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7: THE ROOTS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT Pg. 10: PROTESTING N.Y.P.D. RAPISTS Pg. 11: WHEN COPS ARE THE RAPISTS Pg. 13: BLAMING AN 11-YEAR-OLD VICITIM Pg. 15: DESAFIANDO EL SEXISMO A LA AMERICANA
Our Walk Against Sexual Assault
July 14, 2011 There has been a lot of debate about SlutWalk and the organizing behind this new movement that calls out slut-shaming and victim-blaming. In Washington, D.C., some activists were hesitant to get involved with SlutWalk because there was a desire from the organizers to organize within a nonprofit context, and there were also early fundraisers (which have now stopped after much vocal criticism) at gentlemen's clubs. Despite these problems, this year has brought a wave of anti-woman bigotry and we have had enough! A group of us in the International Socialist Organization drafted these points that we see as central to what we are all organizing for with D.C. SlutWalk: 1. All victims of sexual assault deserve dignified treatment and access to medical care, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental illness, immigration status, incarceration status, physical appearance or involvement in sex work. We demand that all D.C.-area hospitals provide access to rape kits and train staff to administer rape kits to all victims of assault. 2. All people have a right to control their own bodies and personal space. To have autonomy of our own bodies and sexual liberation, D.C. residents must have access to affordable reproductive health care services, including abortions. Reproductive health care should be prioritized in the budget, and we therefore oppose any and all budget cuts that restrict these services, such as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that bans the
District from using its own money to fund abortions for low-income women. 3. We oppose sexual assault in all workplaces. 4. We oppose all efforts of public figures (including politicians, law enforcement and military officers) to belittle and joke about incidents of rape and sexual assault in order to generate and maintain a culture in which sexism is accepted, rather than taken seriously. 5. We call for an end to the deportation of undocumented people who report sexual assault, rape and domestic violence. All people must have the ability to report sexual violence and rape and to receive a medical care without fear of deportation. 6. The police must be held accountable to the communities they serve to the fullest extent. We call for the immediate removal and arrest of any police officer that misuses their power and authority position to abuse and assault people. We demand that the victims of police assault receive justice. Heather Kangas, Washington, D.C.
Sparks of a New Women's Movement
Elizabeth Schulte reports on the recent wave of SlutWalk demonstrations--and what they might mean for a revived struggle for women's rights.
May 17, 2011
Legislation to bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood. More and more restrictions on abortion. Republican proposals to narrow the definition of rape. Laws criminalizing women for having a miscarriage. There's no end in sight to the assault on women's rights. And there's been little or no opposition in sight, either. Until now. Especially in the months since the Republican victory in the 2010 congressional elections, there has been a burst of protest and activism to challenge the war on women's rights. Though still modest in size, it is giving expression to the brewing anger and frustration that many felt about the right-wing offensive, but which had no outlet before. For example, when the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives moved to ban federal funding to Planned Parenthood, local activists organized Walk for Choice marches in cities across the country. And there's the recent wave of SlutWalk marches, which began in January after a Toronto police officer told students attending a campus safety information session at York University, "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." The message: Women bring sexual assault on themselves by the way they act or dress. These demonstrations are the welcome signs of a new women's movement in the making, led by young women--one that can confront the right-wing assault and proudly stand up for our rights without apology or compromise. ---------------When the Toronto cop put into words the message that women hear so constantly, the response was as angry and defiant as the cops' Neanderthal comment was victim-blaming and sexist. Posters appeared around campus that included a long list of York University "don'ts"--the fake list included entries like "Don't go to pub night," and ended with "Don't worry your pretty little head. Don't think too much. Don't get mad and definitely...Don't organize!" Activists didn't follow this advice. On April 3, some 1,500 people showed up for SlutWalk Toronto-organizers had anticipated a few hundred--and a march from a park to police headquarters. Similar demonstrations are being repeated in some 60 cities around the world, from London, Ontario, to
London, England--demonstrating the fact that if given the opportunity to show their opposition to sexism, people are ready to participate. This new wave of activism is showing that, despite the prevalent idea that we live in a "post-feminist" age, where women can sit back and enjoy their equality, many women and men know the truth--that sexism is alive and well in U.S. society. SlutWalk makes the important point that women, just like everyone else, have a right to enjoy sex--and to say no to sex. They have a right to dress any way they choose, and even get drunk, and not be the target of assault. One comment by a Toronto police officer sparked the first protest, but his view is hardly an isolated one. Ms. blogger Stephanie Hallett reported on a rare FBI investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1980s--because of its high rate of determining that rape cases were "unfounded." In 1984, 52 percent of rape reports were classified as "unfounded." One of the circumstances that led police to label an allegation as "unfounded" was if the victim reporting the rape was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Studies have shown that alcohol or drugs are involved in 55 percent of rape cases--in acquaintance rape cases, the number is sometimes as high as 80 to 90 percent. According to the investigation, the Philadelphia Police Department also claimed that women "report rape in order to obtain medical serviced free of charge; 'morning-after' birth control pills, test for venereal diseases, etc." Writes Hallett, "Shockingly, the Philly police department's list of reasons that rape cases would be classified as false also includes instances in which the victim has a history of mental illness and reports a rape by a celebrity." By challenging the idea that women are to blame for sexual assault, SlutWalk organizers are taking back important political ground that has been lost as the gains of the 1960s women's movement have been rolled back over the decades. Protesters' signs at the 2,000-strong Boston march brought back demands from the first women's movement that were once considered common sense, such as: "What happened to no means no?" Other slogans included "My dress is not a yes" and "I ask for it...BY ASKING."
This new opposition isn't coming from traditional sources--from well-funded and well-connected groups like the National Organization for Women, NARAL or Planned Parenthood, which prefer to limit activism to making a donation or sending an e-mail to a senator. Mostly young women, many of them new to organizing, are initiating these activist events, and there are common threads running through them--a commitment to change and a refusal to compromise. As the slogan from the SlutWalk Toronto website explains, "Because we have had enough!" The demonstrations are also explicit about calling for unity and solidarity. As the SlutWalk Toronto website outlines: WE ARE COMING TOGETHER. Not only as women, but as people from all gender expressions and orientations, all walks of life, levels of employment and education, all races, ages, abilities and backgrounds, from all points of this city and elsewhere. We are asking you to join us for SlutWalk, to make a unified statement about sexual assault and victims' rights and to demand respect for all. You needn't claim the word slut for yourself; whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don't have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come. Any gender-identification, any age. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends. Come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us. Join us in our mission to spread the word that those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, without exception. ---------------The Slutwalks also have their critics. But in many cases, the criticisms focus narrowly on the use of the word "slut" and don't discuss the actual message of the protests and the wide popularity of their demand to stop blaming women for sexual assault. Predictably, some of this comes from the right. The New York Post, for example, made fun of the protests, calling them "feminist folly." In a sneering commentary in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente mocked the demonstrators, writing, "SlutWalks are what you get when graduate
students in feminist studies run out of things to do. In fact, they're flogging a dead mare. The attitude that rape victims bring it on themselves has largely (though not entirely) disappeared from mainstream society." Wente dismisses statistics on sexual harassment and assault on college campuses, and moves to the main point of her article--to attack SlutWalk organizers themselves, accusing them of "narcissistic selfindulgence." She concludes, "I guess they mean well. But really, they're so...privileged." Wente's article shows that she is dismissive of the reality of violence against women--except, it turns out, in "South Asian communities" and "certain aboriginal communities," which allows Wente to throw around some racist stereotypes for good measure. But a similar criticism--that the organizers of SlutWalk protests are just self-absorbed--has come from activists who are on the left. A few bloggers have gone so far as to portray SlutWalk organizers as white and privileged, and therefore completely at odds with the concerns of women of color. One blogger even accused organizers of being "white supremacists." These accusations are absurd. First of all, SlutWalk did indeed get its start from an event on a college campus-which is not totally inappropriate since even the U.S. Department of Justice reports that almost 25 percent of college women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. The demonstrations have already inspired thousands of men and women to take to the streets to speak out--and the people who organize and attend these protests appear committed to making them as broad as possible, as the statement from the Toronto website quoted above makes clear. Most important of all is the welcome fact that there are finally protests to comment on--rather than the lack of response to the backlash against women's rights. Writing in the Guardian, anti-pornography activist Gail Dines does recognize that SlutWalk has "struck a nerve," citing the wave of events inspired by the Toronto model. But Dines says she can't support them because of the word slut. She writes, "The organizers claim that celebrating the word 'slut,' and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality." Dines suggests that young activists are better off working to oppose pornography or "find ways to create their own authentic sexuality, outside of male-defined terms like slut."
On her Stop Porn Culture website, by the way, Dines situates herself in the tradition of theorists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who argue in favor of censoring pornography and every man's culpability in violence against women. In the end, Dines concludes that SlutWalk is actually doing a disservice to women: "While the organizers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves 'sluts' is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence." But this completely misses the point of SlutWalk, which is not "promoting sluttishness," but rather challenging the idea that women--and whether they are supposedly "slutty"--are to blame for sexual assault. Some protesters involved in SlutWalks do hold the view that "reclaiming" the word slut can turn the meaning of an anti-women word around--and can therefore be empowering to women. It must be said that even if a group of people tries to use words like slut with a different meaning, this doesn't change its meaning in society at large--nor does it get at the heart of the oppression that women suffer on a daily basis. However, reclaiming the word slut is not the main focus of these demonstrations, and it is by no means imposed on the people who participate. The problem is that insisting on focusing on this question misses the power and importance of the SlutWalk protests. The main point that brings SlutWalkers together is their loud and uncompromising opposition to violence against women and victim-blaming. That is a very positive development. Among participants, there will surely be many different ideas about how to further challenge sexism and what kind of change is necessary to bring about women's liberation. Those ideas should be debated out, just as there will surely be discussions about what strategies work and what don't. Such a discussion will be a welcome breath of fresh air from the non-discussions that haven't taken place in the past decade and more. ---------------When I was in my early 20s, I was riding the train home late at night when a man followed me into the train car and then out onto the platform, making some terrifying threats of physical violence. He isn't the point of this story--he was someone who had fallen through the cracks of the mental health system and who, I found out later, had threatened several other women on the train.
The point is what happened afterward, when my roommate insisted on calling the police. At the station, we were jeered at by cops, with the officer who took my statement yelling out the door, "Hey, get [name]--here are a couple that look like his type." I'd be hard-pressed to call what either of us was wearing "sexy," but we probably attracted some attention with combat boots, thrift-store dresses and punk rock haircuts. It was evidently enough to draw the attention--and jeers--of Officer Friendly and his buddies, the people who in my roommate's imagination were supposed to protect us from harm. Of course, they made us feel totally vulnerable and completely alone, instead. Nothing really dangerous had happened to me, but I couldn't help wondering what would have happened if it had? Would anyone have taken us seriously? This is what I thought of when I heard about the cop at York University telling women what they should and should not wear. SlutWalk is an antidote to this, because it says no, we aren't buying the lies, and we are standing up--all of us together. In marches and protests, women and men are attempting to rebuild the kind of uncompromising fightbacks that can create an atmosphere where sexism isn't tolerated.
Challenging Sexism USA
From cultural expressions of sexism to growing restrictions on reproductive rights, the gains of the women's movement are being taken back. Elizabeth Schulte examines the consequences-and reports on the stirrings of a new opposition to Sexism USA.
June 1, 2011 Joe Scarborough couldn't keep a straight face as his MSNBC co-host tried to report the news of International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest after a housekeeper in a New York hotel said he had sexually assaulted her. The woman--found hiding in the hallway, according to a supervisor, visibly traumatized and trembling--said Strauss-Kahn trapped her in his suite, attacked her and forced himself on her.
But for Scarborough, it was all fun and games, as he laughed about the assault on the air. Others in the press followed suit as they excavated details about the victim--while Strauss-Kahn was referred to in "boys will be boys" fashion with his nickname "The Great Seducer." Then came the comparisons of the Strauss-Kahn attack to the latest high-profile celebrity sex scandal, involving former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's out-ofwedlock child--as if an alleged rape and a consensual affair were interchangeable examples of men "behaving badly." This display was one more example of the lack of seriousness toward the issue of sexual assault--and of the sexist attitudes that pervade U.S. society, even as women are told we live in a "post-feminist" era where we're all equal now and therefore have nothing to complain about. And if you do complain, your either "don't have a sense of humor" or are "turning women into victims." Idiot talking heads at MSNBC aren't the only ones who think rape is funny. Last October, members of the Yale University chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity made pledges chant, "No means yes, yes means anal" at an initiation event--held at night near a freshmen women's dorm. The chapter--whose former members include Presidents George Bush Sr. and Jr.--was eventually suspended, but this isn't the only example of sexual harassment on campus. In 2008, Facebook photos appeared depicting Zeta Psi brothers in front of the campus women's center--which provides sexual assault counseling--holding signs that read, "We love Yale sluts." According to Justice Department statistics, one in five college women will be the victim of a sexual assault. And that percentage is likely to be low, since fewer than 5 percent of assaults will be reported to campus authorities or the police. There's little mystery to these numbers when you hear about what women endure when they try to obtain justice by official means. For example, Laura Dunn had to spend a whole year on campus attending classes with one of the men she said raped her at the University of Wisconsin in 2004. As Dunn told Time magazine: It was as if they were going above and beyond to ensure nothing would be done in my case. I felt extremely disappointed to know that the
institution in charge of ensuring my safety did not recognize the massive distress the sexual assault caused me. Furthermore, I was disappointed that when I sought justice through their system, I was treated with hostility and disrespect. I was clearly not believed and was often blamed for what had happened. ---------------Of course, blaming women isn't isolated to college campuses. It reaches into the halls of Congress. Earlier this year, Republicans tried to include language redefining rape into a bill that would ban federal funding for abortions, arguing that the definition should be narrowed to include only "forcible rape." In other words, it would be the responsibility of the victim to prove that she tried to fight off her rapist in order to qualify as being raped. Public outrage over the proposed change forced Republicans to eventually drop the amendment. But it exposed something telling about the Republican agenda--that it's anti-women to its core. The Republicans want to roll back the gains of past social movements, such as Social Security, good union wages and the promise of a social safety net. And they see the scapegoating of women--particularly of poor and working-class women--as an important component of this assault. So when politicians target Planned Parenthood, they're seeking to ban funding for the abortion services it provides--even though these serves don't even get federal funding--but they're also trying to cut funding to all of Planned Parenthood's women's reproductive health services. The Republicans (and some Democrats) claim that they're standing up against "women who want taxpayers to pay for their abortions." This accomplished, it's easier to take aim against more targets, such as "greedy public-sector workers," people on Medicare or workers who need extended unemployment benefits. In this context, it makes complete sense for Republicans to try to mandate that women prove they tried to fight off their rapist. It's the politics of blame and scapegoating--and women are one of the primary targets.
In the meantime, by almost every measure, the quality of life for poor and working-class women is getting worse. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, on average, a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in a similar occupation. For the 34 percent of working mothers who are their families' only breadwinner, the gender pay gap isn't just bad for them but for their whole family. It translates into poor living conditions, poor nutrition and fewer opportunities for their kids. And the gap grows greater as women get older. Women earn about 90 percent of what men earn until around the age of 35. After 35, women's median earnings decrease to between 70 and 80 percent of the median earnings of men, and remain there until retirement. This, of course, doesn't take into account the unpaid labor that women still disproportionately perform in the home. For example, a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund found that women are twice as likely as men to be the provider of informal health care for an ailing family member at home. Typically, these caregivers come from lower-income households, where some 40 percent live in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. According to the Labor Department, in 2010, women represented 46.7 percent of the U.S. labor force, and they were nearly twice as likely as men to work part time. This wasn't a personal choice, as it is sometimes depicted in the mainstream media--in 2010, one in five women were working part-time because they couldn't find full-time work. Prior to the recession, that number was less than one in 10. Women, especially unmarried women, are less likely to have health insurance. And when women do have coverage, insurance companies routinely charge them higher premiums than men--in some cases up to 48 percent more--for the same plan. Women also have higher out-of-pocket costs and greater rates of being "underinsured." And at a time when there is an obvious crying need for a greater social safety net--for women and men-Washington is demanding that we all tighten our belts. ---------------Alongside the assault on women's living standards and quality of life has come an ideological assault--in the mainstream media, the entertainment industry and in advertising. According to those leading the assault,
women are so "liberated" that it's okay to treat them like sex objects. This new definition of "liberation" is based on a proposition further promoted in the 1990s that the gains of the civil rights and women's movement of the 1960s and '70s--like affirmative action and women's and multicultural studies programs--represented a "liberal takeover" that had gone "too far." Because of "political correctness," the argument went, people were being denied their "freedom of speech." Such claims have nothing to do with freedom and liberation--and everything to do with sexism and bigotry. Yet the argument that men have a "right" to be sexist has largely won over the popular debate. This ideological assault was part and parcel of an attempt to turn the clock back on women's liberation in general. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the women's movement took inspiration from other struggles of the time--for civil rights and Black Power, for gay and lesbian liberation, opposition to the Vietnam War. By making their demands heard on the streets in protest-for equal pay, an end to sexual harassment and abortion rights--the women's liberation movement was able to fundamentally transform the way that people thought about women in U.S. society. American society went from an era in which women couldn't get birth control legally without being married to the legalization of abortion. By putting tens of thousands of people into the streets, the movement made the U.S. population at large more aware of women's inequality and the need to fight for liberation. This gained expression in larger events like the August 1970 nationwide demonstration of 50,000, with the demands of free abortion on demand and no to forced sterilization, 24-hour community controlled child care, and equal pay for equal work. It was seen in smaller ways, too--for example, the 1,000 postcards that came into Ms. Magazine when editors asked readers to send in their names to be published in an ad that proclaimed, "We have had abortions." And contrary to the conservative idea that the women's liberation movement divided men and women, it actually joined greater numbers of people in solidarity with one another. Like the members of the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party, who included women's right to reproductive freedom among their list of demands, likely convinced by their sisters in Committee for Abortion
Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse. Among the Lords' slogans was "Abortion under community control." For some people today, proof of women's liberation was the fact that a select group of women were able to advance themselves in Corporate America or win political office. But that conclusion couldn't be further from the truth. While a small elite may have risen to the top, the majority of working-class women were left behind. And in the absence of any significant movement defending the rights won three decades ago, the powers that be have been able to push back. So the rights of women have been chipped away--most obviously exemplified in the increasing restrictions on women's reproductive rights. Similarly, the history of the women's movement has been rewritten by conservatives who claim that it went "too far." So in the 1990s, conservatives like Morning After author Katie Roiphe got away with writing that feminists had created an atmosphere of "rape crisis melodrama" on college campuses that turned women students into "helpless victims." This flew in the face of what women actually thought. As Susan Faludi pointed out in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, "Women themselves don't single out the women's movement as the source of their misery. To the contrary, in national surveys, 75 to 95 percent of women credit the feminist campaign with improving their lives, and a similar proportion say that the women's movement should keep pushing for change." However, without a movement that could provide opportunities for people to mobilize to show this sentiment, this view went largely unexpressed--and sexist ideas have been allowed to flourish, unopposed. But the last months and years have brought signs--such as the Walk for Choice protests earlier this year, and the SlutWalk demonstrations to protest the blaming of women for sexual assault--that many people, women and men, have had enough, and want to stand up and say something about it. Too long, the politics of scapegoating have been allowed the right to divide us. More people are seeing that we have to come together if we're going to stop the attacks on all of us. And we have to take on the politics that divide us, like sexism, and replace it with the politics that unites and makes us stronger--solidarity.
The Roots of Sexual Assault
How can we achieve a world without rape or any form of sexual violence? Elizabeth Schulte explains what socialists have to say about the question.
June 16, 2011 Slutwalk marches, organized in response to a Toronto police officer who told college students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," have spread to cities worldwide. The attention they have drawn to rape and sexual assault is a welcome development in a society that rarely takes violence against women seriously--and, when it does, shifts the blame onto the woman. Take the recent acquittals of two New York City police officers accused of raping a woman in 2009. In court, the case revolved largely around the fact that the woman was drunk at the time, which supposedly made her story "less credible." But the reason the woman came in contact with police in the first place was because she thought she had too much to drink, and sought their help in getting home. After they took her to her apartment, the officers raped her, according to the woman--a security camera recorded the cops returning several times over the course of the night. The woman even managed to later record a conversation with one officer in which he said he used a condom that night. Yet the woman was supposed to be "less credible" because she had been drinking. Clothing choices, how much she drinks, her behavior, her occupation, if she changed her mind about wanting to have sex--none of this should make any difference if a woman says she was raped. But in the U.S. justice system, all these things are regularly put on trial to smear a woman's credibility. And that's not all. While lawyers and judges may not openly discuss it, a woman's race and class play a defining role in whether she is believed. For example, in 2006, an exotic dancer hired by the Duke University lacrosse team as an entertainer for a party reported that she was beaten, raped, strangled and sodomized by three players in the bathroom during the party. In the media frenzy over the charges, the woman was forced to endure scrutiny of every detail in her life--while the accused were described as young men "with their whole lives ahead of them."
For the majority of victims of sexual assault, the justice system fails miserably. It also fails a number of men who are accused of rape, because the justice system is rigged to punish the poor, and the African American poor in particular. In several high-profile cases through history, the vilification and demonization of young Black men accused of sexual assault has been used to create an atmosphere of racist fear. For example, in 1989, when a white woman jogging in New York's Central Park was raped, the media frenzy led to a witch-that swept up five innocent teenage African Americans men, who were rounded up and charged. With billionaire Donald Trump running ads in newspapers calling for the death penalty and politicians calling for more cops on the streets and tougher sentencing, the innocent men were useful scapegoats. They were later exonerated, but they lost years of their lives in prison. And their innocence didn't stop politicians in New York and elsewhere from passing tough-on-crime legislation that further scapegoated poor minorities. So in the end, there was no justice for the rape victim-or for the innocent men accused of assaulting her. The only ones who benefited were the politicians responsible for whipping up a fear of monsters waiting to attack around every corner. ---------------Statistics show that most rapes and sexual assaults aren't committed by strangers, but by people women already know--including spouses and partners. Some two-thirds of reported rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Thirty-eight percent were a friend or an acquaintance, and 28 percent were an intimate. According to some conservatives, incidents of sexual assault in which the woman knows her attacker or cannot prove that she fought off a violent attack should not be considered rape. Congressional Republicans made this clear when they tried to pass legislation that would narrow the definition of rape to apply only if it was "forcible," making the woman responsible for proving she fought back. That conservatives would even try to get away with such anti-women legislation is a sign of their determination to reverse the gains of the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s--and to take us back to the days when a women could not even accuse her husband of rape.
The women's liberation movement made public the fact that rape happened at home and at school, and wasn't always the stranger in the street at night. The movement raised the slogan "No means no, and yes means yes"--a sentiment that has, over the decades, been all but forgotten in the public discourse about rape and sexual assault. The movement brought the issue of rape out of the shadows and began to create a climate in which women could insist on a different way of thinking about sexual relationships. A small part of the movement furthered an idea that is still prevalent today--that rape is really about male power. For some today, this has come to mean that rape has nothing to do with sex, something that should be shared and enjoyed, but is instead about power and violence. This conclusion is understandable considering the lack of seriousness that sexual assault is taken in this society. But this characterization inaccurately describes the situation in which rape occurs--and does a disservice to those who want to locate the real source of sexual violence and act to get rid of it. The idea that sexual assault is about male power can be traced back to such feminist writers as Susan Brownmiller, who argued that rape was the result of a patriarchal power structure in which all men keep all women in a state of fear and intimidation because of their ability to rape. In her 1975 book Against Our Will, Brownmiller argued, "Rape is a historical condition that underlies all aspects of male-female relationships." While the concept of rape as a man's demonstration of power may strike a chord in cases like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund head who is, indeed, one of the most powerful men in the world, this isn't an accurate characterization for the majority of men, who don't possess such power. If, as Brownmiller claimed, the power to rape underlines every relationship between a man and woman in society, why then is it the case that most men do not rape or commit sexual assault? According to this view, all men are ticking time bombs who could rape at any moment--unless, in the bestcase scenario, they are "fixed" through individual education or censorship of pornography. This analysis focuses the blame for rape and sexual assault on individual men--and leaves the real culprits off the hook. The causes of rape and sexual assault go beyond the actions of individual men. They are rooted in a system
that thrives on furthering sexist ideas that divide men against women. ---------------Under capitalism, women are primarily responsible for raising children, cooking meals in the home and other forms of domestic work. Put in more formal terms, they perform the majority of the labor required for raising the next generation of workers, without receiving a single cent for their work. And at the same time, working-class women's labor outside the home is compensated, on average, at a lower pay than men. Beyond this material inequality, society has furthered a set of false assumptions about the differences between men and women--men are portrayed as the "stronger" sex and women as "nurturers," men are the ones who "pursue" and women are the "pursued," men are portrayed as "sex-starved" while women are chaste or disinterested. Violence against women is the outcome of such a society--a class society that has, for hundreds of years, been maintained in part by the material inequality between men and women, and by the furthering of sexist ideas that divide men and women. Without these divisions that pit workers against one another, it would be impossible for capitalism to maintain its rule. Sexist ideology encourages men to view women as less than their equals. The conditions that working-class women endure--lower wages, inferior health insurance, an added burden of labor in the home--carries no benefit for working-class men. But the illusion is created for at least some men that they are better off than women. In this context, sexist ideas--that women are intellectually inferior or that they are simply sex objects to please men--will gain a hearing among some men, and play a powerful role in further dividing men and women. Under capitalism, everything that can be transformed into a commodity is transformed into a commodity-including sex and women's bodies. This process warps the sexual interactions between men and women under capitalism, and our ability to be fulfilled as sexual people. It is little surprise that in a society that places so little value on working-class women's lives, some men might not view a woman's consent as necessary for sex.
Sexual assault is also the product of a class society in which sexual relationships between men and women are shaped by alienation from their own bodies and emotions, and from one another. Young men and women aren't provided with the information they need about their own bodies, much less how to communicate their desires. Instead, society gives them false information about what men and women "want"--men want sex and women do not, women should say no or they are "slutty," and men "can't take no for an answer." This leads to understandable confusion for both women and men about what they actually do want, and how they are supposed to act. According to a National College Women Sexual Victimization Study, one in four women students experience completed or attempted rape during their college years. Forty-two percent of the women who were raped said they had sex again with the men who assaulted them. And 84 percent of college men who committed rape said that they didn't consider what they did rape. These figures show the shocking frequency with which some young men and women consider rape as within the realm of "normal" sexual experience. Sex is distorted by the alienation that permeates capitalism, and rape happens in that context. The confused view of male and female "roles" helps explain why three out of four rape victims in the U.S. report that they were raped by someone they know. ---------------There are plenty of measures in the here and now that would go a long way toward changing all this. For instance, real sex education in schools--not the abstinence-only training so popular among politicians today--could provide the information that men and women need. Plus, women and men have the power to shift the terms of the debate about sexism and women-blaming, and speak out against rape and sexual assault--coming together to create an atmosphere where women are valued and violence isn't tolerated. At the SlutWalk demonstrations, for example, women have spoken out about their experiences of rape and sexual assault, making powerful stands on questions that are usually ignored or swept under the rug.
When Dominque Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of raping a housekeeper in a New York City hotel, returned to court for his hearing, he got a welcome he did not expect--from more than 100 housekeepers from several hotels who gathered to protest. "I felt as if I was defending myself, defending my own person," Lourdes Colón-Santos, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has worked at the Hilton for seven years, told the Guardian. "It could just as easily have been me that this happened to." The women, most of them immigrants, sent a clear message--we aren't taking it anymore. This is a message that has to be repeated in every city and town. Ultimately, we need a completely different society. Capitalism is incapable of righting the wrong of rape and sexual assault. It thrives on sexism, violence and alienation, and it has no interest in changing the status quo. A total transformation of society is needed, where the priorities of the powerful few at the top are replaced by the needs of the majority of the population, and where the complete liberation of men and women is the goal, and every resource of society is devoted toward fulfilling that goal. Liberation can't be decreed into existence--the material conditions have to be created for it to flourish. As Alexandra Kollontai, a leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, wrote: The champions of bourgeois individualism say that we ought to destroy all the hypocritical restrictions of the obsolete code of sexual behavior. These unnecessary and repressive "rags" ought to be relegated to the archives-only the individual conscience...Socialists, on the other hand, assure us that sexual problems will only be settled when the basic reorganization of the social and economic structure of society has been tackled. Under socialism, the highest priority of society would be to foster solidarity, liberation and equality for all-including free and accessible health care, child care and birth control, and everything else we need to liberate women from the burdens of household labor and every other shackle that keeps us from being equal participants in society. With these conditions in place, one can imagine a world free of sexism, rape and sexual violence. Frederick Engels, who showed how the roots of women's oppression lay in the traditional family in his book the
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, concluded: What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman's surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love, or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual--and that will be the end of it.
Protesting the NYPD Rapists
By Edna Bonhomme and Natalia Tylim | July 20, 2011
NEW YORK--Protesters rallied at Foley Square in late June at the scheduled sentencing of two New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers who had been acquitted on charges of sexual assault, but convicted of lesser crimes. In 2009, officers Ken Moreno and Franklin Mata were reportedly asked by a woman to escort her home to the Lower East Side because she felt too intoxicated to get home on her own. They did so and then proceeded to enter her apartment multiple times throughout the night. The woman later came forward to say that the officers sexually assaulted her. Moreno claimed he only "kissed" and "snuggled" with her--but later admitted on tape to having had sex with the victim while wearing a condom. This disgusting behavior by police speaks to a larger issue of sexual assault on women, even among people supposedly sworn to protect New York City residents.
Instead, the officers were found guilty of three counts of official misconduct, but acquitted of the sexual assault charges. This acquittal was based primarily on the fact that there was no physical evidence of an assault. A surveillance tape of the victim was also used in court as evidence that the victim was supposedly not too drunk to have be able to consent. Incredibly, one unidentified juror later said in an interview that she believed the victim had indeed been raped. "[Kenneth Moreno] raped her," the juror told DNAinfo. "There is no doubt in my mind." But, the juror stated, because of a lack of physical evidence, the jury did not find the officers guilty of sexual assault. The acquittal of the officers on the more serious charges sends a clear message: women who come forward as being assaulted--whether by police officers or others--are often not taken seriously. This is the same sexist blame-the-victim rhetoric that women have faced for decades. ---------------The officers’ sentencing on misconduct charges had been scheduled for the morning of June 28--but those who showed up to protest were informed that the sentencing had been postponed. Even so, several dozen stayed to rally outside courthouse and express their opposition to the officers' acquittal. The rally was called by the Connect the Dots Coalition, a group of advocates and organizations that have come together to prevent violence and sexual assault in New York City. In addition to demanding that police take rape seriously, they also want to promote women's health and rights by showing the links between sexual assault and violence against women. Some of the participants in the rally included Crime Victims' Treatment Center, the National Organization for Women of New York City, Treatment Center, Feministing, the Healing Center, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and the Service Women's Action Network. The coalition is attempting to bring the diverse concerns of women in New York City forward. As one speaker said, "We will fight for a culture that does not accept violence against women." So often, the discussion around sexual assault is focused around the victim's behavior--what a woman wore or how she might acted that supposedly "invited" the assault. Women who come forward as being survivors are often subject to invasive background checks and questions about their "moral character."
Such is the case in the recent arrest of former International Monetary Fund head Dominique StraussKahn, who reportedly assaulted an immigrant hotel attendant while she was working. Since his initial arrest, Strauss-Kahn has been released without bail and is currently living in an upscale apartment in New York City. Meanwhile, the alleged victim has been dragged through the mud, including being called a "hooker" on the front page of the New York Post. Today, activists and organizers are attempting to reframe the debate around sexual assault to say that no matter what, the victim is never to blame. This is a welcome development and is helping to spark a new movement for women's rights. The recent SlutWalks that took place in cities across the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are significant additions to the process of building an unapologetic movement for women's rights. To push back against the daily oppression and violence that women face will require a struggle that discredits notions about what women should and shouldn't be like and what choices they should or shouldn't make with their own bodies. We need to continue to connect the issues around these individual cases--and oppose violence against women and victim-blaming.
When the Cops are the Rapists
Caitlin Sheehan and Nicole Colson report on revelations about incidents of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by Chicago police--and what it will take to get justice.
June 21, 2011 Recent incidents of alleged rape and sexual assault by Chicago police officers are causing outrage--and leaving many Chicagoans to ask how we can ever be safe if those with such power can get away with violating us. In May, a 22-year-old woman (who remains anonymous) filed a federal lawsuit alleging that she was raped by two Chicago police officers on March 30. According to the Chicago Tribune, "The suit alleged that the abuse was facilitated by a 'code of silence' among officers and an unwillingness by supervisors to investigate wrongdoing. 'Chicago police officers accused of sexual misconduct against citizens can be
confident that the city will not investigate those accusations in earnest,' the lawsuit charged." Although relieved of their duties on March 31 after the victim made her complaint, it wasn't until May 12 that officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez were finally charged with sexual assault and official misconduct in the case. According to prosecutors, on a Wednesday night in Chicago in late March, the young woman left a friend's apartment in the North Side Wrigleyville neighborhood, intoxicated and upset after an argument. Clavijo and Vasquez reportedly spotted her sobbing into her phone as she walked down the street and offered her a ride home. She accepted--likely because a ride home with police seemed safer than the 2 a.m. ride on the train. But according to the victim, from the start, the cops appeared to have something else in mind. Prosecutors allege that when the woman tried to get into the back of the patrol car, the veteran officers--both 38 years old--told her she wasn't allowed to sit in the back seat and would need to sit in front, on one of the cops' laps. Instead of driving her straight home, the onduty police officers reportedly drove to a liquor store. Vasquez went inside to buy a bottle of vodka, while Clavijo proceeded to sexually assault the woman in the passenger seat of the police SUV. While many media reports referred to this as the victim "having sex" with Clavijo, Assistant State's Attorney Patti Sudendorf correctly described the incident as an assault, explaining, "The victim believed she could not say no to Clavijo's sexual advances and had to do whatever the police officer asked her to do." "These are on-duty police officers," stated Jon Loevy, who represents the woman in her civil suit. "They were armed with guns. She was a young woman who was not in a situation where she had a choice." The two officers then reportedly drove the woman to her apartment in Rogers Park--several miles outside of their jurisdiction--where they followed her inside. They subsequently began drinking and coerced the victim into playing strip poker. While being sexually assaulted by both officers, the woman screamed for help and started banging on her walls in an attempt to wake her neighbors. Managing to escape, the victim ran out of her apartment, yelling and knocking on her neighbors' doors as she passed. One neighbor woke up and called 911. Another opened his door in time to see one man
running down the hall naked, and a second man in uniform walking away. According to a neighbor who found the victim in the hall, "She was in shock--traumatized." When the neighbor told the victim that the police were on the way, she replied, "It was the cops who did this to me!" When police arrived on the scene, the young woman was taken to a nearby hospital, and parts of the two officers' uniforms and one of their cell phones were recovered from her apartment. Tests showed that her blood alcohol level was .38 percent--nearly five times the legal limit to drive--a fact that shows the absurdity of claims that the victim could have legally consented to sex. ---------------The case is causing outrage in Chicago--where police misconduct is rampant. After the victim came forward, it was discovered that weeks earlier, Clavijo had been accused of attacking a different woman. According to reports, in that case, the same two officers picked up a 26-year-old woman in Wrigleyville, gave her a ride home and then asked to come inside to use the bathroom. While Vasquez was in the bathroom, Clavijo reportedly followed the woman into her bedroom and raped her. Why were these officers allowed to stay on the force? According to the Tribune: Prosecutors have said the first victim did not immediately report the sexual assault because she was intimidated, but the lawsuit contended she had told investigators before the second alleged sexual assault. "This other victim reported the rape, yet the Chicago Police Department allowed (Clavijo and Vasquez) to retain their employment as patrol officers, thus enabling them to commit a similar crime...less than one month later," the lawsuit said. Unfortunately, such crimes are not at all unusual in Chicago--although few reports of misconduct made against the police ever see the light of day, and victims are often pressured against submitting such reports in the first place. In a case from last summer that only recently received national media attention, police came to the home of Tiawanda Moore and her boyfriend to question them
about a domestic disturbance call. The couple was separated for interrogation, and Moore was interviewed by herself in her bedroom. Once they were alone, she alleges, the cop groped her and hit on her--leaving her his personal phone number. According to Moore, when she went to report the case to internal affairs at the police department on August 18, officers tried to scare her out of it. "They keep giving her the run-around, basically trying to discourage her from making a report," said Moore's attorney Robert Johnson. After getting frustrated with the lack of respect she was getting, Moore reportedly started to record the exchange on her Blackberry in order to document the lack of police cooperation. Then, to add insult to injury, when officers discovered Moore was taping them, they arrested her. Moore was charged with two counts of eavesdropping--a Class I felony in the state of Illinois, and one that is being increasingly used by police against people who dare to record officers engaging in misconduct. Now, Moore faces a possible prison sentence of four to 15 years for recording a police officer--while the department still has not charged the officer who assaulted her. "Before they arrested me for it," Moore told the New York Times, "I didn't even know there was a law about eavesdropping. I wasn't trying to sue anybody. I just wanted somebody to know what had happened to me." "I'm scared," Moore told the reporter who visited her in jail--where she remains after another domestic dispute with her boyfriend. "I don't know what's going to happen now. I don't want to be in jail. I want to make my parents happy and proud of me." ---------------These cases, which gained greater exposure thanks in part to the budding women's rights movement, have helped bring to light an underlying epidemic of police abuse in Chicago. According to a study by the University of Chicago Law School, there were over 10,000 reports of police misconduct in the years from 2002-2004. Only 124 of these cases were investigated at all, and shockingly only 19 resulted in any sort of meaningful discipline for the officers involved.
In other words, less than 0.2 percent of reports of police misconduct carried repercussions for the officers involved. In these two years, there were 111 cases reported of sexual harassment, abuse and rape by Chicago police officers. Of these 111 cases, only two resulted in disciplinary action for the officers involved. Repeat offenses seem to be the norm--Officer Clavijo's case is far from unique in this way. From 2001 to 2006, there were 662 cops who received 11 or more complaints against them, 33 cops with 30 or more complaints, and four cops with 50 or more complaints. Astonishingly, these officers were all allowed to continue to serve in the same positions, without repercussions, after multiple cases of misconduct had been brought against them. Cops continue to assault and abuse ordinary people because they think they can get away with it, and they usually do. Such dramatic statistics show that police are not accountable to the communities that they claim to serve. But it is possible to fight back. For years, activists have been organizing to hold Chicago police--in particular, former Commander Jon Burge and his men-responsible for the torture and wrongful conviction of African American suspects. Although far less than he deserved, Burge was recently sentenced to prison for perjury and obstruction of justice related to the police torture ring. His conviction was only possible because of the work of victims of police brutality, family members and activists. Now, activists will have to fight to make sure that these latest victims of abuse at the hands of police receive the support they deserve--and that criminal cops are taken off the street once and for all.
Blaming an 11-Year-Old Victim
Nicole Colson looks at the ugly attitudes and media coverage in a Texas rape case.
March 24, 2011 How do you make an unspeakable act of sexual violence against an 11-year-old girl even worse? Imply that she was "asking for it."
In the wake of the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, by a group of as many as 20 boys and men ranging in age from 14 to 27, many people have been shocked not only by the brutality of the crime, but the callous response of some residents of the town--and some of the national media covering the case. According to reports, in late November, the 11-year-old girl was picked up by a 19-year-old, driven to a house and then ordered to strip. She was then sexually assaulted by several people and threatened with physical violence if she refused. Later, the assault continued in an abandoned trailer. At some point, cell phone video and pictures were taken as she was repeatedly assaulted. The case broke when an elementary school student told a teacher about seeing the video. So far, at least 18 men and boys have been arrested--including five students at Cleveland High School, and the adult son of a member of the local school board. But as horrible and heartbreaking as the case itself is, the reaction from some in the town, as well as media outlets, suggest that the girl--an 11-year-old child--was at least partially to blame for her assault. ---------------In particular, a New York Times article by James C. McKinley Jr. sparked outrage for coverage that seemed framed in a way that not only blamed the victim, but sympathized with her attackers. "Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands--known as the Quarters--said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months," wrote McKinley. "They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said." McKinley reports that a neighbor stated, "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?...How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?" The not-so-thinly-veiled subtext is that this 11-year-old child was "asking for it"--whether by her mannerisms, her clothes and makeup or even just daring to be in "the wrong place." Likewise, the implication is that the child's mother was negligent by allowing her daughter out of her sight.
On the other hand, McKinley's article allows, without comment, town residents to suggest that those who participated in the assault and have been arrested are themselves victims. One woman, Sheila Harrison, told McKinley: "It's just destroyed our community. These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives." The article doesn't point out the obvious--that an 11year-old girl will have to live with having been gangraped for the rest of her life. Nor do any of the town's residents nor McKinley wonder about the responsibility of the families of the boys who participated in the assault for their whereabouts, as opposed to the mother of the 11-year-old victim--not to mention the culpability of her adult attackers. In response to complaints, the Times initially issued a statement saying, "Nothing in our story was in any way intended to imply that the victim was to blame. Neighbors' comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk." Only later did the "newspaper of record" acknowledge that its coverage had flaws. As the Times' public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, admitted: The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim. While the story appeared to focus on the community's reaction to the crime, it was not enough to simply report that the community is principally concerned about the boys and men involved--as this story seems to do. If indeed that is the only sentiment to be found in this community--and I find that very hard to believe-it becomes important to report on that as well by seeking out voices of professional authorities or dissenting community members who will at least address, and not ignore, the plight of the young girl involved. The horrifying consequences of the attack on the victim and her family are ongoing. In interviews, the victim's mother reported that the girl had to be moved to foster care for her own protection after their family began receiving repeated angry phone calls in the wake of the arrests. Police have also asked the family to relocate from the town due to fears they might be targeted. "The police think we may be in danger, because if they can't get my
11-year-old, they might take out their revenge on us," the girl's mother, identified only as Maria, told reporters. As for the outrageous idea that the 11-year-old "dressed older than her age," Maria said in an interview, "These guys knew she was in middle school. You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears." ---------------There is something horrifying about the idea that, in 2011, women (and girls) are routinely blamed for their own sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment. The idea that women invite rape or harassment when they wear the "wrong" clothing, flirt or engage in behavior labeled as otherwise sexually "aggressive" or "irresponsible" (drinking, for example) is a feature of entrenched sexism in a society which says that women's bodies and sexuality are not theirs to control-but are for others to consume. At heart, it's also a deeply insulting view of men-because it assumes that they are so incapable of controlling themselves sexually that the burden must be on women to dress and act a certain way at all times. In a recent article discussing sexual harassment on the feminist Web site Jezebel, Professor Hugo Schwyzer wrote: It's a huge mistake to blame women's revealing clothing--or women's bodies--for public sexual harassment. The problem is a tenacious and ugly myth about male sexuality, one that tells us that average men simply can't be expected to restrain their eyes, their words or even their actions when faced with the reality of a woman's bare skin. Because of that...we outsource their missing self-control to women. And so this myth pushes women to police each other, slut-shaming or mocking those girls who are showing "too much." The attitude that women are somehow partly responsible for their own assaults ignores the fundamental reality of rape and sexual assault--that sexual violence against women is not a result of clothing or behavior, but is about power and control. As long as our culture believes the idea that how women dress or look is a factor in their rape, the responsibility for rape will rest with women, instead of where it should rest--on the shoulders of the men who rape. That there was such a public outcry from readers that the Times was shamed into admitting at least some of the flaws in its coverage is a positive sign--it means that
a large number of people are rejecting these kinds of sexist attitudes. The troubling inclination from some of the Cleveland residents to blame the victim should be reported on and discussed. But it can and should be said, straightforwardly, that nothing can justify the rape and brutalization of an 11-year-old--or a woman of any age, for that matter--no matter how she was dressed. Such attitudes have real ramifications for the victims of rape and sexual assault. One out of six U.S. women will be raped, or be the victim of an attempted rape, in her lifetime. Despite the image of rapists as "strangers," approximately two-thirds of those assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 60 percent of sexual assaults in the U.S. are not reported to police, and 15 out of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail. Many victims are reluctant to report their assaults-because they fear exactly this kind of public condemnation and questioning about whether they somehow "provoked" an attack by wearing, saying or doing the wrong thing. In a description of the aftermath for the 11-year-old victim's family in the Cleveland case, the Houston Chronicle reported, "The stress has grown so intense, the [family's] 16-year-old daughter said, that her parents considered separating, while the 11-year-old is having regrets about following through with the case." In other words, the harassment faced by this little girl and her family has made her question whether it would have been better to keep quiet about a gang rape. If we ever want to stop rape, the routine blaming of the victim for being assaulted has to be stopped first.
Desafiando el Sexismo a la Americana
Del sexismo en la cultura popular a las crecientes restricciones al derecho al aborto, los logros del movimiento por la liberación de la mujer están siendo revertidos. Elizabeth Schulte examina sus consecuencias y reporta acerca de la nueva oposición al Sexismo a la Americana.
June 3, 2011
Joe Scarborough, del noticiero de la MSNBC, tuvo problemas para mantener una cara seria cuando su copresentador reportaba la noticia de la detención de Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex líder del FMI, luego de que una camarera neoyorquina lo denunciara por asalto sexual. La mujer--hallada escondida en un pasillo, visiblemente traumatizada y temblando, según un supervisor--dijo que Strauss-Kahn la acorraló su cuarto, la atacó y se forzó sobre ella. Pero para Scarborough, todo era diversión y juegos, riéndose del asalto al aire. Otros en la prensa también tomaron ese camino, excavando detalles sobre la víctima y apodando Strauss-Kahn de "El gran seductor". Luego vino la comparación con el último escándalo sexual de hollywoodense, esta vez la revelación de que el ex gobernador de California Arnold Schwarzenegger tuvo un hijo ilegítimo, producto de un affaire con una trabajadora doméstica en su casa--como si una violación y un affaire fueran ambos ejemplos intercambiables de hombres "portándose mal". Esta exhibición es un ejemplo más de la falta de seriedad que existe hacia el tema del asalto sexual, y del sexismo que prevalece en la sociedad estadounidense--aun cuando se nos dice que vivimos en una era "post-feminista", en la que todos somos iguales y que por lo tanto no hay nada de qué quejarse. Si te quejas, probablemente "no tienes sentido del humor" o "quieres convertir a las mujeres en víctimas". Charlatanes idiotas en las noticias no son los únicos que piensan que una violación es para reírse. En octubre pasado, miembros de la fraternidad Delta Kappa Epsilon en la Universidad de Yale corearon en un acto de iniciación celebrado cerca de un dormitorio de estudiantes mujeres novatas: "No es sí. Sí es anal". La fraternidad--entre cuyos miembros están los ex presidentes Bush, padre e hijo--fue eventualmente suspendida en Yale, pero este no es el único ejemplo de acoso sexual en las universidades. En 2008, unas fotos fueron publicadas en Facebook que muestran a miembros de la fraternidad Zeta Psi frente al centro de mujeres del campus--que proporciona consejería a víctimas de asalto sexual--con carteles que decían: "Nosotros amamos a la putas de Yale". De acuerdo a los datos del Departamento de Justicia, una de cada cinco mujeres universitarias será la víctima de un asalto sexual. Y ese porcentaje es probablemente bajo, ya que menos del 5 por ciento de
las agresiones son reportadas a las autoridades universitarias o a la policía. Hay poco misterio en estos números cuando consideramos lo que una mujer pasa por cuando ella trata de obtener justicia por medios oficiales. Por ejemplo, Laura Dunn tuvo que pasar un año entero en el campus asistiendo a clases con uno de los hombres que ella reportó la violaron, en la Universidad de Wisconsin en 2004. Ella dijo a Time magazine: Era como si hicieran todo lo posible para asegurarse que nada pasara en mi caso. Me sentí muy decepcionada al saber que la institución encargada de velar por mi seguridad no reconoció la masiva angustia que el asalto sexual me causó. Además, me decepcionó que cuando busqué justicia en su sistema, fui tratada con hostilidad y falta de respeto. Estaba claro que no me creían y a menudo fui culpada por lo que me había sucedido. ---------------Por supuesto, culpar a la víctima no se limita a los campus universitarios. También lo hacen en las salas del Congreso. A comienzo del año, los republicanos intentaron incluir un lenguaje redefiniendo la violación en un proyecto de ley prohibiendo financiación federal de abortos, argumentando que la definición debe ser reducida para incluir sólo una "violación por la fuerza". En otras palabras, es responsabilidad de la víctima probar que ella trató de luchar contra su violador para calificar como víctima de violación. La indignación pública provocada por el cambio propuesto forzó a los republicanos retirar la enmienda. Pero expuso algo acerca de la agenda republicana-que es anti-mujer hasta la médula. Los republicanos quieren revertir los logros de los pasados los movimientos sociales--tales como el Seguro Social, los buenos contratos colectivos y la promesa de una red de seguridad social--y usar a la mujer como un chivo expiatorio, en particular la mujer pobre y obrera, es una parte clave de este asalto. Así, cuando los políticos atacan Planned Parenthood tratando de desfinanciar su servicio de aborto--a pesar de que este no recibe fondos federales--lo que ellos tratan es cortar los fondos a todos los servicios de salud reproductiva que Planned Parenthood ofrece.
Los republicanos (y algunos demócratas) afirman que están de pie contra "las mujeres que quieren hacer pagar a los contribuyentes por sus abortos". Hecho esto, será más fácil apuntar contra otros objetivos, como "los codiciosos trabajadores del sector público", gente en Medicare, o trabajadores que necesitan una extensión de sus beneficios de desempleo. En este contexto, tiene sentido que los republicanos traten de hacer a las mujeres probar que trataron de luchar contra su violador. Es la política de la culpa y la búsqueda de chivos expiatorios--y la mujer es uno de sus principales objetivos. Mientras tanto, en casi todo respecto, la calidad de vida de las mujeres pobres y de clase obrera está empeorando. Según las más recientes estadísticas de la Oficina del Censo de EE.UU., en promedio, una mujer gana 77 centavos por cada dólar que gana un hombre en una ocupación similar. Para el 34 por ciento de las madres que trabajan fuera de la casa y que son el único sostén de la familia, la brecha salarial no sólo es mala para ellas, sino que también se traduce en pobres condiciones de vida, mala nutrición y menos oportunidades para sus hijos. Y la brecha crece mayor a medida que la mujer envejece. Las mujeres ganan un 90 por ciento de lo que ganan los hombres hasta la edad de 35 años. Después de 35 años de edad, el ingreso medio de las mujeres disminuye a entre el 70 y 80 por ciento del ingreso medio de los hombres, y permanece ahí hasta su jubilación. Esto, por supuesto, no tiene en cuenta el trabajo no remunerado que la mujer todavía realiza en el hogar desproporcionadamente. Por ejemplo, un reciente estudio realizado por el Commonwealth Fund encontró que la mujer es dos veces más probable que el hombre a ser el proveedor informal de atención de salud para un familiar enfermo en casa. Por lo general, estas enfermeras provienen de hogares de bajos ingresos. Cerca el 40 por ciento vive en hogares con ingresos por debajo del doble del nivel federal de pobreza. De acuerdo con el Departamento del Trabajo, en el 2010, las mujeres eran el 46,7 por ciento de la fuerza laboral en Estados Unidos, pero ellas trabajan en jornada parcial casi dos veces más que los hombres-no por una opción personal, como a veces se representa en los medios. Una de cada cinco mujeres trabajó tiempo parcial porque no pudo encontrar trabajo de jornada completa. Antes de la recesión, este número fue de menos de una de cada 10.
Las mujeres, especialmente las solteras, están más expuestas a no tener seguro de salud. Y cuando tienen cobertura médica, las compañías de seguros rutinariamente les cobran primas más altas que a los hombres por el mismo plan--en algunos casos hasta 48 por ciento más. Las mujeres también tienen mayores gastos fuera de bolsillo y una mayor tasa de estar aseguradas por debajo de sus necesidades. Y en un momento en que existe una evidente necesidad por una mayor red de seguridad social--para mujeres y hombres--Washington está exigiendo a todos apretarse el cinturón. ---------------Junto con el asalto a la calidad de vida de la mujer, se ha endurecido el asalto ideológico en los medios de comunicación, la industria del entretenimiento y de la publicidad. De acuerdo con ellos, las mujeres son tan "liberadas" que está bien tratarlas como objetos sexuales. Esta nueva definición de "liberación" se basa en la proposición de que los logros de los años sesenta y setenta--tales como la acción afirmativa y los programas de estudios multiculturales y de la mujer-fueron una "avanzada liberal que fue demasiado lejos". Debido a la "corrección política", dice el argumento, a la gente se le está negando su "libertad de expresión". Tales afirmaciones no tienen nada que ver con libertad y liberación, sino que con sexismo e intolerancia, y ha permitido que la idea que los hombres tienen el "derecho" a ser sexistas haya penetrado la cultura popular. Así ha retrocedido el reloj de la liberación de la mujer. A finales de los años sesenta y a comienzos de los setenta, el movimiento feminista había tomado inspiración en otras luchas de la época--por los derechos civiles y el Poder Negro, por la liberación de gay y lesbiana, y la oposición a la guerra de Vietnam. Al hacer escuchar sus demandas protestando en las calles--por igualdad de salarios, el fin al acoso sexual y el derecho al aborto--el movimiento feminista fue capaz de transformar radicalmente la forma en que la gente pensaba acerca de la mujer. La sociedad estadounidense pasó de ser una en que una mujer soltera no podía legalmente obtener contracepción a la legalización del aborto. Poniendo decenas de miles de personas en las calles, el movimiento hizo a la sociedad más consciente de la desigualdad de la mujer y la necesidad de luchar por la liberación.
Este tuvo expresión en grandes eventos como la demostración nacional de 50.000 persona en agosto de 1970, demandando aborto gratis y un alto a la esterilización forzada, guardería infantil las 24 horas bajo control de comunitario, y el mismo salario por el mismo igual. Pero también en otras más pequeñas-como por ejemplo, las mil postales que llegaron a Ms. Magazine cuando los editores pidieron a los lectores enviar sus nombres para ser publicados en un anuncio con la proclama: "Hemos tenido un aborto". Y contrariamente a la idea de que el movimiento de liberación femenina dividió a los hombres de las mujeres, en realidad unió a un gran número de personas en solidaridad su prójimo/a. Como The Young Lords, un partido independentista puertorriqueño, quienes incluyeron el derecho de la mujer a la libertad reproductiva entre sus demandas, probablemente empujados por sus hermanas en la Comisión de Derecho al Aborto y contra el Abuso de Esterilización. Entre las consignas de The Young Lords estaba: "Aborto bajo control comunitario". Para algunas personas hoy, una prueba de la liberación de la mujer fue el hecho de que un selecto grupo de mujeres pudio avanzar puestos en América Incorporada o ganar un cargo político. Pero esta conclusión no puede estar más lejos de la verdad. Mientras una pequeña élite pudo haber llegado a la cima, la mayoría de las mujeres trabajadoras fueron dejadas atrás. Y en ausencia de un movimiento capaz de defender los derechos conquistados hace tres décadas, éstos han sido revertidos. Así, los derechos de la mujer han sido erosionados, más obviamente en las crecientes restricciones en los derechos reproductivos de la mujer.
Del mismo modo, la historia del movimiento femenino ha sido reescrita, afirmando que éste fue "demasiado lejos". Así, en los noventa, la autora de La Mañana Después, Katie Roiphe, pudo escribir que las feministas habían creado una atmósfera de "melodrama de crisis por violación" en los campus que ha convertido a las estudiantes mujeres en "víctimas indefensas". Esto voló en la cara de lo que las mujeres realmente pensaban. Como Susan Faludi señaló en su libro de 1991 Culatazo: La Guerra No Declarada contra la Mujer Americana, "Las mujeres mismas no señalan el movimiento por los derechos de la mujer como la fuente de su miseria. Por el contrario, en las encuestas nacionales, 75 a 95 por ciento de ellas cree que la campaña feminista mejoró sus vidas, y una proporción similar dice que el movimiento femenino debe seguir presionando por más cambio". Sin embargo, sin un movimiento que ofreciera oportunidades a la gente para mostrar este sentimiento, este punto de vista no encontró expresión y las ideas sexistas fueron permitidas a re-emerger sin oposición. Pero los últimos meses y años han traído señales de que muchas personas, hombres y mujeres, ya han tenido suficiente y desean ponerse de pie y alzar su voz--por ejemplo, la Caminata por la Opción [al aborto] a comienzos del año, y la SlutWalk, protestando la práctica de culpar a la mujer por un asalto sexual. Por demasiado tiempo, la política de los chivos expiatorios le ha permitido a la derecha dividirnos. Pero más gente está viendo que tenemos que unirnos si vamos a detener los ataques contra todos nosotros. Debemos tomar las ideas que nos dividen, como el sexismo, y sustituirlas con una idea que nos une y nos hace más fuertes--la solidaridad.
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