As a survivor of campus sexual assault, and as someone who became a feminist and an activist after my own experience of institutional apathy towards my attacks, I feel conflicted. I am so glad that this serious issue is getting more attention, but I am increasingly frustrated and almost scared by the lack of diversity that I see in the survivors receiving national media attention. As I look at photos and watch the media appearances of these resilient, brave survivors I can’t help to feel invisible. I browse a network of campus rape survivors who are working to combat institutional apathy towards rape victims and struggle to find other women of color who are like me.
Why does the representation of survivors in the media matter? Validation of black women of survivors would go against the jezebel stereotype that, in fact, black women are not all sexually insatiable creatures and can be raped. It would challenge attitudes that black women are more to blame for being survivors of sexual and domestic violence and that being raped is just as serious as if they were any other color. An important message that media attention on rape survivors means that “you matter.” Do not other survivors — whether they are men, of color, poor, LGBTQ, gender non-conforming matter, too?
What has contributed to young white women being the face of rape survivors in media? I do not know. It may be a reflection of our culture to be more sympathetic to white female survivors as talking about rape and rape culture in mainstream media becomes more prevalent (a sort of extension of “missing white woman syndrome”). It could be general distrust or fear of the mainstream media to properly tell our stories. Or maybe no one wants to listen. When I first was trying to get attention to my story, I remember reporters, producers, and magazines alike asking me to rehash the painful details of my story only to pick to feature other survivors: all of them pretty, female, and white.
There are obvious differences between Rick Ross’s lyric and Tyler Perry’s film. Harley doesn’t slip a molly into Judith’s Champagne—he drugs Judith with bad lines. She is fully conscious—so conscious, she says “no!” several times, in fact.
The woman who half-heartedly resists the hunk’s advances until she can no longer deny her own desires and gives in, is, of course, a hackneyed and familiar trope of romance novels and soap operas.
Problem is, we don’t see Judith giving in. We do see her saying “no,” and Harley forcing himself on her. We don’t understand that she eventually acquiesced until the flashbacks.
And this is why Perry deserves some backlash—backlash he won’t get from mainstream media—for this scene.
Perry could have easily made Judith’s consent obvious. A breathless “Yes!” wouldn’t have completely removed the “ick” factor, but would have made Judith’s desires clear. Instead, Perry inexplicably chooses to leave the audience in suspense—briefly—as to whether or not an actual rape occurred, all while promoting the dangerous idea that a woman’s “no” is not really “no,” but merely part of the game of seduction. This scene puts Perry in such fine company as men’s rights advocates who argue that date/acquaintance rape is simply buyer’s remorse, and men who argue—as one man did on Twitter last week—that a man has to push to make sure a woman’s “No” is really “No.”
In real life, people who are sexually assaulted sometimes stop resisting to avoid further physical injury. Relenting, or giving in to what feels inevitable, is hardly the same as consent. As many people have said in the wake of Steubenville, “no means no” needs to be updated to “anything other than yes means no.”
Of course, Perry also is out to punish Judith for turning her back on the Lord. Judith’s downfall is foreshadowed when she starts dressing like Kim Kardashian and drinking alcohol. In this sense, it may not matter to the film’s overall morality message whether Harley rapes or seduces Judith. Either she consented, or she asked for it. Notably, Perry screened this film for 100 pastors prior to its release. They gave him their blessings. That fact may be more troubling than the film itself.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual violence, violent language**
We need intergenerational conversations—“beating the pussy up” is a hip hop metaphor for sex that’s not new. We need and have been trying to have a conversation about the violence this metaphor (and others) conjures but folks using it don’t understand themselves to be talking about intimate partner violence when they use it. It is used by men and women to describe sexual prowess, not violence, despite its employment of the violence of “beating”. In reading the framing of the outrage we see elders taking issue with Till being compared to the “anatomy of a woman” and “domestic violence.” That’s not quite what’s happening and we wonder if intergenerational strategies can help alleviate some of these misreadings. Rather than domestic violence, perhaps we can shift our frame to think about sexualized violence and violent sexualities more broadly, which, to be clear, are not always practiced in the context of traditional understandings of intimate partner violence or under duress or coercion. Patricia Hill-Collins already hipped us to the violence that undergirds many discussions of black sexual prowess in her incisive reading of black colloquial usage of the term “booty” and it dual meaning/invocation as both the spoils of war and conquest (i.e. violence) and as the long standing icon of black women’s sexual desirability. Too much connection to be coincidental, no? This framework might allow us to see how violent sexual prowess acted out on the bodies of women of color is a staple of hip hop and popular culture more generally. The issue is not just the ill-informed invocation of Till’s brutal murder but the normalization of brutality acted on women’s bodies.
Is it because it’s Emmett Till? Perhaps we are bugging but doesn’t it disturb people that sex= “beating the pussy up” in the hip hop landscape already? Like “beating the pussy up” is only offensive insofar as Emmett Till is implicated through Wayne’s simile? In no way are we excusing this lyric but it’s interesting to us that the invocation of Till seems to move people in ways that regular misogynoir does not. Perhaps it’s because folks understand the dangers of the US’ ahistorical forgetting, a result of which is that many younger folks might not even know who Emmett Till is (even MTV had to assume the ignorance of their young audience when they first reported the fiasco). What a shame for those who will first come to know of Till through Wayne’s verse. Yet, what shame for us all that we are yet again confronted with violence to women bodies and our outrage seems limited only to the context of its description. We are not surprised by the lyric as it seems to follow the logic of “shock” that we see in verses by Wayne, Odd Future and others. Perhaps this outrage is a way to capitalize on people’s reverence for the freedom struggles of Black people but it makes us incredibly sad that the most women can hope for are comparative politics that attempt to equate our humanity to someone elses for it be understood as valuable. I shouldn’t have to be your sister, mother, cousin, daughter, Emmett Till for you to care when I say your words grate on people’s understanding of me as a person.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, other forms of sexual violence**
Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.
The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape. Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.
To protect Native women, tribal authorities must be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists — regardless of race. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”
Leaving aside the fact that most Native defendants tried in the United States face Indian-free juries, and disregarding the fulsome notion that Native people can’t be impartial jurists, Mr. Grassley got his facts wrong. Most reservations have substantial non-Indian populations, and Native families are often mixed. The Senate version guarantees non-Indians the right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.
What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.
The document, which was given exclusively to Vibe, the Till family asks Weezy to think before he speaks and to take ownership of the power of his celebrity status:
"Yesterday marked a week since the ‘unofficial’ release of ‘Karate Chop~remix’ inclusive of your lyrics. The words we speak are powerful enough for preservation of life but also have the capacity to destroy it. When you spit lyrics like ‘Beat that p—-y up like Emmett Till,’ [sic] not only are you destroying the preservation and legacy of Emmett Till’s memory and name, but the impact of his murder in black history along with degradation of women.
"The tongue possesses power! I could offer you a history lesson and talk about the trailblazers that paved the way for our people and lyricists to engage in freedom of speech such as Marcus Garvey, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mamie Till Mobley; but this isn’t an argument about freedom of speech. It is critical that we stay true to urgency of the hour… our youth! Your “celebrity” thrusts you into the spotlight affording you the opportunity to embrace your role as a black man, father, friend, and artist that has the ability to reach international audiences. Are you bothered in the least by the staggering statistics of the extinction of our children?"
While Epic Records removed the Till verse from its release, is it time for Lil Wayne to respond personally?
In all of the accolades and commemorations about Rosa Parks today, this is what has been subsumed in it all—she also advocated for the protection of Black women against sexual violence in the South.
**TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual harassment**
It was a Monday afternoon at the theater in Lucknow, a small city not far from Delhi, somewhat old-fashioned by reputation. We–the women in the audience–were wearing the loose, concealing clothing that women usually wear in Lucknow. The three women on stage were dressed similarly, but in striking combinations of black and pink. The audience was excited, maybe a little tense. During the introductory remarks, the Delhi rape case had been brought up again. About ten minutes into the play, the atmosphere changed when she walked on stage. Black hair, black top, short black skirt, long brown legs. She looked good, but she wasn’t trying to titillate anyone. She spoke with a kind of serene authority “Meri short skirt ka aap se koi lena dena nahin hai.” My short skirt has nothing to do with you.
The play was Kissa Yoni Ka, or The Vagina Monologues translated into Hindi. (Starring Varshaa Agnihotri, Rasika Duggal, Dilnaz Irani, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, and Dolly Thakore and translated gorgeously by Ritu Bhatia and Jaydeep Sarka.) This staging was the first in Lucknow, part of a week-long drama festival called Repithvar. Two years ago, the same festival had tried to bring this play to Lucknow, but it was cancelled at the last minute when the cultural minister objected to the “adult” material Bhupesh Rai, the festival organizer told me. Dolly Thakore, one of the stars of the show, told me that she was happy to have an opportunity to perform in cities where The Vagina Monologues had previously been banned at a time when rape and child molestation were at the forefront of discussion in India. Dialogue about violence against women is opening up across India, and this play is a part of that.
After the play was over, I tried to figure out why the short skirt monologue was the one that made it hardest for me to hold it together. And I thought, seeing this woman onstage, seeing the way she took control of everyone in the room made a lot of lies go away, at least for five minutes. One of them–that women get raped because of what they wear. Another–that the fucked-up ways of thinking that make this monologue necessary are isolated to certain countries and people of certain skin colors. Originally, the same defense of short skirts was written in English for an American audience. There, too, women don’t get to wear short skirts without occasionally being told they’re asking for rape. (Even my high school “health” teacher also told a classroom full of teenaged boys and girls that women who wear short skirts are asking for rape.) Kissa Yoni Ka was translation at its most powerful.
On December 14, Two-Spirit leaders from 12 different states called upon the two principle negotiators of the reauthorization the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Vice-President Biden and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), to include Native women. This action was taken in light of news reports that Cantor was supportive of this bill as along as one key provision was removed: the protection for Native American women.
The Two-Spirit leadership asked for tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit acts of domestic violence or violate protection orders against our Native women; clarifying tribal civil authority to issue and enforce protection orders regardless of the nationality, race or sex of the offender; and for Federal criminal offenses to be made consistent with model domestic violence laws.
Within hours of sending their letter, Lynn Rosenthal, a White House Advisor to Vice-President Biden, responded, “The Vice President is working hard to get an agreement on VAWA that includes criminal jurisdiction and protects all victims.”
Later that day, the same group of Two-Spirit leaders called on the members of congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, Native American, and Progressive Caucuses to stand with our Native women.
Native women experience domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking at crisis levels.
According to United States Justice Department, rates of domestic violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are among the highest in the United States when compared to other ethnicities. Nearly half of all Native American women—46 percent—have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. One in three Indian women will, at some point in her life, experience the violence and trauma of rape.
On some reservations Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
“We must do everything in our power to protect our Native women; enabling them to feel safe and for them to hold their heads high as valued, proud and strong Native women,” said Harlan Pruden of the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society.
It happened in class about a month ago, and I have yet to find the words to ease the levels of high anxiety and horror that I continue to grapple with after hearing this phrase. Part of me recoiled like the 9-year-old little girl I talked about here; part of it was me as a grown woman angry at the fact that rape is contextualized and dismissed as a spectacle. By no means is this quick commentary intended to be a polished discussion of rape and blackness in the popular imagination. Instead, is more sporadic and “off the dome.” It has no shaped trajectory but accentuates the messiness of rape discourse that currently exists in (black) American popular culture.
Aside from my immediate “WTF” moment was the jaw-dropping realization that this phrase annotates a (young) black female body. Rape as a lens of visible (hyper)sex ultimately leads to a conversation about shifting representations of rape and black women’s respectability. In order to be visible a black woman must be “rape-able?” The inversion of black women’s respectability as being considered “rape-able” creates a nasty, imploded lens of black women’s sex and identity that remains situated within historic plantation sexual politics. Black women as rape victims is stymied by the belief that black women have “moved past” victims–a status that was reserved for, you know, ‘respectable’ white women wary of predatory black men–to proponents of rape discourse because of the destabilized foundation of rape as traumatic discourse. Further complicating rape-ability is the investment by young black girls in the belief that rape equivocates good sex and, thus, removes the pain and trauma associated with rape. Due to (tweet) trends like “It Ain’t Rape If…” and shows like Family Guy and South Park categorizing rape as a joke, “rape me so good” opens up the horrifying possibility of black girls being open and prone to rape in order to be considered ‘deserving’ of warranted or unwarranted sexual attention “just for shits and giggles.”
On the flip side of this question is the implication(s) of what phrases like “rape me so good” suggest for black boys and black men? Upon asking my male students if they had been sat down and talked to about rape and rape prevention they shyly admitted they had not. When we talk about rape, it is often gendered and geared towards women without little consideration for (black) men. There is a need to tackle this issue, especially with folks like Too $hort telling little boys to sexually assault girls to get their attention. Indeed, it is MUCH bigger than Too $hort. Compound that with a young girl or woman casually claiming their willingness to be raped because “he fine?” What language is left when a girl or woman, supposedly asking for rape, “gets what she asked for?” Sex as validating men for discourse is a sharp dichotomy of sexual prowess as strength and sexual power as predatory. Real black men smash anything that moves. Real black men grind it out–all puns intended–until, as Rick Ross so eloquently puts it, “put his dick in the dirt.” Yet the limitations of this highly compressed sexual identity leaves little room to express the vulnerability and frequent trauma set as the foundation of this type of black masculinity. In what ways do we address the victim and victimizer? Taimak’s character on the rape awareness episode of A Different World immediately comes to mind because of his inability–and unwillingness–to address characterizations of sexual violence. How messy is it that “no means no” no longer suffices as a band-aid for a serious conversation about rape (prevention).
**TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence against women and girls, racism, misogyny**
Everyone is buzzing about Adrian Chen’s article for Gawker unmasking the identity of Michael Brutsch, better known as Violentacrez, a superuser who contributed to and moderated several of the creepiest, racist, and misogynist forums on Reddit. With reason: it’s a well-written and impressive piece of investigative journalism, and does important work unmasking someone who’s done a huge amount of harm–and the broader user and company culture at Reddit that allowed him to get away with it for so long.
That said, I have some reservations about the piece and how it’s been received. While the behavior of Brutsch and other Redditors is particularly disgusting, it’s worth noting Chen writes for an outlet that’s far from innocent when it comes to racism and misogyny (for starters).
For example: In a piece Chen wrote last year about the”Jailbait” section of Reddit, Gawker included the very images of a 14-year-old girl (stolen from her hacked Photobucket account) that Chen rightly criticized Redditors as “pervs” for posting. Is disseminating these images, without any real journalistic rationale for them, somehow better or more justified when a media outlet does it?
This isn’t an exception with Gawker and other Gawker Media properties. This is the same outlet that gave Cord Jefferson the greenlight to write an article that sexualized the rape of a 7-year-old girl and was extremely insensitive and harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Earlier this year, Jezebel posted screenshots and detailed descriptions of a Libyan woman being raped. They refused take the images down in response to backlash, on the grounds that it would be impossible for them to report the story without those images…
The reporting on Brutsch’s actions and identity is welcome. But I can’t help but note that Gawker Media profits from the very culture Chen calls out of viewing girls and women’s bodies as public property to be exploited. Of course, Gawker is hardly alone in this respect.
So, I was really glad to see a fantastic article by Whitney Phillips, a scholar whose dissertation was on internet trolling culture, unpacking how Violentacrez’s behavior has implications beyond the harm he’s done individually. She points out that 1) troll culture is built on the assumptions of white male privilege, 2) individual trolls like Violentacrez are supported by a “host culture” whose values they reflect–in VA’s case, he was wholeheartedly embraced by fellow Redditors and tolerated by the highest levels of Reddit staff, and 3) there’s not that much difference between VA’s racist and misogynist trolling and the sensationalism of “corporate media culture.”