Speaking of Women's Rights: 11/13

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How My Feminist Blog Became a Magnet for Pedophilic Rapist Wannabes.

By Valerie Tarico

It all started with an editorial titled, “Proud Mom of Two Teenage Sluts.” The piece was a tribute to Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, whose defense of contraception had incited Rush Limbaugh to foam-at-the-mouth slut shaming rants. It was also a tribute to my feisty daughters, who at the time were more enthralled with brash young feminist superstar Jessica Valenti (He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut) than with boys. And it included a 30 question slut test.

In the weeks after the article was published, I noticed that traffic to my website was changing. The most searched term? Teenage sluts, followed by a smattering of terms like mom sluts, proud sluts, and mother daughter sluts. I was annoyed. I check traffic to my site because I want to know if I’m making a difference in the world. Pulling together ideas and information takes work. Is anybody listening? Those porn trawlers were messing with my statistics!

I could have simply changed the title, but I was feeling stubborn. When my articles get picked up by online news and opinion sites, paid professional title writers caption them as they please. Often I like their title better than my own, in which case the article goes up at my blog with their caption. But sometimes their titles just suck. They aren’t me. Or I remain convinced that my initial stroke of genius is simply too brilliant to drop, as in this case. Besides—I rationalized—maybe some of those porn seekers would hit my post, hear my motherish voice, be embarrassed by their search for pubescent girls, and give up. Months later, I was the one who gave up. I replaced my title with the one AlterNet had used, “30 Signs You’re a Slut.”

Then things got worse. In the fall of 2012, Republican candidates were experiencing a severe epidemic of rape Tourette’s, spewing such wildly varied rape apologies that an enterprising Kossack created a GOP Rape Advisory Chart in three volumes. Now, as anyone who has bumped into me knows, when I’m not talking or writing about women’s issues and contraception, I’m talking and writing about Christian fundamentalism. Thanks to the fine education I got at Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, I suspected that Republican candidates were getting stuck saying awful things about women and rape because they actually believed them. (Anyone who thought the Bible was the literally perfect word of God and was forced into a corner by a hostile journalist would be screwed.) So, I wrote an article I called, “What the Bible Says About Rape and Rape Babies” (which is, basically: Nonconsensual sex? No problem). And then, as the rape controversy swirled around us all, I wrote another article, about my own sexual assault.

At that point, my self-obsessed ego boosting exercise in statistics became instead an exercise in disgust. rape stories, doggie style rape, young rape stories, daughter rape stories, raping my daughter, I raped my daughter, how I raped my daughter, I want to rape my daughter . . . EEEEEW.

A few months back, a Facebook administrator blogged about the horrible things she and her colleagues have to read when posts get flagged for inappropriate content. In the midst of all of the trivial shit, they had missed a plea from a desperate child who wanted someone to stop a relative from molesting her. The article was haunting, and whenever I see the words, I want to rape my daughter, her words come back.

It’s just a fantasy, I tell myself. Research on violent fantasies shows that they are common. Violent offenders, especially violent sexual offenders, indulge violent fantasies–no surprise. But so do a surprising number of normal people. About two thirds of sexual murderers report rape fantasies. So do a third of college males. Psychologists and criminologists have long struggled to predict who will and won’t commit violent crimes, and so they pay close attention to threats and fantasies. But the crimes are extraordinarily hard to predict. Violent thoughts and talk are common; action far more rare. Many factors play a role in separating one from the other including empathy, conscience, impulse control, means, opportunity and things we can’t measure. Time and again, experts have concluded that “there is no evidence that [criminal] sexual fantasies, by themselves, are either a sufficient or a necessary condition for committing a sexual offense.”

It’s just a fantasy. But what if it isn’t? In early November a Missouri father was arrested because he had posted an ad on Craigslist, seeking someone to rape his 11 year old daughter with him. He brought the daughter to a restaurant, so that his potential child-rape partner (mercifully, an undercover police officer) could check them both out.

Technology is blurring the boundaries between sexual fantasy and sexual exploitation in ways that we don’t fully understand. A Dutch child rights organization, Terre des Hommes, recently sounded the alarm about a rapidly growing form of child sex abuse, webcam child sex tourism. After discovering the trend, they created a virtual child, Sweetie, aged 10, to enter forums where pedophiles prowl. Their program flooded with men offering to pay her if she would take off her clothes and touch herself while they masturbated on a video link. Over the course of a ten week sting, the identities of 1,000 now known pedophiles were turned over to Interpol. Would the men have been willing to do the same thing with a child in their neighborhood or in their home? We don’t know. We do know that the sense of anonymity and distance afforded by the internet disinhibits antisocial behavior.

The science fiction body horror film eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999) played with layers of virtual reality. As viewers followed Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh down the dark rabbit hole, it became increasingly unclear what was real and what was not. At some point as I watched the film, struggling to know which layer I was in, I began to ask myself whether it matters.

Fantasy works for us only because we are able, however briefly and tenuously, to suspend our sense that it isn’t real. Functionally, it probably exists for the purpose of exploring and rehearsing what we want to be and do in the real world. Which layer we’re in matters to a person on the outside, who will wake up to live another day or not, scarred or not; it matters in the blood and bone world that is governed by social contract and law. But on the inside we govern ourselves, and—I say this as an atheist–what matters is whether a person is deforming his or her own soul, the part in each of us that endures beyond the present moment and is shaped by it.

Our choices matter, regardless of which layer we are in, even the fantasies we cultivate. As the Native American parable says, the dog you feed is the one that wins. Those anonymous lurkers who troll the internet for pedophilic rape porn—what are they feeding? Who are they in the process of becoming? I wish that the next time one of them came to my site his screen would simply turn into a mirror.

And I hope this article inadvertently becomes the most popular pedophilic rape porn destination on the web.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light. and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder of WisdomCommons.org. Youtube: AwayPoint

This blog was originally posted on November 18, 2013 on Away Point, reposted with permission.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You should quit singing along to this song.

by Beth Leonard

This summer’s pop hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke continues to generate controversy as well as copious air time. Despite accusations that the song is an anthem celebrating rape culture and sexism, I still seem to hear it whenever I turn on the radio.  Every time I hear the sounds of the song’s catchy beat, I am struck with the realization that the song’s publicly debated rape culture infused lyrics have not slowed down its popularity in US pop culture.  Are we all in denial about the song’s messaging, do we not care what the message is, or are we celebrating the message?

Criticism of Robin Thicke and Blurred Lines emerged as the song first hit the airwaves. The images in the song’s video, fully dressed men and half naked women, have received negative attention as well as the song’s lyrics themselves.  Upon a close listen, it becomes clear that the “Blurred Lines” being sung about refer to the boundaries between what a women says or does and what a woman wants. Robin Thicke seems to be suggesting, especially when he refrains “you know you want it” throughout the entire song, that people that say no, meaning people that are good girls, actually want to have sex despite what they say.  As many people know, this idea, that women want to have sex even when they say no, is the centerpiece of rape culture.

Potentially even more upsetting than the content of the song and the video is the manner in which criticism of the song has been received. Robin Thicke has staunchly defended the song as being pro-women, claiming that the song promotes a woman’s choice and celebrates their beauty. Additionally, Mr. Thicke went so far as to say that the song could not be a part of rape culture or sexist, because he and all the other men who made the video are married. Essentially, he is claiming that married men are anti-sexist and all respectful of women, and  that marriage is a cure for rape and sexism.  This claim would be laughable if it wasn’t so offensive.

But all this being said, I think the most telling part of the “Blurred Lines” controversy is that we all still hear the song despite the strong criticism. It is on the radio every day, which means it can be heard in the background at the grocery store or at the dentist’s office, and its catchy tune is stuck in our heads.   What’s troubling is how true it is – rape culture and sexism are all around us, and even though we sometimes notice and criticize it, the awareness does not stop us from collectively singling along. 

Beth Leonard is a recent law school grad and new lawyer. She is currently the Project Coordinator for Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project. 

Creative Common photo credit here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Free or low-cost health insurance coverage? It's time to sign up!

Heather has insurance now! Do you?

By Roberta Riley

20 minutes flat. That's how long it took Heather to sign up for free medical and dental insurance. I know because I timed her. And let me tell you, it was a joy to see her doubts and fear melt into such a happy surprise.

"I was expecting a lot of red tape and fine print," she admitted.  Now that she’s enrolled, come January, she can finally get her teeth cleaned and update her tetanus shot. (Scissors cuts are common in her line of work).

Heather, 28, is one of the women I introduced readers to recently. She is working hard to get her new business, Canary Salon, up and running on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Last time she cut my hair, I began to realize why she had such a hard time believing she could ever afford health insurance.  Tears welled up in her eyes when she told me about a bill for a routine lab test, sent to an old address months after she’d moved, that nearly ruined her credit rating.
When she’d looked into insurance earlier, she discovered high monthly premiums, pricier than a doctor visit, plus high deductibles and pages of fine print.

No wonder she harbored serious doubts about her odds of getting free or low-cost coverage under the new law.

Free or low-cost coverage, you ask? Hard as it is to believe, it’s true. Depending on your income, you, like Heather, may qualify for qualify for free or low-cost coverage.
How did this happen?
Governor Inslee and the Washington Legislature accepted federal money offered by the Affordable Care Act to transform what was once Medicaid into a much bigger, broader program than we've ever had. Apple Health (for kids and now adults as well) is our state's way of ensuring that care is efficiently purchased, which makes it less costly for everyone. 
Heather's tax dollars will be working for her. But she is not the only one: roughly 300,000 low-income workers in our state qualify for no cost medical and dental coverage. 

They simply need to sign up. Now.

In addition, many more families will qualify for reduced cost health coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Roughly half of all uninsured Americans are expected to qualify for help with their premiums. About half of young people between 18 and 35 are likely to be eligible for coverage for $50 a month or less.  You could get reduced cost coverage if you make up to $94,200 a year (for a family of four).

The new law requires all health plans to cover the care you need, even if you have a pre-existing condition. "Now, under the Affordable Care Act, all health plans must provide at least a minimum level of meaningfulcoverage," explains Mike Kreidler, Washington state Insurance Commissioner.

All you need to do is sign up. Now.

To begin, pour a strong cup of coffee and gather:

  • Last year’s tax return and this month’s income information;
  • Your bank account information; and
  • Birth dates and social security numbers of everyone in your household.
Next, if you live in Washington State go to the official website:
Or call 1-855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633)

Don’t miss the deadline to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Roberta Riley currently works for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has also served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Leaning In To Elect Women

By Liz Berry

Washington’s women have been leaning in politically since our territorial days.

Women were granted the right to vote here in 1910 – a decade before the 19th Amendment was ratified. In 1926, Seattle mayor Bertha Knight Landes became the first woman to lead a major American city. Our state affirmed a woman’s right to choose in 1970, and in 1976, Dixy Lee Ray became one of the nation’s first female governors.

And almost a decade ago, Governor Christine Gregoire and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were elected as part of a history-making trio of women leaders to the top three offices elected statewide.

But instead of moving forward, we’ve slid backward. In the early ‘90s Washington led the nation, with women holding more than 40 percent of the seats in our state legislature. Today, it’s 30 percent. There’s only one woman statewide officeholder, Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Of Washington’s 37 cities with more than 30,000 people, only seven have elected women mayors. 

The impact of this scarcity is fewer women who can ensure our voices are heard on hot-button issues including reproductive parity, health care, education, child care and family planning. Many elected officials don't consider the impact of budget cuts or policy changes to women, simply because they don’t view the world through that lens.

Washington has an incredible pool of talented women leaders. From chief executive officers and executive directors to heads of neighborhood groups and PTAs, skilled women are improving our business climate, education system and communities.

But few of them choose to run for office.

There are many reasons women don’t run – from raising families to lack of confidence in their abilities. How do we change that? It starts with each of us asking a woman to run.  And it must start early.

study published by the Women & Politics Institute (WPI) shows a persistent gender gap in political ambition that starts as early as grade school. That’s why I donate my time and money to organizations like the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), which encourages women to run, trains them and supports their campaigns, and also to Running Start, which gives young women and girls the encouragement and skills to pursue a career in politics. 

The WPI study also found that college-aged women who pursued leadership positions were more likely to run for office in the future. Running Start’s program Elect Her aims to build this pipeline by training college women to run for student government. I am excited that Elect Her is coming to the University of Washington this spring.

For 40 years, NWPC has worked to engage more women in our state in the political process by recruiting, training and electing them. This year, NWPC endorsed more than 60 women candidates in local elections. 

The NWPC recently conducted a survey of its members and found that the most important factor in deciding to run for office is a strong network of support. Women can provide that support through the power of the pocketbook. In 2012, women made up less than 30 percent of political donors. As women, we need to support women candidates with our funding, our growing influence and networks, and most importantly, our votes.

Washington women are leaning in and running for office. Now it’s our turn to lean in and elect them.

Liz Berry serves as the endorsement committee co-chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and on the Board of Directors of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC).  She is an Advisory Board Member of Running Start, an organization that encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in politics. She has previously worked as a campaign manager for women candidates and as Legislative Director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Photo credit:

Top photo:
Celebrating 40 years of the National Women's Political Caucus with (from left): former State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, Liz Berry, First Lady Trudi Inslee and NWPC President Linda Mitchell.

Bottom photo:
National Women's Political Caucus campaign training with (from left) the Honorable Marcie Maxwell, Claudia Kauffman, Lisa Brown, and candidate Jessie Israel.