due to “insufficient evidence” but has recently been reopened as a result of public pressure.

Back at home, the deaths of two young girls and the abuse they suffered their whole lives at the hands of their parents were in the news. Kiesha Weippeart’s mother, Kristi Abrahams, was sentenced to up to 22-and-a-half years in prison in July for the murder of her daughter in 2010. Her partner, Robert Smith, was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years for being an accessory to the crime. It’s no excuse for the brutal murder of a six-year-old, but this Good Weekend article is a harrowing account of the cycle of abuse in the Abrahams family that Kiesha was a victim of. Also making headlines was the sentencing for the murder of toddler Tanilla Warrick-Deaves. Donna Deaves had earlier in the year been sentenced to 12 years in prison for doing nothing to save her daughter from the fatal beating inflicted on Tanilla by her partner, Warren Ross. Ross was found guilty of Tanilla’s murder on 5th December.

But probably the two take away moments of misogyny in 2013 are Robin Thicke, who has been named sexist of the year, for his rape anthem, “Blurred Lines”, and its accompanying god awful video, and the ousting of Julia Gillard from the prime ministership. Now, before all the MRAs get up me for deigning to insinuate that a poor leader shouldn’t stay in that role because she’s a woman, I’m not talking about just her ousting. It was everything leading up to that: the “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” placards; the sexist menu in which Gillard’s body parts were likened to meat; Alan Jones’ comments; the questions about her partner’s sexuality; the misogyny speech… Hell, Anne Summers didn’t write a book about it for nothing! I don’t necessarily agree with all of her sentiments, and she did make some bad decisions in parliament, but when we look back at Gillard’s time as the first female Prime Minister of Australia, there has been at least one positive development to come out of it: Gillard is now a feminist hero!

What have been some of the worst moments for women in 2013 that I haven’t included here? I would love to get your thoughts in the comments.

Related: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

Anne Summers in Conversation with Julia Gillard.

Elsewhere: [The Age] An Innocent Woman Slain. Where’s the Public Outcry?

[Sydney Morning Herald] Duty of Care: What Happened to Kiesha?

[The Guardian] Robin Thicke Named Sexist of the Year.

So Anne Hathaway Didn’t Wear Underwear. Enough with the Slut-Shaming! (NSFW)

Last week, arriving at a premiere for Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway was snapped exiting a car sans-panties, exposing to the world a hint of trimmed pubic hair and not much else.

From the way the blogosphere blew up, particularly one shamed-tinged article on MamaMia, you’d think the end of the world had arrived early. A sample:

“Do people really do this these days, not wear underwear? Do regular people do it or just celebrities? Did nobody learn ANYTHING from Britney Spears?”

To answer your accusations, yes, regular people don’t always wear underwear. I know this because I’m a normal person and I don’t always wear underwear. I’m a shocker for putting off underwear shopping, therefore I have less than ten pairs of undies on rotation and sometimes there’s just not a clean pair in sight. I wear tight running pants under which I don’t like wearing full-cut briefs because of the VPL and I figure, why waste a perfectly clean pair of skimpy undies on a 30-minute workout when I can just chuck my running pants in the washing machine when I’m finished working out? Better waiting for one item of clothing to dry than two.

I also have a penchant for wearing body-con dresses and pleather leggings when I go out, so sometimes I won’t wear underwear with these lest I ruin the streamlined effect I’m going for. And when I wear tights I figure they practically double as underwear anyway, so why bother. But the most important reason I don’t always wear underwear is because I don’t always want to, and that’s my choice. You would think a mainstream women’s website that serves up a healthy helping of feminism would be all over that…

Note that while Hathaway seems mortified and uncomfortable talking about the incident, she doesn’t make any apologies for choosing to go without panties, and she shouldn’t have to. She said, “I was getting out of the car and my dress was so tight that I didn’t realise it until I saw all the photographers’ flashes… It was devastating. They saw everything. I might as well have lifted up my skirt for them.”

Sure, it’s probably not the greatest feeling to have all and sundry seeing your business without your consent (which raises a whole ’nother issue about whether the photographer should have deleted the shot instead of publishing it, which I’m not going to go into here), but if our society didn’t have such a problem with the female anatomy and the shame associated with it what its owner sees fit, would we be acting so outraged with the whole situation? The fact that all that’s visible is a bikini line and a landing strip makes it that much more petty: it’s just a bit of pubic hair, not a porno.

Elsewhere: As Anne Hathaway’s Vagina Goes Viral We Ask: Do Girls Not Wear Undies Anymore?

Image via Starcasm.

Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

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You might remember a month or so ago the brief debut of No Doubt’s Native American culturally appropriated video for their single, “Looking Hot”. Or, as it was aptly dubbed by one YouTube commenter, “Looking Racist”.

While the Native imagery is arguably stunning, it’s not No Doubt’s to share, and that’s what pissed most viewers of the clip off, Indigenous or not.

The band issued this statement after removing the clip:

“As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialise Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realise now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologise to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”

And just in time for Native American Heritage Month. And Thanksgiving. Double-points for sensitivity!

Looking back on No Doubt and, more pertinently, Gwen Stefani’s history of image changes, it’s not really surprising that they committed this most recent offence in a long line of racial faux pas.

Remember in the mid-to-late ’90s when Stefani got around in that bindi? Or, a lot more offensively, her harem of identically silent Harajuku girls that followed her every move whilst promoting her first solo album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and appearing lyrically and starring in the music videos of the singles from it. Eight years after its release, Stefani’s still making money off the appropriation of the Japanese culture in her line of L.A.M.B. fragrances, one of which I requested for my birthday this year. I guess we’re all a little bit guilty of buying into this reappropriation stuff (just look at the recent Navajo-inspired line from Urban Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret’s penchant for fetishising Asian culture with their “Go East” line of lingerie).

As is pointed out in a roundtable about racism and cultural appropriation on Rookie, the fact that white little Gwen and hipsters alike are able to wear Native American headdresses, bindis and headscarves without a second thought is because they’re white; no matter how well meaning the appropriation might be, they’re not likely to be threatened with racist taunts, “considered weird, or [putting up] some kind of resistance to assimilating into [Western] society…” says Jenny Zhang, a writer and poet.

Fellow Rookie Marie Lodi takes issue more specifically with the Harajuku girls:

“[W]hen she had the four SILENT Harajuku Girls following her around everywhere it was strange. Like, OK, here’s four Japanese girls (I don’t even think they were all Japanese?!) following around this white woman and not saying a word. GWEN, DO YOU LET THEM SPEAK? And now I bet if you did some word-association about Harajuku with a random white American person they’d most likely respond, ‘Oh, you mean the line at Target?’ first and not the area in Tokyo…”

’Cause Asians are relegated to the cute, quiet best friend or background role, didn’t you know? But at least that’s something, according to legendary comedian Margaret Cho:

“Even though to me, a Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface, I am just in acceptance over it, because something is better than nothing.”

I guess black-, yellow- and red-face are the best we can hope for in this sad, sad reality.

So goes the reasoning of many regular people not so well versed in the politics of racism: when someone dresses up as a Mexican who’ll “mow lawns for weed and beer” or a Middle Eastern terrorist (you might think I’m referring only to Chris Brown, but someone I went to high school with actually came as one for an “Around the World” party, the pictures of which were posted on Facebook for the presumably more culturally sensitive world to see) for Halloween or, as with the most recent pop cultural exemplar, a sexy Native American as seen on Gossip Girl’s Thanksgiving episode, the collective opinion is often, “lighten up, it’s just for fun.”

But Sasha Houston Brown writes for Racialicious:

“Recent acts of cultural appropriation do not occur in a vacuum and should not be viewed as isolated instances separate from their social and historic contexts. It is far more complex than hipsters in Navajo panties and pop stars in headdresses. These contemporary instances of cultural appropriation and stereotypes are really byproducts of ongoing colonialism, systemic racism, and the deliberately false narratives perpetuated about Native peoples by white society. Cultural commodification and dehumanised stereotypes extended far beyond any single corporation, retail franchise, or celebrity.

“We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend; we are not a style or costume; we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities. We are human beings and, despite all odds, we have survived.”

Seeing as pretty much every other TV show, movie, brand and band are doing it, why are Gwen Stefani and No Dobut being singled out for their racism? We can’t expect better of them than we can Victoria’s Secret or scum of the earth Chris Brown because of their history of appropriation, but they’re the ones who said it: No Doubt is a multicultural band, so someone in it should have realised that maybe glamourising a game of cowboys and Indians that was a reality for so many Indigenous people for hundreds of years probably wasn’t the most PC direction they could take the clip in. Or maybe that’s just a hipster-racist excuse: I know black people so therefore I’m allowed to make racist jokes and assumptions about a culture that isn’t mine.

While people and corporations in the public eye who mass produce items for consumption (whether that be music, film or clothing) should be held to a higher standard than your average Joe, as they inevitably influence the Zeitgeist, they can’t be completely accountable for modern racism because it happens in a vicious cycle: we accept it because it’s perpetuated in the media, politics and everyday life, but when those sectors try to make positive changes they oftentimes fall on collectively deaf ears. That such a furor erupted over No Doubt’s latest gaffe is sign of hope, though… at least until next Halloween, Thanksgiving, Victoria’s Secret Fashion parade or No Doubt video.

Elsewhere: [Billboard] No Doubt Pulls “Looking Hot” Video, Apologises for Insensitivity.

[The White House] Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month 2012.

[Jezebel] Urban Outfitters & The Navajo Nation: What Does the Law Say?

[Racialicious] Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion.

[Rookie] Something Borrowed.

[MamaMia] Racial Abuse on a Melbourne Bus: What Would You Have Done?

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[Jezebel] Cosmetics Brand Pulls, Then Reinstates, Weird Blackface Ad.

[Jezebel] Crystal Reen Wasn’t Trying to “Look Asian” in That Eye Tape Shoot.

[Jezebel] Karlie Kloss as a Half-Naked “Indian” & Other Absurdities from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

[Jezebel] Penn State Sorority Girls Dress Up as Mexicans Who’ll “Mow Lawn for Weed & Beer”.

[HuffPo] Chris Brown Halloween Costume: Singer Tweets Picture of Himself Dressed Up as Terrorist for Rihanna’s Party.

[NewNowNext] Gossip Girl Style Recap: “It’s Really Complicated”.

[Racialicious] Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.

[Jezebel] A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism.

Image via Jezebel.

Sexual Assault, Moral Panic & Jill Meagher.

For the past two weeks it seems as if Jill Meagher has been exclusively in the media. Then, since her funeral last Friday, her name has all but dropped out of the headlines, if not from our collective consciousness.

Her tragic disappearance, rape and death sure played on my mind after some colleagues talked about it not-stop a few days after Jill went missing and transferred their obsession with the case onto me.

As I wrote last week, tragedies like this that are hyped up by the media rarely affect me. Obviously there is something about Jill that has permeated our abovementioned collective consciousness, if the outpouring of grief, support for her family, flowers out the front of the store where some of her last moments were captured on CCTV and the 20,000 Melbournians who turned out to march for peace two weekends ago are any indication.

Jill’s murder was no doubt horrific and it’s heart-warming to see so many everymen affected by a woman they never knew. But since her killer was charged and her body was found and laid to rest, I’ve started to get a bitter taste in my mouth about all the hoopla surrounding Jill’s disappearance and death: what’s so remarkable about this situation that has everyone calling for safety on the streets?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for safe streets, but I resent the fact that it’s women who are being cautioned not to walk alone at night, to get a taxi or a friend to accompany you home.

Some of this “concern” was directed my way last weekend at a friend’s birthday not far from where Jill lived, partied and was abducted. I was asked by a friend to please not walk alone at night and, as the non-owner of a car who is often without money for a taxi, I responded that I don’t have that luxury. It’s decadent to catch a cab two streets from the train station to my house, and unless that friend is going to offer to chauffeur me around the city, I think I’ll take my chances. It doesn’t come naturally for me to live my life in fear, not to mention the fact that the chances of experiencing a violent crime the likes of which Jill did are extremely rare. My friend is more likely to be involved in a car accident than I am to be attacked while walking home.

Upon further thought, my male housemate, who is out late many nights per week at work, rehearsals for a play, jogging and being social, was also there when my friend expressed her misguided anxiety about my after dark activities yet not a peep was directed his way. For those alarmists who think that any female on the street post-sunset is doomed to the same fate as Jill, please be mindful that according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, non-sexual assault is the most common form of violent crime, more likely to be committed against men than women. Why are women the only ones who are deemed less safe after Jill’s death? And why is it our responsibility not to get attacked? Maybe we should be focussing our concentration on teaching boys (and even then, it’s not just men who rape and women who are raped) not to rape and on a better screening process for criminals who are likely to reoffend, as Jill’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, did.

And another thing: abduction, rape and murder were just as scary and real before Jill made the news as after. In fact, because her killer is now in custody, the streets could actually be deemed safer (no thanks to the legal system who knew of Bayley as a repeat sex- and violent crime-offender but he’s only off the streets now that someone’s dead). That’s part of the reason why the moral outrage this incident has incited rubs me the wrong way: how many abductions, rapes and murders (not so much in Australia for the former and latter, but definitely so for the second crime) happen on a daily basis that we don’t hear a peep about? Or if we do, it’s only after it’s too late. All of the horrible things that happened to Jill were in existence before she experienced them. What’s so unique about her case?

I think it’s because she’s the “perfect victim”, if you will. Young; beautiful; white; middle-class; a migrant. If Jill had’ve turned up alive after her sexual assault, I think we would have heard the whispers of victim-blaming that circulated in the early days of her disappearance become a lot louder. She was drunk. She was out too late. Her shoes were too high. What was she wearing? Why did she talk to/go with her attacker? Don’t you think it’s weird her husband wasn’t with her? (This is a direct quote I heard from several people specualting about her disappearance.) Why didn’t she insist someone walk her to her apartment only a couple of blocks away along a route she took frequently? But because Jill did meet a fatal end, she’s become a martyr for making our streets a safer place as opposed to just another slut who was asking for it.

A blog post about Jill and the subsequent Sydney Road peace march and Reclaim the Night rally still to come talked about how SlutWalk is a radical feminist phenomenon that’s got its heart in the right place in theory, but that the Jill rallies are much more palatable. These sentiments are echoed in some of the comments on the post, that SlutWalk isn’t right for them but marching for Jill is. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion (as is the catch cry of my concerned friend. Indeed, you are entitled to feel scared on the street at night if you so desire just as I am not to be.), but I don’t understand how taking a stand against victim-blaming, slut-shaming and rape culture isn’t “right for you”. But somehow a march to honour the memory of a woman we’ve only come to know in the tragic circumstances surrounding her death, without the clear objectives that SlutWalk, marriage equality marches and the banning of live exports rally over the weekend have. Did 20,000 people turn up to those?

In no way am I being a rape-apologist or trying to suggest that rape isn’t an increasing problem, both in practice and in our culture. I myself, friends, family, colleagues and people I’ve only read about have all experienced intimidation and harassment, if not something more sinister, on the streets and within circles we thought of as safe. But perhaps instead of using Jill Meagher as the scapegoat who warns women to keep themselves locked away in their homes after sundown or, at the very least, be clothed in shapeless, unrevealing garb with a chaperone present at all times, we should be focussing on the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in society, perpetrated not only by strangers, but more likely by those close to us as well, and our reluctance to deal with its true cause and prevention unless it happens to the right kind of person woman and only after the fact.

Related: To Live & Die in Brunswick: Reflections on Jill Meagher.

Elsewhere: [Australian Institute of Criminology] Trends in Violent Crime.

[Dangers Untold & Hardships Unnumbered] Jill Meagher, SlutWalk & Reclaim the Night Sydney Road.

[unWinona] I Debated Whether Or Not to Share This Story.

Image via SBS.