September, 2011

NOW Event: She Asked for It – How the Rape Myths Hurt Us All

If you’re in NYC and don’t have any plans yet for tonight, why don’t you check out NOWNYC’s discussion on rape myths, and how they facilitate rape and make it hard for survivors to get justice?

Our very own Nancy Schwartzman will be one of the special guests!

Get more info here.

 

Badass Activist Friday presents: Akiba Solomon

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

This week, we spoke with Akiba Solomon. Akiba is an author, editor and freelance journalist. Aside from her regular column at Colorlines.com, she has also written for a variety of publications, such as Glamour and Redbook.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you view your position at Colorlines? Who would you like to reach and what would you like them to take away from your posts? Have you experienced any support or resistance for the subjects you tackle in a way that surprised you?

I’m the gender columnist at Colorlines.com, which means I cover news, culture, health and politics relevant to the intersection between race and gender. It’s a very broad beat, and I tend to feel overwhelmed if I consciously target any reader. So I concentrate on writing with sensitivity, clarity and accuracy and hope people understand my points and intention. I want people who read my work to come away with enough information to formulate their own opinion. If they agree and feel validated, that’s a bonus for me. But if they disagree that’s fine, too.

You presented a side of the Texas gang rape case that was otherwise not talked about very widely. Why do you think the mainstream media mishandled the reporting so badly?

I don’t think all mainstream media did a poor job. The Houston Chronicle’s Cindy Horswell did a hell of a job reporting and writing about this case.

I think overall the problem with the coverage, however, was a lack of depth. If national media outlets didn’t want to devote real resources to this story, they should have left it alone. (I’m thinking of The New York Times here.)

You can’t just drop a straight news reporter into a town as small and interconnected as Cleveland, have him quote a few people who are trying to protect their friends and family members from life sentences and expect to get a story that doesn’t blame the victim. And if an overwhelming number of townspeople truly do blame an 11-year-old child for a gang rape, THAT’S your story.

Your focus can’t be, “How is the town reacting?” It should be, “How was gang rape [aka "running a train'] normalized to the extent that so many boys and men participated in it and recorded themselves doing it?” Or, “Even if the participants believed that what they were doing was consensual and legal, why would it ever be OK for middle school boys and young adult males in their mid-20s to participate in the same sexual activity?” Or, “Why do people keep asking where her mother was – or where the boys’ mothers were? What does that say about how we view male culpability?” Or, “What role did race play in dehumanizing this victim and her attackers?”

I guess what I’m saying is that this wasn’t a straight reporting job but it was treated as such. Unless you devote resources, time and care to a story like this, and you truly search for the story behind the story, it’s too tempting for most reporters to coast on the most basic narrative. In the case of rape, the narrative pivots on the behavior, attire, sexual history, appearance, immediate reaction, recall, race, class and alleged motives of the female victim. In this economy, and with the erosion of even basic journalistic practices, this is going to get worse.

You’ve written quite extensively on the DSK case and advocated for Nafissatou Diallo. Can you summarize the lessons we can learn from this case about the kind of culture that we live in? What makes it especially difficult for survivors, especially women of color, low-income and/or foreign born women to talk about their experiences?

Hmm. This is really difficult to summarize. I would say that if an accuser is female, poor and of color, we live in a culture that will scrutinize her more than the rich white male who has allegedly raped her. This case says that rich, powerful white males are at greater risk of false accusations than poor, powerless women of color are of being raped. If something goes wrong, it’s the woman’s fault, because she’s greedy, a liar, a prostitute or a pawn in a political entrapment plot.

I would say that many, many people think rape is about sexual temptation and desire rather than power and violence. That’s how you get seasoned writers commenting on the appearance of the accuser, and readers posting about how “ugly” she is.

I think low-income women of color, particularly immigrants, are so vulnerable because they often lack of job security, they fear deportation and they know that law enforcement criminalizes them. If you know you’re going to be scrutinized and you already feel confused, ashamed, terrified and humiliated by the rape, why would you bother?

It’s almost safer to stay quiet.

You have voiced some ambivalence about the recent SlutWalk movement. Can you explain your feelings on the movement? Do you have any thoughts on how something like the SlutWalk could be more inclusive and truly intersectional?

I’m happy that so many people have found a way to address sexual assault victim-blaming and assert their personal power. Anything that empowers folks – particularly people who have been victimized in this way – is positive. I don’t condemn the early marches for not being “more inclusive” or “intersectional”. They were organized through social networks. If the organizers don’t have broad, diverse social networks, their march is going to reflect that. That said, this isn’t a movement I would participate in. It doesn’t speak to me. I know from the “n-word” debate that trying to appropriate dehumanizing, dangerous language doesn’t make it less powerful or insulting; just more common.

Do you have any projects you are currently working on that you would like to talk about here? Or is there anything going on in the media/pop culture/the blogosphere that’s on your mind a lot recently?

I have a book I co-edited about Black women and body image called “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Lips and Other Parts”. It was published right before the huge social networking explosion and has since lapsed from printing. My co-editor and I are working on ways to get this book and message back out there because it’s very relevant. As for the blogosphere: my constant struggle is with information overload. What’s been on my mind is how to sift through the political gamesmanship and the crazy that the presidential election is going to spark. It’s already a big racist mess and it’s going to get worse.

 

Thank you for your time and your candid answers, Akiba!


 



There’s a rapist on the loose, but should I call the cops?

I’ve lived in New York City since 1993, on 4th avenue before it was called Park Slope, Red Hook before IKEA and lobster rolls, and after 18 years of nomadic renting, I became a homeowner in Sunset Park. My partner and I moved to Sunset Park for the beautiful views, the diversity of residents, the family-friendly atmosphere and the delicious food. I didn’t move to Sunset Park because I thought it was “safe,” but I really appreciated walking home late at night without looking over my shoulder.

Right now, there’s a real and present danger going on in our neighborhoods. There is a rapist attacking women along 4th avenue in Sunset Park, on 16th street in Park Slope, and in Bay Ridge. He is on his 5th attack since March. These are incidences of rape and attempted rape where calling the police for help would be the logical thing to do.

Statistics show that 85% of women who are raped, are raped by people they know. The “stranger on a dark street” is a stereotype, and the minority of our experiences. But when strangers do attack, they rape in Williamsburg apartment vestibules, on late-night subway platforms, at a Chelsea nightclub, or by the Dunkin Donuts on 4th avenue. I’m a rape survivor, and although I was raped by someone I know, it’s hard for me to truly feel safe anywhere. I take my experience of rape wherever I go. I’m keenly aware of my vulnerability on the dark stretches of 5th avenue by Greenwood Cemetery just after I miss the B63 bus, or the shadowy and loud walkway under the Prospect Expressway when I come home on the F train. I’m vulnerable in these instances not because I’m “a victim”, but because I am a woman, and there’s a predator who is actively looking for women like me.

Grappling with feelings of vulnerability, I turned this experience into action, and created The Line Campaign, an organization focused on violence prevention through multimedia education.  We make films and use social media that teach young people to recognize and prevent sexual assault, working to stop violence before it happens. My work empowers young people to navigate their sexuality through choice and consent, while challenging myths about rape. Rarely in my work do I talk about involving the police or the criminal justice system, because we know that the criminal justice system is skewed unfairly against sexual assault victims.

Right now, we need the police, but after the events this summer, I don’t trust the NYPD. Kenneth Moreno, Franklin Mata and Michael Pena, three NYPD officers charged with rape while in uniform, have made our streets less safe for women. What they have shown us by their actions, is that we women cannot expect protection if we need it. These officers collected salaries and pensions, swore to serve the community, but they raped us instead.

NYPD – what can you do? Educate your officers about sexual assault, make the education effective, mandatory and often. Meet with survivors, activists and allies; we will help you get educated. Make sure your officers have empathy, and weed potential perpetrators out of your ranks. The majority of police officers follow the rules, identify the ones who don’t and get ride of them. Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly: protect the citizens of South Brooklyn, beef up police presence in our neighborhood, but only if you are preventing violence within your ranks.

What can we do? Neighbors, we need to be vigilant and look out for each other. Make signs alerting the neighborhood to recent attacks, make eye contact, talk to each other. Local businesses need to be allies, post our signs, talk to your patrons, make sure they have a way to get home, offer information about car services and bus schedules. If someone calls for help, come to his or her assistance. We have learned from Kitty Genovese, and we will not be passive bystanders. As a community, we can actively participate in making streets safer for women, and we can take rape seriously.

There are two events scheduled for September 14th:
NOW-NYC: She Asked For It, How Rape Myths Hurt Us All 6:30pm
Take Back Our Streets by Safe-Slope March at 17th St./4th Ave 8:30pm

Sign petition demanding increased police presence:
Increase police presence in South Brooklyn

Join the Safe Slope Community
Stay up to date with @thelinecampaign

 

BlackArtemis on Rape Culture and American Comedy

Last month, during an improv comedy event, a man got up on stage to relate a story in which he misrepresented himself and slept with a woman against her explicit will. Any thinking person would call those events rape, but to this guy they evidently qualified as a fun story to tell for laughs. You can read the whole story here.

This reveals a lot not just about the state of rape culture in America, but also about the role of women in comedy, specifically in stand-up comedy. Black Artemis covers these issues in a new article on her blog, Funny Women Are Dangerous: Rape Culture and American Comedy.  Here’s a taste:

Let someone suggest [...] that rape culture in the United States is alive and well, and heads rush to spew conspiracy theories about humorless feminists.

Yet this occurred in a nation where, according to our own justice department, one in four women will be the victim of a rape or an attempted rape. Where violent words like smash, pound, beat, and hit have become synonymous with have sex. Where a female pop singer can’t even imagine being raped and fantasize revenge without getting several advocacy groups on her case while no one blinks an eye as one male recording artist after the next makes the top twenty by packaging rape carols as love songs.

 

Badass Activist Friday Presents: David Zhou and Vivian Lu

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

This week, I spoke with David Zhou and Vivia Lu, who are the founders of Microaggressions, a user-generated Tumblr blog that let’s people talk about their experiences with microaggressions.

Let’s talk about Microaggressions. Can you describe how the site works and what it does?

David:
Currently, Microaggressions is an interactive submissions-based project. Each post includes a short contextualization and the psychological impact on the person. We have a handful of editors who help us select and edit each post to provide a collage of events that depict the volume of daily disempowerment endured over time by people who identify with oppressed social identities.

Ultimately, we are trying to show connections between daily personal experience and larger, systemic and institutional injustices in society. We are also trying to show intersectional experience between various social identities, particularly race, socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality, religion, body issues. At the same time, the project is not about showing how ignorant people can be in an effort to demonize them. It’s really about showing how their actions can create and enforce unsafe spaces that have larger social effects. We are hoping to publish a parallel blog that provides in-depth long-form analysis of the issues at stake.

How did you get the idea to start Microaggressions? Was there a
particular event that sparked the idea, or was it more of a gradual process?

Vivian:
David and I ranted to each other during an otherwise lethargic class about microaggressive experiences from our lives. Eventually we started a meticulous record of microaggressions that have happened or are happening to us. This was somewhat in response to an incident on campus at the time where a student government party running for office had plastered campus with flyers reading, “Two Asian Girls at the same time,” which really upset some of our friends who saw that it evoked pornographic fetishization of Asian women and lesbians, while others completely denied that it was inappropriate in any way. (We’ve written about this experience, and will post an essay soon on the site about it.)

This was our middle ground and answer of sorts, where we wanted to show that some of our friends’ anger was coming from a lifetime of similar microaggressions that relate to larger histories and systemic injustice. We began with incidents that we remembered from our own lives where gender, race (we are both Asian American), class, and sexuality hierarchies were enforced by people around us, beginning with elementary school teachers, family, and peers. Originally entitled “Notes on Everyday Life,” this document eventually became the first posts of our blog when we decided to share it online and ask our peers for their experiences. While we had the idea during college, we brought the idea to life several months later when we had time to look for the online platforms and services that could facilitate our project. Once we had it up, we emailed about 40 friends, and the site took off from there with the help of social networks.

What has it been like being the founders of such a relatively well-known project? Have you made any connections with other activists, and with contributors to your site?

David:
It’s been really exciting and challenging. We get questions, feedback, requests, and critiques every day that expand our thinking about allied and intersectional activism. It’s also been wonderful to meet other folks doing similar work and talking about how we can collaborate. We’ve involved people we’ve only met online into the project – for comment moderation and the upcoming site redesign, for example.

We’d like to take some of the project offline – into print media and conferences – in order to engage audiences who might not be connected to the social justice blogosphere. We really appreciate when people reach out to us!

Have there been any contributions that particularly touched you?

Vivian:
The fact that people submit and spend their time contributing to the project with experiences from settings as mundane as work and intimate as family is really touching to me. David and I would have long fizzled out if we were just posting our own experiences. Most recently, I really appreciated that we recently were contacted by a concerned individual to create a separate trans* tag, and have since received a lot of trans microaggressive experiences to post.

We have a little number on all of our posts that count how many times people have reblogged/liked it, and while the numbers vary drastically from post to post, I really appreciate the ones that don’t get liked/reblogged as much. They’re usually a much more subtle or “everyday” submission, and less particularly shocking/immediately WTF bloggable, which really represents the bulk of microaggressions that really wear people down in their day to day lives.

What experiences have you yourself had with such microaggressions, and how do you deal with them when they come up?

Vivian:
In a way, our upbringings were primed with experiences that have opened our eyes to these invisible oppressive actions.

I grew up in Colorado and began thinking critically about race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality mostly when I moved to NYC for college. I was initially shocked at the visibility of racial segregation of NYC neighborhoods – even simply taking the 7 train to Queens and slowly watching all the white people get off. I was also initially shocked at street harassment I received that was intensely racialized and gendered. This opened the door for me to question a lot more about the ways in which social identities impact individual lives. It was a heartbreaking and devastating process, where I re-learned American history not taught in public grade schools and re-remembered my own childhood experiences and realized the different ways in which social identities I hold affected how people treated me and my family. Because so many of these microaggressions had happened so long ago, the only way to record and recognize them was for me to write them down. For microaggressions now, it depends on the safety and comfortability of the situation, as many of our submitters explain. Most of the time, I don’t call microaggressions out. Sometimes, I’m so bored and numb from unoriginality (Where are you really from? / That’s an interesting major for you.) that I give up.

David attended a private high school in NYC of extreme class privilege, where he witnessed a lot of blatant oppressions along race, gender and class. Growing up in those environments caused us to meet in student organizing circles during college, where we saw even more microaggressive actions by the nature of our work.

What do you both do aside from running Microaggressions? What are some other projects you are working on?

David:
Besides the blog, there’s a lot that we’d like to do with the project. Right now, we’re in the middle of a site redesign that will eventually enable us to launch a parallel blog on the site with in-depth analysis of systemic injustice through personal memoirs/creative writing, essays, and artwork. The redesign will also allow us to integrate better search options and technical features. In addition to the redesign, we are also working on releasing print materials for education about various issues related to microaggressions, for which we’ve gotten many requests. These materials can hopefully be used in classrooms, workplace trainings, diversity workshops, etc. to provide an engaging, interactive way to teach issues of privilege and power.

As for ourselves personally, we aren’t “full-time activists or organizers.” Vivian spent this last year working as family shelter staff at a NYC domestic violence organization, and I taught in Korea. We are both starting graduate school this year – Vivian in sociocultural anthropology and I in computational biology.

While we’re not professional organizers, we believe that our politics are full-time. Anyone can be part of this project if they have experiences to share and the time to listen and reflect.

 

Thanks for taking the time to share your answers with us!

All Posts from September, 2011