Tag Archives: rape

Women’s History Month: 2015

1 Mar

Womens-History-Month-300x153Today marks the 29th year we celebrate National Women’s History Month. My dear friend Molly Murphy MacGregor led the pioneering effort to recognize how women have impacted, shaped, and influenced our world. Molly — always very humble — is the co-founder of the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) and a key force behind why we now celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States. The not insignificant move forward started in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.  Finally in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity.

Sadly, we still see enormous resistance to treating women equally and equitably. The Republican controlled house sent a very clear message when they voted no on the equal pay act. This past February we saw Representative LaVar Christensen and Representative Brian Greene trying to defend rape, a very sad echo of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock talking about “legitimate rape.” Yes, we continue to witness myriad vicious attacks on women and their bodies.  John Boehner and his ilk seem to want property rights to every vagina in America.

Over the course of the month we will look at women pioneers and women who fought for civil rights, while we also examine the continued hypocrisy and double standards that exist, as we witness right wing extremist policing women’s eggs.  Reproductive health is debated by men (Catholic Bishops? Darrel Issa‘s all-male birth control panel?) with paternalistic moralizing and no reference to women at all. Sadly, it is not just men that are trying to control women’s bodies, but a faction of self-loathing women — who have internalized male oppression — are also hurting women. Are you listening Susan G. Komen Foundation? Helping everyone learn Women’s History is the best preventative for creating any new Phyllis Schlaflys or Karen Handels.

We have much to celebrate and much work yet to accomplish.

Happy Birthday, Artemisia Gentileschi.

8 Jul

Self-portrait_as_the_Allegory_of_Painting_by_Artemisia_GentileschiToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Artemisia Gentileschi. She would have been 420 years old today.  Gentileschi was born on July 8, 1593 and remains one of my favorite Baroque painters. She was heavily influenced by Caravaggio. It is not a big surprise that women were not accepted as legitimate artists during the Baroque period, which makes it that more impressive that our Gentileschi was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence.

Artemisia was the daughter of the well known artist, Orazio Gentileschi. Her father had commissioned Agostino Tassi to tutor Artemisia.  The raping of women not being an uncommon practice, Agostino Tassi and Cosimo Quorlis raped Artemisia. A seven month trial ensued, basically raping Artemisia repeatedly by subjecting her to a gynecological examinations and the use of torture (thumbscrews) to corroborate the truth of her allegation. Eventually, Tassi was sentenced to one year in prison. I suspect that my favorite painting of Artemisia Gentileschi’s is Judith Slaying Holofernes; I always wonder if in someway she is telling her own story of being raped through Judith. The painting features in a fantastic Masterpiece Theatre movie called Painted Lady that one should see to learn more about our Artemisia.  The movie was written for and stars our Helen Mirren.

Artemisia knew the low regard given women in the arts and started her career with bold images. As was customary for the time, many of her paintings depict biblical scenes and stories. She focused on depictions of women, especially strong women dealing with difficult circumstances. Her struggle to be taken seriously and her horrific experiences during the rape and trial helped to inform her work.

She is known as a master of both chiaroscuro and tenebrism, making expert use of light and shadow to create powerful images through contrast and dramatic illumination. While she is most associated with Florence, she lived and worked in Rome, Naples, and Venice, taking in the influences and styles of all the major art scenes of the day. In the 19th Century, her works were used to shock students — can you believe a woman did this?! — but her career was given new life in the 1970s as feminist art historians (both men and women) demanded she be given her proper due.

Artemisia Gentileschi is widely recognized as one of the most expressive and progressive painters of her time. Using her life circumstances and her amazing natural talent, she created an impressive body of work (at least 65 paintings) that demonstrate both mastery and beauty.

Hero of the Week Award: June 7, Marcel Neergaard

7 Jun
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Proving decisively that you’re never too young to make a difference, this week’s hero spoke his mind and made a real change. Marcel Neergaard is 11 years old. He is also gay. He lives in Tennessee and was so mistreated and abused in school that his parents are home-schooling him now. The Neergaard family was horrified to learn who StudentsFirst had named as their 2012 Reformer of the Year: Rep. John Ragan. Ragan is the author of the nasty “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban any reference to homosexuality in Tennessee schools.

Marcel decided to do something about it. With his parents help, he created a MoveOn.org petition demanding that the award be rescinded. He also recorded an impassioned, articulate video about the harm that Ragan and his ilk do.

During my first year in middle school, I experienced severe bullying. I was called terrible names that were quite hurtful. At that time, I had just realized that I’m gay, and the bullies used the word “gay” as an insult. This made me feel like being gay was horrible, but my parents told me otherwise. Their support was tremendous. But as powerful as their love was, it couldn’t fight off all the bullying. I don’t want anyone else to feel the way I did. No one deserves that much pain, no matter who they are. This was my reason for writing the petition.

Wow!  How impressive is Marcel here?  The story has a happy ending. Months of pressure from LGBT activist groups did nothing to sway StudentsFirst. Marcel Neergaard was more successful. Within days, the group rescinded the award and issued a statement supporting Federal anti-bullying legislation. Says Neergaard,

It seemed like the right thing to do, and the fact that there’s a chance to not do that sounded like you were saying, ‘Yeah, I was bullied and I’m going to let those bullies win.’ It’s giving up to them. It’s giving up to myself.

What an amazing young man! The world needs more people like him.

Honorable mention this week goes to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). During hearings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the military’s disgusting record of dealing with sexual assault and rape, the senators demanded action. As the commanders offered excuses and dodged issues of reporting and prosecution, McCaskill let them have it.

I don’t care how good a pilot it is, I don’t care how good a Special Ops person it is. Their ability to perform as a soldier or an airman or a member of the Coast Guard is irrelevant to whether or not they committed a crime.

Gillibrand was equally firm, noting the extent to which the problem is embedded in military culture.

You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases.

Thank you, Senators, for speaking truth to power!

Bigot of the Week Award: May 31, Roman Polanski

31 May
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

I need to send out a huge thank you to my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for her nomination of this weeks’ bigot! Outspoken director Roman Polanski managed to add to the wrong side of his legacy with some very misogynistic comments this week. Speaking to the press at the Cannes Film Festival, Polanski offered bizarre non sequiturs, medial nonsense, and vicious sexism–I suspect we need to up his Haldol dose significantly!

I think it’s a pity that now offering flowers to a lady becomes indecent. […] trying to level the genders is purely idiotic. I think it’s a result of, like everything else and I will be Marxist here, of progress in medicine and these are outcomes of it. I think that the Pill has changed greatly the woman of our times, masculinized her … that chases away the romance from our lives and that’s a great pity.

I’m not sure where to even start with this. The most innocuous bits are the strange idea that offering flowers is anti-feminist (perhaps he needs to work on his delivery…) and the nonsensical claim that anything he said is vaguely Marxist. (Remember, Marx was a  defender of women’s rights!)

Far more troubling is his absolute dismissal of any attempt at gender equity. Does he not understand oppression? This isn’t about all people being identical, it is simply about social justice — ensuring that all people have equal opportunity and access. Apparently he’s getting his science from the modern GOP, too, claiming that birth control masculinizes women and destroys romance. That manages to be a mix of medical lies and outright lunacy. One would think that a man who built his career on movies exploring sexual freedom — including the S&M picture that got him to Cannes — would be a bit more celebratory of science that makes sex more free from consequence.

Polanski may have directed a couple of classics and suffered some significant personal tragedies. One would think that being a Holocaust survivor and having his wife brutally murdered would have endowed him with a greater sense of empathy and the human condition. Alas, it has not. He also skipped town the day before his sentencing on unlawful sex with a minor after raping a 13-year-old. He’s been a fugitive from justice for nearly 40 years. It seems he’s also a fugitive from common sense and basic decency.

Announcing the Clarence Thomas Award for Sexual Misconduct

16 May

ThomasDoDRecent events in the U.S. Military have led to the creation of a new SJFA award! Named in dishonor of (In)Justice Clarence Thomas, who blamed the victim, distorted the truth, and winked and nodded his way into a lifetime appointment — at the expense of Anita Hill — this award will be announced irregularly when any person or organization qualifies. A combination of monumental misogyny, callous disregard, and overt sexual hostility are the requirements. Sadly, we may see awards far more often than we would like.

Since the inclusion of women in the military, sexual assault and forced prostitution have been very real problems. Over the past decade or so, as women have moved into positions of greater authority, the Pentagon has indicated the intent to address the issue. Sadly, two recent events prove that whatever they are doing isn’t working. (Perhaps they’ve been taking strategic advice from the Catholic Church…)

Last week, an Air Force officer was charged with sexual battery; this week an Army Sergeant First Class is being investigated for forcing at least one subordinate soldier into prostitution, and for sexually assaulting two other soldiers. The common thread? Both were in positions of authority and power to investigate and prevent sexual assault!  Maybe they just didn’t read the job descriptions properly.

Based on the ongoing problems faced by LGBT personnel since the repeal of DADT and the shocking lack of effective health training for women, it’s clear that the U.S. Military is still living in the 1920s before all that equality stuff got in the way. The Pentagon must provide real leadership, and real consequences, to change the culture or the behavior will never change. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, is demanding such change.

It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn’t working. I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision making process for these types of serious offenses.

Sounds like it’s time to send a woman in to get the job done right.

Bigot of the Week Award: March 22, CNN and Poppy Harlow

22 Mar
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Thank you to my friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this week’s Bigot story.  What a sad tale to tell — how tragic that we see patriarchy put above all else, as Poppy (a woman) bemoans the verdict of the rapists in Steubenville, OH and gives no mention of the rape victim and how the rest of her life has been impacted.

Yes, I have some empathy for the two men who raped the young girl, but I was mortified to see CNN and Poppy Harlow talking ad nauseam about “these poor young men,” and how impressive they were.  She goes on to sing their praises because they offered an apology.  Is it just me, or is this whole thing totally screwed up?  Sadly, I found CNN and Poppy to be quite loathsome.  What about the young woman who was raped? What about her life? Let us not forget that these young men — whom you fawn over — drugged the young woman, repeatedly raped her, and then dumped her body in a yard where they then proceeded to urinate on her. How dare you sing the praises of these two rapists while not giving any acknowledgement of the physical and mental anguish the victim will suffer for the rest of her life. Have you no shame?

Just like Penn State, we see hints of authority figures complicit in a cover-up to protect athletic programs while ignoring the victims. Just like too many examples, we see members of the community heaping scorn on the victim for coming forward. Is it any wonder that so many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported?

If you can stomach it, here is the video of Poppy Harlow on CNN. How sad that we see women in our culture so quick to care take of the male rapists while ignoring the victim — we are truly in the world of Todd Akin.

Hero of the Week Award: March 22, Mike DeWine, Attorney General of Ohio

22 Mar
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

The delivery of verdicts and sentencing in the Steubenville, OH teen rape case this week has created a wide range of responses. Sadly, many have chosen to focus on the rapists and their potential futures rather than on the crimes and the victim. Fortunately, officials with the power to make a real difference in this case are taking it seriously indeed, perhaps no-one more so than Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The first-term Republican has been extremely vocal about the circumstances of the crime and the way it has been handled from beginning to end. His office is pursuing charges against the owners of the house where the initial assault took place; he is also investigating possible charges against the football coach and school officials who may have known about the crime but remained silent to protect the school’s football season. (How disgusting is THAT? Talk about institutionalized misogyny.) Under Ohio law, school employees are mandatory reporters and could face stiff penalties for inaction.

Working with local law enforcement, DeWine and his staff are also cracking down on the people who have harassed the victim of the crime. The case is a sad example of blaming the victim, and many teens and parents threatened her for coming forward. Steubenville police have arrested two girls for their actions against the victim after the case went to court. DeWine stands behind the actions and makes his position clear.

These arrests, I hope, will end the harassment of the victim. We are simply not going to tolerate this. Enough is enough.

Too often cases lack strong follow-up. Thank you, AG DeWine for helping this case be a model exception.

Honorable mention this week comes thanks to my friend Matthew Johnson. He pointed me to a powerful post by punk music legend Henry Rollins regarding the Steubenville case. Always articulate and outspoken, Rollins’ whole post is worth reading. His observations about gender, power, and the messages we send our children are powerful. His recommendations are a perfect expression of social justice.

I think to a great degree, we humans still divide ourselves into two species, even though we are monotypic. There are males and females. We see them as different and not equal. Things get better when women get more equality. […] It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. […]

So, how do you fix that? I’m just shooting rubber bands at the night sky but here are a few ideas: Put women’s studies in high school the curriculum from war heroes to politicians, writers, speakers, activists, revolutionaries and let young people understand that women have been kicking ass in high threat conditions for ages and they are worthy of respect. Total sex ed in school. Learn how it all works. Learn what the definition of statutory rape is and that it is rape, that date rape is rape, that rape is rape.

Thank you, Mr. Rollins. Well said!

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