The Normalization of Rape

If there was one thing to be taken from Gender Studies 125, it would be that nothing is ever as it appears. All year the class has analyzed the media – everything from news coverage to animated movies to awareness/fundraising ads. We have learned that even the things that appear good have their own faults. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, the faults are prevalent and serve as a severe concern.

People may disagree, but Legally Blonde is one of the best woman empowering movies out there. The main character, Elle Woods, transforms her ideals (while remaining herself) in order to achieve her dreams. She studies like crazy, refuses to sleep with her superior to get ahead of her other classmates, and is asked out as a sub-par subtext in the final credits. However, while re-watching this film recently, I picked up on something else. In one scene, Elle gets tricked into dressing up for what she believes to be a costume party. When she arrives to find her peers in regular clothes, one character greets her casually with, “wow, don’t you look like a walking felony.” In addition to the completely unnecessary and really just not funny rape joke, the line is also hints at victim blaming. This is what Elle was wearing to the party.

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Regarding only what she was wearing, the movie accustoms Elle dressing up as bunny to her deserving of rape. It associates what a person is wearing as a justifiable reason for someone else to take advantage of him or her. In her piece The Not Rape Epidemic, Latoya Peterson states on page 141 “…I fully understood the concept of being raped twice – first during the act, and then later during the court proceedings” in response to hearing a lawyer comment on a victims attire. Elle could have showed up naked. Even then, she doesn’t deserve to be “a walking felony” because frankly, no one deserves to be “a walking felony.” No one deserves to be raped, the same way no one asks to be raped; yet the topic is consistently joked about. In addition, people tend to neglect that rape is not just a female thing.

This video was recently brought to my attention, as some guy on my floor showed it to me because “it was funny.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIoha2cc6bM The clip begins with Michael Cera and a female talking via their computers. In week six we read about “hyper-personal effect” which was a term coined by Joe Walther of Cornell University to justify how individuals are more revealing, open and sociable online than they are in real life. The female in the clip asks Michael Cera to “sex chat” in which she places herself “alone in a dark alley”, “vulnerable and half naked.” Michael Cera being unaware to what she is asking of him does not know how to respond.

Moreover, it is important to note that the clip depicts the female as wanting to be taken advantage of, and the male being unsure of what to do. As a testament to rape as whole, this clip speaks volumes about how women are not just victims, but rapists themselves. Although the clip conveyed this message comically, it shows that rape is a multifaceted issue. I am not saying that because the female asked to be raped this makes rape okay, or because Michael Cera was unsure of what to do that in the situation that he is supposed to represent all males because neither of these statements are true. The clip merely displays another side of rape that is not often shown – sometimes males are the ones taken advantage of.

Right here at Queen’s rape is considered a joke. This week, Queens Musical Theatre began running a musical called “Reefer Madness.” The production follows one boy and his gradual obsession on marijuana. The show is funny despite its serious subject matter, and most scenarios are exaggerated for humor. In one scene, the main character is shown in jail, in which the narrator states “prison showed Jimmy many horrors, but they are to inappropriate for our eyes.” During this bit, three other male inmates force Jimmy to his knees and crowd around him, before the narrator cuts them short. When she shoos them off the stage Jimmy praises her and mouths thank-you numerous times. It is important to note that the scene was not essential to development of character or story line. It was placed to add humor because prison rape jokes are so mainstream that they are no longer considered offensive by the general public. It would be harder to find a show/movie that DOES NOT make a prison rape/rape joke than it is to find one that does. The very serious and life altering issue has been made so comical it is a board game – “don’t drop the soap,” allows players to make their way through a prison system.

Although arguably one of the most prevalent and disturbing issues, rape remains a constant. I have watched clips in which women claim that men need to be taught not to rape, I have participated in self-defense classes that would help me ward off a potential attacker, I walk with my keys in between my fingers at night and I hope that people just stop wanting to rape others. People place on blame on the victims as well as the perpetrators, and people edify both protection and human respect. Yet, the issue thrives.

One TV show, One Tree Hill, filmed a controversial episode surrounding a school shooting. In a voice over, one character stated: “Does darkness have a name? Is it your name?” People can blame all they want, and they can try to protect all they want, but rape is carried out by humans, and it is done so everyday. Rape is a physical attack, but it is also deeply moral, mental and societal. Has anyone ever thought to question the occurrence of rape paired with society, culture, humans? They are pieced – paired together like two sides of a magazine or a coin, feeding and building off each other. Rape cannot dissipate until we change, taking giant actions towards a culture so embedded within our society.

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I am Who I am

“I am who I am,” that’s the motto that I believe everyone should rule their lives with. After finishing this course, the strongest message that has resonated with me is that no matter your gender, race, or sexuality you are who you are and nobody should let you feel differently. Due to the fact that I am cis gender and thus receive cis privilege one would say that I have the easy life, as I am what I appear to be. In contrast to what people think, I believe because of the fact that I am cis gender and I receive all of these invisible cis privileges I am more likely to recognize the hardships that trans gender individuals have to face.

A famous case of a female to male trans man that has received a lot of media coverage is Thomas Beatie. Beatie’s claim to fame was the pregnant male. Thomas’ wife could not conceive children and luckily he still had his female organs, therefore he became inseminated and bore them three children. This story received a lot of media coverage, deeming this man a freak show, a freak of nature or just completely unnatural. As a cis gender individual I believe that this story should not be regarded as freaky, but viewed as a miracle! People spend their whole adolescence trying to avoid getting pregnant with the use of condoms, birth control and plan B. All of these techniques are avidly used by youth, but these can have adverse affects after prolonged use making women completely infertile. Beatie and his wife, Nancy faced this problem but instead of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to higher a surrogate or doing donor implantation, Thomas was able to save the day with his female organs. This is a true case that portrays that love prevails over all regardless of your sex or gender and in this case Thomas’s sex that he was born with ended up being useful in their marriage. Thomas truly breaks the sexual script of his gender by bearing children, as he is recognized as the first pregnant man.

Thomas Beatie’s life is back in the public eye as he is now seeking a divorce from his wife, Nancy. Thomas Beatie married Nancy in Hawaii where he was deemed a man without having to show any records of procedures to legally make him a male. Currently, as a resident of America the courts do not recognize Thomas and Nancy’s union of nine years as a legal marriage, therefore will not authorize a divorce. This is not only discrimination against trans people, but against sexuality. Arizona will not allow them to get a divorce because Thomas still has female organs, deeming him a female in the states therefore labeling the couple as lesbians. I believe it is completely unfair that the courts have power over the individuals identity, which is this case is trapping both individuals in an unhappy marriage. Moreover, the court is labeling this couple as lesbians even though both Thomas and Nancy identify as straight.

What is quite interesting is that the first time Thomas was in the media he was presented as the first pregnant male, but now that he is seeking a divorce and they are not authorizing one, they are technically calling him a woman. It is important to question what has changed over the past couples years that has made the media recognize him as a different sex. Was it because the government was not involved so Thomas was allowed to be whatever gender he chose to be? Now that the government is involved is it fair for them to have power over his gender identification and sexuality? 

In addition it is important to question whether Thomas’ race effected his treatment when filing for a divorce. Due to the fact that he is half Caucasian and half Filipino he is lower on the cultural hegemony. Thomas’ mixed ethnicity is seen as a minority race in America, therefore one must question if the rulings would be different if he was part of the majority and thus received white privilege.

Overall, I believe that the plethora of media coverage that Thomas has received; being on Oprah, magazines, newspapers and more has truly been beneficial to the trans community as he has made society more aware of the of the normality of trans gender. As stated on Oprah “he does not see himself as both a mother and father. ‘I see myself as a father who gave birth,’ he says. ‘Susan, Austin and Jensen call me ‘Daddy.’ And that is my name. I’m not Thomas anymore — I’m ‘Daddy.’” Thomas is a strong, outspoken man who he is a great representative of the trans community. The treatment Thomas is receiving is completely unfair and I believe he should be authorized a divorce.

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Racial Profiling Gone Wrong

            The original term “racial profiling” referred to when law enforcement uses a person’s race or cultural background as the primary reason to suspect that the individual has broken the law. A primary and common example of this is airport security. Individuals who are Muslim or physically have an ‘Arab look’ tend to receive extra airport security check because it is automatically assumed that they might be a terrorist.

I have actually had a personal experience with this when my family was driving across the boarder one summer. My father, who has a full beard and mustache and tanned skin, facial appearances that resemble those of Arabic descent, was at the driver’s seat when we arrived at the boarder. Right after he put down the window to talk to the officer, before any questions were asked the officer immediately asked my father to step out of the car and to open all doors. As the oldest child I was asked if “this man” is really my father and if the other children in the car are really my siblings. I blankly looked at the officer and told him that he was my father and that we are going on a family trip. After my father received a pat down and they were done investigating every aspect of our car, we were free to cross the boarder. Unfortunately, this is one of many stories related to racial profiling. Now, statistics have shown that an Arab-looking man boarding an airplane is more likely to be a terrorist. However, do statistics like this give law enforcement officers the right to treat those who physically appear as “danger” different and more extreme security treatment than those who appear “safe,” such as a white individual? Racial profiling has turned into extreme racial discrimination and it is a serious problem that seems far from being fixed.

 

To begin, lets first take a look at this article that I found online:

http://www.cireport.ca/2011/12/canada-racist-prison-system-sees-50-spike-in-black-inmates.html

 

            Evidently, racial profiling is not only a serious problem that occurs in security checks, but individuals that are apart of minority groups are having their lives ruined and limited because of this problem. The above article shares that there has been a 52% increase in black offenders in jail, which is the most dramatic increase that there has ever been. The article also explains that black offenders placed in jail are locked up at younger ages and for longer periods of time. Therefore, if and when they are released, it is at their peak employment time, however they are let back into the world with no employment or housing because their lives have been spent behind bars instead. This most defiantly has an impact on why the poverty rates for coloured people are significantly higher compared to the white population. This is a prime example of institutional racism, which is any kind of system of inequality based on race. Unfortunately, it goes even further than coloured individuals just being charged than their white counterparts. The treatment that this minority group receives in jail tends to be harsher and much more brutal by the officers. If law enforcement officials are treating minority groups with greater enforcement and harsher punishment, then what does this say about society? Individuals look up to officials, like police officers, and if their treatment towards minorities is unfair, then individuals are going to believe that this treatment is just and will follow their lead.

           

            Looking at the history of minority groups, there seems to be influential causes for their treatments seen today. For instance, black students have received harsher punishments in school, a place where all children should feel safe. Therefore, these children have higher chances of growing up into “rebels,” contributing to the reputation that blacks are affiliated with gangs and want to cause to harm to others. Another further contribution to this problem is the Prison-Industrial Complex. The Prison-Industrial Complex helps secure the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other structural privileges by defending current power distributions. This is created through media portraying certain groups as criminal delinquents. For example, in the movie Training Day, Denzel Washington trains a police officer, but by following his own techniques, which are quite unorthodox for the police force. By the end of the movie, Denzel’s character becomes what one would consider a dishonest and disproved cop. When media, one of the strongest influential tools, is consistently portraying those of minority groups as villains or outcasts, it is surely going to influence how society behaves towards them.

           

            Racial discrimination is extremely problematic that requires a change in the structure of society in order for fixture to begin. Media has a large amount of influence and power to help this change, but instead it has been used to contribute to the issue at large. The way media portrays minority groups, such as coloured people, is often done in a negative light and this contributes to the treatment they receive in real-life by authorities. Making assumptions based on one’s physical appearance or cultural background is wrong, even if statistics may prove otherwise. There always needs to be probable cause for search or seizure and this law should remain enforced in all areas of society. 

 

            

Muslim women in the media: Silenced or Sexualized

For many years, particularly the period following 9/11, there has been an overabundance of misconceptions and misrepresentations of Muslim women in American television and film, which has had an enormous impact on the public mind. The negative stereotyping and homogenous outlook has led to a large cultural misunderstanding of Arabic and particularly Muslim women as many Westerners see such women as inferior to the Western defined norm by virtue of their “incomprehensible” difference. These false and exaggerated representations in the media have ultimately led to the oppression of this minority group. As stated in the 2006 documentary “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”, “Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA”. It is no wonder that individuals in Western society hold the same misguided views on Muslim people that are so often portrayed in the media. It is with this post that I will highlight several examples of the stereotyping of Muslim people that is exhibited through television and film. For example in the television show “The Bachelor” and the film “Zero Dark Thirty”.

In Hollywood film and television today, Muslim women are often characterized in two extreme but very different manners. Muslim women are either portrayed as silenced victims or as sexually available and exotic beings. In both these extremes, victimhood and sexualization, the oppression is always at the hands of a man. The abundance of media images of Muslim women pleasing men, through submissiveness or through sexuality, is a constant reminder of the heteronormative society we live in. These forms of pleasure are never directed towards another woman nor are they self-satisfying, but these images always convey men in a powerful position receiving pleasure from the oppression of women, which ultimately represents a male privileged society.

With respect to Muslim women who are depicted as passive victims of masculine dominance, this victimization is often demonstrated in the media through images of cloaked women submissively following a dominant male figure, often for example, images of women shuffling in the background are seen. Moreover, in many movies it is not uncommon to see women covered in black from head to toe, appearing as unattractive and enslaved beings to men. They shuffle behind abusive and dominant “terrorist” men following their every command while not muttering a word. This for example is prevalent in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty”. While I searched the Internet to find a clip or an image to demonstrate the portrayal of Muslim women in this movie, I came up empty handed. After further research, here is why: The movie, lasting over two hours, takes place in many different Middle Eastern cities in the Islamic republic, yet Muslim women are only shown in 13 scenes, most of such scenes taking place at Osama Bin Laden’s compound during the American attack. Not one of the Muslim women shown in this movie had single scripted line (the only noises that the women made were screams or crying), thus emphasizing the stereotypical silenced submissive figure. Furthermore, these women are depicted as the “belongings” of terrorist men in the movie. The only discussion of Muslim women is when a CIA officer notes that Muslim women must live with their husbands and are never found independently living in a home (which can explain why most of the women were seen in Bin Laden’s compound). This comment reiterates the Westernized view that Muslim women are the possession of men, and are oppressed by Islam. In other scenes of the busy downtown streets, occasionally several women in burqas can be spotted in the background, but even this is seldom (I think it is important to note that in present day Pakistan, where several of the scenes took place, many women in fact do not wear any head coverings). Moreover, not only are the Muslim women in this film displayed as the victims of Muslim men, but also are vilified and made inferior in comparison to the “heroic” upper-class white American men. To conclude, non-Muslim people frequently mention veils as evidence of the oppression of Muslim women, and when media outlets such as the film “Zero Dark Thirty” only portray these oppressed images, it is no wonder that non-Muslim people develop such false notions. Not only do these images narrow the Western understanding of Muslim women, but they also create cultural barriers for Muslim women in reality, as they are unfairly judge based on these false representations.

On the contrary a very different representation of Muslim women is also demonstrated in popular media today. The second common representation is of Muslim women being exotic and darkly-tempting sex-symbols. Particularly more recently, exoticized, and hypersexualized images of Muslim women are becoming increasingly popular. Many movies and TV shows highlight objectifying Muslim women as sex symbols, for example in the heteronormative and highly criticized, but ever so popular show, “The Bachelor”. This season, America was introduced to the first-ever Muslim woman on the Bachelor, Selma.

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Selma (The Bachelor, Season 17 Contestant)

It was not until Selma mentioned her families faith, however, that the viewers realized that she was Muslim as she has had numerous cosmetic surgeries to make her face appear less “Middle Eastern”, as well as admitted to undergoing skin-lightening treatment. Moreover, America assumed that she was not of the Islamic religion by virtue of the fact she did not wear a veil. The Bachelor himself was shocked when she confided in him of her religious views, as was the rest of America.  Following the addition of Selma to the cast, “The Bachelor” was praised for “racially diversifying their cast”. I disagree with this statement, as the producers would never include a woman of Islamic decent if she was not a glamorized exotic woman, falling into the category of a conventionally beautiful feminine woman. Adding a Muslim woman who wears a veil to the cast would be unheard of in this television series, as a woman who wears a veil, most definitely does not fall into the Western idea of a conventionally beautiful woman. One also has to note that Selma comes from a highly privileged background, which I believe also played a major role in her casting on the show, as “The Bachelor” always casts professional and successful women of high socioeconomic status in order to glamorize the show, ultimately to achieve a high profit. Finally, I find it hard to agree that “The Bachelor” could ever diversify their cast by virtue that the show exhibits a dominant heteronormative culture, excluding any individual who identifies themself as queer. It would be unheard of if the nature of the show changed to having homosexual couples finding love and happiness. I find it quite ironic that women who identify themselves as lesbians would never be cast on this show, however, the show is constantly promoting girl-on-girl verbal and physical violence in order to win over the “heart” of a man, ultimately promoting female competition and enlightened sexism.

Finally, I personally have felt to a small degree the oppression that Muslim and more broadly, women of Arabic decent face. Based on my physical appearance, no one has ever guessed that I come from a Middle Eastern decent, as I do not fit the stereotypical “Arab” appearance. My family on my maternal side, however, is from the Middle East. After I share this part of my heritage with friends and peers they immediately assume I am Muslim and do not initially believe that I have family from the Middle East, as I do not fit the veiled and victimized Arabic stereotype so often portrayed in the media. Then after telling people of my family background come the endless and repetitive Middle Eastern “jokes” and “remarks” that never seem to end.

It is because of the popular distorted and inaccurate images of Muslim women exhibited in Western culture, that many people have the view that the Islam community equates with the oppression of women and that such women yearn to live in a “liberating” country like the United States. As stated in the 2006 documentary, “Reel Bad Arabs”, the more Arab women advance, the more Hollywood keeps them locked in the past. I am curious about other positions and views on Muslim women in the media. Do you think that American film has become more oppressive towards Muslim women since the tragedies of 9/11, or do you believe that our society is evolving and becoming more inclusive and less narrow-minded on the Islamic faith?

Transgender Male (FTM) Chaz Bono

Transgenders are bodies that are subject to victimization for gender transgressions. Discrimination against these bodies is prevalent, however underreported. Many studies show that many incidents of transgender violence go unheard of, which is a major issue in today’s society.

In 2011, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (DWTS) was one of my favourite shows on television. Season 13 featured phenomenal cast members, such as Chaz Bono, Ricki Lake, Kristin Cavallari, Rob Kardashian, Rob Artest, Carson Kressley, and many other famous stars. Chaz Bono on DWTS aroused major controversy with the media because he is a transgender male (FTM). In the picture below, we are able to view the transformation that Chaz went through with a “before-and-after” photo. In the before photo (left), ‘Chastity’ Bono (female) had long hair and more feminine features, whereas the after photo (right) shows the transformation Chaz went through (FTM) where he encompasses more masculine features.

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On Fox News online, Keith Ablow (2011) posted a transphobic article ‘Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’’ Ablow refers to Bono as a “transsexual” woman, therefore right from the beginning we can tell that he has no idea what he is talking about in reference to Bono and trans people. Chaz Bono is in fact a transgender male. Ablow continues to refer to Chaz using female pronouns, such as “she” and “her” and humiliate him by saying how he is a “woman who underwent plastic surgery and takes male hormones in an effort to appear to be a man, and who asserts she is a man.” The ways in which Ablow is referring to Chaz is degrading and a form of trans bashing. Ablow is a white, successful man who is ultimately arguing that trans people are confused and that this is an issue that can be fixed if they just get help. Ablow believes that trans people do not have a place on the gender continuum. Keith Ablow’s positionality definitely puts him at the highest level of the hierarchy, whereas Chaz Bono, a transgender male who is clearly at a lower rank on the social scale with limited advantages. Bono steers away from cultural gender roles that are deemed normative. Ablow states that by watching Bono on this TV show, children’s gender dysphoria “is a toxic and unnecessary byproduct of the tragic celebration of transgender surgery.” In psychology, I have learned that transgender individuals do not feel any sort of suffering or pain because of their gender identity, therefore this statement is used solely to humiliate these bodies by arguing that trans people do not exist or have a place in our society or world.

Ablow continues to argue that parents should keep their children from watching any episodes that include Bono as children are at their most vulnerable state. He believes that by making their kids subject to such a horror, it “can erode our children’s evolving sense of self.” Trans people are continuously attacked by the privileged, especially those who are cissexual. By denying their children from watching this TV series, they are reinforcing the stigma that is associated with transgender individuals. Depictions of trans people in the media often perpetuates this violence and reinforces the negatives stereotypes associated with these bodies, such as Ablow’s transphobic article. Due to this stigma, trans people are often victims of physical, sexual and verbal abuse, such as rape, hate speech, and other forms of abuse.

Transgender bodies are constantly being victimized for transgressing against normative gender roles. The law is designed for a cissexual body and as a result, transgender individuals do not possess any form of sexual citizenship. Consequently, this leads to violence against trans bodies in many different spheres of society, such as at school, workforce, in the home, jails, etc. For instance, transgenders in prison are extremely vulnerable, especially when compared to those who are cissexual. Cissexual bodies in prison have many more advantages compared to transgenders. This is an example of cissexual privilege, where the advantages cissexuals possess in prison vastly exceeds the rights possessed by transgenders when in the same environment. An LGBT person in prison encourages an atrocious amount of violence. ‘Just Detention International’ (JDI) recorded studies on abuse in juvenile facilities and “found that kids who reported a non-heterosexual identity had been assaulted at twice the rate of youth detainees overall.” Moreover, other surveys have shown that “adult prisoners have found that gay and transgender inmates are, by far, the most likely to be raped.” These studies show the tremendous amount of vulnerability that is associated with being queer. Cultural hegemonies at stake are those minorities, such as transgenders due to cissexual privilege.

Transgender bodies are victimized solely due to their gender that they identify with. Those with cissexual privilege degrade trans bodies by dehumanizing them, using derogatory names and blaming it on a psychological disorder. For instance, Ablow argues that those who are transgender are experiencing a “journey of a very disordered person who endured, and likely will continue to endure, real suffering based on extraordinarily deep psychological problems.” These issues concerning transgender people are increasingly perpetuating violence, should not be tolerated and must come to an end immediately.

References used:

Article on Juvenile Detention International on Vulnerable Inmates:

http://www.justdetention.org/en/vulnerable.aspx

Article by Ablow on Chaz Bono:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/09/02/dont-let-your-kids-watch-chaz-bono-on-dancing-with-stars/

Article on Trans Violence (on Queen’s Library website):

Gender Violence: Transgender Exepriences with Violence and Discrimination by: Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing and Malouf.