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.”

On the (Rest of the) Net.

orange is the new black pennsatuckey teeth

What Orange is the New Black‘s Pennsatucky’s dental health says about class. [Bitch]

The history of the sex education film. [Alternet]

Most women have periods at some stage, so why are we so afraid to talk about them? [The Lifted Brow]

There should be a Bechdel test for mothers in kid’s movies: “Show me an animated kids’ movie that has a named mother in it who lives until the credits roll.” And when mothers are present, they act as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Mum, paving the way for the main characters—and their fathers—to carry out the rest of the narrative. [The Atlantic]

Duke porn star Belle Knox writes about her experience being slut-shamed from within the industry she works. [Jezebel]

Image via Bitch.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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How to tell if you’re a woman in a Michal Bay movie. [Vulture]

How does real life women’s prison compare to Orange is the New Black? [Washington City Paper]

Roxane Gay explains what a “bad feminist” is ahead of the release of her book of essays by the same name:

“Women need to realize that femininity and being strong and empowered are not opposites: They go hand in hand. We have to stop viewing strength as something not feminine because I think strength is extraordinarily feminine.” [Elle]
The Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas advertised a talk entitled “Honour Killings Are Morally Justified” on Tuesday and cancelled it less than a day later. Honour killings are morally reprehensible, but if you’re going to promote a festival of dangerous ideas, at least own perhaps the most dangerous of them all. [Daily Life]
Where are all the penises on HBO? [Sociological Images]
I recapped Outback Championship Wrestling’s show last week. [Facebook]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Rihanna-CFDA

Rihanna is a feminist icon. [Birdee]

ICYMI: Physical and mental health in Orange is the New Black‘s prison industrial complex.

The damaging melodramatic tropes of the Nicholas Sparks movie:

“In sexual pornography, the intended result is orgasm—and a temporary quelling of desire for sex. In emotional pornography, the end result is tears and hope—and a temporary quelling of desire for love. One caters to the stereotypical feminine sexual desire to see the sex act narrativised—it’s all about the building-up-to, much less about the money shot—while the other switches the priorities, disposing of exposition in favour of one climax after another. Both, however, are but temporary substitutes, and ultimately end in the hunger for more sex, more emotional fulfilment, yet with distorted instructions on how to obtain them.

“It’s a version, however glowy, of the American dream. But it’s not the dream of the 1950s, with its yearning for the single, nuclear-family home, the freedom to consume, the white picket fence, the washing machine, the perfect mother. Rather, the Sparks American dream harkens back to the 19th-century iteration, with its visions of a bucolic rural space, rugged individualism, and the security of the sprawling extended family, where the men are men and the women are women.” [Buzzfeed]

Hook and the dadcentricity of the ’90s. [The Paris Review]

Feminists have daddy issues. [Medium]

When a person of colour says something is racist, you should probably listen to them. [Daily Life]

Image via Marie Claire.

Physical & Mental Health in Orange is the New Black.

orange is the new black season 2 cast

Whereas last year’s inaugural season of Netflix’ women’s prison effort, Orange is the New Black, introduced us to the myriad characters in Litchfield Penitentiary through the incarceration of the WASPy Piper Chapman, this year is all about the more diverse women that wear orange (well, mostly beige).

Specifically, we see the challenges of staying physically and mentally healthy in America’s prison industrial complex.

Last season we did see some of these issues come to light; transgendered inmate Sophia Burset, played by the incomparable Laverne Cox, had her hormone medication limited due to concerns about the drug’s side effects, while Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren’s mental illness was a comedic calling card for the show.

This year Suzanne’s backstory gets more airtime, as well as an explosive trajectory for Lorna Morello, which reveals that though both women probably need psychological counselling, they’re not going to get it at the indebted Litchfield. Instead, their issues fall through the cracks so much so that only Nicky is privy to exactly what Morello did to land her in prison.

Season two has been applauded for giving more airtime to the minor characters who also happen to be from racial minorities: Gloria, the Hispanic cook who took over the kitchen from Red and is serving time for welfare fraud, and her Latina cohorts; Vee, Taystee and Poussey’s familial-love triangle cum drug ring, and Rosa, the bank robber with terminal ovarian cancer.

There’s also been an influx of older women this season, whom feminist recapper Sady Doyle describes as a “knitting circle” with “an alarming tendency to shiv people”. This includes dementia-ridden Jimmy, who wanders the grounds (and even inadvertently escapes!) looking for her presumably long-dead husband, Jack. Due to her deteriorating mental state, Jimmy is given “compassionate leave” which is revealed to be not-so-compassionate when you take into account that she has no family to look after her and is without the mental faculties to secure herself a home or care. Inmate Frieda predicts she’ll be out on the streets and “dead within a week”.

Jimmy’s release is apparently due to the above mentioned “budget cuts”, which seem to be happening all too regularly at Litchfield. Reporter Andrew Nance contacts Piper’s ex-fiance, writer Larry, and later Piper herself, to see if he can get the inside scoop on the missing millions from Litchfield.

There was talk of the building of a new gym, but that money—along with the gym—is nowhere to be found. The inmates’ bathrooms are leaking raw sewage and they have no heating in the Eastern winter. The prison’s dire financial state comes to a festering head in the penultimate episode of the season as a storm rips through Litchfield, leaving the prison flooded and without power, a backup generator and whatever functioning plumbing they had left.

These appalling conditions contribute to newcomer Brooke Soso, Yoga Jones, Sister Jane and some girls from Pensatucky’s former laundry crew going on a hunger strike. Sister Jane’s past as an activist comes to light, and let’s just say she’s not as selfless as she makes herself out to be. Having said that, though, she berates prison administrator Caputo for releasing Jimmy with no accountability:

“The elderly are the fastest growing population in prison and they have special needs. So-called ‘compassionate release’ in lieu of care is completely unacceptable. You can’t dump sick old ladies on the street. It’s unconscionable, inhumane and illegal.”

Surely Rosa would be a better candidate for compassionate release as she has weeks to live?

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Sophia leads the inmates in an episode-long exploration of “which hole” pee comes out of and the importance of knowing your body.

This season really attempts to get at life in America’s underfunded and overcrowded minimum security prison system. While there’s still a ways to go in achieving a realistic portrayal of the dire reality many incarcerated women face, it’s the only piece of pop culture striving to do so. If it keeps heading in that direction, who knows the depths season three will plumb, so to speak.

Elsewhere: [In These Times] Orange is the New Black Makes Other TV Look Quaint.

[Global Comment] How Progressive is Orange is the New Black, Really?

 

On the (Rest of the) Net.

ICYMI: Navigating popular culture as a feminist.

The freezing, hungry reality of NHL “ice girls”. [Mother Jones]

What it’s like to work at Playgirl. [Medium]

Orange is the New Black‘s second season dropped on Netflix last weekend, and Sady Doyle explains that it’s not just a “knitting circle” show for women:

“I mean, there is a knitting circle. But they have an alarming tendency to shiv people.” [In These Times] 

What a difference 40 years makes: Seventeen magazine then and now. [Shameless Magazine]

Is Miley Cyrus proving that sex doesn’t sell anymore?

“The old adage that sex sells meant a lot when you literally had to buy into an artist or performer. You couldn’t read Madonna’s Sex book without purchasing it, or watch Deep Throat without going to the cinema. True, music videos have always been free at the point of access, but they once acted as adverts for a purchasable product; now people can watch ‘Wrecking Ball’ as many times as they want, with no interest in the Miley album itself. They can tweet about what she means for feminism till they’re blue in the face, but with no real interest in the end project, there’s no guarantee that all publicity is good publicity.”

I would argue that Miley’s selling a different kind of sex than your Britneys and even Madonnas once did; she’s portraying a crazier, more aggressive and perhaps more authentic sexuality than we’ve seen amongst female pop stars in quite awhile, barring Rihanna and her IDGAF attitude. [Vice]

Slenderman shows that “adolescent intensity, obsession, fantasy, derangement, illness and yes, sometimes violence, are not the exclusive domain of boys.” [The New Republic]

And if you’re after even more linkage, check out The Conversationalist‘s hosting of the 73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival, featuring links from yours truly and many other feminist musings.

Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Popular Culture as a Feminist.

Recently, a friend questioned why I listen to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast when he’s a known intimate partner abuser. He makes a fair point, as I have shunned Sean Penn and Michael Fassbender movies and R. Kelly and Chris Brown’s music (not that I really had an interest in them to begin with) because of their woman-hating ways. But by the same token, I listen to 2Pac, John Lennon and Prince despite knowing their histories of similar assaults.

I replied that you can’t watch, listen to or read anything these days where the creator and/or their characters haven’t committed a crime or moral transgression. There’s Woody Allen, Game of Thrones, Michael Jackson and, to varying degrees, Bryan Singer, Fassbender and Halle Berry of the current X-Men film.

A lot of the pop cultural morsels I’ve mentioned above I first consumed before I knew about their creators’ wicked ways. I got into professional wrestling and all its problems, rap and hip hop and their misogynist lyrics, and the Beatles and MJ as a teen whose feminist ideals were in their infant stages, but by no means as staunchly militant as they are today. It’s easy to make the conscious effort not to consume products made by artists whose questionable morals you’re already aware of, not so much when you’ve already got a passion for them. (I’ve had conversations with people in recent weeks who did not know about Singer’s rape allegations nor Fassbender’s violent streak; their inner torment about liking something made by someone reprehensible [or at least someone who’s committed reprehensible acts] was evident in their pained, conflicted responses.) When I pointed this out to my abovementioned podcast friend, he asked whether that meant I thought I was exempt from examining the issues with famous men being rewarded for their transgressions just because I happen to like the stuff they produce.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. But by the same token, if we were to avoid problematic pop culture, we’d never leave the house!

I think the most important thing is not to make excuses about the problematic pop culture we choose to consume. I can’t say if I’ll continue to listen to Austin’s podcast but if I do I’ll be sure not to be hypocritical about it. No excuses here.

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [The Smoking Gun] Stone Cole Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[Lipstick Alley] Flashback: Sean Penn Beat Madonna for 9 Hours in 1987; Charged with Felony Domestic Assault.

[TMZ] Girlfriend Fears Inglorious Basterds Star.

[Village Voice] Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Allegations Against R. Kelly in Full.

[MTV] Chris Brown Police Report Provides Details of Altercation.

[Lipstick Alley] Why Isn’t Tupac Remembered as a Rapist?

[Listverse] Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon.

[Daily Mail] Sinead O’Connor Talks About Punch Up With Prince.

[Vanity Fair] Mia’s Story.

[Jezebel] Game of Thrones, Sex & HBO: Where Did TV’s Sexual Pioneer Go Wrong?

[Wikipedia] 1993 Child Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Michael Jackson.

[Slate] What We Know So Far About the Hollywood Sex Ring Allegations.

[People] Collision Course.

[TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Professional Wrestling?

[TheVine] Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

[Social Justice League] How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.